Adoption…An Inspired Concept

Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love Amelia G.

The subject of adoption is near and dear to my heart. The adoption of my youngest son and daughter has its own story – one that continues to this day. You can read about my adoption story in my book, A Glimpse of Heaven. However, today, I want to share someone else’s story with you as well. Adoption begins in the heart and that is where it needs to stay – I hope you enjoy today’s story!:

An Adoption Story That Started at Saks

On my many excursions into Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City over the years, I’ve bought countless pairs of shoes that brightened my mood, picked out dresses that (sometimes) flattered my figure, and turned over my credit card for too many cosmetics that I’d hoped would make me look like a fresher, prettier version of myself.

But one afternoon in October 2002, I walked out of the store with something more valuable than anything money could buy. I found hope in the unlikeliest of places after months of despair, thanks to a woman who decided to strike up a conversation with me in the store’s café.

It was a painful time for me. Married a little over two years, I’d suffered three devastating miscarriages in nine months and, at 42, was slowly coming to terms with the idea that I might never be able to have a child. Up until that point, I never really gave much thought to being a mother, and suddenly I could think of little else. My husband and I had been together for ten years before we decided to get married because neither of us was in a hurry to do so. My parents’ marriage had ended disastrously, leaving my mother in deteriorating health and dire financial circumstances. After her death a few years later, I vowed to maintain my independence, and I threw myself into my work as a freelance marketing consultant and fledgling writer. Motherhood just wasn’t part of the plan.

As my 40th birthday approached, I began, for the first time, to notice babies and their happy, smiling mothers wherever I went. I wished I could talk to my own mother about the yearning, hurt, and confusion I was experiencing.

On that fateful day, I’d been trudging around the city sleepwalking through meetings with clients while the voice inside me cried out, “It’s too late! You missed your chance to be a mother! You wanted an all-consuming career, and now you’ve got one.”

A light mist turned into a heavy rain. Perfect, I thought. Just the thing to match my mood. With an hour to kill before my next appointment, I ducked into Saks, hoping to distract myself with some retail therapy. When scouring the sale racks did little to lift my spirits, I decided to head to the ninth-floor café.

An elegantly dressed, slightly older woman wearing a tweed blazer and oversize pearls was seated a few stools away at the half-empty counter.

“Would you like to see a picture of my daughter?” she asked me.

“Sure,” I said, not at all sure why I was remotely interested.

She reached across the counter and handed me a photo of a smiling Chinese girl. The child was about seven years old and was wearing a Snow White costume.

“That’s Melanie. She’s in the first grade,” she said. I could hear the motherly pride in her voice.

“She’s pretty,” I said. “I love her costume.”

We were still chatting when our salads arrived. My new acquaintance told me she was exhausted, having been up half the night worrying over the news that some boys on her daughter’s bus had teased her about the “funny-smelling” Chinese snacks she had in her lunch box.

The woman explained that she felt strongly about teaching her daughter about Chinese customs and maintaining ties to her heritage.

“What made you decide to adopt her?” I asked, uncertain whether I’d ventured into too-personal territory.

“I didn’t want work to be my whole life,” she said.

I’m not sure if she saw the tears welling up in my eyes as I replied, “I don’t either, but I’m afraid it’s too late.”

“I was 51 when I adopted Melanie,” she said with more than a hint of reassurance in her voice. “And it’s the most rewarding, exciting thing I’ve ever done.”

When our checks came, she handed me her business card, and I finally learned her name—and in that minute, I saw a happier, more fulfilled version of myself. Jill Totenberg was a public relations consultant and a happy, loving adoptive parent. Could I ever hope to have that kind of life?

That night, I dreamed of my mother, remembering that she once had wanted to adopt a child from Vietnam, but my father hadn’t felt the same way. It was the first time she’d ever appeared in my dreams. I woke up knowing I could be—and would be—a mother. I also knew how that was going to happen.

A few days later, in the car on our way to dinner, I told my husband that I wanted to look into adopting a girl from China. “You’re enough for me,” he said. “But if you want to find out more about that, we can.”

In early 2003, we registered with an adoption agency and began an 18-month “paper pregnancy.” During that time, I kept in touch with Jill, e-mailing her occasionally. I promised to visit so I could meet her daughter, but as often happens, life got in the way. Still, the little girl in the Snow White costume and her mother were never far away in my thoughts.

When my husband and I returned from China with our nine-month-old daughter, Madeline Jing-Mei, in November 2005, Jill was one of the first people I e-mailed. “I did it!” I wrote. “I’m a mother, and she’s beautiful!”

“Congratulations,” she wrote back. “You’re embarking on the greatest adventure of your life.”

We recently reconnected on Facebook, and I reminded her that meeting her was the single most important encounter I’d ever had with a stranger. “I can’t imagine my life without Madeline. She’s the happiest child, and I adore her. I would have never really thought about adopting a baby from China if I hadn’t met you that day,” I told her. “You changed my life.”

“You were just ready to hear what I had to say,” said Jill. “It was meant to be.”

Today’s story was written by Diane Clehane and is shared from the following website: https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/adoption-story-started-saks/2/

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Your Endless Hours are Making a Difference!

Now that I can no longer claim to be a young mother (let’s just say that my daughters are young mothers) I like to think that I have gained some amazingly wonderful insights into the whole business of birth and motherhood!

If you have read my book, A Glimpse of Heaven, you know that I have four children that have given birth to and 2 children that my husband and I adopted from Russia.

I was determined as a young mother to stay home with my children. I was a pretty typical run-of-the-mill LDS mother who exercised lots of creativity in figuring out how I could maximize time with my children, maximize our income, minimize our expenditures, and minimize my time away from the home!

I believed President Benson’s admonition to stay at home with my children rather than pursue a career. And….there was that something inside my heart that couldn’t bear the thought missing out on all of my children’s ‘firsts” in exchange for a career. However, I can’t honestly say that I understood…really understood what my sacrifices for my children were about or what they were accomplishing.

Fast forward to our adoption…then fast forward 5 years after our adoption was finalized and VOILA….I understood. I understood in ways that I could have never understood before.

It was about five years after we adopted our children from Russia that I learned about an emotional condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). I had personally been dealing with two cases of RAD for 5 years but I had not understood what it was that I was dealing with or its causes.

You see…my two Russian children were removed from their birth parents for neglect and abandonment. As a result of not receiving the care, nurturing, and love they needed as infants and young children their emotional well being was greatly impaired.

What I learned is that when a child does not receive the care, nurturing and love that they need – the appropriate development does not occur. Reasoning ability is delayed or not developed, the conscience is impaired, desire to engage in loving relationships is dismally weak and desire to engage in strange, controlling behaviors is frustratingly strong. For example, my son once deliberately failed an honors class not because he wasn’t capable but because he wanted to show the teacher who was really in control.

In the normal development of a child, the first five years is very important but the time between the ages of 6 months to 18 months is especially critical. It is during those months that a child learns to trust. That’s why we often see babies become so attached to their mother’s during that time of their life.

As a child learns to move and become more independent, they need to learn that we are there for them. They have a dirty diaper and they fight us when we want to change them yet our changing their diaper communicates our love for them and that we are going to take care of them. They try to climb something dangerous and we don’t let them and they learn that we are going to keep them safe. They try to hit us and we teach them hitting is wrong and they may cry unhappy tears but they know that we are providing boundaries that they know will help them be secure.

During those formative months and years that we carry our children within, give birth to them, and then raise them are soooo precious. It is through our presence and our care (physical, emotional and spiritual) that we are able to teach them that they are loved, that there is a safe place for them in this world, and enable them to develop in the very ways that Heavenly Father designed for them to develop. So the next time your baby cries as you leave for date night or your energetic children are exhausting you – smile! Something wonderful is happening! Know that your endless hours and daily care are making a magnificent difference!

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The Truth About Adoption

Happily Ever After…it has a nice ring to it but it’s not about reality.  Yet, happily ever after is what many adoptive families envision of their futures once they bring their child or children home. The adoptive families I am talking about here are not the domestic adoptive families who are bringing home newborns (though I’m sure they want happily ever after too!). I am talking about the families who through domestic or foreign adoption seek out and bring into their loving homes those children who, in their brief lifetimes, have experienced rejection, abandonment, abuse and/or loss. The children I speak of are often at least the age of 2 when they are adopted. My own children were 4 and 9 when we brought them home.

If anyone wants to adopt with the idea of being celebrated as a hero or being nominated for sainthood – I strongly recommend they immediately go to the nearest pet shelter and adopt a dog or cat and abandon the idea of adopting a child altogether. A dog will think you are the best thing to happen since the invention of steak. A cat may think you are nice to snuggle with but I can almost guarantee that it will be a different story with a child.

I think in this instance, it may be wise to fess up to the fact that there has been a time in my own life when blissful delirium prevailed in regards to adoption rather than sober understanding. I was the epitome of the new expectant mother who had not yet been tempered by labor pains, sleepless nights and messy diapers.

If you have read my book, you know that my husband and I adopted two children from Russia as a result of my being commanded by God. As the mother of 4 healthy and active biological children I may be a somewhat atypical adoptive mom in that had I not experienced “divine intervention” I am almost certain that I would never have pursued adoption. However, once my orders from God were in place, I became just like the giddy effervescent new can’t-wait-to-be-a-mom mom.

My (then uneducated) rational told me that any orphaned child that came from a disadvantaged background where poverty, neglect, abandonment and abuse were once experienced would welcome the opportunity to seek refuge in a loving safe home.  I looked forward to welcoming my new children into our home and providing them with an environment they could thrive in. Given their experiences, I honestly believed that my adoptive children would be able to appreciate the blessings of a loving family in a country of great opportunity in a way that my biological children would be incapable of.

Fast forward through 6 1/2 years of searching for my children, the adoption paperwork, the trip to Russia, our return home and our first year of playing charades with our children (charades is necessary when you speak different languages) and then you get to the reality. Though our adopted children gasped as they got their first glimpse of a Walmart store, their enthusiasm for embracing their new family was less gratifying. They resented parental direction, seemed unable to grasp moral lessons, and essentially seemed to care for little else than the food they ate and being warm. Over time, we came to understand that their deliberate attempts to keep their new family at a distance stemmed from the emotional disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The reality is that most of the adopted children who come from eastern European countries (including Russia) and Haiti have RAD. (I am not familiar with the RAD statistics for other countries) Children with RAD are resentful of parents (mothers in particular) and feel they are fully capable of self-parenting. They commonly lie, steal, manipulate, triangulate, make false allegations and warmly embrace self-defeating behaviors in order to feel that at all times and in all situations they are in control.

The abnormal behaviors associated with RAD generally result when infants and toddlers are not given the care and protection they need during those first critical months of life when children generally first learn to trust and to attach to their caregivers (usually moms). As a result, brain development is impaired and they learn to primarily use a fight or flight response to everything they deal with in life. As healthy parents, we care that they learn to love and trust and develop. As children with RAD, they care that they survive, that no one can hurt them again, and that no one has power over them. Conscience has little to no effect on these children and so the lengths that they are willing to go to in order to keep their hearts isolated and protected are truly heart breaking. They will deliberately try to prove that they are unlovable and unstoppable.

When I first learned about RAD, I was so sure that my love and the love of my family could help my adopted children overcome any and all of their problems. However, I truly should have known better. In my book, A Glimpse of Heaven, I refer to my experience of being taken back to heaven and seeing the preparations being made to prepare each of us for life on earth. During that experience, I witnessed that some of God’s spirit children rejected Him. I can tell you that there is not a more loving being than our Heavenly Father and there is not a more loving atmosphere than heaven and yet love did not overcome God’s rejection there and it is not enough to cure children of RAD here. Children with RAD have to want to overcome their emotional issues. Then and only then can love be a powerful tool to help them.

I felt that I needed to write about the truth of adoption because of several conversations that I have had with family and others who have adopted children with RAD. The overwhelming consensus from those conversations is that adoption is good and necessary and yet too many individuals are stepping into the experience with their eyes closed tight and equipped with little to no real life understanding of what they are accepting to be a part of.

I happen to live within a about a mile of two other families besides my own who have adopted children with RAD (All of us ignorant of RAD at the time we adopted and the ramifications of what that meant). In each family, biological children were also a part of the family.

Not coincidentally, each family has:

•    Experienced significant behavioral problems with their adopted children
•    Gone to great lengths to help their adopted children (counseling, etc).
•    Have had their adopted children make false allegations.
•    Experienced rejection and have been ostracized by extended family and friends who have believed the false allegations made by adopted children.
•    Been accused by friends and family of being abusive, mean and inept parents.
•    Been victims of theft, lies, and triangulation
•    Been victims of heartbreak as they have experienced the rejection and abuse from the very children they have loved and have endeavored to help.

In one of those families, 8 adoptive children were welcomed into their home. In the other family, 4 children were welcomed into their home. In each of those cases, a significant financial burden was incurred. I personally know no one who would take on that kind of financial and parenting burden (even under the best of circumstances) for any other reason than a generous loving heart and a desire to help a child. Yet, too many too often have been willing to condemn them and judge them.

In hindsight, each of our families wish that we would have known and understood the significant emotional issues that our adopted children came equipped with. I, for one, would have still adopted my children but my handling of them in those crucial first years would have been dramatically different. I cannot know if the outcomes would have been different but I certainly feel that I would have been more prepared.

After all that my family and I have been through as a result of our adoption, I am still a believer in adoption and I believe that all children deserve a loving, safe home. I know that the reality is that too many children know hunger, cold, abandonment, abuse and an environment too void of nurturing. However, I also know that those who bring those children into their homes who have started life in less than stellar circumstances need to do so with an understanding of the skills they will need and task they are undertaking. And…they need to know that while love will be critical and essential…it will not be enough to remove the barricades from the hearts of their children.

Parenting of any child is a demanding and difficult endeavor. Under the best of circumstances, parenting is not and never has been for the faint of heart. However, as a parent of 4 biological children and 2 adopted children, I can verify that although the love and concern for each child will be the same and each child comes with their own unique challenges no matter how they become part of a family – the courage and mettle required to parent a child with RAD requires the best heart and soul a person can offer.

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