How Adoption Saves

It began as the story of a family that never was.

One by one, over a decade, four children were born to a single woman in Odessa, Ukraine. They each entered the orphanage system directly from the hospital they were born in. I was privileged to have known two of them.

One was internationally adopted into a family. It was an adjustment. Life in a western-cultured family is very different from an Eastern European orphanage.

For two years, nightmares terrified him. He never wanted to see an orphanage again. It was hard to even coax him into any large building — one look and you could see his fear.

The other had been a part of the system for sixteen years. She had finished high school and was on her way to trade school. She was ready to experience life on her own terms.

She didn’t want anyone telling her what to do anymore. She didn’t want to be adopted and said “No, thank you” to the offer. But, she wanted to meet her younger brother. I was there when they first met.

The young boy began to change, almost as soon as he entered his new family. His hair grew thicker. His paper-like nails grew strong. He started to grow so fast, he often complained of leg pain “in his bones.” His quick grasp of his third language in his first four years of life surprised all. He overcame his fear of crowds, the small family dog, and meeting new people.

The teenager, the young boy’s older half-sister, moved into her first apartment with a friend from the orphanage. She dreamed of becoming a cook and an accountant, so she might open her own “small but good” cafe one day. She took lots of photos. She kept in touch with her younger brother via Skype. Her life held promise.

The young boy had health concerns, some more serious than others. He received months of treatment and surgery in the U.S. His chances for a healthy life restored.

The young woman became ill and by the time it was discovered, the Tuberculous (TB) had developed pustules in her right lung. She started a rigid treatment plan in the government run TB treatment center in Odessa, Ukraine. It wasn’t long before her left lung became infected also.

The boy’s family was very concerned for the young woman. They flew to Ukraine to encourage her to receive treatment. They made sure she had medication and food. They urged her to enter into a hospital for proper dosing and care.

The boy is now in fifth grade and thriving. He loves mathematics, Legos, and Marvel Super Heros.

The young woman would have been 26 this year. However, she died on June 22, 2014. Her U.S. family held a service for her in America. They remain broken-hearted.

The boy is our son. I am convinced he was spared a similar fate due to his adoption. His life is one of love, family and continued promise.

Lena, the Ukrainian daughter of our hearts, had her life cut short by a cruel disease. She was a victim of faulty reasoning:
• One that believes a government can raise children;
• One that believes remaining in a birth country is more important than joining a waiting family, regardless of where they live; and
• One that believes children are merely headcounts of the country in which they were born, and have no human right to a family.

I know people who are avid adoption supporters, as I am one of them. I often hear from people who are anti-adoption. From personal experience, I can tell you they are equally passionate about their beliefs.

My pro-adoption beliefs aren’t formed from a successful or non-successful adoption experience.

My pro-adoption stance doesn’t stem from any extensive research or doctoral degree.

I am pro-adoption because of our son and his sister.

I am pro-adoption because love doesn’t recognize man-drawn boundaries.

I advocate for adoption because I believe the right to family is a basic human right.

I fight for (domestic and international) adoption because adoption saves lives. Our son is living proof.

Dear Lena. You will remain forever young and beautiful to the family who loved you and considered you their own. May you rest in peace, knowing you were loved.

Ваш американский мама

3 Ways to Battle Compassion Fatigue

As an undergrad, I majored in Criminal (Juvenile) Justice. As I interned with the Kalamazoo Probate Court, I learned about compassion fatigue first hand. However, that experience was introductory compared to caring for our newly adopted child.

Having been raised in an Eastern European orphanage from birth to almost four years of age, little Sasha was a heart-broken, un-diagnosed (therefore untreated), bundle of unfocused energy.
Our first months together consisted of constant indulgence of his sensory deprivation and his inability to ever be away from me without his fear of separation making him extremely upset or even ill. I eventually got used to his watching me shower (or joining me while he was still fully clothed), or his sitting on my lap while I used the toilet. It was draining, exhausting and an unexpected addition to the already stressful situation I was in (read about our adoption journey in “Until We All Come Home: A Harrowing Journey, a Mother’s Courage, a Race to Freedom,” Faith Words, 2012). But I loved him. A mother’s dilemma.

Over the next few years, I found myself exhausted. I felt a strange sort of emptiness. His pain was my pain, yet whatever I did made little difference. Exhausted, empty, I cried out to God to fill me, to heal my son, and sometimes I just prayed, “Help!”

Compassion fatigue is described as “the overall experience due to chronic use of empathy when helping those who are suffering in some way” (my simplified version of Newell & MacNeil’s study definition, 2010). With any parenting, there can come fatigue. Special needs parenting raises fatigue to a higher level, and perhaps, an even greater need for attention. While not limited to adoptive parents, those involved in the foster care system or those ministering to orphan care needs, I have heard more such talk about compassion fatigue from these groups more than any other I know.

With all praise to God’s grace, I discovered three simple yet effective strategies that helped me the most while dealing with compassion fatigue, and they were found in God’s word.

1. LOVE GOD (Matthew 22:36-40)

When you love someone, you spend time with them. Yet recent studies reveal that many Christians are not in the word of God everyday. Start simple; a devotional constructed around at least one verse or verses. I chose, “Our Daily Bread” (mailed to our home monthly and free) and “Jesus Calling” (I actually bought it in two different formats–hard copy and a phone app, to ensure constant availability). The next decision is harder – Make a decision to read everyday. Some days I needed to read the devotional a couple of times (sleepy eyes blur easily and a multi-tasking mom’s mind often fails to catch everything the first time). Then, I discovered “31 Nuggets of Hope,” a devotional especially written for adoptive parents by Shelly Roberts. Only 30 days long, this power-packed devotional can be read and re-read over a span of months. Highly recommended for those searching for a more specific devotional versus a general one.

2. PRAY BOLDY (Ephesians 3:20)

After reading (and if time allowed, re-reading) the days devotion, follow-up with a short prayer. Mine usually went something like this:

“Dear Heavenly Father. Thank you for your word. I am seeking your will for my life. Help me to apply what I read. Re-fill me with your grace for anything I face today. No one knows what I will need more than you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Short prayers like this one, throughout the day, worked best for me. Be specific, bold, and keep asking. There is power in prayer.

3. PRAISE CONSTANTLY (Hebrews 13:15)

If fatigue (or worry or fear, for that matter) engulfs you, little will help more than praising God.

Praise him for what he has done, is doing, and will do. Praise him throughout your day. Praise him in song. Satan can’t get away fast enough. Praise is another under-utilized power source – tap it.

Those are the three simple strategies which help in my battle against compassion fatigue. Share yours in the comment section below.

* Photo courtesy of Cathy Cantu, blogger at 5 Minutes for the Frazzled Mom

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