What to do when you’ve been called to adopt and practical advice to make it work
Mary Ostyn married her sweetheart at nineteen, and the pair had four kids by their eighth anniversary. When their youngest was three, God opened their eyes to the needs of orphans all over the worldand answered Mary’s longing for another baby. Over the next nine years the couple adopted two boys from Korea and four girls from Ethiopia.
Ostyn, a beloved adoption writer and blogger, sharesalongside stories from other adoptive familiesthe practical tools and resources she uses to thrive as an adoptive mom. In Forever Mom, she reveals how to:
- build heart connections
- prepare your other children for new siblings
- help babies, toddlers, and older children settle in
- implement attachment parenting
- address misbehavior while remaining connected
- nurture your marriage in the midst of it all
Whether you’re the parent of an adopted child or interested in pursuing adoption, Ostyn’s warm advice and fresh perspective will inspire, inform, and affirm. You’ll walk away confident you will be the perfect mom for whatever child God brings into your life.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||4.88(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
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What to Expect When You're Adopting
By Mary Ostyn
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Mary Ostyn
All rights reserved.
How Our Adoption Journey Began
It all began with an article in Reader's Digest about the lost girls of China. From there an Internet search landed me on a Yahoo group page created by families adopting from China. And there I sat for hours, reading postings from family after family on the journey to adopt the baby girls orphaned by China's one-child law.
Many of the adoptive families were higher-income professional couples in their forties and fifties, parenting for the first time. John and I, at only thirty, with four kids by birth already, didn't match the typical demographic. In 1997 Amanda and Erika were nine and seven, and Jared and Daniel were six and three. It was a busy household, and we'd been thinking for a while that we were done growing our family. But around the time Daniel turned three, I realized I didn't feel ready to be done with babies. That magazine article placed a world of motherless children before my eyes. My heart was seized by the perfect juxtaposition of their needs and my longing.
I thought of our spare bedroom, of the swing and the stroller in the closet and the bins of baby clothes on shelves in our garage. I thought of John's and my genuine enjoyment of our children, and of our decade of successful parenting. Nothing in life had ever seemed more natural to me. We were the perfect family to adopt a child.
John didn't see it that way at first. He was content with our four healthy kids and was baffled at my desire for more. For a while I think he wondered if I'd lost my senses. After all, with four children, we already had a larger-than-average family. What could I be thinking?
That was a hard time. Never in eleven years of marriage had agreement been this hard to find. There'd been times we'd argued, of course; we're both opinionated firstborns. But until now, when we disagreed, we'd always found a way to compromise. Except the kind of compromising we'd done before tended more toward where to move a bedroom wall or how to use a free weekend or how to spend $200. There was no compromise position this time. And though I was deeply longing for another child, I knew that to be fair to all of us, my husband needed to be fully onboard, ready and willing to parent. The chasm between his feelings and mine felt a million miles wide.
When all my logic and all my tears and all my persuasion failed to move him, I gave up and just prayed. Not only for the baby who by this time seemed alive in my heart but for unity between us. If it was really God who'd put adoption on my heart, He was going to have to tell John too. If that didn't happen, I was going to have to accept this was not God's will for our lives after all. Either occurrence would take a miracle.
So I waited. Prayed, fiercely at times. Over and over again I released my dream baby into the hands of God. I wanted that baby, but I wanted unity more. Finally, after an endlessly long, impatient wait, it seemed as if my miracle might be starting to happen. John began, now and then, to ask little questions about adoption. I'd answer, heart leaping hopefully. Then I'd mull over each casual question for days, afraid that I'd attached too much significance to it.
Then, glory be, he'd ask another question. And another. Discussions followed—cautious, carefully theoretical—leaving me simultaneously jubilant and uncertain. Could he seriously be considering it, or was my wishful heart running away with me again?
At one point we had a long talk with a family friend who'd adopted two preschoolers when her other children were nearly grown. We knew they'd struggled with one of the girls especially, but we were surprised to hear the depth of the mom's pain surrounding the experience. It was obvious as we listened that she longed for a relationship with her daughter but somehow felt thwarted, like there was a barrier she hadn't been able to cross.
Their daughter's relationship with her adoptive dad was easier and had much less conflict. But the mom seemed to honestly feel that she hadn't done a good job parenting this daughter. I couldn't imagine why she felt so conflicted, so torn about her place in her daughter's life. She's one of the warmest, gentlest people I've ever met. It seemed impossible to me that she was the failure she imagined herself to be.
I reassured her that her daughter loved her, thinking surely it must be true. I had had some tumultuous teen years where I didn't like my mom a whole lot, but I still loved her. My friend looked at me steadily, gently, not refuting me, but not agreeing either. It was as if she wanted to believe my kind words, but knew something about the relationship that I didn't understand at the time, and maybe that she didn't fully understand herself.
That conversation left me thinking hard, and I wondered what effect it might have on John's thoughts about adoption. But over the next weeks his questions kept coming. When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I boldly told him fingerprints for the criminal background check, the first step in the adoption process. Even then I half expected him to tell me again I was crazy. But somehow, mercifully, he didn't. My hope grew.
But there were worrisome moments too, moments all parents have, with kids fighting or vomiting or losing shoes when we should've been in the car ten minutes ago. Then he would turn to me in an overwhelmed huff. "We don't need another kid!"
"No," I would say. "But a child out there needs us."
I still don't know where I got that certainty. The fifteen-years-wiser me cringes to think of the pressure he must have felt at my audacious, impractical longing. Several times he asked me to expand my Christmas list, probably hoping to hear a more normal request like a Crock-Pot or a computer. I insisted that his fingerprints were all I wanted.
By Christmas Eve my stomach was all knots. I was praying hard for a miracle. But I vowed to graciously accept his decision, whatever it might be. Amid the happy bedlam of four excited kids ripping gifts open as fast as they could—oh, I was already so rich—John casually tossed a tiny gift into my lap. Fingers trembling, I ripped it open. Inside was a little gold key chain with a coin-shaped gold medallion on it that said, "God Keeps His Promises." I forced enthusiasm into my voice to thank John. Maybe I'd been hoping for too much. Maybe that dream child was meant for a different family.
But John was still watching me. "What's on the back of the key chain?"
Heart thudding, I flipped the medallion over to look at the back. There, etched in the smooth gold on the back of the medallion, was a single golden thumbprint.
My gaze flew to his eyes, and the radiance on his face told me all I needed to know. My miracle had happened. He was fully onboard, and was honestly, amazingly, incredibly just as excited about another baby as I was. Two short weeks later we were talking with a social worker and beginning our first home study.
During the home study process we learned that South Korea's adoption program might be a better fit for our family than China's. The cost was less, and travel time was shorter, which meant we wouldn't have to be away from our other kids as long. We submitted our application to the Korea program in February, and in July 1998 we were on a plane to Korea to pick up our son Joshua, both of us filled with a heady mix of joy and anxiety. Only later did we realize that our first, tentative adoption discussions that previous summer had probably happened right around the time that our son was conceived. God knew it all from the start.
It was a muggy day in Seoul when the Korean social worker came walking into Holt Children's Services' little reception area. She was followed by Joshua's foster mom, a soft, sweet-faced, grandmotherly lady who carried our little four-month-old son with competent affection. She handed him first to his daddy. John held out his arms to our little boy, snuggled him close, and turned to me with a radiant smile. I don't think he'd looked any happier at the altar on our wedding day twelve years earlier. We were a team, on the brink of an amazing adventure. Together.
The alertness in our little Joshua's eyes told us that he also knew big things were happening. As I leaned in to speak to him, he stared at me, big-eyed and still. But when he turned his attention back to my husband, he smiled. John kissed his head and handed him to me. Josh was tiny—only thirteen pounds at four months—but very strong. He could already support his own weight when I stood him up on my knees. The face that we'd looked at so often in pictures was suddenly alive before our eyes, and I'm pretty sure he was wondering about the pale, damp-eyed people who were holding him.
The next few surreal moments were spent getting acquainted and asking his foster mom question after question: what soothed him, how he liked to be held, how much he ate, and what made him smile. He'd be all ours in two short days, and I knew nothing about him. I wanted to know these details for his sake too. Someday he might want to know about his early days. These brief moments, poised between the old life and the new, were our only bridge.
His foster mom's voice was rich with affection as she spoke about him. She said he liked to be carried, that he cried if you laid him down, and that he woke often in the night. I reassured her that we were looking forward to every bit of it. After a checkup with the doctor and some instructions from the social worker, our first visit was over. Back home he went with his foster mom.
Two days later we returned to the agency. Soon he would be ours. Within minutes of arriving, his foster mom was dressing him in the clothes that we'd brought and wiping tears from her eyes. The way she spoke to him and the comfortable warmth with which she handled him told me good things about his first months of life. It was obvious he'd been well loved.
It felt like everything was on fast-forward at that point, probably to avoid prolonging the pain for his foster mom. Minutes later he was placed in our arms for keeps, and almost immediately we were escorted to the agency's minibus. As the bus pulled away, headed to the airport, Joshua's foster mom ran alongside the van for twenty feet, dignity forgotten, her hand on the window that separated us, crying as she ran. On the other side of the glass, I put my hand up too, heart aching as I cuddled the baby she'd spent months loving so well. Oh, how I had prayed for this child; he was my miracle baby. But the gift of him in our lives did not come without cost to others.
When the airplane left the tarmac in Seoul, I cried again, overwhelmed to be taking this child away from the land where he'd been born, from the mother who'd given him life, from the foster mom who loved him so, but not from the God who created him. Josh was sleeping, peacefully clueless, but my heart was ripped wide open.
Fifteen long hours later we landed in Idaho, where four older siblings and dozens of family and friends waited to greet us. Here was the flip side of our son's loss—this whole new family eager to embrace him in love.
And oh, we did. Our early days could not have gone better. By the time Joshua had been home three days, my heart knew no distinction between birth and adoption. I was head over heels in love. He was mine.
But there was no question about it: moving to America had rocked his little world. He had an exceedingly vigilant personality, and his foster mom was right about his sleep habits. It was six months before he slept more than two hours at a time. He needed lots of holding, lots of soothing, lots of intense mothering. But he was also exceedingly responsive. Within a couple weeks of coming home, he preferred me above anyone else. He needed me, wanted only me. That fact only bonded me more strongly to him. Oh, I adored having a baby again. He was the happily ever after I'd been dreaming about ever since I first thought of adoption.
Kristen said, "I'm not sure what I thought it would feel like. I guess the closest way to describe it would be that I thought that I would feel like I was mothering someone else's child. I can honestly say that I don't view my son (adopted from Ethiopia at five and a half months old) as anything but my own and that I have no different feelings for him than I do for my two older homegrown children. I often catch myself thinking things like, Oh, of course he's allergic to that—I am too. And he does the same thing. He always tells me that he has brown eyes just like his mommy. I guess the feeling goes both ways."
It's this kind of joyous story that most of us adoptive moms imagine at the beginning of the adoption journey. We know there could be tough moments. But we're confident that after an initial stage of adjustment, love will win—that our new children will settle in and do well. In many cases, especially when adopting an infant, it really is that easy. But sometimes the story isn't as simple.
After all the struggle John and I had gone through deciding to adopt the first time around, I honestly didn't expect we'd adopt again. That was okay with me—I was so grateful for this chance to be a mommy again. For months after our little guy came home, I was so over-the-moon delighted with him, and so conscious of the miracle of his presence in our lives, that another baby was not in my thoughts.
But the longer our son was home, the more John and I wondered how life in our family might feel to Joshua as he grew older. Words from a Sesame Street song went round and round in my mind: "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong ..."
Our son did belong in our family in every important way. But he was a visual kid, attentive to details, and by the age of twelve months, he was already tuning in to the fact that he looked different. Once, when we were out shopping after he had just turned one, he spotted a little Asian girl and said, "Joshie." He saw the similarity. We wondered if he would hate growing up the only Asian child in our blond, Caucasian family.
Fifteen months after Josh came home, I spotted a little boy on an Internet waiting-child photo listing whose photo did something to my heart. Also from Korea, he was just two months younger than our little guy, and was on the waiting-child list because he had been born missing one foot. At the time I suspected he had been placed on my heart just so that I could pray for him. But the thought came to my mind that maybe we were supposed to be more than prayer warriors in his life.
Remembering our many unhappy discussions the first time I broached adoption to John, I decided this time to simply stick a note in his lunch box telling him about this little boy and let him think about it. I was pretty sure he'd say prayer was all we could do, and I was honestly peaceful about that. But that evening when he came home from work, instead of being dismissive, he was questioning, curious to know more about this little one.
Our conversation ended with him asking me to request a video and more pictures of the little guy. Two days later the video came in the mail, and we sat down to watch it all together as a family. Halfway through the video John asked the older kids if he looked like a good brother and said he'd always liked the name Benjamin. I couldn't believe my ears.
Three breathless days later we were working on a home study, moving full speed ahead on adoption number two. Compared to the difficulty of coming to an agreement regarding our first adoption, this decision was breathtakingly simple. We began the adoption process in October 1999, and by January 2000, I was on a plane flying to get our Benjamin.
This time John stayed home with little Joshua and the other children, and I flew to Korea with my sister and my oldest daughter, Amanda. We knew that the little guy on the other side of this adoption homecoming was going to be much more aware of the change in his life. But we didn't realize just how challenging it was going to be.
We first met Benjamin at his foster mom's house, where he'd been living since he was seven months old. Before that he had been in a hospital. He was now twenty months old and weighed twenty-one pounds, all black hair and sparkling eyes, old enough to turbo around the room on his own and tell his foster mom thank you in Korean. We sat on the floor at a little table where we were served tea by his foster mom. Within a few minutes I'd coaxed him onto my lap by offering him cookies and toys out of my purse. Our visit was delightful but brief, and I wondered how he'd be when it was time to take him home. To him I was just a lady visiting his foster mom. He had no idea his world was about to change in an irrevocable way.
The very next day we met the foster parents at the agency to take custody of him. Benjamin's foster mother cried when she handed him to me, but he barely whimpered. Once again my heart broke for her, but oh, I was relieved that he seemed to be taking to me so easily. On the subway back to our hotel I carried him on my back in a Korean-style baby carrier. Though he was quiet, he didn't seem unhappy, even reaching up with me to hold a subway handle all by himself.
Everywhere we walked, people spoke to him kindly in Korean, leaving me wondering what they were saying. But when they spoke to me in English, there was always deep sadness in their eyes, even as they were telling me he was a lucky baby. Soon he would be leaving their beloved Korea.
Excerpted from Forever Mom by Mary Ostyn. Copyright © 2014 Mary Ostyn. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: His Kind of Love, xi,
Chapter 1: How Our Adoption Journey Began, 1,
Chapter 2: Taking the Leap, 20,
Chapter 3: Building Heart Connections, 49,
Chapter 4: Helping Babies and Toddlers Settle In, 67,
Chapter 5: Bringing Home Preschoolers and Older Children, 85,
Chapter 6: Sleeping and Eating and Date Nights, Oh My!, 114,
Chapter 7: When You're Down to Your Last Drop of Faith, 135,
Chapter 8: Beginning Again, at the Foot of the Cross, 161,
Chapter 9: In Their Words: Thoughts from Adoptees, 190,
Chapter 10: Joy in the Journey, 206,
Appendix A: Adoption Resources, 235,
Appendix B: Playlist for a Weary Momma, 237,
Appendix C: More Ways to Love Orphans, 239,
About the Author, 241,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This adoptive mom, with four biological and six adopted children, addresses very thoughtfully the issues adoptive families face. She tells her family’s story about their adoption journey, describing particularly the attachment challenges each child brought. Her book is full of helpful hints concerning thinking one’s way through and coming to grips with all manner of issues. The author frames her helpful book by beginning at her own door, telling the story of how each child came to be adopted by her family. She addresses the topic of helping children settle in and gives very practical help with regard to picking one’s battles. Nurturing children with patience, kindness, and grace is particularly emphasized, and the author covers topics large and small. Each chapter closes with a pertinent passage of Scripture, and biblical principles are emphasized throughout the book. This book was interesting and challenging from cover to cover. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of adoption. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Orogram.