And they all lived happily ever after… kinda.

Click to enlarge image.

I started a tradition of drawing really bad cartoons over at my other blog. The above creation was inspired when someone actually said this to me. SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO ME! (Boohoohoo.) For real. Seriously. But  I did not cold cock them. Oh no, I just gently corrected them. And that one  herculean  act of self restraint pretty much means I can yell at the next one hundred people karma free. Pretty sure that’s how that works. Don’t correct me.

(Disclaimer: This is my story as Roland’s mommy. His daddy and sister have their own stories. I may get their permission to share their stories with you, but for now this is my story.)

(Um… other disclaimer: Imma ’bout to get preachy.)

When your child first comes home is a time known as the honeymoon phase. It’s been described as a time where they are so new and well behaved. Then something triggers culture shock or they finally feel safe enough to show you their grief and life gets harder for a time. My girl crush, Jen Hatmaker, describes it really well here.

But for very little guys who don’t yet get self preservation skills, they are brutally honest almost immediately.

When Roland arrived on American soil he was glossy-eyed and shell shocked. I had this wonderful moment with him where after 28 hours of travel and dehydration he let me make a warm bottle of breast milk (donated) and he downed the whole thing and fell asleep in my arms. Precious.

Then he woke up.

And proceeded to scream.

For three days.


I spent most of the first three days curled up on the living room floor with my child who screamed and thrashed. (Full body thrashing convulsions.) I held him while he screamed at top volume for over an hour at a time. As he screamed his whole body jerked violently. He screamed until he threw up. I looked at my husband and we both said without a word, “What have we done?”

During those three days there would be periods of “not screaming.” Not to be mistaken as periods of peace or happiness, just… not screaming. We would walk on egg shells until something triggered him. Food triggered him 100% of the time. He had MAJOR food issues. He had sleep issues. He had abandonment issues. He stimmed. He had sensory issues. Changing his diaper was traumatic. Changing his clothes was traumatic. Holding him in my lap facing away from me was traumatic. Bonding was out the window. We were hunkered down in survival mode.

We were in the trenches.

When people congratulated us on our adoption we felt so hollow inside, like we couldn’t accept their well-wishes on account of feeling so broken like we had ruined this. Obviously things got better. Three weeks later I’m full of cutesy Rolly stories and I go around showing off my son proudly. But for three hard days, and about a week more of “not easy” we were in the trenches.  And it was hard on everyone.

Keep in mind that during this time one of our friends had a  tragic  accident where their adopted daughter drowned and now is suffering brain damage, and another family traveling the same summer as us got word nine days before departing to meet their son that he had died waiting for them. Those stories made me cling to my son, despite the hard times.

Things we heard in the trenches:

“I really hope this was God’s will for you.”

“You asked for this.”

“I’m not sure how much we are suppose to take on other people’s problems. I mean how hard is your life going to be now because of this.”

“Adopted kids grow up weird.”

Okay that last one was said by Pat Robertson who is not a real person, but the other three things were said by real people, aka people in my life. Shockingly, these were professed Bible-believers from three different faiths.

I’ve already written a blog post on why the Bible-believing crowd should support orphans which you can read here. In it I site over a dozen Bible passages (not an exhaustive list) commanding followers to support orphans (and foreigners and widows). One I don’t quote much, because it’s always quoted is James 1:27 which says that you’re not really the good religious person you think you are if you’re not helping orphans and widows. God’s will for someone’s life is not some magical feeling individuals get while they’re meditating where they hear a whisper telling them to buy a car or have a baby. God’s will is outlined in Scripture: Love God. Trust Jesus. Give. Seek justice. Do good. Think good. Care for orphans. Help your neighbor. Etc.

Not God’s will? It’s clear as day!

As far as claiming that the Bible calls people to lives of comfort and never to anything hard (or too hard to handle), well that’s a lie. I’m convinced God does not want you to be comfortable. Peaceful, hopeful, content, sure, but not comfortable. And usually it’s something too hard to handle alone. Let’s just look at some Bible-y peoples and their easy lives, shall we? Jesus was  crucified. God is constantly grieved. All of Jesus’  apostles  died in cruel ways, save the one that got exiled which is no picnic. Most of the prophets were killed, all of them went through cruel things. Their lives were the least comfortable. Job was God’s favorite. Joseph too. Moses. John the Baptist. I don’t want their stories. Do you? The Levites were never given property of their own, despite how valuable that was in that day and age, because God was their portion. Every character in the Bible went through hardship for God, because of God. The Bible says to followers, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) That’s your Bible, people. One that points towards eternal rewards and not toward earthly comforts.

My experience in the trenches may be limited compared to others.  We think Roland was coming off of something, maybe a drug to make him sleep through the night. He screamed like a mindless crack baby. And whatever it was in his system he had to come off it cold turkey. Our friends who adopted from a different orphanage in the same country were given the names of the medications their son was on and they were able to get the prescriptions in country and have their child come off it gradually. Not us. Roland’s little system just crashed. Remember the breast milk and the child in my arms when we first got home? I held that memory through the next miserable 72 hours.

He needed his Mama. Even during the worst of it if I moved away from him a few inches he would roll towards me while thrashing around. He felt safest to scream while right up against my leg. (Yay.) Walking the halls with him helped. I whispered love to him when I didn’t feel it, when I was a shell of a person. My ears were always ringing. He was so angry.

Three days. And then Roland was back. Well hello there Mama!

My sweet, goofy boy.

We still had a long way to go, a lot to grieve, but we had support. We had meals from close friends. We had emails and Facebook messages. We had other adopting families tell me that it’s okay to feel the “what the bleepity-bleep have we done” feelings and to love your child when that biological pull is not there. Roland still had the occasional melt down, especially over food or if he thought we might be walking away from him, but things were better. Everyone was breathing. Laughter came back. When he threw a screaming fit, Laelia and I would just shrug at each other and have an entire conversation through it while I rubbed his back. We were adjusting and eventually I could bring him out of his fits quickly. I was starting to get to know Roland and learn about his trauma and his triggers.

After those three days, that biological pull was there. As if I’d birthed him. Amazing.

Now my son is not just a screamer, although his nickname is Mr. Screamers, but so was Laelia’s when she was little. Just imagine the jolt to his system! He had never been out of that orphanage. Never. been. out. I made him suffer through his very first car ride (which scared him), his first rain (the umbrella scared him), his first walk through the city (which scared him), his first  chew-able  food (which he choked on), his second chew-able food (which he threw up) his first three plane rides (trauma), a new place to live, new smells, new foods, new expectations, new sights, traffic noises outside and a whole host of culture stress and shock.

(But I gave him kitties and he loves kitties. So there you go.)

But it got easier. It got better. After only a week if someone said, “Where’s Mama?” he would turn around and put his arms up for me with a huge grin on his face. I was told to hold and carry him everywhere and I have. I’ve held him while peeing. Don’t judge. ;) I’ve gone days without showering or brushing my teeth like having a newborn. It took a week for him to have a meal without a melt down. Cheerios were a form a torture at one point, and now they are his favorite food. We still are feeding him baby food out of ziplock bags with the corner cut off to squeeze in his mouth, but he ate veggie  lasagna like a champ! I could dry him off after a bath without towel trauma. He started cuddling during nap times. He let me change his shirt without crying. His pants. His diaper. Dear Lord his diaper.

Oh, and I got a tooth brush in my son’s mouth for the first time in his life. Where’s my medal?

After two weeks we could do diaper changes while laughing and playing. He drank his first cup of water without it coming out his mouth or choking on it. Meal time no longer was traumatic and he no longer freaked out if I had to get up to get something during the meal. He also no longer ate until he hurt. He was trusting us to care for him. He was trusting food would still be there. He was gaining weight.

Haven’t seen  stimming  since the first week.

Roland is 23 months old, but had a mental age of 9 months at the time of meeting him. After two weeks of us visiting him in the orphanage daily he was up to a 12 month mental age. Now after a few weeks at home he’s up to 18 months on a good day. That’s what love can do. He can say his sister’s name. He can say kitty and then point to a kitty. But when I try to get him to say Mama, he just gets excited and throws himself into me as if to say, “You’re right here.” :) He said, “Ma ma ma ma?” after a nap the other day and my heart simply exploded with love.

After daily stretching (which he lovessssss, not) his elbows gained 15 degrees of ROM on the right and almost 10 degrees of ROM on the left. For those of you without experience with arthrogryposis and range of motion, that’s a good thing. It means his elbows can bend a slight bit more. It means changing his clothes is easier and soon he can start feeding himself long soft bread sticks. He’s already shown an interest in self-feeding.

But besides the very real triumphs and glorious stories of my son overcoming, well, everything, the real reward is in our changed perspective. I got to experience first-hand the redemptive work of God that he did for me. The Bible says that God adopted us. We are heirs of God and co-heirs (with equal portion) of Christ. The Bible is full of adoption language! Check it out: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)  What a life-changer this is. I thrash and scream at God because I don’t understand him or his ways, and I certainly don’t understand his care of me. But God loves me. Forever.

***Roland, it’s mommy’s job to love you. You’ve already given me more than I could ever give you. I would take you again in a heart beat. You are mine.***

Please consider adoption. And if you do not qualify legally to adopt, go here, pick a  category, find a baby and do something, anything for that child. Or go here and support an adopting family. That counts as caring for the orphan. Orphans are God’s very heart.

12 Responses to “And they all lived happily ever after… kinda.”

  1. Melody says:

    Dear, DEAR Alexis and Charley – You have my heart and my prayers. I read this blog and I cried and rejoiced. God has given you a good but heavy load and you honor Him well by grasping it firmly and not turning away. Praise God for the love He has poured into your hearts. He is good . . . all the time! No, our lives were not meant to be easy. But HIS yoke IS easy and HIS burden light because He carries us through all those awful, screaming, I-want-to-give-up days. The days we suffer – Paul told Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 2:1-3). I know the context is suffering because of our faith, but in a sense, some of what you’ve been through is because you are doing what God’s Word says – caring for the orphan. You’re great parents to BOTH of your kids – keep your eyes on Jesus, who is able to keep you from stumbling. Hugs! Melody

  2. Donna Babcock says:

    I am moved to tears reading this latest blog. As a retired foster mum I have seen 80 babies move on…some to their bio home and most to adoptive homes. In Canada kids can have a rough life but nothing like what Roland has experienced. They often experience drugs that their parents use (can be detected with a hair strand test) but not too many are given drugs to make them sleep (although I do know cold remedies are used by some).
    I am so thankful that you as a Christian family have wanted to care for this little Lamb of God. I pray for all of you as you go through this transition together.
    I also pray for my 2 fellow AMC’ers that they will both reach their maximum potential in life.
    God bless you all!
    Donna B

  3. Cindy Allen says:

    While I recognize that toddlers and Labrador retrievers are not the same, as a rescuer of Labs I can relate to what you’re saying. I have brought in dogs from abuse situations, and the first few days while they are barking at me and peeing on my floor and yanking my shoulders out of my sockets on walks, I think to myself, what have I done? But having been through this before, I know that within weeks I will look back and see how far they have come. It is all about the power of love. Like humans, dogs respond to love, discipline and consistency. You went through a lot to get Rolly and bring him to this point, but those difficulties only make it more meaningful when you see his amazing progress and see how far he has come–and think about what his life would have been without you in it. I too have people telling me they think what I do is not worth the effort. They have no idea what they are missing.

  4. Maureen says:

    Dear Alexis and Charlie, What can I add to what has been so aptly put by Melody and Donna. Praise God for helping you to embrace these hard times. Just wanted to send love, hugs and prayers.


  5. kristin says:

    I just love that you finally have your son home! That boy was born to be a Wesley! (You just went through labor!)

  6. Rachel says:

    God bless you for sharing! So many people don’t want to adopt because they KNOW – they KNOW it is not easy. We knew it would not be easy but we also didn’t know it would be SO hard. We brought our son home at 24 months and although he’s come a long way in this first year (a year home in a month!) there are still so many struggles and scars from the life he lived before his adoption. We’ve had people say that we “asked for this” – well – you are right – we “signed up for this” is not the same as actually being IN the firestorm. Reading pre-adoption that “your child *may* have this issue and/or that issue” in books and classes is not the same as having that child in real life and realizing they came home with EVERY issue and some the books didn’t even mention. In the trenches is right. Almost one year later and I still feel like we are in trenches. It’s been the absolute hardest year of my life and sometimes I want to give up because it’s hard. But this is what has brought us to our knees to beg and plead to God for His strength and wisdom to be the parents our son needs us to be.

  7. Patricia says:

    Oh my! I’m so glad you’ve found time to post another update. As for “signing up for this”, it might have been easier if you _could_ have signed up for three days of continuous screaming, after which things would begin to improve. You could brace yourself…
    I *do* know, as intelligent, researching people, you went into this knowing that this might be unbelievably harder than you could imagine, in ways that you couldn’t imagine — and that it might still be. In my book, that makes you the kind of hero that this world needs.
    I’m so glad he’s bonding and healing and loving — he looks and sounds like an awesome kid. Hang in there!

  8. Beth says:

    Your “bad cartoon” could actually start an interesting philosophical debate… :P

  9. Danielle Cervantes Stephens says:

    I heartily agree with the others’ posts. First off, you and Charles are my heroes. What that does that mean in a Christian context? That you are models of Christ. I am so inspired by your “preachy” post. Dave and I want to adopt, and your story and witness are confirming what we feel. I also just read your post on the Edgewise blog about prayer from June 28. So good and so meaty! It really made me think about how I pray and my own fears about asking for help. Reading your blog is like reading a devotional. Please know that you’re ministering and discipling (new word?) beyond your own family. Thank you so much and God Bless you!

  10. Jennifer says:

    Well said, Momma.

  11. Anonymous says:

    You are awesome.
    Next time that person happens to see a woman in labor, I’ll give them 20 bucks to walk over to her and say: “hey, you signed up for this.”. See what happens! ;)
    Oh, and I wore my daughter while peeing many, many times. Just a regular baby-wearing thing. Be proud!

  12. Tammy says:

    So glad I found your blog. I am so happy for your family. You are shining examples of God’s love. I have an AMC baby and I so admire your adoption journey. Roland is perfect and will thrive in your family. We live in Carlsbad and I got really excited when I looked through your archives and realized you live in San Diego. I would love to chat with you sometime, but I know you are very busy. I will be praying for you and your family.

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