Thursday, January 31, 2013

baby on the road

At 7pm, getting kids homework done, preparing for bedtime, giving baths...At 8pm, driving an ambulance down a bumpy dark road while a baby girl enters the world.

Chrismene came in a few minutes after 7 last night.  She was at the 36 week mark of her pregnancy. In Haiti if you deliver a preemie, you're stuck caring for the preemie. If you want the preemie to have every chance at equimpment and higher-level care the baby needs to be born in the hospital. That's the system. It is close to impossible to bring a baby to the hospital after it is born and get the hospital to receive it. They focus on babies they have delivered and they are almost always filled to capcity.

36 weeks is right at the line, but Chrismene measured very small and her dates had been in question because she joined the program 20 weeks (estimated) into her pregnancy.  She is in the Haitian Creations program and we've known her for years.  Beth checked Chrismene and decided we better not risk a tiny baby and we headed out in the ambulance.  We picked up Wini to be with us to try to negotiate our way into the hospital.  Right after Wini joined us, a 5pound 10ounce baby girl joined us too! Ambulance run cancelled, we headed back to the Maternity Center instead.

Chrismene will be seeking a prize of some sort - she was the first of the ladies to give birth in the ambulance. All is well.

23 days without any babies  - now 3 babies in 5 days - that's the system, too. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

sexual abuse, culture, hidden things

For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, 
and whatever is concealed is meant to 
be brought out into the open. 
Mark 4:22

We receive a lot of emails from- 
1. People moving to Haiti to work/serve and 2. People adopting kids from Haiti.
We have found that whenever we give the "Do not underestimate the cultural differences and the vastly different norms" advice in relation to sexual abuse, people stop responding. I would estimate that 75% of the people I write that to never say a word back.  I don't know if that is because they have decided I am a cynic (I am!) or a liar or if they just don't have it in them to face the difficult truth of the warning they have just been offered. Denial is powerful. I cannot take the time to answer those emails in any detailed way anymore so I am posting this and using it for a quick reference link to respond to future emails. 

From -

What Missionaries Ought to Know about Sexual Abuse
We all wish it did not occur, and we avoid talking about it as if it never happens. However the fact is that, like other children, missionary kids (MKs) are sometimes sexually abused. In some cases MKs may be in even more danger of sexual abuse (such as being touched or touching inappropriately, being shown pornography, having intercourse, etc.). If parents are frequently absent, leaving their children with other missionaries, and telling their children to respect and obey the other adults as they would their own parents, those children are put under the authority of a greater spectrum of adults, increasing their opportunity to run into an abuser. If the parents have not had an open attitude about the discussion of sexuality, their MKs may believe a perpetrator whom they know well when that abuser tells them some activity is all right. Let's consider where sexual abuse can occur, what are some signs of sexual abuse, and what we can do to prevent it. (Note that we are talking about sexual abuse involving an older person, not curiosity about sexual differences between children of about the same age.)
Can it happen at home (incest)?
Of course, it can. It most often happens in families that appear to be very close. However, they are too "close"; the family members are too enmeshed. When the incest is discovered, family members typically go through denial, shock, horror, anger, grief, and finally go on to some action (or decide not to act). The following are characteristic of incestuous relationships.
  • Power Differences. Children are in a position of less power than perpetrators (parent or older sibling). Holding lower positions and respecting older persons, children find it very difficult to resist sexual advances.
  • Betrayal of Trust. Families are expected to be places of safety and security, places where children are nurtured and develop the potential God has provided. Sexual abuse within the family violates this basic function of the family.
  • Blame. Although unfair, other family members may blame the abused children, accusing them of dressing or behaving provocatively. Children may blame themselves for letting the sexual activity occur, for participating in the affection and attention, or for actually enjoying the physical sensations and closeness (if they did).
  • Secrecy. Children may remain silent because of shame, fear, ignorance or because they do not know how to explain what is happening.
Can it happen with other missionaries?
Of course, it can. When it does, it often has many of the same characteristics as incest (sexual abuse within a family). In fact, many mission agencies refer to themselves as "missionary families" in which each child has many "aunts" and "uncles" who are not blood relatives, but to whom the children feel close. Like biological families, such missionary families living together in another culture may become too enmeshed so that they become dysfunctional, and sexual abuse may happen to children as well as single female missionaries. These relationships have the same characteristics as incest.
  • Power Differences. Children on a given field are encouraged to respect and obey other missionaries as they do their parents. Single women may also be under the authority of the perpetrator and be somewhat flattered to receive attention. This is especially true of the perpetrator is the spiritual and moral leader of the group who is in the spotlight of many worship services.
  • Betrayal of Trust. Children and single women expect the missionary community (family) to give them protection and care in the host culture. Sexual abuse within that community betrays such trust.
  • Blame. The missionary community (family) may blame the child or the single woman for seducing their colleague or leader. Likewise, the victims may also begin to blame themselves.
  • Secrecy. Sexual abuse in the missionary family may be even more secret because if it becomes known, it will bring shame on the missionary enterprise, God's work.
Can it happen at boarding school?
Of course, it can. Cases of such abuse have received wide publicity during the '90s with schools and churches apologizing to those abused. Again the family model is used with the students living in houses with others who are like brothers or sisters their age, and the people in charge are their dorm "parents."
  • Power Differences. Students are to respect and obey their surrogate parents and love their surrogate siblings.
  • Betrayal of Trust. The school family is to be a place of protection and care.
  • Blame. Again victims may blame themselves or be blamed by others.
  • Secrecy. Revealing the abuse will bring disgrace on the school. If it is a Christian school, revealing the abuse will also bring disgrace on the cause of Christ.
Can it happen in the host culture?
Again the answer is a resounding "Yes!" In this case it is abuse coming from outside the family, so it is not a betrayal of trust and seldom is the victim blamed, but the secrecy is still there in the sense that it is often not talked about.
One adult MK described walking through a bustling marketplace at the age of 16 with a friend. Suddenly a man on a bicycle veered toward them so that the man could reach out and grab the friend's breast. The two of them walked on without breaking stride. Their conversation continued uninterrupted. Although it is painfully seared on her memory, never in 25 years did the two of them ever mention it.
Some cultures view women as intrinsically inferior to men in nearly every way rather than as image-bearers of God who are to be respected. Sometimes female MKs are told to ignore the stares, rude gestures, touches, and pinches. They may come to believe that their feelings of fear, indignation, and humiliation are wrong rather than seeing the abuse as what is wrong. They are expected to treat such things as insignificant, something to get used to, a part of adapting to the culture.
Boys as well as girls may be sexually molested. In fact, some cultures routinely masturbate boys to calm them, and sodomy can occur in any culture.
What are some signs of sexual abuse?
Some children who are being sexually abused function quite normally and do not have any obvious symptoms. Others have only general symptoms that could indicate a variety of other problems related to growing up. The most certain way to know about abuse is when individuals report it.
Some physical conditions may indicate sexual abuse. If a child has bruises or bleeding in the genital or anal areas, foreign bodies in the vagina or rectum, pain or itching in the genital area, stained or bloody underclothing, painful discharge of urine, or difficulty walking or sitting, they should be examined by a physician. It is important not to make accusations of sexual abuse because any or all of these conditions may have other causes, and a missionary's reputation and effectiveness can be destroyed by a false accusation.
Some behaviors may indicate sexual abuse. Children who force sexual acts on others, talk a lot about sexual activity, engage in sexual games unusual for children their age, have an unusual knowledge of sexual things, engage in sexually aggressive behaviors, have an unusual interest in sexual things, or have an unusual fear of men may have been sexually abused. Again, any of these may have other causes, and accusations must not be made on the basis of them alone.
What can we do?
Although sexual predators will always be with us, there are several things we can do to minimize the damage they do.
  • Talk about it (early, regularly, age-appropriately). Teach children the difference between good touch, bad touch, and confusing touch as well as the difference between good secrets and bad secrets. Tell children where they can go if trouble occurs and make it clear that no matter what happens, no sexual activity with an older person should be kept secret. Let them know that sometimes people, even people they trust, may try to touch them inappropriately or get them to do something that seems to be wrong as part of a game or secret. If this occurs they should say no and not do the wrong thing.
  • Believe them. If a child reports abuse, tell them that you believe them (even though "Uncle John" seems to be the most child-loving, spiritual missionary you know). Do not jump to conclusions but stay calm and listen. Do not ask leading questions (Did he touch you there?), but write down word-for-word exactly what the child said describing the abuse as soon as possible after talking with the child. Affirm the child's feelings (It's OK to be angry, frightened, etc.) and reassure him or her that you will continue to be there whenever needed.
  • Report it. Even though the alleged perpetrator may be an important spiritual leader in your agency, take some action. If your agency has procedures for taking action against people who do wrong, follow those procedures. If not, take whatever action you can in your situation. This is as much to prevent abuse of others as it is to stop abuse of the child involved. Abusers often repeat the offense and must be stopped.
Ronald Koteskey
Member Care Consultant
GO International

All parents planning on moving their children to a new culture need to recognize that it will take years before they begin to understand language and culture well. Plenty of things about culture remain hidden and secret even years (or forever) into living in it. In some cultures children are exposed to sex at very young ages and will act out what they have seen or experienced themselves. The rules of what is allowable or appropriate with children varies culture to culture. Don't be trusting of anyone - expat, host culture, "pastor", or otherwise. 

I hate saying this because it sounds cynical (I am) - but dysfunctional and hurt people hide out on the "mission field" and they even gain status doing so. Missonary is an old school word and it doesn't mean what people think or want it to mean. Titles should not be trusted. It is not rude to your host culture to be protective of your children. The host culture should not implicityly trust the expats/visitors either.

Kids that have suffered sexual abuse hide it. They carry shame and confusion. Hiding it causes them isolation and suffering. A study** done recently suggests that the secrecy surrounding sexual abuse is as damaging as the abuse itself. Talk about this stuff frequently with your kids. Be on your guard and let people call you overprotective. That's a label we can be happy to wear. 

All adoptive parents should prepare for the liklihood that their children will have suffered some sexual abuse at some point in their lives - especially because Haiti adoptions are slowing way down and there is very little no chance of adopting a baby anymore. "Christian orphanage" "small program" "great nannies" - all of that is nice - it doesn't matter prepare anywayHundreds of adoptive parents' experiences don't lie. 

**Source: Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, Page 82:
"Shame thrives on secret keeping, and when it comes to secrets, there's some serious science behind the twelve-step program saying, "You're only as sick as your secrets." In a pioneering study, psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues studied what happened when trauma survivors -- specifically rape and incest survivors --kept their secret. The research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event." 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

bourik chaje pa kanpe

We are buried in unanswered email, unfinished to-do lists, and busy kids.  The last week is a blur of crazed activity. Looking for time to write but not finding it. Until we find it, here are a few photos and facts from recent days ...

Went for pizza to meet Troy's mom (she was at a nearby guesthouse with a dental group) and also celebrated the six year anniversary of Phoebe joining our family in January of 2007.

 Elaudie laboring with her big sister looking on and encouraging/teasing the way only sisters can.

 Elaudie and her 8.5 pound healthy daughter Leyla with Wini.

Kreyol class de (two) with Pwofese Fabienne ~ Lydia dropped out already

 Rania and her son doing well

 Phoebe on Friday, TGIF thumbs up before heading to school

 Not under warranty. Troy's 2007 MacBook has gone to MacBook heaven.

This is one of the greatest things I have ever been given. We are making smoothies and considering leaving solid food behind forever. There is nothing this thing cannot liquify. Isaac said, "It is like you have a thing now Mom - your thing is making us smoothies."  Found my purpose. Finally. 
The key to a successful day in Haiti?:  Stack of Bibles, Oswald Chambers 'My Utmost for His Highest' -  and an agressive plan for explosive and sudden diarrhea.  (As seen on the shelf in the office of one, John McHoul.)
  • Troy worked with his Mom and those she works with in Minnesota at a dental clinic last week. He had a blast.
  • Many thanks to M.K. for helping Beth and Troy with all of their tech-support issues. We don't need an Apple store in Port au Prince, thanks to you.
  • Stephanie labored for more than 30 hours and has since delivered safely.  Unfortunately and to our great disappointment we needed to transport her after all those hours.
  • Elaudie went home with her daughter after recovering in post-partum area at Heartline.
  • Paige made some big decsions about college and her next steps.  Exciting and terrifiying all at once (for Troy and I).  Haiti will not be the same without her. The next four months will be precious for all of us. (and hopefully verrrrry loooong)
  • The Run for Life team made it back to Port au Prince and have begun their physical and emotional recovery process. Many that came to volunteer their time have gone back home. What a giant gift to have been able to witness such an enormous undertaking.  12 marathons, 315 miles, complete. Now to contiune to raise funds for the building. 
About the title:  Bourik chaje pa kanpe is a Haitian Proverb that means - a loaded donkey cannot stand (still) ... You say this when you're busy and trying to keep on working and going - when someone would like to stop you to chit-chat for a while.

Friday, January 25, 2013

focusing on the relax part for tonight

10 Commandments according to Hope L.

 1. have no other God
 2. do not bow to a false God
 3. use God's name carefully
 4. worhip and relax
 5. honor father and mother
 6. do not kill
 7. do not cheat your wife
 8. don't steal
 9. do not lie about your neighbor
10. do not be jealous

(so close!)

Another popular option:
1. I am the Lord thy God. (Have no gods before me.)
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
3. Remember keep the Sabbath Day Holy.
4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

the journey of a lifetime for maternal health

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” 

Barry has less than 15 miles to go to complete his 315 mile 12 day journey across the island of Haiti. He will finish the last of the 12 marathons (26.2 miles) before most of us have lunch today. Every day for two weeks he has pushed himself to do things 99.9999999999% of us will never do. His goal? To build a new maternity center in order for Heartline Ministries to serve a larger number of pregnant women in Port au Prince.  

Extreme dedication, extreme love, extreme moxie.  I am inspired by all of it. 

To give to that fund:

(Photo of finish, updated from original photo. He DID it!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann

Here we are, a largish family seven years into living on this tropical island. We range in age from 5 to 40. One would think seven years is sufficient time for every member of this largish family to have learned the language. One would think that children could (should?) pick up a new language quicker than adults. One would think that Haitian-born children that were only outside of Haiti for 3 years might recall their mother tongue easily with just a little brush up session.  

One would be wrong on all fronts. 

The five kids pictured above cannot yet be considered bilingual.

As parents raising kids cross-culturally we so desire children that are culturally sensitive, far from ethnocentric, and lovers of all nations. (too much to hope for?) We imagine them sitting in international airports soaking up the surroundings and hearing multiple languages as music to their diversified and well rounded eardrums. 
We walk around with ridiculous and grandiose dreams of utopia in their hearts and minds  -- even though we ourselves cannot figure out how we feel moment to moment about the cultures we engage with on a daily basis.  
We rock the double-standard like a boss. 

So for seven years we've forced encouraged Kreyol here and there, without consistency. Paige has taught them, we have worked with them, one of them went to a class, Geronne (first language Kreyol) patiently speaks clearly and listens to them repeat back ... All for a net gain of close to zilch. 

They have many siblings and not that many friends.That is both sad and happy.  In general they are content to be best buddies with one another. They are far from immersed in the culture and don't really NEED Kreyol to get through a day. We lament this but we are willing to admit we don't have it in us to be hard nosed or totally committed to another style of living at this juncture.

Our Haitian kids are oftentimes odd man out in their birth culture and they seem to resist committing to learning Kreyol in earnest. This is possibly due to teasing in the past. Our little paler ones follow suit. Raising third-culture-kid(s),  we walk a line in our attempt to make this 'home' and also to make that 'home'. We're trying to choose wisely, desiring  to make choices that won't  result in more than your average run-of-the-mill levels of resentment come adulthood. 

We've considered forcing the issue on about 19 different occasions, some of which were probably documented right here on the interwebs. Before the 2010 earthquake we had some real traction and both Lydia and Phoebe spoke only Kreyol to one another and Geronne.That was all lost in the months of displacement that followed.  

Things come up occasionally, when we feel self-conscious of their inability to speak Kreyol. The "should we push them on this" question has been volleyed between the weary parental-force frequently, always left hanging unanswered until we ask all over again à la mode de boring Badminton match.

Suddenly, last week something changed in the attitudes of the smallish people toward the question "So, you think you'd want to try a Kreyol class together soon?"  Noah didn't cross his arms.  Hope didn't passively ignore.  Phoebe didn't shrug.  Isaac smiled, his lower face swallowed whole by the width of his grin. Lydia watched their reactions carefully, ready to mirror them.

Peace and joy washed over me as I gazed upon my little Jesus-loving-people-loving-multi-cultural- cherubims. They care, they care to speak  to the beautiful people of this island, I thought.  Oh, the moment of motherly pride when your children conquer their fear in the name of LOVE.  

"Guys, WHY are you ready to do this now?" I eagerly asked.

"We realized something really cool Mom!  We realized that when we are in Texas or Minnesota later this year we can say things about rude people when we are out and they won't know what we're saying!"  "We can talk about people right in front of them like you and Dad do to us." "It is gonna be awesome!!!!"

Oh. So not so much in the name of love then?

Today at 4:30 their Kreyol teacher will arrive for the first official lesson of this go-round. 

Wish her luck. 

She will need it.

  ~     ~     ~     ~

About the title: In Haitian Kreyòl, there is an expression, “Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann.”  Literally meaning, “Kreyòl speaks, Kreyòl understands,” it more broadly declares that the speaker intends her words for those who understand—and for those who don’t, no translation will help, or be offered. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

two kinds of marathons

Rania arrived at the Maternity Center Saturday night around 9pm.  The security guard rang Beth and she rushed down the road to assess the situation.  Rania had been having contractions all day. She was in early labor and not having very productive contractions - so we put her to bed and Beth slept nearby in order to hear if anything changed.  

Morning came and sweet, shy, Rania reported no sleep, just discomfort and restlessness. We started encouraging Rania to walk the perimeter of the yard and to climb the steps to the roof. She complied even though she was already pretty weary. Throughout the morning we asked, "Do you remember, is this like the last time?"  "Pa telma" she said.  (not really) - only insomuch as it was exhausting and painful. 

A videographer is here this week to document the Run for life. (Photo credit: MK Smith) Because Sunday was a rest day for the amazing marathoner, the videographer/photographer was able to join us for the long Sunday of labor-watch.  

Beth asked Rania if some film could be shot and explained it was about Barry's run and building the new maternity center.  Rania replied, "I remember Barry, he is running from Port Salut all across the country, my mother and I have been praying for him."  We were touched that a busy mom of six, about to have her seventh, would have any space in her mind and prayers for something that is so very foreign/American and strange in the eyes of a materially poor person just trying to feed and shelter their family today.  (Try explaining how running insane distances equals donations for a new building -  it doesn't translate to anything sensible.)

The day wore on and Rania was not behaving as grand multiparas are expected to behave in labor. She stalled out and needed to lie down mid-afternoon. By late afternoon (nurse) Winifred had joined us.  It had taken 30+ hours of labor to arrive at 5cm and Rania's baby's heart began decelering with contractions. Rania had shared with us that she was a little bit afraid of hospitals and doctors and had said that she gave birth to her six kids at home in order to avoid them. We knew that and SO wanted her to be able to stay with the supportive and sweet individual attention style of midwifery that we practice. We had reiterated over and over throughout her pregnancy that as a bit older momma of many, her risk for complication was increased - an unattended birth could be dangerous.

The senior midwife on the scene makes the call in questionable situations. Beth made a good one and decided we'd better not risk the possibility of hours and hours of more laboring to arrive at 10cm when Rania's baby was showing signs of stress. We loaded up the ambulance to head to one of the hospitals, unsure if they would have space to accept Rania.  

Upon arrival we learned there were two spaces open and Winifred heard the folks at the hospital agree that getting baby out quickly was important. She heard the nurse say "prepare the O.R.".  Winifred walked out to the ambulance to tell us that Rania was accepted and also to walk Rania's mother back into the hospital to be with her. By the time they got back to Rania she had delivered!  

We've since learned that when she arrived at the hospital she was 7cm  (thanks to the bumpy insane roads of Haiti - a positive side of this annoyance) and within five minutes of that she was 10cm and the baby arrived before they could get her to the C-section table.  (36 hours for the first 5cm and 30 minutes for the last 5cm) The baby had the cord wrapped three times around its neck, explaining the slow and very long day-and-a-half of laboring without great progress and explaining the fetal heart decels.

Rania and her mother were informed of her progress all throughout the day. Sharing the details of the decisions being made and the reasons for them is important to what we do.  Women all across Haiti have had procedures and other medical care that was never explained to them. Sometimes women tell us they don't know why they had to have a C-section. We explained to Rania why we were taking her to the hospital. This is not to say every hospital and every medical professional is unkind or unwilling to share details about what is happening. It is however true in many and probably most cases that a cultural problem exists -  it is not at all uncommon for the educated (for example a doctor or nurse) to treat the "uneducated" (most of the women we serve) disrespectfully and even with disdain. 

We were very sad to miss the opportunity to give Rania the calm and drama free experience we'd prayed and hoped for her to have. In hindsight we know that had Rania not come to enter our program or had decided once again to deliver in the privacy of her own home, her baby would have died and possibly worse.  

She finished her marathon and was handed the prize of a living baby at the finish line.

It is an honor and privilege to be here in Haiti running with these tenacious women as they endure challenge after challenge. 

Meanwhile, 75 miles north, Barry continues his quest to cross the nation of Haiti on foot (315 miles the total goal) while raising awareness about the maternal health situation here. (Dr. Jen working on his low back on day 8 above.) He has run day after day and is closing in on his goal of 12 marathons covering the nation in 14 days.

Today he completed his ninth marathon. (235 miles) He will run Tuesday and Wednesday with the finish line in sight on Thursday afternoon.  The terrain is getting more difficult as he approaches the mountainous north of Haiti.

When the funding arrives the new maternity center will have an operating room and eventually there will be no need to drive down the road unsure of whether there is space at the hospital. Our hope and dream is to have the ability to perform c-sections at the new maternity center site.

The donations toward this cause have plateaued in recent days. Maybe you can share this post with friends and family. Perhaps you know of a mother in the developed world that had access to great care and is able to provide everything for her child ...  Maybe you would consider giving a gift in her name to love, help, and serve the women of Port au Prince and help cheer and propel Barry to his finish line.

To donate, visit:

Martin Luther King Jr. (quotes)

"On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."

"Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: "Improved means to an unimproved end". This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of man's nature subjugates the "within", dark storm clouds begin to form in the world."

Friday, January 18, 2013

fighting the orphan crisis one momma at a time

not available for adoption ~ loved, cared for, healthy babies with living mothers 

Questions about Heartline Ministries or maternal health in Haiti?
Please ask!  

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Update 1/20/13 @ 8:30am - Rania is in labor, please pray for her!

Rania awaits the birth of her seventh child.  We're waiting with her and guessing she might be next to deliver. Her six kids were all born at home with the help of a friend or family member. She is a bit shy and therefore apprehensive about trying something different. Rania knows she has an increased risk for hemorrhage, so she wants to come to Heartline to deliver and not take that chance.

Rania and I enjoyed trading seven kid stories today. We resolutely agreed seven is the perfect stopping place. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

tuesday & wednesday blur

 Barry finished mile 131 this morning.

 Tuesday class, some of the 40 babies in ECD class.
 Running with the sunrise.
 Working out the kinks.
Running with the super-machine.

Between regularly scheduled life and the Run for Life (Haiti) --- things are blurring together and passing by quickly.  We don't have a ton of time to write in detail but wanted to share some photos from the last couple days.

Barry finished his FIFTH marathon today.  Tomorrow he'll run through the heart of Port au Prince and pass by both the current Maternity Center and the land where the new one will eventually be built. A bunch of us will be joining him for a few miles of morale boosting.  I (tara) had the honor and privilege of meeting up with him 8 miles into today's marathon and running with him for couple hours. His resolve is strong and he truly is inspirational.  Perhaps non-runners or runner haters aren't in a spot to truly understand the insanity of it all - I'll just say:  This.IS.Hard.  He literally won't run or walk another step without some pain and discomfort. He'll likely need to add in more walking to continue on another seven days .... friends of Barry are jumping in and out to encourage and run with him along the way.

Please be praying for this guy - he has many more days to go - he's flippin amazing!!!

After praying for him, please tell anyone that is even remotely listening to you that maternal health care in undeveloped countries is INCREDIBLY important.... It reduces the number of orphans. When mothers die, poverty worsens and children are scattered to family members and orphanages.  The babies in the baby photo above ALL HAVE MOTHERS that LOVE and WANT them ... nobody needs to adopt them. They are right where they need to be, at the breast of their mamas. The dream of empty orphanages is a key motivational factor of the Heartline Maternity Center. Prenatal care and safe birth and postpartum care along with education and support in the first months of a baby's life equals (alive!) bonded moms that love their children well.

Barry hopes that this run will result in a new, larger maternity center and  more women offered a loving, respectful place to be cared for and supported.  There is already nearly 200K given to go toward that effort. We hope to spread the word far and wide.

Go, Barry, go. 

photos courtesy of M.K. Smith 

Monday, January 14, 2013

of funerals, housework, and crazy-distance-runners

"Actually, I really enjoy sweeping!" -Isaac Livesay
As we shared before the new year, Geronne's papa passed away.  There are lots of cultural things that play into funerals and the planning of said funerals.  Due to those things it took a couple of weeks for Geronne and her many siblings to gather the funds to pay for the funeral and burial of their father. We were floored by the amount she had to come up with and wondered how in the world it could cost that much.  As the saying here goes, 'the dead bury the living'.  The funeral finally took place yesterday.

Geronne has been gone all but three days of the last fourteen.  Ultimately this is a very good thing for Livesay kids and parents. We love the woman and we want her to take as much time away from us as she needs, whenever she wants. It gives us a chance to see, remember, acknowledge that there is one singular reason our household runs as well as it does and that reason is Geronne.

The amount of planning it takes just to keep up with laundry kind of shocked me.  Laundry can only be done when there is city power (EDH) - Troy is ever controlling of what happens when there is no city power. Laundry is at the bottom of twelve things we are not allowed to do with  battery power. Geronne has it all down to an art form. I struggled to keep up with her masterful techniques. The kids took turns helping with sweeping and dishes. We reduced the mopping schedule from every third day to every never day.  The dust in Haiti during the dry season is mind-numbing. It takes about two hours for something that was dusted to have enough dust to write a message in it.  She works a few hours a day and makes it look perfect and easy.  We all worked a few hours a day and it never seemed finished or all that clean.

We called Geronne and a pastor friend from LaDigue numerous times during the week to confirm the funeral location and date.  The date got pushed back the longer it took for the money to be paid. Geronne was distracted and gave vague descriptions of the church.  The pastor friend said "Catholic church, near the park".  We'd been to that church before, it was easy to find. We sat in the park for a half hour yesterday waiting for the Pastor friend to arrive.  Finally Troy called him and he said his bus had broken down but "wi, wi" it IS the large Catholic church directly across from the park.

We went in and sat down toward the back of a huge church.

I leaned over to Troy and said, "I don't see anyone from LaDigue that I recognize."  Troy said, "They are probably all seated in front."  We sat longer.  I leaned over to say, "Every person entering is not a face from LaDigue, Troy."  He stood up to be sure there was a casket in the front.  He sat back down.  "Maybe we should ask someone who this funeral is for", I said.  Troy gave me a look.  Apparently asking who the dead person is  - that is not a thing.  Troy was above asking that.  I was deciding the correct use of Kreyol to respectfully (and very quickly and quietly) ask. Upon further thought I decided against it too. The service continued on, we continued sitting there like dummies.

wrong church, wrong funeral
After about ten minutes of seeing how much French we could translate for one another we went into some little side room of the church to call another friend from LaDigue. We then learned that it was not at a Catholic church, nor was it by the park, nor was anything our pastor friend told us correct.  We drove to the right place and went in for the last 10 minutes of the right funeral.

We're thankful we made it in time for Geronne to see and know we love and care about her.  We're glad that she doesn't know when we got there.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Today, as I write this (Monday) Barry is running his FOURTH marathon in a row.  My mind cannot even go there.  The SINGLE marathons I have run were all followed by misery and days and days of sedentary living. To get up day after day with wrecked muscles and joints and keep running is mind blowing to me.  Tomrrow (Tuesday) he takes one day of rest before beginning the fifth of twelve total marathons.  I am so hopeful that some deep-pocket philanthropist or big news outlet notices this insanity and brings new attention and $ to Barry's cause.  I am so grateful to all of you that are already plugged into what goes on at Heartline and have given to this effort and encouraged Barry. Maternal health matters, Barry obviously believes that.

This video was taken yesterday in the middle of day three.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

three years

From all that is broken, let there be beauty.
From what is torn, jagged, ripped, frayed,
let there be not just mendings - but meetings unimagined.
May the God in whom nothing is wasted
Gather up every scrap, every shred and shard,
And make of them new paths, doorways, worlds.

-Jan Richardson

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

January 12, 2010  - we remember those that lost their lives and we remember friends that lost near and dear ones that day. We pray and hope boldly for continued healing  and peace in their lives. Nou pap janm bliye.

Our first reaction and diary from the days following the quake can be found here.

No other time in our lives is as vividly ingrained in our memories as the day and the days following the earthquake. It feels like decades ago. It feels like yesterday. We saw the very best and the very worst of humanity in those days. We felt the power of Christ in us. We saw that power exhibited in others. We witnessed crushing despair and miraculous provision. Like so many others, this experience has changed us.

More thoughts and photos from the two-year anniversary found here.

Lord, again we pray with hope...  
from all that is broken, let there be beauty. From what is torn, jagged, ripped, and frayed, let there be not just mendings but meetings unimagined. May the God in whom nothing is wasted gather up every scrap, every shred and shard, and make of them new paths, new doorways, new worlds. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

a lifelong process: adoption

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know how important adoption is to us.  In our  immediate family we have the entire "adoption triad" covered. In addition to being adoptive parents, we are in a unique position to know the hurting heart of a birth/first mother, and to hear from an adult adoptee about his experiences.

42% of the children in our family joined our family via adoption.  That's not a secret to anyone. Over the last 7 years our adoptions have slowly evolved and have become "open" adoptions. At our house we talk about adoption frequently.  We purposefully bring it up at times to keep it a topic that is never odd or taboo or uncomfortable. On Hope's birthday we said, "I bet your first mom is remembering your amazing birth today."  That way if she wanted to talk about it she knew we were okay with that. We try to acknowledge their first family and their significance and invite conversation. Whatever we refuse to talk about could be seen as a problem and we never want our kids to feel unsafe or worried about processing adoption things out loud with us if they want to do that.  (It is to the point that Lydia feels slighted that she wasn't adopted.)

As kids get older their needs and questions change.  A four year old needs something different than an eleven year old who needs something different than a nineteen year old.  Phoebe, Hope and Isaac have processed and grieved and dealt with things differently too.  As individuals they deal with their stories and feelings and process them in unique ways.

Right now Isaac is working through things he has not previously thought about.  He is questioning what his life would be like had his first family not placed him. He is wondering especially about things surrounding his first father lately.  Because he is quite a literal person and sees things in very certain terms, he struggles when he feels two opposing things. The complexity of his feelings can be overwhelming at times. The incongruence of enjoying his life, loving his family and still wondering about what life would be like had he not been placed are difficult things to reconcile.  He is engaged in the process and talking though, and that is good.  This summer when asked about adoption he wrote this reply.  Knowing that he cannot hurt us with any feeling, fear, regret, or question he has makes talking about things safe for him.

From time to time we'll interact with new folks in passing that will say how "lucky" our kids were and are to be adopted.  We know those statements are never intended to be rude or sinister but they do miss the mark.  Most of us don't tell our friends' biological kids how lucky they were to be born to their parents.  That's just weird.  Adopted kids don't need to grow up hearing how lucky they are.  That's not a thing.  In this case that would technically mean that what people are really saying is, "You are so lucky that your parents were too poor and/or treated so unjustly that they felt they needed to place you in an institution (so lucky!) in order for you to leave the only deep connection you had to go to a new place with complete strangers. Later on you were adopted by these parents and lost what you knew again and that was lucky for you!" Obviously, that is hyperbole, but I use it to make a point.

Don't get me wrong -  I LOVE adoption. I LOVE my children. I think adoption can be beautiful and redemptive. I stand in awe of how often love repairs, love heals. I just don't think adoption should ever be seen  or done as charity. I don't want people telling my kids they are lucky. Adoption cannot be about being the hero or the savior. Adopted kids deserve not to be made to feel like a charity case.  The problem with seeing adoption as "saving" a child is that we can really only "save" them once -- the rest of your life you're just raising them -- and there is no pomp and circumstance or glamour in the daily grind of that.  With our adopted kids, if someone tells them they are 'lucky' we tell them that they surely meant that WE (Troy and I) are the lucky ones.

~        ~        ~        ~

I read this article today and thought it had so many great points, I am linking to it at Huffington post HERE - and pasting it in below too. 

By Lesli Johnson
10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know

I was adopted as an infant, during a time when adoption was still shrouded in secrecy. My birthmother kept her pregnancy hidden from her family for nearly seven months. Her parents and my biological father's parents agreed she would be sent away to have me. She birthed me in a sterile room, frightened, with no familiar faces and no compassion for her situation. I was taken from her before she even had a chance to see me. Back then, this was considered acceptable. Today, we realize that this separation is traumatic for both the mother and the child, and we recognize that early experiences have a disproportionately large impact on the structure of the brain. I spent 82 days in foster care until I went home with my adoptive parents. My parents felt they were being "open" when they told me I was adopted, but no one helped me understand what adoption was. None of my friends were adopted, or maybe they just weren't talking about it. Adoption was a big secret but I thought about it often. I wondered if my best friend's mom might be my "real" mom. I wondered what was so wrong with me that my birth mom gave me away, and was she going to come back? I loved my family, so this idea caused great anxiety. I struggled to complete family tree and genealogy assignments in school.
I went to therapy for the first time when I was 6 years old because I had begun to suffer from sleep issues and crippling separation anxiety from my mom. I'd begin each day worrying that my mom might forget to pick me up at school. Although she was always there, part of me knew I had been abandoned before and my child self believed it could happen again. Slumber parties and overnights at grandma's house were fraught with "nervous stomachs" and invented earaches. Were my parents coming back? I desperately needed someone to help me understand my feelings. Unfortunately, my child therapist was not that person. I went twice. I drew pictures of pumpkins. Adoption was never mentioned.
I returned to therapy in my twenties, fresh out of college and anxious about pretty much everything. It took two years before I even mentioned that I was adopted. It wasn't on my therapist's radar to ask, and I was conditioned to believe it was irrelevant. It wasn't until graduate school that I really began to explore how my adoption shaped me. I began to connect the dots of my story and ask questions. I met my birthmother and her family and two years ago, I searched for and found my birth father's family. He's no longer alive, but I have pictures of him. For the first time in my life, I see someone I resemble.
My experience is not unique, but it is important. I now understand that the main reason adoptees don't talk about their struggles is generally the same. When we are young, we don't have the ability to identify our experience and articulate our feelings. As an adoptee gets older, if no one is talking about adoption, we get the sense that our feelings won't be understood or validated. I'm now a therapist myself and have worked extensively with adoptive families. In my work I strive to help this generation of adoptees, adoptive families and birth parents to have a different experience than I did.
Here are ten of the ten thousand things adoptees want the world to know. 
1. Adoptees want their adoptive parents to prepare emotionally and psychologically
before they bring them home to become a family.

It's helpful when parents have done their own psychological work before adopting and continue to be aware of their on-going experience as it relates to adoption. It's important for adoptive parents to grieve their inability to conceive a biological child if this is why they chose to adopt. Adoption is not a substitute for having a biological child nor is it a way of "replacing" a child who dies. Adoption IS one of many ways to make a family.
Adoptive families benefit when parents continue to educate themselves on relevant issues related to adoption and access support when necessary. Many communities now have various support groups for all members of the adoption constellation. If your community doesn't, why not start one?
2. The adoptee's experience is REAL.
Adoptees want you to know their experience is real and that no one can "fix" it. It's difficult for parents to see their children struggle with the complexities of adoption. They want to make things better and alleviate suffering. Parents cannot eliminate the pain of their child's past experience. However, they can provide a safe place for their child to explore current feelings about adoption at various stages of life in order to help their child integrate the experience more fully. The adoptee wants and needs validation of their feelings, and a compassionate presence. They want to know it's always okay to talk about adoption and ask questions.
In cases when trickier questions arise, parents might consider waiting to respond rather than being caught off-guard, giving a quick, less thought-out answer that they have to go back and fix later. In a recent episode of "Modern Family," Mitchell is reading a bedtime story to his young, adopted daughter Lily about a "beautiful princess in a faraway land." They are both visibly tired and as Lily begins to nod off, she asks questions about her birth mom. "Was I in my mom's belly?" "Where's my mom now?" Mitchell replies, "She's in a faraway land." He adds, "Because she's a princess and she's very, very busy." Lily, seemingly satisfied, drifts off to sleep. Mitchell's answer creates a fantasy for Lily and she feels compelled to dress up each Halloween as a princess in the hope she'll find her mommy. Her dads are later able to talk with her and the made-for-TV-moment is neatly wrapped up but sometimes it's wiser for parents to wait to answer questions. Parents can say to their child, "I can see your question is important to you. Let me think about it and we'll talk first thing in the morning." Offer a specific time and follow through. This allows space for parents to consider the question, talk with their partner and seek guidance from a therapist to provide a well thought out answer.
3. The adoptee needs help to make sense of their "story."
Healing occurs with the repetition of a story, especially in the case of children. When a child gets hurt they repeat the story over and over. "I fell off the swing, and cut my knee, it bled, and daddy got me..." They repeat the story to mommy, to the postman and to the cashier at Trader Joe's. This repetition allows the experience to become integrated into their system as a whole. Similarly, young adoptees want parents to be comfortable with their adoption story and repeat it to them so they can know their story and tell it with ease.
Adoption language can be tricky. Avoid words like "chosen" and "special," as they are loaded. The phrase "She loved you so much she wanted you to have a better life" is near impossible for a child to understand. Instead, use language like, "Adoption was a decision the adults made." "We love you and we are a family." Emphasize that your child had nothing to do with the decision and more importantly, did nothing to create the situation. Adoptees need help with specific language and "tools" to use when they are asked questions by friends and classmates to eliminate potential shame and embarrassment. I suggest parents and children role-play possible scenarios to find answers that fit. For example:
Q: "So, who is your real mom?"
A: "My mom is at home taking care of my baby brother. I also have a birth mom."
"That's my private business," is always acceptable if the adoptee chooses.
4. Many adoptees struggle with issues of self worth, shame, control and identity. 
Often, adoptees acclimate in one of two ways. Some might test limits, trying to discover if they are going to be abandoned again. Others acquiesce to situations, sometimes to the point of withdrawal. Hoping if they go along, they will keep their place in the adoptive family. The adoptee is forced to develop a "false self."
Many adoptive parents I've worked with describe their children as defiant and uncooperative, angry, testing out and manipulative. I encourage them to become curious about the behavior, rather than judging or naming it. As we utilize the lens of adoption, we can see the underlying experience that's driving the child's behavior and then tend to the raw feelings of fear, grief, despair and anger. Remember, the behaviors are coping mechanisms and not personality traits. Adoptees need parents to be curious and act as compassionate detectives to discover what's going on or seek professional help if it seems too difficult to do it on their own. Because an adoptee's early experience was that of relinquishment, their brain is wired early on to expect more of the same. Sometimes older adoptees unknowingly set themselves up to re-create abandonments, thus fulfilling the sense of shame and unworthiness. Not having access to the original birth certificate adds to the adoptee's sense of shame. Only eight states in the U.S. allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees in other states have modified and falsified documents. Where there is secrecy, there is inevitable shame.
5. Adoptees are in reunion whether they are formally searching or not.
I recently presented at an adoption conference and had the members attending my session participate in a quick exercise before they took their seats. I asked them to walk around the room and find the person they thought they most closely looked like. After a few minutes and some nervous laughter, I had them take their seats and we talked about what that experience was like. I explained that this is what adoptees often do. They walk through the world looking for their lost "twin" or for someone they resemble. The author Betty Jean Lifton calls this living in the "Ghost Kingdom." It's the place where adoptees can go and "hang out" with their birth relatives and imagine life if they hadn't been adopted.
Years ago, I worked with a 12-year-old girl who was adopted at birth. Julia's parents described her as "angry, oppositional, and living in her own world." They explained hers was an open adoption and they knew her birth mom. They told me they answered Julia's questions related to adoption when asked but added they rarely brought the subject up. They didn't think she was interested.
I quickly discovered Julia was very interested in who she was and where she came from. She was indeed living in her own world -- the Ghost Kingdom! Julia explained she likely shared her hair and eye color with her birth mom.
"She must like to dance because I do," Julia said.
She planned to live with her birth mom for one year when she turned 18. Julia "knew" she had six brothers and "hopefully a little sister." Julia had much to tell and I suspected part of her anger was that no one else seemed interested in her internal world. Kids Julia's age aren't going to initiate a conversation about adoption unless they are 100% sure it's safe to do so. They want their parents to start these dialogues.
6. The adoptee's desire to search is not a rejection of the adoptive parents.
Part of knowing who you are is knowing where you came from. Search is about the adoptee's history and histories have a beginning. For adoptees, their beginning started before they joined their adoptive family.
Many adoptees deny their desire to search thinking that they are going to hurt their adoptive parents' feelings. This is a common theme, even among adoptees who have their adoptive parents' support. Adoptees want and need assurance and more assurance that parents can "handle" the desire to know where they came from. Adoptees might even want their parents to collaborate and assist in the search.
Because they fear hurting the adoptive parents, many adoptees wait until one or both parents are dead to search. They embark on a search only to discover that their birth parent is also dead. The adoptee then suffers a second loss of the parent he or she never knew.
7. Adoptees want to belong. They want to connect and feel connected.
Like everyone else, adoptees strive to find connection and acceptance. Although this idea of affiliation is sometimes inherent with those we are biologically related to, adoptees can find connection through support groups, interaction with other adoptees or identification with their birth country. Adopted children can be encouraged to develop interests and hobbies in line with their adoptive families. Interests and hobbies that are diverse should also be fully embraced, encouraged and supported.
8. Adoption is hard.
When an infant or child is separated from his or her birthmother, it is undeniably a traumatic event. All of the once-familiar sights, sounds and sensations are gone, and the infant is placed in a dangerous situation -- dangerous that is, perceived by the infant. The only part of the brain that is fully developed at birth is the brain stem that regulates the sympathetic nervous system, that is, the fight, flight or freeze response. The parasympathetic ability to self-soothe isn't available and baby needs his or her familiar mom to act as the soothing agent to help with self-regulation but she's not there. Events that happen age 0-3 are encoded as implicit memories and become embodied because they place before language develops. Adoptive parents can be sensitive to this and later help put explicit language to the felt experience for their child.
Sometimes birthdays and Mother's Day are difficult for adoptees and they might not even know why. Birthdays are often the day adoptees were relinquished and again, that memory of separation is an implicit one, just a feeling. I've worked with parents who become frustrated after planning a big celebration and their child suddenly becomes sad and no longer wants to participate. Parents can empathically respond to a child who is struggling by saying, "I wonder if part of you remembers this is also the day your birthmother made the difficult decision to have someone else raise you." Mother's Day can be hard because as an adoptee is celebrating with his or her adoptive mom, no one is acknowledging or talking about the "other mother," that is, the first mother. Parents can "say" what is not being said by celebrating and acknowledging their child's birth mom.
9. We want adoptive parents to be our advocates. 
According to the Adoption Institute, there are more than 1.5 million adopted children in the United States. The Center for Adoption Support and Education states that 60% of Americans have contact with adoptionin some way.
The school environment can be a great support for adopted children and their families if teachers and administrators are comfortable and informed about the subject, language and issues related to adoption. Trainings need to be implemented in schools to inform and educate about adoption and foster care in the same way educators are trained and informed to the sensitive issues related to race, sexuality, gender and religion. Parents can ask if programs like this are taking place in their schools.
I have a friend who adopted her sons Andrew and Jake when they were infants. The brothers are not biologically related and are different races. Andrew is African-American and Jake is Caucasian. In September, they found themselves in the same Biology class. On the first day of school, the students went around the room introducing themselves. Andrew introduced himself as Jake's brother. The teacher glanced at the only other black student in the class and told Andrew to "quit messing around." Andrew shyly explained they were adopted. The teacher still thought the boys were trying to "punk him." It wasn't until several minutes later the teacher stopped pressing the issue but not before both boys were quite embarrassed. Had proper trainings been implemented, this would not have happened.

10. Adoption is a lifelong process. 
Separations, relationships and transitions may be difficult hurdles throughout the lifespan for those whose earliest experience was separation from their birthmother. Attuned parents can help their children and adolescents navigate these events and ideally these experiences will be integrated along the way. In time, adoptees can eventually acquire what Dan Siegel calls "Mindsight" or "the kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our minds and examine the processes by which they think feel and behave..." As adoptees understand the details of their story, make sense of their feelings and triggers as they relate to adoption, they can cultivate resilience and learn to respond rather than react -- a skill that offers more freedom of choice in day to day actions and provides an overall sense of well-being.