2016 is gone, and when I sit and reflect on it, I shake my head in disbelief.
How can it simultaneously be the best and WORST year of my life?
In January we celebrated the long-awaited arrival of our daughter, Aliza. Back in 2012, we began the process and became registered to adopt from Bulgaria. We knew it could be a 3-4 year wait, but we were so hopeful it would be sooner. Each year we had to keep renewing countless documents just to keep our information current. It was maddening.
$42,000 later we got an email. THE email. We were sitting around with long time besties (The Bauers) when the email came in. I knew something was wrong when my husbands face went from confusion, to surprise, to euphoria to devastation. It wasn't how we thought we'd feel, but there was a huge wrinkle in the plan.
When we reached the 4 year waiting mark, we started wondering if we were ever going to get a referral. We wondered if renewing our home study (plus other documents) for hundreds of dollars EACH was the best use of money.
We already had a failed adoption from Ethiopia on the books... $11,000 in and they just pulled the rug out from under us.
So we registered to adopt from China. We were matched with a little girl.We were about to pull the plug on Bulgaria... then BOOM. Bulgaria finally got it's act together. We'd been waiting for 4 long years and suddenly we have TWO referrals!
Scott and I immediately start to build our case that we want both of these girls. Don't make us chose one.
"We can do this!" But our agencies couldn't advise it. We were furious and confused. I was abrupt on the phone: "I will NOT chose one over the other. My heart cannot handle rejecting a child, even if they never know."
They made the choice for us: if we don't adopt this little one from Bulgaria, she may be waiting for a really long time for another family to adopt her. Adoptions in China are happening fast and reliably... the other little girl will be matched soon. (Even with her serious heart condition.) We heartbreakingly accepted our loss on one condition: they email us and tell us as soon as she found her family. And they did. Not 3 months later... another family chose her. I still smile that she was prayed for and wanted by more than one family.
We rested easy after that and turned our focus on little Minka. (We hadn't chosen her English name yet) We picked her up in January, and brought her back to America to process her citizenship paperwork.
For the next several months, we delighted/ marveled/ worried/ stressed over this child. She is a brimming cup of sunshine, almost always happy and very easy to send into a giggle fit.
Our adoption agency prepared us very well to handle the behaviors that are typical of institutionalized children. Food anxiety, bonding, bathroom habits, communication, developmental delays, etc. But one thing I wasn't prepared for was my own emotions regarding her behaviors. I was smitten with her from the first time I saw her picture. The first time I laid eyes on her, wobbly bouncing toddler-stepping into our room and those chocolate eyes.... oh boy was I smitten.
But despite her unending cute-ness, one thing was very clear: she wasn't my biological child. I mourned that I didn't have the same emotion for her as I did when my two biological daughters had been born. She was never tethered to me by an umbilical cord, and never was nourished at my breast. I lamented this. I wanted to go through that with her.
But as we cocooned, I found that bonding didn't need to look like nursing or swaddling. It came, slowly, and is the threads of bonding are being pulled tighter and tighter even now. I could write a whole blog post on how I would have done things SO MUCH differently, but I'll just throw this out there: I would have given up on 90% of the battles we went through with her. As a disciplinarian who feels miffed at being disrespected, I furthered delayed my own feelings of attachment to her with each act that I mistook for "disobedience".
After a few months of living in the States, we returned to our home in China with all three of our daughters; it was delightful to see everyone's reaction to her. I did have to educate a lot of people on how to make her feel safer (stop picking her up and walking off with her!) but our neighbors were gaga over her, and our story. They marveled at the cost of adoption, and we didn't hesitate to talk about the generosity of the Church when His people are called to action.
But a dark cloud descended on our fairy tale. I had gotten the flu in January, and then in February I got strep throat, TWICE. Then again in March. My immune system was out of whack and I knew what was about to happen: an autoimmune flare up. I have ulcerative colitis, a devastating chronic illness that mysteriously flares up and causes huge ulcers to engulf in the colon. They bleed and drain, and the colon becomes so inflamed that you look hugely pregnant. In a matter of weeks, I became sofa-ridden. 15 trips to the bathroom a day, becoming severely anemic from loosing so much blood. I couldn't do anything. My husband became a single father, the chef, the chauffeur, the homeschool teacher, the butler. My comforter.
He finally said "enough is enough" and packed us all up to fly back to America for medical treatment. From July on, I was in and out of my GI's office multiple times a month to keep tweaking my medicines. At one point I had 7 (or 67) pill bottles that covered our bathroom counter.
A couple of months into the medicine I felt much better and thought remission was right around the corner. We were very excited when Aliza had been home for 6 months because that meant we could pursue... our 2nd adoption!! We were registered to adopt from China, but to avoid another situation where we were juggling two referrals at once, we were told not to look at the list of waiting children until Aliza had been home 6 months to give adequate time for bonding.
So on that day, my husband went onto the website and looked at waiting children... long story short, thats where we found our son. There was a huge emotional saga of trying to decide if we were financially capable of handling all of his medical conditions. After speaking directly to the American doctor who evaluated him and was knowledgeable about his rare brain condition, we felt quite sure that this was our son. We signed the letter of intent, and skyped with our agency soon after.
It hit us like a bomb when they told us we would be picking him up in three months.
I stood up in my chair and paced (they're watching all this via webcam haha) and was sputtering... "Thats October. I thought this would be next year. I need to go buy boy clothes! Scott we have to go to the store now! And we don't have any boy toys!" Scott was doing the clenched teeth fake smile whisper: "Ok. Uh, please sit down."
They asked "Are you sure you're okay? Were you not prepared for this to happen this year?" And I had to explain that I was simply ecstaticaly flustered.
While we were waiting for our travel date, my UC condition worsened. Maybe it was stress, but the inflammation was so bad I was afraid I'd have to wear adult diapers on the plane. I was afraid to eat, and plagued by nausea and hunger. But on the plane ride, God clearly lifted my symptoms and for the two weeks we were in China, I was hardly symptomatic. It was such a gift. Thank you Jesus.
And I could turn my focus away from my bowels and onto my son who was waiting.
I totally swooned when I first saw him. Stomach jumped up into my throat. What a little bundle of tiny man cuteness.
My little Judson.
After having a lot of time to evaluate my choice of actions with Aliza, I did things differently. I was more relaxed, and chose to be his observer, not his fixer. I coddled him, doted on him, tried to charm kisses from him. Although I wish I had done more of this with Aliza, it wasn't difficult to get hugs and kisses from her; she was a snuggle bug from day ONE. Kisses and giggles galore. Little man, on the other hand, made us work for it. He was not impressed with us!
No eye contact, no responding to touch or noise. I became concerned that he may be on the autism spectrum, have severe hearing loss and be partially blind. His cognitive expressions were severely delayed.
But after a few days, we started to get some giggles out of him, and I won't forget the first fleeting time he made eye contact with me. The first time he mimicked me (waved at me in the car, home for about 3 weeks), the first time he finally played pretend (picked up a toy phone and made a sound like "aaaa-oooooo").
There was a huge sigh of relief with each new action that told me that his lack of interaction was clearly just from the trauma of adoption.
A two year old can't possibly understand that leaving the place that he thinks is good and comfortable and secure is a good thing. For adults, adoption is full of hope and fuzzies, but for small children, it feels like kidnapping. They lose, we gain.
Now Judson has been home for 2 months, Aliza's been home for almost a year! Aliza is not at all the same child. And Jud has made so much improvement, it's hard to believe it's only been 2 months.
After a month of prednisone, my inflammation is down and I'm living almost normally. I have energy to play, teach, clean and invest in people outside the home.
What a year. The dramatic ups and downs alone were as traumatizing as a roller coaster that only slings you up and down; no gradual descent or incline. Just paddle ball whacking up and down.
But let me sing to the Lord a new song. He has done great things. I've tasted and seen that the Lord. Is. Good. I had a crisis of faith after we brought Judson home and I began feeling sick again. WHY oh WHY are you allowing me to be sick when there are two recent-orphans I'm trying to convince are loved and desired and wished for and longed for?! They need a healthy mommy!
But God, through others, through his word, through his Holy Spirit, through books placed in my hands by family and friends, have shown me the beautiful enigma of suffering. He is bringing the scum of my soul bubbling to the surface to be scraped away. Each scrape is a painful removal of imperfections in my molten, silver soul.
His sanctification is creating a most beautiful thing to behold. I am most Christ-like now, than I was at the beginning of 2016. I am ever so thankful.