Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Silence of Adoption

They are beautiful boys.
Our sons from across the ocean.
Each day I get the pleasure of greeting them in the morning and each night kissing their little heads to sleep.
They go through the day talking and creating messes and making plans on this, that or the other.
They are silly and fun and keep us on our toes in this house.
But they are more than just beautiful boys in a picture.
Though they are fun-loving and silly and creators of all the mess in our house, I would be selling them short and this blog short to only imply that is all to their lives.
Our boys come with stories. Stories filled with grief and loss. Both were abandoned at birth.  Both spent their first five years in baby houses where they learned that soft hands would never pick them up if they cried, so they learned to bury their cries deep down into the very depth of their beings.
They never had the luxury of being rocked in someone's arms.  So they learned to rock themselves. Back and forth. Back and forth in their cribs. Hour after hour. Day after day. Year after year. My boys rocked themselves because no loving hands took the time to rock them. They still rock themselves.  Break my heart. They still rock themselves at night.

Both boys had disabilities that sidelined them. Labeled them.  Disabilities that caused them endless hours of suffering in hospitals without kind hands to caress away the pain.
Both boys spent way too many years living in institutions where survival of the fittest was the rule they learned to live by.
And they bear those scars.  Both of my boys. They bear the scars of neglect and abandonment. They carry with them the trauma of their early years in and out of hospitals. 
I would be wrong in this blog to indicate that they came blazing out of their former lives and danced merrily into our family with ease.
Five and a half years ago we met a scared little boy who had been sentenced to live the rest of his life in a mental institute, but for the Grace of God. 
Last year we met another little boy who had spent almost 11 years of his life whispering prayers for a family to love him best of all.
Both boys in their own way have rocked our worlds.  There have been times when we have been deep in the trenches with our sons. In those times we have struggled to put into words what it is like because we barely understood the rules of engagement. 
Here's the truth.
When you are in the trenches  - you often don't have the mental clarity to explain what is going on. And just when you think you can put into words what is happening, everything changes and you find yourself in a different trench. Sometimes a whole maze of trenches.
Some trenches are shallow and easy.
Some are deep and devastatingly complicated.
Some are private.  Things that can't be shared openly.
Some are too darn confusing.
I am not usually one to be at a loss for words but honestly, when it comes to figuring out the world of my adopted sons I tend to be often at a loss for words.
There are some days when I want to just sit down and write a book.  Because maybe then I could bring clarity to what we have experienced with our sweet sons from across the ocean.
There have been many many times in our journey with Aaron over the years that I formulated words in my head only to find that by the time I got the words on paper they made no sense in relation to the trench we had moved into.
There are a million books about caring for a newborn baby.  I read them all when I was expecting Ben and Elijah.  There are just as many million about what to expect the first year of life with that baby.  I read those too.
There are few books on how to care for a child just out of a mental institute.  Few have written how-to's on what to do with a child who has lost all language because of the devastating trauma of transfer. Or what to do with a child who is happy and engaged one minute and 'gone' the next.  No one has written the manual for how to teach a child who was raised where books were non-existent and who spent every single day of his first five years in two rooms with just baby toys which most of the time sat pretty on the shelf.  There are only a few books out there that gave us clues on how to navigate in a world where our son cycled back and forth from emotional sunshine to rain throughout the day. And the book on what to do with a child who spent a solid year sitting in a shed surrounded by moaning boys - not on the shelf.
There are no how-to books about the effect of transfer to a mental institute on a five year old little boy. None that I have ever found. 
So we winged it.  We trial and errored with Aaron.  He had given up all language in the mental institute.  We instituted talking as a rule in our family. We developed battle plans when he 'disappeared' and we worked through his rages.  He learned what family meant and we learned to love a little boy who recoiled when touched.  We realized early on that formal learning was out the window.  He needed time to just play. No toys sat on the shelf in our house. We let him play.  Hour after hour after hour he played, surrounded by trucks and trains and planes because for two solid years every single one of his simple little conversations was about trucks or trains or planes. We battled for his heart and some days we felt vindicated in our battle and others battered and bruised. 
Trench life is hard on the family.
Children from institutes are world-class experts on how to manipulate between the parents. And let me tell you that it doesn't take a lot of speech for a child to spin his web. We had to learn quickly how to deal with the manipulation. 
We waded through the trenches with Aaron and because of our time spent, we thought we had a clue how to help another child into our family.
Then came John.
Last year we brought home a little boy who wakes up with a desperation each morning  to know again and again and again that he is loved. Some days, many days, his attempts at love get muddled up in behavior that causes conflict and struggle. 
He spent almost 11 sorry years in an institution. No matter how nice or pleasant an institution, it is not a family. It never will be a family. Children belong in families. From birth.  In institutes they learn to lie and steal and manipulate to survive. They learn the rule that only the fit survive so they make themselves fit and fast and sure. They learn that certain behaviors gain them the greatest attention so they become professionals at those behaviors. 
It's how he survived.
He was a master at survival.
It doesn't work in a family.
It's a disaster in a family.
 I wish with all the deepest part of my heart that I can erase the pain in John's hurting self and be his mom from birth. I wish I could reach back and take him out of his crib and hold him and kiss him and whisper love into his ears. I wish I could.  We are playing catch up. It is hard work.  It forces me to my knees every single day praying for God to give me tender love and eyes that see for my little boy.
Eleven years is a long time.  One year is short and barely scratches the surface on helping a little boy heal from so much neglect and abandonment.
And with John's pain, much has surfaced for Aaron. 
So we have spent a year focusing in on our two sons from across the ocean. Those who live in our world have listened and encouraged as we have shared our journey.  Those who follow our blog have wondered as this blog has been silent so much of the time.
It's the silence of adoption.
It's not because we are hiding. 
It's not because we want to gloss over our lives and give a false impression of adoption to the world.
It's because words are shabby and elusive and so much of the time I just don't know what to say and don't truly have the mental energy to chase after those elusive words.
It happens to many many families after they come home. It is a disappointing reality for those who are watching and praying the child home.  The family is so great about sharing the adoption story and so many jump on board to support and encourage and then the family hits American soil and suddenly the family is silent.
A blog here or there with happy pictures or maybe hints that things are tough but few words and little information.
It's the silence of adoption.
It's those early days with a traumatized child and a family in shock trying to wade through in a process where the handbooks are sadly inadequate. 
The truth. It is in that time that the family needs the support the most. The months of quiet.  The silent times.  When words are inadequate and thoughts are too jumbled to get onto paper.
It is those times when the family needs prayers.  They need the church, the neighbors, the friends, the family to step up. They need people to encourage.  Call. Ask. Listen. 
Without judgment.  With ears of understanding.  With a willingness to give the family a break so they can pass through this season free from guilt. And shame.  Because with the trauma comes layers of shame for the mom and the dad.
Wading through with a child lost in trauma is a humbling, scary and guilt-ridden process. There are times when the family struggles deeply with how to love. They struggle with questions and doubt. When they see the trauma affecting their other children the layers of guilt get ever deeper.
They feel shame for the anger and frustration they feel towards the hurting child in their midst. They feel shame that they aren't experts on raising this child despite many of them who have been there and done that with the other children in their family. They feel guilt that they can't even find the words to express their current world.
And one of the hardest parts - when the child who spins out of control at home, goes out in public and smiles and glad hands everyone in his or her path, charming the socks off the adults around him leaving the parents feeling ever more alone. How can they share about the battle when the child is obviously so sweet and easy?
It's a complicated bunch of mess in that silence. 
I can say this on a personal level.
We have come a long ways.
The trauma that marked every waking hour of the first months has become trauma a few times a month instead.  In the same way there were no manuals for Aaron, we have found that the books out there for raising a child 11 years in an institute are woefully inadequate when you are living the day to day. So we have waded through the trenches, trying this, trying that. Praying a lot.  Seeking counsel.  Talking to each other.  Talking to each other even more because communication between the spouses is a HUGE part of confronting the trauma.  Because as I said before, children from institutes are world-class experts at manipulating the adults around them!!
We have come a long ways.
Through it all God has been good to us. 
I wouldn't trade either of my little boys in their crazy, silly, trauma-filled ways for anything in the world.
They are our beautiful boys.
They have stretched us. They have enriched us. They have challenged us.  They have taught us about love and redemption and grace.
We are not through the trenches with either of our sons.  You can't erase their loss with a quick Band-Aid and a feel good kiss.  They suffered years and years of neglect.  John spent 11 years without a family.  Aaron spent a year in a soul-sucking institute.  Both boys spent far too long alone in their cribs.
 We are not naïve to think that our boys have, by the force of our love and will, shed the hurt from their pasts. We are well aware that we will encounter the wounds of their past again and again as they get older and pass through different stages of life.  They both learned at the earliest of ages how to hide their deepest cries down in the depths of their being.  We are wise enough to know that there are layers upon layers of protection our sons have placed around their hearts to keep the grief at bay.
We will continue to wade through. We will continue to try this and that.  We will read what we can. We will seek counsel. We will continue to pray for grace and love.  We will battle the demons of shame and guilt that whisper to us. And one day maybe we will write a book.   About two of the most beautiful little boys in the world who have suffered so much, lost so much but who have enriched our lives beyond belief.
Do you know an adoptive family who seems awfully quiet today?? Give them a call. Send them a note of encouragement.  Let them know you care. I know from experience that they will deeply appreciate it!



  1. Hugs to your family. Is there a way I could send you a private email?

  2. Oh, Julia. Just what I needed to hear today. You are not alone...we are not alone. You are right, the silence comes from just not knowing what to say, especially to those who have never walked the road. Even more silence to those who weren't supportive anyway. Thank you. You will be in my prayers.

  3. Wise words - thank you Julia! Prayers being lifted for you family right now! Julie R.

  4. Thank you so much for this. Our daughter has been home for 1 year from Bulgaria, and I can relate so much to the doubt about what the heck am I doing, am I doing this right, and the shame, because I just messed up again. Your article gives me hope.

  5. Praying for you today.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing that honest portrayal about your lives. Having followed your posts since before Aaron, it is easy as a reader to see only the happy and feel good part. But in all honesty being the parent of biological children is not always easy. It is incredibly naive of us readers to think your life with your new sons is sunshine and roses. Thank you for the reminder. As an adoptive parent as well as the parent of bio kids, even without the trauma , your adopted child comes with a history you really know little or nothing about, and you are often lead to guess, and often guess wrong. Thank you for enlightening us, and God bless you each and every day.

  7. Thank you! This was so beautifully written and absolute truth.

  8. Yes, yes, yes. Praying for you, my friend....from our own set of trenches.

  9. Hugs! You are often in our thoughts! You are doing good work.

  10. You said it exactly and beautifully! Thank you

  11. Just thank you - from another momma slowly emerging from the silence.

  12. Thank you. Our sons were not born overseas or subject to institutions, but they, too learned to do whatever necessary to survive. They, too, are learning what it means to receive love. And I have felt strangely at a loss for words - especially since our newest addition 3 months ago! Thank you for writing what I haven't been able to. Praying for your family and those who have commented in solidarity!

  13. Such a beautiful, vulnerable, post! Thank you for sharing, connecting, and putting words to our experiences. We are indeed a silent tribe... all taking it one day at a time and doing the best we can.

  14. Thank you SO much for your honesty!

  15. I worked/volunteered for three years in an orphanage in Uzbekistan I still see the children in my mind. All were lost and neglected before a lady from America came into the picture and started hiring workers to take care of the children. I still remember the stench but I also remember the smiles and the outstretched arms of the kids as we taught them in playgroups. Bless you for being willing to take this step! Thank you for rescuing two boys!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  17. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  18. I know exactly what you are talking about and agree with everything you have written. I adopted a traumatized child when she was 3, with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I'm a single parent. She is my heart light. But she has caused me a lot of sleepless nights with her violence, rages and attacks. I was in those same trenches you write about and there were days I didn't think I'd make it. Today, after much love, prayers and tears for her, she is doing very well. We still have the struggles, but, by God's grace, she's going to make it.

  19. This is so true. The day to day with a traumatized child is indescribable.

  20. This is such a wonderful post and should be required reading for all parents (and maybe all people). It is also testimony to what a remarkable mother you are since I fear that many people in this situation, rather than going into the trenches with their new family members, stay on the edge of the trenches and watch the goings-on in the depths and wring their hands and, sometimes, "rehome." You are an inspiration, particularly in the way you recognize that each of your children is an individual, and in the way you share so much about your family while allowing all of its members to retain their dignity and privacy -- a difficult and admirable balance. Remember that for every one of us who posts there are ten, twenty, a hundred other people reading and agreeing, and learning from your words and deeds. Thank you for writing this.

  21. Thank you for those word. The trenches, I love that. It describes our lives so perfectly. We have a foster adoption of an older Reactive attachment child, the struggle may be a little different, but still very much the same. Trauma, neglect, and bouncing children around does so much damage. Those parents fighting the battle to bring worth back to our Littles have so much resistance, but we are not alone.

  22. Such truth in those words. Thank you Julia for sharing. We are in it with you! A reminder to me that others are going through it too and we need to pray for each other and that the church will come alongside and care for the once orphans dealing with wounds.
    Traci A.

  23. This post blessed me immensely! We are one year home with our now 13 year old son. Oh, how I would love to chat over a cup of coffee with you! Blessings, mama! -Lisa Strutz

  24. Hugs. It gets better but it is a war for a child and their childhood. I have two at home. Sometimes we are silent and sometimes we fight the world for our kids.

  25. Thank you so much for putting into words what many of us experience day to day. My husband and I adopted three boys, three brothers, one with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because he was a war zone survivor and the second with Cerebral Palsy and Emotional Deprivation. The youngest one is miraculously fine. We also had two biological older daughters only 13 and 9 at the time, and the boys were 5, 4 and 3 when they came home. We know all about the trenches, the prayeres, the guilt, the reading useless books, etc. We have also come a long ways, its seven years that we have tried to rescue our boys by all means possible, and we have made great progress, but with stories like these, you just never know when old traumas will surface again and apparently wipe out seven years of unconditional love in a second. We can only hope that it happens less and less until one day our child is finally free and happy. God bless you and your family, and continue with your mission because, as in our case, it will definitely bear good fruit both in this life and the eternal one.

  26. Thank you, Julia, for your honesty. The best I can offer is my complete and totally heartfelt empathy and support. I too, have had to discover and try to negotiate the underbelly of neglect and trauma that attaches itself to children adopted from hard places. My daughter came home almost 20 years ago. There were virtually no books about how to help a child like her back then. I have done my best while begging the Lord daily on her behalf. She has come a long way, and is one of the most beautiful human beings He could have graced me with. But in the process I have lost much of myself, and truth be told, I have morphed into someone I never thought I would become. The shame is overwhelming at times. I don't know what I would do if I didn't believe in my Savior's limitless redemption. Prayers and hugs for you today.

  27. Truth ....we too have walked through trenches ....keeping my eyes focused on the Hope before us....because hope is the only thing I know that is bigger than their fears and ours....thank you for putting words to it

  28. I am brought to tears reading this. thank you so much for posting! Your strength and courage and open honesty are completely refreshing. I will hopefully be bringing my daughter home from India within the next few months and I can already anticipate all the work that is going to go into our new "normal" once she gets to her forever home. Prayers for all that you are enduring and for all the progress that your family has made! God bless you!

  29. Prayers to you and your family for a time of peace and refreshing...and that each day will be easier and more healing than the last. God Bless You for staying on the front lines.

  30. Wow! You just took My (our) hearts and poured it into this blog! I (we) can relate to this in so many wonderful and even mixed up ways! Keep sharing! You are gifted!

  31. This is one of the most important posts you have ever written, Julia, and I add my YES to it and to its echoes in the comment section. Love you so much, friend. Thank you for blogging with integrity.

  32. Your blog keeps on knocking me out of your comment box! Just to say my child is from Kazakhstan and we have similar issues that do not fit the adoption narrative. The road is very dark. For any of you living in the Seattle area, there is a "Refresh" conference every February at Overlake Church for worn-out foster and adoptive parents where they talk openly about these issues. Just be glad you are not a single parent like some of us are.

  33. Julie, I am glad that He gave you words for what words can never fully express...the 30+ posts above tell you how much what you have written speaks volumes to those of us who have not walked your path and even more so expresses what many others have experienced and thought could never be expressed. It fuels my prayers. Much Love!!

  34. This is the best written description of the love/crusades/conflicts/day to day life of over sea adoption. Day to day may be an over statement as this can be moment to moment or hour by hour. Only those who have gone through this truly understand. After 16 years the trauma/scars still come out. Stress/milestones can bring on imperfect behavior. With my youngest graduating this year we have reverted to some behaviors I thought we had over come. I know we will get through this. We can never erase the year before a forever family.

  35. I was wondering why all the silence, but then read the last post on the Meyers' blog (New Life) and thought your family must be going through something similar. Thank you so much for this post and your sincerity.

  36. This is one of the the best posts you have ever written.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Praying for your family.

  37. Thank you, thank you for sharing the REAL life of adoption. And I'd love to read that book!!

  38. Julia you have such a wonderful gift as a writer and such a strong loving heart! Huge hugs to you and your family. Thanks you for sharing your life experiences and all that you do to inspire so many to see and care for children in need. Julie M Jentz

  39. Yep. It gets hard to pour out your heart in public when your thoughts don't even make sense to yourself. Thanks for this. I may link to it in the future...

  40. Julia, you just put beautifully into words how most of us are feeling that have adopted. Thank you! Hugs and prayers to you.

  41. A hug of encouragement to you on this day....just because.

  42. Thank you for writing this. We are also fighting the good fight with our twins. We brought them home at 22 months and continue to deal with RAD. I only wish they had been diagnosed sooner, so we could have addressed it when they were little. They are now 12. We continue to second guess ourselves and struggle with guilt. Until we started work with professionals, we lived in the exhaustion of constant emergency. While it is awful any child, or his family, has to suffer, it is comforting to know someone else understands the physical and emotional toll. Thank you.

  43. Thanks for writing. I can really appreciate your words as I navigate through the years post adoption of my precious two. Only another adoptive parent can understand!


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!