The 9 Months Home / 9 Months Pregnant Perspective

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.” – Proverbs 14:4

Nine months home, and we’re still trying to make sense of it all – attempting to figure out our new normal and all the change that these months have brought. Life is radically redefined. And most days, that Proverb feels like it was written specifically about our messy manger. Adoption is not for those who want their families to remain neat and tidy. It’s more about sacrificing your home, your finances, your health, your family, and your have-it-all-together image to wage war for the healing of one child.

Getting through some moments takes hard-core survival skills. Yet when we look back, we see progress – movement, be it teeny steps, toward health and wholeness and just life like a regular kid. How about a timeline and photo dump, then keep on reading for the heavy stuff.

Months 0-2: Malachi is in America. Five and a half years old and fresh out of the orphanage. He knows absolutely no English, and we’re using visual schedules to trudge through the day. He’s monkey crawling around the house and eating like one too. He’s got parasites, a potentially life-threatening bowel blockage, 7 cavities, an unexplained rash on his abdomen, and a mom-diagnosed anxiety disorder. He’s terrified of Mia the dog. We’re visiting the doctor every other day trying to triage all of the orphanage health problems plus get a grip on spina bifida – his permanently disabling birth defect. Maddox and Malachi are screaming at each other constantly, and we’re using hula hoops to confine them and survive play time. Do not, under any circumstance, leave the hula hoop, little ones. Malachi learns his English letters and sounds. He eats only pasta and rice. In a moment of subsequent joy and utter panic, we find out I am pregnant.

Months 3- 5: We now have braces, a walker, a wheelchair, a nightly enema routine, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist who outlaws crawling around like a monkey. We start making him use his walker 100% of the time. Malachi has two surgeries and a major post-operation meltdown in the middle of Orlando’s Ronald McDonald House. I’m alone with him, 12 weeks pregnant, and bear hugging him to keep him from harming himself or me. In other news, Mitch leaves his job, we sell our house in Clearwater, begin to plant Redeemer City Church, move in with my parents, and start building a house in Tampa. The transition causes Malachi fear and more anxiety and temporarily wrecks progress. He starts a half-day program in school, and does remarkably well (minus the spitting in a kid’s face episode). English is improving. He’s blending sounds and reading three-letter words. He’s learning the Kuhn family way of rewards and consequences. He now likes pizza, cheese steaks, carrots, milk, ice cream, and peanut butter sandwiches.

Months 6 – 9: Malachi celebrates his 6th birthday. He learns to ride a bike with training wheels and special pedals. An occupational therapist helps us teach him to self-regulate. We start to see him cope with anxiety a little better, and we begin constantly throwing out scripts like “stay in the green.” We learn all kinds of occupational therapy tricks that help us manage behavior and stay half-way sane. He becomes responsible for time management and his own “tasks.” Most days he manages to do his super-long bathroom routines 75% independently. Maddox and Malachi find a more stable and typical brotherly love-hate relationship. They share a room at Gigi and Papouli’s house and decide they’d prefer not to have their own rooms in the new house. (Not gonna happen. It was designed with 4 bedrooms for parental peace. You two shall be separated.) They can play independently together for up to an hour of busting ghosts and saving the world from villains. Malachi rocks it counting by tens in his end-of-the-year school program. He begins using forearm crutches instead of his wheeled walker, and we only pull out the wheelchair for long distances. He is almost fluent in English and learning to swim. He has begun guitar lessons, and he eats whatever we eat.

Looking back at progress is beautiful, but surviving the individual days is unsightly. The moments where we choose frustration instead of compassion are too many. We never know the right answers, and we struggle to offer enough nurture with the structure. We trudge through night terrors and wounds that we pray God will someday heal. We’re just limping along asking God to make up for the 50 million ways we’re sure we’re doing it wrong.

Each day is a battle with our own broken flesh. This child has forced us to look at our own sinful, ugly hearts and wrestle with idols we never before knew were inside. Any winning moments where we choose true empathy instead of selfish annoyance come from something outside of ourselves – a supernatural grace. Adoption has wrecked us…. albeit wrecked us afresh. For now, we see and savor the amazing grace that is showered from above. Just enough grace for each day. And tomorrow morning, His mercies will be new again. At some point you realize, this might never get easier and that’s ok. For this is our privilege and calling.

We said yes to this life in what we now realize was a moment of God-given naivety. Thank you Jesus that when we saw a photo of that 4-year-old boy in September 2014, we were innocent enough to think we had the guts and gusto to parent a child who came from a really hard place – to face daily enemas and catheterization and physical therapy and surgeries and trauma and neglect. Because we now know full well, we didn’t and we don’t.

We read all of the adoption books. But none of them said that he’d be absent-minded and unintentionally destructive. We couldn’t foresee that he’d be tense and hyper in even the most relaxing family moments.  No one told us the wheels of his walker would destroy the baseboards and run over our toes, and his braces would scrape the car. We didn’t daydream about what incontinence would actually entail. We didn’t envision skipping our anniversary because after 8 months home he still wasn’t ready to be left with anyone else. I’m thankful for ignorance, lest we would have given the wrong answer when we heard the call – and God forbid, rejected His invitation to an entirely new normal.

We thought this story was going to be about assimilating a child from a broken past into a comfortable, stable home. We were wrong. Our two worlds had to be forged together. And our home, which I think had been comfortable and stable, was shattered under the weight of the brokenness it welcomed. We plucked him from his life and forced him to change. But he has done the same to us. Adoption changed his life, but it changed ours more. It has transformed us – not with the pretty and picturesque but with heavy burdens and difficult truths. This little boy has pulled back the curtain of our hearts and exposed what most of us willfully and successfully hide – that we’re all broken and messed up. We’ve got lots of junk filling our deceitfully wicked hearts. And as heroic and humanitarian as we want to appear, we just really really need a whole lot of Jesus to get through every hour. In most ways, adoption has wrecked our lives. We’re just now wise enough to recognize it has been wrecked for the better.

Our soon-to-be three little oxen make our manger a beautiful mess. But oh do we love them to the moon and back.

 

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Travel Diaries: The Video Version (Part 1)

Before we left for Ethiopia last month, the girls at work said I should document our trip via a vlog. I said I was pretty positive I would be bad at it, but I gave it a shot nonetheless.

This video is part 1. It documents the first 48 hours of our trip when we met Farahol – the sweet little boy we sponsor through Compassion International. Later, I’ll get around to posting part 2 where we actually pick up Malachi from the orphanage. It’s probably a #vlogfail, but hoping someday Malachi can look back at these videos and laugh with us. Enjoy!

Video Part 1 – Meeting Farahol

Video Diary 1

The only thing we love more than orphan care is orphan prevention. Thank you Compassion International for working to keep children in their first families. You may remember that during our first trip to Ethiopia, we also visited Make Your Mark Ministries – another great organization engaged in orphan prevention. We will vouch for these two non-profits and beg you to check them out. They deserve your dollars!

Compassion International
Make Your Mark Ministries

Ready for Home

I’d say we’re in a joyful, foggy state of shock. Such is the case when you welcome a new biological baby to your home as well. Feels similar. Except add in jet lag, third world probs, and strong cravings for iced tap water.

When we arrived on Monday, we first visited Farahol, the child we sponsor through Compassion International. The experience was incredible. More to come on that later. For now, I’ll just say, if you’ve been considering sponsoring a compassion child, do it. Oh my word, please do it. Orphan prevention at its finest. Here are some pics from our visit to Farahol’s village.

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This is Farahol’s awesome mom and his house. One room for five people. Stop complaining people.

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After a quick visit with Farahol, we went to the orphanage, and Malachi’s caregivers and friends threw him a going away party. So bittersweet to see him hug the people who have cared for him for so long. Yet, he seems happy to go to “Omerica” and regularly pretends to fly his toy plane there.

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We began the 2-hour trek back to Addis where he will stay with us in the hotel until we depart. Nap time.

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Malachi Yadesa is happy and energetic and full of life, and we love him to pieces. He never wants us to leave his sight. The sounds from the other side of the bathroom door…. “Mom?… Mom?”

We’re dealing with all of the typical orphanage baggage and medical needs we anticipated, plus things we never even considered, like excessive gagging when we brush his teeth. It had clearly never happened before. His eating habits are, well, primitive (think… digging into a bowl of rice with his hands), and he’s still figuring out the function of a straw (so much for the spaceship water bottle I packed for him). He’s also completely fascinated with running water. The language barrier is HUGE so we use lots of made up sign language and try out some survival Amharic we’ve learned. He usually just looks at us funny and babbles something back in Amharic. Nod and smile.

We celebrate lots of victories and answered prayers. Malachi is a great sleeper, a great eater, doesn’t show any visible symptoms of grief or abuse or food hoarding, and already shows some really healthy signs of attachment. Mom!? Dad!?

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When in Africa, you become willing to show the world pictures of yourself like this one. Unfiltered, real life. You’re welcome.

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Yesterday, we went to the US Embassy to finalize immigration paperwork. His visa will be ready earlier than we expected, so we changed our travel plans to leave earlier as well.

We need prayers for the 18 hour plane ride to Washington DC. I mean on-your-knees, hands-to-the-heavens battle prayers, please.

We’re both full of joy and incredibly overwhelmed. Orphan care’s weight is heavier than we could ever bear alone. Jesus, the burden is yours. You’re gonna have to handle the heavy lifting.

A Letter to Our Village

Today, we began the journey back to Ethiopia to make Malachi an orphan no longer. We received the call out of the blue on Wednesday while enjoying some time with favorite friends from out of town- the Kisers – at the happiest place on earth – Disney! Here’s a pic moments after the call. Excuse the crying bio son. He really is happy about Malachi, just not about pictures.

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Two tickets to Addis Ababa and make it three for the return flight please! 60-ish hours and a beautiful, but blurry, stressed-out frenzy later, we were at the airport without passports. Mom brain. Fast-forward 45 minutes. We were at the airport WITH passports and saying goodbye to Maddox. Last picture as a family of three!

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Now, we rest for the night in Washington D.C., waiting to depart tomorrow morning for Addis.

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. Today, we write an honest and open letter to our village. The time has finally come to explain what life will look like when we return home.

Adoption was the best plan for our family, but by no means is adoption the best way for a child to enter a family. The world is unbelievably broken, and we realize it now more than ever before. Malachi has experienced more hardship and loss in his 5 short years than most of us ever will. The wounds of hunger, separation, loss, and grief cut deep.

From an orphanage in Ethiopia to a family in Clearwater, Florida, Malachi’s whole life is about to change. We’ll introduce him to strange foods he’s never tasted. We’ll introduce him to doctors who will poke and prod. We’re exchanging a world where everyone looks like him for a world where some look like him. We’re replacing his sterile, yet familiar room, shared with eight close friends, for a colorful room that’s all his own. Malachi is leaving an orphanage that was his family, albeit 60 members big.

In a healthy biological child, secure attachment and trust forms when parents consistently meet the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs.

Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Over time, attachment and trust form.

Children who have lost or never experienced the love of a parent can often have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met. That means we may need to retrain Malachi’s brain toward healthy attachment. We’ll need to help him relearn the real role of a mom and a dad. Parents provide food and shelter. Parents provide comfort and security. Parents don’t leave you (and if they do leave for a short time, they will always come back). We get it, but for a former orphan (yes, former!), the concept is novel.

He’ll need time to develop a connection to our family and to trust that we are safe. He’ll need extra patience and love as the Lord heals the wounds of his past.

The Case for Cocooning

When we return, we’ll stay home with Malachi as much as possible, attempting to create an environment that is calm, predictable, and comforting. The adoption world calls this a period of “cocooning.” It will last as long as he needs to feel safe and secure and connected to our family.

Cocooning looks like this…

  • We’ll avoid parties and large gatherings.
  • We’ll introduce new people in moderation and only when he is comfortable with us. When we introduce new people, we’ll do so in small groups of one or two.
  • We’re asking others not to pick up, hold, hug, or kiss Malachi. In the beginning, these displays of affection are reserved for Mitch and I.
  • Only Mitch or I should give things to Malachi, especially food.
  • Only Mitch or I should meet Malachi’s needs.

This all might sound over-protective, secluding, or like we’re over analyzing. But we’re following the advice of professionals who know the adoption thing way better we do. We want nothing more than for Malachi to be able to love and hug the awesome people who prayed and gave and prayed even more to bring him home. We just need to allow him the time he needs to get used to a brand new world and way of life. When he’s ready, we’ll widen the net and begin to look less like recluses. We’ll find our new normal in time.

The weight of the responsibility ahead is sinking in. Pray for us often. Offer to visit in small groups when he is ready. Text and call with encouragement – we’ll need lots. The same village that brought us to this point will bring us through the months ahead. Plus a whole lot of Jesus. Love to you all!

Memoirs of Malachi’s Shower

It’s been more than three weeks since we returned from Ethiopia, and we are so ready to go back and pick up Mr. Malachi. We received his passport last week, and now we are just waiting on the Embassy to complete his medical review. This could take one week, or it could take nine weeks. So we continue to wait in that always unknown timeline we have been in for two and half years. Peachy.

In the meantime, we’re getting everything ready for his hopefully-very-soon arrival. On Monday, friends and family threw a shower for Malachi. Let me just say… my people are the best people. Lots of people. They’re the most wonderful community of support ever. Malachi is the luckiest little dude to get to be loved on by this awesome group.

Friends from Skycrest Community Church, friends from Lakeside Community Chapel, friends from Dunn&Co., friends from Ruskin, friends from my old job, friends from near and far. More than 70 in all. MY LOVELY PEOPLE!!! I love love love you to the moon and back. And Malachi will too.

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Amy T., I especially love the above photo of you. We clearly caught you at the wrong time, but your arm muscles look beautifully defined as always.

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BFF Shawna Kiser made these precious prayer bracelet favors. Special delivery from Arvada Colorado. Thank you friend.

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MAMMAW!!! Enough said. Especially if you know her and her unique cool grandma vibes.

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Meet my mom and sister. Decoration bosses. They made the the theme super heroes since those guys were adopted too.

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Meet my go-getter, make-things-happen sissy-in-law who rallied the troops. I’m sure you never tired of her reminding you to buy leather bracelets, order t-shirts, or come to the shower. Someday, I will tell Malachi about all that TT (permanent term for Auntie coined by Maddox) has done for him. But I’ll wait until he understands English.

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Meet my friends Karen and Melissa. Karen orchestrated the food and spent lots of the evening in the kitchen. And I guess that’s how I only ended up with one pic of you???

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And then it was time to open presents galore!!!!

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Clothes and shoes and toys and car seats and gift cards and medical expense cashola. We are so loved. My boy is so loved. My heart is full. My heart is ready to return to Adama, Ethiopia.

Dancing and Donkeys and Really Sweet Kids

With court completed, our agency treated us to a celebratory Ethiopian cultural dinner yesterday evening. Injera plus all the fixings.

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And dancing too. The cultural dance is something like tribal stomp plus hip hop with serious skill. Totally fun. They made Mitch give it a shot. Well, it was a good try.

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This morning we visited Make Your Mark Ministries, an organization that was started by some mutual American friends. They provide loving environments for kids living on the streets of Addis, work to prevent children in extreme poverty from ending up on the streets, and strive to reintegrate street kids into families. They also work to raise awareness about the need for adoption in local Ethiopian communities.

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With 5.5 million orphans living in Ethiopia, international adoption could never solve the predicament at hand. Make Your Mark is diving deep into the root of the orphan crisis which is quite simply poverty. They are creating local awareness and challenging Ethiopians to think about their own personal responsibility to care for vulnerable children.

These boys at the MYM center were just the sweetest, greeting us like they had known us forever. Catching them during soccer practice was a special treat.

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Roaming donkey servants, please try not to disrupt the soccer game.

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The gut-wrenching stories we heard during our visit to Make Your Mark Ministries opened our eyes and troubled our hearts. I’m so thankful for people like the leaders at Make Your Mark who are willing to sacrifice themselves and devote their lives to serve the least of these.

For four short days, we have lived amongst such a beautiful community of people; yet we are burdened and sickened by the social injustice we have witnessed. Poverty, oppression, disease, prostitution, rape. I flip and flop between feeling incredibly compelled to do something about it and completely overwhelmed that the problem is too gigantic to ever be solved. I will not be ignorant. I will not be indifferent. Yet, I have no answers. Lord Jesus, come quickly and redeem a broken world.

Introducing Malachi Yadesa Kuhn

Ethiopian court is complete and he is ours. Let me introduce you to Malachi Yadesa Kuhn.

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His first name Malachi will be his American name. You might sometimes hear us shorten it to Kai. His middle name, Yadesa, is his Ethiopian name. The name Yadesa means “God knows.” We would love to retain that part of his heritage, for his Ethiopian name truly tells the story of his beginnings. God has known and remembered Yadesa. In Ethiopia, most handicapped people have no future beyond a life of beggary on city streets. Noone knew Yadesa’s future. God knew. And I can just imagine him speaking his promise over Yadesa.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

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He was checking out his family book. It will stay with him until we return.

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And he loves loves loves his dad!

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I’m cool too. Just not as cool as dad.

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Who says orphanages don’t have physical therapy. Rolling suitcase equals walker. And he could totally do it!

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He’s not a fan of animal crackers. He thought it would be better for me to eat them.

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As we pull away from the orphanage. Chow! Chow!

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Malachi Yadesa Kuhn, welcome to our family where you are loved whether you walk or crawl or roll. Welcome to America where you get to be anything you want to be regardless of how well your legs work. Welcome to school, doctors’ visits, dentist appointments, playground trips, church, birthday presents, and family dinners. It might not be what you’re used to, but I think you’ll grow to like it here.

Much more than a humanitarian rescue mission, Malachi’s adoption is a beautiful display of the gospel. It’s what separates Christianity from every other religion in the world. God did not expect us to rise to Him or do enough good works to make him happy. Rather, he sent Jesus to be my rescuer when I did nothing. He relentlessly pursued me when I was helpless. He found me where I was and redeemed me by the blood of Jesus from the universal human problem of sin. He adopted me into his family when I had no hope. The longer we walk this journey, the more I am amazed at the parallels. We don’t adopt to give Malachi wealth. We adopt because we have been adopted.

Saying Goodbye

We headed to the orphanage first thing this morning to see Malachi again. Those precious kids always have flies crawling on their faces. It’s like they don’t even bother to shew them away anymore, so I do it for them.

After a few hours we had to say goodbye. We won’t see him again until we return for our embassy appointment. We originally thought that it would only be 4 to 6 weeks until we came back. But today, they told us that it might be more like 8 to 12 weeks before we can return because of Malachi’s medical special needs. The medical review conducted by the US embassy often takes longer for special needs kids apparently. Let’s just pray for a miracle.

As we drove away from the orphanage, Malachi sat under a tree and waved goodbye. “Chow! Chow!” he yelled. Then he began doing his bear crawl toward the car while smiling and yelling in Amharic, “I’m coming!” That’s more than a little bit heartbreaking. US embassy, please work quickly.

We then began our drive back to Addis so that we could be ready for court tomorrow. We stopped at Soodaree to see hot springs and feed some monkeys. When those monkeys see you have a banana, they swarm you. They’re worse than the seagulls at Clearwater beach.

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We stopped for lunch and then later checked into our hotel in Addis. We’ll leave for court tomorrow morning at 8:30am. When we’re done, we officially become a family of 4, Maddox loses only child status, and you see photos of Malachi (Ethiopian internet permitting). Hooray to all of those things!