Surviving, Learning, Laughing: A Picture Really is Worth a Thousand Words

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you will know how much I love photography. I had my children photographed many times and their Aunt Bea is a talented photographer who captured many of our family events.

These two pictures tell the story of adoption.

This first picture of them standing holding the balloons and looking very anxious and apprehensive is often times how adopted children feel. While they may feel very lucky and grateful to be in a loving family, many children spend some time simply waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”

They do this because being relinquished is a defining moment in every adopted child’s life. Many researchers and adoption experts agree that every child knows when his or her birth mother has left.

As you can see from this picture however, when adopted children feel safe, secure and loved, they don’t spend every waking moment wondering what will happen next. Through normal and everyday family life experiences, adopted children do learn to relax and enjoy their new lives.

I hope you won’t get tired of me saying so much of this depends on the adoptive parents’ willingness to understand this experience from the point of view of their children — and not themselves.

Check out the Post-Adoption Services section of the Holt website for some useful resources, listed under Suggested Reading.

To hear more from Jane, visit her website:  “You’re My Second Mama, Aren’t You?”

Sam, Minnie and Me — Sam is This Week’s Waiting Child

UPDATE: As of December 2011, Sam has a family! Thank you to everyone who shared his story. And congratulations to Sam!

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

DOB: 7/5/2007

Sam discovers Minnie!

I met Sam* this past summer at an orphanage in northern China.  When I saw his face recently posted to the Waiting Child photolisting, I thought, I have to tell families about this boy!

On a tour of the facility, we moved from room to room, observing children at play, children in school, children in therapy, children napping.  In one room, we came upon a group of small children sitting in a corner.  Many of them just stared, wide-eyed and not quite sure what to make of us.

Not Sam.

Without hesitation, he frog-hopped over to us in his baby blue Crocs (the shoe of choice, it seems, at orphanages in China).  He seemed particularly intrigued with the stuff we brought – Sue’s backpack, my camera bag.  His little fingers immediately went rummaging through an open pocket, where to his delight, he came upon a Minnie Mouse keychain – a recognized character, and an obvious toy in his estimation.  Together, we sat and shared a moment of common understanding… over Minnie.

Sam is 3 and has some special needs, including paralysis of his upper left limb.  Abandoned within a month of his birth at a nearby hospital, Sam’s only known family are the caregivers and other children with whom he was raised at the social welfare institute.  His caregivers report that he is talkative and likes to sing, play games and clap his hands.  His favorite toy is a little car and he likes to eat bananas and oranges.  Although he can be stubborn and sometimes fights over toys, Sam generally gets along well with other children.

He is, his caregivers say, an extroverted child with a ready smile.  To this, I can adamantly attest!

* name changed

For more information about Sam, contact the Waiting Child department.

For information about adopting from China, click here.

Help Sam, the Waiting Child of the Week, go viral! Forward this to friends and family. Share every week at church or a community group. And repost to your own blog, Facebook page and company site. With the simple press of a button, you can change Sam’s life forever!

Mason’s Story — Spearfish, South Dakota Family Adopts from Ethiopia

After a mission trip to Zambia in 2008, Mariah Gill fell in love with Africa.  Her love of this country led the Gill family to another love….their son, Mason.  Mariah and her husband, Brian, brought Mason home from Ethiopia in January.

“I say go for it — God will work things out,” says Mariah of adoption. “If it’s in your heart and you have a desire to do it, go for it. There’s never a better time.”

Click here to read about the Gill Family’s Journey to Ethiopia and Mason….

Click here to learn more about Holt’s Ethiopia program

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Don’t Go it Alone

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children.

by Jane Ballback

The story of the woman who sent her newly adopted son back to Russia put a spotlight on how complicated international adoption can be. So much depends of course, on the way the adoption was handled, whether a legitimate and ethical agency was used, how old the child is, and how prepared the adoptive parent is. Many people, I’m sorry to say, really believe that love will be enough to solve all problems.

I had almost an ideal international adoption experience. I used Holt International Children’s Services, in my mind one of the most ethical and credible agencies in the world. I adopted from Korea where they have a well-established foster program so my children were not institutionalized, and they arrived when they were five months old. It doesn’t get much better than that and I still had many issues to deal with.

I’m reminded of the woman I met a few years ago who adopted a five-year-old from a county program that takes kids from foster care and works to find a permanent family. This woman was well-educated and well meaning. What she was not, was prepared for her new son. When she and I first met, her son had been in her home a year. It was Christmas time and she was telling me that the previous Christmas her newly adopted son tore open all of the packages, despite the fact that he was told he needed to wait. She also told me of several other behaviors that she found strange in a five-year-old boy. He seemed to her to be much younger than his chronological age. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Don’t Go it Alone”

Something Worth Fighting For

*Trent Needs a Family

by Ashli Keyser, managing editor

DOB: March 13, 2007, Africa

Two months after I started work at Holt International, I helped advocate for the adoption of “Melissa”, an almost 14-year-old girl from China who, in just four months, would lose her international adoption eligibility. It would be the first time that I really understood my purpose at Holt: to find this little girl a family, before it was too late. This was my calling.

Not just me, but the entire Holt staff rallied around Melissa. One staff member even wrote a touching story about her for Holt’s e-newsletter, summing up Holt’s mission in a single poignant line: “Melissa is excited to have a family of her own,” she wrote. “At Holt, we believe this dream is worth fighting for.”

 

Trent needs a family

A dream worth fighting for. I think about this line often, especially when describing Holt’s “Waiting Children.” Older children, like Melissa, and children with special needs will often wait longer to have families of their own. It takes a unique and tremendous amount of commitment and care to bring a Waiting Child into ones home. And it simply isn’t for everyone. But at Holt, we believe it’s something worth fighting for.

We fought for Melissa, and she is now home with a loving family. And we fought for Soo-hoon, “Sonny,” an older child with Down syndrome. In a week, Sonny will celebrate two years home with his family. Called by God to care for orphans in their distress, Holt presses on to find families for each and every child regardless of age or physical challenges.

Bertha Holt once said, “all children are beautiful when they are loved.” Her quote has since become a hallmark of this organization. It’s what keeps Holt going even when finding a family for a particular child becomes difficult, or seems impossible. We fight for the child — and all the children —  and never give up.

With that, I give you Trent.

I met Trent in Ethiopia last April. Bombarded with adorable children when I walked through the door of the Addis Ababa transitional center, I took time to

Holt board member, Dr. Becca Brandt greets Trent at the Addis Ababa transitional center in Ethiopia.

make sure each child felt special and acknowledged. It was different with Trent though. When I saw Trent, he made me feel special. His smile made me feel like he had waited all day for me to walk into the room. His high fives and soft hugs made me determined to find this little guy a permanent home.

I simply cannot wait for Trent’s future family, whoever they may be, to walk in the door, and have Trent greet them with the same charming smile, and the same gentle and enthusiastic embrace that he greeted me with.

Only this time, it will be different. It will be forever.

Abandoned as an infant and found wrapped in a cloth, it is suspected that Trent sustained a brain injury in his first months of life, which may have lead to a subdural hematoma and his subsequent developmental delays. He will need medical treatment in the United States and a special family open to dealing with some unknowns.

“[Trent] is doing so much better since the last time I saw him,” said Holt board member Dr. Becca Brandt, on a medical campaign to Ethiopia in November. “He now has many words. He knows all the nannies by name, uses phrases such as ‘give me please’ and is saying much more. Trent can walk with support, loves giving kisses and is very affectionate. He even blew me a kiss to say goodbye,” continued Brandt.

I have faith that one day Trent will have a family of his own. It may take a lot of advocating on his behalf. It will most certainly require prayer. It may not be easy, but remembering Trent’s smiling face, I know someday it will all be worth it. It’s something worth fighting for.

Trent is worth fighting for.

For more information about Trent, contact Kristen Henry at kristenh@holtinternational.org.

*Name has been changed

Holt Forum Speaker Profiled in The Washington Times

Juntunen family on holiday.

Several years ago, while volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti, Craig Juntunen’s heart was captured.  Her name was Esperancia.  “I can’t explain it at all, other than to say she instantly captured my heart.  I called and told my wife that we were about to become parents,” he told a reporter for the Washington Times. Today, Craig and his wife Kathi are parents to three children adopted from Haiti — Quinn, “Espie” and Amelec.

A father for the first time, Craig felt inspired to write a book about his experience. It’s called Both Ends Burning. Moved to advocate for safer, more efficient and more cost-effective adoption practices, he later founded a nonprofit — also called Both Ends Burning.

“We have a moral obligation to fix this immediately and allow them to come home to loving families,” he says of the children who continue to languish in orphanages.  “There is no shortage of families wanting to adopt and there is no shortage of orphans.  Adults have a responsibility create an efficient and reasonable system to allow these children to flourish.”

On April 15th, Craig Juntunen will speak at the Holt Forum in Washington D.C., a historic gathering of adoptees, families, policymakers and adoption professionals working to “move forward from a 55-year perspective.”

To learn more about this exciting event, click here.

To read the full article on Craig Juntunen in the Washington Times, click here.

Always in My Heart

Fifty-two years later, an early Holt adoptee reunites with his “first father,” Holt President Emeritus David Kim.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

In 1958, David Kim (right) oversaw Holt’s first adoption program, in Korea. Here, Kim shares a copy of his memoir, Who Will Answer, with early Korean adoptee Joey Ko.

Over 50 years ago, in the aftermath of the Korean War, a young boy took his mother’s hand for the last time. Together they walked away from this boy’s childhood home – a one-room shack beside the Han River, a room he shared with his mother, his grandmother and his baby brother – toward the Holt childcare center outside of Seoul. On that day, this boy began a journey that would take him from South Korea all the way to Texas, where a new life awaited him in an adoptive family.

This past May, he traveled to the Holt headquarters in Eugene to revisit that journey.

“It’s just wonderful, man, just wonderful [to be here],” says our visitor as he stands in the lobby, studying photographs of the Holt family. He is Kim Joey Ko, a name that captures in each part a piece of his heritage – “Ko,” a Korean name given by his mother, “Joey” from his American GI father, and “Kim” from the man who accepted his small hand as his mother sought to give her son a better future.

That man is Dr. David Kim, President Emeritus of Holt International. He is also here today.

“Mr. Kim is a legend. He is a blessing to so many children,” says Ko, smiling reverently at the 80-year-old Korean man who in 1956, at the age of 25, Harry Holt entrusted to manage Holt’s first adoption program, in South Korea. In that role, Kim oversaw the adoption of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children. Instrumental in developing the early process of intercounry adoption, he also sought ways to expedite the adoption of the many weak and malnourished children in Holt care. To that end, he became the children’s first legal guardian, a move that authorized him to sign immigration and adoption documents, attaching his name to theirs.

“I was so many children’s first father,” he says as one of those first children, now grown, stands beside him. Many of those children only briefly carried the Kim name, replacing it with the American name of their adoptive family once home in the U.S.

But Ko never took to the name his adoptive family gave him. For a good part of his life, he held onto the name Kim. He’s since pared it down to just Joey… Joey Ko.

Joey Ko’s journey began in 1958, when his mother relinquished him into Holt care. But his journey is forever intertwined with another journey – a journey depicted in photographs throughout the Holt building in Eugene. Moved by the images he saw of malnourished orphans, Harry Holt embarked on an historic voyage to Korea in post-war 1955. That year Harry and his wife, Bertha, urged an act of Congress enabling them to adopt eight Korean children, opening the door for thousands more. With this act, they began a revolution – a revolution in the concept, color and composition of family.

Three years later, Joey Ko became one of 600 Korean children adopted to the U.S. in 1958 by Holt International, then titled the Holt Adoption Program.

“I’m so thankful for the Holt organization,” he says today, 52 years later. “It gave me a new life.”

Ko is a joyful man. Tall and slender, his stance is stooped from a recent back injury. But when he laughs, he throws his whole body into it while still clutching his walker. After attending North Texas University on a scholarship to study music, he became a celebrated jazz trumpet player living in Hollywood, California. And like his “first father,” David Kim, he is a devout Christian.

“I’m glad I know Jesus,” he says, a little silver cross shining on the bill of his black cap. “I was angry at my mother for so many years. I didn’t know why she left me.” He says God urged him to forgive his mother for abandoning him.

Over the years, he’s come to not only forgive, but also understand his mother’s decision. “When you’re an African-American Korean in that time, you’re so rejected,” he says. In Korean society, a culture that places tremendous value on bloodline and great stigma on out-of-wedlock births, Ko’s foreign features and dark skin made him an easy target. He became an outcast, and regularly got into fights with other Korean children. Continue reading “Always in My Heart”

Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: Whoever Welcomes a Little Child

Mrs. Suja Pillai, a 41-year-old foster mother from Pune, India has loved and encouraged 65 children in the last 13 years. Some children have stayed with her for only a few months. Some she has nurtured for several years. She often cares for two children at the same time. One of 26 families currently participating in Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra’s (BSSK) foster care program, Suja cannot imagine her life without the children.

BSSK introduced foster care in 1982 as a way to provide loving, temporary care for children. Being a foster mother requires a lot of time, work and love. When foster parents join BSSK’s program, they participate in a 5-day training to learn how to safely and effectively care for children. Foster parents learn a range of skills, including how to bathe children, boil bottles and prepare food. Regularly scheduled foster parent meetings follow the initial training. In addition to providing training and guidance to foster parents, BSSK helps to offset some of the costs involved by providing a small subsidy for each child, plus money for supplies, clothes and transportation to doctor’s appointments.

Although this support helps with the actual cost of supporting each child, the love and affection each foster parent contributes is priceless.  Suja smiles when asked why she became a foster mother. “Initially I had financial problems and wanted to work from home. Now, I love it and cannot live without the children!” she says.

Suja is now considered one of the most experienced foster mothers in the program, offering guidance and support to some of the less experienced foster parents. She has the formal title of “Head Foster Mother” in the area, which makes her responsible for coordinating 16 foster homes, organizing the distribution of supplies, performing home visits and arranging local transport for doctor visits.

Holding up the photograph of a smartly dressed little girl, she says: “The hardest part of being a foster mother is being able to let go. One child stayed with me for three years before she was adopted internationally.” There are tears in her eyes as she talks about the child she has not seen in ten years. “I don’t know what her life is like now, but I will always know I had some influence.” She smiles through her tears. “That is what being a foster mother is about.”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child

Adoptive parent Jane Ballback discusses internationally adopted children’s need for perfectionism

As you read the title of this blog, you are probably thinking, what in the world is she going to talk about? Adoptive parents might be offended by this title, implying that somehow adoption was a “second-best” option. That is not what this blog is about, but it is a serious topic.

This title, “The Good Enough Child” is actually a book I read several years ago by Brad E. Sachs. It’s an outstanding book and I learned a great deal from it. The subtitle, How To Have An Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, says it all.

How did we get to the point in our culture and society where we needed to have a book like this? How did we get so obsessed with being perfect? There are a lot of answers to this question. Parents who are older, better educated and wealthier than ever before, are raising the bar on the whole issue of parenthood. Parents are generally more likely to have been taught that they have an enormous impact on their child’s future success. And while that’s true, as usual it’s how you go about it that is so important. Many parents feel like if their child does not go to the right school, play the right sport, or evidence some unusual talent or skill, then they will not have a successful life. When I first heard the term “competitive parenting”, I wanted to drop out of the race as fast as I could.

I am one of those parents who believe that I’ve had a huge impact on my children’s lives, but I did it in a way that kept us all sane and centered. The reason this is so important for adoptive parents is that most adoptive children feel an enormous need to be perfect without any encouragement from us. In Patty Cogen’s brilliant book, Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, she writes, “Internationally adopted children feel more strongly and dramatically than other children the pressure to be good and do what is right because deep down they still fear that they did something wrong that resulted in their relinquishment.” Because young children believe that adults cannot make a mistake, this leads them to believe they did something wrong, or they would not have been relinquished.

I saw perfectionism in all three of my children, but this story is about Stacee. Her perfectionism showed up first as she was playing board games as a small child. In the game of Sorry, she would often get to the game first and shuffle the cards so she would have the best ones first. I waited for that behavior to extinguish itself, and it did.

Her need for perfectionism then showed up every time she did something she had never done before. Prior to kindergarten she told me, in a very serious voice, “Mom, I need to learn how to read before I get to school.” No amount of me telling her that wasn’t so did any good. Her answer to that was to take a series of books called Bernstein Bears, and read every one of them until she had them completely understood. Along the way she did teach herself how to read, so she met her goal. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child”

I’ve Just Seen A Face — Danielle, This Week’s Waiting Child

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Born in Africa, DOB: January 15, 2003

I saw her face, and I just knew.  That’s my child.

This is a story told time and again by adoptive families.  They see a face, just a face, and they know.  This is a special child.  This is my child.

In an article for Holt’s winter 2011 magazine, adoptive father Sean Yarger explains how he and his wife knew that the girl then identified as G09-211, now Gemma, was their daughter. “(My wife) had found a face – just a face on the photolisting that she knew she’d be united with at some point in the future,” writes Yarger.  “That’s how strong and immediate the connection can be.”

Recently, while browsing through the photos of children still waiting for families, I too came upon a face – just a face, radiant and joyful – and I knew, this is one special girl.

Eight-year-old Danielle’s child reports read like those of a girl with a different background – a girl treasured by a loving family, showered with affection, supported in all her endeavors.  She is “outgoing and loves people,” shows affection with ease, and is considered “a very social, friendly and receptive child.” She attends the top class at her care center, communicates well in both English and Lungara – her native language – and is always available to help other children with their homework.  She “writes really well at school and her teachers are proud of her.”  Every report is glowing.  Every one reinforcing the last.

But Danielle has no champion at home.  No father to beam with pride when she succeeds.  No mother to comfort her when she fails.   No family to guide her way.

Danielle is her own hero.

And “home” to Danielle is an orphanage – the only home she’s known from the time a probation officer brought her in at 3-months-old, dressed in rags, found abandoned at a local bar.  When she arrived, she had skin rashes all over her body and cried from the pain of scratching them. With treatment, she recovered well.  Five months later, she was admitted to the hospital with severe malaria.

Given time to heal, and nurturing care from attentive caregivers, Danielle began to blossom.  Her report at 14 months states that  “she looks well and is growing steadily.”  Years pass without incident, with steady growth.  Her asthma occasionally acts up.  But mostly, she’s focused on the business of growing  — “growing strong and beautiful,” as her report describes Danielle at age 7.

Danielle, now 8, is already strong and beautiful.  You can see it in her captivating brown eyes and big, confident smile.  This is the face of a girl who loves, and knows she deserves to be loved.  A girl whose favorite activity is skipping.  Who likes to read books, tell stories and sing.  Who loves to draw, color and paint.  A girl who is “always seeking how to get involved and seeks responsibility.”  A hard-working girl, helpful and neat, whose “bed is the most organized at the center.”

A girl with a face – just a face on the photolisting, waiting for a family.

Help Danielle, the Waiting Child of the Week, go viral! Forward this to friends and family. Share every week at church or a community group. And repost to your own blog, Facebook page and company site. With the simple press of a button, you can change Danielle’s life forever!

Contact Holt’s Waiting Child program for more information about Danielle.