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What You Can Do for National Adoption Month

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November is National Adoption Month, which means you will probably see more posts than usual on social media about adoption. But what does it really mean to the families and kids for which it was created? And what can you do to help “celebrate” it?

• What is PTSD?

Our family lives adoption every month of the year, not just November. Five of our children came to us through international adoption, so for us its as much a part of our family as family game night. We have three “Gotchya Days” we celebrate as the days we finally got to take our children out of the orphanage and into our family forever.

With eight children, people often stop to ask us, “Are they all yours?” To which I proudly reply yes. Often that leads to people trying to figure out how I have “triplets” and “twins” that are a few months apart, so I sometimes end up talking about adoption on a daily basis.

The most common question we get is why?

Why did you decide to adopt?

There are approximately 147 million orphans worldwide.

There are nearly half a million children in the US foster care system waiting for permanent homes.

These children are at great risk for having trouble in school, being exploited, abused and left behind by society.

Seventy-four percent of the prison population in the US are former foster kids.

Fifty percent of girls in foster care are pregnant by age 19, further continuing the cycle.

Sixty percent of sex trafficking victims in the US are foster kids.

When we saw stats like that, we knew we couldn’t just do nothing. We were only in our 20s with two toddlers, but we had a family and there were kids that needed one. Further research lead us to Eastern Europe where we read that Ukraine has the most cases of HIV in a European country and is a source for human trafficking due to the high numbers of orphans that age out at 16 every year. Further, we discovered there are extremely limited resources for children born with disabilities, so parents are encouraged to leave their children at the hospital to be taken to an orphanage. Around age 4, these children are usually sent to an institution full of adults with disabilities where they will spend the rest of their lives.

I believe we live in a privileged bubble of ignorance in the United States. Most people cannot fathom what those statistics actually mean — I certainly couldn’t. The first time I stepped foot in an institution to visit a 4-year-old with cerebral palsy, I became nauseous and almost passed out. I’ve looked those statistics in the face and held them in my arms. Once I did that, I could never do nothing again.

Our first adoption was a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy from an orphanage in Eastern Ukraine. She was only 24-pounds, unable to walk or even stand. Her greatest need though, was the trauma she endured from being abandoned as a 2-pound preemie and spending four years without a consistent caregiver. The years following her adoption were some of the most difficult of my life as we lived with what trauma had done, but the faces of the children we left behind haunted me. I would close my eyes and see their faces, their shoes with holes, their little hands reaching out.

I knew we had to do more.

Two years after we brought Mariah home, we decided to participate in an orphan hosting program called “Guglielmo’s Hope” that matches older kids in orphanages with families in the Unites States for several weeks during the summer and winter. We hosted a 7-year-old boy for summer, then again for Christmas with his big brother. I volunteered as a coordinator for Guglielmo’s Hope because I was so in awe of how surreal it is to be a part of orphans getting off an airplane and meeting their host families at the airport. We fell in love with our boys and decided to adopt them both, plus a little brother we had never met. We obviously knew that children in orphanages and foster care are at a huge risk for learning disabilities and emotional difficulties due to experiencing physical violence, as well as drug and alcohol abuse being common in birth mothers who are living in poverty themselves. Honestly though, nothing can prepare you for the struggle that is living with and advocating for children who desperately need support in the public school special education system. For five years after we came home with our three new sons, my life’s focus was getting all four of my adopted children the programs and services they needed to succeed in school.

Adoption for me meant keeping my promise to be the best mom I could, no matter how hard it got. When November rolls around every year, I smile at all the #wecouldhavemissedthis hashtags and adoption memes that go around. But after completing a third adoption trip to Ukraine just last month for our 16 year old daughter, I’ve been left once again feeling the enormity of the orphan crisis. Just weeks ago I had teenagers begging me to find them a family. They text me now. “Please can you find me a family. I want a nice family. Please help me get hosted. Have you found me a family yet?” I took photos of children and interviewed them for hosting programs. I watched as they changed clothes more than once, hoping to look just right to impress a family. I shared their profiles on my social media, but most of them have not been chosen. They are still asking me if I’ve found them a family.

I know that not everyone can do what we have done. Not everyone can host. Not everyone can adopt. But I feel like everyone has a collective obligation to do something. It doesn’t matter where you start, it just matters that you do.

Anyone can share this article to raise awareness.

Anyone can donate to a host program to give an orphaned child a grant.

Anyone can go share orphaned children’s profiles to help them find a family.

Anyone can share Adoptive Family Fundraising Profiles to help them raise agency fees.

Anyone can reach out to adoptive and foster families in their community to offer support.

This November, I hope that you have a deeper understanding of National Adoption Month and are able to not just “celebrate” it, but use the resources listed above to participate in it.

Originally published: November 16, 2018
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