December 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Tess: I remember my first mama. My mama in beitnam.
Me: Oh you do?
Tess: She looked like an angel, but she didn’t have any wings. She wore a white dress, and she was bootiful.
Me: I imagine that your Vietnam mama was very beautiful, just like you.
Tess: And I love her.
And at that moment I was pretty much incapable of saying anything, trying to hold back my tears and maintain my composure. I love her too.

There is no way Tess could remember her. She was far too young. But she has a vision of her in her head, one that looks like an angel, and I think that’s not just wonderful, but a blessing and a gift.

But the funny thing in our house is that 5 of the 9 of us have “first mamas” and then of course our forever mamas. So we talk about first mamas like they are just a part of regular ol’ life. Like it’s normal. Because for us it is our normal. I think this makes us a very blessed family indeed!

This is a blessing. There’s someone just like me that has a first mama too. I am not alone. This is our normal. This is okay. She/he did it and so can I. Two mamas means more love. I can do this.

But I’m not sure if the little ones realize that it’s not the norm to have more than 1 mama in their lives. For now I can only image that a time might come that one of them suddenly realizes that this is the not the norm, this having more than one mama, and the first one was not forever a part of their lives. And I worry that this realization will hit them hard and suddenly like I know it can if you are 7 years old or 10 or 30. As the forever mama, in a strange way I want them to grieve about this and come to their peace. Maybe that sounds harsh for a mama to want her children to feel the pain. But if they must feel the loss I want it to be gradually and a little at a time so it doesn’t come so hard. And then again I know that they don’t necessarily have to feel the pain of loss at all. I also pray that just maybe it won’t be hard. Perhaps this having 2 mamas will always just be of the way it is and a part of who they are. Maybe they won’t have to grieve their loss so much. This is how it is for some folks, they just accept it for what it is.

For what it is… that there are 2 women who love them just like mamas do, but only one gets to hold them every day and the other has a vision of an angel in her head, one that is also very bootiful.


Part II {Genetic analysis: to test or not to test}

October 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

{Part I, Dark brown hair, Light brown hair is here}

It’s discussed pretty regularly in the adoption community.

To test or not to test.

Now just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, I’m not talking about genetic testing as advised by your doctor for medical reasons. I’m talking about genetic analysis for children who are growing healthy and strong. I’m talking about collecting some spit, sending it in the mail to a lab, and a relatively inexpensive genetic testing of our children that were adopted to find out more information about them, like what ethnicity they are, the rare chance of finding distant (or not) relatives, and health information. There are several companies that are doing this including 23&me, FTDNA, DeCodeMe, and DNATribes to name just a few.

There are kinda two camps on the subject, (not to mention those of us that waffle around in the middle) and personally I think there are some really important things to think about from both points of view. Our children from international adoption come to us with so very little. Few material possessions if any. Little to no information about who they are or where they come from. So giving them any little additional morsel of who they are seems like a good thing… right?

Well… maybe not. It’s not really so cut and dry and should requires some thought.

Camp A

As parents we can gather that information and present it to our children when we feel it will ultimately benefit them the most. This can include information about their genetic make-up and/or birth families. Maybe we explain and discuss the test results right when we get the results. Maybe children are part of the search or maybe they’re too little yet to participate and understand. Maybe it becomes as much a part of our child’s story as their country of birth. Maybe we use this information to find and possibly connect with biological family members and possibly start a dialog or relationship. Or we might decide keep all this information under lock and key until a child desires to know more or the time seems right. But information is just one of many tools we can use to help our children learn more about who they are, where they come from, their genetics, and the results of the testing can be used (or not) in a variety of ways to help heal the wounds that remain from the loss that comes as an inherent part of international adoption.

After all, our biological children already get to have all this information at their disposal. They can use and look up their family trees and know that great great grandma Sally came over from Sweden. They know who has glaucoma, who died of heart disease and who their cousins are. So shouldn’t we try to give our adopted children the same information and “level the playing field” rather then leave them with empty holes that might be able to be filled?


Camp B

The process of gathering information should be up to the child since that information is theirs alone. Children who are adopted come from a place of loss and have so very much taken from them. They have little to no control about where they go or who they will live with. So shouldn’t we leave at least some of the power to discover who they are up to them? Shouldn’t we “facilitate” their search on their terms rather than satisfy our own curiosity to know who they are? The resulting information after all is theirs and not ours as parents to uncover. It is a decision that they can make all on their own, and if they ever come to us and say, “Hey Mom, I’d like to do that testing thing,” only then should we guide them on their own journey to genetic testing, as initiated by the child. After all their genetics won’t change over time, so there is no rush to get the test done. A child can have testing done years or even decades later without changing the results or losing information. And as children grow to teenagers and adults they have better skills to process the information they will find, and it should be their decision alone.

And let us not forget that there is every possibility that the information revealed from genetic testing may open a can of worms. Health histories. Maybe no information at all that will help a child heal their wounds of loss. There are of course no guarantees. Genetic testing, no matter how much hope or information it provides, will never “fill the hole” for adoptees. Our children come to us from a place of loss. It can be like a hole void of information. And a place of no control. Our children lost it all when they came into our lives and into their forever families. They lost who they were, a language, a community, security, their heritage and more. And let us not forget that they likely lost it all in a split second and had no say in the matter. So even in our efforts to help them learn more about their identities, we must be sure not to take their power to learn about themselves.

As parents of a child that is internationally adopted, it is very natural to “miss” those early years before they came into our arms. As their mama, I too missed out on their first steps and giggles, and very much want to know as much about our children as I can. But does OUR parental desire to put all the puzzle pieces together outweigh their right to privacy and their right to their journey of self-discovery? Even if their journey may be totally separate and apart from us, their moms and dads?

About a year after Tess and Jude came home we did decide to have Tess genetically tested to hopefully give her a “community” to genetically identify with. In a world full of boxes, she just doesn’t fit into any of them and we worried about the implications of a grown up without a box to identify with. Four years later, we realize that the results of the test really didn’t provide us with any concrete answers. Duh. We certainly don’t regret having the testing done, but it surely didn’t satisfy any curiosity or tell us much more about who she is. She our daughter after all and we already knew that.

And off and on we wrestle with if we should use a different company and have the test performed again, or have Mimi and Jude tested. To be honest, I’ve been way too busy with dirty laundry and dust bunnies to sit down and come to a resolution with Papa about whether or not we should do it. Yes, we’re curious about our children’s background. But this is our curiosity and certainly not “child initiated” at this point. And I’m coming to the realization that the longer we have our children with us, the less that it matter to me who they are and where they come from. Our children are His first and foremost, ours after that, and no test results, ethnicity, or genetic markers will change that.

Still, I very much believe that information is inherently good and a powerful tool. The jury is still very much out, and we’ve yet to decide whether or not to have our adopted children genetically tested.

We’d love your input!

2013-10-08_0001Tess & Jude adopted from Vietnam in 2008 and Mimi via China in 2012

To be continued… Part III {Birth family search from an adoptee’s perspective}



Light Brown Hair :: Dark Brown Hair

September 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 6 Comments

I was putting Tess’s hair into pig tails, getting her ready for school and tying bows in her piggies.


We live in a Caucasian community bombarded with messages about what beauty is, and in its absence what it is not, in every magazine, billboard, and television commercial. I figure I need to counter balance the mass messaging she already receives.
I finish
of our primping-in-front-of-the-mirror-time the same way.

Tess, you’re gorgeous.
You’re beautiful.
Do you know how very pretty you are?

Today she has a reply.
Tess: I like your hair mama. It’s light brown.
Me: I like your hair, Tess. It’s a beautiful dark brown. And so are your pretty eyes.
Tess: But I like your hair. I wish my hair and my eyes were light brown like yours.
I know what she means. This is about looking like your mama and wanting to be closer.
Me: Tess, I think your first mama probably has gorgeous dark brown hair and eyes just like you. I think she is beautiful just like you!
We talk about their first mamas as if these women are another person in our family, just ones we haven’t met.
Tess: But I wish my hair was light brown like yours.
{maternal sigh}

Back to me.
My mom has auburn hair.
My birth mom has blond hair.
And my hair is brown.
I get what Tess is saying.
It’s taken me no less than 40 years to come to my own peace regarding moms and first moms and wanting something so badly that just can not be. And it breaks my heart to think she might struggle with who she is and who she does and does not look like. I want her to love herself in the here and now and feel how she is perfectly made and a perfectly shaped puzzle piece to our family puzzle. I don’t want her to continually reach after something that may never be attainable. And grieve the loss that could define her.
Says the lady that tries hard 4 decades later to not do just that.

Yet, I want to help her discover who she is and help her piece together her own identity if that’s what she wants.
It’s a balancing act that parents who adopt constantly walk.
Give them the information they crave, but only if or when they crave it. Attempt to satiate their curiosity, but not your own. Tell them their story but don’t let it define them. Help them figure out where they came from, and help them accept that they may never really know.

Back to hair.
Humor me; Let me do a mom thing and tell you how beautiful she is.
Tess has the most amazing hair. It’s dark brown with a slight wave. It’s not coarse or stereo-typically Asian hair, yet so shiny. Not to mention her eyes that are just-can’t-stop-gazing-into-them gorgeous. Her eyes are huge and so dark that one can’t really see her pupils amidst the very dark irises. This makes them appear huge. And again not really Asian looking. And her darker than normal skin tone. Which makes her appearance, although undeniably beautiful, not stereo-typically Asian. But an absolute beauty!
I know. I know. I’m biased of course! In fact she’s often mistaken as Mexican in our very Mexican community. Or Hispanic in general. Or even middle eastern. Or even Italian once.
And all of this makes us wonder if she’ll have trouble identifying herself with any culture at all.
And what we should do about it.

To be continued… Part II {Genetic analysis: to test or not to test}

Food issues and binging 5 years later

July 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 19 Comments

Feeding a child is deeply rooted within us mamas. It’s almost beyond maternal and instinctual. It’s a part of what we do, and right or wrong, it’s a part of how we measure our success. And when it didn’t go according to plan, it affected me much more than I could have imagined. Being a mama is a huge part of who I am, and this failure hurt my soul.

If you would have told me that we’d be having food issues nearly 5 years later, I would have thought you were either nuts, or that we surely messed our daughter up somewhere along the path.

Hmmmmm… which is it?

Kelly1_4 year old birthday adoption1
Eating apples and you gotta love her first thing in the morning hair!
She didn’t touch fruit for years. And even though it’s still not her favorite, now she does.
It’s all a work in progress.

Tess was 12 months old when she came into our arms. We knew (know really) next to nothing about her time before us, but we do know that she was born prematurely with low birth weight. At 12 months weighed barely 15 pounds and we quickly learned that she couldn’t sit up, pull up, bear weight on her legs and still had a profound gag reflex most likely indicating that she hadn’t had solid foods yet. It was the feeding therapist that said she had all the classic signs of being force fed.

But these things could be overcome, right? Nourishment, a high fat diet, a calorie supplement, lots of love.. we could fix all that, right?

As her new mama, I had some anxiety about my malnourished daughter that just didn’t eat. And because only a generous insurance company at best would pay for “feeding therapy,” we paid dearly out of pocket for a feeding therapist as soon as we got home. It was one of the best things we did. We learned how her lack of core strength was a huge hurdle to getting her to eat solids, and thus her physical therapy was critical to her eating progress. We learned how to introduce foods to her in a non-threatening way and expose her to an amazing variety of foods that we never would have considered, (including straight mustard, pickle juice, and all sorts of stuff way out of the box.)

By her third birthday, she was eating enough to stay on her own growth curve; a curve that was 50% below 0 on the growth charts. But a healthy curve nevertheless.
She would not eat fruit.
Not a single banana, applesauce, grape, peach or melon. Not fresh, frozen, dried or mashed. No fruit leathers. None. She had a peculiar relationship she had with food. One of luv and hate. She used food to control her environment, and she often refused to eat even when she was hungry. We continued to offer her every food under the moon, including fruits, for years. We encouraged but never forced her to eat anything and kept her on a high-calorie formula supplement. And after no less than 13,767 presentations of the foods she didn’t care for and years of attempts, she began to eat fruits and a pretty normal-ish diet.


Yet, as we approach her 6th birthday and the food issues are not over. To the contrary, new issues are coming forth, and they seem to be escalating. Mainly food hoarding. Her middle-of-the-night visits to the cupboards, ‘fridge and freezer. Currently, every night she gets up when we are all fast asleep and raids the cupboards, binging on whatever she can find. We’ve lost much money from the freezer door that always seems to be left open. I’ve gotten up in the morning to find 10-12 otter pop wrappers hidden under her pillow. A precarious stack of over-turned buckets and boxes stacked high enough for her 36″ frame to reach the freezer door. A box of popsicles melting between the bed and the wall. An empty box of saltines and a bed of crumbs. Every. Single. Night. this is happening.

So what to do…
Door alarms.
Baby gates.
Refrigerator and cupboard locks.
These come to mind first. Taking away the power for her to hurt herself or destroy property.
But the more we consider these options, the more we realize that her eating issues are attachment issues in disguise, issues deeply rooted in food trauma. Hoarding and binging are her way of controlling her environment rather than releasing control and trust to those she loves.
She needs to control the food, even in the middle of the night, to feel safe.
With some great advice from fellow adoptive parents I remember these truths. Children who come from a history of trauma and/or loss need to feel safe. It is my priority. My obligation to her. There is no attachment without it.


So tonight, after her teeth were brushed, and after her brother and sister were tucked in, we went to the kitchen together and packed her middle-of-the-night snacks. She chose what would go in her basket o’ food and how much to put into it.
A cream cheese bagel.
4 saltine crackers.
I love you so much mama!
A small baggie of grapes.
And I can eat this whenever I want?
A large baggie of cheerios.
Oh mama, you’re the best mom ever!
Carrot sticks.
I want 6 carrots. No 7. No 8. No 10. No 14. Can we just put all of them in the baggie?
Yes, of course we can.
She carried the basket in to her room looking around carefully, and ultimately set it next to her bed.
And that night she went to bed happy and with a sense of peace that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was her choice. Her power over her food. Safety. Security. And it hopefully comes back full circle to attachment.

I don’t think there’s an ending here. And that seems to be the whole point that escaped me 5 years ago. As parents we didn’t necessarily do anything wrong or mess her up, and yes, 5 years later we are still dealing with food issues. Our baby, adopted at 12 months old, is still working through her past. These issues of attachment and food are intertwined and aren’t necessarily “fixed” but a journey…
… one that we’re more than willing to walk with her.



I woke the next morning before Tess and discovered that she didn’t touch her basket of food that night. And for the first time in 2 weeks, Tess did not get up in the middle of the night to binge. The freezer door was closed just as I left it. And there were no wrappers, melted or spoiled food, piled boxes to reach the freezer door, or any evidence to be found.

Her basket of food, untouched and right where she left it, was her first thought as she woke. With her eyes not even fully open, she reached over to touch it and promptly asked if she could eat it. Yes. She asked if she could eat it any time she wanted. Yes. And again she didn’t touch any of her food in her basket and was satisfied to wait for breakfast with her siblings. In a tiny bit of panic, she was also concerned if she needed to share her basket food. I assured her that she did not. It was all hers to eat anytime she wanted and there was plenty more of it for both her and her siblings in the kitchen if they wanted. She suggested we keep her special food in her purse that day, so she could carry it around, just in case. And so we did.

Over the course of the next 2 weeks, Tess still didn’t eat her basket food in the middle of the night. Although on occasion she would munch on her favorites before breakfast. She still is sure to have her basket of midnight snacks next to her bed every night, but it now contains just a couple items. And it’s all her choice. She just doesn’t seem to need as much food next to her to feel safe anymore. We find it interesting that she has never needed to eat the food to feel secure, just have access to it.

My girl… what latent memories are still in your head from so long ago?
They still seep in.
And we assume as the years pass, they will continue to resurface in different shapes and forms manifesting in various food or attachment issues.
And it’s still okay.

Living with attachment issues long term

May 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

I tell people all the time, especially when we’re knee deep in discussions about adoption or attachment issues. Ya know, some kiddos just don’t handle institutionalization well. Some come out of it just fine. Some go straight to their new family and never look back with smiles and enthusiasm. And others, like our sweet thing, will likely always carry the scars of growing up in an institution with too few care givers, or not enough food, or not enough clothing, or a lack of stimulation, or insert any basic need here. And most fall somewhere in between…

And the thing is you have no idea if your child will be the one that comes through it all with flying colors or carries the scars until it’s a done deal. You just don’t know.

Of our 3 adopted children, 2 transitioned pretty much according to the text books. Both Jude and Mimi were best-case scenarios when it came to how they transitioned to our family and attachment. They grieved. They fought it hard. But the difficult process of loss and coming into the fold of a new family, showed all the evidence that they would come through the difficult process of adoption healthy in the end. But we also have one of those children that just didn’t handle it well and shows the evidence that she will likely carry the scars regardless of what we do.

For this reason, I was incredibly hesitant to leave on my me-vacation. I had left her once before, on our trip to China to get Mimi. But of course there was something that just didn’t sit right with me about leaving Tess for this very self indulgent 8-day me-time trip. I’d be the first to encourage mamas to get away and rejuvenate themselves. But I certainly hadn’t been encouraging myself to do that. It had been 5 1/2 years since Tess came home and over 1 since Mimi came home. I knew it was time. But still… how do you walk away from a child who really isn’t sure if you’re actually going to come back? I mean way down deep in her soul, she’s honestly not sure if I’m going to permanently leave her or not. And no amount of talking and assuring can change that. I was leaving her with Papa. So of course it wasn’t like I was leaving her completely without a parent. But still… how would I get on that plane and say goodbye?

But I did leave for 8 days.
And I cried when I left. And so did she.
And I seemed to text constantly to my loves at home.
And the next day I assured her I’d be home in 7 days.
And I sent pictures.
And Tess sent me pictures.
And soon I told her I was coming home in 4 days.
And I sent her a video of the beach and the waves.
And when she asked, I reminded her I’d soon be home in only 2 more days.
And we talked about how school went the next day.
And daily she tore off the paper rings on the chain that marked the days till I’d come home.
And she cried at night and made one last phone call across the country.
And she asked when I’d be home, and I finally said that the very next day I would be the there to tuck her in and say prayers the very next night.

Over a week later, when the plane landed, according to plan I was extremely rejuvenated and refreshed. As I trotted down the airport concourse, I felt a bit like a child when I was walking far more quickly than necessary to greet my family.

And there they were, all 8 of them waiting for me. 7 voices squealing Mommy! so excited to see me. 16 legs running my way. 16 arms that reaching out to squeeze my legs and my neck and my shoulders. 8 I missed you soooo much! I was once again encircled by the shoulders of the man I had missed so dearly. But in that moment there was 1 that needed more. She needed more than a hug and embrace. In that moment when all were so excited and happy, Tess looked so scared and seemed to need reassurance that I really was back. I crouched down and looked into her big brown eyes. I told you I was coming back. And I will always come back. We’re family. And we’re stuck with each other. Forever. I could almost see her exhale in that moment. Exhale all the doubt that she had held in her those 8 long days. And as she did, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such eye contact as she stared into my eyes. Her tears instantly welled up, and she started a quiet cry. Tess, I’m right here now. And I scooped her up and held her.

In the car on the way home, she fought falling asleep. I knew she was afraid I’d disappear if she closed her eyes. Only when I told her that I was the only one that would carry her from the car to her bed that night, did she finally suck on her two fingers and allow her eyes to close.

So where does this leave us?
Well, we’re still on the path of attachment. Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful that we’ve come so far that she was feeling such relief when I returned. Her missing me is a huge deal. But the fact that she has these seeds of doubt that she is safe and loved, and worry that she will be abandoned yet again, and stress, (really, should any 5-year-old carry this type of stress?) is a sure sign that 5 1/2 years later, we’re still on the road to secure attachment. Once again, we’re assured that we’re definitely moving in the right direction… in a direction of love, peace and acceptance. But we’re not out of the woods yet.

And as the years pass, the destination seems to matter less than the journey itself.

Perfectly Made

April 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Dear IEP team members,

As the mama to the little girl that we just spent over an hour talking about, I want to say more than our 60-minute time slot allowed.

IEP meetings are hard.

{That may be the understatement of the year.}

They suck.

For a parent, sometimes it feels like IEP meetings are a laundry list of how your child isn’t meeting standards.  They can be an in-your-face reminder of all the ways your child can’t fulfill expectations in comparison to her peers.  They are a meeting, (with the same people in your child’s life that form and mold her future,) that tell you all the ways she is falling short and can’t progress without their help.  For a mama, they can feel like fear and failure and stress in the guise of help and assistance and support.  For parents, these meetings might involve trying to wing it and not knowing quite what you need to say in the midst of a panel of experts with rehearsed scripts and far more practice than you.  They are bi-annually reminders of how far we we’ve come with a much larger emphasis on how far we still must progress.  They involve a plan to work twice as hard for things that come easily to the rest.  They rehash the hurdles and surface the tears.  They are a whole team of folks that again articulate the struggles and how things don’t quite fit.  The are too frequently a car ride home with mama tears and worry and wondering how all the dreams fit into such a plan.  Sometimes IEP meetings are like a search for more options when we know there are few.

To those of you who nodded in agreement with a too much vigor about her lack of progress… for those who might have made a slightly exasperated sigh that we were suppose to hear but weren’t suppose to not notice… please know that our daughter is perfectly made.  Perfectly made.  If you possibly looked at us like we don’t quite get it, know that not only do we get it, but we get so much more than you could ever understand.  We get what’s truly important… that she is perfect just the way she is.  Know that there is not only immense pride in raising a “special” daughter, but we wouldn’t change a single step in her journey.  It has created the amazing, wonderful, incredible child before you.  Her journey has proven her strength and her tenacity like no other.  And it has shown the full force of God’s amazing love, grace, and huge power to transform the most broken and the least of these.

Her father and I want you to know that our girl is so much more than a diagnosis and a list of symptoms.  She is more than the words we describe her with.  She IS special.  She is literally divine.  She is a child of the King.  She is perfectly made in His image.  And heaven aside, she is perfectly made in our hearts too.

We thank you immensely for the care and guidance you give our daughter.  We know that you have not only imparted so much knowledge and many skills to her, but have generously given your time and most importantly your care and love to our treasure.  And for that we are so very thankful.  You are another blessing to both her and us.  But there is so much more to her than what you see and what you think you know.  We will take your words and IEP suggestions in to consideration.  But we we also take our love and the proof that transformation is possible.  We will take the amazing support of our family and those that love her, and the inner core of who she is and where she has come from, and all that she has already over come in to consideration as well.  And we will consider our goals and hopes and dreams for our daughter to decide what path to follow… goals that extend far beyond an IEP.


her mother.

bw tess



Adoption from an Older Sibling's Perspective

February 9, 2013 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments

This post is written by Livy, my 16-year-old amazing daughter. She traveled with us both on our first adoption trip to Vietnam to get her now 5 year old brother and sister, Jude and Tess. And 10 months ago to China to get her new baby sister, Mimi, who is 2 years old. All three were special needs adoptions and came with their own unique challenges. Livy is a special young woman. Her heart is huge. But since this is one of the number-one questions I get regarding adoption, I thought it better for her to answer it representing all the children rather than have me answer it for her.

As soon as someone sees our family for the first time their wheels start turning. Especially if we are all out together. We know the questions even before they’re asked. It’s not bad. It just is.

And in the top 5 questions they ask my parents is this one:

“How did your biological/first kids handle it?”

I think this question is largely asked by folks that may have some interest in adopting themselves. Perhaps they are trying to put themselves in our shoes.

What is it like being a teenager with younger adopted siblings?

Our family changed A LOT when Tess and Jude, and now Mimi, came home, and not all in good ways. I will not be shy to admit that much of it was HARD. It was hard for me, it was hard for my parents, and most of all it was hard for the babies. And along with all the hard times also came some really awesome and amazing times. As a family we experienced first steps, first words, first family, and laughter that we never could have imagined months earlier.

Positive aspects of introducing Tess and Jude into the family are:
– We can get away with a lot more now that there is less attention on the bigger kids.
– I get to babysit more, and that is something I love to do!
– The giggles! Nobody could be mad or upset when there is a toddler giggling somewhere in the house.
– Sunny and I finally have someone’s hair to do, nails to paint, and someone to dress up.
– We will have to go to Disneyland again because the babies haven’t been yet.
– Life is NEVER dull. I know now that I’m not the kind of person that sits around on the couch and lets life pass me by, probably because it’s impossible to hear the TV over all the “playing.”
– I am always learning and practicing patience.
– Chubby cheeks. Enough said.
– Those moments when Tess comes in to my room at 7:00am, and I yell “get out” and she replies with, “Sissy, you are such a pretty girl, and you are SO big!” She means well.
– I love when we are out with the kids and someone says, “Are those ALL your siblings?” and I can proudly reply, “Yep! There are 7 of us!
– I learned that later in life I want to work with children as a career.

Some of the negatives are:
– It’s stressful sometimes. There are times in our house when there are multiple cranky children and maybe even a cranky parent (or two). As a family we have had to come up with some new strategies in dealing with times like these. We have implemented “the tap out system.” this is when one of the older kids, or even a parent, can just get away for a bit no questions asked. In a stressful moment I can “tap out” and go to my room to listen to music for 10-15 minutes, and then it all seems way less stressful when I get back.
– My parents worry. They worry about the struggles the little ones will face in a future. This is usually when I come in and remind my mom of her favorite saying, “You can’t change your world just your reaction to it.”
– Money is tighter.
– And of course the obvious one… yes, the older kids do get less attention than before. To cope with this we have learned to spend individual time with our parents later at night. Even if it’s just a quick trip to the grocery store for ice cream. It is always good to be able to tell my dad how my day was.

I have learned so much in the process of adopting. I was lucky enough to go both to Vietnam and China. The trips helped me come out of my box and show me how lucky I am to be living in a tremendous home with plenty of food and a family that loves me. When I went to Vietnam I was only in 7th grade, but there was one thing that I will never forget, one girl, about my age, that changed my life forever. We were walking back from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon. As we crossed the street I saw a girl begging for money, but that wasn’t what was shocking or what stuck with me. This girl had a true smile on her face. Anyone that looked at her could tell that she was honestly just happy to be. She got me thinking, who really cares if you get the best car for your 16th birthday, when your curfew is, or if you have a TV in your bedroom? In the long run those things won’t make a difference. As Tess would say, “We are family, and that means we love each other forever no matter what.” And that’s what really matters.

Livy the unstoppable

the best Christmas present ever

January 11, 2013 by nohandsbutours 6 Comments

I stood in the back of Tess’s kindergarten classroom with the other proud parents and looked on as my 5-year-old daughter performed in the class’s “holiday show”. Her part was a simple song with just a few lines and hand movements to go with it. She didn’t know all the hand movements… just like the other children. She didn’t know all the words… just like the other children. She was half the weight and height of the other kindergartners. And she wore a huge smile the whole time. But she stood there with the others so happy and proud… just like all the other children.

Unlike the other kindergarten parents, my tears rolled. Little tears in the beginning, then it moved into the big cry. As if she were my first child… and not my 6th. I cried happy tears because, you see, she was just like all the other children.

As she sang, all I could think about were the days just after Tess was placed in my arms, half way across the world. 12 months old, so tiny and malnourished. I was so so scared. Every what if and worst case scenario rolled through my head back then. Over and over again. We were prepared for a baby who had been institutionalized. But we made a purposeful decision to adopt a young child that would escape the effects of long term institutionalization. We thought we were prepared for the worst case scenario… until the worst case scenario was in our arms. We were not at all prepared for the child we were given. A child that was completely shut off. For months. A child that fell asleep in a second to escape her reality. A child that felt most comfortable alone in her crib with the door shut. A child that fondled the texture of the wall paper for an hour. A child that would rather stare at a blank wall than make eye contact with us. A child that had so little physical strength, yet used it all to wriggle from human touch.

Those first few days were so scary that we called our international adoption doctor back on the other side of the world. Was this normal? Were we looking at a lifetime of care? Would this get better? Of course he had no concrete answers.

But during that middle-of-the-night emergency phone call 4 1/2 years ago, the doctor did tell us this. For a child of her circumstances, her behavior was not unexpected. And even though there could be a host of possibilities that might cause such behaviors, it might be overcome with lots of work and therapy and time and love.




I could do that. How long we asked. Strangely he mentioned kindergarten. Maybe by the time she reaches kindergarten she could overcome her “turned off-ness.”


He said the words that I was desperately and unceasingly praying to hear… she might possibly overcome it. Her healing might be possible. I didn’t care how much work it would require. How much prayer I would need to say. How much therapy we would do, or how long it would take. Her healing was a possibility, and I committed absolutely anything to get her there. I didn’t care if she needed life-long care or had permanent disabilities. If there was a possibility that my daughter could be in a regular ol’ classroom, in kindergarten or later, I’d gladly accept it all. If she could be just like the other children.

And that was the image I kept in my head, our daughter just like the other children. It kept me going.

So there I stood in her classroom 4 1/2 years later and watched her sing every 4th word with hand gestures that were 1 step behind. And I was the proudest mama ever! The moment I had kept as a goal all those years was now upon me. There she was, a plain ol’ kindergartner with all the other children, and just by looking you’d never know otherwise. And the tears rolled down my cheeks in sheer gratitude to God for how far we had come. The best Christmas present ever.

Take that 6 therapy sessions a week for 2 years.

Take that early intervention for 4 years.

Take that physical therapy, speech therapy, occupation therapy, and cognitive therapy.

Take that doctor and counselor that said my daughter was likely autistic.

Take that pediatrician that so nicely handed us the brochure So Your Child has Autism.

Take that counselor that showed me diagrams of what an atrophied brain looks like after neglect.

Take that representative from the state that mentioned the possibility of local institutionalization.

Take that IEP that is pages upon pages long.

Our work together is far from done. But I no longer have any fear for what is in Tess’s future. It has been replaced with joy. And overwhelming unbridled pride for my daughter that has come so far. It is the best Christmas present ever.

The visit

October 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 12 Comments

I’ve had occasion to look at the photos from the day we visited Mimi’s orphanage. Due to a computer snafu, I hadn’t seen these pics for quite a while. I’m not sure where God is leading me in this little trip down memory lane. Certainly there is something to be learned by seeing them and remembering, but for me some of the images are so painful. Heck, much of the trip was painful. Yet… I would do it again in a heart beat. It was an amazing blessing.

We knew we would visit with Mimi’s foster parents. In her CWI, (Children’s Welfare Institute) many of the younger children live in the orphanage with foster parents in apartments. So we knew that we would be able to see Mimi’s foster mom and dad and more importantly she’d see them. I approached that day with a flexible attitude and lots of prayer. I prayed in the 3-hour van ride there to have the strength to “go with the flow” and do everything I could to help my daughter with yet another huge transition in 4 day’s time. Please God, help me show Your grace. Please help me give her peace. Let me know what to say and when to say it. Let me know how to help my daughter. When to step back. When to step in. When to be strong. I had heard from the many women who traveled this very road before us that this visiting of the orphanage was a good thing. A tool for transition and closure, and maybe it could be a pivot point for our daughter who just seemed to be grieving almost nonstop so far. On the other hand it seemed cruel to bring her back to the orphanage just to make her leave again. All over again. My heart broke to make her do it. But they said it was a good thing. A good difficult thing. So we went.

She was quiet on the way there. In hind sight, I think it was much more than that. She suddenly had diarrhea in the van. She hadn’t had it before then or since. In hind sight I wonder if she remembered the car ride 3 days earlier that took her from all she knew, and I wonder if her body was in knots with stress.

We got to the CWI and more than anything I just wanted her to have some peace during our visit. When the nanny swooped in, even before I got out of my seat in the van, I let Mimi go to her arms. I could see it all over Mimi’s face. Her body relaxed in the nanny’s arms. She had her peace. And for the following 2 hours, I let her have it. I let her stay safe with in the arms of her mama that had loved on her before me. Arms that knew far more about my daughter than I did. These wonderful generous arms gave her comfort and peace that I couldn’t.

We toured the orphanage. We were invited in to her foster family’s apartment (located in the CWI). We saw her bedroom and her crib, still with her blankets and her name and photo above the bed. We met her foster sisters. We saw the empty shelves for the toys that did not exist for these girls to play with. We witnessed the smiles and love that these wonderful foster parents shared with “their children” and the smiles and the love that the girls shared with them. I saw the way her foster mama held her and seemed to anticipate her needs before she even had them.

She changed her pants. She took her to the potty. She pulled up a sock and filled her hands with her favorite treats. And my girl was at peace.

Then it was time to go. The part I had been talking to God about the whole trip there. Foster mama held Mimi as we walked out to the lobby. This is where it would happen. Our guide stepped in. Our guide asked foster mama to tell Mimi that she loved her and would always remember her and that it was okay to go with her new mama. And foster mama leaned into Mimi’s ear and whispered to her. This woman was so amazing. She was giving me her child and she was going to give her everything she could right up till the very last moment. I don’t think if I would have had such composure. What does a 23 month old understand? I don’t know. Mimi’s body became tense. She leaned into her foster mama… away from me.

Our guide instructed the 3 of us, foster mama with Mimi, and me, to hug one another. We did. Mimi wanted nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with being that close to me. But we hugged, and it was awkward.

I didn’t know what to do next. I ineptly stood there not knowing. The our guide instructed me to take Mimi {from her foster mama} and get into the van.

And I did.

I took my daughter from arms of this amazing woman that was able to give her love and peace.

And I got into the van.

I will not show you the pics of what happened next. Actually I was unaware there were any photos being taken, but one of my teens that was still snapping away. But these images are too much to share.

Our girl who had been filled with grief for days, then short-lived peace for just a few hours, was finally angry. Taken for a second time in 4 days from her “home” and foster family, everything in her was full of rage. Everything I had been fearing finally came out in those moments. The biting. The hitting. The screams. Nobody said anything. It was so in the open for all to see. For the next hour in the van, she raged until she finally collapsed asleep in my arms.

When she woke, as we were pulling up to the hotel, she was back to her quiet stoic self. Except for just a little lighter. In the days that would come, quickly, we’d see more of her heart. Her smiles came more easily, and we were privileged to see who our new daughter really was under all that grief. Was the orphanage visit a turning pint? I’m not sure, but it certainly marked a time that Mimi started allowing herself to open up, feel joy, and I think to be vulnerable again.

Six months later, we looked at the computer screen, and she saw the photos. She touched her little finger to the screen and touched her foster mother’s image. She looked at me with a smile on her face like she found a long lost friend. She pointed to her and said Granna. Then her finger moved to her foster father saying, Baba. She was happy to see them again. I was surprised she remembered them. We looked through the photos together. Mimi’s bed she pointed out. Then she looked up at me and pointed to her bed here at home. Mimi’s bed! And then pointed to my bed next to hers. Mama’s bed! Yes, sweet amazing strong girl. You now have a bed here too. And it’s right next to mine. In her heart I am her mama now, but there’s still definitely a happy place for her first family too. Love and good memories from both coexisting in the same little beautiful soul. I am blessed to have the opportunity to help her keep these sweet memories alive. As we flip through the photos, we come to the ones when she leaves her foster mama. I didn’t mean to go that far, but I did, and then she saw the photos of her anger and her tears.
Mimi sad. she says.
She gets it.
Yes, we were all very sad. Foster mama loved you very much. We were all sad to say goodbye.

And then there are the questions… Should we have gone back to visit the orphanage at all? Could we have orchestrated the final hand off differently? Was it okay to leave her with her foster mama while we looked around? Should I let her see the photographs? Is it okay for her to see the images of when she was “sad?” Should I have said something or done something differently? Do I need to do something more? Can I say something else to help her understand? I guess these are just more of the unanswered questions that are part of the journey of adoption. It’s full of lots of unanswered questions and no promises, except the one that if we fully surrender and follow where God leads then there is peace that we have done His will.

Much of the trip was painful. Yet… I would do it again in a heart beat.

Dear random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption

September 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments

I see you.

And my children see you watching them.

And even though you have a smile on your face, you are still drawing attention to us.

I totally get it. You see, I used to be just like you! I’d see a family that looked a bit… hmmmmm… what’s the right way to put this… mixed. Not all the colors match up. The body shapes, skin tones, and/or hair and eye colors didn’t all go together, and it was obvious that there was more than one baby mama going on. And like you, I wanted to know more about adoption! I wanted to know the story, the how comes and the whys, the little and big details because I was considering taking this big leap of faith called adoption. I was thinking I wanted to adopt a child, and add a child to our family in this unconventional way. I wanted to get more information and a first-hand account of what it’s like! And like you, I may have not known a good way to approach a total stranger in the check out line of Target. So I often just stared, and smiled, and thought about the right way to say something. Sound familiar?

So before I tell you the way I’d like to be approached, here are some tidbits of information to please consider before you say anything.

This may not be a good time for me to talk. We are in Target after all. I just wrangled 3 young kiddos through shopping, each of whom did their best to persuade me that they must have Every. Single. Thing. that we passed. I am now simultaneously juggling my car keys, my debit card, several bags, my purse, a sippy cup, a baggie of goldfish crumbs, and a two-year-old who wants no part of sitting down in the cart. I’m also trying hard to distract a 5 year old from having a temper tantrum over gum that I will not buy, and redirect another child who is trying to engage a total stranger to push her “Fire Dog button.” I can’t seem to remember the code for my new debit card. And I might be 30 minutes late to my next appointment that I haven’t remembered I even have yet.

So now might not be a good time for me to talk.

And that’s ok.

If it is a good time for me to talk, and even if I really want to share adoption information with you, my children may not want me to talk to you, especially if they are old enough to understand what we are talking about. I’m sure you’ll understand that what is best for my children trumps absolutely every single good thing that we could talk about or any information that you may take away from our conversation. Anything I’d like to say or anything that you’d like to know pales in comparison to what is best for my child! You see, my kiddos, especially as they’ve gotten older, don’t want to stick out in a crowd. They want to blend in. And as you’ve already noticed, they don’t come by that “blending in” thing easily. As they get older, they probably don’t want to be talked about especially in reference to how they are different. They already look different from their parents and community, and often all they want to do is to look the same when they obviously can’t. They don’t want to be anyone’s child that was adopted or a topic of conversation. They just want to be plain ol’ children in the checkout line of Target. So I may not talk to you because my child is in earshot and/or has no desire to be the poster child for any cause. Albeit a truly wonderful cause.

I am not a saint. I have not “saved” anyone. I am not in the saving business as that is only for God. I simply wanted a child to call my own and to be his mama. I am not a better woman than any other mother that wanted a child. I have awful moments. I yell. I lose my patience. I do things I regret. I don’t actually know what I’m doing most of the time and have become a master at “winging it.” I’m just doing the best I can.

My children are not lucky for being adopted, so please don’t say they are. They are not lucky to have been adopted, to be adopted by us and in our family, or to be United State’s citizens. Children from adoption have already endured heart-breaking loss, including the loss of their first families, and often the additional loss of the their language, culture, and their heritage. And they have often lost the ability to blend in with their family when they are in at the the checkout line of Target. These are facts that make them far from lucky.

If you want information on the specifics of how to adopt a child, I am not a good source of information. The process of adoption continually changes, as do different types of adoption, and the specific processes from various countries. If you want hard facts, you would do much better to do research online and call an adoption agency (or two or three or more of them) and get information from them.

If however you are looking for a first-hand account of what it’s like from a mother’s perspective to adopt a child, (or a child with a special need, or a child of a different race) then I would be able to tell you about this. But you may be surprised at the answer . . . because it’s really short.

It’s not really any different that than being a mama to any child.

Do not ask for the details of my child’s past. Do not educate us on the horrific effects of China’s one-child policy. . . even if you whisper. Do not ask how much our child costs. Do not ask about his orphanage or his first mom. Do not ask about her “real” family, if we know them, and why they did not “keep” her. Do not ask if she knew her mom or how she came to be adopted. These details, if known, are precious to my child and are her information to keep a secret especially from strangers if she desires. Also know that this information is incredibly sensitive to her. Just as you don’t want to share the intimate details of your life or marriage or the most difficult gut-wrenching times in your past with strangers, my child does not want you to ask him questions about it or want me discuss it with you either, especially in the checkout line of Target.

Now random stranger, just a little reminder. . . if you would like information regarding our adoption simply because you’re wondering about my children and why we chose to enlarge our family in this unconventional way, and want to know 411 to satisfy your own curiosity, I suggest you find another source of entertainment like reality television. Or juggling.

Please understand if I correct some of the terms and/or phrases you use. I am not trying to hurt your feelings, and I really do know that your questions are well meaning. But even so, words can be offensive and hurtful, and this is a wonderful opportunity to help us all use better terms and phrases that help children grow in a healthier and more considerate community.

I am their real mom.

They really are brother and sister.

All my children, regardless of how they came to our family, are our own.

Please refer to them simply as children, not adopted children or children that have been adopted.

My children are from Scottsdale, Arizona. Yes, I know that’s not what you meant, but that is where they are from.

Now, like I said before, I used to be you, and I too really wanted a first-hand account of what it’s like to adopt and raise a child that didn’t grow within my womb. But I was often at a loss for the best words on how to start the conversation and certainly didn’t want to say the wrong thing or at the wrong time. I totally understand your thirst for information. I think most (but certainly not all, and that’s ok too) parents who have adopted, given the right setting, are willing to share their first-hand experiences if you have good intentions.

So in hind sight, I recommend saying something like this.

1–State your intent. “I’m in the process of adopting a child…” or “I’ve always wanted to adopt.”

2–Then follow it up in the same breath by opening the door of conversation a tiny bit with something like, “I’ve always wanted to know more about the process. Could you tell me where I could get more information?” or “Is your daughter Chinese?” or “You have a beautiful family!”

Then see what type of response you get back. Like I said, I saw you looking at us, and I already know what you’re digging for even before you said anything. So after you state your intent and open the door a bit, you’ll get the idea pretty quickly if now is a good time or not for me to engage in adoption conversation.

And if it’s not a good time, perhaps I avoid eye contact, or my answer is short or curt, please don’t be offended. It just may not be the right time and/or place for such a discussion.

Please understand that first and foremost I always have the very best the interest of my children at heart.

So thank you, random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption. Thank you for listening.

I knew you’d understand.



***please feel free to insert any of the following
– random stranger at Walmart
– random stranger at the produce section of the grocery store
– random stranger as we order our sandwiches at Subway
– random stranger in the pew behind us at church
– random stranger sitting next to me in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office
– the mom of the my son’s new friend at preschool
– our neighbor that we only see at Halloween and when she’s walking her dog
– the teller that I see every single time I go to the bank who has friend from high school who just adopted a little girl from China too
– the entire extended family that was leaving The Olive Garden as we were being seated
– the receptionist at the orthodontist that thinks she knows our family so well, but really do you?
– my sister-in-law’s colleague that is currently having infertility issues that I just met at a baby shower
– Uncle Weldon’s new “lady friend” that I was recently introduced to who did a mission trip to the Philippians in the 1980’s and is joining us for Thanksgiving dinner

What loss looks like four decades later

August 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 7 Comments

When I was two years old…

…my mom left.

When Tess and Jude were 12 months old, they were taken from the only home they knew.
When Mimi was 23 months old, she was taken from the only mama she knew.

So how do we process not being chosen?

I don’t remember any of those younger years or the time when she didn’t come back. I don’t suspect Tess, Jude, or Mimi will either.
But not having any recollection of it, is far from meaning it doesn’t shape a large portion of one’s soul.
And future.
And how one would live the rest of their life.

I could go into a lot of details. But I’m not going to.

Don’t get me wrong. I was loved. I was cherished. I was held when I hurt and guided gently the way only parents do. My papa remarried and raised me with all the things he thought a treasured daughter should have, including a mama that was there for it all and raised me with love as if I was her very own.
Indeed I am her very own.
I am hers.
Her daughter.
I was brought up in a pretty stinkin’ normal family.

I treasure Tess, Jude, and Mimi as if they were born to me. It is no different.
They are my daughters and son.
And I’d like to think they are also being raised in a pretty stinkin’ normal family.

I knew my story all along. And so do my children. There has never been and never will be a moment that they don’t know. As a child and teenager, I would have been the first to tell you that I knew my story, and it wasn’t a big deal. These things happen… happened to me… and life goes on. I still had my father and kept my culture and extended family. Unlike my youngest children.

But all these years turn decades later, I am still haunted at how profound it can be.

As often happens in my life, seasons pass and often my grief is again brought to the surface. A wedding. A birth. The holidays. A party. Birthdays. And it can come right back. The loss of a parent is huge, and even under the best circumstances, it can be emotionally challenging even four decades later.

Why do I still struggle?
Why do I still grieve?
Why can’t I just count my blessings and get over it?
Why can’t I surrender this pain to Him?
Suddenly there’s a reminder, and I spiral back.

for 42 flippin’ years I fight the cycle.
I’m still fighting this cycle four decades later.

So it should come as no surprise that Tess flips out during Jude’s birthday. I should be completely on my toes at the holidays, prepared for my child’s anger or bargaining to surface. And it does. Tess struggles for control when the routine changes. Jude withdraws and gets anxious if there’s too much going on. Mimi becomes demanding when she feels unsafe in her world. I’m gonna hang on tight as they grow and change.

Of course the mama in me wants to protect them, my own children, from this haunting cycle of grief and anger and fear.
As the mama, I don’t want them to hurt. I want to take it all away.
As the child, I know that’s just not always possible.
This thing that is adoption is born of hurt and loss. And that I understand with every ounce of my being.

I think what I most want to say, from personal experience, is that we parents can’t always fill the loss or
repair the damage for our children, our beloved children that weren’t chosen by their first families.
We can’t always fill the void.
I’d like to think mama love is a cure-all, and indeed so many things are possible with love. As adoptive parents we have seen firsthand how love can transform a child. But love isn’t a panacea for our children. Love can not take away the loss. They may grieve for four decades and more, and it’s ok. So when it resurfaces, I will hold their hands and acknowledge their pain as mamas do for 42 more years and longer if need be. And they will feel that love in the midst of their grief.

I know there are a lot of questions.
And not a lot of answers.
And no real ending.
And that’s part of it too.

Still trying to work through it,

A letter to my {pre-adoption} self

July 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 23 Comments

Dear Nancy (in 2007)

I know you’ve just started to seriously consider adopting a child. I know that the thought of adopting has been on your mind not just years, but since you were a little girl and heard about the abandoned baby girls in China and saw videos of the Romanian orphanages. So I understand that adopting isn’t an impulsive thought. And I know that even though you don’t know how or where or if a child will come to you, or what he or she will look like, that you are excited… and unsure… and scared all at the same time.

But I am you… five years later… and five years into your adoption journey. And I want you to know some things that I think will help you along the way, some really important things.

1) I know that you are currently thinking that adoption is a great way to add to your family, and it is! But you should know that your adoption journey is going to be so much more than that. Adoption is gonna rock your world like you’ve never imagined! You will not be the same woman ever again. It will be profound in your life. Bigger than you can fathom. Be brave and faithful, and you will be rewarded.

2) I don’t want to scare you, but you need to know this. This journey will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. You will cry. Your heart will break, and you will feel grief like you’ve never felt before, so much that there will be moments that you fall to your knees. There will be days your sadness envelops everything you do. During the worst times, you will withdraw from both your family and friends and feel completely and utterly alone. And indeed, there will be no person around you that can either understand the grief in your soul or console you. I promise you, it will get better. Please know, the trials of the process are part of what make the rewards so great.

3) In your times of pain and sorrow, you will never be alone. Not only will God be with you, but in times of grief, your relationship with God will grow and become something more amazing and powerful than you can imagine. There will be days when you pray without ceasing. And in these times, you will feel His hand comforting you. Trust Him. Feel Him. Lean into Him. Listen to His quiet whisper in your soul, but also be prepared when He speaks loud and clear.

4) Some of those closest to you will doubt your sanity, your judgment, and your worth. You will lose close friendships of people you thought you’d have your whole life. You will be questioned and judged. But you will also gain amazing friendships of people you don’t even know yet! Some will have walked a mile in your shoes and will “get it.” Other friends won’t have a clue what you’ve been though, and that will be ok too because you’ll learn that they love you completely and totally unconditionally. These friends will hold you in the hard times and will be the first to celebrate the blessings.

5) I know you’re a mom already, but get ready to love someone you haven’t met yet like you don’t even think is possible! Oh I wish I could tell you just how much you are going to love this child! This love is just so so much more than you can imagine it will be. Once you meet this child, you will be so certain that this is the child you were destined to have all along. I know that right now you can only try to visualize the face of your child, and I know you try to imagine what it will be like to make this child, a child another woman grew inside her, your own. But get ready to shake with emotion when you first see your child enter the doorway. You’ll remember every little detail of the moment you meet your child, and although you’ll try, no words will come close to expressing how amazing it was to have that child placed in your arms. You will be awed daily. A tiny weak frail child will be the strongest person you have ever met. This child will teach you more about life than anyone ever has, without ever saying a word. Get ready to burst with pride and joy and so so much love.

6) You’re never going to see the world the same way again. I know that you already see blessings and God’s beauty, but trust me when I say that this world is even more beautiful and amazing than what you see right now. After this journey, a child’s laughter will sound even sweeter. Your husband’s hand in yours, no matter where you are at, will be the best place in the world to be. You will appreciate a nap and a tidy home even more than you do now. The sweet smell of rain will seem like God’s little miracle just for you. A smile will creep up your face more easily. You will fear things that you’ve never thought of before. And you will run towards and embrace things that currently scare the pants off you… like the words “special needs.” Your priorities and goals that you value now may be shelved and forgotten forever. But soon, you’ll have a much better appreciation of what’s really important and truly beautiful in this world.

7) You will doubt yourself. You will doubt your decisions, your worth, and your ability to do what you willingly and gladly chose to do. You’ll lose sleep. You will have times when you are sure that God overestimated your capabilities, and you will plead with Him to lighten your burden. And because you not only chose, but actively sought out this adoption path, you will feel unworthy to complain or stress or regret… yet at times you’ll feel quite unworthy and have stress and feel regret. Know it’s ok to change your mind. It’s alright to re-assess and change directions. It’s ok to quit and take up a different path. And in this process, you’re confidence will grow strong.

8) Through your adoption journey, you will learn more about yourself than you thought possible. You’ll learn that you are stronger than you thought. You’ll learn that you can be pulled in a gazillion different directions and still get everything that needs to be done, done. You’ll learn who really loves you. You’ll learn to walk away from the things that don’t really matter and concentrate your energy on the things that do. You’ll learn lessons in patience, and you’ll come to appreciate how amazingly proactive you can be. Some things that you think are important right now, won’t even be a thought in five years. And things you never even considered, will completely occupy your thoughts and your actions.

9) Although you will learn so much and gain strategies and techniques to become a better parent, you will never get to a place where you feel like you pretty much know what you are doing and feel totally confident in your decisions and actions. You will not have all the answers all the time. And that’s ok. On many occasions you will feel like you are going crazy and are completely out of control. Do the best that you can do at the time, because actually that’s all you can do. Listen your gut. You’re going to make mistakes, lots of them in fact, and try not to feel guilty about what you did wrong or what you could have done better. It’s ok to wing it. It’s alright to pretend. Go ahead and fake it till you figure out a better way.

10) Five years later, in some ways, your life will be just as you had imagined. And in some ways it will be very different. Five years later, you will still be on this adoption journey, and you will realize that it is a journey that lasts a lifetime. There is no destination, just the journey itself. It doesn’t end the day you unite with a child. That day is just the beginning. Five years later, you will be so very amazingly happy. You really will be! And it doesn’t stop there! You be content. And confident. And so fulfilled. And the Lord will bless you more abundantly than you ever dared to ask for. And five years later, you’ll be so very sure that the adoption journey was one that you were meant and called to do.

I understand that you really won’t be able to appreciate these words now. I know that without the experiences behind them, they are just that… words. You can’t really understand the depth of what I’m saying now. But you will in five years.

Nancy (in 2012)


June 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

It was 9 am, and I was still in my jammies. Everything seemed stable, everyone fed, playing nicely, so I stole a moment to get dressed and splash my face with water… or at least I tried to.

Mid-pulling up my pants I heard the shrieking. Tess’s shriek is unmistakable. It’s a guttural wounding, and it’s also her knee-jerk reaction to her loss of control. It’s very loud. It’s not a natural cry. Someone else might think she was fatally wounded. But I know better, likely because I hear it every day. She has to work hard to cry like this, yet it comes so easily to her. It is her first line of defense. A natural offense when she feels she’s been wronged.

It’s all a contradiction in parenting.

Still pulling up my pants, with hairbrush in hand, I walked toward the noise, and I saw her… Tess in the fetal position, tears streaming, under the kitchen table, shrieking.

Tess had been rough with the boys earlier that morning. Jude is completely all consumed with the big boys, and Tess doesn’t always react well to sharing her bestie. In the midst of playing cars, a place the boys didn’t want a girl, she struck Jude in the head with a car. Boo came to Jude’s defense. And Tess knew she was in the wrong. But sharing one’s bestie isn’t easy stuff and as usually happens, I knew there would likely be additional repercussions to deal with. Tess knows how to hold a grudge. I was right, and about an hour later, there she was shrieking under the table.

I urged her to come to me. Come get some loving sweetheart.

No! she yelled at me.

Please come and cuddle with me, Tess.

No! again.

Her words were resistant.

But her body was not, and I pulled her out from under the table and scooped her up and took her into my arms.

She was fighting me and giving in all at the same time.

I sat on the couch and cradled her, like a newborn, her head in the crook of my arm, tummy next to mine. Limbs extending in all directions.

This cradling position does not come naturally to our girl. What usually comes naturally to a child, we had to teach her, like how to be comforted when she’s hurt. She doesn’t naturally like or want physical or eye contact, especially when she’s upset and has lost control over the situation. Her brain searches for any way to get the upper hand.

So although she was resistant in words, she knew what to do and gave in.

Then something amazing happened, something new… she spontaneously told me what was wrong.

I want to be Boo’s best! He closed the door! I have tears! She pointed to her eyes and purposefully shut her eyes hard then opened them, repeating it to squeeze more tears out. Then she returned to her default coping mechanism, she put her fingers in her mouth, salivated on her lips and mouth. She cries.

This talking to me and telling me why she was upset was new! This hadn’t happened before. Not only does she often not have the vocabulary and communication skills to explain, but even if she did, she doesn’t want to risk being vulnerable. The physical contact of being comforted is often as much, or even too much for her to handle. These are the very real side effects of parenting the wounded child. So usually I am left to guess what’s wrong, have the other kiddos clue me in, and attempt to piece together the puzzle and figure out what’s in Tess’s head.

But this morning, still pants-less, she told me why she was upset, without assistance, without being prompted, and without hesitation.

This morning as she relaxed her body against mine, her eyes full of tears met mine, and surprisingly it was her knee jerk reaction to tell me what was wrong, and in doing so ask me to fix it. Most importantly, she became vulnerable.

God, thank you, for another ordinary miracle.

Baby steps.

Still cradled in my arms, I repeated what she said to me.

Acknowledgement is powerful.

You want to be Boo’s best friend. He didn’t want you to play with him, and he closed the door to his room so you couldn’t come in. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.

She knew she has been heard.

She quickly sat up and spun her body around, and sat in my lap, facing outward. She stopped crying.

There is risk in exposing one’s self, and the new body position, facing out and facing away, is much more comfortable for her soul.

I still had my hairbrush in my hands. I began to brush her hair.

side note—Did your mom ever brush your hair? Far past the time that it needed to be brushed. The tangles long gone, and the rhythmic strokes of the brush against your head felt like bliss.

So I brushed her hair for as long as she let me. It’s physical contact that’s not direct but still stimulates. And the brush strokes seemed to melt away her fear and sadness, her sweet smile came back.

Mimi toddled up. We brushed her hair too.

Tess offered to brush my hair. At 9am, there were still lots of tangles still. She was ok hearing my ouch and redirection to be gentle.

About 30 minutes later, she came up to me.

I think Boo is my bestie now. High five?

And she offered me her hand up in the air, so I gave it a slap and maybe more importantly a smile as our eyes met.

Yes, Tess, all’s good.

You’re alright.

We’ll keep doing it together.

These are the baby steps of parenting the wounded child

Our early intervention

May 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments

Our girly qualified for Early Intervention services.

Our sweet lovely amazing daughter is delayed.

I don’t want it to be that way.

But it is.

And it’s no surprise either.

We went into international adoption with our eyes wide open, preparing for the worst and praying for the best. Her delays were completely expected.

There’s a dichotomy in my heart. I want everything to be perfect for her. I want it to be easy. And yet I don’t. I know that there are wonderful blessings in overcoming. But then I see and hear how wonderfully the other children adopted from her orphanage around the same time and/or same age are doing. How “advanced” they are. Potty trained. Speaking words and sentences. A vocabulary so big it’s hard to keep track. Gross motor skills beyond her’s. Better muscle tone and strength.

And she’s just not.

And it’s ok.

I’ll continue repeating my mantra… there are blessings in overcoming.

So why is there something in my heart that takes pause when I think about the delays my girl has? I mean, I expected this, right? I was mentally prepared for this… right?

So why does the label hurt?

Maybe being mentally prepared and having your child that you’ve fallen so amazingly and deeply in love with, officially labeled are two different things entirely.

Yet, we’re thankful that we have the resources to get the assistance she needs.

Enter – Early Intervention.

Both Tess and Jude qualified for Early Intervention when they were 1 year old. So I referred Mimi to be evaluated as soon as came home from China. Yes, you can refer your own child. And yes, I did it online because in reality I’m more likely to follow through with things that are easy peasy. I Googled “Early Intervention” and my state and quickly found the referral form and clicked send. I received a phone call within a couple days and had an evaluation in our home in a couple weeks after that. They evaluated Mimi in many areas, including, gross and fine motor skills, speech, cognitive delays. She qualified with significant speech delays.

Mimi has speech therapy, in our home, once per week.

Enter – Betsy, our speech therapist and now my friend.

Through Early Intervention, we had 8 therapy sessions a week with Tess and Jude. They were 12 months old when they came home so truth-be-told, 1 session per week now feels like cake. So far with our 3 kiddos that have been in Early Intervention we have had speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, eating/food therapy, cognitive/emotional assistance, and a couple more specific programs I can’t remember.

A few take away notes.

—For the most part, we schedule times that work for our schedule. I’m not horribly picky about times, but then again, it doesn’t do us much good if 6 other kids are mulling around interfering during speech therapy. So we usually schedule morning sessions when the other children are out of the house.

—Almost all the therapy we’ve done has been in our home. No need to load up in the car and spend time driving to and from appointments. It’s taken me a bit to get past the therapists seeing my dust bunnies and morning hair. But they really don’t care.

—Early Intervention services run till our child is 3 years old. At the child’s 3rd birthday, the program (and I believe it’s this way in other states) transfers to a pre-school setting run by our local school district.

—Therapists differ in their styles. If therapy feels like a waste of your time, (and I had a couple that were) ask for a different therapist. For the most part, I think we really had wonderful very professional and knowledgable therapists that loved their jobs.

—I love the fact that while I sit and watch these therapy sessions, and sometimes helping out, I’m learning how to help and interact with my child all day every day. These weekly reminders of how to help her are invaluable.

—Every week I have an opportunity to talk with a professional and ask questions. Just this week I asked our speech therapist, Should we be building her vocabulary at this point or putting more effort into combining 2 and 3 words phrases? Could she be loctose intolerant? and How many words should a 26 month old be speaking? It’s a wonderful resource at my fingertips every single week.

—Almost all the sessions we’ve had, have been entirely play based. We play and learn all at the same time. The children have loved their therapy and genuinely look forward to it. They are giddy when they hear the doorbell ring and run to greet their friend (therapist) at the door.

—It takes a while to get into the Early Intervention system, get evaluated, and get therapy scheduled. So this go around, we wasted no time getting Mimi referred. It took about 2 months from the day I sent her referral till the first therapy session. And since it only lasts until she is 3 years old, I’m glad we didn’t waste any time. After all, studies prove that the earlier services are started, the better they work.

—Did I mention that all of this is free to us? And that even the evaluation is free? Yea, it is! Would it happen if it wasn’t? Maybe not.

3 and a half years later, Tess still qualifies for speech services. When she starts Kindergarten in the fall, she will continue to get extra assistance. Even though Mimi was adopted a year older than Tess, Mimi’s delays aren’t as significant. And we don’t think Mimi will need the therapy as long as her older sister.

try it.

Like I mentioned, I wish our sweeties didn’t need the extra help. But I’m so so very thankful that I live in a community that helps us get that help when we need it.

Because after all, there really are blessings in overcoming.

Attachment in the Trenches

April 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

When we were in China, we traveled with several other families. In our travel group, I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that we had “the crier.” Unlike the other happy, giggly children in the group who were quick to return their parent’s smile, our sweetie was unhappy much of the time. Despite our efforts, she rarely smiled and often cried. I even had the young daughter of another family come to me and say on more than one occasion, “Your baby cries a lot. What’s wrong with her? Our baby is happy.”
Rationally, I knew that her grieving meant that the attachment process was in full swing. And that is a really good thing. That made everything else totally bearable. But grieving, no matter what form it takes, still made my heart sad right along with hers.

So rather than worry about my daughter’s sadness, I concentrated on capitalizing on her attachment process and doing all I could to reap every ounce of bonding that I could. It was just a change in my mindset. Being proactive helps me get through tough times.

Now that we have a solid 7 weeks under our belt, things are much easier, and our journey continues to get easier every day. It’s so good that I often forget that this process of attachment is still in full swing. Lest I entirely forget, a meltdown surely happens, and I resort back to my China-travel attachment bag-o-tricks.

The following are notes I wrote down while in China and while we were completely in the trenches of attachment. I can’t tell you how happy I was to stumble across this list a couple weeks ago. When push comes to shove and I have a screeching toddler at my ankles while I’m trying to get dinner on the table, or when things just seem off, it’s hard for me to remember specifically what to do. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the moment and frustrated and forget practical techniques.
My linear mind loves resorting to list at times like these.

So here it goes. Maybe it will help someone else out there too.

—The Ergo is my best friend. My Ergo allows eye-to-eye contact and physical closeness, on the front, not the back. It correctly aligns the baby’s spine, unlike other carriers that suspend baby leaving their legs dangling downward. I’m sure there are other good carriers too, but I’m most familiar with Ergo. Just avoid carriers that “hang” a baby by their crotch. A baby carrier also makes it so no well-meaning person (waitress, Grandma, random Chinese granny…) can take your child from you. If you have a Velcro baby, it makes it easier to get any sleep on the plane (no fear of dropping baby if you doze off), get the essentials done, and enables me to use bathroom and not set her down. TMI I know, but still wanted to pass it along.

My father and I waiting our turn for some street food in Guangzhou. My Ergo always held her securely against with me when we went out… as well as much of the time when we were in the hotel too.

—In the beginning, we stick to only one person to meet all her needs. All her food, drink, toilet, diapers, bathing, nose wiping… everything. We added another caregiver, Papa, later, a few weeks later when we felt like her attachment with me was solid. Then others as time went by. This one person caregiver in the beginning is harder than it sounds. Our sweetie took a liking to her 13 year old brother within days. And he instantly ADORED her as well and wanted nothing more than to feed her and offered to give her a bath and more. I was often tuckered out which meant I would have LOVED to say yes when he offered help. But I knew that I needed to be the only provider of her needs. So in the beginning, I tried (emphasize the word try, sometimes I have to snag a break) to do everything for my new daughter.

—In China, we often skipped the side trips and tours. I had a very hard time with this one. I think it’s important to get to know the culture of my daughter. I wanted to be able to know China and appreciate it so much that I can tell her all about her land of birth. But, in the end, attachment comes first. So I found that often we skipped the excursions and gave my new daughter 100% of my time, if I felt I needed to that day.

—We did it together. We co-slept. I’m a very light sleeper and need my sleep to act like a human being the rest of the day, but co-sleeping, or some version of it, ensures that our new daughter knew we weren’t going to leave when she dozed off. Nap together. Eat together. We let this also include co-bathing too. In the bath or shower, which ever works. She evidently doesn’t mind baths, and I think she found them relaxing. Much to my dismay, she is however scared to death of the shower. Both Jude and Tess showered with us for months while we held them and relaxed as the water drizzled on them. They also liked to play at my feet with toys in the shower as I washed my hair.

—Not too much too soon. Put away the crazy loud toys and things that over stimulate. Our two favorite toys that we took on our China trip were stacking cups and a small rain stick. These two toys are amazing. They are ENOUGH for the whole trip along with the toys she finds in the room (peek-a-boo with a blanket, empty water bottle with a coin in it…) I try to carry this over to accessories too. As much as I’d like to stick a hair bow in her hair, she’s just not ready for it, so I’m trying to resist the temptation accessorize my sweetie. She’s made it clear she didn’t want anything in her hair, so I’m giving them up for now. I have some really cute ones though.

—Forget training up the way of a child… for now. Spoil her. Let her have candy. As I learned on this trip, let her sleep however and whenever she wants, as long as she sleeps. Skip the highchair if your child resists it and let her eat on your lap. Or skip your lap and let them eat in a highchair if your child isn’t ready for you yet. Scoop up a crying, falling, toppled little one even if you know she’s not really hurt. Let it all be about attachment and being there for her every little need while you’re traveling and when you first get home.

—Games and finger-play songs the promote eye contact are now some of her very favorite things to do. Her favorites include peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, horsey horsey carry me, round and round the garden, this little piggie, itsy-bitsy spider. I seat her on my lap, facing me and we sing and do the hand movements together. The giggles are the icing on the cake!

—Massage is a very good thing. I purchased a lotion in a scent I loved before we traveled. At least once per day, I massage her, usually her feet and legs. Massage is a favorite after her bath and at bedtime. It calms her down, and she genuinely loves it. And the skin contact between us is invaluable.

Truth be told, with some adaptations for the age of the child, these things work for all my children. Sometimes my 9-year-old just needs to sleep with his mama. And sometime playing a game with the big kiddos is just the thing to break the ice after a tough day.
Although I don’t think I’ll be carrying around my teenagers in the Ergo anytime soon.


March 26, 2012 by nohandsbutours 6 Comments

In the middle of the night, between the screeching and the pinching and the hitting…

…the sweetest moments happen.

Since coming home, Mazie and I have been awake 4-6 hours every night with only 1 exception.

In the middle of the night while we sit on the couch, without knowing it, my head falls backwards, and I start to doze off. Mazie stokes my cheek to get my attention. To have me look at her again.

She wants my attention.

She wants my eyes on hers.

She wants me to see her.

Her sweet smiles and little rumpled-up nose grin appear in the wee hours of the morning.

She loves to have her feet and toes massaged and I can easily accommodate her at this late hour. She places her feet in my hands until I rub them. And when I stop she wriggles her foot back into my hand and fusses until I start rubbing again.

Somewhere between 2-3am last night, (or maybe that makes it this morning) she let me cradle her as she finally dozed off. She tried so hard to keep her eyes open. And each time she opened her eyes she saw me looking at her, and she couldn’t help but smile. At me. Again and again she’d smile as she saw me gazing at her during that in-between time between sleep an awake.

These are the sweetest moments.

I had forgotten how hard and incredible the middle of the night can be with a new baby.

And yet, my second time around through an international adoption journey, and I find myself wondering if reentry was this hard last time. I know in reality it was even harder last time. But I’m reminded how hard this work is.



Physically my body is shot, and in the first few days when I was so sick, much of the time I literally couldn’t do anything more than just observe. The nausea, the jet lag, the incredible fatigue is overwhelming sometimes.

Additionally, mentally this is so difficult.

The what-ifs creep in.

My family and my home that ran so smoothly before we left, is now in constant shambles. I’m not able to find the ability to tuck in Tess and Jude each night, or snuggle with Boo like he craves. I find myself doubting my ability to successfully run this home. The house is a total wreck. The meals I filled my freezer with are still sitting in the freezer untouched. My temper is short. The laundry is piling up and the dishes need to be washed.

This is hard work.

I rest in the fact, that this is all part of the transition.

My transition.

Our family’s transition.

Sweet Mazie Jade’s transition.

This isn’t reality yet, and yet it is my reality now.

These are all part of the process of a child being uprooted completely from all she loves and knows in an instant and being transferred to something completely foreign and new.

This is all part of the process of dropping a child with 2 years of history into a family unit.

I rest more easily knowing that this processing she is going, that we are all going through, is compounded by lack of sleep, a complete change in diet and routine, jet lag…

I’m trying to get outside a bit each day, trying to let the sunlight hopefully work it’s magic and restore our bodies’ clocks.

Trying to get over the difficult hurdle of reentry.

Mazie loves it outside. We all love it outside. Balls, bubbles, and the grass between our toes.

With the exception of the reentry itself, what’s not to love.

March 8, Thursday: {the orphanage visit}

March 9, 2012 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

There is so so much to say.

I am emotionally drained and still trying to find my peace.

Today was the visit to the orphanage. 3+ hours one way.

So many feelings and bits of new information, and a better understanding of our girl.

My head is swimming trying to process it all. Initially I think it is the hardest thing I’ve done in this adoption adventure. I’m still so very glad we went. Not all families have this opportunity. Truth be told, very few China adoptive families have this opportunity so we are among the lucky few.

I learned more about her “special need.” Still processing it.

I learned some details of her abandonment. The mention of a “card board box” made me cry all over again.

I saw 2 children whose mamas are coming for them very very shortly. They are both just gorgeous.

Mazie was whisked away from me even before I had a chance to get out of the van. As we entered the care center, she pointed down the hall and said mama. She knew where she was going. I had never seen her point before, much less close to being this relaxed and animated. There was an ease about her in her other mama’s arms.

I didn’t even try to hold her again until it was time to leave. And that was alright by me. Mazie was at ease for the 2-3 hours we were there, and I wanted to give her that at least.

At the end, our guide instructed us, foster mama, me, and Mazie, to all hug. To show our girl that we liked each other and this hand-off was ok with us all. We did. My little one clenched every muscle in her precious little body as I approached and touched her in our embrace.

Our guide asked foster mama to tell our amazingly strong girl, in her own words, that I was her new mama now. And that it was ok that with the foster mama, that Mazie come be with us forever, her new family. That she would always love her and remember her. Foster mama brushed her cheek against our new daughter’s temple and quietly said these things to her. My tears were already coming at this point. I think foster mama’s were too. Mazie’s would be far behind.

Then our guide said to quickly take the baby and get into the van. I didn’t want to take her at all. I wanted her to be given to me. But it wasn’t physically possible.

And I did the best I could wrestling with a very very angry child.

We saw foster mama wipe away the tears as we left.

Unlike the hand off 3 days earlier, Mazie was fierce this time. In the van heading back, she recoiled her body and thrashed. She repeatedly pinched and hit me. She arched her back and threw back her head as she screamed The only thing I could do was keep her from hurting herself and pray over and over and over. She screamed until she was doing it in her sleep. And ultimately she collapsed into sleep in my arms. Only to sleep-cry some more.

There is so much more.

But I have to get this down before I forget the details.

This child was loved, and this child loved hard.

And this is all very good in the end.

My Mazie woke up finally in the van about 90 minutes later, and we were back to where we were when we woke that morning. Stoic and very much attached to me.

I understand so much more about her personality now, the extent of how much she was spoiled, and what she is capable of. And she is capable of so very much!

If anything, this trip to the orphanage has been wonderful closure for me. I’m ready to move one and proceed with tomorrow. And this is one of the best parts.

I intend to post lots of happy pics next post.

Or at least not crying ones.

She really is doing better this morning. She is waving bye-bye and letting other people interact with her. Her transition is a slow work in progress, but it is surely making progress. I hope the visit to the SWI in hind sight will be a turning point.

March 7, Wednesday: {grief}

March 7, 2012 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

If the posts recently have been hard to read, you may want to skip this one.
I put it out there for those who might be in our shoes next.
Our girl is grieving so hard.
I mean very hard.

So much harder than Tess or Jude ever did.
Harder than the other babies in our group.
So much harder than I imagined possible.

I will make the leap, and say that this child was surely loved and cherished so much or else she couldn’t possibly be this devastatingly heartbroken.

I was prepared for all sorts of reactions to grief.

But I heard someone say one of the most important things to remember in international adoption is to expect the unexpected.

I know full well that the grief is a wonderful sign that the process is underway. But didn’t expect the depth of her sadness. Maybe I did expect it. But until you witness the depth of it, I think perhaps it is impossible to comprehend. How amazingly deep her sadness goes. Our Mazie has lost everything in her world in an instant.

—She is almost always silent. Unless she is weeping. It isn’t a scream. It’s more like weeping that comes from deep within her.

—Any attempt to change any part of her clothing, (remove a shirt, take off a shoe, put on a jacket. close a button…) throws her instantly back to her grief. So we let her remain in what she is wearing until it’s just so dirty I can’t take it. She spent a good 2 hours of today with only one arm in her jacket, the other end dangling, as I could get her to take it off. If it weren’t for the sweat rolling off her, I would have let her wear it to bed.

—Leaving the hotel room throws her spinning back to grief. So does knock on doors, entering elevators, and entering/leaving buildings.

—She will not nap. Except for cat naps minutes at a time when I carry her.

—Entering into or out of most all buildings can trigger her.

—She is hoarding all she can in her tiny fists.

—Diaper changes lead to instant screaming.

—Riding in cars seem to scare her. But we have appointments to keep.

—The scratching continues anywhere she can reach. We are re-directing with toys and finds the advantage of the aforementioned hoarding. It’s hard to scratch when your hands are full of stuff.

—She will not let herself lay down. So she falls asleep each time sitting up. Then I lay her down.

—She has only had about 2-3 ounces of water since we got her. No formula at all even though we were told she takes two full bottles a day.

I was unprepared for the depth of her grief. Maybe you just can’t prepare to witness and be a part of something like that.

She is heart broken. Her grief at times seems palpable. It is a blessing that she is attaching to me. But with this attachment comes the realization that I can not make it better. She often looks directly in my eyes, longingly, and seems to know it all. She seems to fully comprehend the permanence of her situation. And then her big silent tears come, and then the weeping. all in that order. She looks so longingly into my eyes as if to ask me to help her. And of course I can’t. At least in the way that she longs for. So sometimes I cry along with her.

The good news…

—She is attaching very very well. To me. But won’t have anything to do with Papa. I am sad for him as this rejection would be hard on any father. He loves her so very much. It’s hard for him. I’ve seen first hand what good attachment looks like and what poor attachment looks like. And sweet Mazie’s attachment so far has been so much more than we could have hoped for. A huge blessing that makes the grief more bearable.

—Her appetite is healthy. She’s picky as all get out, but when we find the right foods, she gets her fill. She especially likes congee, steamed bun, tangerines, noodles, bananas, and yogurt.

—I don’t think she has/had scabies. Rather eczema and she allows me apply liberal coats of Aquaphore and lotion several times a day, as long as I don’t attempt to unbutton, unsnap, or remove any article of clothing. Coupled with the constant sweat from being “bundled” the Chinese way, she and her clothing are filthy.

—She has slept well each night. Which isn’t that surprising seeing as how much work the grief is all day long. Co-sleeping is working well for us both.

We head to the orphanage next. It is not something I’m looking forward to. But I do think it will be a blessing in the end.

Monday, March 5: {beginnings}

March 5, 2012 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

There was rain and then a traffic jam, and by the time the babies reached the hotel they were two hours past due. They brought Mazie directly to our`room because they were so late, and I was glad for this. On top of the trauma of being passed to us, she was overly tired, very hungry, and drenched with pee from her knees to her chest. I assume she had been in car for at least 6 hours.

And then it happened.

They handed her to me.

She was passed to my arms, and I haven’t let go since. Don’t think I ever will.

She is so very sad. She is looking for her mama everywhere… and it isn’t me. Her cry isn’t screaming but a the most pitiful slow wailing. Each time the door opens she looks for her mama, and once when the door was left open, she tried to make her escape. This is the only time we’ve seen her take a couple steps yet.

Her first dinner was congee and dum-dums. What a fine mother I’m starting off to be. But it was the only things she’d touch. She has still to drink a bottle of formula or water. But she has had a few very little sips of water last night from a cup. She shoves away the bottle everytime we offer although I was told she drinks one twice a day. Time will surly help I think.

These pics, less are the next day, about 18 hours in. The room was so quiet, and it was just her and me. During these seldom moments I catch glimpses of what time holds for us. The window seems to be her favorite spot. (Which for the photographer in me is a dream come true.) She gazes at the cars, I assume looking for her mama, and makes little noises. But for now, each time we go out, when she sees any Chinese woman I think she remembers, and the tears come and shut-down mode resumes.

She’s scratching herself raw almost constantly. She has little scratching scabs everywhere. We’re not sure if it is bad eczema, plain ol’ dry skin, scabies, or perhaps a nervous reaction to all she’s been through in the last 24 hours. I went ahead and treated for scabies anyway.

Her special need and those “delays from an unknown cause?”

Well it’s all still a mystery. There are no more answers after meeting her then there were when we were matched. There is nothing obvious yet. She is obviously significantly delayed, but to what extent remains to be seen. She is shut down and in survival mode almost all of the time so far. This is the leap of international adoption. The unknown. The unknown that can easily bring fear. Unlike our last journey, it hasn’t for me… yet. Maybe it will. For now, I’m totally at peace with whatever will come. Mazie is my daughter, and I’m totally head-over heels in love with someone I just met yesterday.
Amazing how God makes love so strong that it can crush the fear.

It’s not always like that.

And I’m so very grateful to have this peace right now.

The Labor of Adoption

February 25, 2012 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

My head is absolutely full. Overflowing.

T-2 1/2 days.

Really, could I be leaving for China that soon?

Oh yes you can.

I wake up each morning, look out on the floor, and wonder who in the world spilled my brains out all over the carpet. Now how did those get there?

I told myself that this was not going to happen this time. I have again been proven wrong.

I wish I had the serenity of a peaceful expectant mother, with a glow in her cheeks.

I don’t.

My emotions are swinging all over the place. At one moment I giddy, then the next I swing to stress. Still much to do. There are lists everywhere. I’m finally going to hold my daughter in just days! Will she like me? Is she ok? Luggage is spewing from the closets. So many things to keep track of, and I feel like I might be forgetting to do most of them. If I can get an entree on the table at night, the family is in luck that day.

This is the labor of adoption.

Worry, fear, confusions, stress, and pain. Coupled with joy, anticipation, longing, and love.

No different from a biological labor in hind-sight?

I’ve experienced 4 biological labors, 1 with an epidural, 2 without, (one of those resulted in a 10 lb baby) and 1 with an epidural on only the left side, which let me tell you sista’ does not actually constitute an epidural at all in my opinion! If I’m being honest, biological labor was easier. Yes, there was more physical pain in child birth, but in international adoption the emotional upheaval lasts longer and can be far more destructive than the pain of child birth.

Top adoption off with some jet lag, a foreign language, 8,000+ miles, some heavy lifting, and a little traveler’s bug and voilà! You have all the makings of an expectant mama whose emotions are swinging faster than 14-year-old teenage girl.

I’m praying regularly for God to give me peace. For me to be able to feel His hand on me as we start this journey. To surrender. I didn’t do that very well last time. I have no doubt that He has equipped me with all I need. But I have some concern that I’ll be able to access all the tools I’ve been given. I feel like this beautiful child deserves at least this – a mother who is giddy with anticipation and love that she has longed for. Maybe this is part of the myth of adoption. And indeed I am this mother… under a whirlwind of emotions.

I am the Abductor

February 16, 2012 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

This might come off sounding awful,
but here it goes.

When my new daughter comes into my arms, {17 days from today!} I think it’s ok if she cries.
Screaming, wailing, flailing… it’s all ok with me.
And here’s the awful part, part of me is hoping there will be “a reaction” or some kind.  I’m secretly hoping for a big awful transition.  Ya, that must sound awful.  It feels awful too.
You may have guessed that we hope that Mazie will be happy and smiling, and everything goes smoothly on that instant that she is passed to our arms.
But we don’t hope that at all.

You see, we have a child that was passed into our arms that had no reaction at all to being passed to strangers.  No crying, no fear, no shut down, no nothing.  We were just another caregiver in what we assume was a long line of many.  And we’ve seen how that affects a child’s soul long term.

Not that I want my child to suffer. I don’t want Mazie to experience pain and sorrow and grief.   But if I’m to be honest, not only do we hope she cries, but I hope she’s scared.  And frightened.  And even terrified! Maybe so much so that she throws up, even on me.  Or can’t look at me.  Or pees on me.  Or kicks us and bites and tries to scratch our eyes out.  It’s totally ok with us, if she tries to run away.  Or if she bangs against the hotel door, for hours and calls out the only woman she’s ever known as mama.  It’s ok if she does it for hours and even days, and I think it’s good and true for her to be able to process the feelings and emotions.  I hope she has a reaction, any kind of reaction to what is happening to her.
It’ll be heart breaking to see.
It’ll be gut bewitching to watch this happen to our child.
But these things are reactions that we can hope for, if our daughter is having a healthy reaction to what is happening to her.  If she has had a healthy attachment to someone in her past, than these would all be normal reactions.  And I have prayed every single day since I saw her face that she has had an attachment to someone… anyone.

Let’s take Trolley into the land of make believe.
We have a 9-year-old son, Boo.  He knows no other family.  He only knows himself by the name we’ve given him.  He lives in an American style home, wears American style clothes, and eats American style food.  He’s a pretty normal kid.  (and pretty stinkin’ handsome too if I don’t say so myself, but let’s not get sidetracked.)
And let’s pretend that one day, that I drive him to the county court house and give him to a wonderful loving couple from another country.  {Yes, I said “give” him to someone else.}  And maybe they give him a piece of candy and a toy to entice them to their arms.  Surely I would cry as I handed off my child, that I have raised for years, to someone else.  I would cry hard giving my boy to these strangers.  But he didn’t know any of this was going to happen!  I didn’t tell him!  And it soon would become obvious to him that he is being given away.  To them.  To strangers.  Forever.  And away from the only family he has ever known.  He would miss me.  He would miss his family and his home.  A lot!  Miss doesn’t even seem to be the right word for such a life-altering event.
He would soon realize that he knows nothing about this new country, or its people or food or new family.  He doesn’t look anything like them.  They have different skin and hair and clothes.  They smell different.  He doesn’t speak or understand their language, or even know where it is or how he’s going to get there.  The food is weird and he gets hungry.  He only knows that everything he now experiences in different.  Every smell, and taste, and sight, and sound.  And those loving strangers keep touching him.  Maybe they are stroking his cheek or insisting on holding his hand or rubbing his back.  Even his name has been changed to a new one that he’s never heard of.  Nothing at all is familiar anymore.  Despite the fact that these hypothetical new mom and dad seem nice, it’s all different, and it’s very very scary for him.  And he does this all this while grieving his old family and his mama and his papa that he soon realizes he will Never. Ever. See. Again.  He remembers them.  He can’t stop looking for them.  Or stop thinking about them.  And on top of being terrified of it all, it breaks his heart.

Lastly, take away all the ability for this child to process internally and rationally comprehend and communicate even to himself  like a 9-year-old would… because the child is actually only 23 months old.  Same feelings, same terror and panic about being taken away, and same memories about the love she once had for someone that is no longer there… but when you’re a toddler none of it is processed with words and none of it can be explained.  All she’ll know is the moment she’s in right then and right there.  The overwhelming fear and the grief.

This will be my daughter as we get her on March 4.  I Simply. Can. Not. Imagine. the feelings she will have.  She will be taken from her foster parents, the only mama and baba that she has known since she was days old, and driven 3 hours to our hotel.  There she will be given to us. That word “give” seems so trite.  Like it’s candy or a handbag or even a puppy we’re talking about.  It’s not.
It’s a person.
A real live human being, one person being given to another.
A person with
a soul,
and terror,
and panic,
and memories,
and possibility for anything in her future.

When this person, my daughter is given away, to us, I hope it rocks her world!  And if that means that it rocks her world to the point that she is physically ill, then so be it.  I’m fully prepared to accept it all.  Or at least I’m trying to be.  I’m praying like mad that she has attached so well to her foster parents that this transition to us will be momentous.
I’m praying to be prepared to be hit and pinched and bit.
Prepared for screaming.
Prepared for nightmares.
Prepared for rage and overwhelming depression in a toddler.
Prepared for terror in the eyes of a 2 year old being taken from everything that she knows and love.

And I’m prepared be the abductor.

Until the love can shine through.

This is Jude just a less than 5 minutes after he was placed in my arms, September 1, 2008.

It’s with a bitter sweet heart that I look forward to this fast-approaching day of giving and receiving.  I’m so anxious to wrap my arms around her, to claim her {as nobody has done before}as my daughter once and forever, to plant my kisses on her cheeks, and feel the warmth of her head in the crook of my neck.  I want to touch her skin and feel her hand in mine.  But I don’t want to  won’t will try really hard not to exacerbate her fear for my own peace.  A peace she will be so so very far from in those moments.
It will be a fine line of offering our love and not scaring her further.

I pray we navigate this line well enough for her.

The Plan vs The Unknown

February 10, 2012 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

You know that saying…
You want to see God laugh?  Just tell him what your plans are!
I’m pretty sure it went down like that.

In July of last year Papa and I carefully looked over our agency’s special need’s list.  It’s a paper that lists about 50 possible special needs.  Hepatitis C, missing limbs, cleft lip and pallet, dwarfism, deafness, heart problems…  Potential adoptive parents, like us, are directed to check yes, no or maybe next to each special need.  The agency then uses this list to “match” special needs children with potential adoptive families.  Papa and I prayed and talked many many times about it over a couple months.  And we didn’t agree on many things.  Not many at all.  But there were some needs that we did we agree would be something we could tackle and might be a great fit for our family.

But in the end… we ticked only 1 box as yes.  It was our plan.
Only 1 box on the whole paper.
I felt guilty, but still knew it was the right decision for us.
Papa and I knew that by only accepting 1 possible special need, we’d likely have a long wait for a match in front of us.  We decided that we’d wait 6 months then re-access.
Can’t you just see God giggling already.

On September 29th, our agency called us with Mazie’s file thinking she might still be a match for us.  And no, it wasn’t the special need we planned on.

In fact her special need wasn’t listed on the form.
Well… so what special need does she have?  we asked.
Developmental delays.  Delays beyond her peers at the orphanage.
Why? was the obvious follow up question.
It doesn’t say.  They don’t know.  It just says that’s she’s quite behind.  

Oh God, really?  I mean really?  Now?  Jump out of the plane now?
And we did.

So here’s the thing.  Mazie was in the standard non-special needs program.  At 15 months she had some testing done because we assume her delays were evident.  She was tested, and she tested quite low in some s things like walking and language, and she scored average in others.  And again, we’re talking delays significantly beyond the scope of her peer at the orphanage.  So she was transferred to the special need’s program.

We’ve of course consulted with an international adoption doctor who is reviewing Mazie’s medical information and progress, why she might be delayed.  We consult this doctor every time we get any information on her.

We’ve repetitively examined all the photos and videos, and so has the doctor.  We’re all looking for clues to explain away the why’s.  But there is nothing that indicates specifically why Mazie is so delayed.  The orphanage has been asked, and they say they don’t know either.

Here’s the big scary part… don’t let those cute photos with chubby and adorable cheeks fool you.  There are likely very real reasons my daughter is delayed.  Things like autism, brain damage, and cerebral palsy just to name a few… scary words to see next to your child’s name.  Things I’d rather not dwell on for too long.

Mazie’s foster parents are working with her in hopes of “catching her up” to her fullest potential.  What that fullest potential is remains to be seen.
We’ll know much much more when we finally meet her… maybe.  And even though much of that scares us, that’s ok with us.  Until we can answer the why’s, we’ll let our faith will be enough.

International adoption, and especially special need’s adoption is full of unknowns.  And honestly, maybe it is better that Mazie’s “unknowns” so out in the open.  If we had been referred a child that fit into our plan, maybe that would have created a false sense of security.  Maybe we would have fallen into the trap of thinking we knew what type of child we were getting.  And the honest truth is that nobody knows what child they’re going to get… ever.  We don’t know much about Mazie’s needs yet.  And there’s a very real possibility that we won’t know of any of her limitations for quite a while after getting her.   It is so important that adoptive parents go into adoption not only accepting the obvious challenges inherent with international adoption and post-institutionalized children, and special needs they are made aware of, but they additionally need to go into it accepting for the unknown.

We need to be ready for attachment issues, malnutrition, and learning disorders.  We need to be ready to deal with rage, hoarding, shut down, and sensory processing disorders.  We need to mentally prepare ourselves for limitations and the very real unknowns.  And we need to be ready for all of this long term.  None of us wants these things for our children, but for children that grow in institutions and in a life of abandonment and disruption, these effects are a real possibilities.  It’s scary.  But it’s true.  I don’t want to say any of this to scare anyone.  Yes, adoption is ful of amazing unconditional love and rewards and blessings beyond the scope of what I even thought possible!  But it also has the very real possibility of tough challenges, and work, and pain for everyone involved.
And it’s these very challenges that make the rewards so great!
In the midst of my fear about Mazie’s unknowns, we’re preparing for the worst, and praying for the best.  Maybe that’s the best any of us can do.

We received our final travel approval and are hopping on the plane in 18 days!  Not that I’m counting or anything.

Looking back up at the plane, falling through the air, and relying on God,

welcome Nancy

February 3, 2012 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

I am excited to share that we have another new blogging mama who is joining our team at No Hands But Ours. Nancy blogs at Ordinary Miracles and the Crazy 9… and since she says it so much better than I do, here is bit more about her and her growing family! 

My name is Nancy, and I’m tickled pink that the NHBO has invited me to contribute! My hubby, who is an adult adoptee himself, and I have been together since we were teenagers, before the invention of the wheel, circa 1984, even before cell phones and the www. I had always wanted a big ol’ family, and even from my earliest memories, I clearly remember wanting to adopt to build my family. With the most wonderful Godly man and best friend by my side, we now have 6 little ones ages, (several of which are hardly little any more) and another on the way via Jiangxi, China. All of them, ages 18, 15, 13, 9, 4, and 4, are still living at home and this make me a very happy, and very busy mama, who almost always has a laundry pile the size of a small baseball stadium waiting for her.

Oddly, I may be the only contributor to NHBO that hasn’t adopted from China… yet. Our 4 year olds, Tess and Jude, were both special needs adoptions from VietNam that we got just as the program was crumbling to a close in 2008. We adopted them at the same time when they were 12 months old. They were often crib mates at their orphanage in Saigon. Jude was identified as a special needs adoption with bilateral foot deformities. We suspected from his photos that he had bilateral club feet, and this did turn out to be the case. He has had 2 surgeries, much serial casting, a couple years of physical therapy, and still wears a brace 12 hours a day. His special needs were as straight forward and his attachment went smoothly. Contrastingly, his sister, Tess, was not identified as special needs, however it was indicated that she was a preemie with low birth weight of 3 lbs even, (likely 3 months premature) and also likely malnourished. Upon getting her, we quickly realized that there were a host of other post-institutionalization issues that would need to be addressed over the years, including on-going attachment issues that we still deal with.

Our newest bundle of joy, who we are naming Mazie Jade, is an amazingly adorable, almost 2-year-old girl, and is currently living in an orphanage in Jiangxi, China. We will leave to get her in the next 3-6 weeks. Her special needs are a bit unknown, and frankly that’s really scary, but with faith in God, we trust that we will have all we need to provide her with a strong wonderful future. So right now we’re in the thick of waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to bring her home. The waiting is getting excruciatingly hard. But again, with faith we know our time will eventually come. I plan on sharing here on NHBO regularily both before, during, and after our travel. I’m excited to share our feelings and experiences about attachment issues, transitions, and what adoption of special need’s kiddos looks like both in the long and short term.

Over at our family blog, Ordinary Miracles and the Crazy 9, you’ll also find me spending my free time blogging, gathering dirty laundry, dabbling in photography, sorting laundry, cooking VietNamese food, doing more laundry, dreaming of travel, folding laundry, living the chaotic art of having a large family, making far more mistakes than I care to admit, and still doing more laundry. Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about special need’s adoption have been through reading blogs of other families that have blazed the trail before me. I’ve learned the differences between my expectations and reality, and have found comfort when times got tough. I very much appreciate the opportunity to share our ongoing journey and be a part of the NHBO community!