This beautiful girl is now twelve years old!
Seems like yesterday we were celebrating her first birthday, spending time with her in Haiti.
She's an amazing kid and we're so very blessed to have her in our family.
Love you so so much Kensia!
I first heard about I-CAN shortly after bringing Jovia home from Uganda. I-CAN stands for International Child Amputee Network and I'm so very glad we got connected with this group!
We wanted to attend last years conference but the timing didn't work out, I was in Uganda that week. This year we knew we had to make it a priority.
Jovia and I left for Tucson on a Wednesday. Jovia had been on an airplane before but she was a baby then and doesn't remember it. She was so excited to fly!
I spent several days before we left trying to figure out how I was going to get Jovia, her big, heavy carseat plus my bag through the airport. We tried a couple of different options but ended up taking a double stroller with one of the seats removed. She sat in one seat and I laid the carseat in the spot where the other seat normally sat. I approached the gate agent at each gate and told them I was traveling with a child with a disability and that we would need some additional time to get onto the airplane. Everyone was very nice and accommodating. Each time they moved my seat so we were close to the front of the plane or in a bulkhead. We were called as the first to board each time and I was able to push the stroller up to the airplane door. I then sat the carseat upright, took Jovia out of the stroller and strapped her in the carseat. After folding up the stroller I picked Jovia and the carseat up and carried them to our seat. It was very awkward and heavy (about 55lbs for Jovia and the carseat together) but it worked. Twice a nice man helped me carry her so I only had to do it myself twice.
We got to Tucson around 10pm. After getting our rental car we headed to the hotel where the conference was being held. We were surprised to see that the conference greeters were still waiting for us! We said a quick hello before getting ourselves to our room and ready for bed. We were tired!
The next morning we got up and went to meet everyone for breakfast. Jovia was so shy and nervous! I really think seeing so many people with missing limbs was a bit of a shock for her. We had talked about it but she has never seen another person in real life without arms or legs.
I-CAN had activities and sessions planned for the 4 days we were there. We visited a planetarium and museum, learned about service dogs, had several mentoring sessions, went swimming, visited the desert, had a dance night and generally spent time getting to know the other families. The conference was free and I am still amazed at all they were able to offer the families who came - even the meals were included!
Jovia started warming up slowly. We spent some time with another 4 year old girl who was there and they started getting along really well. Jovia was very anxious to meet Minda, a new friend we met online who was also born without arms or legs. She got so overwhelmed when she finally met her, she could hardly talk! She really connected with some of the teen girls who were there, two in particular she had a lot of fun with.
People have asked me whether I think Jovia was too young to really "need" this type of conference, or be able to appreciate it. The answer is no. I think now, at this age, it is extremely important for her to be around people "like her". At age 4 she is very aware that she is different. She wants to "blend in" and be like other kids at this age. It can be hard for her at times, kids pointing and asking questions...not being able to run and play with the other kids at the playground...having to have help with things that other kids can do themselves. I am so grateful that she had these four days to not be "different". To be able to watch other kids without limbs do things, watch them eat like she eats, pick up things like she does, be pushed in wheelchairs, hop instead of walk, etc. We got tips and hints on how to help her be more independent and talked through issues that may come up in the future with people who have actually been through it.
We had a wonderful time at I-CAN. I hope and pray we can bring Jovia every year. I want her to grow up with the knowledge that there are people just like her out there. I want her to look forward to spending time every year in a place where she isn't viewed as different, a place where she can just blend in and build friendships with other kids like her.
If you have a child with limb differences I really, really recommend getting connected to I-CAN. Plan your summer around this conference! You won't regret it.
I'm going to write about our trip to Arizona for the I-CAN conference soon. We had a great time! In the mean-time I want to share a sweet story with you all.
On our way home from Arizona we had a bit of extra time in the Tucson airport. Jovia and I were sitting at a table in the food court waiting for our lunch when a policeman approached us.
He looked right at Jovia and said, completely seriously:
"I'm so glad you are here! I've been really busy catching bad guys and I need some help. I'm looking for a junior officer, you look like you would be perfect for the job...."
He pauses, waiting for a reaction. Jovia stares at him wide eyed, while I smile and nod encouragingly.
"Would you be willing to help me? Here, I have this badge for you...(digs in his wallet and pulls out a badge sticker) Now, you'll just need to keep an eye out for bad guys and call me if you see any. Do you think you can do that?"
Jovia's eyes get even bigger but a huge smile appears on her face and she says "YES!" He handed us the sticker, said "thanks! call if you see any bad guys!" and walked away waving over his shoulder.
This short interaction, probably a minute long, made such an impression on Jovia. She was so proud, so excited that he chose HER. Of course, I wanted to hug that sweet police officer for making my little girl so happy. She wore her badge proudly and told me multiple times during our travels home "I'm still watching for bad guys mom! I'm gonna be the police when I grow up!" Of course, she changes her choice of future professions daily - she wants to be in the circus, a soccer player, a doctor, a pilot and now a policewoman. :) But I have no doubts that she can be and do anything her heart desires. If she wants to work with the police, Jovia will figure out a way to make that happen!
Even though he'll never read it, I want to say thank you, police officer at the Tucson airport. You made quite the impact on this little girl.
Sarah and I first met online…a long time ago. I’m thinking it was about 2006? We were both involved in Haiti and started working together to find medical care for several children with special needs who needed to come to the US for surgery. We were able to find donated medical care for two little girls. It was agreed that I would go to Haiti and get them and Sarah would host them while they were in the States. In May 2007 a friend and I flew to Haiti and came home with two tiny baby girls. You can read about that journey here. (My blog was private during that time so you'll have to read all about it on Sarah's blog!) We delivered them to Sarah. They successfully had surgery (and were a few months later returned to their loving families in Haiti) and a non-profit was born. Sarah and I started the Medical Advocacy Team (MAT) shortly after and starting bringing kids to the US for medical care from Haiti (and soon a few other countries).
If you want to know more about the MAT you can check out the (now neglected) blog. From the mission statement: Our primary goal in providing this program is to find care and ease suffering for medically fragile children. Our secondary goal is family preservation. In most impoverished countries, sick and disabled children are much more likely to be abandoned or relinquished for adoption by their families. We hope to provide opportunities for as many children as possible to receive medical care and support that enables them to stay with their birth families.
Working with Sarah and the MAT was an incredibly rewarding time in my life. We were able to see many beautiful children’s lives saved and see them reunited with their families. As times changed in Haiti and here in the US, our program started to dwindle. After the earthquake there were so many medical personnel in Haiti that many children who needed surgery were able to find it there. Because of the economy many hospitals discontinued or greatly reduced their charity programs and it became harder and harder to find donated medical care for international children. And lastly, my growing family didn’t allow me to work as diligently on MAT as I did in the past so our work on MAT dwindled and then halted altogether in 2011. Sarah and I have stayed friends – thanks to technology we have stayed in touch through the internet. When she sent me a message and said that she and some of her kiddos would be in our neck of the woods, we knew we had to get together!
We agreed to meet at COSI Columbus for a fun day with the kids. When she told them we were two large families with multiple special needs children they gave us a big discount, which was very cool.
The kids had an absolute blast. It was so fun to see Sarah and the kids again. Her youngest little boy (Jude, formerly known as Baby Bear) was one of our MAT babies. I picked him up as a tiny, sick little guy who desperately needed surgery. (You can read the beginning of his story HERE). He’s no longer tiny or sick! It was so great to see him as a big, talkative, and thriving 5 year old. Mayer enjoyed pushing him on his walker.
We had a wonderful time and it was so great to see them all. Hopefully it won’t be five years before we do it again!
A couple of months ago I was invited to speak about our adoptions at a fundraising gala for the Rollstone Foundation, an adoption grant organization in New York. If you haven't heard of Rollstone, please go to their website and read about them and then go "like' them on Facebook. We think they are pretty great! They gave us a large grant and made it possible for us to book tickets and bring Lilly home!
When they called and asked us to come speak at the fundraiser in May we were really excited about the opportunity to help them raise money so they can help more families adopting special needs kids. So often money stands in the way of children finding families....that is so heartbreaking to us. We know there are families out there willing to adopt kids with special needs but don't feel financially able. Adoption grants are so crucial to helping these families bring home kids who may otherwise never be chosen. So when Rollstone called and asked us to come, we were very happy to say yes.
We had the choice of driving or flying. If we drove we would have to rent a 15 passenger van so we could bring Jovia's wheelchair (the transmission on our wheelchair van went out last year and we haven't had the money to fix it). Flying would mean coming without the wheelchair, which we didn't want to do. So, we decided it would be better to drive. My mom, Millen, Kensia, and Finn decided to come along....and then decided to bring the dog. So we ended up with 7 kids, 2 adults, 1 dog, 1 wheelchair, and 238,748,329 suitcases (ok, maybe not that many) in a 15 passenger van, driving from Ohio to New York.
It took us 2 days to get to Long Island. We got stuck in New York traffic (oh my, the traffic!) so we were running late! After dropping the others at the hotel, Millen (my helper for the evening), Lilly, Mayer, Jovia, Benja and I went straight to the fundraiser. It was a beautiful evening. We were surrounded by such loving, generous people and the kids were treated like royalty. More importantly, they raised enought money to provide grants for several more families and children who are waiting to come home!
After the fundraiser we headed up the coast to Newport so we could show the kids Cliffwalk. It's always been a favorite place for our family - I have a lot of memories of Newport and Cliffwalk from when I was little.
We then set off for Vermont. We spent a few days around North and South Hero and Lake Champlain before heading back home to Ohio. We were gone for a little over a week but it went so, so quickly! The kids were WONDERFUL the whole time.
Everyone had fun and it was a really great trip!
Lilly has been home for 3 months!
I was telling my mom the other day, can you believe that it was just a couple of months ago that we were waiting? Flying back and forth, hoping she could come home soon, doing the medical tests and appointments, chasing paperwork, waiting for emails from the Embassy....it all seems like a dream now!
I get private messages now and again asking "So how are things REALLY going?"
Things are going GREAT. Really! :)
Of course, we've had things pop up here and there. She wants to be in control and learning to let this new mom and dad have control is hard! Learning to do chores and schoolwork when asked isn't something she was thrilled about. Lately she's been complaining about having to fold her own laundry and load and unload the dishwasher. Part of it is expectations - she truly, truly believed before she came here that the streets of America would be lined with gold and she would be, essentially, a princess. It was a shock to get here and realize that in America we still have chores, we still have to work for things! And...part of the "attitude" is that she is an 11 year old girl. Those of you who currently have or have already parented preteen girls know what I'm talking about. :) Pouting has probably been our biggest "struggle". It's getting better as she realizes that kids who pout and throw fits never get what they want in this family!
When we seriously started talking about adopting an 11 year old there were really two BIG issues we were concerned with (and I think these three are the most common for all adoptive parents considering older kids):
1. Safety of our other children
2. RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) & General attachment & bonding
Of course, there are other things to think about - general adjustment, food and language changes, schooling (or lack of), etc. But these two were the big ones.
Despite the fact that we had no reason to believe we would have issues with these two things once we came home, we still did all we could to prepare ourselves and our family in case they became issues. We purchased door alarms. We have cameras. We had long talks about appropriate and inappropriate touching and behavior. We discussed family rules and expectations. We kept almost constant line of sight supervision. Thankfully, safety has not been a concern we've had to deal with. Lilly has been amazing with her younger siblings and we're very thankful for the sweet bond they are building.
We can tell Lilly is building a real bond to us and starting to understand our role as parents. We are utilizing a lot of therapeutic parenting techniques and my copy of the Connected Child is never far from my reach! I don't want to sugar coat it - we've had a couple of intense days but they didn't throw us too much because we expected them (and we know that more are likely to come). Lilly will read this at some point so I don't want to post too many specific details but if you're considering older child adoption and want examples of what our "hard" days look like please send me a private message and I'd love to talk to you more!
Large gatherings have been overwhelming for her. Easter and a recent family gathering were both very stressful and she had long meltdowns after or during each. When people tell you to keep your new child's world very small for the first couple of months, take it to heart.
While in Uganda we were concerned about how she'd eat once she came home. She was a PICKY eater in Uganda. Thankfully, this has not been an issue! She has been willing to try almost everything and has liked most things. She was extremely underweight when she came home but has been steadily gaining about a pound a week since she's been here!
So yeah, when I tell you things are going great, they are. :) We're thrilled with how well things have gone so far with Lilly's transition to our family. She's an amazing little girl and we are feeling very blessed!
If you are considering whether older child/out of birth order adoption might be right for your family, please feel free to message me so we can talk!
Four years ago, after months of waiting, this happened.
He became our son on February 1, 2010 and came home forever on June 1.
We feel so incredibly blessed by this amazing little boy. Happy 4 years home, Mayer. We love you so, so much!
We are fortunate to have made some great connections for Jovia recently.
One such connection is a lovely young woman named Minda who was also born a quad amputee. We have enjoyed getting to chat with Minda and she very graciously sent us her new book! (You can find out more about her and her book on her website HERE.) Minda will be at the I-CAN amputee conference in AZ this year and we are really hoping and praying that we can attend. Jovia has looked at Minda's pictures multiple times over the last week. She smiles and exclaims "she looks just like me!" when she flips through the photos. She keeps asking if we can go meet "the lady who looks like me". Jovia is so used to being "different" - I can't wait to see how she reacts when she's surrounded by other amputees and can meet people who look like her.
Friends often send me messages with links about other amputees so that Jovia can see others who look like her. We appreciate this so much! The other day someone sent us a video of this amazing piano player. Jovia loves it! Here is a video of her watching it for the first time. If you'd like to view the original video yourself you can do so on youtube.
This adorable little face has been popping up on my Facebook wall and in my inbox over and over the last couple of days. Say hi to Levi!
Levi is about 18 months old and is waiting for an adoptive family. He is a bilateral amputee. He was also diagnosed with Spina Bifida Occulta, a mild form of spina bifida and has some small limb differences in his legs. This little guy will thrive with an adoptive family! If you have concerns about what he will be capable of without arms, watch the Dennehy family video (below). It is simply amazing how kids adapt to missing limbs. This little guys file is with Great Wall China Adoptions and you can see the original post about him and contact information HERE.
Some of you have heard about the closing of AAI (Adoption Advocates International), the adoption agency where I worked for four years. During that time, it was a privilege to help unite orphaned children in Uganda with adoptive families - a much harder job than I had imagined- but something I loved and felt honored to do.
I worked from home in Ohio as a liaison between adoptive families and adoption processors in Uganda and felt quite removed from the agency's day-to-day operations in Washington state. I had no involvement with the financial end of things and was shocked to hear of the closing. For a few years I'd known AAI was having financial problems. It wasn't a secret, but somehow things always kept moving forward, and I always expected them to.
However, in mid-February of this year I learned that none of the agency employees would be paid that month (including myself). I heard from the leadership that things would likely get turned around again, so I waited expectantly. But suddenly, on March 10, I was informed of the agency's closure.
I don’t have regrets about working with AAI. They were a leader in special needs adoptions and as my heart moved towards children who were hard to place, it seemed like a natural fit. I didn't know everyone at the agency but I respected the intentions and hearts of those I did know. I was able to run the Uganda program the way I felt was best, focusing on family preservation first and only placing children with no other options for families.
I'm grateful for the families I had a chance to work with and all the children I saw transformed from orphans to treasured family members.
Some of you have asked about waiting children - if you're interested in adopting a child I was advocating for, I can try to help you get the file transferred to another agency I have been recommending to families. (I do not work for this or any other agency.)
A few of you have asked about my future plans: I don't see myself working for an agency again. I've volunteered to help families who were left in the middle of the AAI closure and, for the present, at least, I will continue to act as a non-paid advocate or consultant. As long as there are orphans in the world I will continue to advocate for them and encourage families to consider adoption. That won't ever change.
MY FAVORITE BLOGS
Feet 2 Our Faith
The Stitch that Makes the Sweater Perfect
Moments with Love
Dreaming Big Dreams
Rage Against the Minivan
Mom to 16
No Greater Joy Mom
The Farmers Wife Tells All
The Kitchen is Not My Office
Injera & Chocolate Gravy
One Tiny Starfish
Nathan & Jade Metz
A Southern Ruckus
Family Hope Love
WEBSITES I LIKE
Together for Adoption
The Archibald Project
Real Hope for Haiti
Acacia Tree Uganda
Special Hope Network
Watoto Childcare Ministries