Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Friday, May 29, 2015

Where did the time go?

A couple years ago I had a dream. One of those very vivid dreams when you wake up and can't believe it wasn't real. In my dream I was holding my son Noah in my lap. He was a toddler, wearing my favorite outfit I loved dressing him in at the time. I could smell his hair, feel his weight in my lap, feel his tiny hand on my face. I woke from the dream sobbing tears of anguish. I wanted the time back. I wanted my baby boy back in my lap where I could hold him and keep him safe. I worried this dream was some warning or premonition that something terrible had or was going to happen. I sat at the dining room table and closed my eyes and I could still feel all of it. It was several days before the sensation was gone.

Last night I had the same dream, only this time it was about Angela. I could feel her fuzzy hair on my cheek, her hand on my ear, pinching the lobe as she liked to do. My heart ached to go back in time. When I awoke I realized the purpose of the dream. It reminded me to cherish the times I have with my children.

...to pay attention to the little things.

...the feel of them in my lap.

...their hands on my face.

...the light in their eyes.

...the sound of their laughter.

Next week Angela, my biological baby, will graduate from high school. Some of you have been reading here since the beginning. For 10 years I've been telling you the story of Angela's life. I look back at it all...the good, the bad, the difficult, the tears, the triumphs, the smiles, and I am happy.

I can't say I'm sad to see Angela's high school years come to an end. I no longer have to fight for her to be included. I no longer have to worry if people are nice to her in school. There have been many wonderful things about high school too, and Angela really liked it there. That's the most important part, right? That she liked it?

My darling daughter. My tomboy princess. Thank you for teaching me so much over the past 19 years.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pt 4: Celebrating our family

 Please join us in welcoming Amos to our family! 



 "Amos" (not his real name) is 10 years old and, like our other kids at home, he has Down syndrome.

So now we have triplets. .Ten year old triplets who could not be more different from one another.

We love you Amos! We can't wait to show you to the world!


(Since I know there will be plenty of questions, let me just say I will not be posting details about his first adoptive family, or why he was placed with us. When the adoption is final we'll be able to post full pictures of him and use his real name. Since I know it will be asked at some point, and the haters are still gonna hate, I will just say that yes, I can still go anywhere by myself with all the kids. :-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sometimes it doesn't work Pt 3

There are lots of big secrets in the adoption community. The first is that adoption can be hard. Really hard. The easy part of the adoption is the adoption process itself. If you are in the middle of your first adoption process and kind of stressed out about it, be prepared. This is like early labor pains.

In my second post in this series I talked about another big secret: adoption dissolution.  It is a difficult concept for some people to understand. A few people commented on my Facebook wall that they used to be the people who were horrified that someone would dissolve their adoption, giving the child away to someone else. Then they themselves adopted a child who wasn't easy, and they now consider themselves enlightened.

Let me talk about the child for a bit, since he or she is at the center of it all. Let us never forget that no mater what, the child is always the victim in the case of adoption dissolution. The child, no matter how socially, emotionally or psychologically messed up, is nothing more than a product of the crap circumstances he or she was forced to endure. Chronic abuse, starvation, numerous rejections and neglect of all kinds before being adopted can and will do a number on a child's mind, body and spirit. Behaviors that are learned and ingrained in the child can destroy a family. The behaviors can fall into the category of "very annoying" and not harmful, or they can put the adopted child or other kids in the house at risk. The child cannot help it, and healing can take years, or decades. Sometimes... Sometimes healing never happens. Unfortunately there are some things about a child you cannot know until they are already in your home. Even-so It is up to the adoptive parent to assure the child's needs are met, no matter what. No matter what kind of behavior is displayed, no matter how much the child gets on your nerves, and even when that behavior puts other children in the house at risk. If the adoptive parent chooses to dissolve the adoption, it is parent's responsibility to know where that child is going and with whom. To make sure all legal processes are followed according to state rules and regulations.

So the family chooses to dissolve the adoption, how do they do it? It can happen many different ways, using county placement services, foster care, or private placement. I don't know which, if any, is more common. Personally I hear the most about private placement using a private agency or adoption attorney. Several states now have laws in effect that require Social Services to be involved in a situation where a child is placed with a non-relative. In many states homestudies and background checks must be done as with any adoption and ICPC regulations for each state must be followed.

There is one more secret I want to tell you about.

In the case of private placement, in an effort to protect the first adoptive family from judgement and ridicule, the second family often goes through the adoption process very quietly. There is no big announcement of "Meet our new child!", and any celebrating is done only with those close to the new family. And that, my friends is the purpose of my dragging you through three blog posts. Don't get me wrong, I don't like dissolution, but I understand there is a time and place for it. I also understand that every child deserves to be celebrated. Every parent, whether adoptive or biological, deserves the right to celebrate the addition of a new family member, which brings me to part 4. I promise, its the last one!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sometimes it doesn't work Pt 2

For as long as we have been part of the adoption community - a year or so prior to our first adoption - we have known there was a need for adoptive families to access respite care for their adopted child. The reasons are as varied as the children and parents themselves. Maybe the child never sleeps and the parents need a weekend to do nothing other than sleep. Maybe the child has very high medical needs and the parents need a few days to rest up and recharge without constantly responding to the next pump alarm, diaper blow out or tube feeding. Maybe they just need a few hours to reconnect with their spouse. Sometimes the situation is a bit more extreme; a family seeking counseling to get their feet back under them, or a family considering dissolution.

A few months ago Dean and I made the decision to open our home to adoptive families who need respite for whatever reason. Every parent, no matter how amazing, no matter how much patience and training they have, needs a break. . And its not even just the parents! Often the entire family needs a break! Unfortunately not all kids are cute and adorable, particularly if they are post institutional children. Some of these kids can be really difficult to find outside care for. I know, we know, because we have a child who cannot be left with just anyone. We have a child who may be amazing for us, but for anyone else - including school staff - immediately reverts to a feral state the moment we are out of sight. There is no such thing as getting a sitter for this child. And so Dean and I chose to become "those people" who aren't really phased by a kid who struggles to function while his or her parents get a much needed breather. We have also offered respite to families who are barely hanging on by a thread, who's marriages and/or families are falling apart around them. In these situations we request the family be seeking counseling services, being proactive in their attempts to keep their family together, while we are providing respite.

Adoption dissolution, sometimes referred to as disruption, is not a new phenomenon. It is not even rare. I think most people would be shocked to know just how often it happens, mostly because nobody talks about it. It is the deep, dark secret of the adoption community. Adoption dissolution is so common that every state in the US has attorneys who specialize in the process, who are specially trained in the laws of ICPC regulations (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children). However, with the advent of social media, first with blogs, then Facebook and other ways to connect, people are hearing about adoption dissolution for the first time and are shocked this could be happening. Again, its not new. Maybe just new to you.

I think it is difficult for those who have never adopted, or who were lucky enough to adopt an "easy" child, to put themselves in the shoes of the adoptive family in crisis. If you have a biological child, think back those first few months. Maybe you had a really colicky baby and you were frazzled to no end. Now imagine doing that with a child who you have no connection to...or...gasp....who you may not even like. Maybe you had a baby who was super easy, and you looked at your friend with the colicky baby, saying to yourself, "Thank God that's not me!" Now, substitute "new baby" with adopted child.

As I mentioned above, adoption dissolution is the dirty secret of the adoption world. Why? Why the secret? Because of those who have no compassion for the failures of humans. I don't know of anyone who adopts a child and disrupts, who does not spend months in agony over the decision, tearing themselves apart about what they could have done differently, better, faster, or not at all. Some who regret the decision to adopt in the first place. And of course, there is human pride. "I failed." There is much judgement that cannot be avoided. Some families move to other communities where the neighbors don't know a child is missing, some change churches, others just stop talking to anyone, leaving their biological children to answer the questions of others. If you can imagine a situation, it has probably happened.

But what happens next? Where does the child go? That child who wasn't bonding or was difficult to manage. The child one family could no longer care for?

That's the other secret... Part 3.


Sometimes it doesn't work Pt 1

Imagine walking through the city streets of Anywhere, USA when you encounter a group of homeless street children begging for food or money. You ask each of them their ages. There is a wide range, from three -15. You think of your home, your family, the empty seat at your table and the empty bed in the guest room. "I could do this" you think to yourself. You choose a child based on his age because that is really all you know.

 You go through the legal process to bring that child into your family. Everyone in the house is excited! Your children are excited about another sibling, maybe even to share a room with him or her. Your spouse is excited because there had been discussion about another baby but nobody was sure about going that direction. The new child is excited to have a family, with many hopes and dreams that will finally be satisfied by that word, "family".

And then the child comes home.

You discover it is hard to love a total stranger. It is hard to have a total stranger come into your home and just "know" how the house functions. This child, who has never had a family has spent his or her life fighting for every need and doesn't know how NOT to fight. Property destruction is a daily, sometimes hourly occurrence. Screaming, tantrums, aggression towards self and others, and the list goes on. Months go by and your biological children are unhappy because their peaceful lives have been turned upside down. They resent this new sibling. Your spouse had no idea this child was going to come with the issues he or she has and they are not getting resolved as quickly as everyone expected. Your friends adopted a child with similar needs and they are not still struggling months later! Surely you're doing something wrong? Surely there is some therapy or medication or...or....something that will help this all get better.

Finally the family reaches the point of crisis. The family unit is disintegrating. People are walking out, both kids and adults, because the stress has become too much and there is no help available. Nobody seems to understand how one child can cause such upheaval. In your head you know it is not the child causing the damage, but what is it? Is it an inability of the child to bond with the family? Is it the inability of the parent to bond with the child? Is it lack of experience? Training? Unrealistic expectations of adoption? Is there even an answer?   You feel like a failure. You have failed your children, your family, the adopted child who you promised a family who would love and adore him or her. Can you repair the damage done to each of the family members? You know the family needs counseling but where do you seek such counseling? You reach out for help even through fear of being judged; even though people will say you didn't try hard enough. Long enough. You didn't act fast enough.

You reach out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Little Girl at the Piano

Four years ago, my friend Hope Anne and I became very close phone friends as she prepared to travel to Ukraine to adopt her new daughter Katya. Let me tell you a bit about Katya.

Katya was born in Ukraine with a skull that was badly misshapen and in need of surgical reconstruction, not only for cosmetic reasons, but because her brain did not have room to grow. This early fusion of her skull plates caused Katya to suffer chronic, migraine level headaches. Luckily for Katya, she was living in a Ukrainian orphanage where she was severely neglected and malnourished. Since she wasn't growing neither was her brain. Luckily for Katya, she wasn't having headaches yet. Well at least not that anyone knew.

Because Katya was severely neglected and malnourished, and because the orphanage staff didn't actually talk to her, Katya never developed language. She didn't have the ability to tell anyone if her head hurt or not.

Luckily for Katya, she didn't really need language. Not only was she severely neglected and malnourished, but when she was adopted at the age of six, there was no such thing as "school" for her. She had never had even a tiny bit of exposure to anything educational. Katya had never seen a crayon, held a pen or pencil, or been handed a book. 

Because she was severely malnourished and neglected, Katya was often the victim of assaults by the other orphan children who, though malnourished themselves, were much bigger than her. Survival of the fittest is something children who live in orphanages know well, and Katya was anything but fit. 

Katya lived in a primal fight or flight mode. Without language her only way to communicate was through screaming, scratching, hitting or kicking. She wasn't a pleasant child to be around and the caregivers frequently bullied her for no reason other than to release their frustrations. Never loved and certainly never cared for, when her family arrived to adopt her Katya had no idea how to sit in a person's lap, much less accept love and affection.

Katya was a feral child. 

Katya screamed, and screamed and screamed some more. She kicked, scratched, choked and bit. Katya fought for her life. She fought the family who promised to love her and care for her no matter what. Like a wild animal confined to a cage for years on end, Katya paced back and forth in her new home. Home one year when I first met her, Katya was still pacing. She was still screaming. She was still learning what it meant to be loved. She was still learning to feel love, and she was afraid of it.

I want you to understand the sacrifices an adoptive family makes when they choose to love a child like Katya, because I can tell you from experience, this is not a "love at first sight" type of adoption. When a family adopts a feral child, the family has to choose to love the child. They choose to accept scratches instead of hugs. They choose to confine themselves to home for weeks on end, all for the child who has never had exposure to the outside world and isn't yet ready to experience it. They to choose to listen to hours and hours of screaming, keening, and crying. The family chooses to watch their home be destroyed item by item as the child learns to function in the world. The family chooses to put the value of a child above the value of possessions, vacations, popularity or community status.

I want you to understand that a family adopts a feral child because they understand the child has value even when nobody else can see it. Even when the rest of society asks, "But why is this my responsibility?"

But as much as I want you to understand, I want you to see. Something so simple. Something so pure and innocent as a little girl having her very first piano recital at 10 years old. Four years of love and sacrifice. It is only a few short notes. Turn the volume up on your speakers and you may hear a tiny, shaky voice trying to sing along with those few short notes. Remember that these few short notes are possible because of all the sacrifices made by one family. But my favorite part of all the smile of pride as she runs back to her seat. 

Pride. Sacrifice. Joy. Patience. Acceptance. Choice. Love. Katya.
video

If you would like to read more about Katya and her family, her mom Hope Anne blogs at Welcome Home Katya.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Big Switch…take two!

When we brought Abel home two years ago, we had all the boys in the second bedroom and Angela was still in the basement bedroom. Some of you have been reading here a long time and remember that as the Pirate Room. Unfortunately I wasn't happy with where everyone was and  "The Big Switch" happened, and everyone moved to different rooms! When we brought Audrey home last year it was very easy to move her into Angela's room. Because we use the Ikea Kura beds, we had only to flip the bed over to make it into a bunk bed. Easy peasy! Eventually Dean and I even got used to sleeping in a queen bed in the very small bedroom. Ok, maybe not the small bedroom part.

But then a couple weeks ago we decided we need a different house for our family. We would like to be able to provide short term respite for adoptive families who need a break, plus the property where we live now just isn't working well for us as a family of 7. Plus we have Angela's graduation party coming up and I just wanted things cleaned up a bit.

And so "The Big Switch Back" has started! 

Getting the rooms cleaned out and moved around to put the house on the market, in addition to all the school activities for the kids, after school sports, doctors and therapy appointments means I have been one busy mom. While I've been doing that stuff, Dean, Tyler and Bryon have been working on the maintenance projects. Why is it these kinds of things don't seem to get done until you decide to sell your house? Or have a graduation party for your oldest daughter? And where does all this STUFF come from?

Apparently we are hoarders because tucked away into every corner of this house there is more crap than I ever could have imagined. A couple months ago I read the book, "Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing". If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend it. The premise of the book is about only keeping things which bring you joy. It is not about what to get rid of, but about what to keep. When I read it the first time I got anxious thinking about all the stuff in my house that did not bring me joy and how I couldn't wait to get rid of it all. So, as I purge the house for moving I am following this method and only keeping things which are necessary and/or bring me joy.

How about you? Are you ready for a purge? Have you read the book or are you interested in it? 


Friday, May 08, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms reading!

There are probably some new readers here who have come from the Pioneer Press article about our family. Let me give you a little tour:

Some are curious about life juggling kids and cancer. You can read all posts related to breast Cancer by clicking on the Breast cancer label in the left sidebar.

If you're hete to learn about our adoptions, or the Serbian adoption process, you will want to move over to our adoption blog.

Thanks again for paying us a visit here. I hope you stay awhile! 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Decisions



Dean and I recently made a really big decision. Although I am very excited about the possibilities ahead of us, the work involved may cause me to have a nervous breakdown! If only I could put our lives on hold for the next month or two.

We're hoping to have the house on the market by June 1st. You know, in the midst of Angela's graduation week and all that goes with it. We need a different space but are not going far. We don't want to change any of the kids' schools. Although we haven't found a new house yet, I have absolutely fallen in love with one I think is perfect for us. I love the space, the lot, the location, the kitchen, the bedrooms….everything… It makes me giddy thinking about it. But we can't even make an offer on anything until June 1st. And, well there is this small problem with Dean's opinion of it. We'll see if its even still on the market at the end of the month.