I haven't posted much about the harder issues of motherhood. Most of my more reflective posts come back to how I can, should and will do better. I think that's an automatic reflex to prompt me into cheerleader "you can do it" mode. I have friends who do it very well though. They spell it out - honest and insightful and brave. For me, the harder issues are a combo platter of the heavy issues that Liz so greatly describes, hair care (i know it sounds petty but it's been intense for us), her health (from typical bugs that kids come back with), attachment & juggling LIFE with mommyhood.
We've been home 10 months and I can honestly say that it's been the best time in my life. I think I'm pretty good at keeping it together but there have been times where I just lay in bed wondering if I really can do this or if I'm just playing a part in some big dream.
An issue, I decided to share tonight is my experience with attachment. I think it's a critical part of our story. It's a subject that in the required educational work, I skated through in an over confident way. I thought I would of course attach and I would of course do whatever/however to get my daughter to attach if she should have any issues. I underestimated all that encompasses attachment and didn't give it the pause & consideration it so greatly deserves.
With that said, I was right for half of it. I attached hard and fast. During my wait, I received various feedback that there could be significant developmental impairments to LT. I of course was scared, concerned and felt helpless. I consulted experts & tried to demand more but ultimately reached in my heart of hearts and took a leap of faith. As a single parent I questioned if I could give her what she needed but I saw no other option but to move forward. I'm a "check my gut girl" and my gut knew it would be fine. This pretty immediate response cemented my attachment to the daughter I had never met in the flesh. Her described condition I NOW believe was a type of trance - a result of never attaching based on her life experience in four very different environments in her 1st year of life under severe malnutrition and minimal to no health care. I have not shared this story with many but it was one of the hardest two weeks of my life. I can only share it now because we're on the other side.
On the day I met her, it was like silent fireworks (she was 13 months). I felt we got each other and she found safety in my arms. I felt true, mutual comfort. I was not worried at all about her health. LT was physically showing signs that she wanted me and knew me as her mommy. I think I romanticized our connection because it felt REALLY good. She was a toddler but an infant for all intensive purposes. She did not crawl or walk but had very wise, knowing eyes. I would describe her as a velcro baby for the first two months home. I did what I thought was right to make her feel strong and safe with others. I did not want her to be a victim and I wanted her true self to blossom. I left her with babysitters early. I mean I was a working single mom and knew that I needed to incorporate a "care circle" fast for both of us. I let her cry on the floor and learn how to play independent. I took her to public settings and cheered her to crawl away from me and participate. I know this is not what adoption books suggest but it felt right to me at the time. I still loved/cuddled on her but did focus on praising independence and adaptability. LT was a master student and I began proudly describing her as fearless & strong.
The other fact you should know is that I sleep trained LT. Since week 3 home, she's slept from 8-8, 95% of nights with seldom ever a whimper when going to bed. (NOTE, this is not a push for sleep training, I'm just providing the info to set the stage of our situation). The point is I thought, WOW how smooth this all is...I felt like a pro...
Then I began to notice some things over time:
she did not want me holding her
she did not want me to read the books, she wanted to alone (and she LOVED to read them just without me)
she rarely initiated touch and did not ask for me to hold her
she did not want me to hold her bottle to feed her
she was avoiding eye contact
she would detach at times and sort of get a trance, glazed look and not respond
she hit me in the face when she got angry
I wrestled with what to do. These signs didn't hit me over the head at once. They kinda sneaked up and then layered together and I really realized the issue when she was about 18/19 months. Even though these symptoms seem severe & obvious in a list, our day to day was very loving, with an easy flow. I also figured that some were age appropriate behaviors and to be expected. I guess what I'm trying to say they came out very subtle. Most onlookers (I think) thought our attachment was a great success.
I was worried. I beat myself up a lot over it (with lots of crying). I thought, Amy she's just a baby, with an unbelievable past, why did you push her? And then I realized that I didn't have all the answers and I needed to figure it out. So I reached out to friends, observed a lot, read books and took online classes through Adoption Learning Partners (which I recommend).
As a result, I aggressively implemented:
gentle touch time in front of mirror
phrases of entitlement (your my daughter, I'm your mommy)
cuddle bed time every morning when she wakes up
more hand feeding from me to her
forced acknowledgement (won't allow her to ignore or detach - I make her engage, even if it takes up to an hour, which happened a couple times)
touch play time - wrestle, dance, tickle
face to face imitation time
Now, I know these things may seem obvious, but for me it was really powerful to sit back and remember to make time for these things daily. I have been implementing them now for several months and I've seen great strides. LT's eye contact is present with me and others. She's good at hugging and touching now. She's consistent with greetings and appropriate hugging and kissing. I am just amazed at how adaptable she's been with the therapies. I have to say that now we're back to her needing me more, wanting to be held and having more separation anxiety but I'm confidant that as I maintain a balance, so will she. Some days she'll need more and some days she won't but as my classes reminded me, attachment is an issue for life - not weeks, months or years.
I've learned to check in and take her cues because for the most part she tells me all I need to know in how best to serve her needs. I also remind myself that I don't have all the answers and the more I open up - the more reward.
I'm happy with all the progress we've both made and again very thankful to my local and blog friends for giving me much support along the way. Every combination of kid and parent are unique and figuring out that special formula for parenting has been intense, powerful, frustrating, amazing and perfect experience. As I've always said, "I'm learning to Liv."
The paperwork, notary, appointments, interviews are done. Well at least for this stage ;)
I'm thrilled to announce that I just found out that Liv Tunsitu and I are on the wait list (with WHFC this time) for a younger brother, Yared, as of 2/17/10. We have a little bit of longer road ahead than with LT as wait time estimates for referral are 12-18 months and then there's several months (up to 6 months) for court date assignment and travel. I think the time will work in our favor.
We had a special day today because Liv Tunsitu Aster Elkins adoption is final. This means she gains her US citizenship. I was lucky enough that my good friends Kris and Terry could join us (Kris went to Ethiopia with me) as well as my nanny Tomoko. LT is very attached to this group and I'm so happy they could share this day. After the 15 min. hearing we went to a cool lunch spot downtown and got to snap a couple pics in front of the street art.
While the hearing today is really just a formality it was terrific to have a day honoring our union. What wasn't so great was as the judge was uttering the official words, LT was repeatedly smacking me in the face pretty hard. I have a no tolerate hit policy = timeout without warning but in this instance all I could do was chuckle and think...I may not have a 24 hour labor story to hold over your head but NOW I have a smack story. LOL.
I know an international celebrity now ;) Yaddi and I became acquainted when I wrote him about loving his art. I decided to purchase a piece that is so dear to my heart (this one on the right) and we've been friends ever since. It is with great honor that I celebrate Yaddi and his talented artistic vision. See the breaking news story below.
It was a huge honor to have his design selected as the new flag of the African Union and to watch as the flag was presented at the recent African Union Summit, says YadesaBojia, a graphic designer in Housing and Food Services. But Bojia -- whom campus friends call Yaddi -- said the true extent of the honor was made even more clear the day after the ceremony.
"I was going the next day to the African Union for a meeting and there was this marching band that played for the presidents (of the African nations), and as I was passing by they stopped what they were playing and ran over -- they all wanted to take photos with me. And their leader was right in front of them."
The band breaking ranks for his attention was only part of a whirlwind experience that included Bojia, his wife, Hewan, and young children Becca and Isaiah meeting the president of Ethiopia and his attending the African Summit. Bojia said he also stood right behind Libyan President MouammarKadhafi, outgoing president of the African Union, as he hoisted the new flag for the first official time.
The African Union is an intergovernmental organization created in 2002 from the former Organization of African Unity. The union comprises 53 states and is based in AddisAbaba, Ethiopia. Bojia said he created his design in response to a 2006 worldwide announcement that the union was seeking a new flag. In all, 116 potential flag designs were submitted and a committee overseeing creation of the new flag chose five finalists, including his design. Then his was chosen from among the finalists.
Bojia's winning flag design shows the continent of Africa silhouetted against a background of lush green, surrounded by thin shafts of light and ringed with a circle of stars. He said he wanted his design to be "forward-looking" rather than to dwell on the past. The flag, he said, is meant to symbolize "a new day for Africa" -- as well as "unity, hope and prosperity" for the African Union. He said he sketched out four or five ideas before deciding on a final design.
Bojia was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States in 1995. He earned an associate of arts degree in graphic design from Seattle Central Community College and then a bachelor's degree in visual communication from Seattle Pacific University.
In addition to his design work for Housing and Food Services, Bojia also helped design and illustrate the Pacific Science Center's 2008 Lucy's Legacy exhibit. A painting of his titled The Invisibles also was used as a poster by the Simpson Center for the Humanities, and another painting, The Messengers, hangs in the Supreme Court of Washington's Temple of Justice.
Bojia said he got interested in art as a child, and the murals in Ethiopian Orthodox churches -- filled with bold lines and vibrant colors -- captured his imagination.
He said if there's anything that took him by surprise, it was the level of feeling regarding an Ethiopian design being chosen as the flag to represent all of Africa. "I did not realize the amount of pride that it brought to Ethiopia," he said, clearly pleased.
His colleagues at Housing and Food Services are pleased for him, too -- and proud. "We couldn't be more excited and proud of Yaddi," said Pam Schreiber, HFS director. "He is such a talented designer and it is so appropriate that he received this recognition. HFS is fortunate to have him on our team!"
Each holiday presents a brainstorm of what should we do as it's our first _______holiday together.
When thinking about it I stumbled onto the PBS website. "While many adults spend Valentine's Day expressing their affection, many children are focused on enjoying delicious confections! But candy needn't be the center of your child's day. Encourage her to do something creative: express feelings through poetry, choose a special recipe to make with you or create fun e-cards for friends and family."
Tip from PBS - for young children like LT, make a big heart and inside write words of what they LOVE. You can also use stickers to represent the Love topics.
I love the idea of focusing on expression as an important aspect in celebrating Valentines Day. Maybe, I'll come up with a song we can learn too. I'm also thinking it would be fun to find heart cookie cutters to use for pancake molds. PBS suggests poetry as well for older kids. Last year, I received multiple Valentines Cards from LT's friends which was cute considering they were all under 2. This year I already got the cutest card from the Little Ethiopian family of the twins and an amazing Yo Gabba Gabba valentines sticker book from my bestie Alexis.
For a holiday that can mean a variety of things for me as an adult. I love that Valentines is now new to me through LT's eyes. Love is definitely in the air.
The last 5 years feels like I've been living in a pin-ball machine. Little continuity with surprise after surprise around the corner. Everything I didn't expect, has been everything that's meant something great to me. And days like today, when I'm greatly mourning the passing on of my pop, I stop and count my blessings & focus on cleansing my perception. To that end:
I'm so grateful that the biggest hassle in my day today was taking out the trash bins with some light rain.
I'm so grateful that my soul feels fed by my work.
I'm so grateful that when I feel overcome by responsibility, I stop and realize I can handle it.
I'm so grateful that the people around me inspire me to be better.
I'm so grateful that the Universe is supporting me both by giving and taking away and my senses/heart are learning to take the appropriate cues.
I'm so grateful that at 36, I feel like I still see the world enchanted by all the beauty & grandness.
I'm so grateful that Ethiopia has entered my world as a focal point.
I'm so grateful that I get to mother Liv Tunsitu.
*Artwork by Ethiopian Artist ShiferaGirma. I'm in love with how he captures a spirit of energy & romance in his works. Looking at this art is meditative & healing. Thank you Shifera.
I contacted Wide Horizons (after Gladney verified they were no longer accepting single mothers) for an application in mid December and as of today I've completed everything and only waiting on immigration clearance to be put on the official wait list. The paper chase process for baby boy has been MUCH MUCH easier than for LT. A big part of that is that I've done it before and kept good files and saved extra official documents and just felt more knowledgeable. Another big part of it was that I wasn't dealing with changing my name back to my maiden name (after my divorce) like I was the first go around. Truthfully the name change was more work that the adoption paperwork if you can imagine that. And the other big part is that my homestudy was considered an update as opposed to creating a new one and that really quickened the process.
If I could give any tips to others in the paperchase (who are trying to move through it quickly)...I would say keep asking, keep verifying, use friends, yahoo forums, stalk other people's blogs, and be persistent. One example is the CIS has changed their protocol when submitting the I600A. They ask you mail everything through Texas now. All I can say is I would HIGHLY recommend going directly to your field office in person and dropping it off, ask for a fingerprint appointment on the spot and make copies and get receipts of everything you submit. There is SO MUCH that is completely out of our control when it comes to International Adoption that when I can push things through...I try.
At this point I believe my wait for a referral will be somewhere around a year, once I'm on wait list. I know that other agencies are moving much quicker than this but I'm happy with this timing as LT will be around 3 1/2 when Yared comes home and he'll be around 1-2. While we all know that anything can happen to the program (especially singles) and timing is ONLY hypothetical, I am living in the space that it will manifest as it should.
All I can say is TGIF and release a big sigh of relief that I no longer will be making Kinkos & Fedex my home away from home anytime soon.
This is my story of the journey that led me to Ethiopia to meet my daughter and how she teaches me to Liv everyday.
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." --Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.
The colored stripes on the Ethiopian flag are significant - the red stripe stands for power, faith and blood; the yellow symbolizes peace, natural wealth and love; and the green represents the land and hope. The colors were also interpreted to have a connection to the Holy Trinity, and the three main provinces of Ethiopia. The star represents unity of the people and the races that make up Ethiopia. The five rays on the outside of the star represent prosperity and the blue disk represents peace. The three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and red with a yellow pentagram and single yellow rays emanating from the angles between the points on a light blue disk centered on the three bands; Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa, and the three main colors of her flag were so often adopted by other African countries upon independence that they became known as the pan-African colors.