The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What is possible?

I used to talk about family preservation, reunification and keeping children out of orphanages at conferences.

Then we lived 2013.

Now I am thinking more about the actual how-to. Specifically in Haiti. The how-to is a lot harder than the talk, the policy or the advocacy. Especially when foreigners are allowed in to do whatever they want with little to no supervision. Too many people are drawn to children because they are powerless and vulnerable.

I have been watching the movement to family reunification and domestic adoption in Uganda. There are many groups working hard to change the momentum and paradigm from orphanages and international adoption to preservation, reunification and domestic adoption in Uganda.



Could the same be possible for Haiti? What would it take to create that movement?

If you know of any organizations doing excellent work in this area, in Haiti, could you please link in the comments? 


~A



Friday, March 14, 2014

One month home

Alex has been home for one month and 3 days. We are cuddled into the yellow glider chair together as I write this.

We spent a week in Haiti with Alex at our friends' house (the family he has been living with.) It was very low stress, everything went smoothly with his visa and we said some important goodbyes. We also enjoyed a day at the beach with Alex's best friend.



Goodbye to JC, Andrea and baby N - constant encouragers


Goodbye to G, H and Kai Kai 



Hard to get a pic of these two not in motion


Goodbye Tara


Goodbye Tara and Troy - doers of the impossible



Goodbye Geronne and Jenny 


Goodbye Jessica 

Ariam came with us to Haiti. We decided that we really needed to go as a family and return to the U.S. together as a whole family. Ariam did a great job traveling, being flexible and showing her little brother the ropes on the flight home.








Now we have a start to our story together that includes everyone in the family. That feels right.



One big benefit of having visited so often is that Alex was comfortable with us. We actually had fun in the airports and on the airplanes. Lots of giggling and excitement. Alex and Ariam are both so naturally curious, adventurous and easy going. We flew first from Port au Prince to Florida, spent our day long layover with family there and then took an evening flight home to Colorado. Alex became a U.S. citizen when we arrived in Florida.



And now it's been a month!

We are learning a lot about being parents to a little boy (and a sister to a brother) but in so many ways we already knew Alex so well. The huge benefit to him and to us is that we can communicate, we know his likes and dislikes, we know what makes him laugh and how he wants to be comforted. And he knows how to live within a family. There has not been an extreme transition. Just the basics like figuring out how to get two kids out the door and to appointments on time and how to navigate sharing space and toys.

We spend a lot of time looking at Alex's loved ones online and have done some skyping. This is such a special bonus for him to retain connections. He looks at his godparents/foster parents, Troy and Tara, and kisses their pictures over and over.  The grief has not been overwhelming compared to the joy which is surprising to us but for which we are very thankful.

Because I know these things change so fast here are a few facts about Alex at age 31 months, 1 month home:

- in the 73% for height, 63% for weight with huge size 9/10 feet!
- loves Elmo and Yo Gabba Gabba
- guitar playing genius in the making (he likes to close his eyes and really rock out)
- has already conquered the high slide at the playground and will climb anything
- calls every dog "auggie" which is the name of one of our dogs
- loves being read to more than any other one on one activity
- has tried and liked a lot of new foods that were hard to get in Haiti like cooked zucchini, grapes, tortellini, and chocolate popsicles
- sleeps all night without waking up
- has the cutest angry face
- learning how to push his sister's buttons by doing things like poking her baby doll
- always wants to be outside and never wants to wear socks and shoes
- loves long walks riding in the stroller
- feels that his hat is a required accessory and brings it every time we leave the house
- is learning the ABC song
- is giving us many hugs and kisses and cuddles every day

Alex seems to not have a preference over J and I unlike Ariam who preferred daddy. He soaks in physical attention like tickling, wrestling, cuddling and jumping on the trampoline.

We are so thankful for his resilient spirit and his tender heart. He is showing a lot of empathy and engagement with Ariam and with everyone he meets.

Ariam is wavering between being absolutely thrilled to have a brother to play with at home, at the park, in the car, etc and feeling very infringed on. Lest it appear that everything is perfect let me say that there has been a very annoying level of tattling, whining and some whacking each other with toys. But we will get there. We are getting there!



~A




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Talking Red Flags

Now that AJ is home I want to talk more about red flags. What should you look for when first considering adoption? What questions should be asked before deciding if you should move forward?

The first of the red flag series is about words. What kind of due diligence can be done when an adoption representative is saying all the right things? In our experience Heather Elyse had all the right answers both in writing and on the phone. Here are her words quoted by the adoption ethics website Reform Talk (click) .  (See some of the excerpts below.) 

No red flags in her article (in fact she comes across as ready to reform the Haitian adoption system) or in the answers she gave to me when we spoke.

The perfect words. How do you do ensure you aren't getting involved with an excellent actor/actress who knows what to say to get clients?

1. You cannot assess the ethics of an organization based on their social media, articles, words online, self promotion or even other adoptive families' promotion of it.

Our example: When we began researching adoption from Haiti we knew that we needed to somehow find a group to work with that was aware of the corruption in Haiti, that was supportive of the implementation of the Hague Convention in Haiti, that supported family preservation, and that was not charging extra money that would go to unscrupulous facilitators. We agreed together that unless we found an organization like this we would not adopt from Haiti. Yes, we were looking for the Holy Grail of an ethical adption.


So we began to dip our toe into researching online via google, Haiti adoption groups,  and reading agency reviews and articles posted by agency staff.


Immediately Heather Elyse stood out to us because of her extremely vocal online stand against child trafficking and adoption corruption. Her creche in Haiti was fairly new, was declaring itself to be changing the face of adoption in Haiti, posting red flags about adoption online, and was speaking out about poor adoption practices. The author covered every concern we had - it was like she had read our minds....


Here is a clip from Adoption Reform Talk which posted an entire article in 2012 written by Heather Elyse.


Excerpts in italics Read full article by clicking here. 


"Adoption fraud is everywhere. I am amazed at all the adoption scams that go on. Scams are one of the reasons why we are opening up a law office in Haiti just dealing with adoption fraud cases. My heart is literally grieving for the many, many families who have been lied to, lead astray, given false hopes, and scammed. I am sick over all the corruption that surrounds the orphan and adoption. For those of you who know my heart wrenching adoption stories, you will understand why I am passionate about making sure families never have to experience what I endured. ”

My comment - wow! finally an acknowledgement that adoption can involve fraud! A law office makes this group sound very experienced and intelligent! Heather has her own horrible adoption story and has been personally impacted by fraud. That gives her a personal motive for being transparent and careful in how she conducts her adoption programming!

"As I investigated, the Haitian woman clearly told me that she doesn’t want her child to be adopted. She was too poor to feed her child, so she gave her to this missionary woman in hopes that her child would get a better life in an orphanage setting, and eventually come back and support the family. I almost wished this missionary woman would of walked into this Haitian hut and tried to figure out a solution for this family to get food and education, not rip a child away from it’s family.”

My comment - wow! This group actually investigates cases and seeks a child's background! Heather understands the nuances of birth families that place their children in orphanage care due to poverty not orphaning! 

"Adoption is our last resort at the creche we oversee. If we can keep the child with the family… That is our goal." 

My comment - yes! Absolutely. This is what we were looking for - adoption as a last resort.

“So here it is: my official orphanage advice: If you are not licensed to do adoptions, please stop promising your kids to hopeful adoptive families. I am working on three cases currently where the children were promised to families, yet they aren’t even adoptable. Messing with another person’s heart strings and emotions is a scary thing. Orphanages please tread lightly and use caution."
My comment - Heather must understand soft referrals and how dangerous they can be. She must be on the up and up because she recognizes the importance of licensing, regulation, following the rules and the disaster that can result from not operating with this level of understanding!

"You can not come into a foreign country and decide to start an orphanage and just start taking kids in." 
My comment - She could have taken this quote straight from my mouth. Surely she must have years and years of experience in Haiti. Surely she wouldn't herself be someone without any experience who just flew to Haiti and started an orphanage!

"Dear Orphanages, if you are NOT licensed to do adoptions…. Please stop facilitating and doing private/ independent adoptions. It’s too risky and like many who have already been shut down in Haiti, you could be next. I know Haiti is not a Hague country yet, and there have been many successful independent adoptions done. I am not criticizing anyone who has done an independent adoption, just asking everyone to use wisdom…tread lightly. I understand why many choose to do an independent adoptions, especially with how many corrupt agencies there are. Although I agree with the USCIS when they clearly warn all families to not do independent adoptions on theirwebsite."
My comment - The last thing we'd want to do is an independent adoption! So glad that she recognizes the pitfalls in skirting rules or acting contrary to guidance from USICS!

“A plea to all Adoption Agencies: Why again are we charging outrageous fees?? I understand the need to pay staff, keep the utilities on at the office, but come on agencies!!! Let’s operate with integrity. Dare to be different!!!! Let me say that again … Dare to be Different!!! Let’s not make this a money making business."
My comment - exactly! Adoption as a money making/get rich business is deplorable. 

"If a Haitian wanted to adopt a Haitian child, it would be less then 700 US. I know this how: because we have a program where we pay for Haitian families to adopt. We encourage it as long as they meet our standards. (that should give you an idea of how cheap it is to adopt here in Haiti)."
My comment - Supporting in country domestic adoption is very important to us. It is so rare to hear an agency encourage this since it does not make money for the agency. We are amazed at the level of commitment to Haitian families! Wonderful!

The language used in this article was the same language on Heather Elyse's facebook page, on the facebook pages of her organizations, the creche, et.
Combined with positive information in online Haiti adoption forums and a total lack of negative information or reviews when we Googled we decided that this was an agency we'd be very interested in talking to.

So what questions should you ask to look for red flags? How do you weed through a forest of words and sort the manipulators from the sincere?
To be continued....


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hope Shaped

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all. Emily Dickinson


On the last day of September 2013 I peed on a stick in my aunt's bathroom in Flordia - in transit to Haiti.

Negative as usual. That's fine. Just taking an extra precaution since I'd soon be popping malaria prophylaxis like candy.

The next week I was crabby and bleeding. And have I mentioned crabby? The poor women who joined me in Haiti. I was silly and then silent and then crabby. I cried! It was a lot of emotion in a very short period of time.

In mid-October I was very sick and by late October I was in the hospital with what they thought was Dengue Fever. 2 days of IVs and anti nausea medications being dumped into my veins... and chills and sweats. So much fluid was pumped in me that my wedding rings were stuck on my giant sausage finger.

By early November I was bleeding again which seemed normal and on time. And then the bleeding didn't stop.

I was in bed by 8:30 every night in October and November and napping for big portions of the afternoons. I felt weary. So weary. Even making dinner was too hard. We agreed that this was complete mental and emotional exhaustion from the new delays in Haiti.

Then there was this day. I think it was a Monday. I drove to the store, bought a box of cherry pop tarts and ate.the.entire.box. One after another. I could not stop. The hunger for those pop tarts was out of control. A few friends online joked that I had a pop tart baby growing in me.

J was in Haiti. It was the holiday week. I began to wake up from my fog and think about the light bleeding. I dug around in my bathroom drawer, found a several year old pregnancy test, threw it in my bag and Ariam and I drove to our friends' house in the mountains for Thanksgiving.

I don't know what made me do that. I was sure it was nothing. Weird hormonal fluctuations. We were diagnosed, both of us, with infertility a long time ago.

A few days into our stay at our friends' house I pulled out that test just to get it over with. (Anyone who has ever spent many many years never being pregnant knows that getting that big old negative is a real loser moment. you dread it and dread it, put it off, and then finally just rip off the bandaid and do it.)

Except it wasn't negative. It was positive. Very very positive.
And in my pajamas, with crazy morning hair and unbrushed teeth I screamed for my friend to get up to the bathroom. I don't think I'll forget the way time stopped in that bathroom.  We were on the floor staring at each other with huge eyes. No words can describe it.

We spent the day in the sunshine. We talked about how the next Thanksgiving there would be FIVE kids between us!! I drove home the next day in a cloud of surprise, glee, giddiness. Shock.

I called a friend. I told J on skype by holding up the test. I took 4 more tests. I bought prenatal vitamins.
We calculated that it was just 4 weeks along most likely.

Sunday morning I sang in church with a secret smile on my face and a hand over my tummy.

It wasn't what we were planning. Actually it wasn't something we could plan.  It wasn't ideal timing. It wasn't convenient or affordable. But it was a baby! And a baby that was immediately beloved.

Sunday afternoon I bled. A lot. And ached. And could not get off the couch. Ariam watched kids' shows. I tried very hard to act normal.

Monday I went to the ob/gyn. I told them I knew it was too good to be true. The baby was gone. They told me not to be fatalistic.

I lay on my back in a dark radiology room, listening to his heartbeat in the wrong place. In a fallopian tube instead of in the safety of a uterus. My eyes filled up but I didn't cry because I knew, I had known, it wasn't going to happen for us. He wasn't really meant to be ours.

I challenged them to move him down to the uterus. They said that isn't a thing. They said he had to go or he would kill me.

The month of December was filled with shots that made my hair partially fall out, my body ache, and put me on my back with nausea. I had to eat constantly or I would feel sick. I gained weight that should have been baby weight but wasn't. The doctor decided that what they were doing wasn't working. He was growing (turns out he was 9.5 weeks when I was diagnosed and 10.5 weeks when I had surgery.)
Heart still beating they wheeled me in to an operating room and took him out.

I am left with 2 scars, an extra flabby tummy, about 1/4 less hair, and the memory of that 1 completely happy day back in late November.

My left fallopian tube is now gone.
I don't know how on earth this little guy arrived, set up a heart beat and then got stuck a few inches from being able to grow and be born.

We hope we will see him someday after our lives here are done.

The sermon last week at church was about heaven. About how we are designed to be hope shaped. How we strive for goodness and light and happiness now, or how we work through the hard brutal parts of life now, because of what we hope for in the future. On earth or in heaven.

I am hope shaped. We are hope shaped. And we keep going.

~A

PS. It turns out a lot of women I know, and don't know, have lost a baby. I had no idea how common it is to experience this kind of loss or how it stays as such a big part of life's story. Why don't we talk about it more often?


Monday, January 20, 2014

Champions

I found myself yearning throughout 2013 for forgiveness for stupid decisions, wrong choices and bad vision. My prayers were the stuff of groaning and apologizing and pleading with God. Pleading that He would make things right where we were constantly going wrong.

When I could think clearly I always included in my prayers one specific request. That request was for champions. Please God send us champions. Life is hard and unfair and we are stupid and powerless. And we, even in our stupidity and powerlessness and being every bit human and not divine or all knowing, are still called to do hard...impossible....things.

We needed champions to stand in the gap when we were weak. When we were powerless. When we we wanted to give up we needed people to drag us over finish lines, hand us water bottles, and still be ready to hug our sweaty selves.

So we stopped asking for timelines and praying for instant success. We started to ask God to send physical people for us and for AJ. I asked for people to come into our lives to carry us, to advocate for us, to care for us physically, to strengthen us, to pray with and for us and to help us do and say hard things very publicly. We prayed that God would do the discerning, weeding out the champions from the manipulators, for us this year because we had been so bad at discernment the year prior.

I will never know why God did not grant us perfect timelines and easy processes as we were trying to readopt AJ. Those prayers have been prayed so faithfully by so many without ever feeling "answered." I may never know why at every step there were so many human errors and long delays.

But I will always be thankful that God answered our champion prayer so fully, with such beauty, and so completely that we could not possibly have asked for more.

I want AJ to be able to remember his champions specifically. The people who held our lives together in so many ways for the past 12 months - on AJ's behalf.

The Livesay household - Troy, Tara, Paige, Isaac, Hope, Noah, Phoebe, Lydia, Geronne and Jenny
The Livesay home is where AJ has been living for 11 months now.  In his crib, with his toys, and his dogs and his people-both American and Haitian. He could not have been moved out of his creche and into a family without the Livesays along with Geronne and Jenny. They came into our lives as the first set of God-provided champions and have become without a doubt some of our dearest friends.








In this home AJ has learned to walk, laugh, have family meals, splash in the tub, enjoy dogs, play basketball, climb stairs, dance, jump off the couch and appreciate music. He has learned to play with cell phones and Skype with us. He has also learned how to be a 2 year old and do naughty things like fill the dogs' water bowls with food and hide cell phones in random drawers.

When we found out that AJ did not enjoy hearing the word "no" from us I checked in with Tara and Geronne who are AJ's caregivers. Both laughed and said he rarely hears the word no.

He is the baby of a large family with a lot of experience fostering boys his age. God no doubt knew what he was doing when he tugged on these champions' hearts and they said yes to caring for AJ.

When Tara, Troy and kids went back to the U.S. for 5 months during the 2nd half of 2013 AJ stayed with Geronne and Jenny who have lived with the family for the past 4 years. We came and went, each time believing we were arriving to take him home with us and each time leaving in pain and with huge amounts of guilt. But Geronne and Jenny were there to hug us, cry with us, laugh with us, and reassure us that AJ was their family too and would be well loved.


AJ "helping" wash clothes


Malachi and family - AJ's first best friend

During the Livesay family sabbatical to the U.S. another set of champions for AJ arrived in Haiti. While the parents played a big part in giving ongoing continuity of an extended family experience to AJ in his home, their son, Malachi became AJ's first best friend.

Both age 2. Both with loving temperaments and strong personalities, the two boys hit it off on day one. Malachi called "where's AJ" any time he woke up from a nap and AJ happily obliged by running to him. Malachi taught AJ the wonders of playing games on an ipad while AJ taught Malachi about handling large dogs. These boys mean a lot to one another. I didn't know, but God did, that AJ would need this kind of peer relationship so badly.






Thanksgiving in Haiti with extended community 

My heart is full of thankfulness that this family bridged a gap we hadn't realized ahead of time was going to exist in the fall.

This is what God said when he answered our prayer for champions - "You are not alone."

While we have not always been together, none of us has been alone. Thank you God. Thank you friends.


More on the other champions later.

~A

PS. The Livesays have been in Haiti for a long time and have written extensively about adoption ethics. Please take a moment to read some of their blog. We have learned a lot together this year and I hope that others will avoid our mistakes. Tara is much more eloquent as she writes for, about and with other adoptive families. Click here. 




Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pause - 2013

Practicing with Daddy fall 2013

I wish there were a pause button to prevent Ariam from growing any older.

It is a funny thing living with a 4 year old. She has one foot in her babyhood still drinking from her sippy cup at night, still dancing to Y.o G.abba videos, and generally still needing a lot of kissing of hurts and reminders that she will always be our baby.

She still misunderstands things that make us howl with laughter (hidden in our hands of course.) 
"Is a porcupine made of pork mommy?" 

But so much is changing fast around here.
She has declared her new favorite music to be Beyon.ce, her new favorite activity is running like an olympic athlete on the soccer field or trying gymnastics moves, and she often tells us that she can't wait to be a grown up and have her own house and husband and babies (next door of course.)





With Gordan, her classroom mascot, visiting her gymnastics class

Sometimes she says things that make our jaws drop in awe instead of laughter.
"God is going to love the hair he gave me when He sees me in heaven!"


With baby "Rosie"
This was a big, hard, long year for our family as a whole. But when I look at Ariam I see so much resilience. She is laughter even in rain and joy in the midst of defeat. Her general outlook is optimistic and happy.







My first early memories are from age 3 and 4. While sometimes she can't seem to remember what happened last week, I hope some wonderful memories settled in the back of Ariam's mind this year.

About Ariam in 2013, age 3.5-4.5:


Growth. She grew so much. It was a never ending search for clothes that fit her long legs and handing on all of size 3 and also most of size 4 to smaller friends. She has been in the 75th percentile or above for height all year and in the 50th percentile for weight. 






Heath. She was incredibly healthy which we always find somewhat miraculous. But she did have a round of what seemed like food poisoning that we hope won't settle in as a major memory for her. (Although I think we will never be able to forget it.)

Helping. She began helping around the house. One morning we woke up to find she had put away the dishes from the dishwasher. Minus the knives of course. She did it one plate at a time using her stool to reach the cupboard. We estimate it took her 45+ minutes. We were shocked and amazed. 

Reading. She began to sound out words. Nobody warned me how hard it is to sit with a 4 year old and listen to her try to sound out the words at a rate of 20 minutes per page before bed. Very very glad she is doing a lot of this hard work of learning to read and write in school. Teachers amaze me.


With Solomon, spring 2013

Praying. She began to pray, outloud and with sincerity. She talked a lot about what it means that God is always with us. Her exploration of the concepts around God, Jesus, our faith, other faiths, amaze, perplex and oftentimes stump us. 

Sassing. The sass began. And while we force ourselves to swallow the laughter, other times it is a very yucky glimpse of future teen years. We are working on figuring out how to put an end to grumbling, moaning about things being unfair, and the big pronouncements of "I wish I weren't a kid so I could make all the rules for myself!!"


This is the "angry face" - it makes us laugh
Uh oh


Firsts in 2013:


  • hair salon experience
  • roller coaster
  • feeling comfortable in and around water
  • international travel
  • meeting her little brother
  • turning 4!!
  • saying goodbye to her beloved preschool teacher, Miss Cristin
  • photographed for 2 books: Letters from Haiti and B is for Book


Santa Fe, with my sister's boyfriend May 2013

On the way to Haiti, Florida April 2013

First moments meeting. Both suck their bottom lip when nervous.

The salon with Tipheny


4th birthday at Menchie's frozen yogurt - animal theme - July 2013


2nd celebration at Aya and Papa's house
Goodbye to Miss Cristin fall 2013
Post photo shoot treat with Hilina, November 2013

Firsts we are looking forward to in 2014:


  • sleeping all through the night without her coming to our room (we'll see...)
  • reading a whole book instead of just a few words at a time
  • swimming without help/continuing to be less afraid in water
  • starting kindergarten
  • watching a movie? (Ariam is both scared of and bored by kids' movies. This perplexes us.)
  • seeing her brother come home, seeing the end to 2 years of talking about but not being with him
  • maybe taking a family vacation that does not involve going to Haiti?
This post wouldn't be complete without mentioning Ariam's best friend Solomon. Sol is a big part of her world even though he lives a few hours away. 
She and he mostly love one another even though Ariam does not really like dinosaurs and Sol does not prefer to play with baby dolls.

The infamous upstaging of July 4, 2013


Ariam has a personal goal to lose those training wheels as soon as possible 



Sometimes they hate one another. Then we take photos and laugh. Both frequently accuse each other of being "too loud." If they are tired it ends like this....






If Ariam were reading this as an adult tomorrow I would want her to know that at age 4 she is empathetic, equally ready for silliness and snuggling at all times, outspoken (some might say bossy but I call it leadership), careful with her things and a bit cautious in her experiences, athletic, full of ideas for making crafts, constantly talking and processing outloud, a performer who loves an audience, a lover of all things frilly and twirly, always hungry for a big meal, and a natural dancer. She is a classic only child and struggles to compromise with friends sometimes. She is used to getting her way because she doesn't have any siblings to share us or her stuff with. Yet. But she is also laughter and light.


Mother's Day 2013

Halloween!


This book has provided a lot of conversation




August, her playmate and the victim of frequently being dressed up like a baby doll 

Christmas 2013 - size 5/6 robe, long legs, and looking so grown up

Her favorite toy is her baby doll and lately her doll houses. 

Daddy is her favorite person on earth.




Her least favorite things to do include anything in the cold (me too!), having her hair washed, and ever having to miss school for any reason (doctor's appointments, holidays, etc.) She also does not enjoy hiking which we sure hope to change at some point.

Every day we are challenged by Ariam's ability to talk non-stop, overhear everything, ask hard questions, think complicated thoughts, and her desire to be one of the adults. We love it and we are...ehem...challenged by it. 

We hope that when AJ gets home Ariam will find a lot of amusement in being one of two instead of the only child. 

~A