Letter to My New Mom Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m getting ready to go out of town for a few days, and so I wanted to reprise something for Mother’s Day from a few years back. This year Christopher turns 18, and is reconnecting with some of his birth family, so it seems like the right time to get a little retrospective. (If that’s the right word.)

Oh, and if you caught my Mother’s Day article over at “The Perennial Gen” and have wandered over here … Welcome! (Don’t get scared off by the post under this one. I promise I can’t remember the last time I blogged about anything political. I have enough drama in my life without adding to it — don’t you?)

And so, without further ado … Pour yourself a cup of tea and meander with me to 2015.

Next weekend we celebrate a decade of “official” family life. Ten years since the adoptions were finalized and the kids were officially welcomed into the family . . . and baptized into God’s. We plan to go to Cedar Point with their godparents, to celebrate. This weekend, though, as Sarah and I sit in the living room — her painting designs on her fingernails and watching Girl Meets World, and me typing, my mind drifts back to those first few weeks together. Some parts are such a blur, but others come back with crystal clarity. And so, before those bits get fuzzy, too, I thought I’d write a little letter to my new-mom self.

Dear New-Mom Heidi:

I know it seems impossible right now, when every hour drags as you try to cope with enormous mounds of laundry and unending chaos. Poop on the walls. Food splattered on the ceiling. Kids screaming you awake at one-hour intervals. A husband who spends L-O-N-G hours at work and leaves you alone from dawn to dusk with these ornery little dickenses. I know. I know. But trust me, it won’t always be like this.

Be as gentle with yourself and your family as you possibly can. You have undertaken the most difficult challenge of your adult life, infinitely harder than you thought it would be. But trust me when I tell you this: You can make it easier, or you can make it MUCH harder, just by what you choose to see. This is not the time for your “volunteer” gene to go into overdrive at church, or to take on a forty-hour work week. Because you will never get this time back. And neither will your kids.

Don’t worry about your job right now, and get some help if you possibly can so you can catch up on your sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Every moment you spend with them now will pay rich dividends down the line. But now it’s time to pay up.

Breathe. Laugh. Relax. These kids won’t get calmer, or sleepier, or happier if you are a stressed-out mess. So do everyone a favor. Don’t set the bar too high. Get some help — since you don’t have family nearby, au pairs are worth their weight in gold. Keeping them at home, close to you, is going to help the trauma heal. Read about trauma. And stop yelling, or you’ll make it worse.

Protect them, and never let them out of your direct line of vision, even with other kids. Yes, you need a break, and yes those breaks are few and far between. But trauma attracts trauma, and the worst kinds of abuse breeds sneakiness. Keep your kids close, as close as you possibly can as much as you possibly can, if you want those broken little hearts to heal. When you want their attention, whisper. And don’t forget to teach them “feelings” words. Or to get down on their level, and touch them gently when you want to make eye contact.

Resign your dreams and expectations. They may always struggle academically, no matter how many story hours and silly songs you share with them. No matter how many specialists and therapists they see. They may never make the honor roll, but if they keep talking to you, you’re ahead of the game. Spend more time focusing on their gifts, and less on their challenges.

Expect it to hurt . . . but look for the joy. The kids won’t remember if you stood over them while they struggled through their homework. But they’ll never forget it when you put down the rake, and jump in the leaf pile with them! Let them eat the raw cookie dough and sprinkles, and don’t ration the M&Ms so much.

Adoption is hard work. Don’t forget to enjoy the perks!

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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Adoption Tip: Connect Virtually with Your Child’s Mother

The other day I came across this extraordinary website that I wanted to share with all those out there who want more than anything to connect with the mother of your future child.

Thanks to the miracle of new media, there are more options than ever to get the word out about your desire for family. If you are interested in domestic adoption, this is an option you should seriously consider.

Remember, though … a website is only as good as it is effective in making connections. Put your URL out there every way you can think of. That is every bit as important as creating the site itself!

God bless you!

Are Your Head and Heart in Balance?

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Yesterday we had a sibling visit with my children’s older brother (“brother by blood,” as my kids say). Casey was adopted by another couple, who went on to adopt a second teenager (God bless ’em) after raising two “home-grown” children.

In less than a year, Casey went from being the oldest to youngest in his family of four kids. And he would be the first to tell you it hasn’t been easy. “I get mad a lot,” he said to me last night over burgers.

Ironically, he knows in his head that he ‘s better off now. “If I had stayed with my parents, I would be dead by now,” he tells me. “It wasn’t safe. Not for any of us … not my brother, and not my sisters.” Even so, he yearns for his first family. I keep praying for him, hoping that he will let his guard down and return the love of his adoptive parents. Someday soon.

To their credit, Casey’s new family is hanging in there. It can’t be easy.  But they have made a commitment to this boy, and by golly they are going to see it through. Each day, they will to love Casey, even when their hearts must break from all his mischief. I admire them more than I can say.

So much about foster parenting (and in some cases, adoptive parenting as well) is about keeping natural heart impulses in check in order to give the head free reign. As mothers, we want to nurture and tend to our children’s every need. We want them to be happy and well adjusted. We want them to be safe and well. We willingly put our own needs on hold at times in order to secure these things. And when reality doesn’t match the rosy image we have in our heads, we get discouraged.

Which is one of the many reasons God created husbands and wives to work together in the task of parenting. When I struggle in knowing the right way to handle a situation, I can count on my husband to help us both gain perspective. When I get in over my head, I know I can trust him because he is (a) the smartest man I know and (b) the kindest.

Oftentimes when a couple begins to explore adoption, one or the other is more enthusiastic. Usually, but not always, it is the husband who is the more reluctant partner, or the one who has more questions. When people have asked me what to do when this happens, my advice is simple:  Get the answers you need so BOTH of you are comfortable with the decision.

Getting the perspective of a disinterested and impartial third party can also help. (The social worker may not be the best choice, as they have a vested interest in getting children placed in homes as quickly as possible … Even if you are unsure of whether you can handle the specifics.)

God also gives us pastors, and friends, and extended family — all of whom will need to be on your “support team” if and when you decide to add to your family through adoption or foster care. Ultimately YOU are the one who must make decisions for your family — and live with those decisions. But if you are conflicted, or confused, or uncertain … Striking that all-important balance is easier to accomplish by talking things over with a third party.

Don’t rush, or allow yourself to be talked into something you know in your heart is beyond your abilities to handle. Get the answers you need, and take all the time you need, until you and your spouse are in agreement. There are thousands of children in need of homes … and sadly, most of them will still be there a week or a month from now.

Trust God to bring your child to you when the time is right.

EMN Mailbag: “Should I disrupt this adoption?”

Adoption is the sweet fruit that miraculously falls from bitter trees.” (The Call to Adoption, p.153).

I was up early this morning, thinking and praying about a letter I received from a distraught mother, and the little boy she and her husband adopted from Guatemala… we’ll call him “Juan.” This mother “Melody” has a chronic illness, and three biological children who are all under the age of 10. Still, they wanted to adopt. The family labored for three years to bring little Juan home … then discovered he had a history of sexual abuse and neglect.  Continue reading

Sneak Preview: An Adoption Story

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NOTE: I am making edits on an article on Catholic Exchange, which I hope will run next week. In the meantime, I thought it prudent to offer a bit more information on my own background, as well as clarify my position on some aspects of the “front end” of adoption.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to direct my regular readers to an important resource for women in crisis pregnancies and those considering open adoption, a book entitled “Because I Loved You,” which I have reviewed at the end of this article. I would like to thank Patricia Dischler and others who have taken time to help me “fill in the gaps” concerning some aspects of adoption with which I do not have relevant firsthand experience.

The first time it happened, it came from nowhere, and struck without warning. In the middle of my son’s honors assembly, I heard a name I had tried hard to forget: it belonged to a fourth-grader whose name was the same as that of my youngest sister’s second child.

Two of my sisters experienced crisis pregnancies as teenagers. The first time, my parents threw my sister out of the house. Soon thereafter she married an abusive man who was not the father of her child — and never let either my sister or her daughter forget it. In time my sister escaped, but only after a prolonged legal battle in which she nearly lost her daughter to her abuser (in NJ, he had the right to sue for custody though he wasn’t K’s father).

The second time one of their teenage daughters became pregnant, my parents rallied around her, promising to help her raise her child. Two years later, when it happened again to the same daughter, the three of them chose a Christian couple who would provide a good home for the baby boy, and who agreed to open adoption.

For the most part, I watched all this unfold from the sidelines. I was thirty and unmarried, focused on my career and living hundreds of miles away. I offered to raise my sister’s child, but it was decided the other couple was a better choice. They were married, had more financial resources, and were “Christian” (as opposed to Catholic, as I am).

But it was not to be. The bio father (we’ll call him “Gary”) fought to keep the child … and won. The adoptive parents’ petition was denied, my sister’s parental rights were terminated … and Gary swore she would never see her child again. My sister’s son would never want to see her – Gary would see to that.

When I heard that Gary was contesting the adoption, I had tried to warn my family that it might not turn out as they had hoped. After all, the family court system was bound to favor a biological parent over an adoptive one. Mom disagreed adamantly – Gary had a criminal record, was abusive, and had so frightened my parents that they were in the process of moving to another state. He had recently married, but his wife was killed in an accident in the middle of the hearing. His grief made him even more determined to punish my family, whom he blamed for his current situation.

Mom had been confident: “No judge will choose him over the parents your sister has picked for her child.”

She was confident. She was also wrong.

I’ve often wondered if, had my family approached the situation a bit differently, if I might have a relationship with my nephew today. Certainly it is “in the best interests of the child” to know his mother and her family – and yet, once my family had set themselves firmly in opposition to him, and their adversary’s rights prevailed … they lost everything. Yes, he could have chosen the higher road – and at some point down the line, I hope he will do so out of love for his son. But I’m not counting on it.

Nine years later, I still avoid looking at that little face in my parents’ “rogue’s gallery” of grandchildren’s photographs in their living room. Hurts too much. And when I hear his name called at a school assembly, though I know it’s not the same child – I still wince. Continue reading

Adoption “Unnatural”?

Hey, Al … Where’s Heidi?

If you got my newsletter today, and tuned in to “Kresta in the Afternoon” wondering where I am … tune in again on Thursday! We’ll be having a lively discussion about EMN and adoption at 3:00 EST. Don’t have Catholic radio in your neighborhood? Just listen in by computer by clicking here!

This afternoon I was also on Lisa Hendey’s “Catholic Moments” podcast. Right after the podcast, Lisa was leaving to attend the funeral of an eighteen-year-old boy, Russell, who was in a skateboarding accident last year, and finally succumbed to his injuries. Please pray for the soul of this young man, and for his mother, Cathy.

Mighty Mom sent this link to me today, a YouTube clip about “the dog who had cats for lunch.”

If animals are capable of cross-species “adoption” — how much more should we be willing to tend to the needs of children in need of families?

Are you a struggling adoptive parent? Is your child acting out in ways you are afraid you are not equipped to handle? Is she so destructive you are afraid to leave her alone? Is the reality of parenthood turning out to be harder than you thought it would be? Are you seriously considering just throwing in the towel?

You are in our prayers today. Take a deep breath, then find a way to take a break — hire a babysitter for a couple of hours, or talk to your agency about finding respite care (preferably someone who speaks your child’s language, if he or she is foreign-born). Then go to a coffee shop and read this article at “Destinations, Dreams and Dogs” about meeting the challenges of raising older adopted children, particularly those from Russia (though her wisdom translates well to foster children, too!).

Thanks to “O Solo Mama” for sending it!

Above all, hang in there, and remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away, but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, lacks for nothing.
God alone suffices. 

John Paul II and National Adoption Month!

“Adopting children, regarding and treating them as one’s own children, means recognizing that the relationship between parents and children is not measured only by genetic standards. Procreative love is first and foremost a gift of self. There is a form of ‘procreation’ which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is in no way inferior to one based on a biological connection. When this is also juridically protected, as it is in adoption, in a family united by the stable bond of marriage, it assures the child that peaceful atmosphere and that paternal and maternal love which he needs for his full human development.”

John Paul II, Letter to Adoptive Families (Sept 5, 2000)

November is National Adoption Month — and today,  November 15 — is National Adoption Day!! Yipee!!!

Are you looking for ways to celebrate adoption? Click here to go to an article from “Adoptive Families” magazine that offers 30 ways families can celebrate!

For more information about this important resource for adoptive parents, or to subscribe, click here!