Did We Do the Right Thing?

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author: Jamie Ivey

During our adoption of Amos and Story, I made six trips to Haiti and Aaron made just as many.  We tried to be with our kids at least four times a year and sometimes it was more when we took trips individually.  For us it was a no brainer since their travel there was something you could do in one day, relatively cheap, and agencies are welcoming of parents to visit their kids there during the wait.   On my first trip there it was super exciting for me, because I was meeting my kids, but I remember for my kids it was basically just another person there taking care of them.  I’m sure I was different because I brought gifts and practically smothered them daily with love, but in their eyes, I was just another nanny.

I’m not certain that Story ever realized I was her mom, but Amos for sure learned throughout the next two years who his momma and papa were.  We started visiting him when he was 2.5 and he was 4.5 when he flew home to be with us forever.  We were something to him, and during our last few visits we knew that he knew that we were his family.  On one hand that was a thrilling realization, that our son knows he is our son, but on the other hand it was an awful reality that he knew that his momma and papa were constantly leaving him.  Amos had already been abandoned once before, and now every time we would visit we would abandon him again.

Hindsight is much easier to deal with, and I have found myself lately questioning the journey we decided to go down by visiting our kids often during our adoption.  The plus to us visiting so much was that when Amos and Story came home we weren’t meeting for the first time.  I had held Story since she was 6 weeks old.  I had been in Amos life for the past 2 years, even if it was 5 days every 4 months.  He knew me as momma and he knew Aaron as papa.  He had picture books of his brothers, his new house, his room, and we were able to share videos with him some as well.  The negative to us visiting him so often was that we always left.  Every single time our visit would come to an end and once again, Amos would be left alone and without his momma and papa.  Every single time we would leave, and he would stay.

Recently in one of our counseling sessions Amos talked about the hardest thing about living in Haiti.  He said when mom and dad would leave.  It wasn’t the earthquake he lived through.  It wasn’t the hurricane that nearly took out his village where he lived.  It wasn’t the lack of trampolines and bicycles.  It wasn’t the food.  It wasn’t the sickness.  It wasn’t his mom leaving him at the center when he was a baby.  The hardest thing for him was that we always left.  Big ole alligator tears swelled up in eyes as he said this.  I knew this.  You see when Amos first came home every single day when Aaron left for work or even worse to go out of town, Amos would ask if papa was coming back.  He never knew if this was a repeat of the rest of his life.  Would we leave him again? I spent so many moments in those first few months telling him how much we loved him and that we were always together now and never leaving him.

Hearing Amos say that made me wonder if we did the right thing.  Were we visiting Amos just so that our hearts wouldn’t be sad, but in the midst of satisfying our own needs were we wounding our son over and over again.  I for sure wasn’t going to beat myself up over it, because in the moment Aaron and I felt it was best for us and for him.  We were developing a relationship with him each time we were there.  We felt as though we were doing what was best not only for him, but also for us.

I spoke up on my way out and asked the counselor if we had screwed up our kid for life by making him go through that over and over again each time.  My heart broke at the thought of causing more damage to my son each time I would leave him.  I told the counselor to shoot straight with me, that I could handle it, I wouldn’t beat myself up over the past, but I needed to know.  He looked at me in the eyes and if his eyes had arms they would have embraced me as he told me that we did not do the wrong thing.  He said that having that bond created over and over again, even if there was abandonment again, was better than that void never being filled.  He said “you always came back, didn’t you?”.  Yes we always came back.  Although we always left, we always came back, just as we promised each time we left.

I sighed a sigh of relief.  Not even so much as to the fact that he didn’t beat me up and tell me that I had indeed screwed up my son for life, but for the fact that he reminded me of the bond that was developed between us over 2 years while waiting for him to get to come home.  God was indeed good to us and allowing us to visit, because in so many countries this is just not the case.

I left that counseling session with a pep in my step knowing that God was at work in my little boys life by allowing his parents to visit him while he waited for us.  Was it easy on us?  No way.  Was it even harder on him?  For sure.

Jamie Ivey lives in Austin with her husband, Aaron, who is the worship pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church, and their four kids.   She’s passionate about loving her husband, talking about adoption, and trying to be the best mom she can be.  She loves family nights, reading a good book, and could eat Mexican food three times a day.  You can find her blogging at DreamingBigDreams.net or on twitter @jamie_ivey.

Comments

  1. Adinah says:

    If it helps at all to hear it from another mental health professional, you absolutely did the right thing. As your children get older and work through the part of the visits that were traumatic (you leaving) they will come to an understanding that you would have taken them home each and every time if you could have, that it broke your heart to leave them, that you couldn’t wait to see them again and that it is a dream come true to have them forever and ever. One day the narrative will change to my mommy and daddy loved me so much that they kept coming to spend time with me even though they weren’t allowed to take me home. They waited for me as they as it took because they loved me so much. My parents always came back until they were able to take me home forever.

    • Alissa says:

      I agree completely! While it definitely was hard on all of you, it definitely laid the groundwork to pay off in the future! You have a beautiful family, I wish you love and happiness forever!

      Alissa
      ripleyadoption.blogspot.com

    • Jamie Ivey says:

      Adinah & Alissa thanks for your comments! It is such a rough and rocky road to travel down, and hindsight is much clearer, but I’m confident we did what we knew was best. Thanks for your support!

  2. Denise says:

    This was a very encouraging post, Jamie! This has been a topic of discussion on the Haiti Adoptions FB page as to what the best route is. Some orphanages recommend as many visits as possible. Some orphanages are now saying that you can’t come visit, or severely limiting the number of visits you can make – because of how hard it can be on the children. Some orphanages say they have talked to mental health professionals and been told that there shouldn’t be any visits after the age of 2 years as it is too hard on the children. But I wonder how often they think of the trauma it is for children to be taken from the only home they have ever known by someone they have never met before, and then taken to North America for their new life. To me that seems more traumatic than a parent who leaves but always comes back, and then one day you are finally with them forever.
    Thank you Adinah for your professional opinion as well – it is encouraging to know that I haven’t harmed my daughter by the visits we have taken (although not nearly enough of them for our liking). Thankfully our orphanage recommends visits as often as you can manage.

  3. You absolutely did the right thing. Unless you were able to move down there and stay until the adoption was completed, you did the right thing. You taught him to love. You taught him to bond. You taught him to care. And you taught him that you’ll return. YOU didn’t screw him up forever. If in fact he has problems down the road it’s because life dealt him a horrific blow. You’re learning, you’re getting him and yourselves professional guidance, you love and you care.
    Imagine the trauma to him if he was picked up by strangers (you) and whisked away to a different life. That would’ve been horrendous!! We adoptive parents will forever worry, and wonder, and wish, and hope…..almost as much as parents with children with chronic illnesses. I would love to tell you “don’t beat yourself up” but we always will.
    Good luck, good job, and may God continue to bless you!

  4. Oh Jamie THANK YOU so much for writing this!!! And thank you Adinah and other for your confirming comments. We are just beginning our journey of adopting from Haiti and I have been madly wrestling with this very issue since I have heard conflicting advice. Our orphanage also encourages frequent visits and I envision doing this but I just wonder how hard it has to be for the kids. This helps tremendously.

    • Jamie Ivey says:

      It is very hard on them. Very hard on you. At times you will want to stop visiting. Towards the end we didn’t visit as much. We wanted to, but it seemed to be getting harder on Amos. I do think that us creating bonds and leaving each time was better than the void being there for 2.5 more years than it had to be.
      I wish you the best in your journey! Hold and stay tight. It’s a long and very hard journey with lots of ups and downs.

  5. annie says:

    Hi Jamie,
    Thanks for writing this.
    My youngest Haitian daughter doesn’t remember her Haiti mom leaving her but she certainly remembers us leaving here, again and again.
    I don’t know I could have done it differently but it is a huge issue for my daughter still.
    I do think the age of the child should be considered. I didn’t realize at the time, but when she was 2.5 was just about the time she was supposed to be learning that mom and dad would come back, except hers didn’t. We did but not in the time frame that would have helped her feel safe or secure later in life.

    My older daughter home at 12yo and other kids I know who were adopted at a younger age do not seem to have had the same long lasting effects, over this issue.

    Now, looking back after many years of therapy and training I wish I had known more about brain development in babies and children at that time. I would have been able to make better decisions and addressed the needs of her developing brain better.

  6. Sheryl Miller says:

    Great post! SO good to hear adoptive parents thinking about their kids’ needs instead their own. The int’l adoption culture in this country is all about helping adoptive PARENTS get through the long process. In blogs & websites, (and even in the little info we get from the State Dept!) it’s all focused on relieving the adults’ anxieties & encouraging us as we “wait.” Very little is said about what the children might be going through or what’s best for them.

    In hindsight, and after learning much more about attachment and bonding, I can’t believe that it’s a good idea to have a child get truly attached to a visiting adoptive parent, especially if by attached, we’re saying that the child comes to depend on that visiting parent for his future security or well-being. In my opinion, I just don’t think the point of orphanage visits should be to form that kind of bond. Visits should be for the purposes of monitoring your child’s well-being & care and for the child to become familiar with (not dependent on) the adoptive parents. That might mean not identifying yourselves as mom & dad.

    One stellar program we knew of recognized that orphanage accountability started with a liberal visitation policy, and welcomed visitors at any time. -But, you had to distribute toys, attention & affection equally among all the children in the room and you weren’t permitted to reveal to your child that you were their adoptive parents. At first I didn’t like the sound of that at all, but as I learned more about bonding and attachment, and saw what happened when attachments were broken repeatedly in small children, it began to make sense. Undeniably, it would take some effort not to show preference for your own child, but as that was the requirement for visiting, I think most parents managed.
    Jamie, God bless you for asking some of the hard questions! May He turn all of our children’s past hurts into GOOD, for His glory!

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