Honesty – Reposted with Permission from Dalas at Crunchy Lutheran Mommy

So many people have told me that what they love most about my blog, Crunchy Lutheran Mommy, is my honesty.  That’s why I haven’t been posting much lately… I haven’t wanted to be honest, not on the blog, not anywhere.  And now I feel like I’m in a Dr. Suess rhyme all of a sudden… sigh.  I still have lots of drafts backlogged in my files.  For nearly a month I neglected my weekly pregnancy posts.  I haven’t wanted to take a belly picture because that would mean I’d need to smile for it, and I don’t feel like I can give you an honest smile today.  Or any of the days I might have had time to put up a quick post.

Every time I see someone outside of my own home (which isn’t very often as you might imagine) I get the same reaction “You look so exhausted!”  Here I am trying so hard to put on a joyful, Christ-filled, my-cup-overfloweth countenance and every single person can see right through it.  So much for being a model pastor’s wife, right?  But that’s the truth.  Exhaustion is my truth right now.  Every tiny little activity is exhausting.  Serving my children is exhausting.  Enjoying my children is exhausting.

Every once in a while my Dad asks me “Do you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew yet?”  That’s been his concern this whole adoption, and sometimes it still comes up.  For months I have been saying no, but the question is starting to haunt me like a bad jingle I can’t get out of my head.  And I don’t even have any cutesy music to go with it.  I’m struggling right now.  That’s the only honest thing I have to say, and I hate to say it.  I hate to say it because the last thing I want is a slew of comments or messages or phone calls from people asking me if I’m ok or asking how they can help.  Just my pride talking?  Probably.

Prayer is good, but I know we’re covered in that already, without even having to ask.  So why even post?  Why not just say, we’re going through a tough transition time and I need to take a blogging break?  Why not run away?  I certainly feel like running, but running isn’t going to help me or anyone.  What might help though, is being honest, putting my weaknesses out there for the world and letting ya’ll know I am far from perfect.

It might help other adoptive families have realistic expectations for when they get home.  Did you know that the norm is actually to experience some level of post-adoption depression?  It’s very much like post-partum blues and depression, but even more common for both adoptive moms and dads, and even more complicated because of the deep sadness that naturally accompanies the reality of adopting a hurting child.  Adoption is all about loss.  We don’t like to talk about it much, just like we don’t want to talk about how redemption is all about the cross.  But the one is a living icon of the other, and the picture is poignant.

When we baptize our babies we dress them up in these beautiful white gowns and take family pictures and have a big reception and celebrate it.  Some families remember their baptisms every year (I know we do!) and we linger on the promises and the miracles that have been given to us in our gift of baptism.  But what we don’t see with our eyes as the pastor pours clear, sparkling water over that sweet child’s head is…  the blood, the death.  Because as much as baptism is about new life it is first about death, the death of the person being baptized, the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross.  There is a saying that as Christians we do not need to fear death because we have already died.  We died the death of Christ during our baptism, which means death has no hold over us – just as it had no hold over the God of the Universe.  And there, in the loss and only through that loss comes the beauty and the promise of true, abundant life.

Adoption is also about loss.  Life for these children only comes by means of very deep loss.  Everything that was their life has to die, everything that was meant to have been theirs, that should have been theirs was taken from them.  Only through that reality, can they begin a new life.  But the child isn’t the only one who loses something, the family also experiences loss.  In the end, it will be a blessing to us all.  But right now?  Wow is it hard.  We had a lovely little family.  Two perfectly healthy, bright, beautiful children – a boy and a girl.  Sweet, sheltered, secure little ones… not a real care in the world.  And then we took a hammer to all of that.  We shattered our perfect little family and we changed it forever.

Now we’re a family of broken pieces and broken hearts.  A family where half of our children still don’t understand what it means to have a Mommy and a Daddy.  I overheard my four year old daughter telling a lady the other day that the nannies dropped Hope in her crib when she was in the orphanage.  We try to not talk about things like that in front of her, but she hears and remembers everything.  There is so much her little mind is trying to process: abuse, abandonment, neglect, pain… crushing pain.  Things I never intentionally would have introduced to my four and two year olds, but now they are living those realities second hand by watching us as we try to help their brother and sister heal.

They were away from their home for two months; that was hard for them.  Neither of them have been as secure since that trip.  We spend hours a week in therapy, hospitals, referrals and appointments.  Time I could have been reading stories or making fun crafts or teaching them how to bake.  And us?  We’re exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually from all of it.  Suddenly we are a family with trauma, a family in need of an incredible amount of healing.  Overnight we went from having it all together to picking up the pieces.  Did we choose this?  Sort of, but not really.  Were we expecting it to be hard, even this hard?  Of course.  But just because trauma doesn’t always come without announcing itself doesn’t mean it isn’t just as traumatic when it finally walks through your front door and decides to live with you for a while.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life.  Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption.  But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.  We need to know that if we don’t make that phone call or we don’t send that thank you note or if we never reach out for help it’s not because we don’t care about you.  It’s because our families have just been broken, and it’s taking all of our energy and strength to pick up all the pieces.

Sometimes we need you to reach out to us because we can’t reach out ourselves, but other times we just need space.  Sometimes we need respite, other times we just need a meal we didn’t have to cook ourselves.  Sometimes we need to sit and talk with someone who understands, and other times we just need people to stop asking how it’s going.  But most of all we need huge heaping doses of grace and mercy and love.  We need to know that the people in our lives are going to see our crazy, depressed, angry emotional roller coasters and they’re going to love us anyway.

(Just as a side note, if you are a family member or friend of an adoptive parent and you’re wondering why we aren’t asking for help, it’s probably because, especially when our children came from hard places, the kind of help we need is so specific that it would be difficult or impossible to just ask for a simple hand on something.  And if we tried to ask we would either come off as ungrateful or unreasonable or both.  Unfortunately, there are just situations where there is no real help that can be given without a logistical brainstorm involved.  Our children’s needs and our new family dynamics make simple things, like bringing in outside help, much more complicated.)

So here’s to honesty.  Here’s to dispelling the myth that adoptive families are superheroes that don’t need anyone’s help.  Here’s to coming out and saying that just because we signed up for this doesn’t mean we will always have our act together, and just because we “chose” these children doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day, or week or month… or even year. We are just like you, and just like any family, when trauma kicks off its old, muddy shoes and decides to stay a while… we’re going to struggle.  And we are.

May the Lord, in His mercy, turn our sorrow to joy and our tears to laughter.  May He bring the dawn quickly and banish the darkness from our midst.  May He orchestrate the beauty from the ashes, and give us inclination to focus on neither, but rather to seek His face in this and in every season. Amen.

~~~~~

Dalas is a mother to four with another on the way. She is seriously passionate about motherhood, adoption, being “crunchy” (a fancy way of describing how she keeps her family healthy) and her Lutheran faith. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog, Crunchy Lutheran Mommy. You can read her original Honesty post here.

Dalas

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Countdown to Christmas Giveaway: Creating Wonder and Magic for a Child Through Traditions

Welcome to M2M’s Season of Giving: Count Down to Christmas Giveaway! Come back each week to catch a sneak peak of new, featured products that will be included in the big, blog redesign giveaway package on December 15th to celebrate Made to Mother’s 1st “blog-iversary!” This week’s highlighted products are BOTH ebooks, OhAmanda’s Truth in the Tinsel and 5 copies of Sarah Mae’s More Than Candy. Both are affiliate links, meaning I receive a portion of any sales clicked-through these links. Thanks for supporting Made to Mother!

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When I think back upon my holiday memories as a child, I remember that I loved traditions the most…Christmas Eve service as a family, with the unshakable anticipation of opening gifts after we got home in the back of my mind the entire time. Warm drinks, cozy treats and pjs while we unwrapped gifts as a family of five in our living room; the heat of our wood stove and the radiant tree lights in the backdrop for years of memories. Us kids could barely sleep that night as we waited with baited expectation for the festivities to come the next day…early morning stockings from Santa, delicious, sugary breakfast treats we rarely got any other day like cinnamon rolls, pancakes or waffles! Then, it was off to my aunt’s house for our annual Christmas party with my mom’s family, playing a gift exchange game and eating lunch. My brothers and I dragged all our new gifts and stocking snacks with us to keep us busy and as evening approached, we headed to our next destination, the best yet; grandma’s house on my father’s side. It would be dark by the time we got there and we would be the last to arrive. My uncle, aunt and our only other cousins, all adults, would be waiting for us with eggnog, a deliciously huge holiday dinner, Christmas records blasting music, and festively-wrapped packages trailing out from under the tree and down the hall. It would be late into the night when we finally piled into our family car, stuffed with food and the trunk packed with gifts and leftovers. We always fell asleep on the drive home, sugar plums and toys dancing in our heads and our hearts full of love, family and fun.

Now, many years later, with children and a home of my own, it is these special family traditions and memories that I want to surround my family with, so that one day my kids will also look back in fondness to the sounds, tastes and smells that come with this beautiful season. But there is also something else I want to instill in my children, which it never seems like my parents were able to break through to me; the importance of this season of giving, of charity and of kindness to others, mirrored in the love that came from the birth of a tiny baby so long ago. Of course, I remember my parents trying, but I was too selfish to want to think of anything else other than gifts and food and fun. How can I expect to do any better with my own kids when the television, wish book catalogs from the newspaper and all their friends in school keep shouting at us, “buy buy buy!” “Gimme Gimme Gimme!” “Me me me!!!”

I’m not completely sure if I will ever be able to compete with all of these other voices, but for right now, we are starting with where I have always found the most beauty of this season…in tradition. In addition to the shopping, food and gift customs the holidays bring, we have decided as a family to begin and continue a few other important traditions to help us remember the true “reason for the season.”

One of our favorite ways to do this is by choosing a daily devotion advent activity to do as a family through the month of December. There are some fantastic apps, books and hands-on kits out there to choose from that are more educational and spiritual than the silly little chocolate punch-holes that you find at the dollar store. Last year, we used Truth in the Tinsel (affiliate link), a crafty way to talk about Christ’s birth and the Bible throughout the whole month of December. And with it, we also got to add a whole new bunch of ornaments to our collection! We liked it so much, in fact, that I modified it to use each week of advent in our small church’s Sunday school. And now they offer a church curriculum version, too. This year, we are doing More Than Candy (affiliate link), which I love because it gives us 25 days of activities to do for others, serving in our community and showing the love of Christmas in real, tangible ways, outside of our home during the holiday season.

Another tradition I like to make sure we keep is reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. However, with children ages 7, 5 and 2 in our home, it’s not always gripping for them when we read it straight from our NIV Bible. So we like to find other creative and fun ways to hear and tell the story over and over again each year. Sometimes we read it from a children’s bible, or listen to an animated re-telling of it on an audio CD, but my favorite way is letting the kids have full creative control in sharing it. The older ones that have heard the story time and time again can often do a great rendition and almost always get all the key facts in the right order. It is also really fun to let them recreate it by putting on a play! Nothing is cheerier than watching three children play out multiple characters and ad-lib the funniest made-up lines. Sometimes there are two Marys because sisters don’t want to take turns and we have even seen vigilante angels storm the castle of Herod in defense of baby Jesus! Of course, the adults often get in on it by the end to play an odd shepherd or a forgotten wise man, too.

Finally, as we buy the food for our holiday menu and wrap our many gifts, I like to remind our children that there are so many others out there that are not as fortunate as we are. We think of ways as a family that we can help those in need and perhaps make the season a little brighter for a few others. Some of the ideas we have come up with include visiting a soup kitchen or holiday pantry and donating food and our time to pass it out. Our kids have their own “Boxing Day,” where we choose at least as many toys or items that we got as gifts and donate them to a charitable second hand store or give to others. Lastly, and one of the most impactful has been participating in Giving Trees or Adopt-A-Family, of which this year, we have chosen The Evans Family.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? How do you make sure your family keeps the right spirit this time of year?

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National Adoption Month Series: Hally’s Story

Sometimes we look back on difficult periods in our lives, and we wonder how we got through them. We wonder if we could do it again; if the strength we had in those moments would return if we were to go through the same or similar challenges once more.

Over ten years have passed since my husband and I began our adoption journey, so some of the details of the process and the intense emotions of the experience have faded, but I clearly recall that God was with us during those years between the birth of our biological son and the arrival of our adopted daughter.

When my husband and I married at 33 and 28, respectively, we were ready to start our family right away. Initially, we simply did nothing to prevent a pregnancy, but after a couple of years without success, we began trying lots of “beginner” measures to become pregnant. By the time our fourth Christmas as a married couple rolled around, we were finally able to announce a pregnancy.

Our son was conceived with the help of oral Clomid, and a second pregnancy came rather unexpectedly a year or so after his birth. The excitement of that relatively-easy conception didn’t last long. I miscarried the baby just days after announcing to my family, friends and co-workers that we were expecting a second child.

Somehow I felt that would be my last pregnancy. I had suspected miscarriages prior to this confirmed one, and I thought we should resume and increase our fertility treatments in order to have the second child we wanted so badly. We tried a variety of different options, all of which were emotional exhausting. I don’t remember how many appointments, ultrasounds (part of the fertility treatment process), at-home pregnancy tests, and injections I had. But I do know it was taxing.

When we had tried without success to become pregnant using the fertility measures my husband and I felt comfortable with, we decided to pursue adoption. We met with the director of a small St. Louis agency and quickly began to pursue foreign adoption. This gave me new hope and a new focus as I threw myself into completing a dossier and all the paperwork required for the complicated process.

Months went by while we waited, researched, documented and prepared for a placement to come from Romania, the country our agency did all their adoptions through. We were nearly ready when something unexpected happened; Romania shut their doors to international adoptions. I was devastated.

A long-awaited conception with baby one, a miscarriage in my second pregnancy, tiresome fertility treatments, an adoption process, and a country with many babies in need of good homes that was no longer willing to release those babies. These challenges and closing doors were getting the best of me, and, all of this was in addition to my full-time job as a high school guidance counselor and my role as a wife and mother to my precious toddler.

I remember crying with my husband, telling him that perhaps it was just not meant to be. I thought perhaps we should be happy with our one beautiful son, but we had always wanted him to have a sibling. Maybe that just wasn’t His plan.

What is it they say about closing doors? When Romania’s door closed, our wonderful adoption-agency pioneer decided to open a new door and venture into Guatemala. She helped Tim and I prepare to be the first family for whom she facilitated an adoption in the country.

More months passed, but just a few short weeks after our son’s fourth birthday, we were sent pictures of a beautiful baby girl available for placement in Guatemala. Our daughter came home to us in January 2002 at four-and-a-half months old, and we held her in our arms on my husband’s 42nd birthday. In the first moments of our meeting, our son looked down at his baby sister in the stroller and said to her “yessa, yessa do like chicken nuggets.” Well, she did, and she still does.

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I love nuggets of truth, and I know the truth is that God has plans for us all. Romania wasn’t His plan for us, Guatemala was. And, when I look into my daughter’s eyes, I know she was the one for this family. Thank goodness for His plans, doors that open when others close, and the strength that He provides as we wait for it all to come into view.

~~~~~

Hally is a former high school guidance counselor, turned homemaker and freelance writer. She serves as the secretary for her church, and she is a 4-H leader, cheer booster, band parent, book club member, and enthusiastic traveler. She lives with her family outside St. Louis, Missouri, where she regularly writes about parenting, relationships, travel and more at Bloom, Bond & Build

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National Adoption Month Series: Mary’s Story

The chairs were cold and hard, and I was ready to leave. We sat in the gym listening to song after song, as the program seemed to run long. Finally, someone teased us about closing the ceremony, but then dashed our hopes with “just one more number.” I suppressed a huge sigh, as adults are supposed to be above such displays, but my selfishness diminished as I watched a tiny, blond imp walk forward and face the crowd. She shyly smiled and began to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” As she walked back to her seat, a brief, “how cute,” flitted through my mind and just as quickly left as we were finally dismissed.
If you believe that life is filled with random coincidences that we just happen to experience, then you may not understand the rest of this story. But I hope you will read on, despite some doubt, and learn how much God cares; not just about our needs, but our hopes and dreams as well. I personally believe in divine intervention, prayer and faith, but even I forget just how big God is. Little did I know, sitting on those cold, hard chairs, that God had not only heard my prayer, but had just placed the answer right in front of me.

I had an ache in my heart, a hole of sorts that no surgeon could repair. While I already had two wonderful sons by birth, I longed to adopt a daughter. For me this was a need, but for my husband not so much. Seven years had passed since the topic was first discussed, and I prayed first for his heart to change. But when that didn’t get results, I prayed that my heart would. I asked God to take the desire from me, so it wouldn’t hurt anymore, or cause bitterness. God was not satisfied with those limitations, and with His typical wisdom and no lack of a sense of humor, He opted for the shock and awe approach. The next time the subject was brought up, it was my husband that said, “I think we should look into adopting!” I almost passed out, but recovered quickly so I could get the ball rolling before he could change his mind!

I called several adoption agencies and was satisfied knowing that packets of information would arrive within a few weeks. Then, being a long-standing member in the, ‘it never hurts to ask’ club, I put in one more call, this time to a place more local. We were friends with a couple that managed a Christian children’s ranch. The kids placed with them were temporary wards, while parents were in jail, or couldn’t care for them for other reasons. It was rare that any of the kids were adoptable, so I didn’t get my hopes up as I dialed. My inquiry was answered with one question, “how old?” I explained very logically how we felt that a two or three year-old would be best, giving us time with them before they started school. When that was met with, “oh, that’s too bad,” they went on to tell me that there was a five year-old girl that would be put up for adoption right after Christmas. I heard my voice say, “that is too bad; It’s older than we were thinking,” and with that I hung up.

You can hang up a telephone easily, but it’s much harder to disconnect your heart. That night I didn’t sleep a wink. I laid there thinking about a five year-old girl that would soon be displaced in life. It broke my heart. I vaguely remembered a young girl with huge dimples that one of our friends was caring for at the Ranch. She met us at the door one night, full of energy, talking non-stop and proceeded to use Dale as a jungle gym. Could they be talking about her? How old was she? Was I remembering right? Was her hair blond? The never-ending questions jammed my mind and imagination all through the night. By early morning I noticed Dale was awake too, and asked what he thought about a five year-old. Without hesitation, he said “I think you should call them back!”

She did have blond hair and blue eyes and dimples! Not only was she the girl God placed on my mind that night, she was also the same impish child who sang for us that uncomfortable day in the gym!  She would become our daughter that winter. She ended up with two older brothers to torture gleefully, and parents who knew beyond all doubt that she was a gift from God. God made sure our lives were woven with threads of common friends. It has been over twenty years since we first heard her sing, and she still uses her voice every Sunday, as she now leads worship for our church.

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Mary is the wife of Dale, mother to Matt, Nate and Maegy, and Mother-in-law to Michael and Amber.  She is “Grammy” to Elijah, Asher and Bennett. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a full-time pastor’s wife and part time daycare to two of her grandboos. She has a side business called “Leaf It To Me,” making and painting cement leaf castings and speaks for various women’s events around the NW. She has guest posted on M2M before, which you can read here and from time-to-time you can find her sporadic ramblings at http://marylphipps.blogspot.com/.

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National Adoption Month Series: Donna’s Story

Parenthood is an amazing adventure. It is a road riddled with twists and turns and unexpected bumps. It’s also a journey filled with wonder, grace, and joy.

Pat and I never intended to have six children. When we were first married and talked about how many children we would have, I wanted four. Pat wanted two. In the end, we did both. Our first three sons arrived the conventional way. Our next three children arrived through the miracle of adoption.

My older boys were in their early teens when Pat and I became foster parents. One beautiful June evening, we were asked to open our home to a three year old girl and a seven month old boy, both of whom had the chicken pox. A few hours later, Patty arrived clutching a much-loved doll. She had big, brown eyes and a fearful, but beautiful smile. Anthony came into my arms and snuggled into my heart. A few years later, a judge made official the adoption that took place in our hearts that night. We had four sons and one daughter.

Shortly after Patty and Anthony’s adoption, we learned that their birth mother was expecting another child. We agreed to accept this child also. While my boys wondered who would have to share their room and Patty and I wondered if this baby would be another boy or if Patty would have to share her princess status, my husband wondered if we were nuts. When we received the phone call that a baby boy had arrived; I laughed and said, “We needed another one of those.”  We picked Connor up from the hospital when he was just three days old. 

Adoptive parents never really know for sure exactly what we are getting into, but birth parents don’t either. There are days in the lives of every parent when you want to tear your hair out and cry, “This is not what I signed up for!” I have been picking up Legos for 29 years. I have finally graduated out of car seats. I have slept in hospital beds with my arms wrapped around a sick child. I’ve worried when they’ve come home late. I’ve attended hundreds of parent-teacher conferences and countless holiday performances. I’ve lent my son an earring. I’ve overseen enough homework assignments to fill a library. I’ve had pool water spit in my face and baby spit-up on my shoulders. I’ve been blessed with tadpoles and dandelions crushed in a chubby fist. At one point we had one son in the Navy, two sons in college, and our baby in day care. I can bore you to tears telling you about my kids’ accomplishments. I am fiercely protective of them and want only the best for them.

We do not know a lot about our children’s birth mother, but this one thing I do know, she loved her children. She loved her children enough to give them life and we are so grateful she did. Our children, all of them, have enriched our lives far beyond what anyone could have told us.

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Donna is a wife of 34 years to Pat and blessed with quite a lot – 5 sons, 1 daughter, a daughter-in-law, a dog and a cat, a house, a bunch of furniture, and a garage filled with everything but a car. You can follow her on the blog, HoliMess, where she shares about noticing God in the midst of our daily life through crafts, recipes, devotions, comforting words, and encouragement.

Donna

National Adoption Month Series: Christina’s Adoptee Story

I was born in Medellin, Colombia. My birth mother is a maid there, but I do not have any information on my birth father. Immediately after my birth I was sent to live in an orphanage in Medellin and was cared for by nuns. When I was fourteen months old I was adopted by a young couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan. My adoption was finalized in Colombia on October 17, 1983 and a few days later I left for the United States with my new parents. I was met at the airport by my new, extended family which is quite large.

This is a letter I wrote to my birth mother although she may never read it. It explains the depth of gratitude I feel towards her and the love I have experienced in my life since being adopted.

Dear Mother,

As a mother myself I can only imagine the heartache you must have felt sending me to an orphanage, hoping for a better life for me than you could provide. You knew me before the world did, as I grew from one cell to multiple cells, growing bigger every day. I kicked and punched and slept in your womb. I felt the love you had for me.

I often wonder, when I was born did you cry for me? Did your arms and heart ache for me? As a part of you, I believe you did. I know you wished you could have kept me and watch me grow. Mother, out of love you sent me on to a better life.

When I was still a baby, a new woman and man became my mom and dad and oh what a life they have given me. They watched me learn to walk and talk. They saw me fall and shared my joys and my sorrows. I know the joy that I brought them when they lost hope of having a child. I am a daddy’s girl and he is an amazing man, a God-fearing and loving man. My mom cuddled me, sang to me, played with me, and disciplined me. I know this is the childhood you wanted me to have with an extended family that adored and loved me. My grandparents were the most amazing people I have ever met and I was blessed to call them my grandmas and grandpas. Mother, you gave them a gift and your spirit was always with me.

I kept growing into a teen, and although I went through the typical teenage uncertainty and awkwardness, I was always extremely proud of who I was and still privileged with the life you gave me.  I grew into adulthood without too many incidents. As a young woman, I became a mother. At the birth of my daughter, I felt the elation you more than likely also felt when you saw me. There was a little sorrow in my heart though because you were not there to see this child being born. My mom was there and was able to share the birth with me. My daughter would not have been possible without you and your choice.

As a mother of three wonderful children now, I cannot fathom how you could have given me this life. These three children are the gift that would not have been possible without your sacrifice. Thank you, mother, for choosing life. Thank you for choosing adoption. This life I have is amazing. To quote a popular movie, “I never did thank you for this extraordinary life you gave me!” This is my thank you to you, a woman I may never again meet on this earth, but my spirit knows you and will see you in heaven.

My adoptive parents are amazing people who have raised me in the Light of Christ. I am beyond blessed with this life I have been given.

~~~~~

Christina is a single mom of three wonderful children. Being a mother is the most challenging yet rewarding job there is for her and she wouldn’t change one thing about being a mommy.

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National Adoption Month Series: StandUpGirl and Love’s Choice

http://www.standupgirl.com

StandUpGirl is a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to providing pregnant or at risk adolescent and young adult women with insight into alternatives to abortion. The mission is to change hearts and save lives by educating young women on the development of the unborn child and alternatives to abortion. Standupgirl.com is a rapidly growing website whose scope is world-wide. We have volunteer “StandUpGirls” who moderate the site’s chat rooms, blogs, forums and respond to emails – from across the United States as well as in Canada, Africa and Japan.

Young women from all over the world are coming to StandUpGirl looking for information about pregnancy. They find educational material, real answers to their questions, and a community of women they can talk to about their unplanned pregnancies. StandUpGirl.com currently has over three million visitors each year, and while it is a great encouragement to see this many young people coming to the site, we are barely scratching the surface of the potential number of visitors on the internet.

Perhaps the most important component of the website is the real-life stories of girls facing their own crisis pregnancies and how our StandUpGirl team provides personal and individual guidance and encouragement to help these women make a choice that they and their baby can live with. The team provides visitors with contact information of local pro-life pregnancy centers where they can get the support and resources they need to journey through their pregnancy. Most guests remain on the site an average of 23 minutes, looking at phenomenal fetal development photography, life-like illustrations and remarkable videos. StandUpGirl.com is one of the most visited abortion-related website in the world! This energetic and beautifully designed website can now be viewed in several foreign languages and the StandUpGirl App can be downloaded from the Android and Apple markets.

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http://www.loveschoice.com

Love’s Choice was created to take an honest look at the painful beauty of adoption, and to provide tools to help each woman honestly assess the choices before her.

For girls out there that might feel overwhelmed as they try to make the best plan for their child, Love’s Choice is here to help and encourage, providing facts about adoption and tools to help them plan for birth, and either adoption or parenting. And, most importantly, Love’s Choice shares personal stories from real people who have experienced adoption –  adopted children, adoptive parents, and other birthmothers.

We want the girls that visit Love’s Choice to make an informed, confident decision about adoption or parenting. If they choose parenting, we hope the process of answering hard questions will make them a better, more intentional mother.

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StandUpGirl and Love’s Choice are not adoption agencies, nor are they in any way affiliated with any adoption placement programs. For more information about them, please visit them at www.standupgirl.com and www.loveschoice.com and on Facebook and https://www.facebook.com/standupgirl.

National Adoption Month Series: Lauren’s Adoptee Story

I was born on August 11, 1985 and adopted by my parents at five days old in Phoenix, Arizona. My birthmom was 19, not ready for a baby and even though my birthdad wasn’t in the picture, she didn’t want him to have any part in raising me, so she chose adoption.

I grew up knowing I was adopted. While it was legally a closed adoption, my parents made the selfless choice to stay in contact with Ginger, my birthmother. They sent pictures and letters back and forth throughout my life. And although they didn’t know it at the time, she lived only a couple miles from them, even shopping at the same grocery store when we lived in Phoenix. Naturally, this probably freaked my mom out when she found out later.

When I was seven, my mom and dad moved my siblings (biological to my parents) and me to Holland, Michigan to be closer to my mom’s family. The letters with Ginger continued but began to wane as time went on. I grew up knowing I had a biological sister named Tayler, seven years younger than me who my birth mom decided to keep and raise on her own. I was always excited to know I had another sister.

At 14, when email started getting popular, I asked my parents if they would be okay with me emailing Ginger sometime. My mom, although a little nervous and insecure about it, agreed, and contacted the adoption agency in hopes of getting any up-to-date info on her since we didn’t have her email address. When we got it and I wrote my first email to her, I was so nervous. What should I write about? Teenager things, I guess. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I wrote, but it started my first line of communication between my birthmother and me. We didn’t email every day, just once in a while to say hello. Ginger had mentioned we should keep it to a minimum to respect my parents and not make them feel like they’d been replaced or that I wanted to go back to her. I agreed.

Two years later, in my junior year of high school, we began to email regularly, learning more and more about each other. We talked about our personal lives and I learned that in addition to Taylor, I also had a little brother who was two at the time, from her new marriage to her husband. Inevitably, the conversation about meeting in person happened. I was so excited, but so nervous, when I got that email. How would my mom feel? Would she be mad that even came up? Would she be angry that we had been communicating as much as we had?  Maybe she’d be okay with it if she came along to meet her? And so I had that conversation with her. To my surprise, she was thrilled, cautiously thrilled. Of course I’d expect her to be insecure about it. After all, I’m HER daughter. She’s the woman who raised me, fed me, took care of me when I was sick, disciplined me, taught me everything about life, hugged me and told me she loved me. But she was so excited I asked her to go with me to meet her. And so we booked our tickets to Phoenix.

We flew out there the week before I turned 18. I had just graduated from high school and was ready to find out where and whom I came from. My mom was a wreck on the plane; she hates to fly. I waited anxiously while my mom squeezed my hand the entire four hour flight. We landed in Phoenix and my heart began to race. Walking through the terminal into the lobby was surreal. I wanted to vomit, smile, scream, dance around, but instead, I just walked.

And then, there she was. Blonde hair, green eyes and short. It was like looking into a mirror. We hugged for what seemed like hours; I couldn’t let go. This was my mother, the woman who birthed me. The woman who chose life. This was the woman who selflessly gave up her firstborn daughter to a family who desperately wanted a baby after trying for seven years to have one of their own. The woman who gave birth to me on my daddy’s birthday, August 11th. I suddenly made sense. The first thing my mom said to Ginger and me was, ‘Wow, you both are shrimps! Now we know where Lauren gets her height!’ We all laughed and the ice was broken. I met her husband, Dane, my little sister Tayler, my little brother Mason and we all headed out of the airport a little less nervous.

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I spent the entire week with them, while my mom stayed with relatives in Phoenix. I asked Ginger every question I ever had. Why didn’t you keep me, but you kept Tayler? Why did you choose adoption? Why didn’t you fight for me? Why, why, why? She answered everything without sugar coating or dodging, just straight forward, which is exactly how I answer questions. I realized the concept of nature vs. nurture. I wasn’t raised by this woman but our mannerisms are the same, we sleep the same, laugh the same, smile the same, speak the same. Our personalities are so similar, it’s insane. I am bold, stubborn, kind-hearted, forgiving, strong-willed, direct, and I don’t take crap from people. Now I get why I had such an identity crisis as a kid; I am so different from my family in terms of personality, even down to my delivery of words and my thought process. I am all Ginger. Looks, personality, everything.

I also met my grandparents for the first time. I am the eldest of the grand kids, so it was very special to meet them. They cried and called me their granddaughter. I met my cousins and aunt and uncle for the first time and still have a great relationship with them. We celebrated my 18th birthday together with my mom and relatives before heading home, both of us feeling great about everything that happened that week. But also relieved it was over and excited to see my new family again in the future.

That was twelve years ago and there hasn’t been a year since where we haven’t seen each other. I visit Arizona every year and they have also visited Michigan a few times. I have taken vacations with them, been there for birthdays and holidays, surgeries, and various other events. Ginger has been by my side, watched me grow into an adult, heard listened to me talk about my silly relationships, met my husband and embraced him like a son. She attended our wedding on June 30, 2012 and my little sister Tayler was a bridesmaid. She and Dale look forward to being grandparents someday.

I’ve been able to watch my little sister grow into the woman she has become and watch my little brother grow into the feisty teenager that he is. We are family. I can’t say she is my mom, or an aunt, or friend, or whatever label you want to put on her. She is my family; her whole family is my family. There isn’t any other way to describe them. All I can say is that I am blessed. I am blessed to have parents who were so accepting of Ginger, allowed me to grow up knowing about her, let her be a part of my life, embraced her when she was a physical part of my life, and consider her family. I am so blessed to have a birthmother who is so strong and selfless, and respectful of my parents. She never stepped on their toes as parents, she is grateful to them for raising me how they did and proud to be a part of our family. She will always be there for us.

I am so blessed to have more family that loves me and who I can love. I am so blessed to have a husband who has only been supportive of the relationship I have with my birth family and eagerly waits for our next trip to visit them. I am so blessed to have a ‘dad’ in Ginger’s husband, Dane. He accepted me as part of his family, considers me his daughter, even though he came into the picture years after my adoption and encouraged Ginger to connect with me.

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Lauren Haveman is a real estate agent for City2Shore Real Estate, She and her husband, Todd, reside in Hudsonville, Michigan with their two dogs, Dweezel and Lola and enjoy cooking, camping, and living the Michigan seasons to their fullest. Ginger and her husband continue to live in Phoenix AZ and Lauren and Todd still visit them every summer; it feels like their second home.

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National Adoption Month Series: BraveLove – Telling the Story of Birth Mothers

The idea of BraveLove began in 2012, with a small group of people working with a local pregnancy resource center in Dallas, Texas. They witnessed their clients weren’t even considering adoption as an option when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. This observation was consistent with the National Council for Adoption’s Fact Book, which says only 2% of women faced with an unplanned pregnancy choose adoption. So often the brave act of placing a baby for adoption is viewed in a negative light, when in reality it is a selfless, difficult, and loving act a mother can make for her child. The story of the birth mother needs to be told.

As an adoptive mother, I have two adopted children and two biological children. My husband and I are immeasurably grateful to the women who carried our babies, and delivered them into this world, so I have a huge heart for these brave women who place their children for adoption. I started BraveLove to change the way our culture thinks about adoption and the women who choose to place.

Our mission is to change the perception of adoption through honest, informative, and hopeful communication that conveys the heroism and bravery a birth mother displays when she places her child with a loving family through adoption.

The heartbreaking truth is that many women facing unplanned pregnancy feel unable to care for a child. Sometimes the single-most loving thing a mother can do is place her child with a caring, eager adoptive family. We aim to invite and empower women to choose adoption.

If I could convey one message to birth parents it would be that you are loved, respected, and honored.  We recognize what you did as a great act of love for your child, and we want others to see you as the brave loving person you really are.  You gave your child what you yourself could not give.  There is no greater act of selflessness.

In the same regard, if I could convey one message to adoptive parents it would be that your child can only benefit from knowing how loved they are by all the parents (adoptive and birth) in the equation.  Every child in an adoptive situation, domestic or international, has a birth mother and birth father somewhere out there. The existence of these individuals needs to weigh upon adoptive parents as they seek to rear their children. It makes me sad that we may never know the birth parents of our adopted children. We may never be able to thank them or show them the incredible fruit of their sacrifice. As much as we are the mommies and daddies to our children, there are two other very important people out there that need to be honored, talked about, and recognized for the role they played in the child’s existence in your family.

BraveLove is so much more than I ever thought it would be!  At the very beginning, we were not quite sure who BraveLove should be targeting.  Everybody is an influencer. Everybody plays a role in a birth mother’s choice to place for adoption. Our perceptions affect the decisions others make. We want BraveLove’s message to touch everybody in a birth parent’s sphere of influence — grandparents, teachers, pastors, friends and family, so that when birth parents decide to place for adoption, they have a network of support that can walk with them through this hard decision.  This is not just a movement for birth mothers – it’s for everybody. As we began researching and asking questions, it became loud and clear that the birth parent story was one that needed to be told. It is our honor to provide a platform of support and encouragement to these unsung heroes of adoption.

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Ellen Porter, the Founder of BraveLove, lives in Dallas, TX with her family and works with a dynamic team to run the organization. For more information about them and to read some amazing stories, letters and interviews with real birth moms, please visit them at www.bravelove.com and connect with them on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

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National Adoption Month Series – Christina’s Story

My husband and I tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for 16 months before we pursued fertility options. At our first clinic visit they ran some tests and called me a week later with the results. They discovered that I have what’s called “diminished ovarian reserve” and told us it was unlikely that we would be able to successfully conceive on our own.

I was extremely saddened by this news, but I refused to stay depressed over it. I gave myself 24 hours to cry over it and then my husband and I discussed our options. Despite my disappointment, I felt relief amidst the pain. Neither of us can actually remember who thought of adoption, but we both always knew we were open to it and immediately decided to pursue that route instead of additional fertility treatments at the clinic.

My mother suggested meeting with her and my dad’s trust attorney, who was very passionate about adoption and could possibly represent us as we moved forward. When we met with him for a consultation we overwhelmed with the many different types of adoption to choose from. He encouraged us to sleep on it and see how we felt the next day. When we did, our hearts leaned toward private domestic adoption, so on Easter Sunday we announced to our family that we were pursuing adopting a U.S. baby through our new attorney.

I got straight to work on our paperwork and home study and I couldn’t help but also start to create a nursery for our hoped-for little one. The crib came first, and one of my best mom friends took me to Babies R Us to register for gifts. I was definitely excited! Since I hadn’t yet experienced any heartbreak on our journey to having a baby, I viewed an empty nursery with hope and it wasn’t painful for me. If anything it made me more joyful.

I must have emailed our attorney three different times, asking if there was anything I should change in our profile. I was politely reassured that we should be as authentic as possible and that someone would love us and pick us for who we are. Nine weeks later, we got a call with a match and were informed that we were their second choice. I have adoptive couple friends that had experienced failed matches and placements that fell through, so I tried not to get my hopes up, but I was still ecstatic.

We met with the expectant mother and father a week later, along with our attorney. We immediately hit it off, exchanged numbers and began texting. Over the next few weeks we took them to lunches, shopped for maternity clothes and even got to go with them to a doctor’s appointment and see the baby girl on 3D ultrasound! It was really important to me that they agreed with the name we had chosen for our daughter. I wanted them to see her in their minds and call her by the same name that we would raise her with, even though I knew we had the final, legal say in the matter after the adoption was finalized.

Not long after, our birth mom showed early signs of labor and was admitted to the hospital. Finley was born nine weeks early with minimal complications. In a normal birth situation in our state of California the birthmother will sign relinquishment papers upon being discharged from hospital. She then will have only 24 hours to change her mind. But due to legalities and because our baby came so early we had to wait about three weeks before she was able to sign. I was nervous, only because I was growing so emotionally-invested in this little baby that I could now hold and help care for. And I could tell that our birthmom was in love with Finley, too.

Our baby was in the NICU for a total of five weeks, and I was there around the clock the entire time. The birth parents also visited frequently and I realized that we were about as open as it gets. It was odd to most of the nursing staff and one social worker kept encouraging our birthmom to call and get updates on her baby. She made me feel like a bad person, questioning my reasoning for requesting that I be the only one to hold Finley skin-to-skin. I had asked our birthmom not to hold her this way because I wanted Finley to bond solely with me and to get used to my scent since we would be taking her home. But, for some reason the social worker continued to call our birthmom with updates, even after the medical rights were released to us.

Needless to say, I learned very quickly that some people just do not support adoption. I was filled with what-if’s and life-changing emotions that I had never experienced before. It was truly one of the most difficult times in my life. I also struggled with guilt as I watched our birthmom grieve her loss, and I literally cried myself to sleep one night over it. Who wouldn’t? Someone had placed their firstborn child in our arms. My husband and I believe it is the most generous thing one can do for someone else. It’s just indescribably amazing.

After the birthparents terminated their rights, they still visited each day and it was as though nothing had changed. The hospital staff was very confused, wondering why I would let the birthmother still see and hold the baby. I knew that some adoptive moms are very sweet and open with the birthparents but as soon as those papers are signed, they change their tune. I didn’t want to be one of them. I wanted to build trust. I knew we were going to be forever attached with this couple.

This relationship we share is unique; bonded by a baby. And on top of that bond, we also have a friendship. We discuss life, interests and experiences; probably more so than we discuss Finley. The first year after she was born we had visits about every six to eight weeks because we live fairly close and my work schedule was nonexistent. We have open communication and I text photos every Friday. Our open adoption works best this way. Of course, I understand that life can and will change things as time goes on, but as long as my daughter knows she was carried and placed in love then I am happy.

We finalized our adoption this past summer. Finley is now 14 months old. I’ve thought of her as our daughter from the beginning so I didn’t think that officially finalizing it would be that big of a deal. I literally thought it’s just signing another paper, but as soon as we sat down in court and the judge began to speak, it hit me like a ton of bricks! I cried the ugly cry and could barely get out my words. We were able to profess our love for our daughter in a courtroom. The official terminology they used alone is enough to make you cry and it was by far one of the best days of my life. I got to sign my first birth certificate. You can watch the court finalization video here.

Two days later we had Finley dedicated in our Christian church, and her birth family came to witness it. It was so beautiful to me because the first open adoption picture I saw on Pinterest was of birth parents and adoptive parents together at their child’s baptism. I still get emotional thinking about how I accomplished the exact moment that I longed for!

To say we are blessed is an understatement. Our placement happened very quickly and our daughter came so early. She’s a happy and healthy baby with many people that love her. I want to continue to create awareness about adoption and educate everyone I can on the importance and origin of open adoption. And we look forward to adding to our family through adoption again in the coming years.

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Christina Smallwood is a 29 year-old business owner from Southern California. She loves God, her family and taking photos of everything. Her greatest joy is living a simple life as mom and wife!

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