Saturday, June 6, 2015

one year later

Forewarning: it's been a while since I've written and these words are unedited and typed out between diaper changes and tantrums and catching up on loads of laundry! Five of our kids are hanging out with their grandparents this afternoon, so with only three on my watch, I finally gathered the courage to start writing again. Can I tell you that it's been a wild few months! I didn't even realize until just now that it's been one year to the day since Faith Ana arrived home. It's hard to believe she's been with of us for an entire year...

What I'd like to write today is how well we are all adjusting, how Faith Ana has seamlessly fit into our family, and how we can't remember life without her silly and spunky self being part of it. And while all these things are some what true on some days (well, honestly, a few very rare days), today, one year later, these words are not even remotely close to our reality.

If I had to pick three words to describe what this year has been like as we have learned to love and care for this precious child, these would be my three:

Hard, humbling, & hilarious.

It's been quite a year!

I struggle to know how to share about Faith Ana. Honestly, some days I struggle to just know how to care for her.

She's such a complicated little girl, and I'm not sure that anything could have adequately prepared me for what life would look like with a child who has such profound physical needs.

From the very first time I met Faith Ana, she had such a funny and endearing personality. Her first six months home, in many ways, were like a walk in the park compared to Sophi's first few months at home. Faith Ana was happy-go-lucky, easy to entertain, content watching the world around her, and she seemed to adjust so quickly. She rarely fussed or cried. She enjoyed learning and surprised us with how quickly she picked up the language and how much she loved to talk! It was such a contrast from Sophi who 2 1/2 years later is still almost entirely non-verbal.

I always attributed Faith Ana's easier adjustment to the fact that her first six years in life were spent in a much better orphanage than S's. She was well-cared for and was much better prepared for how her life was about to change. But despite how well she had done during those early months, in my heart, I knew that there was more to this child and so much more to her heart.

This became very evident to me back in January when we spent that day at Children's Hospital waiting for the surgery that never happened. It was such a hard and frustrating day, and I knew that any of my other children would have lost it on numerous occasions with all that day entailed. But, Faith Ana, she was such a trooper. She was so tough and brave, and while I was so thankful for her ability to hold it together, inside, my heart was weeping for her. A few times during that day, she got upset. I would see little tears trickle out of those big brown eyes, and as I tried to comfort her, she would quickly pull herself together (and away from me) and distract herself back into her happy, little world. 

Although it played out very differently with Faith Ana, I quickly realized that it was so similar to what we experienced with S. S would physically pull away from me when I would try to comfort her. Sometimes she still does. When she was first home and still small enough to hold (something we did quite often), she would resist. She would fight and bite and pull hair and for the longest time would absolutely refuse to make eye contact. She would (and still does) distract herself with any number of self-soothing and stimming behaviors, such as sucking her tongue, rocking, rubbing her fingers together, and doing strange things with her eyes. The list is endless with the ways this child has learned to escape reality. It's what she did for the 6 1/2 years she spent in her orphanage, and we have come to know it well and are slowly learning to accept that this is just the way S is and probably always will be unless we are constantly directing and correcting her.

Faith Ana, on the other hand, came to us with very few of these types of behaviors, or so we thought. She had a few obvious quirks (for lack of a better word), but they were mostly things she did with her eyes. It was hard to know whether this was stimming or just something related to a condition listed in her original medical report called vertical gaze palsy (it turns out that she doesn't have this particular eye condition after all). However, that day at the hospital, I learned so much about my girl, especially that well-guarded little heart of hers.

I'm not sure why it took me six months to realize this. In hindsight, those first few months that Faith Ana was home were so hard for S that I think I was just so incredibly grateful that Faith Ana was so happy and content. It was such a sharp contrast to S who, during that stretch, was so difficult and angry. Regardless of why I didn't recognize it sooner, I remember very vividly that day in Birmingham watching Faith Ana laying on the hospital bed and listening to her talk (or rather repeat the same thing over and over) and realizing that there was so much more to this child than the smiling, happy, jibber-jabby little girl that was our daughter. I began praying that day specifically for her heart, for walls to be broken down, and for healing to come in those deepest, most hidden parts. While I was aware of the brokenness in this child (and in any child who has come from such a hard place), I don't think I recognized the depth of it in her until that day.

It's so easy for the needs of this little crippled and broken body to overshadow the much deeper needs of her heart. And, honestly, this is something that I've struggled with in ways that I never imagined possible.

Attachment is one of those words you hear so much about in the adoption community. How is attachment going? What are you doing to foster attachment? Do you think she's attached yet?  And I've talked about attachment here, specifically about S's difficulty attaching to us and her possible (or obvious) reactive attachment disorder issues. It's so complicated, but then how could it not be for these kids who spend their first years in life with zero consistency, rotating caretakers, and untold abuses and traumas that they experience firsthand or witness? Goodness knows, their whole existence in an orphanage, in my opinion, is a trauma! How could a child come through that without having attachment issues?

Faith Ana surprised me. She quickly knew me as Momma. She never reached out toward other adults (as S still does frequently 2 1/2 years later), and she seemed to quickly grasp the concept of family. I felt like attachment was going so much smoother with Faith Ana than it ever did with S. Both her towards me and me towards her. I was surprised with myself too. Maybe it was the two weeks we spent together in Bulgaria all on our own. Or maybe it was that her disposition was so sweet and she seemed so easy to love. Even with all of her medical needs and the increased demands of caring for her (including some very unpleasant things) that fell on my shoulders, she was so much fun and I truly enjoyed caring for her and loving this newest little daughter of mine.

And then a year passed.

Today, there are so many unknowns with Faith Ana. So much that I don't know.

I don't know if she is happy. Some days, she seems happy. Some days, she is clearly not.

I don't know if she loves me or even likes me. Some days, I'm pretty sure she strongly dislikes me.

And can I be honest with you? 

Some days, I don't know how I feel either. I do love her. It's a fierce and relentless love, a love that has to be chosen and a love that's not dependent on my mood (or hers) or how I feel. It's a love that I'm learning well. I know that I'm unwavering in my belief that this is what the Lord has called us to do, that this little girl was chosen to be our daughter. I know all these things in my heart, but the feelings don't always match up. There are days that I get tired of the fight, tired of the catheters and enemas and the stinky messes, days when I just get plain tired. And I know (or at least I'm learning to know) that this is ok to admit and important to acknowledge.

So many unknowns. 

Today. One year later, and it feels like there are are more unknowns and more uncertainties than this time last year.

But there are a few things that I do know.

I know now, when I only had the slightest inkling then, how demanding and challenging it is to care for a child with physical needs. I mentioned earlier how I've found that it's so easy for the physical needs to overshadow the emotional, heart needs, and this is something I personally struggle with on a daily basis. Much more so now than in those early days.

I know that we've been through a rough and rocky stretch. I know hard in a way I never could have imagined one year ago.

I know that weariness, exhaustion, and burnout are very real things for those who care for children with special needs. I know this firsthand. I know it all too well, and while it's not what I wish I was saying in this one year later update, it has without a doubt been my experience, especially during these past few months.

I share this for several reasons:

First, I'm not even sure if anyone reads this blog anymore, but if you do (we've been so blessed by all the support and prayers for our family these past few years), I would be so grateful for your continued prayers as we navigate through yet another rough stretch.

Second, for those of you who are in your own hard places and feel like throwing in the towel, I just want you to know that you are not alone. Especially those of you who are journeying along a similar path with special needs kids from hard places, your story might look different from ours, but we share common struggles and can be an encouragement to one another to keep persevering even when it's hard.

Third, I want you to see how the Lord is strong and faithful in our weakness. In my weakest and worst moments over this past year, He has never once left my side. He's been so merciful and compassionate to me, providing the respite and rest for my heart, even when I was too prideful or stubborn to admit how much I was struggling. Sometimes this came through a friend or family member taking some of the kids so that I could have a quite afternoon while the girls and littles rested. Lately, it's come through a wonderful college student who is on mission with us this summer! What an unbelievable blessing and gift "Miss Anna" has been to our family. Most recently, the Lord has provided the rest that I've needed through more extreme measures. The past two months have been some of the hardest I've ever walked through. I've spent a dozen mornings at the hospital hooked up to IVs, receiving iron infusions to treat an anemia that has quite literally stopped me in my tracks. There have been horrible headaches, indescribable fatigue, and well, let's just say, a little surprise in the midst of it all that had made these past few months incredibly memorable. But the point is, He has provided. He is providing, and I know that He will see us through this season.

Fourth, I want you to see that there is absolutely nothing "special" about our family. People always say, "oh, we could never do what you guys do. I'm not patient enough to have that many kids, and I sure couldn't handle special needs kids." But here's what I want you to know one year later. When I said it's been a humbling year, I meant it. I have blown it with all my kids, but more so with S and Faith Ana, than I could even begin to count. There have been some ugly moments, with things said and done that I am not proud of. Anyone who knows me well knows that neither patience nor compassion are my strong points, but this is where He comes in and this is how He gets the glory, enabling and strengthening me to do something that is completely beyond myself, beyond my abilities, and beyond my strength.

So, yes, June 2014 through June 2015 will definitely go down in the books as one of the hardest and most humbling years that I've been through, but thanks to Faith Ana {and all these kids}, there's been plenty of hilarious moments mixed in. Plenty of reasons to smile and an abundance of opportunities to laugh. No wonder the wise writer of Proverbs said that a happy heart is good medicine.

Faith Ana definitely has the ability to make us laugh (equally she has the ability to make us want to pull our hair out), but I am so very thankful for this child. Even on her bad days (and we've had quite a few these past six months), she can bring a smile to my face. And I know this is a priceless and special trait for this special child.

Laughter lightens your load and lifts your heart into heavenly places. Your laughter rises to heaven and blends with angelic melodies of praise. Just as parents delight in the laughter of their children, so I delight in hearing My children laugh. I rejoice when you trust Me enough to enjoy your life lightheartedly.

Jesus Calling

Learning became increasingly challenging for Faith Ana after the first six months home she was home. In this video clip, she was trying to learn to ask for things in a "big girl" way. (Up until then, when she wanted something, she would just yell out what she wanted.) I didn't video all the fussing and the numerous tears as she learned to ask politely, but even when she was as mad as a hornet, she was still hilarious. I cackle everytime I watch this! How in the world did I get to be the momma to this funny child!

Faith Ana picked things up so quickly when she first was home, and we were shocked by her verbal skills (especially in contrast to our experience with S). She genuinely seemed to enjoy learning and the first half of the year, she was like a sponge, soaking things up, surprising us at random times by repeating things back that she had learned. But when things became increasingly harder and more challenging, we began to see her struggle. This played out on many fronts, but especially with her ability to actually converse and answer questions as opposed to just repeating back what we said. Over time, we began to see a different side to Faith Ana. And while it brought up a whole slew of unknowns about her cognitive functioning, there was one thing that stood out above everything else. One thing I know with certainty.

Rewind back to that day in January. The hospital room. The happy-go-lucky child that should not have been happy that day, the one who escaped the reality of that day by distracting herself with her own version of stimming (mostly talking to herself). That child, that day, and this Momma's prayer that the Lord would break through the hard places and the walls that surrounded what I knew was a very confused and broken little heart. A heart that I knew had been wounded by her past. A heart that I knew must struggle to understand why her two little legs didn't work the way the other boys and girls' did. A heart full of questions, full of such sadness and grief, and full of anger that I can't even begin to imagine...

As I think back on that day, I know this: I know that He heard that prayer, and wow, oh wow, is He answering that prayer! I had no idea what I was asking for that day. No idea all that the next six months would entail. No earthly idea how I would witness my little girl struggle and fight and grieve. I had no idea then just how hard it would be for her now and how hard it would be for me to learn to love this new version of my Faith Ana.

We are very much in the trenches now. Faith Ana has done a remarkable job of learning to do things for herself (something she never had to do during the six years she spent at the orphanage or the first six months she spent here with us). She has learned to pull herself up in her wheelchair completely on her on. She can dress herself. She is learning to use her teeth and actually chew her food as opposed to swallowing it whole. She is learning to ask for things politely and use her words appropriately. And it has been hard. Brutally hard.

She has cried and screamed and raged, and I'm confident she has hated me for what I've asked her to learn to do. I've done my share of crying and screaming as well. I have seen tremendous progress as well as massive setbacks. I've witnessed a child learn to do something that I never dreamed she would be able to do, and I've also seen her stubbornly refuse to do something that I know she's perfectly capable of doing. And through it all, I've seen the hard exterior begin to crumble and the heart of this little girl become exposed and vulnerable. It's been painful for both of us. But, friends, the Lord is at work. I know this with absolute confidence. He's working in her heart and in mine, and, thankfully, He's not through with either one of us yet. Transformation takes time. I know this. I also know that she and I both are going to come through this, and that there are good chapters yet to be written. In the meantime, I'm whispering these words throughout the day, praying for supernatural love to fill my heart for this super special little girl...

May the Maker pour on the love
so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you...
May you be infused with strength...

I Thessalonians 3:11-13, The Message

Over the past few months when I've been too tired to read or write or think or pray, I've let these words, His words, infuse my weary heart. My prayer today is that they will encourage you in your own hard places...

I have strength for all things
in Christ Who empowers me
I am ready for anything
through Him Who infuses inner strength into me;
I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency.

Phil. 4:13, The Amplified Bible

I love the idea of a redo in June. After these last few months and all that I've been through, I've felt like I've needed a fresh start. Maybe you do too. When I read this post, I knew I wanted to pass it along.

I also loved this post. Here's a little excerpt that I especially loved, but the whole article is a great read:

Before my toes even feel the cold morning floor I have to use my voice to declare His Word over me if I’m going to live on the offense.

At the break of day, noon, night and a dozen times in between, His Word is your weapon. Use it. Read it. Say it. Sing it. We can’t just clean the house of our minds and expect sustained clean-thinking without filling it with Truth. To live and thrive in God in this age, amidst all the competing noise and voices (the worst of which are in our heads), we will have to find a new way to engage with His Word.

Give yourself permission to try a new approach. Dust off your Bible and make it your food. You can’t live without it.

(Before long, it won’t just be your dreams that die if this Word doesn’t have a PICC line into your veins. The enemy — that voice — is after more than just having you quit your dreams; he wants you to quit God.)

Sara Hagerty

Just as my body has been unable to function without iron, our spirits can so easily become depleted. I, for one, am desperate for His Words to have a PICC line straight into my heart! (I actually discussed getting an actual PICC line put in my arm for all the infusions I needed, but opted against it. Thankfully, today, I had my last iron infusion and my blood levels are back to where they should be!) I'm so thankful that He meets us just where we are and gives us fresh strength when we need it most. 


P.S. And the little surprise I mentioned earlier? It was definitely one of the more hilarious moments of 2015. The day I found out about my iron deficiency anemia is the same day I found out about the newest Blackmon. My doctor called me into his office and said, "we need to talk!" Apparently, my lab results revealed a little something more than either of us anticipated! It was definitely unexpected timing, but we are so excited that the Lord has chosen to bless us with another little baby.

For God knows what's going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
while the weak are infused with fresh strength.

I Samuel 2:2-5, The Message


  1. I read every time you post and will continue to pray. I have experienced some of the challenges you have shared ((hugs))


  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I had been wondering how you all were doing. Congratulations on the new baby! I would love it if you could share with how you respond deal with people who think you should not have any more children. We're expecting baby 8 and getting a good amount of grief.

  3. Melanie, I love reading your blog, which I found shortly after Sophi came home. Thanks for always being so real about intentionally loving your kids. I have 5 with one more on the way (oldest is 9) and my days feel hard sometimes - can't imagine how much longer and harder yours must feel. Your faith and faithfulness inspire me! Have you found She is another adoptive mama who is honest about the difficulty of parenting kids from hard pasts. Anyway, thanks for writing, and I am praying right now for this pregnancy to go smoothly and be healthy!

  4. That comment was published in my husband's account. Sorry! :) Blessings, Corrie

  5. You don't even know if anyone reads this blog anymore?! Silly, you have lots of readers who find truth and encouragement here and can't wait to read it as soon as you post it! I'm praying for you! (We are close to one year with Kami too, and it definitely feels surreal to have survived that length of time. It's quite helpful to me to be able to realize that objectively speaking, MY last year was not nearly as challenging as YOUR last year. Thanking God that He is always enough, no matter what we go through!)

  6. Still reading! Keep writing. Love u friend!!