Family Stories

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

Part 1

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

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“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015  Although she’s still rocking the same pink sneakers, we’ve gone up two shoe sizes!

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
Although she’s still rocking the same pink sneakers, we’ve gone up two shoe sizes!

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm.

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I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

Family Story: Chris and Mary

Chris and Mary share their story of adopting their daughter from South Africa.

The Davila family knew they wanted to grow their family through adoption after a mission trip to Liberia brought them face to face with the children who were in need of family. They wasted little time after their realization that adoption was right for them. Two years later were able to adopt their daughter Arri from Ethiopia. Another two years flew by, and they knew they were ready to adopt again.

After years of searching for the right program, Chris and Mary finally decided that the South Africa program at Spence-Chapin was a perfect fit for their family. According to Mary, they came to this conclusion because they were encouraged by the answers that they got about the South Africa program. They liked that the children placed internationally tend to fall into a more vulnerable category of having special needs, being older, or being part of a sibling group. And also “we were encouraged by Spence-Chapin’s enthusiasm about the program and their honesty about the adoption process.”

One of Chris and Mary’s most memorable moments in the adoption process was when they received “thecall”. They had been matched with a 20 month old little girl! A few months later they travelled to South Africa with their four year old daughter on what they describe as a transformative trip for their family.

“We are so grateful that our whole family was able to be in South Africa together. We were welcomed with open arms and made so many friends there. We met our daughter, Etta, on our first full day in country and it was love at first sight. Etta took to our older daughter, Arri, in a heartbeat, and one of our most cherished memories is the sight of Arri taking Etta by the hand, walking her out of her care center for the last time, and into the arms of our forever family.”

The Davila family was struck by the commitment of the staff to the children in their care at Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa. Mary says that their social worker was “a saint who advocates tirelessly for the children and also manages to be 100% on top of all of the paperwork involved in an adoption.” They took comfort in knowing that their social worker would be by their side in every meeting in South Africa and that she knew their daughter: her personality, likes, and dislikes. She was available to answer questions at any hour of the day and clearly loved the children.

Chris and Mary have been home with Etta for about eight months. They describe Etta as “playful, hilariously funny, and sweet, sweet, sweet. “ According to Mary, their family transition has been very smooth.

“We are so grateful to Spence Chapin for helping us grow our family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa, please visit our South Africa program page or contact us at info@spence-chapin.org.

My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted. Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

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The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

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A Spence-Chapin intern reflects on her adoption story and her journey to becoming an adoption social worker.

Family Profile: The Hoffmans

The Hoffmans are a beautiful blended family with a story that is marked by loss, resiliency, and an immense love.

The Mongillos Home Makeover

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A Sister's Gift

There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family: Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.

In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith's daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.

maya lender and famFinally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it's hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I've ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother's adoption had on her.

It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.

 

December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt - but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Family Story: Scott and Tari

Scott and Tari grew their family through the Spence-Chapin special needs adoption program.