Sunday, March 31, 2013

When news become good news

Thursday, I received an email from the USCIS and my heart raced as I thought they sent us our i600 (orphan investigation) approval. It was only a week ago that they received all needed documents, so this would have been a super fast approval, the average is 30-60 days. Instead they asked for more documentation and corrected documentation. Of course, it is good that they are careful with each investigation and even smallest discrepancies should be corrected. Also, it gave me hope that once we comply with their requests, they will be ready to conclude and approve our i600. So not THE news I was hoping for, but a promising start.

As I re-read the email again, something popped out that I hadn't seen before. It mentions a city that is in one of our reports. I went back to our paperwork, found the part that mentions the city and in the past I assumed it was a suburb of the capital, Accra. As I googled this city, I noticed it was quite far from the capital and the likely place Afua was born in. Wow, more details about her past came out and I would have never been able to figure this out on my own.

That's when the email went from ok news to good news. We will likely never know Afua's parents or all the circumstances of her early life. So these little nuggets of information are like gold to me. Good news.

When Eric was in Ghana, he was trying to see if we could somehow figure out Afua's hometown. She has marks on the side of the face, which we thought were tribal marks. This would have been a clue to her birth place. Turns out they were from a tribal healer, who makes small cuts into a body part and then places ashes (or something similar) into the cuts in attempt to cure a disease. Her family may have taken her to a healer in order to cure her CP or another disease during the first year of her life. So what we thought was a clue to her past, ended up being something else.

So we rejoice in the small clues we get to Afua's past, we rejoice that her case is being reviewed with understanding and care. Once we have the additional information, we should be very close to a conclusion of the investigation. And another step closer to bringing her home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Life as a multicultural family

Last week was Kofi's open house at school. Some parents knew that he was adopted, but some were genuinely surprised that our son had white parents. It happens at the grocery store, where we may be a few feet apart looking for things, and then Joy will yell "Mommy" and people turn around because they don't see a woman with a matching skin color. It happened at the pool this summer when the lifeguard wasn't sure if my son had a parent in the water with him. I was standing right next to him. It happens at boys sports, where people are unsure how to ask the questions about race, culture or adoption. But the truth is, we are a multicultural family, we do not blend in easily. We know it, and we are more than ok with it. Our decision to adopt from West Africa wasn't made without considering how we would live as a multicultural family.

Our communities are pretty divided around here. We have predominantly white communities (well to do and poor) and we have predominantly black communities (well to do and poor). We don't completely blend in at either one, but we're for the most part embraced by both. We also purposefully seek other multicultural families so that our kids don't feel alone. My boys are especially proud of their twin status and like to make it known. I hope they are always as proud to be siblings as they are currently. I should also add that our family embraced two different cultures before we adopted but it was not as obvious because my skin matches my husband's.

So what is it like to be a multicultural (especially multiracial) family? I think sometimes people expect us to be hesitant to talk about race or I see a nervousness when we talk about it so openly. My daughter knows her skin is a beautiful shade of brown. She knows we don't match and we don't pretend that families have to match to love each other. What's there to hide? My son knows he has a white Momma and we know our family came together in a unique way. We celebrate it, we love and we live it. I am fully aware that their take on having me as their Mom may change as we encounter the teens years and we will continue to figure it out together.

One of our first outings after Kofi and Joy arrived was to a chick fil a for lunch. It was 3 weeks into our adventure as a family of 6 and we were still pretty overwhelmed. A lady stopped me and asked if my children were from Ghana. Turns out her mom was visiting from Ghana and saw Kofis Ghanian soccer jersey. Joy spotted the women and immediately stood next to the grandma. Before long Joy rested her head on her shoulder ( a big no no for attachment purposes, but my heart longed for her to feel comfortable for the first time in 3 weeks). This lady was a grandmotherly type, she began to speak Twi to my children and that is when I realized that I could never be ALL my daughter needs. She longs to be with people of her race and while she loves me, creating those relationships for her is so important. In Sunday school, she loves other girls with brown skin. And we are fortunate in being able to provide this for her. But at times, we need to be more aware of this need and step out of our routines. And it's not just about the skin color. They need the cultural connection as much as they need a racial connection.

This past year has opened our eyes to our entire community and we are better for it. We step into situations where Eric and I are the minority to give our children a chance to blend in. I have danced the African dances, I have sat in the barbershops so that Kofi will get the style he wants, I choose a restaurant based on their demographic rather than the menu. And I am so thankful I was shaken out of my white bubble. I have always considered our family to be inclusive and our circle of friends reflect it. But I didn't go out of my way to seek out a community where I was a minority.

Last summer, we went to learn about West African drumming and dancing. It was taught by musicians from Guinea and most people who were interested had a connection to Africa. Oh, how they loved my children, all four of them. And the questions were so different (for the first time) than what we had encountered before. Some could guess pretty accurately where Joy was from. Maybe she has a Ghanaian look, I don't know. Kofi was harder to guess, but once they heard his name, they figured it out. We were welcomed as his parents and while my drumming was awkward and off beat, we had a wonderful time. I would never have these opportunities to meet such beautiful people, if it wasn't for being Kofi and Joy's Momma. I just hope it's enough for them, that we are truly embracing and welcoming people around us who help them navigate their racial and cultural identity.

Jake's got some fancy moves

Adoption starts with loss, and my children have lost a lot in the process. While I can't replace any of their losses completely, I hope we can find a different way to build up their identities as it relates to their West African culture and their race.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Peeling the layers of an onion..

I use this space to describe our journey to Afua. But I am also an incredibly blessed Momma of 4 other children, 2 joined our family the old fashioned way and 2 by adoption. There is much hesitation surrounding older child adoption and what that really looks like on a regular basis.I absolutely love older child adoption and witnessing the healing journey from an older child's perspective.
Picture from one week home.

Kofi is 7 1/2 and his first year in our family has been great overall. He has embraced his new life here (which is key to attaching) and he understands why he was adopted. He lived his life in Ghana, he remembers the hard times and I am fortunate that he talks about his experiences freely. At the same time he loves his country and culture, which he is now separated from. It is huge price to pay for him and there are days that the grief is so evident. We have worked through so much with Kofi this year, but of course more work needs to be done.

His biggest wish was to have a bicycle in America. Mission accomplished.

One of the things we are in the middle of is educational testing. Years of malnourishment, lack of education and trauma make it a challenge for Kofi to retain information. We don't know the exact root cause and so we are on a mission to find out. We have consulted with an adoption specialist who gave us many referrals in the coming months. Our school absolutely loves him, they have went above and beyond in providing educational supports for him.

None of the books prepared me for this last year. I received lots of tools from attachment books, but the day to day parenting is hard to learn from a manual. There are days that break my heart as I think of the life he used to live. And there are days that he longs for the comfort of that life no matter how hard it was. It was familiar and all he knew. Our life is still strange and different. But we do figure it out, together. We often say that just as he has never lived in America before, I have never been a Mommy to a boy from Ghana. We have enough common ground and love to figure it out together. 

my twins

The next few months we will learn new things about Kofi. He will be given diagnoses (some we know, some will be surprised to us, I'm sure), we will learn more about them. But in this Momma's eyes, he will always have just one label: SON.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The wait

Waiting is a necessary part of adoption. There is no way around it and most Americans are not good at it. We don't like to stand in lines, we don't like to drive in rush hour traffic and if we are forced to do either, we will immediately reach for our phones or other distractions to help with the wait.

In comparison to the Ghanaian culture, we must appear a bunch of nervous freaks. There, punctuality is measured in hours, not minutes. Life has a different rhythm and flow.

We are at another waiting point in our adoption and this is where my peaceful existence (if there was one) fell apart during our first adoption. This is the part where everyone compares timelines, waits for documents, decides if filing certain paperwork is quicker in Ghana or done from the US side. There are pros and cons to each decision and sometimes you may end up regretting a certain decision and get stuck waiting.

Being at this point a second time is not easier. This time we have a little girl with medical needs. While she looks better now in the pictures we receive, I long to bring her here to medical care. I envision her using the various therapy toys and equipment we have waiting. I have her specialists picked out based on colleagues recommendations. I just need her. Here. Soon.

Here are some pictures from Auntie Comfort's visits to Afua's orphanage. I can't even put into words what her visits mean to me. It is a lifeline to my sweet girl and I can see they both enjoy spending time together. Precious!!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


It has been a tough couple of days. Really, weeks. It started out as vague rumors. Then more information was coming in from reliable sources. And now the Ghana adoption community awaits. There may be changes coming. Changes that will put many orphaned children and adoptive families in limbo. Not know exactly what is happening is worse than having all the information.

We have passed court with Afua. Legally she is our daughter and it should mean that at most this might delay or slow down our process. But it shouldn't prevent our sweet girl from joining our family. But of course we don't know.

All we can do is pray, which is the best thing to do anyway. Adoption journeys are filled with moments where we must relinquish control and operate on faith. This is one of those times.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Home Again

Eric is home from Ghana and we have both been processing a lot since then. It always seems to happen this way, the 5 trips we have taken there always produce a re-evaluation of some sort. The obvious is the way we live, the way we consume and our materialistic culture. When water and propane are scarce as it was in Ghana, our life seems excessive. Too much stuff, too much focus on stuff and too much time spent wanting stuff. Coming home feels overwhelming and there is always a need to purge and live more simply. Not a bad thing entirely

Patrick and Afua

Of course the big highlight for the trip was time spent with Afua at her orphanage. Our biggest hope was that we as her parent, Eric would be able to move her to a foster home, a smaller setting with individualized attention. We did what we could to make it happen, but in the end, she will stay at the orphanage for now. They did allow our dear friend to come and visit Afua in our absence. Knowing that someone will check on her, sing to her, pray over her and snuggle with her does this Momma's heart good.

Everyone saying goodbye to Afua

Eric visited Afua daily for a couple of hours and the rest of the time he spent helping out at the   Fern House. There were some practical needs such as getting propane tanks filled (not as easy as our quick run to the gas station), taking donations and visiting a client at her home. Other tasks included looking at potential future properties, vehicle needs and getting to know all the wonderful people at the Fern House. Eric's days were long but fun filled as he checked things off the to do list. 

Looking for new properties for Fern House

I have to share the neatest story from Eric's trip. Patrick (the gentleman in the first picture) and his wife Esther are expecting their first child in April. Eric was the chairman at Patrick's wedding just over a year ago and he usually drives us to places while in Ghana. We consider him a trusted friend and Eric was excited to spend time with him while running errands in Ghana. Both Patrick and Esther's families live far from Accra  and as Esther's due date has been approaching, they were getting worried about how they will manage. Giving birth in Ghana is very different from here as child and maternal mortality rates are high as well as the access to medical care is challenging.
Esther "practicing" with on of the Fern House babies

As Patrick was helping Eric during the week, he learned that the Fern House helps pregnant women in a crisis situation and he witnessed the great work done there. He offered to help them transport things and be a resource if needed. At the same time, Comfort who runs the Fern House (who is a midwife), learned of Esther's pregnancy and wanted to see how she could help the young couple.

Comfort and Esther
Turns out Esther's baby is breech and one evening, the ladies spent time teaching Esther how to encourage the baby to turn. They poured in so much wisdom and loving care into this young couple and offered them hope as her pregnancy was nearing the end. Now they have a place to turn to, a new hope that wasn't there just a week before. Esther was planning to travel 6 hours away from the city to be with her family in a small village. Having Comfort to seek advice from will be a safer option for mother and baby. In a week's time a worry surrounding this pregnancy is now replaced with great joy. I love it!