Full of Gratitude: National Adoption Month 2018

Every Thursday in November, in honor of Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month, we featured quotes and stories from families, friends and colleagues who have been touched by adoption to ask them the question: “What are you thankful for?”

Check out some of the answers we received this year:

Thank you to our Spence-Chapin family for celebrating with us all month long. We are so thankful for each of you.

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

(Part I)

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then. 

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
ALTHOUGH SHE’S STILL ROCKING THE SAME PINK SNEAKERS, WE’VE GONE UP TWO SHOES SIZES!

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm. 

I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Gyulnara Barnett

Gyulnara Barnett has been connected to Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program for more than 10 years.  After a fantastic experience as a Mentee from 2007 to 2009, Gyulnara became a Mentor in 2017.  During a recent panel presentation at Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Fair, she shared her experience as an adoptee and a Mentor.   

What would you like to share about your background?

Although I was adopted from Russia, my entire birth family is Kazahk, so that’s my ethnic origin. I was raised in Nyack, NY and when I was 4 years old, my parents adopted a younger brother who is also from Kazakhstan. I reunited with my birth mother when I was in college. We had been writing letters back and forth to each other since I was 13, but during my junior year in college we both happened to be living in Turkey at the same time and were able to meet.

How did your family share your adoption story with you? 

My family was very open about adoption. There was never a time that I didn’t know I was adopted. Partially that was because my parents are white, and it was obvious that I didn’t look like them. We read lots of bedtime stories together about adoption when I was growing up. My parents came to do presentations to my class where I could get to talk about Russia. We also celebrated my Happy Adoption Day every year.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

There are a lot of myths about adoption, but luckily the conversation has changed a bit since I was growing up. People are now much more open to talking about adoption. One myth is that people think I should feel lucky to have been adopted. But I feel grateful that my parents are my parents just in the same way that a non-adoptive family would feel grateful to feel supported and loved. Adoption is a process that families go through, it’s not just my own process or my brother’s. Together we’re all grateful for each other.  It’s unique in a certain sense in that we’re a non-traditional family because we’re an adoptive family. But my parents are just my parents. My brother is just my brother. Sometimes people don’t understand that just because I’m adopted doesn’t mean I have any less of a connection to my parents and family.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?

When I was around 10 or 11, my parents heard about Spence’s Mentorship program through a family friend who was also an adoptive family and connected us to Spence. They thought the Program would be a terrific opportunity for me to meet and connect with other adoptees.

What did you gain from being in the Mentorship program as a young adoptee?

It was a chance for me to meet older adoptees in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.  When I was a young child, I knew some other adoptive families, but they were all adopted children. The conversation about adoption is often focused on children, but as an adopted child it was powerful to get to know and connect with older adoptees as well as younger adoptees from a broad range of experiences. The Mentors created a safe space where everyone could connect and learn from each other while participating in fun activities such as ice skating. I was able to share my experience with other adoptees my age and gained confidence sharing my adoption story with others.

What has been your experience as a Mentor? 

I became a Mentor because I was excited to pay it forward and support middle and high school adoptees explore their adoption identity with other adoptees who share similar experiences. This Program really helps everyone to build a strong adoption community and to enrich their lives through the support and openness at Spence-Chapin. I’m very proud to be adopted. I feel lucky to know a lot of adoptive families and to be part of a beautiful community of adoptees who come from all walks of life.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

It’s okay to feel like you want to search for your birth parent. It’s okay to feel like you don’t fully understand where you fit within your family. It’s okay to feel a little bit different sometimes. Just knowing that these feelings are okay and normal can be supportive. Often, people think of adoption as something that happens when you’re very young. You get adopted, you’re raised with a family and then you go off to be an adult. But adoption is a journey. When I was younger, I used to wonder why I wasn’t a normal kid just like anyone else. Why did people stare at me and my brother while we’re walking with our parents? I tell Mentees in the Program that adoption is a complex journey that changes throughout your entire life. Different ages come with different exciting adventures as well as challenges.

Hear Other Mentors Share Their Experience

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences.  To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact Katie Rogala at KRogala@spence-chapin.org or call 646-539-2167. 

A Special Needs Adoption Story

You will never see a child with a bigger smile or a sunnier countenance than Alex.  Even though he was was born prematurely and developed severe medical issues, he seems to think being pushed in a swing is pure heaven.

Alex never came home from the hospital where he was born or from the interim institution that cared for him after that.  His birth parents visited him often at Elizabeth Seton Hospital, hoping that somehow Alex could improve to the point where he would come home with them.  But in the end, they made the difficult decision that Alex should be freed for adoption.  He was by then, in adoption parlance, an “older” child at age 4.  This is when Spence-Chapin first learned about Alex, who would not be permanently placed for nearly two more years.

Alex’s journey was far longer than any of the other special needs babies placed through Spence-Chapin because of several factors.  There was the on-going hope of the birth parents that they would be able, at some point, to properly care for him.   Another factor was the very real difficulty of his continuing medical condition.  When Alex’s information was put up the ASAP website here, there were fewer responses than usual.  He was no longer a baby but now a child of 4. His special needs remained, and would remain, severe.  Nevertheless, a special couple came forward, a same sex couple who wanted to take Alex home and love him but were not able to move ahead because of a medical emergency.

AlexAlex had to wait even longer because of more medical difficulties not his own.  The Mongillo family, well known to us at Spence-Chapin, was very interested in Alex but just when they were to act on adopting him, one of their other children – a baby of two suffering from leukemia – became much sicker and it was determined to hold off on the placement until the Mongillo’s were able to resolve the needs of their baby who was in crisis.  Alex remained at Elizabeth Seton.

AAlexlex didn’t leave the hospital until he was six-years-old.  But, at last, at the end of March of this year, Alex finally went home to his own forever family, the extraordinary Mongillo’s of Long Island.  The family has adopted several times from Spence-Chapin and their home and their hearts seem always open to a child in need.  Each of the children placed in this home has blossomed, making progress far beyond what doctors had predicted.  The household is calm and loving and everyone agrees that Alex will thrive there too and attain every bit of his potential growth and then some.The Mongillo’s will stay in touch with Alex’s birth parents, visiting with them and allowing them to take comfort and joy in Alex’s bright future.  It is truly a happy ending for Alex – and for us.