Monday, June 12, 2017

Hard Memories


June 11, 2012. I’m going to be honest, I have no idea what I was doing on that date 5 years ago. In fact, I dare to guess that many of you don’t as well. It is nearly impossible for us to remember one day singled out of a year, let alone one date singled out of several. It is even more impossible for a child to recall events taking place on any particular day during any particular year. I mean I can ask either of my boys what we ate for dinner two nights ago and both will undoubtedly look back at me with blank stares. With all that said, there are days that are singled out in our memories, moments we can literally relive as deeply as when they occurred. I remember pieces of June 14, 2011 quite vividly. I was driving down the road in the backseat of our car with my mother in law next to me, Jay and my father in law in the front seats. We were headed out for birthday dinners, my husband and mother in law both share the same day, as does Jays twin brother obviously.  Jay took a phone call while driving down the road. At first he asked if the caller was sick based on the tone of their voice. The car became eerily silent and then suddenly he veered off the road into someone’s yard (literally). He hung up the phone and turned around to face me, “Ileah, your dad died”. I can still hear his words like he spoke them to me yesterday and I can still see that look on his face.  I remember getting out of the car, calling my mother, and rehashing her day of finding my dad. I don’t remember much after that, I remember being back in my apartment packing for a week I never wanted to partake in, driving two hours to my childhood home, and walking in the dark around my house to where several of my family had gathered on the back porch. Then the day is gone.  Every year though on June 14, while I try and put a smile on my face and celebrate the birthday of some of my most favorite people, the sting of the memory from that day is still present and I relive those moments in my mind again and again. I doubt it will ever leave me, but at least I know why tears come and why I feel the ache that I do. There is a clear reason and cause.



Through my research into abandoned children, I have learned some amazing facts about our brains. It is quite an amazing organ in so many ways but learning about early memories and how they are stored is just fascinating. Research has shown that simply because things cant be recalled doesn’t mean they are not remembered by the brain and body, particularly in young children and even babies.  There is something called implicit memory which describes how all of a child’s memories are stored before the age of 18 months. Implicit memories include things like emotions and body sensations. What is even crazier than realizing that babies, even new born’s have the innate ability to remember certain events and how they felt during them is that these remembrances from very early on can and do come crashing back into their minds and bodies sometimes on the exact date of their occurrences even if a child has NO recollection of the event themselves. They show up in behavior changes, mood swings, outbursts, sobbing uncontrollably, nightmares ect.



So back to June 11, 2012. It now holds one of those places in my memory which I will keep forever. I myself do not know what I was doing on that date, but I know what one of children was. There is a small blurb in Jude’s medical file that details his finding spot, the spot where he was found after being abandoned by his birth parents. The date was, you guessed it June 11, 2012. He was three days old and likely dying from untreated conditions from birth. I have a copy of the small piece of paper that was left with him with his birthdate etched on it in one of his birth parents handwriting.  I would like to think that his parents tried for 3 days, but realized that he was just too sick. I like to think that they placed him in the little park he was found in because they knew he would be found quickly. I like to think that they watched as someone knelt down and picked him up, rushing to get him medical attention but truth be told I will never know. It is hard for us to think of leaving a newborn in a different room from us after their birth, let alone all by themselves in a park. I always wondered, would Jude have recollections of these events like research has shown. Unfortunately, I wasn’t bright enough to realize that his whining, his pouting, his tears on the anniversary of that day could have been from memories he didn’t even know were there. Feelings of fright, coldness, suffocation, and even death. That night as I rocked him to sleep, what would have been the early morning hours of that day in China, he grimaced in his sleep, whimpered, tears trickled down his cheek. He writhed in my arms, but he was in-between that state of sleep and wakefulness. I held him extra tight, whispered in his ear “You are loved, mommy is right here”. Then and only then did I realize the significance of the date.  

                                                  Little Flower Park; Jude's finding spot




A part of me obviously wishes I could take those early memories away. That Jude would forget what life was like before he had a family. I wish I could take away the memories that make him sad, mad, scared. A part of me wishes I too could forget my memories of profound grief, but as stated by Laura Jack a grief recovery specialist, “Every loss deserves the honor of grief”. Jude’s life in china mattered, his experiences, his feelings, his existence, and interaction with everyone there, all mattered and to want to take away such a huge part of him would be a dishonor to his life, just as wanting to forget the day my dad died and the sadness of losing such an important part of myself felt like would be a dishonor to my dad. Our boy is a warrior. He is a survivor. In the midst of it all, he has chosen to thrive, to live, and have hope in a better day. Isn't that what God calls us to do as well? To look beyond our circumstances to something better. To trusting Him who makes good with all the bad.  This morning, June 12, Jude awoke with a fresh smile on his face ready for a new day. He told me several times before he left for school, “I love you Ma”. His LITTLE life continues to teach us BIG lessons and though I usually dread the entire month of June, because of the memories it drudges up, I am choosing to confront it, like Jude, with a fresh smile and gratefulness instead.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

6 Months Home


A year ago, Jay and I were anxiously awaiting word from China about the acceptance for our sweet boy. Every day a year ago seemed to drag on, and time felt like it literally just wouldn’t move on our behalf. A year ago we tried to keep ourselves busy, but the thought of Jude was always present. A year ago we had a stable routine, had quite evenings, simple weekends. We were strangers to medical complexities, frequent doctor visits, sibling rivalry, and well... chaos.  Its crazy to think about a year ago, it seems like FOREVER ago! We were certainly a different family and all of us different people back then. I look around now and see this crazy, busy, fun, loud life we are living and I thank God for every second of it.



Jude has been a part of us for 6 months now! I am shocked but at the same time I also feel like he has been with us so much longer than that. In fact I feel like he has always been here. He has changed so much in such a short time.



He has learned a completely new language, had two surgeries and numerous medical tests, learned to ride a bike,  has started school, has his first best friend (a girl cough cough), he has started karate ( with other children adopted from China), can sleep alone in his own bed in his own room, had his first ER visit for stitches, he has developed his own sense of style (which leaves us scratching our heads sometimes), wears big boy underwear (at least for most of the day), has grown 2.5 inches, and above all else has adapted so beautifully to his new life.
(Loves gloves and rolling every article of clothing!) 
 (stiches after a fall at school)


A year ago our sweet boy was spending his days in an orphanage and his nights in a foster home with several other children. He was never rocked, or sang to, never had his own toys or cloths. A year ago, he lacked adequate medical care, wore constantly soiled diapers, went to sleep in a cramped toddler bed which he was forced to share, and didn’t have the slightest idea what a true family looked or felt like. He is starting to open up about life in China and some of what he describes is hard to hear.

 (the picture to the right was taken shortly before we arrived; his eyes are so sad and he looks like a totally different boy from who we know today. Thankfully we have never seen those eyes since).


He grew up in a nice orphanage, compared to so many others, but that is not where children belong, they need to be in families. Children thrive with the love of a family and I am watching it first-hand every single day. People say he is such a lucky little boy now, but I promise them always that we are truly the lucky ones.




I really don’t like to think about what life was like a year ago because we were the ones missing out!  Our stable routine, quite evenings and simple weekends have turned into  a constant adventure of some sort. Our days are spent juggling classes and doctor visits, our evenings are anything but quite with two boys abounding on the hardwoods, and our weekends are packed full of karate, basketball, bike rides, park visits, fort building, and gun fights.  Jay and I are constantly looking at each other and smiling behind the antics that raising two little boys provides.


Our oldest loves being the comedian and center of attention and Jude is certainly learning from the best, but Jude is more the dry comedian type. He has us laughing aloud everyday with the things he says and does and the faces he makes.  Our oldest loves to wrestle and be physical, while our little Jude is sweet and gentle. While he may be sweet and gentle, he is LOUD! All boys can be loud but Jude, well he is loud always! He is constantly talking or singing and doesn’t seem to stop until he is asleep. His big brother has to remind him that other people get to talk sometimes too.



Both the boys are constantly moving, running, jumping, climbing, shooting guns, and riding bikes…they are boys through and through. It has taken some time for big brother to adjust to having Jude around. I imagine it isn’t easy giving up the spot light as the only child and only grandchild, but he is adored by Jude (which I think helps!).



Everything that big brother does, little brother needs to do too.  Jude was actually the big brother in China, but now he is the little one and he is learning what all that entails. It truly is fun watching our boys together because even though it’s only been 6 months, they are true siblings; they bicker, they yell and tattle, they constantly want what the other has, they need to be where the other is, and are distressed when the other is in trouble or sick or hurt. I never grew up with siblings so I love watching their relationship play out. Don’t get me wrong there are days the bickering and fighting drive us crazy but I try and remind myself what a gift each is to the other. They are learning about life and relationships together.  They have a bond that I hope will be unbreakable as their futures play out. Though they were born in two radically different countries to two radically different mommies, they now share a new life together. But their pasts, while drastically different, are strikingly similar too. Jayden may not agree at this exact moment, but adopting Jude has been one of the best things for him too. I know that Jude has changed all of us, for the better.



With all that said, there have been scary times along our six months together too. Jude is far more medically complex than we ever knew. He has endured countless medical exams, tests, and surgeries since his arrival and nearly every test has come back with another surprise dianosis.
                                                          
                                        
It became quite overwhelming in the beginning, even for a seasoned nurse practitioner, but God has literally provided everything we need to care for this little boy and more. Our insurance coverage recently changed providing amazing completely covered care to adopted and special needs children, we were accepted into an assistance program for disabled children that covered nearly all his recent medical bills, Jays job reimbursed a substantial amount for adoption related expenses, and we have been blessed with friends and family who have worked to ensure amazing and timely care at the local hospital and clinics.  It has been quite amazing watching the details of his needs, and ours, be met. I think back to when we were reviewing Jude’s file. If all his needs were spelled out in black and white would we have felt “comfortable” taking on these needs? I shudder to think what the true answer to that question would have been, but thankfully God knew what we needed and didn’t need to know to move forward. Trust me there is truly bliss in ignorance. Now, we would and WILL move mountains for Jude and he deserves nothing less.



We were very concerned about bonding and attachment with our Jude. As I have discussed previously many orphans have difficulty attaching to anyone given their history of abandonment and constant change in caregivers. Lack of attachment leads to so many difficulties with maintaining relationships and understanding basic feelings like empathy. When we first met Jude he really didn’t seem to care that he was leaving all he knew behind. He didn’t cry when he came to us, in fact he was all smiles (not a good sign). When we walked the halls of his orphanage he showed us around but no one really had an impact on him. It was like he really didn’t care and wasn’t attached to much there. It was concerning. We did get tears when we attempted to go into his old school room. So much in fact he wouldn’t enter and I did so on my own while Jay walked him around the rest of the building. He was scared but didn’t have the words to tell us why. We made a conscious and deliberate decision to focus on cocooning our little man for 3 months when we first got home. I stayed home from work and he never left my side or my sight, not even to sleep (we co-slept). It was exhausting to say the least and created a lot of sibling rivalry initially. But I am so thankful for that time. At 6 months home I can say emphatically that Jude is very well attached to us.

He cries every time I leave him and while heartbreaking, it is a beautiful sign that he doesn’t want our connection to end, not even for a few hours. He constantly seeks us out for love and snuggles. Sometimes he will get up in the middle of dinner just to come over and get a hug and a kiss before returning to his meal. In strange places, he will hide behind me to avoid contact or glances from strangers. When he looks at pictures taken any time before his arrival to our family he gets very upset that he is not there too. He doesn’t seem to understand that we used to be a little family of three before his debut. Several times throughout our day I will hear, “I love you Ma” out of nowhere, just because at that moment he thinks about love and wants to remind me how he feels.  Every time I hear those words, it melts my heart.  We have had two mandatory social worker visits already and she agrees that he knows where he belongs, right here with us, forever.  



I don’t know why God choose for our son to be born half a world away from us, but I am forever grateful for the call to adoption, for the journey (as long and as heartbreaking as it was), and the growth that God provided all of us along the way.  I mean we started out thinking we were going to adopt a healthy Ethiopian infant, and our hearts were changed and challenged for years, until we finally brought home this beautiful medically complex Chinese 4-year-old whom I simply can’t imagine life without.  Had Jay and I decided nearly five years ago, (to the day) to travel, or have biological children first, or pursue other dreams before starting our family through adoption, we certainly could have missed all of this, and could have missed him. I am thankful for the callings in our life. I am thankful for a God that calls and a God that equips, and a God that provides!  I am thankful for a God that sees even little forgotten people and has a plan and a purpose for their life (I can’t wait to see what my children’s are!). My hope is that Jude’s story will continue to inspire others to be open to the cause of orphan care and open to God’s callings in their own life, whatever they may be. Callings are scary, trust me I know, but its scarier to think of what life would have been like had we said “no”.