Air Date: 7.17.2015
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Connie Going: Hi, my name is Connie Going, and welcome to Adoption Focus. Adoption Focus is a radio blog talk show sponsored by Adoption Associates of Michigan. Adoption Associates is a amazing adoption agency that has existed since 1990, and they have done over 5000 placements, both through international and domestic. They are a Christian agency, but they serve families of all faith. They have three offices, one in Jenison, one in Lansing, one in Farmington Hills in Saginaw, so they serve the entire state of Michigan, as well as the surrounding states.
I am so excited today to bring to you Kim Shulton. And Kim is an adoptive mom, she’s an adoptive mom of four children, two through domestic adoption and two through international adoption from Ethiopia. You are going to absolutely enjoy speaking to her, and I am excited to say that she is here to talk to us about adoption support and what families need after adoption, as well as her journey. Kim, are you there? Hi, Kim, are you there?
Kim Shulton: I am. Hello.
Connie Going: Hello, how are you?
Kim Shulton: I’m good.
Connie Going: That’s terrific. How is the weather in Michigan? As everyone has heard before, I am in Florida.
Kim Shulton: Today it’s a little gloomy, but it’s supposed to be a really hot weekend, so we’re looking forward to some 90 degree days here in Michigan.
Connie Going: And [inaudible 00:02:26] in Florida, that would be our spring. And today it’s raining in Florida, so we’re very tropical, and for those of you who tune in later, just so you know, it is July 17, 2015. Kim, tell us a little bit about your adoption journey.
Kim Shulton: Okay. Our family came to adoption following a couple years of infertility . we went directly into the domestic program here in Michigan, and we took our oldest daughter, who’s now 10, home from the hospital. And soon started the process again and added our son. And then we decided to switch to the international program, and we have our two youngest are from Ethiopia. So, I’m a busy mom of four. Our kids are 10, 6, 4, and 2.
Connie Going: So, you’re extremely busy.
Kim Shulton: I am, yeah, and it’s summer. So, it’s extra busy, and lots of time together.
Connie Going: Tell me, what are the differences in your experiences between the domestic and the international? We know that Adoption Associates does both programs, and I know that with domestic, it would just be a totally different experience. Tell me a little bit about both just to summarize.
Kim Shulton: Okay. Yeah, for us, domestic, we went into domestic with, decision making process behind that was just we really wanted to have as much of an experience with a newborn and all of the sort of traditional parenting milestones that we could and so we went into that program expecting an infant and wanting that experience, and I think probably the hardest part in domestic is that you have sort of an unknown wait. You’re sitting there waiting to be chosen by a birth family and you don’t know if that process is going to be a week or if it’s going to be four years.
For us, it was about a year, and we were really thankful for that. But when you switch to international, you of course are getting an older child and you’re getting on an airplane and traveling around the world to meet a child that already has a personality and has had some life experiences. But what we liked about the international program was that you kind of have an idea of your weight in terms of you’re on a list and you know kind of that you’re working your way up and that your wait is not indefinite.
Connie Going: Right. You have a little bit of control in that, in the international. I can understand.
Kim Shulton: Yes.
Connie Going: How old were your two youngest when you actually, did you get them at the same time? Did you go over two times? What was that like?
Kim Shulton: We, our oldest child from Ethiopia, who is four, we got her, she had just turned a year. So, we just [inaudible 00:05:43] and our little Sky came home to us at seven months.
Connie Going: Wow.
Kim Shulton: So, they were both young, but still man, did they already know what they liked and disliked and it was clear from that experience walking into it and meeting them that we were the strangers. So, that whole kind of bonding and attachment process takes on a little bit of a different feel than taking home a newborn.
Connie Going: Yes. How did you encourage that attachment and bonding? ‘Cause I just find that to be so important in all adoptions, but especially when a child is a little bit older.
Kim Shulton: Yeah. I think it just, a lot of it comes to just your common sense parenting. You can tell when your child is feeling distressed, or hurt, or grieving, and it’s just kind of a matter of stepping into that situation and going, “All right, if they are sad, I’m gonna comfort them, gonna hold them. We’re gonna wrap them, play on the floor, gonna tickle. We’re gonna just kind of interact on their level.”
And it’s hard, because I think a lot of times when you’re in those situations, you don’t have the answers to how to meet all those needs. I know some of the problems that we had were sleep issues, and you’re up all the time and deciding, “What’s the best thing to do? Do I come in every 10 minutes and pick them up or do I let them cry? Or do I pet them?” Some of that is trial and error, too.
My oldest daughter had a very difficult time with my husband when we took her home, so for him, it was a lot of time just out on the swing in the backyard pushing her and talking to her, and we learned quickly that her love language was food, so he took on the role of always feeding her at meal times, and you just kind of make your way through it and do the best you can and fall back a little bit on what you’ve read and what you’ve heard, and then you just, you know, you just interact as much as you can.
Connie Going: I would agree. I love that you used the love languages, because I haven’t actually heard that for a long time in adoption, but I really think that’s true, that what we don’t realize is that, I believe children are kind of born with a lot of who they are and they’re gonna have different needs and wants and no matter what age you adopt them, and those who listen to the show know that I have adopted sons who are 15 and 17 now, I adopted them at 12 and 17. And I’ve found that having to learn what their cycle of need was, that had been broken and filling that need, I love that you said, though, that your husband learned. I think that’s really great as a couple that he went out and he, with your oldest child, she was adopted domestically, but she responded to you. But you go out and have that time with her and learn her love language. I just think that is a great assessment.
Kim Shulton: Yeah. You just, I mean, I think there’s a lot of times as parents you feel you need to have all the answers going into an adoption and there’s so many thing that you can’t read a book, so you learn to just kind of find people that have walked before you or you just, you do the best you can and some times that has to be okay and good enough.
Connie Going: I agree. Do you find that adoptive parents are harder on themselves?
Kim Shulton: I only know for myself, the expectations that I put on me personally, and that’s that I’m parenting just in general. But there’s an extra element, I think, of trying to decide if this issue that I’m dealing with with my children, is this an adoption issue or is this just a normal kid issue? And trying to decipher between those two and figure out how do I respond to it. So, I know that at the end of the day, I’m hard on myself. I don’t know if that’s necessarily because I’m an adoptive parent or if that’s a generalization or not, I don’t know.
Connie Going: Well, we had a support group meeting this week and that was the topic of conversation with the couples that were there and I found it very interesting that some times even society expects you to hold to a higher standard, because you’ve chosen to raise a child that’s not biologically yours, and I think there’s a lot of debate around that, but I think it’s very interesting and how I define, and what I’ve learned over the years as a social worker in adoption is that how you define being a good parent, like “Am I a good parent?”, is a parent who lays down in bed at night and figures out, they analyze and assess their day and what happened, and they figure out how to do it better if it didn’t work. Or, “I wasn’t successful with that, but we’re gonna try this tomorrow.”
And I think that just, that kind of says it all.
Kim Shulton: Yeah, and I think, too, as an adoptive mom, knowing that another person chose me to parent their child, that holds great responsibility for me. Like I don’t, the weight of that. I feel that, like a young mom chose me to parent her child. So, I want to do it to the best of my ability and in a way that honors her, and her child, and her decision. So, I think we carry some of that, too.
Connie Going: I totally agree, and even if we look at older children adoption, I think that the fact that the children chose me as their mom, I feel sort of the same way. It’s amazing the parallels between all the different types of adoption, and that we’re all adoptive parents, but we have a very common thread. Now, do you have an open adoption with your domestic adoptions? Is it open?
Kim Shulton: We have a semi-open with both of our domestic adoptions, so we do annual letters and pictures, and we have had some visits with birth moms early on in our children coming home. Since then, we’ve just had in particular, we have one child that really wanted to connect with her birth parent, and we made that happen but it just has not been a really healthy situation. So, for us right now, that’s where we’re at and we’re open to meeting birth parents in the future when our children get older and a little bit more developmentally capable of handling all of the complexity that comes with it.
Connie Going: And I think that’s an area that we really look to other adoptive parents to help us through, is your gut tells you certain things. Of course, it’s always scary, but your gut tells you because you want what’s best for your child and you really can’t do wrong, per se, because you’re always keeping them safe and always keeping them protected, but you also can’t take away that this is who they are genetically connected to, and they’re always [inaudible 00:13:25].
Kim Shulton: And there’s definitely a trend now, of course, where open adoptions are more commonplace, so I think for us, too, we really had to sit down and say, “There’s a lot of advice as to why this is good, but in our situation, it actually has been harmful,” so we’ve had to kind of pull back in that area.
Connie Going: I understand completely, and I think that there isn’t a right or wrong when you put your child first.
Kim Shulton: I would agree, totally.
Connie Going: I think the fact that you’re open to it, I think that is what unselfish love is. It’s not only a birth parent choosing to place and having that unselfish love to have someone else raise their child, but the unselfishness that you have as an adoptive mom and dad to step over your fears and reach out, because it is really scary, on all ends. I’ve lived it myself and had both bad and good situations, and there was nobody there except really other parents to ask.
Kim Shulton: Yes.
Connie Going: How will you now, with your children from Ethiopia, how did that work? Because obviously, they’re of a different race than you, just looking at your family picture, and they come with a whole other set of connectors and they actually have some memories and experiences.
Kim Shulton: I don’t know that they remember too much of their life in Ethiopia. I think what they remember at this point are memories triggered because we’ve talked about it so often or we’ve looked at pictures together. So, they I think are connected to their country because of us connecting them to it.
Connie Going: Okay.
Kim Shulton: But they were both very young when we took them home, and I think those memories stuck with them at first, but I don’t know that they have a lot of them anymore. We have chosen to connect also with their birth family, so we have sent updated letters and pictures and stuff to them as well, since taking them home. So, I’m really thankful that we have that connection, even across the world, we can still get in contact with them if we need to.
Connie Going: Well, and if they ask as they get older, you’ll, I think it’s very valuable to be able to say to a child when they’re going through their teens and tweens and they’re looking at that identity and they’re naturally pushing away from their parents, and they’re looking for who they are, to be able to say, “I’ve spoken to your mom. We’ve written letters. You are really loved.” I find the common thread for children, the healthy common thread is that they want to know that they were loved.
Kim Shulton: Yes. I find that as well. And it’s hard as our children get older and trying to explain that some times loving decisions are hard and painful decisions, and that … We’ve had a lot of conversations about, “You know, your birth parents loved you so much that they wanted to give you what they couldn’t give you,” and some times my kids interpret that as “We weren’t wanted and we weren’t loved.” So, we’re constantly kind of fighting that dilemma of, “You were, but you feel like you weren’t.”
Connie Going: Well, and some times just understanding. I think until children can understand that life isn’t just, I mean their world is everything that you’ve given them, and their home, and their community, and everything is very safe. As a social worker, my children grew up with me kind of in the field, and so they knew very early on about poverty and even adoption, foster care, and child abuse. But how do you explain that to a child that doesn’t have that exposure and have them actually understand?
So, when a birth mother makes a choice and she may live a very, she wants a better life for her child. Your child can’t comprehend that there are worse lives than yours.
Kim Shulton: Yeah. That’s true. Part of us, when we met each of our birth families, too, especially our domestic, we asked both birth moms if they would write a letter to our kids that we could share with them as they got older, and in fact, my oldest child this week, we were kind of re-reading that and talking about it, and I think as much as the conflicting feelings come along, having that solid, tangible thing from them has been important to just kind of speak to their little beings.
Connie Going: It’s so true. And that ultimate question, “Was I loved?”, carries through their whole life, and I will tell you the peace that my 17 year old son found was very much like that. His mother, the time he found her, he was in care, she was deceased. And we connected to his biological family, and the message he got was that, “She did love you. She wasn’t able to care for you,” and he needed to hear that. Both my sons need to hear that on a consistent basis. So, I find that is, children that are adopted, no matter what age. Nobody wants to feel like somebody gave them up, or they were taken, or even when you say, “They couldn’t care for you,” that’s really hard, but “They chose,” gives is a whole different, and that they were loved.
Kim Shulton: Yeah.
Connie Going: Tell me a little bit about, I know you are so, so, so busy. Tell me a little bit about this wonderful retreat that you are working on, Woven By Love, and just the need for adoptive parents to stay connected.
Kim Shulton: Okay. The retreat really has come out of an experience that I’ve had attending a retreat in the Atlanta area, and I just really came away from that weekend feeling different, and what I mean by that is just that prior to that, I was always kind of the one adoptive mom of my friends. I had started connecting with other adoptive moms, but in general, in my circle of peers, I was always sort of the exception. And when I went to an adoptive moms conference, I was in a room and I was one of everybody, and that for me was just a really powerful experience of validating my journey to motherhood, which was so different than all of my friends.
I knew that the women in there understood what it’s like to wait, and what it’s like to have a picture hanging on your fridge and just like longing to meet that child. They knew what it was like to struggle with the placement and having seen your birth mom’s heart just so tender and raw. So, for me it was such a validating experience, like I am normal in this group. Like, this is my tribe of people that get it. And I just felt like this is something we need to take to our area, because in the west Michigan area, we have so many adoptive families and the amount of post adoption support is just limited and hard to find, and I’ve just kind of been feeling these nudgings to kind of get something going in our area, and just decided to do it.
So, we’re two weeks away from registration, so it’s been a couple months, kind of bringing in really passionate and educated speakers on board and finding the facility and doing the website and all of that stuff that comes along, but I just am so excited about it. And I think it’s gonna really step into where women are at in different places of the adoption journey and just kind of fill them up again when it’s easy to get kind of depleted.
Connie Going: Well, I found it very inspiring, the more that I listened to you, talked to you, and then read up on it, and brought it up in the support group Monday night and they were like, “We could so do this.” I think there is a need. I mean, I literally believe I could run a support group once a week or more and it would be filled with families. They travel two hours to get here. I had one family this week.
Kim Shulton: Wow.
Connie Going: They just want to connect, whether online, because our lives are so busy, we actually added childcare to ours, so that’s why I think it grew more. But I think the idea of a retreat where you don’t have to take your children-
Kim Shulton: I know.
Connie Going: And you can just have a weekend where you can go and talk to other moms, and share your experiences. Now, what dates have you guys settled on? When is it?
Kim Shulton: Our retreat is going to be the last weekend of January, January 29 through 31. But we’re hoping for a really strong response when we open registration, and just for a lot of good things. Our agencies have been really supportive and there’s a lot of buzz going on on Facebook now about it, so I’m hoping that the word’s getting out. [crosstalk 00:23:44]
Connie Going: What is your goal as far as attendance? How many people are you hoping to have at this retreat?
Kim Shulton: Yeah. We need, we can have up to 225, that’s our max number.
Connie Going: Okay.
Kim Shulton: And we’re hoping to fill it, so that’s our goal.
Connie Going: That is very exciting. And you’ll have speakers there. And what is it, is it focused domestic? Is it international? What is the focus? Is it open to every type of adoptive mom?
Kim Shulton: It’s definitely open to any mom who is anywhere in the process for any type of adoption. So, whether it’s foster to adopt or international, or waiting moms, or been home for 10 years moms. I really feel like we’ve been intentional about choosing breakout speakers that can address a variety of adoption topics, anything from adoption grief at different developmental levels to what it’s like to be a child of a different race raised in a Caucasian family. We have some attachment through playful engagement. So, I feel like we have a great range of different topics and the people that have stepped up to support us and be part of it, I think are really in it for the right reasons and have the same intentions that I do for just kind of equipping moms and refreshing them after a weekend away from all of the crazy back home.
Connie Going: So, what part of Michigan will the retreat be held in?
Kim Shulton: It will be held on Gull Lake, at Gull Lake Ministries, which is located between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
Connie Going: Okay.
Kim Shulton: I love that we have moms coming from the Travers City area, from the east side of the state. I know there’s moms flying in from out of state. So, we’re really targeting our area, but it’s definitely open to outside of just the west Michigan area.
Connie Going: That is very, very exciting, and we know that adoption, it’s always amazing to me when you’re out and if you’re having a conversation and the word adoption comes up, is how many people will say, “Well, I was adopted,” or “My mom placed a child.” I’m very open about, I mean obviously when you walk in with children of different race, and there’s whole debates about do you explain, do you not, but somehow I think with me because I work in the field and I’m so passionate, I live in it, I want to help people, that it just comes up naturally in conversation as a whole. So, I’m always amazed how many people it touches, that we would never know.
Kim Shulton: Yeah. And I think as an adoptive mom, too, as I’ve started kind of sharing and blogging about our experiences, there’s so much to the full process that families outside of adoption didn’t know about. Like they think, “Oh, it’s a process, and then you take your child home, and you’re a cute little family and then everything goes on as normal,” and some times people might have that, [inaudible 00:27:08], but so I think just being really honest and vulnerable and real about, “This is what’s really hard. This is what’s hard about going to the grocery store with two Ethiopian children in my shopping card,” or “This is what’s hard about that day you’re so excited about going to the hospital and taking home your first child, but you feel guilty leaving the hospital because it was such a hard thing.”
Just all those things that I think people, they think, “Oh, they just waited and now your child is home and now everything is happy and you’re doing such a great thing.”
Connie Going: I’m always amazed. I love adoption education, which was one of the reasons that Adoption Associates really, really supports this radio blog talk, because I feel like the more people that we educate, and talk, and share, and I am very open in my own adoptive journey, the more people it may touch and they may, I mean there are thousands of orphans. There are orphans overseas, there are orphans in the United States, and there are birth mothers who if they knew they could have a choice, they could make positive choices for their children. And the more that we talk about it, and we open up our lives, people become educated.
I think it’s the same, people have very … and I think times are changing, because people are talking and people are sharing. And you know, they … that’s why I said when I talked to you, Kim, I knew that you and I would have a great connection and a lot of commonalities because you are so passionate about adoption, and your children, and your family. And it’s amazing because if you go back to when you were in your early 20s and you thought that you would be an adoptive parent and that this would be your life purpose … [inaudible 00:29:09]
Kim Shulton: God’s funny that way, isn’t he? Look what it’s brought me. I just, I feel like our story, I’ve always felt like our story needs to be told because someone needs to hear it, and I haven’t always known or been validated with what that is, but that’s just really been laid on my heart from the get go, like we’re gonna share this experience because someone is gonna be coming behind and needs the encouragement or needs the honesty, and we can do that. [crosstalk 00:29:42] talk about our family.
Connie Going: Oh, and absolutely. I so agree. To know that things happen for reasons to change other people’s lives is really, I think, god at work, and when god puts adoption on your heart and you really can’t shake it, and you’re like, and the world may say, “No, I can’t believe you’re doing that,” and you’re like, “No, we’re going to do this, and this is our journey.”
Kim Shulton: Yes.
Connie Going: What have some of the challenges been for you? Because I mean, four children, and you’ve really grown your family, and you have a beautiful family. You’re an amazingly dedicated family. What were the challenges that you faced with, ’cause some times adoption can be isolating, also, which is why support is so important. Tell me, let’s talk a little bit about that before we end.
Kim Shulton: Okay. You know, I think my expectation was when we took our first baby home was that my road to getting that baby was hard and difficult and much longer than many of my peers, but I felt like once that child was home, then we would kind of be on the same turf, and in a lot of ways, we are. We parent in similar ways. We have a lot of the same conversations about parenting. But there was also part of me that felt very disconnected when, as it often comes up, like the labor stories and the pregnancy photos and all of those sort of things. And I could listen to those, but I always couldn’t participate in that. So, for me, it almost made me feel like, “Maybe I’m almost less of a mom because I haven’t had those particular experiences.”
So, it’s been very helpful for me to have other friends where we can have our own sort of labor and delivery stories of the day I got the call, and then waiting until we could travel, or stepping into an orphanage for the first time, or our first night in a hotel room with our child. Those are really important for me to be able to share with other people who are like me. It just validated me as a mom.
Connie Going: I totally understand, because unless you’ve been there, you really don’t understand it, and I find that for some reason, and I have biological and adopted children, but unfortunately for my biological children, I’m a better mom now and I don’t know why that is, but I really have stepped it up. And we processed it, of course, we have counseling, but I just feel like I am a better … I’ve always been a good mom, but I became like a better mom, and it really is. Did you find, how was your, I imagine you surrounded yourself with people that are supportive, but in your journey, when people kind of didn’t get it, were there any surprises in those people, whether family, friends, coworkers?
Kim Shulton: We have had in large a very supportive extended family, for sure immediate family. We’ve had hurtful things said about our children, especially our little Ethiopians that have been very difficult, and I think I’ve come to this place of just understanding that people get it or they don’t get it, and I don’t have to change them on that spectrum. I can share the story of our family and we can be a good example of an adoptive family, but I can’t change people’s passions, and hearts, and understandings of why someone would want to go to Africa and parent a child that they’ve never met if they don’t get it. And that’s okay. And I’ve learned the more I can let that go, the more healthy it is for me interacting with people.
Connie Going: It’s very hard because you know, people … Well, it came from two places. I find that people want the best for you and your family, then they truly love you and they just don’t get it. So, they are struggling to think, they’re worried about you. So, you can find a place for that. And then there’s just the people out there that just don’t get it, will never get it, and those are the ones that you tend to walk away from. And hope that maybe you’ll get it one day, but you’re not gonna take your time and energy to spend it on them.
I think looking for that core reason of why someone doesn’t understand, like is it about because they love us and they don’t think we can have another child, or this is gonna be too hard? Whether it’s financially, emotionally. But I find as an adoptive parent, I can deal with those family members, friends, and we usually are able to always resolve it because if you care about someone, that’s a little bit different.
Kim Shulton: Yeah. Of course.
Connie Going: I think as you begin to put your story out there, one of the things that happens is people will look in who don’t know you at all and will make assumptions, and they are uneducated a lot of times, and those tend to hurt, but you just have to find a place for them. Someone’s always going to, our story was very much in the national media, so it was really challenging to read. I had to stop reading all the comments that people were posting about different things, ’cause I thought … I’d see that 80% were positive and 20%, that’s the negative people.
But I so respect your decision to share your story and to put it out there to help others. I think that is just an amazing thing and the right thing to do.
Kim Shulton: Thanks for that.
Connie Going: So, we’re gonna go ahead and wrap this up. Is there anything that you want to share? I mean, for those of you who don’t know, the website for the retreat is www.wovenbylove.org. And you can find them on Facebook, so you can put in Woven By Love and we’ll definitely at Adoption Associates continue to promote and as things happen, let us know, and we’ll put it out there. We want to support our adoptive mothers and families. Is there anything else you want to share?
Kim Shulton: I just, with regards to the retreat, I just want moms to know we’re committed to doing it with excellence. We’re not doing it haphazardly. We have walked what they have walked and we just really think they’re gonna benefit from coming and we would love for them to come.
Connie Going: We will definitely share that and for myself, for Adoption Associates, you just appreciate you and your family so very much in taking the time. For those of you who have tuned in live and those of you who are tuning in later, we so appreciate you listening. I’m just gonna share Adoption Associates website, it’s www.adoptionassociates.net, and their number is 1-800-677-2367. We hope everyone has a fantastic weekend and Kim, take care, and I appreciate this so much.
Kim Shulton: Thank you. Bye bye.
Connie Going: Bye bye now.