To Help Them Grow and Thrive

In 2007, Cindy Kaplan and Mishelle Rudzinski founded the SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are nourished. Here, Mishelle shares her story of adopting Bakha, who — along with Cindy’s son Jadyn — inspired the creation of this pioneering non-profit.

by Mishelle Rudzinski, MA CCC-SLP and co-founder of SPOON Foundation

Mishelle Rudzinski with Bakha and Cindy Kaplan with Jadyn.

Cindy Kaplan and I met in 2006, while both in process to adopt our first child from Kazakhstan. Although both looking to start a family, we never thought that these adoptions would also inspire the beginning of a groundbreaking nonprofit organization.

When Cindy and her husband, Tony, brought home their son, Jadyn, he was declared to be suffering from “failure to thrive” — an imprecise medical term used when a child’s weight or weight gain is “significantly” below that of children of the same gender and age.

At 8 months old, Jadyn weighed just 11 pounds and did not have the strength to lift his head.

Cindy took Jadyn to nutritionists and feeding experts who did not have experience with adoption, and she quickly became frustrated.  The standard approach for helping a malnourished infant is to feed a high-calorie formula, and continue it past the typical cut-off age of one year, if necessary. But Jadyn rejected bottle-feeding and most liquids. So, Kaplan turned to books and online adoption chat rooms and trained herself in the techniques and diet tricks that would nourish Jadyn beyond the danger zone.

My daughter, Bakha, was 5 years old when she came home. At the time, she was so severely handicapped by an undiagnosed — and fully preventable — case of rickets and anemia that the adoption agency made me sign papers stating I understood that Bakha might not live to age 18.  She barely walked and was the size of a small 2-year-old.

Within days of the adoption, Bakha was diagnosed with rickets and given high doses of Vitamin D.  Within weeks, she started walking and then running.

She grew eight inches in the first year home.

Although her nutritional status started to improve, she struggled mightily with adapting to her new diet of unfamiliar flavors and textures. A speech-language pathologist by training, I knew how to work with kids with feeding difficulties, but Bakha gave me a run for my money and challenged me to learn even more about the difficulties that previously under-nourished kids face.

As our kids began to heal, Cindy and I couldn’t help but think “what if,” and felt an intense responsibility to the children left behind. We sought ways to volunteer but couldn’t find any organizations working to systematically change the rampant problem of malnutrition in orphanages — in Kazakhstan or anywhere else in the world.

In 2007, a year after our families were formed through adoption, Cindy and I created SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are being nourished.

Continue reading “To Help Them Grow and Thrive”

Rediscover Korea

 The mother to the youngest member of Holt’s Korea heritage tour last summer shares about their experience

by Lori Eurich

My husband Dane and I took our 8-year-old son, Ryan, on last summer’s Holt Korea Heritage Tour to give him the opportunity to visit and experience his birth culture. We also wanted him to meet and thank the two wonderful foster mothers who lovingly cared for him before he came home in 2003. I had a strong desire to express my appreciation and gratitude, in person, to his foster mothers as well. I felt this tour would be the best way for our families to visit for the first time as well as meet other adoptive families. All of the activities and itinerary were well planned with the adoptees in mind.

Ryan was excited to learn that we were taking him to Korea. We’ve been attending Korean culture events for many years, but we all wanted to actually experience it. Ryan loves to travel and has been interested in learning more about his birth culture. Each day he looked forward to the stops and activities, which included historical places, museums and lots of photos.

Meeting our son’s foster mothers was one of the most memorable events on the tour. Our first meeting at the Holt office was filled with hugs and tears as Mrs. Lee marveled over how much Ryan had grown. We’ve been sending photos and cards since he came home and it was great to finally meet her. She showed us a photo album, and we learned about some of the people and places that were part Ryan’s life when he was there. At lunch, she was pleased to see Ryan happily eating his beef wrapped in lettuce. We were amazed at how long both women have been caring for Holt babies, and how many they have cared for over the years. Our Seoul foster mom invited us to her home for a wonderful lunch of bulgogi, japchae, pajeon, kimbap and soup. The foster sister and her husband spoke English. The sister’s baby boy and Ryan played ball together, too. Mrs. Lee brought out some of the clothes Ryan wore and pillows he used. She even had his photo on display. Ryan thought it was fun to see some of the things he used during his stay and wanted to try on some pants that were much too small. I thanked both foster moms for taking such good care of Ryan and told them how much I appreciated their efforts. Continue reading “Rediscover Korea”

Holt Employee Testifies for Proposed Legislation on Cleft Lip and Palate Surgeries

An adoptive father and longtime Holt employee recently traveled to Oregon’s capital city to testify on behalf of a bill that would increase insurance coverage for cleft lip and palate surgeries in Oregon.  His story can be found on the front page of today’s Register Guard.

 

Lydia Hale, with parents Dean and Cindy

Dean Hale, Holt’s director of services for India, and his wife, Cindy, adopted their daughter, Lydia, from Korea in 1993. Born with a cleft palate, Lydia required many intensive surgeries after coming home to Eugene – surgeries that often involved orthodontic work and weren’t covered by insurance.

In January, Dean learned of House Bill 4128 – a proposed bill that would require health insurance policies to cover both reconstructive surgery and orthodontic treatment for individuals with cleft palate or cleft lip – a necessary combination of treatments says a majority of dentists and orthodontists. “Cleft lip and palate surgeries are much more effective and much less likely to fail when they are combined with orthodontic treatment, “says Dr. Judah Garfinkle, a Portland-based orthodontist.

Not only is orthodontic procedures a necessary step in craniofacial reconstruction, it’s also one that can greatly increase the psychological well-being of patients says Lydia Hale. “People who have had successful treatment are more confident and, maybe, less introverted,” says Lydia. “It’s really benefited them.”

Like Bertha Holt when she urged Congress to pass a special law allowing her and her husband, Harry, to bring home eight Korean-war orphans, Holt and its devoted employees continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of children, both overseas and here in the United States.

“Whatever happens to House Bill 4128 will be too late to benefit my family,” said Dean during his testimony. “I have no self interest in this, but this bill will be a godsend to many Oregon families.”

House Bill 4128 was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber earlier this month.

Click here to read the full story in the Register Guard

The Tiger Mother Got It Wrong

These families are getting it right.

For the past four years, Chris Zhen has served as a program assistant for Holt’s projects in Guangzhou, China.  As more and more older children join adoptive families overseas, Chris has played an integral role in helping them prepare for the transition from orphanage life in China to family life in the U.S.  Six months ago, he came to the U.S. for an internship at Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon – giving him a rich opportunity for training, and also to see adopted children now living with their families.  He most recently visited two girls – one 11, the other 14 – and their families in Los Angeles.  Here, he shares his observations about their progress navigating a new culture and a new family — as well as his opinion of Amy Chua, the so-called “Tiger Mother.”

Quinn, 11, made a poster to welcome Chris to L.A.

This was my first trip to L.A., which is the largest city that I’ve ever seen from a plane.  In this city, I would be visiting two girls adopted from the same orphanage in China, where they started their friendship many years before.  I met Chuan Mei and Quinn over a year ago, while assisting with a program to help older children prepare for adoption to the U.S.  Since that time, both Chuan Mei and Quinn have come home to their families in California.  The girls stay in good touch by calling and visiting each other often.

I was invited to L.A. to attend Chuan Mei’s 14th birthday party, but first, I would meet up with Quinn and her family.  When I arrived, Quinn’s mom, Beth, picked me up at the airport.  Her three adopted daughters, including Quinn, were sitting in the back of the car. Quinn was almost silent all the way home, since she was reading a book. I asked her only one question in Cantonese: “Do you want me to call you Bai Yun Qing in Cantonese, or Quinn in English?” Bai Yu Qing is Quinn’s original Chinese name, given to her by the orphanage. She said she didn’t know.  Beth smiled and admitted Quinn was still her “I-don’t-know girl,” as her usual response to most questions is still, “I have no idea” or “I don’t know” – even when the question comes from me.  (This surprised me, as Quinn and I have gotten to know each other pretty well over the past year and a half.)

Quinn’s hesitation to say what she thinks partly boils down to her personality, but it also has a lot to do with growing up in an institution, and growing up in China.

Continue reading “The Tiger Mother Got It Wrong”

Building Adoptee Community… at Camp

An interview with Steve Kalb, Holt’s camp director and post-adoption services social worker.  Every year, Steve organizes and designs curriculum for Holt’s six adoptee camps, now held in Oregon, Iowa, Georgia, California, Wisconsin and New Jersey.  He also assists with background information requests and birth search counseling.  Steve is a Holt International adoptee, born in South Korea and raised in Iowa.


What did you do prior to joining Holt?

I was a camp director for another camp, a church camp.  I started that job right after I graduated from college and did that for five years.  I was looking for another camp director position and that’s what led me to Holt, in January of 2005.

What’s your educational background?

I have a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in social work.

Why did you decide to pursue a camp director position instead of a teaching position?

I think the camp environment is a very powerful environment.  I think I have a better platform for creating the kind of learning environment I want for children in camping than in education.  I have more creative license.

Did you grow up going to camp?

I didn’t go to any camps period as a kid.  The Holt Midwest Camp didn’t even exist when I was growing up.

You have said that the need for a strong adoptee community guides your advocacy work at Holt.  Growing up, did you struggle to find an adoptee community?

My sisters are adopted.  But there wasn’t a community of adoptees around me.  I don’t think an adoptee community really even exists.  That’s the whole purpose of my work.

Continue reading “Building Adoptee Community… at Camp”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: A Little Girl’s Smile

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback, Holt Adoptive Mom

Unlike the day we picked up the boys at the airport, my husband Steve and I were cool, calm and collected when it was time for our daughter, Stacee, who arrived in May of 1990. It was also the boys’ third birthday, so there was much excitement. We got to the airport at 10 a.m., her plane was on time, and everything went smoothly. I thought she looked very “lost” and exhausted, but that is understandable, so I thought a nap might make things right.

That evening at her welcome home party, she continued to look very sad and tired, but I didn’t think this would last long. I was wrong. The next morning when I went to pick her up from her crib, she was very awake and rested but wouldn’t let me hold her close to me. Every time I tried, she would push me away with her little arms. Despite the fact that she was only five months old, she was strong! I spent the day trying to see if this behavior would easily extinguish itself, but it did not. She didn’t cry and fuss a great deal. She just wouldn’t let me hold her.

I had my husband babysit while I went to the nearest store and bought one of the baby “slings” that allows you to have your baby face you while you hold her on your chest next to your heart. She literally couldn’t push me away at this point, and the behavior soon disappeared, even when she wasn’t being carried. I continued to carry her next to my heart as long as I could hold her weight. By this time she was very calm and receptive in my arms, but I knew she loved being next to my heartbeat.

What didn’t go away though, was the incredibly sad look on her face. I knew that Stacee had been born in Daegu Metropolitan City — the third largest metropolitan area in South Korea — which is about 146 miles from Seoul, South Korea. I didn’t know how she was relinquished or how she got to Seoul, I just knew that those five months were very traumatic for her. I don’t know how many “hands” she passed through, I’m just guessing she got sadder and sadder as time went on. Even a five-month-old baby can begin to lose all hope.

I did everything I knew how to do to get Stacee to relax and smile. Like my two boys, I put Stacee on a structured schedule where everything was predictable and stable. The boys would also spend many hours doing goofy things to get her attention and make her smile. She continued to eat and sleep well and began to adjust to the rhythm of our home. After a while she didn’t look incredibly sad, but she didn’t look incredibly happy either. She arrived in May, and it was about seven months later in December, in time for her first birthday, when she began to laugh and smile. I don’t think it was any one thing that finally brought about this first smile, just a combination of calm steady love and care that finally allowed her to begin to believe she finally had a home of her very own.

Please enjoy this slide show that depicts Stacee’s first years in our family.

Read Jane’s post-adoption blog, here!

Same Path, Different Journeys — A Family’s Story

Shane and Angel Moffitt have adopted twice through Holt’s China Child of Promise program for children with minor to moderate special needs – Holt’s most popular track to adopt from China.  The first time was easy.  The second time was anything but.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Introducing Jaili Joi Moffitt.

Lightning struck.  And everyone fell in love.

On December 11, 2006, Shane and Angel Moffitt met their first daughter, Jaili, in China.  The next day, Angel wrote an update to family and friends and adoptive parents following her blog, where for the past seven months she had chronicled her “Journey to Jaili.”

“By the wonderful grace of God we have been blessed with the most amazing and breathtakingly beautiful girl,” she wrote.  “She is the most special little one.  Shane and I are awestruck and so in love.”

She was sweet and gentle and playful and goofy, slept for hours and woke up happy. On Day 3, on a visit to her orphanage, Jaili made it clear she knew who “Momma” was – snuggling into Angel’s sweatshirt and ignoring her former caregivers.  Shane and Angel were simply astonished.  Hours passed in minutes as they held, fed or simply stared at their 11-month-old wonder.  They couldn’t imagine their lives without her.

Once home, they experienced the usual bumps and backslides – Jaili pushed Angel away, attaching to Shane more at first.  But nothing unexpected.  And nothing they couldn’t handle.  For the most part, she was just a joy – “a joy to sit and watch play, sleep, whatever.”

And then, a fairy tale ending.  Jaili, born Hepatitis B positive, naturally converted to negative status.  “She is,” wrote Angel, “our true miracle.”

We Have A Daughter!

Shane and Angel adopted Jaili through what is now known as the China Child of Promise program – Holt’s track for children from China with minor to moderate, correctable or manageable conditions.  In 2005, when the Moffitts began the process, fewer families considered adopting children with special needs.  They didn’t think of it.  This wasn’t the typical profile of children needing homes.  In the previous two decades, the number of abandoned children had grown by the thousands in China – an unintended consequence of the country’s one-child policy, designed to curb population growth.  Most of the children found abandoned were girls.  Most of them were infants.  And most of them had no known health conditions.  As news of this crisis spread, families throughout the world opened their hearts to these children.  Between 2002 and 2006, over 30,000 children from China joined adoptive families overseas.

Everyone championed the cause.  Even Oprah did a segment on “China’s Lost Girls,” in December of 2004.  Among the thousands who viewed it was Angel Moffitt.  After sharing with Shane, and a considerable amount of prayer, they decided this was the path for them.  In July of 2005, they applied to Holt.

“Everything proceeded fantastically,” Angel wrote on her first blog post.  They completed their dossier in early February and by March 14, 2006 it was officially logged in at the China Center of Adoption Affairs (now the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption, or CCCWA).  “This was a fantastic day.  I was ‘paper pregnant’ !!” wrote Angel.  “Now all we have to do is wait and wait and wait and wait a little more until we get her referral.”

Shane and Angel hold their referral photo of Jaili.

So they waited.  And waited.  By June, they were getting antsy.   “Every month, the referral time increases,” Angel wrote on June 7th.  “We are not exactly sure why this is occurring.”

What had occurred was a critical mass of dossiers at the CCCWA.  Between 2005 and 2007, the Moffitts were just one of thousands of families who had decided that adopting from China was the path for them.  As a result, hopeful adoptive families began to outnumber eligible children. The process slowed, referral times increased, and after the CCCWA announced stricter guidelines beginning in May 2007, families rushed to beat the deadline – completing and submitting dossiers en masse.  Those hoping to adopt a healthy infant girl – the profile of child China was known for – faced an even longer wait.  By 2007, what was once typically a 7-to-9-month wait for referral continued to lengthen by the minute.  Today, the estimated timeframe to adopt a child from China with no known health conditions stands at five years.

But because Shane and Angel chose to adopt through the special needs track, the wait would not be long at all.

In June of 2006, even as they agonized over the lengthening referral times, they couldn’t anticipate their next blog post – a little over a month later – would be a surprise announcement: “We have a daughter!”

Journey to Jaili

At the outset of their adoption journey, Shane and Angel made a critical decision.  They decided to open their hearts to a child with a minor special need.

“It was never an issue – whether special needs or non-special needs,” says Angel.

They filled out a medical conditions checklist – researching conditions and marking off the ones they felt comfortable and prepared to manage.  They also consulted their social worker, Kathie Stocker, and Holt’s director of services for China, Beth Smith.

“I talked to Beth a lot…and pretty much any time I had a question, I’d email Beth and she would email right back,” says Angel. “She was really invaluable in that process, in keeping me sane.” Continue reading “Same Path, Different Journeys — A Family’s Story”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing

by Jane Ballback

Of the three of my adopted children, Stacee has always been the most curious and connected to her Asian roots. She began a very creative exploration process of what it meant to be Asian when she entered junior high. If you know anything about adolescent development, this is not at all surprising. Every adolescent begins to ask herself, who am I and where do I fit? This was much easier for Stacee to do in junior high, because her elementary school had very few Asian children. We are fortunate to live in Southern California where there is every ethnicity possible and every mixture as well. We however, live on an island that is primarily populated by Caucasians. Fortunately the junior high and high school my children attended drew from a larger pool of young people.

As I was picking Stacee up from school about a month after she started junior high, I saw her standing with a group of six girlfriends. What was so interesting about this picture was that every girl was Asian. When I pointed that out to Stacee, she actually had not been conscious of the fact. None of the girls was Korean but they all were different nationalities of Asians. This began an interesting journey for my daughter that I could not have created for her had I tried!

As she grew to know the girls, she began to form strong friendships — many of which still exist today. Because there were so few children on the island where we live, Stacee began to spend a great deal of time with these new friends and their families. She became so close to a few of them, that she took trips with the families.

When she spent time with her new Asian friends and families, she would come home and tell me how they would do things differently than our family did. I was always fine with that, and listened intently while she would tell me her stories. She was always amazed at how the entire family went everywhere together, particularly over the weekends. It’s not that our family didn’t do a great deal together, but we did not do every activity together for days on end. Since many of these new friends were recent immigrants, what Stacee was also experiencing was life with immigrants who had not been acculturated into the “American” way of life. I thought these experiences were very valuable as well. She did not ask me or my husband to do anything different than we were doing, with one exception. We bought a rice cooker and we had white rice in our kitchen cooking at all times. I found this fascinating and endearing.

I also found it very interesting that Stacee’s best high school girlfriend, Thuvy, and her first steady boyfriend, Kurt, were Vietnamese. Thuvy spent a great deal of time at our house, traveled with us many times, and even lived with us over a summer. This also gave Stacee what she had always wanted, a sister. Kurt also spent a great deal of time with us and I enjoyed him very much. They are still part of our lives, and when Thuvy read my blog she sent me a lovely e-mail saying, you are always my “second mama,” as well. Stacee remained very close to both Thuvy and Kurt throughout high school, but she also began to expand her friends to multiple ethnicities.

I’m so glad that Stacee found this very creative way to explore her culture and her roots. It is such a joy to have children — and now their friends — who have no issue with anyone’s color, creed, or ethnicity. In that way our world is becoming a better place.

Readers, Please tell me how your children have gone through their cultural exploration.

I’d love to hear from you.

Connect with Jane.  Go to http://www.mysecondmama.com to read more blogs from Jane.

Click here to read post-adoption blogs

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: A Picture Really is Worth a Thousand Words

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you will know how much I love photography. I had my children photographed many times and their Aunt Bea is a talented photographer who captured many of our family events.

These two pictures tell the story of adoption.

This first picture of them standing holding the balloons and looking very anxious and apprehensive is often times how adopted children feel. While they may feel very lucky and grateful to be in a loving family, many children spend some time simply waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”

They do this because being relinquished is a defining moment in every adopted child’s life. Many researchers and adoption experts agree that every child knows when his or her birth mother has left.

As you can see from this picture however, when adopted children feel safe, secure and loved, they don’t spend every waking moment wondering what will happen next. Through normal and everyday family life experiences, adopted children do learn to relax and enjoy their new lives.

I hope you won’t get tired of me saying so much of this depends on the adoptive parents’ willingness to understand this experience from the point of view of their children — and not themselves.

Check out the Post-Adoption Services section of the Holt website for some useful resources, listed under Suggested Reading.

To hear more from Jane, visit her website:  “You’re My Second Mama, Aren’t You?”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child

Adoptive parent Jane Ballback discusses internationally adopted children’s need for perfectionism

As you read the title of this blog, you are probably thinking, what in the world is she going to talk about? Adoptive parents might be offended by this title, implying that somehow adoption was a “second-best” option. That is not what this blog is about, but it is a serious topic.

This title, “The Good Enough Child” is actually a book I read several years ago by Brad E. Sachs. It’s an outstanding book and I learned a great deal from it. The subtitle, How To Have An Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, says it all.

How did we get to the point in our culture and society where we needed to have a book like this? How did we get so obsessed with being perfect? There are a lot of answers to this question. Parents who are older, better educated and wealthier than ever before, are raising the bar on the whole issue of parenthood. Parents are generally more likely to have been taught that they have an enormous impact on their child’s future success. And while that’s true, as usual it’s how you go about it that is so important. Many parents feel like if their child does not go to the right school, play the right sport, or evidence some unusual talent or skill, then they will not have a successful life. When I first heard the term “competitive parenting”, I wanted to drop out of the race as fast as I could.

I am one of those parents who believe that I’ve had a huge impact on my children’s lives, but I did it in a way that kept us all sane and centered. The reason this is so important for adoptive parents is that most adoptive children feel an enormous need to be perfect without any encouragement from us. In Patty Cogen’s brilliant book, Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, she writes, “Internationally adopted children feel more strongly and dramatically than other children the pressure to be good and do what is right because deep down they still fear that they did something wrong that resulted in their relinquishment.” Because young children believe that adults cannot make a mistake, this leads them to believe they did something wrong, or they would not have been relinquished.

I saw perfectionism in all three of my children, but this story is about Stacee. Her perfectionism showed up first as she was playing board games as a small child. In the game of Sorry, she would often get to the game first and shuffle the cards so she would have the best ones first. I waited for that behavior to extinguish itself, and it did.

Her need for perfectionism then showed up every time she did something she had never done before. Prior to kindergarten she told me, in a very serious voice, “Mom, I need to learn how to read before I get to school.” No amount of me telling her that wasn’t so did any good. Her answer to that was to take a series of books called Bernstein Bears, and read every one of them until she had them completely understood. Along the way she did teach herself how to read, so she met her goal. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child”