Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Hard

There is much about adoption that is beautiful. Love, redemption, acceptance, forever family.  But adoption starts with loss. There's no way around it.  Loss of birth parents and family, birth country, language, food, culture...everything. And when a child who has been through loss of that magnitude joins your family, it affects everyone.  Even with a laid-back kiddo like Joey, there's grief, there's adjustment, change... for everyone. 
We had started to assume that Joey was so laid back that he just was adapting with ease. But we knew in the back of our minds that there was no way for a young boy to go through all he has and not be affected by all of it.  We know from experience that the trauma of adoption runs deep.

A few weeks ago, Joey fell and broke his arm in two places.   Falls are probably always going to be a part of his life. He's a "fall risk" since his walk is wobbly and imbalanced.   His little arms can't catch himself and he doesn't have the reflexes to even try. So when he goes down, it's like a tree falling over. We're really lucky he made it this long without getting hurt, and we have no idea how many other bad falls he's had in his life.  He's covered in scars that are evidence of many falls.

Kids break their arms every day. But he is not a typical kid.  He broke his "good" arm (left)... and his right arm has very little function.  So he was left with basically no arms. He went from needing quite a bit of help in life to needing help with basically everything.   Going through the x-rays (took 3 tries at the ER and they still couldn't get a good view) and the casting a few days later was EXTREMELY traumatic for him. It was painful and he was terrified.  His little arm doesn't turn and bend the way they need it to for x-ray and casting, and he went into fight mode. It was heartbreaking to have to pin him down and make him endure all of that, especially not being able to reassure him in a language he understands.

Those traumatic experiences seemed to have triggered the grief that he's been holding in all this time. He has regressed in a lot of areas and is displaying a lot of anxiety.  It's heartbreaking. On one hand, I'm thankful he's finally letting some true feelings out. But it's so hard to talk through all of that with him since he doesn't have the language yet for "heart-to-heart" conversations. As parents, we feel kind of helpless to try to help him work through his feelings.

We had heard that the language is the "easiest" piece of older child adoption, that they pick up English quickly. But I have to disagree... the language piece is SO HARD. Yes, he understands when I ask him to come to dinner and other basic commands. But I can't sit down and ask him how he feels about his life and how we can help him, about his dreams and memories. We'll get there, but we're not there yet and it's a huge missing piece for us right now.

The other day, we had a friend who speaks Mandarin come and hang out with him for a while. She talked him through some of his medical issues and lots of other things. Oh my goodness, to see my boy RELAX with her and tell her stories and ask her questions in his language was both so uplifting and so heartbreaking at the same time. How I wish we could relate to him in that way!  It also brought up some big misunderstandings he's had. For example, she discovered that he was taught that boys/men have to be strong and not show emotions... which is why he's tried so hard to put on a happy face for so long.  She explained to him that it's okay to get upset and feel sad and tell us about it. He couldn't believe that it was okay to show emotion! I'm hopeful that he'll be more free with his feelings as time goes by, but WOW what a burden for a little boy to have on his shoulders feeling like he couldn't express how he was feeling.

We realized that we need to take a step back for him. Pull back from some activities, keep his hours at school short, have him start sitting with us at church again rather than attend class, postpone the scheduled castings for his feet... he needs time. Time to grieve and adjust and just BE without extra activity and change coming at him.

There is not quick fix for this. One of the biggest lessons we've learned from our adoption experiences is that no matter how much we try to pour into them, it's often not enough. We cannot be their bio family, their culture, their early life experiences to fill those holes.  All we can do is be there, hold them, pray for them and give them time and support.

Another lesson we've learned is that the physical needs are the easier part. Speech therapy? No problem. Cleft surgery?  We'll survive. Being Joey's arms for him?  Well that's super hard, but not impossible.  What's HARD is the invisible - the hurt hearts, the emotions, the hard feelings and confusion they can't express. And there's a lot of that in our house. From our adopted kids and from our bio kids as well, because what we're doing is hard on all of us. 

Our pastor recently said that it's easy to take the first step in a leap of faith; saying yes to what God calls you to do. Going through the adoption process is definitely difficult, but you're also so excited in anticipation of meeting your new child.  But what's hard is what follows, when the initial excitement is over and reality sets in. We are in The Hard. A friend recently saw my face and said "you're all poured out, aren't you?"  That was the perfect way to describe how we're feeling. Poured out.  

We know we were called to orphan care and to be this little boy's family.  God doesn't call us to the easy. He calls us to the hard, and those experiences shape us into He wants us to be.  But it's not easy. We're tired, drained, running on fumes. Of course, it would be a million times easier if we had we ignored the call to adopt so we could just be a "normal" family.  But the devil loves it when we say no - that's when fear wins.  We've learned that God equips us for what we think we can't handle, and he sees us through The Hard.

We adore this little boy and are blessed that we get to see him through this time.  Another thing we've learned through our past adoption experiences is that while we won't ever be a "normal" family, it won't always be this hard. We'll always be extra protective of their little hearts and have to pick and choose what we can and can't do.  But we will reach a place of "new normal" where things won't be quite as taxing as they are right now.

We are also battling a bunch of other crazy things. Joey had a staph infection that was very painful. We finally got him cleared up, then I got it (man, did that hurt!).  Then Allie got it. Now Joey has it again.  I feel like all we do is bleach the bathroom and wash towels... 

So it's a lot.  We're on the battle ground. We're fragile.  We're playing catch up with a boy who lived over 8 years of his life without us.  He was malnourished, delayed developmentally, had no schooling... and he didn't ask to be in this position. So we will persevere. Because let's face it, Joey didn't ask to be an orphan. Our hard is a million times easier than his hard. 

And along with the hard comes so much joy, love and hope, and that's what we cling to.  Another thing we've learned is that God also blesses us abundantly.  Seeing all of our kids together is such a blessing.  They'll always have each other. Their hearts are growing. They're learning to serve their brother, put his needs first.  They're becoming who God intends for them to be as well, through these adoption experiences.  

We've also had so many unexpected blessings. We had prepared ourselves for his arm being casted for quite some time.  But two weeks after his first cast was put on, we got the amazing news that his little arm was already healed enough to not require another cast!  And now, less than a month later, we've already almost forgotten that his arm was ever broken in the first place. Amazing!

One of the very best things we get to do as adoptive parents is experience so many firsts with him. His first time fishing. His first Halloween. His first time walking in the woods.  So many things are new to him and we get caught up in the excitement of seemingly ordinary things with him. How lucky are we!

I hesitate to write about the hard. The last thing I ever want to do is scare someone away from adoption. But hear this: these kids are worth every last second of The Hard. Yes, we need to be prepared. We need to be aware of The Hard that will come, so we can be better equipped to handle it when it's here.  Being real about what it's really like is so important, because we need support to get through The Hard.  We need understanding about feeling drained and needing breaks.  But never, ever would we say adoption is TOO hard. We are living proof that God equips ordinary, every day people to do His work.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.…"   
Hebrews 12:1-2

Working on learning the letters!

Lunch at school with this boy!

5 at the doctor... that was fun.

Lizard find.

Joey's first walk in the woods.


He caught one!

First Skyline Chili... any noodles is fine by him!

First Tigers football game

First pumpkin painting and carving

Sweetest little feet.

Halloween! (Spiderman figured out the candy thing real quick!)

Wolf sanctuary with Uncle Matt.

Switching clothes for the winter... a major undertaking!

Hanging with the dogs (in the sandbox).

Bailey was super patient while Joey buried him in the sand. 

PJ Day at school

Joey's 1st day of school!!!

First time riding the bus!

Grandpa and a friend built custom stairs for Joey - 
he can now get in and out of the house completely on his own!

Silly games, best buddies

Annual Pumpkin Smash - Daddy drops our rotten pumpkins from the roof!

Three 8 year olds- Cousin Izzy, Joey & Sam

We find out Maggie needs ear tubes again.

My Chinese babes.

Enjoying beautiful November weather!

Survived the Social Security office with my 8 year old buddies.

Then we hit up the Asian market!

Thanksgiving feast with these sweet girl!

We head downtown to finalize some more paperwork 
in order to get his Ohio Birth Certificate.

Our van is overflowing. Literally. 
Our big boys have to climb in through the back hatch to get to their seat.

A visit to Daddy's work.
Joey is in awe!

Shopping with 5 kids in tow.
Ben & Sam are such a huge help!

Lots of bakers helping.

Video Chatting with some buddies from his 
orphanage who have also been adopted!

A big pile of boys.

Cousins, musicians.

Joey's 1st Thanksgiving!

At the Emergency Room for his arm. 

He gets a splint for the first few days.

Ready to get those ear tubes and enjoy 
less infections and better hearing!

This tiny 4 year old tot is SUCH a help feeding her brother.

He managed a tiny smile after getting his cast.

Allie loses her first and second tooth all in one day!

 Joey's first time with us for our annual 
tradition of a walking nativity at a local church.

How lucky are we to have these 3 amazing 
little people be ours forever?!

They are always creating some kind of imaginative play idea.



  1. You are truly blessed!!! Great photos. Love and hugs, Nancy

  2. Thank you for sharing the hard part of adoption! We are living it right now too and it is nice to see encouragement and understanding that it is not just us that feels this way!