Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This is good...right?

On this, our 3-month anniversary with Gia, let's talk attachment.

In the adoption arena, sometimes attachment becomes the "A" word. Some adoptive parents kind of don't want to talk about attachment so as not to "jinx" the process.

You see, attachment is the BIG unknown in adoption. Yes, there might be undiagnosed or unknown medical or special needs; yes, there may be unknown issues regarding birth parents or orphanage care.

But, by far, the question "will this child attach to us?" (or its inverse: will I attach with this child?) is the single most important issue in adoption.

Sometimes, attachment is EASY. And praise the Lord for those times. Other times, not so much. It can take weeks, months, even years for attachments to form between adopted child and adoptive parents.

So...we've been home, Gia and I, all.summer.long. Cocooning. Bonding. ATTACHING. In fact, at times, I've felt like I was going stir crazy, needing to get out of the house and have some adult time. Alone. With no kids. Just to get a coffee. Or groceries. Or, scandalous thought, to go shopping for new clothes.



But I know that staying with Gia has been the best thing for her, hands down. So I persevered.

Simon and I are both educators. His contract is different than mine, so he went back to work 3 weeks ago. Gia was a little confused, but I was still with her, and baba came back at the end of every day, so all was right with the world.

Little did she know what was looming on her horizon--mama going back to work.

That day came yesterday. We tried to warn her, prepare her, get her excited for her auntie to come stay with her. Because to many adopted kids, a change in the routine is cause for disaster. So, we tried our best to prepare her.

I felt a little guilty for actually LOOKING FORWARD to going back to work. Time away from the kids. Adult conversations. Professional duties.

A chance to NOT have to be emotionally "ON" for Gia 24/7. (Let me tell you...having to be emotionally ON for any one person for an extended period of time is EXHAUSTING!)

So, with much trepidation, and a slight sense of relief, I kissed the Gs goodbye and waved to them as I drove off yesterday.

Not long after I got to school, I received the first text: Gia meltdown #1.
Another text came later: doing okay.
I'm thinking "whew. It's not going so badly!"

I got home at 3:30. Auntie breaks the news to me--4 meltdowns throughout the day. And not just sniffles. Sobs. For half an hour at a time. Sigh...

I felt like a HORRIBLE parent. I felt GUILT. I felt SHAME. How could I put my precious Gia through more trauma like this? She doesn't deserve it after all she's been through!!! (Bang head on wall. Or just go in bedroom and cry.)

Then, something interesting, dare I say amazing, happened. God gave me a different perspective. He said, "What if, instead of looking at this negatively, you think about it like this?"

I'm listening.

He said, "What if her meltdowns mean that she misses you.  Because she's ATTACHED to you. Because she LOVES you. Did you ever consider that?"

Honestly, no, I hadn't. But the more I thought about it, the more my spirits lifted. Never before was a mom so THANKFUL for her daughter's tears when she was away at work!!

Gia missed me! Because she's ATTACHING!

Now, we're not all the way there in this whole attachment thing. It takes a long time, like I mentioned above.
But it's a start.

This is good...right?

P.S. Only 2 meltdowns today, my second day back to work. Baby steps. :)


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why China?


I started this blog in China during our #journeytogia. I'm going to modify it here and there and finish it because I keep putting it off. There is so much going through my head the last few weeks, settling on something to write about has been a challenge. We have been getting all kinds of inquiries about our family since returning home, ranging from things like "how is her English," to "how is it going?" At some point I think we will blog specifically to the most frequently asked questions, but I thought I'd address a particular question that Amy and I get asked regularly, because I think this question sets the stage for a reflective post such as this. Aside from "Why adoption?" which is perhaps an entire separate post, or series of posts, which you could also glean from reading our previous blog posts and piecing things together.

"Why China?" is probably the question we get asked most frequently by family, friends, and loved ones. It can also be asked alternatively, such as "Why not adopt in America?" Though we are not offended by this question, and realize that some ask this merely out of curiosity and are interested to know how we came to that decision, I have to be honest and say that, at the same time, it can be a frustrating question for us. Our quick answer is almost always, "Why NOT China?" but there are plenty of reasons we made this decision 10 years ago.

For those who seek concrete, tangible answers, Amy and I saw adoption as an opportunity, NOT a consolation to our initial infertility challenges (for which we have never pursued or sought medical attention/treatment). Don't get us wrong, we have nothing against fertility treatments and medically aided solutions. We just knew it wasn't for us. Plain and simple. I remember Amy telling me about some things she had read about international adoption, so we simply prayed about it, and immediately, both of us knew we wanted to adopt internationally, more specifically, China. Again, for you tangible folks, Amy's sister Martha had also taught at an International School in China for a number of years, so we were already quite enamored and intrigued by Chinese culture. We also learned China had instituted a "One Child" policy in most parts of the country, so children, primarily girls, were being abandoned at an alarming rate. This tugged at our hearts, and from there we never turned back.

In 2004 we adopted Gracie Faye Aijin Miller.
The experience we had in China, while meeting Gracie was life changing. We learned much about a culture that is different than ours, but in many ways not all that different. We also learned more about the process of adoption itself, and the many ways it impacted us both as a family and spiritually. In many ways, China became a 2nd home country of sorts for us. Visiting Gracie Faye's "finding place" was an experience that would change us forever.
 Meeting a group of other adoptive families would impact us in ways we could not imagine. Fuling 5!
Connecting with a Chinese guide, Michael, showed us in many ways how much we could learn and appreciate the Chinese culture.

In 2011 we chose to adopt Gemma Lucille Sanhui Miller. You can read more about this in other blog posts from 3 year ago. What an experience this was as we were able to visit some historical places in addition to our adoption processes. Gracie was also able to accompany us and got to see things like the Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, and much much more.
We didn't get to do as much sight seeing when we adopted Gracie in 2004 so this enhanced our appreciation for China even more. During this experience, I was moved by Gracie's bravery while welcoming a frightened 4 year old sister, and by Gemma's courage as she was taken from the only life she knew, by 3 strangers who looked nothing like what she had seen, and spoke words she couldn't understand. Our love and appreciation for China grew, just as our love for our daughters grew, and just as our family grew.

So here we are just over a month or so removed from our #journeytoGia in May/June of 2014 and once again, China captured our heart. You see, each time we have adopted, we have been blessed to see a different part of China, meet new people, traditions, foods, and ways of life. We have seen modern cities and rural farmland. We have flown in planes, ridden trains (of different styles), pedicabs, vans, chairlifts, and yes steel luge runs! Once again we have been blessed by the incredible network of adoptive families, many of which have become new friends. Our guides have been like family members to us, despite our very short window of being with them. Helen and Simon are like members of our family, in a very real way that only adoption can accomplish. Of course on this trip we were all captivated, moved, and impacted beyond words by the bravest 7/8 year old we have ever met, Gia Pearl ChunYu Miller. To watch her say goodbye to her best friend, Shi Shu Ping, was the most moving site we have EVER experienced. To this day she inspires us and reminds us of what really matters. She shows us courage, and vulnerability, things that impact us all.

So "Why China?" you ask... Because Martha, Gracie, Michael, the Doodys, the Rombolettis, the Freemans, the Hsias, Gemma, Miranda, Grace, Gayly, Rebecca, Gia, Shi Shu Ping, Helen, the Mountses, Simon, the Flythes, the Goodsons, many, many others, and most importantly, God's Plan. I'm particularly fond of an image that is vividly etched into my memory and heart. It is from a mural at Gracie's orphanage in Fuling City that reads "Love Has No Borders."
 So true.

Why NOT China?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Unspoken "But..."

It's been 49 days since we met Gia for the very first time. 49 days. Much has happened in those 49 days. Things are going quite well, as far as international adoptions go.

The "good" days far outweigh the "bad" days.

But there are bad days.

I've shared about them on this blog. On Facebook. With family and friends.

We have an amazing support group of family, friends, and adoption communities. AMAZING.

But sometimes, when I share about the hard parts of adoption--Gia's adoption--I can hear the unspoken "but...."

"But, didn't you kind of sign up for this when you chose to adopt?"

Yes. And no.

YES, we signed up for this.

This finding our new normal.
This learning how to parent 3 girls instead of 2.
This sibling "jockeying" for position and learning their new roles in our family.
This figuring out how to buckle 3 car seats into the middle row.
This having to use a car roof rack, even on short trips.
This 1 lb. of hamburger just isn't enough to feed our family any more, especially if we want any leftovers.
And yes, even this CT scans and specialist referrals.

NO, we didn't sign up for this.

This trying to glue the million pieces of my daughter's broken heart back together.
This listening to my daughter cry inconsolable sobs of grief for all she left behind.
This feeling utterly helpless because I and she lack a common  language to offer explanation and comfort.
This trying to gain the trust of my daughter after whisking her away from the only life--world--she knew.

We didn't sign up for that.

"But still," you might think. "Didn't you know that all this could be a possibility?"

Well, sure. But we still didn't "sign up for it." Every family, child, adoption is different. There's no way to prepare for EVERYTHING.

It's like saying to the grieving widow, "Well, you knew when you got married that your husband might be the first to die. You signed up for it."

Or to the parents in the hospital, praying for healing for their sick child, "Well, you knew going into pregnancy that kids can get sick. You signed up for it."

At some level, we did sign up for it. ALL of it.

But, at another level, we didn't. This is a broken world. We did not sign up for the brokenness. We cannot control how that brokenness manifests itself day in and day out.

(Here's the wonderful, shout-it-from-the-rooftops BUT...)

But we do know the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We DID sign up for His guidance. His healing. His comfort and encouragement.

And so, we soldier on. Our brave little Gia and our family of 5. We will do the best we can to comfort, protect, and support her as she first flounders, then walks, and finally runs her way through this new life of hers.

We trust the One who called us on this Journey to Gia in the first place.

And yes, after all, we DID sign up for this when we gave our hearts to Him.

A dear friend gave me this scripture to pray for and over Gia when she experiences grief:

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture."  Malachi 4:2

I LONG for the day when I see Gia leap for joy. She will get there. This I know.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grafting

GRAFTING: verb (used with object)
1.
to insert (a graft) into a tree or other plant; insert a scion of (one plant) into another plant.
2.
to cause (a plant) to reproduce through grafting.
3.
Surgery. to transplant (a portion of living tissue, as of skin or bone) as graft.
4.
to attach as if by grafting


Gia has been a Miller for 1 month. During that time, a lot of grafting has been going on. In the adoption world, you hear a lot about "grafting." I think several of the definitions above fit with the process we are experiencing right now.

I'm sure that poor Gia has felt as though her heart has been literally cut out of her body, such grief  has she felt. But I also believe, that just as a seed has to die in order to produce life, so it is with grafting one human life with another. Poor Gia has to mourn her former life, as though it has died. But in the mean time, God is doing a marvelous work creating new life within her and within our family.
 She might not even realize it yet. 

But we see it.

Like just this afternoon. Gracie and Gemma were with Simon at their Junior Golf Completion ceremony. I knew that they wouldn't be home for lunch, but Gia didn't. She and I were in the kitchen, and I was starting to prepare lunch. I look over and watch as Gia opens the fridge and gets out all three of their water bottles. She then puts them on the table according to where each of them sits, and she pops each one open, all ready for each G to take a sip. And (because it's a rainy day, and sometimes Simon and I allow the Gs to do this), she got out her iPad, found the My Little Pony movie they all like, started playing it, and set the iPad at the end of the table in a position so they all could watch it while they ate lunch.

This seemingly simple act spoke volumes to me and actually brought me to tears. 

See, she's already feeling like part of this family. She already feels comfortable enough to "pitch in" and help, even without being asked. She knows the meal routine well enough to take the initiative. And she cares enough about her sisters to show them the kindness of getting their water bottles and a movie ready for them.

She's being grafted. She's reproducing life after her old life. She's attaching (identifying) with our family, routines, and sisterhood.

Grafting.
It's a beautiful (albeit painful) thing.






Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Just Beneath the Surface

It was about a week ago that I sent out a prayer SOS via Facebook for our Gia. She was grieving inconsolably one night, and we just didn't know what to do for her. Poor baby!

We've had some great, relatively grief-free days ever since then. But I know that her grief is just beneath the surface, and I expect it to come out at almost any moment.

It's not that we expect Gia's grief to be over and done with in the blink of an eye. Quite the contrary. We know that her grief is a process that we--especially SHE--must go through.

But I will admit that I was not expecting her grief to surface the way it did this morning.

She awoke quite chipper, with that million dollar smile. She was "being silly" at breakfast (which we think is her way of showing us that she's getting more and more comfortable in our family), and she was eating like a champ.

We found an old plastic princess "cell phone" a few days ago, so this morning Simon put some new batteries in it. She was grinning from ear to ear when she saw it light up and heard the princesses saying "hello" to her.

Simon wanted to find the Chinese word for "phone," so he looked it up on Google translate. He played the sound byte that accompanied it, and a woman's voice came out of the phone, speaking what seemed a full sentence or two, instead of what we thought--the single word "telephone." Simon thought he got the translation in error, so he tried it again, and the same voice came through the phone saying the same thing. Gia looked a little confused.

We started gathering up the breakfast dishes, when I looked at Gia and all of a sudden she was crying.  Her beautiful smile was turned upside down in a tearful frown. "What's the matter?" I asked as I reached over to pull her close. Of course she could not answer me. But it dawned on Simon and me at the same time:

Hearing her native language through the phone had brought all her just-beneath-the-surface grief right up to (and overflowing) the surface.

We both felt so sad for her! Again, as her tears flowed down, and the sobs came in waves, we were reminded of how brave she is and what a hero she is to us.




P.S. Shortly after the grief episode mentioned above, Gia and I were watching cartoons. In an apparent attempt to "shake off" her sorrow, Gia proceeded to say every English word she knew as she recognized it on tv: flower, orange, green, one, two, three, four, etc. Oh, and the million dollar smile returned. :)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Home


After more than two weeks and over 15,000 miles and.....  it could have been easy to miss. Without all that context, it was nothing overly significant. Our new daughter was merely still misunderstanding this strange babbling that came from our mouths, and taking a cue from her bath and teeth brushing session, she just assumed it was time for bed next right? That is what my jet lagged, food poisoned, road weary brain settled on initially. "Should we let her go to bed?" I asked my wife. We both agreed that we didn't have much of a choice. I would then get yet another display of my wife's amazing unconditional, sacrificial love, as she sat beside the bottom bunk, to provide comfort for Gia Pearl ChunYu as she drifted to sleep, for the first time in her new bed, in her new home. (I purposely didn't use house) This act would have been heart-moving in itself, but I left out the fact that my wife has the same jet lagged, road weary symptoms as I do, plus one of the worst colds she has had in long time. But she put it all aside, to ensure her newest daughter would feel safe, secure, and loved, the most important things a child can ever experience.



The easy to miss part? Ah yes, I'm getting to that. You see, initially, I just thought, "she is tired," and "she doesn't understand what we are saying," and "she is used to going to bed after bath and brushing her teeth." But it wasn't until I replayed this in my head, and had a chance to look at the pictures that it hit me. I'm very thankful for Gia's orphanage, the Social Welfare Institute of Shijiazhuang, and all they provided for her the last 8 years. But she slept here...


... among the myriad of other beds, children, and whatever else. Can you imagine this? The minute I met Gia and saw this little girl smile at me, I could see the courage in her eyes. All I can say is that it was immeasurable, and I knew it without a doubt. You see, I think all these orphaned kids, in China, and everywhere for that matter, are so brave and resilient, that it is both heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time. But to be able to smile like this when meeting 4 total strangers, who are going to take you away, that is immeasurable courage. Gia Pearl ChunYu Miller, to me, you are the bravest.


Now it still hadn't quite fully clicked with me but remember, I'm still reeling a bit. As I was reviewing how surprisingly awesome the road trip was today, despite a rough start to the Pacific Standard Time day, I quickly remembered how silly with happiness Gia was for most of the trip, at least while she wasn't sleeping sweetly on Amy's shoulder. But in particular, the last 30 or so miles when we started saying "we are almost home!" she seemed to understand what we were saying. We didn't get the Chinese "huh?" like we usually do when we tell her things with motions, looking like we are playing a game of Pictionary©, but instead we got a bigger grin and much squirming in her car seat. Kind of like this...



Additionally, we had sent Gia a small booklet upon being matched with her quite a while back. It includes pictures of us, and other family members, with labels in Chinese, so her nannies and teachers could introduce us and prepare her for when we came to meet her.



Well, the last page, my brilliant wife, decided to include a picture of the front of our house, so Gia has looked at this image for months...



As we neared mile # 15,324 or something like that, and as we turned up the tiny gulch that goes to our house, we opened up the booklet and showed her the picture of the house. We then slowly approached our street and came to a near stop and pointed out the front of the car, in the precise spot the picture was taken from, to create the exact same image out the car windshield as through the plastic of the photo album. Her bewilderment was priceless! The picture was no longer just a promise or image. After pulling into the drive way, and me not being able to resist showing her the automatic garage door opener, by pressing the button on the mirror (like any good tech geek dad would do) she then took it all in. We never even made it downstairs to the toy room! I tried to video some of it, but it was just so real and authentic, the video will merely document the occasion, but won't do it justice.

That is when I missed the significant part of the premature, and giddy bedtime. Gia Pearl ChunYu Miller knew something... Actually I think she knew somehow that this last day long drive was the final step. She just seemed so happy and content in the car, the very thing that made her violently ill the first few times we traveled with her. It was then that I think it finally fully clicked for her, and came full circle. This was HER bed. (Better yet, she got to share it with one of her sisters as Gemma would be on the top bunk!) I'm sure some of the giddiness was due to the stuffed animals, colorful blankets, and treats left by some dear loved ones, but I'm even more convinced she wanted to go to bed uncharacteristically early, because she knew she was in her very own bed. Not a temporary albeit fancy Hotel bed, but HER bed. She was finally HOME.

Welcome Home Gia Pearl ChunYu Miller. We have been waiting for you for longer than you, or we, know.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

We Are Still Here

Our last breakfast/meal in China

So many blogs the last two weeks, then nothing for 3 days. Strange since we are finally home right?  It really is the ultimate irony. This is our 3rd adoption from China and we have experienced so much, but we also knew to expect the unexpected. We went into this 3rd adoption on large doses of Faith, but also relied on our vast experience, and all the things we've learned "on the job" as parents. Thanks to technology and social media, we have networked with many sources of information in preparation for this 3rd trip to our 2nd home of sorts, China. We've learned to be parents of an 11 month old, in the largest city in China, with no family or friends around to help. We've endured a heart breaking Gotcha Day,  lovingly restraining a frightened and hysterical 4 year old until she was too tired to resist our love. On this trip we even had our hearts taken to the edge of what we could bear, knowing that God wouldn't give us more than we could handle. But even through all of this, I think we still overlooked the toughest part... the return home... how ironic. As I look back to Gracie and Gemma's adoption returns to the USA, they bring back memories of extreme stress, fatigue, and difficulties. But those are also the moments we tend to push out of our minds. It is far more exciting to remember the rich experiences, trials, successes, and also friends made on those fantastic journeys. One would think returning home would be a relief, and easy. Wrong.

Before I write another word, let me make a couple things clear. We need all of our loved ones to know that we not only appreciate every expression of congratulations, encouragement, and love, but we relied on them. Our welcoming at the SEA-TAC Airport was an amazing display of unconditional love from our family. We are forever grateful for every person who was able to be there for our arrival, and equally grateful for those who couldn't attend, but sent their love and support! We love and appreciate you all! (send us pictures so we can share/blog them)






But this phase of our journey has been hard... REALLY hard. In case you haven't done it, riding in a plane for a combined 14 hours isn't fun. No amount of onboard entertainment can make it even remotely enjoyable. It pretty much sucks. Have you ever had airline food? OK, add to it the fact that we are now traveling with a new family member, who has been yanked from everything she has known for her entire life and then taken from Hotel, back to her orphanage, back to a hotel, on a plane, to another hotel, driven/walked to a myriad of places, most fun, but still incredibly overwhelming, then loaded back on back to back airplane rides, totaling 14 hours, to a place where nothing looks, smells, feels, or sounds familiar. NOTHING. Oh and for good measure, add another child, that throws up off and on for the trans-pacific flight, followed by more at the airport. It gets better. Now add the other daughter now ceasing up with abdominal cramps, and the dad also falling victim to whatever nasty bug has decided to attack our insides. Oh, and today Amy has come down with a cold/illness that has her unable to stand upright for more than a few minutes. I have always know that Amy is our family MVP, hands down. I'm just a role player. But I am doing my best to keep this transition moving forward. Although Gia Pearl ChunYu is 8 years old, developmentally she is much younger. Throw in her special needs and the language barrier, and she requires the attention of an infant, possibly more. Huge thanks to Rodger, Connie, Ruth, Owen, and Martha for helping me. This is real, ladies and gentlemen.






But what about the time to adjust to the jet lag and relax in Tacoma you ask? Man, what I wouldn't give to just be battling jet lag right now. Remember, please don't read this wrong. Our time here with family is precious and special. My parents have been here, Amy's parents are here, as are other members of Amy's family. This has all helped us tremendously. We wouldn't have it any other way. But This. Is. Hard. Remember Amy's amazing post about Adoption after we visited Gia Pearl ChunYu's orphanage? This process is broken, and therefore there are prices to pay. We are paying some of them now, in large quantities, but we know it is worth it.

Long flights, food poisoning, fatigue, stress, jet lag, all things that make this huge transition hard, but I still haven't gotten to the hardest part. The ailments I have talked about so far are mostly physical. The toughest one by far is what makes up the adjustment and attachment phase. It is excruciating. It will rock you to your core of what you believe. It will cause you to doubt your ability to succeed. It will cause you to question everything you ever believed in. Your faith is tested. It is nearly impossible to not let your worries and worst fears take over your thoughts. It. Is. Hard.






I have seen precious Gia Pearl ChunYu overwhelmed and moved to tears of sadness several times, the most recent here in Tacoma just before bed time yesterday. We know she is at times sad and overwhelmed. It is incredibly hard to watch our new daughter suffer. But it is heart wrenching when we can't communicate to her verbally about how much we love her and are here for her. All we can do is hold her and let her cry it out. Every tear that falls onto her dimpled cheeks is like a knife to the heart. this is real. This. Is Hard.

Oh, and to top it all off, as we rest and recover as much as possible to hopefully embark on our final leg, AKA final pack up and move to yet another location with Gia Pearl ChunYu clinging to what courage she has left, we get to say goodbye to our loved ones over here. I hate goodbyes. The last 2+ weeks has had enough goodbyes to last me a lifetime, seriously. I hate them.

I hope this post hasn't taken the tone of a whiny complaint, for that is not the purpose. My reason for writing it is to help me process these many emotions and share them, because they are very much a part of this journey. We have received so much support, love, and congratulations, of which we are eternally grateful. But we wanted to share everything, because despite all this cost, we still wouldn't have it any other way. Our love for Gia, Gemma, and Gracie is far greater than any of these discomforts and inconveniences.

Very similar to another Love we will always eternally cling to and cherish.