Hello everyone! I feel so excited and honored to serve as a monthly contributor for No Hands But Ours. The NHBO team permeates passion while advocating and providing information, all for the sake of the least of these. I can’t imagine any place I would rather be than working alongside these men and women.
Please let me introduce myself. My name is Amy Abell, and my husband’s name is Ryan. We have three beautiful boys: Noah age 6 (bio), Liam age 3 (bio), and Tucker age 3 (adopted from China in October 2013). Ryan and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary on New Year’s Day and are in the process to adopt from China again in 2015. In previous posts written for NHBO, I have provided steps to take after making the decision to adopt, as well as several ways to afford the high costs of adoption.
Today, I want to take this opportunity to write about our need for strong connections and community. God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another. Our desire for deep, authentic relationships occurs because we are born in His image. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in friendships with people who have a similar lifestyle or beliefs. Our preferences (e.g., movies, books, hobbies, & sports) and passions for causes (e.g., family, health, sanitation, homeless, cancer & clean water) draw us closer together. When people defend the orphan by opening their homes to them, strong connections and the love of a community become more valuable gold.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
Connect Through Your Agency’s Private Facebook Group
During the early stages of our first adoption process, I had very little knowledge of how to connect with the adoption community. I had “liked” our adoption agency’s Facebook page and received their updates in my newsfeed. Six months into our process, I learned that our adoption agency had its own private Facebook group for China families, and I was exposed to a whole new world. Suddenly, I connected with a group of men and women who were embarking on the same journey we were experiencing. Through their posts, I learned all about the adoption process itself. Rather than calling our social worker with a different question every day, I was able to find answers in this online community. I also found myself surrounded by people whose hearts broke for the fatherless. These families provided me with knowledge, shared my passion, and encouraged me during the long waits that occur during the adoption process. Likewise, I was able to provide information to newcomers and encourage other families during their process. Sharing the same agency allows parents to experience a unique community, especially during the adoption process.
Connect With A Close Circle of Friends
In January 2013, three other women and I commented on a Facebook post. Although none of us can remember what the post entailed, we began private messaging one another that day. These conversations have continued for two solid years, and we have never gone more than a few days without communicating. Despite never all being in the same room together, my friendship with these women is not bound by face-to-face conversations, as our connection was built on a strong foundation of our passion for the fatherless and love for each other’s families.
March 20, 2013 was an ordinary day for most people, but it was the day that God brought 6 amazing China moms into my life. We all received a phone call that day that our dossiers had been logged into China’s database. After noticing that we had the same LID, we began a group instant message on Facebook. Although these conversations began almost two years ago, they have continued every single day since. Through these conversations, we have experienced so much life together:
• Laughter over crazy stories, day-to-day shenanigans, and the famous Dirty Dancing lift.
• Heartbreak during unbearable wait times in the adoption process.
• Extreme joy when milestones were met, parents traveled to China, and babies came home to families.
• Intense prayer in times of desperation, sickness, and surgery.
• A space to share our lives, both the joyful days and the difficult times.
As a gift to each other, we made several videos with silly dancing, heartfelt messages, and screams of excitement when one-by-one we left for China to meet our children. I remember when one sweet mom took “Flat Ames” (instead of Flat Stanley) and two other “Flat Friends” to China with her because our travel got delayed. We sent off and welcomed one another home at the airport using Skype and FaceTime. One of these moms is a single parent to her daughter from China, and she has told us many times how much this group of women means to her. So if you are a single mom embarking on an adoption journey, find your people. We need each other.
During our 132 day wait for LOA, I made several new friends who were experiencing the same delay. We provided support for each other during that time through prayer, encouragement, Bible verses, and updated information, remaining friends to this day. Although I have never met these women in person, our friendships are valuable and true. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to connect with and create a community with a close circle of adoptive momma friends. You will bring one another so much joy and support during this emotionally charged, exciting, and challenging time of your life.
Connect with Families Adopting from Your Child’s Province
After receiving pre-approval to adopt our sons, my friend and I created a private Facebook group for families adopting from the same province. This part of China has multiple orphanages, and our group currently has almost 150 members with adoptions over the past 14 years from different parts of the world. The special group is allowing families to make connections with others adopting from the same orphanage, which has potential benefits for both parents and children. For example, several moms had pictures of their little ones with Tucker, and they shared them with me. I have maybe 40 pictures from Tucker’s first 2 ½ years of life, and each one is very valuable to me. He also loves looking at pictures of himself with his friends and nanny in China. My hope is to experience reunions with our families, who are joined together by our children’s common birth place.
Families who have already traveled to this province can provide so much information to those getting ready to travel. Some examples include local restaurants, where to purchase groceries, guides, the orphanage, the nannies, the director and/or assistant director, places to visit, etc. Because of our private Facebook group for Tucker’s orphanage, I was able to connect with an adoptive mom who lives in Arkansas. We learned that we would be together for two weeks, both in our sons’ province, as well as in Guangzhou. Connecting with her before our trip provided so much peace and excitement, and I can’t imagine our time in China without her and her family. Prior to the trip, I also connected with another mom, and although we only got to spend a few days in province together, they left such an impression on our hearts. These friendships will exist for years and years to come.
Connect with Families Who Have Experience with Your Child’s Medical Condition(s)
Adopting through China’s special needs program can be overwhelming, especially to new parents and to parents who are considering a special need with which they have little or no experience. Parents who are well-versed with that condition can provide so much support. Their insight and knowledge can alleviate fear in such powerful ways. These experienced moms and dads provide encouragement when families come home and begin coping with the reality of their child’s needs. They are also a wealth of knowledge regarding:
• Medical experts to contact or avoid
• Hospitals that provide top notch care, services, and programming
• Special camps for children with the same condition
• Conferences to attend to grow in knowledge
• Treatment options for the medical need
Sometimes these groups are very specific to the medical condition (e.g., TSC & PKD). Another group was created a week ago called China Adoption Special Needs Information, and it already has over 800 members. The purpose of this group is to provide a place where potential adoptive families can reach out to experienced mentor moms who have adopted children with that specific need(s).
Some of the strongest friendships you may find are with those people whose children are experiencing the same medical condition. Medical appointments can result in difficult news. The anticipation of medical procedures can be daunting. The recovery from surgeries and simply day-to-day occurrences can be overwhelming. Authentically living your lives together will help people stay connected while showing deep care and empathy during those times. These families will understand your situation in a way that others simply can’t, so lean on one another as you navigate medical and special needs.
Connect at Adoption Related Conferences and Retreats
As more families are opening their homes to the fatherless, the adoption community is growing stronger. Adoption related conferences and retreats exist to support the needs and passion of adoptive parents. This is another opportunity to connect with other adoptive families and experience community with one another. The following is not an exhaustive list but provides some examples.
• Created For Care: Created for Care is a weekend retreat for foster care and adoption moms – filled with sweet community, encouragement, and rest. Two retreats occur in February and March with approximately 450 women attending each one.
• Empowered to Connect: Empowered To Connect, together with Show Hope, hosts this event – a two-day conference designed to help adoptive and foster parents, ministry leaders and professionals better understand how to connect with “children from hard places.” It is ideal for adoptive and foster parents, those considering adoption or foster care and those who are serving and supporting others, including social workers, agency professionals, church staff and ministry leaders, counselors, therapists and others. For 2015, Empowered to Connect will take place in February, April, and September in 3 different US cities.
• CAFO 2015: The Christian Alliance for Orphans’ annual Summit has become a huge part of the Christian orphan care movement. Pastor Rick Warren and Francis Chan are just two of the incredible speakers scheduled this year. General sessions, break-out sessions, intensives, networking, and worship will provide an opportunity to learn while connecting with others who share a passion for the fatherless. This year’s Summit conference will take place the first weekend in May in Nashville.
Additional Ways to Connect During the Adoption Process
In addition to those three ways parents can immerse themselves into the adoption community, many connections and can be made in the following Facebook Groups:
• DTC or Travel (e.g., DTC or Travel Fall/Winter 2014): I have only experienced crazy passionate adoptive parents for the past 2 ½ years, but one thing I know for certain, this type of Facebook group yields a plethora of information. Questions about what gifts to buy for guides and officials in China? Want to know how long current timelines are looking to receive your I800a approval? Curious to learn who might be in China with you? Not sure how to organize your dossier pictures? This is the place to learn all of that and more.
• China Waiting Child Advocacy: This group was established to connect families and children. If you are waiting to be matched with a child, this is a great group for you. Over 3,000 people have joined it with the desire to advocate for children and/or find their son or daughter. I am amazed by how much information exists about waiting children within this group. It is especially exciting to see a family post that they have received preapproval for a child for whom someone has advocated.
• Travel Groups: Congratulations! You are almost to the finish line. Now you want to know who you will meet in China. Travel groups are sometimes created and help with those last minute details. People can connect before traveling, and within this community, they will share so much excitement, sleepless nights, packing frenzies, and so on. Because of the circumstances, this is often a very joyful group of people with a side of sheer panic.
Stay Connected with Your Local Community
When Ryan and I started our first adoption process in August 2012, I did not know anything about the aforementioned groups and conferences. What we did have was the most supportive, encouraging, and loving friends and family. This support was exemplified by a friend running 100 miles while raising $11,000 for our family and 5 other adoptive families. This encouragement came in the form of text messages, prayers, tears, celebrations, letters, flowers, gifts, and honest conversations with friends and family throughout the entire adoption process. This love was shown the night before we left for China when friends brought me letters to open while we were away and then prayed over me with the most beautiful words that have ever been lifted to the Lord.
Many months after coming home with Tucker, I began to feel like I didn’t connect with my friends anymore. I felt an intense, all encompassing heartache for the fatherless, and I felt lonely in that space. I began pulling away from my friends, stopped sharing the milestones reached for this adoption, and no longer asked for prayer. I did not initiate conversations or share my heart with these beloved friends who had supported us in indescribable ways. I tell you this because I don’t want you to make the same mistake. If you have a group of loving, trusting people, don’t wander away from them just because you are on this journey and they aren’t (yet). When they say things that unintentionally hurt you, talk to them. Speak truth in love. Help them understand your adoptive momma (or poppa) heart. If you don’t talk to them about it, then please pour grace over their words. They love you and support you, and please don’t buy into the lie that they don’t. And friends of adoptive families, we need your compassion. We need your support and encouragement. We need your unconditional love during an emotionally charged time in our lives. With grace, truth, and love, these friendships are unstoppable. (I LOVE YOU GIRLS!!)
I hope this post encourages you to stay connected with your local community while gaining new relationships with people in the adoption community. When we are connected to one another, we are strong, encouraged, and loved, which gives us the ability to provide a space of healing for our children. We need each other.
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (Thessalonians 5:11)