Womens Day

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

Celebrating Colombian Women’s Day

Interview with Carmen Elena Támara García

Carmen Elena Támara García

Carmen Elena Támara García

Did you know Colombia celebrates its own Women’s Day?
In honor of Día de la Mujer Colombiana, we spoke with Carmen Elena Támara García, Spence-Chapin’s Foreign Supervised Provider in Colombia. She is an incredible woman in her own right and we wanted to learn more about her role advocating for children in need of families in Colombia and what makes this holiday so relevant today.

Carmen Elena, what is your current role? How long have you been involved in this work?
I am the Foreign Supervised Provider for Spence-Chapin in Colombia. That is, the person in charge of carrying out the administrative and legal functions on behalf of adoptive families working with Spence-Chapin’s Colombia Program. I serve as a bridge between Spence-Chapin and the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) which is the Central Authority on adoptions in Colombia, and as a liaison for the agency and adoptive families to private adoption homes here in Colombia.

I have been linked with Spence-Chapin since 2012. Before this role, I worked as the Head of Adoptions at the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) since 1993 and served as the Deputy Director of Protection from 1996 – 1999. In these positions, I directed the creation of programs aimed at the establishment of rights for children and adolescents, and the coordination and design of public policies to prevent and punish abuses against minors.

What is your typical workday like?
Every day I wake up with the hope of finding a family for a child who needs one. This is the motivation that inspires my work.

From early in the morning, I am in communication with organizations to answer questions and provide updates about families who have an application for adoption in process. When I receive a child’s referral or a family’s paperwork, I read all the received documentation and order the translation of documents that are necessary. Frequently, I must attend information meetings at ICBF or the private adoption houses.

When an adoptive family from the United States arrives in Colombia to meet their child, I will take care of all the logistics for their stay in Colombia and coordinate all the appointments which the family must attend to complete the adoption process. This typically includes medical appointments for the child and appointments at the United States Embassy.

As a family lawyer, I am also in charge of submitting the family’s legal request for a court date and accompanying the prospective adoptive family when they are notified of the adoption decree. This is very exciting for me!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
When I see the happiness of a child and his adoptive parents on the day of the appointment for the “Encuentro meeting.” This is a mixture of feelings for me, it is a joy with crying! Later, when I receive the post-adoption reports and I read that the child has adapted well, and the adoption was successful for their parents, as well, it is very rewarding, especially if it involves the adoption of an older child. This is like saving a life!

Has there been a child or family that has made an impact on you in some way?
I remember with special affection each of the adoptive families that I have had the opportunity to accompany in the process. I admire each of them for their capacity to give love, sometimes in the face of difficult situations.

The families that adopt siblings have left an indelible mark on me. I am shocked by the way they handle more than one child at the same time, with a smile for each one, without complaining, without showing fatigue, without glimpsing problems, feeling that with love everything is arranged.

I also remember a 13-year-old girl who, the day she met her adoptive parents, told them: “You are more beautiful in person than I had seen you on Skype. I hope to be the best daughter, the best person and the best professional. I want to take care of you in your old age, to repay you for what you are doing for me.” These words touched me deeply and I have not been able to forget them.

Associate Director of International Adoptions Sam Moore with Carmen Elena

Associate Director of International Adoptions Sam Moore with Carmen Elena

What does Colombian Women’s Day mean to you?
Every November 14th since 1967, Colombian Women’s Day is celebrated. On this date, the heroic Policarpa “La pola” Salavarrieta is commemorated. It should be noted that Policarpa was an intelligent and brave woman who fought against the Spanish Crown at the beginning of the 19th century. She was executed by the Council of War during the Spanish Reconquista in 1817 for her role as a spy supporting the cause of independence for Colombia.

The date and original significance of the celebration are unknown by most Colombian citizens, but on this special date it is necessary to recognize all Colombian women for their spirit, hard work, perseverance, character, courage and the struggle that has characterized them.

In this important moment in which we find ourselves, I think active participation by women in political processes is essential. There are significant contributions women make in our post-conflict country that will enhance the integration of gender perspectives and the development of our democracy.

What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
One of the most important challenges facing Colombia today is being able to design strategies that will open new opportunities for young people and reduce the deep disparity in living conditions that exist throughout the country.

I am convinced that one of the most effective ways to combat inequality is through education, science, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and culture. That implies that all young girls should have the possibility of making the transition from the educational sector towards decent and quality employment.

I want to see young girls in the next generation empowered with their rights, exercising their obligations with full awareness of their potential to contribute to their own society.

Is there a powerful woman you admire most?
I admire all the women who have human quality. Human quality has nothing to do with intellect, knowledge, money or physical appearance, but with virtues such as kindness, simplicity, humility and solidarity. These women often go unnoticed, and in many cases, have had a life full of difficulties – but still they are grateful for life. It is a true privilege and I feel very fortunate when I meet this type of woman.

I admire coherent, honest women who fight to carry out their dreams and who spend time and effort totally unconditionally for the welfare of others.

To learn more about adoption from Colombia and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/colombia

Bulgaria Adoption Story: Lee-Ann and William

Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome

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“Hi! We are the Cotner family! We are a big, fun, loud, loving, rocking family. We have six beautiful kiddos. Four were homegrown and two grew in our hearts via international adoption and they both just happen to be rocking an extra chromosome a.k.a. they have Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.

Our first son, Harvey, came home from Eastern Europe and completely stole our hearts. Soon after our first adoption, we knew that we wanted to adopt again, and specifically another kiddo with Down Syndrome. We knew financially that it might be easier for our family to wait a few years, but when I saw the profile of this waiting kiddo, my heart skipped a beat. I requested his file and I read it over and over. I was looking at it, yet again, when my youngest daughter Quinn said, “Oh, there he is… there’s my brother. I’ve been looking for him!” I knew he was our son and another adventure was beginning!

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Harrison joined our family thanks to help from Spence-Chapin and our fabulous in-country team. In a beautiful coincidence, Harrison came home in October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Parenting a child with Down Syndrome is truly a blessing. Our sons who have Down Syndrome have overcome so many obstacles that most people take for granted. Seeing them overcome and succeed has given us a new insight on life and we truly appreciate all the little and big things. They are our shining lights. There are the hard days when the struggles of Down Syndrome and prior institutional trauma can hurt your mama heart, because we want to take all their pain and struggle away. But it just makes us love them more and remember that with love and patience we can all do hard things.

Our older four children are incredible with their little brothers. They are so loving and protective, and they are the boys’ biggest cheerleaders. They loved them before they even met them, and their admiration for their brothers only grows. I always say the greatest gift we’ve ever given them was each other.

My husband, William, is active duty Army and that can add some additional hiccups, but Spence-Chapin handled it with such grace and ease. Our process was smooth, and we truly fell in love with Harrison’s birth country. The Army is incredibly supportive of adoption and we are so grateful for this. They let my husband take a substantial leave and even reimbursed some of our adoption expenses.

Every child deserves a family…. every child has worth, and we are forever thankful to be a part of the lucky few that get to have some rocking kiddos with Down Syndrome in their family thanks to adoption and Spence-Chapin!”

To learn more about adoption from Bulgaria and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/bulgaria

We Celebrate Clara Spence

As we celebrate National Women's History Month, we can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence.