Adoption, Advocacy, AJ, Ally, Gigi, Isabel

New Year, A New Schedule.

We had a wonderful holiday, complete with two full weeks off for all of us. This is a big change from the way things used to be. Usually, I’ve gone back to work right after the first of the year, but now my holiday matches the kids.

When the school year began I accepted a full-time work out of home job as a School Nurse. It wasn’t my nursing experience that led to my hiring though, not exactly. It felt odd to sit in an interview and have my life experience distinguish me for hiring. All the post-masters training I did in Complex Developmental Trauma was what made the district take an interest in me. I started that training so that I was a better mom to all of you. I hope to carry forward all that we learned so that I can help teachers support children the same way we support each other. I am so proud of how we have come full circle. From helping each other, to helping each other.

So much healing has happened here.
So much healing is still to come.

It’s the beginning of a new era now. I always feel two ways about that, sad that so many of you are getting so big, and happy that we’ve come through all of this together. Change is hard for me. It always has been.

Some of you aren’t babies anymore. I try to respect that here, writing about you less and less because you have voices of your own. I am so proud of you though, so proud. You’re taking the ACT, driver’s ed, and making plans for what you’ll do after high school. No matter what you do, I am so proud. But, we’re coming full circle there too, as I hear some of you discussing plans to become adoption social workers or trauma-informed teachers yourselves.

Of course, there are a few of you who still plan on becoming a princess and an astronaut, at the same time. We’re cool with princesses in space over here too.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to watch you all launch.

Advocacy, Deafness, Gigi

An Everyday Fight

This is my daughter, Gigi, for those of you who aren’t familiar.  She is Deaf and has sight in only her right eye.  The vision she does have in that eye appears to be central only.  She misses things in her peripheral visual fields.  She falls sometimes because of it.  She missed out on learning any sort of language, due to her deafness and institutionalization in China, until she came to us nearly 10 months ago.  She has a Congenital Heart Defect that falls into the severe category.  This is likely what you’d see if you read through the short summary at the beginning of her medical chart.

Here’s what I know to be true.  At last count, this tiny dynamo knows how to sign over 25o things.  She puts those 250 signs into combinations of three, and just last week four, sign combinations.  She understands 98% of what is signed to her.  She has started school in the local public school and is able to come home and tell me what she did during the day.  She tells me about her friends, because just in the last month, she learned what that word truly means in a classroom full of kids who accepted her as simply one of them.  She’s a kid who loves to play, nothing more, nothing less.  She is the sister of ten doting siblings (well, not Cate, but let’s not spoil the moment).  She is kind.  She is compassionate.  She has a laugh that can light the sky.

When I describe her, she becomes undeniably worthy, right?  You’d have to be an inhuman monster to decide she isn’t worthy of what she has been given over the last almost ten months that she has been part of a family.  Our humanity is defined in the way we care for people like my daughter, people who have been given such a rough start to life that the odds seem insurmountably stacked against them.  Deaf AND visually impaired? No language? A broken heart? No family?  We become human when we care for her.  We become human when we cry about her life mattering despite her label of ‘disabled’ and ‘orphan’.  We become human in the moments that we spend celebrating her entrance into forever with a family who will fight for her.

Because, I do.  I fight every day.  When she came home, I fought to get her hearing loss correctly diagnosed, because the label ‘retarded’ had been attached to her file.  I fought to learn a foreign language so that she could tell me her wants, her needs, her thoughts, and someday, her dreams.  I fought to get her tiny broken heart properly monitored, and I’m sure I’ll have to fight to have it repaired.  I fight for interpreters.  I fight IEPs.  I fight those who judge, underestimate and belittle.  Every day I fight against the people who are supposed to be helping her.

Earlier this week, the children’s hospital she was being seen at tried to take back her hearing aids.  Not because her state-sponsored insurance plan doesn’t cover them, but because they were upset we’re seeking the second opinion we’re legally allowed to have for her.  We have now waited nine months for a Cochlear Implant for her that seems light years away.  We have fought through denials of therapies that could have really helped our girl.  She’s been seen at three world class medical centers and getting her records from one to the other has been a colossal time suck for me, as her mother.

Today, as I was being told that the MRI of her brain we have scheduled for tomorrow, the one that involves Cardiac anesthesia, and is combined with a dental exam, eye exam and vaccinations, is being cancelled because insurance approval couldn’t be secured.  It was suggested to me that this was due to her health insurance, a plan that is supplied to her because she has legally been declared disabled.  Maybe if I had a private policy this would be easier?  In other words, if I paid more.

That, right there, is the reason I will never fault anyone for not wanting to parent a child with special needs.  We do it all the time.  We fight.  We advocate.  We adore our kids.  But, what I experienced today is par for the course.  If her life matters as much as any other child’s.  If we are pro-life.  If we are pro-adoption.  If we are going to tell women they should continue to parent their children, even when they have major long term needs, then we need to do better.

My daughter deserves quality health care, no matter how much money we have.

–FullPlateMom, who doesn’t understand why this needs to be so difficult.


Adoption, Advocacy

Adoption Ethics: Policing Our Own Community

Yesterday, I posted about the ethics surrounding adoption, what I have learned during my ten adoptions over the 15 years. Adoption has brought me a community that is tight knit. Adoption from China, specifically, has a community with a culture all of its own. We all share a common history for our kids, but we live vastly different lives. These kids are what bring us together.

There are adult adoptees within this community. That is how long the history of international adoption from China has spanned. The voices of these adoptees are always a presence for me as I think about what the future holds for my children. I try to learn from them, and their experiences. Several of them weighed in on yesterday’s post. I appreciate that wholeheartedly.

They expressed their feelings on the changes that have occurred over the years in the way we approach adoption, as adoptive parents. They see our kids being allowed to have the information about their pasts that they have been denied. They see the number of adoptions internationally decreasing and family preservation entering the radar for so many of us adoptive parents. They see us acknowledging that this is painful, and that it should be a last resort.

In so many ways, we, as adoptive parents, are forcing a change in the tide. We are demanding ethical changes for our children. While yesterday’s post highlights the corruption that still occurs, and how far we still have to go, there has been progress made.

I think we can do more.

I think we, as a community of adoptive parents, can do more.

After the situations that occurred these past two weeks, someone asked me what we can tangibly do to help ensure that our children continue to see us, as adoptive parents, forcing the tide even more? What can we do that will have our children reading this post in twenty years and thinking, this is how change started?

When I’ve witnessed ethical breaches in our own adoption community in the past I’ve heard two things consistently as justifications for the situation itself, or as justification for turning a blind eye to the situation. 1. God’s will, which I know you know my opinion about, and, good grief. 2. This is none of my business.

It’s not. Or, is it? It doesn’t look like anyone’s business to report something they see on social media. In fact, it feels so odd. Social media has created a window into people’s lives that provides us a unique opportunity to share each other’s adoption processes and joys. That common history, that bond, honestly, it has created some of the best friendships I have. I love following other people’s adoption journeys. I want to see children become part of families.

I do not want to see the things I’ve seen over the last two weeks. It’s disgusting to see people publicly bragging about skirting laws or blatantly breaking them. It would be so easy to think ‘this is none of my business.’ But, it is.

It is for all the reasons that were discussed yesterday. It is because of the thousands of children who need to have their chance to look back in 20 years, after living secure and loving childhoods, and see the progress that was made. They won’t see any of it from the inside of an institution. So, that’s my answer of what any of us can tangibly do to stop this.

Report it.

Yes, I’m asking you to police your own adoption community. I’m asking you to do it so that you can look your kids, and their peers in the eye in a couple of decades and honestly tell them that you did the best you could.

It is your business.

–FullPlateMom, who wants you to do better for our kids.

Adoption, Advocacy

Adoption Ethics: 15 Years of Lessons

This post has been 15 years in the making. Next month marks the 15th anniversary of Joe and I completing our first home study to adopt. Along the way, we have learned a thing or two about adoption ethics. Yes, adoption has its own set of ethics that are sometimes ignored by would-be parents whose end goal is simply to bring a child home.

Actions have consequences though. Setting out to plow down the entire system to get that child home often means breaching ethics that will have untold consequences for you, and your child, later on. We learned that along the way.  These are our lessons learned in adoption ethics.

In 2001, prior to having any children at all, Joe and I began the adoption process from Guatemala. We were wide-eyed 22 and 23-year-olds who wanted a child who needed us as much as we needed them. We weren’t looking to steal a child from anyone. Like most hopeful adoptive parents, we naively thought we would be referred a child who needed to be adopted. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for the little girl we were referred. She had a birth mom across the border in El Salvador who loved her daughter but who had been told that giving her away would earn her an income and provide a better life for her daughter. We let the little girl we had come to think of as “ours” go. She was never ours.

Adoption ethics means knowing that poverty is not a reason to be forced to place your child for adoption.

 We went on to adopt four children domestically. Our children were placed for adoption for various reasons that aren’t mine to share. We met as many of their biological family members as cared to meet us. These relationships stretched me as a person, and as a mom. Open adoption wasn’t something I ever thought I wanted. It has become an absolutely beautiful thing in some of our children’s lives. And, this isn’t about me. This is about them, and their feeling connected to the people who share their genetics. I am here to give my children roots and wings.

Adoption ethics means you put yourself AFTER your child. You think about their needs first. You, as the adoptive parent, are the least important member of the triad.

 We attempted to adopt from Ethiopia. Again, in investigating the circumstances of the little boy we were referred, we felt uncomfortable. He had a biological uncle who wanted desperately to raise him. Again, we watched a little boy we thought was ours slip away. He wasn’t ours to begin with. This time, we had children in our home though, children who thought this child might be their brother. It burned to watch them try to understand the loss. This was a moment that needed to be discussed with them. One that would teach them that this wasn’t about taking someone out of their homeland to make them our brother. It was about adopting ethically, a child who was truly in need of a safe space to call forever.

Adoption ethics means saying NEVER to entitlement. These children aren’t destined to be yours simply because they live in poverty, or an institution. Your home isn’t always ‘better’ than an alternative.

 We adopted from Ghana, three times, and as we did it, we peeled back the veil of corruption. In bringing our children home we came face to face with true evil and real fraud. We watched an entire international adoption program implode because of it. We watched children who legitimately needed to get out of their orphanages and find families lose their chance at ever being able to do that because of the aforementioned entitlement of a few Americans. We were lied to about one of children’s past. We will carry that with us into forever, always wondering if five trips there were enough, if there was something else that could have been done or asked that would have led to the truth of her beginnings, or if there was some way she could have stayed in her homeland. Our child will carry this forever too. It is a mark we gave to her.

We came home. We made it out of Ghana, it would have been so easy to let it go. We vowed not to let it die though. We made reports. We hired lawyers. We fought for, and continue to fight for, the children and family members who were left behind. We bleed for the ones who won’t have a family now, not ever, because of the corruption of a few. Those adults who had wronged our children told us that this was “God’s will.” Satan was blamed for evil choices of men and women who profited and gained personally. It would have been easy to accept that, to shrug and move on, to swallow the lies. After all, the lies benefitted me too. It benefitted me to believe what I was being told about others. It benefitted me to be told that I was only fulfilling what “God was asking of me.” Wasn’t I? Isn’t adoption God’s greatest plan?

It’s not.

Adoption ethics means knowing that your choices, the choices that benefit you personally, aren’t ever simply God’s will. God never asks you to lie for personal gain or profit. He never asks you to “save a child” at the expense of thousands of others who will them never make it home when your choices for that one, cause more pain for so very many more.

Joe and I went on to adopt four more children in four years from China. We chose China because their program was regimented and full of children with special needs, children who clearly needed families. Sadly, the more I delved into the program, as a parent and a Waiting Child Advocate, the more I saw the same breach of ethics on the part of adoptive parents, the more I have seen people justify their choices as “God’s will” or “God’s plan.” That no longer holds water with me. I am here for the children, and the children alone. God’s will has nothing to do with so many of the things I have seen.

I have seen families lie on their home studies.

I have seen families bring children to the United States with the intent of hosting them to “try them out” before they decide whether or not they want to adopt them.

I have seen older couples with grown children attempt to adopt a child for those children because they are legally ineligible to adopt, and by doing that, blatantly ignoring U.S. and China law.

I have seen families attempt to hold onto the adoption files of children for months, sometimes years, because right now simply isn’t “a convenient time to adopt” or because for one reason or another they’re not currently eligible to adopt per the laws of either the native country or our own country.

The end NEVER justifies the means when we’re talking about children. This isn’t “paying a ransom.” You’re not saving one for yourself while risking thousands. That is never “God’s plan.”

Adoption ethics means reporting it, every single time.

–FullPlateMom, who won’t ever let you risk thousands of children’s futures to bring home YOUR one.

Advocacy, Tess

A Crazy Brave Book Sale for Tian Ci

On Tuesday night, Tess and I held a live book sale via Facebook with all proceeds going directly to our crazy brave Tian Ci.  Tess sat next to me the entire time, well past her usual bedtime, watching every video and requesting that I read her each comment posted.  She is SO committed to raising the money for this little boy to have his heart surgery.  We need $6000.  This seems like so much, yet so little.  We can do this!

Don’t worry!  You haven’t missed your chance to help.  We need you!  There are three options below for you to help!  Please choose the one that’s right for you!

Book sale
Our crazy brave buddy, Tian Ci.

1. You can still buy books.  The sale will be open through midnight tomorrow.  To purchase some great Usbourne titles, go HERE.

2. Within our book sale, we’re selling Cards for a Cause.  Over 40% of the price goes directly to Tess’ fundraiser from every box sold! Choose between 4 designs: All Occasion #1, #2, Kids’ Card Box, Thanks & Blanks. Each box costs $31.65 (includes tax).  If you’re anything like me, you are running to the store the night before or the day of an event to pick up a card and spending $4-5 a piece. These box sets will not only allow you to have stock on hand, but the cards are only $1 a piece! The cards are gorgeous and would definitely sell for more than that in a store!  To order, you can contact our AMAZING Usbourne Consultant via email at  This is open for payment through July 8th.  

Book Sale
Cards for a Cause!

3. You can donate directly to Tian Ci’s surgical fund HERE!  Make sure to designate the donation to Tian Ci, and don’t forget to tell them that YOU are crazy brave for helping us.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to keep chipping away at that $6K goal!

Advocacy, Tess

Crazy Brave: A Fundraiser for Tian Ci and Dew Drops.

Have you met this crazy brave little girl?

Crazy brave Tess
Our crazy brave girl

If not, I’d love to introduce you.  This is Tess.  Her history is long, and amazing, you can read about it by clicking her name in the header of this blog post.  Here’s the very abbreviated version though.  Tess was born in China with a severe Congenital Heart Defect.  She didn’t receive surgery when she should have.  In fact, she didn’t receive surgery at all.  We hemmed and hawed about adopting such a sick kiddo.  We waited longer than we should have.  Tess nearly died.  She didn’t though.  And, it looks like she will live a long, and amazing, life.

She went through a lot to get here though.  She lived through two scary open heart surgeries, countless procedures, X-rays, blood draws, echocardiograms, and she will need a lifetime of monitoring for her heart.  , Tess has a little mantra for when we have to see her doctors, and sometimes have scary or painful procedures.  She will look at me before the procedure, usually with tears welling in her little eyes, and say “I can do this, mom.  I know I can, because I’m crazy brave.”  Sometimes, the bravest people come in the tiniest packages.

We adopted this phrase in reference to many kids in our life, including other ones who live in our home.  Tess is the very best at comforting and motivating other people.  Feeling bad about yourself?  Tess will find the reason you are crazy brave.  You may not even know it.  Don’t worry.  She’ll find it for you.  She does it for her sister, Gigi, all the time.  “Oh Gigi, it’s okay.  They’re going to give you sleepy medicine.  You’ll go to sleep and they’ll take pictures of your eyes.  When it’s all done, you’ll know how crazy brave you are because you DID IT!  I’ll tell you that you’re SO brave.  I’ll be right here.”

She does it for the teenagers too.  “Cam, don’t let that bother you.  That boy just isn’t very nice.  You stood up to him and told him so.  That’s crazy brave.”  13-year-old Cam never openly admits to being bothered about anything.  But, Tess is covering all her bases by telling him, just in case he needs to hear it.

She does it for kids we’ve never met too.

Tess is extremely committed to helping kids who live the way she did in China, without the surgeries they need to survive.  China’s socialized medicine system is in its infancy.  Most citizens will pay for every surgery they will have.  Some parents have to pay out of pocket for live saving surgery for their child.  For some families, this makes it impossible to continue to parent your child.  Some parents are forced to choose: parenting them and watching them die, or letting them go and hoping, by some miracle, they are given the chance to live.  We believe this is what happened to Tess.  It happens in China every day.

We advocate for adoption for these kids whenever possible.  Sometimes, the child needs surgery prior to adoption.  Sometimes, they need someone to be crazy brave and stand in the gap for them while they wait.  They need surgery to survive long enough to be adopted.  Tess sees these children’s picture in my email in basket and talks to them.  It’s just about the sweetest thing I have ever heard.  “Tian Ci, you need a heart surgery.  I needed heart surgery too.  You’re small.  I’m small too.  You have Down Syndrome.  My sister’s best friends in China have Down Syndrome.  WE LOVE THEM!!!”

Tian Ci does need heart surgery, and he does have Down Syndrome.  We do love him.

Tian Ci
Tian Ci, also crazy brave

Tian Ci lives at Dew Drops Cardiac Care Home currently.  Dew Drops provides life saving care for children in China living with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) while they wait to be adopted wither domestically or internationally.  Dew Drops is a part of the larger organization Little Hearts Medical (LHM).  LHM was instrumental in helping us get answers for both Tess and Gigi’s CHD.  LHM’s team of Cardiologists provide medical reviews of files of children who wait in China to be adopted.  These reviews help would-be parents understand the complexity of the child’s heart diagnosis.  The volunteers of LHM also to travel to China regularly to help educate the staff of orphanages about CHD and best practices for caring for children diagnosed with heart defects.

These people are crazy brave FOR these kids.  They stand in the gap until their parents can come for them.

Tess and I are asking you to help us stand in the gap too.  Over the next few weeks we’re going to try to raise funds for Tian Ci’s surgery.  LHM needs $6000 for his surgery to be fully funded.  To raise this much money, we’re ALL going to need to be crazy brave.  Can you do it with us?

We start next week.  Come join us!  Some of it will happen here, some of it will happen on Facebook.  Wherever we are, we’ll make sure you don’t miss a minute!

–FullPlateMom, who feels a little crazy brave herself.  Some days there’s more emphasis on the crazy.  Some days, it’s more brave.  Whichever way you feel today, let’s feel it together.



Adoption, Advocacy

When Adoption is Not in the Future.

Hi Kids,

It’s mom.  I’m writing a little letter to you because I want you to know I hear you, and I see you.  I’ve heard the murmurs lately.  I’ve seen you gathering.  I recognize the signs.  You’re quietly lobbying.  The smaller among you is leading the charge.

Today, Gigi has been home 5 months, and you can’t fathom why Dad and I aren’t talking about adopting again.  There hasn’t even been a mention of it.

I would love to, except, I wouldn’t.  I know.  It’s so hard for you to understand.  I volunteer a lot with kids who are waiting to find there families.  At any given moment there are probably 56 kids I would adopt.  I see the need just like you do.  I walked through the orphanages you lived in, and while that will never make my experience even remotely approach yours, I can understand why you lobby.  You’re not the only kids who do it.  I know that too.  While we may be one of the few who sees the beauty in the brokenness, we’re not alone.  You love watching a sibling blossom as much as I love seeing my child do the same.

But, here’s the thing.  We’re having a moment here.  It’s not a moment that will last forever.  But, it’s an important one.  Some of you are getting ready to launch.  High school is a tipping point, I can feel it.  And, I can feel some of you struggling.  I don’t think you even know you are.  I think you really believe you’re fine, and you are, because this is what adolescence is all about, struggling without really knowing it.  In turn, this is what parenting is all about, recognizing when your child is struggling without them even knowing why.  So, I need a moment.  I need a moment to make sure we’re all on solid ground.

I’m taking my moment.

We’ve got time, babies.

I know you hear the kids calling the same way I do.  I know you see the faces of kids who might not be chosen and you think “But, we could…just one more time…”  This is an important lesson.  This is a lesson about not overreaching and overextending.  This is a lesson about care that doesn’t always involve adopting.  For awhile we can focus on advocacy, and we can keep shining a light on family preservation, the way we always have.  This is about finding other avenues.  This is about giving all of us some time to breathe, to learn a new language for your sister, to launch her too.  I’m fighting the good fight for her, and while I see the path becoming more clear, I can’t quite see that light at the end of the tunnel.

This is about some of you having braces, and all of us having a car that runs, and some kitchen cabinets with intact doors.  This is about us not sweating every cent.  This is about making sure there is a college fund and some security.  This is about not fretting where the adoption money will come from.  This is about all of us just being.  We’ll get there.

We’re just not there yet.

I’ll let you know when we are.  And then, we’ll head back to wherever we’re needed the most.

–FullPlateMom, who hears you Bowen.  You want a ‘little’ brother.  For a small man, your voice is LOUD, and your heart is so very big.