Friday, May 31, 2013

Advocating for Deaf Adoption

My agency, America World, recently asked me to write a post adovcating for the adoption of deaf children. I wrote a post and thought I'd add it here too. ;)


Adopting a Deaf Child: Meet Levi

Number 1
If you see my family, three things stand out immediately:
  • We are a bi-racial family. (My husband is Caucasian, I am Mexican, and our kids are Ethiopian.) 
  • My husband and I are in our mid-twenties and have a teenager and a nine-year old.
  • My 14-year old son is profoundly deaf and we use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.
Number 2My son Levi is Deaf. And he's also a normal teen. He's growing like a weed (soon he will be eye level with me *sigh*), he eats like a horse, and he loves basketball, soccer, movies, pizza, his friends, and cell phones. He has a smile that lights up everything around him, and a love for Jesus that shines right through him. He talks (signs) non-stop.
And six months ago, he had a vocabulary of 25 signs.
Levi grew up in Ethiopia with no education and no formal language. I mean, NONE. Can you imagine being locked inside yourself in a world of silence? Not being able to communicate with others? Not being able to tell them how you feel or what you want? Not understanding what people want of you? Not understanding when people laugh at a joke? Not knowing your siblings' names? That's just part of what Levi lived with for 14 years. And it's a wonder he didn't lose his mind and become a frustrated, violent mess. And probably why he signs 24/7 now.
Number 3
When we met Levi on our court trip, he had about 25 "home signs", which are signs he had invented as a system of communicating with his caretakers and friends. He had just started going to a deaf school in Addis, and was learning some Ethiopian sign language. Between learning Levi's home signs, teaching him some of ours (I am an ASL-English interpreter), and gesturing, the three of us were able to communicate at a basic level immediately.
When Levi and Zahria (his biological sister) came home in November, 2012, they could not communicate with each other at all. Six months later, I couldn't get them to stop talking (signing) if I tried. Zahria actually said the other day: "Mommy, before in Ethiopia, me and Levi no can talk. None. Me don't know him. Now us talk all da time!!!" Here is a video of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RDNx47pXv8
By the world's standards, Levi is "disabled." “Disabled” implies that something is wrong with him. I don't consider him disabled; he just can't hear. He functions as a normal teenager and basically the only differences are that we use ASL to communicate, and we need interpreters for public events, appointments, etc. Minor adjustments are also that instead of calling Levi's name to get his attention, we wave, or tap him on the shoulder, or flash a light switch so that he turns to face us.

Number 4
Maybe right about now you're thinking, "Hey Marissa, that's cool that you know ASL and have a Deaf son, but I don't know any sign language and that's scary!"
It's totally scary! But it's okay! Not knowing sign language should NOT stop you from considering a deaf child. While both parents knowing ASL would be ideal, it's not the only option. If you are truly willing to learn to sign and communicate with your deaf child, and provide them the resources where THEY can learn to sign or communicate with their mode of preference (sign, sign and speech, oral only, etc.), then perfection doesn't matter. Effort and willingness are the keys. 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and those parents didn't know sign when their kids were born. You can do this!

Not all deaf people are the same. That seems obvious, but what I mean is that deaf people do not all identify themselves the same, and they use different modes of communication, depending on their personal preference. The two main categories are: Deaf (viewing themselves as a cultural minority and using American Sign Language to communicate), and hard-of-hearing or hearing impaired (using spoken English and or a mixture of spoken and signed English or ASL). People with a cultural view use a capital "D" to define themselves as Deaf. Deaf/hard-of-hearing people also have a range of hearing loss. Levi is 80 and 90db. Basically, a rock concert sounds like a whisper to him.
There are lots of resources for families with deaf children, although they vary depending on the area. Each state typically has one school for the deaf, and that would be the best place to get resources in your specific area. Schools for the deaf typically provide sign language classes, a schedule of deaf events in their area, audiology and speech therapy, hearing aid repairs and resources, sports/recreation, as well as education in a signed environment. Example: www.rsdeaf.org

Number 6

Another resource for communication between Deaf and hearing individuals is a videophone. If I am away from the house, I could call Levi on my phone, using a video relay service with interpreters. www.sorensonvrs.com
There are also multiple online stores that sell devices such as flashing doorbells and vibrating alarm clocks, and other devices designed for deaf/hard-of-hearing people. http://store.hdscenter.org/
Language resources are available too, with websites showing videos of single signs and concepts in ASL (although they do not teach sentence structure, syntax, or grammar). I also have a YouTube page where I post videos of specific signs to help our family communicate with Levi.
ASL Dictionary: www.aslpro.com
ASL Dictionary: www.lifeprint.com
My YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/SignLanguageBasics


If you are considering a deaf child, or just want to ask questions, please feel free to email me at marissa.fiddle@gmail.com. I would love to talk with you!

-Marissa Ruper

Number 7

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Part IV

I didn't even know my kids knew it was Mother's Day. I never expected them to do anything for me. But when I walked through the door after work at 7:30am yesterday, this is what I saw........ :) Best. Mother's. Day. Ever.

P.S. If you click on the pictures, you can see them in a larger size :)

























Mother's Day Part III

The kids and I wanted to honor their first Mommy, so they each wrote her a letter, which we will be sending. I've typed them up instead of taking a photo, because some of the content is private, and I have edited it out here. Bu these letters are so beautiful that I had to share parts of them.

Get your tissues out.






Levi:

"Dear W***,

I was hurt but now I am so happy. I love God so much. I love you. I love my American home. I love my  new family. Zahria and I will stay here forever. I will stay here forever with my family. I love them. I love my Ethiopian family. When I grow up, I will be a strong man. I will take care of you and my new family. I am so happy!!!!!! We are happy and we love you. We pray for you. We will always pray for you. We will always be family with you. You are a great mother. Thank you. You are good. My new Mom and Dad are amazing and they sign so much! I love them. They are cool. My new Mom and Dad are good. Before, in Ethiopia, Zahria and I could not talk to each other. Now Zahria signs so much and we talk all the time. I hope you are good. We are good! We will never forget you. I am strong now. I exercise with my family. I run with my Mom and Zahria. I have strong muscles. I love you.

Love,
Levi"





Zahria:

"Dear W***,

We love you. We are happy to be in America. I will never forget you. You are my first mother. And now I have my new mother to take care of me. She always loves me. Don't worry about me, I will be okay. We are so happy in America. My mother takes care of me always. My mother, she loves me forever with all her heart. And I love her too. And my Dad too. We pray for you every day. We never forget you; every day we pray pray pray pray. My Mom wants to take care of me. She wakes up in the morning and works for me every day. We always love you. Forever. We pray for your sickness to heal. Thank you for taking care of me and for being my first Mommy. Can you please hug all my Ethiopian family for me? You are a great Mom. You are so good to me and we love you. We love you forever. With all my heart. My new Mom and new Dad are very good to me. They love me forever. They will never let go of me. I go with them. They are very good to me. Before, you work for me and give me food every day. You take care of me. I'll never forget you. My new Mom and Dad are fun. They play with me.

Love,
Zahria"




Mother's Day Part II

It's Mother's Day. And it's been wonderful. But I'm crying tears of sorrow.


Today, while my heart is full, it breaks. It breaks for HER.


I am thinking of another mother. Of a woman whose arms are empty. Who can no longer hold two precious babies; can no longer kiss two sweet faces, can no longer see their sunshine smiles. My children's first mommy. The one who gave birth to them, who heard their first cries, who saw their first steps. The woman who loved them first.


I will never know their yesterdays, their childhood memories that she treasures in her heart. They are lost to me. And she will never know their tomorrows.


She is only a few years older than me, although the space between our life experiences make it seem impossible. She is tiny, and so beautiful that it hurts. She is brave beyond words.


She is a mother who is in love with her children. And she chose life for them. Twice. Once, when she realized she was carrying a precious gift, and once when she realized she was dying.


This is a woman who unselfishly saved her children from poverty and the streets. When she could no longer care for them, she gave them up, praying someone would help them. Can you imagine loving your children enough to give them to another person? Someone you don't know? Someone you didn't meet until after you had given your precious babies away? Can you imagine sending them to a different continent, know you will probably never see them again? I can't. I've only had them in my arms for six months and just the thought of losing them tears me up inside and makes me hug them tighter.


I think of her, today more than ever. I remember the day we met; remember us sobbing in each other's arms, gripping each other like a lifeline, and making promises with our eyes. I remember her, tears streaming down her beautiful face, saying, ""I want them to know that I worked so hard for them. I took care of them all by myself and I tried so hard. I want them to know I love them so much and I am dying so I cannot care for them. I will die soon. I did my best for them. I give them to you. All responsibility I give to you before God. I give you my children. I give them to you before God."


She and I don't speak the same language, but we don't have to. When she put her children in my arms, we understood each other. I know her heart was (and still) is breaking. I know she is entrusting me with the most precious gift she has. I know she loves them beyond what any words could describe. And she knows I will love her children with my life, I will fiercely protect them, I will cherish and adore them. I will not let them forget her, or the sacrifices she made for them.


She and I are eternally linked. Through a promise to each other, and through the love we share for the same children. Our children.


Happy Mother's Day W***. We love you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Part I

Five years ago on this day, I couldn't have cared less about being a mom myself. I smiled at all the mothers who stood to be recognized in our church service. I clapped for them. I called my Mom and Grammy. I sent cards. I went on with my life.

Four years ago on this day, we were 5-6 months into our adoption process. I smiled at all the moms standing to be recognized at church and thought excitely, "Next year, my kids will be home!"

Three years ago on this day, I silently cried as the mothers at church were honored. We were still waiting and had heard NOTHING.

Two years ago on this day, I cried the entire church service. I sobbed afterwards. I knew Levi existed. I knew he was our child. I had no idea what he looked like. No idea if/when he would ever clear (paperwork). I was fighting my guts out to get him home. And my heart was breaking.

One year ago on this day, I was hysterical. I made it five minutes into the church service, then got up and left, going grocery shopping. I bawled all the way to the store and all the way home. I cried all day. I was heartsick. Heartbroken. Shattered inside. I was losing my mind. Levi still hadn't cleared and I had been told for the millionth time that there was no hope he ever would. I knew Zahria existed, but didn't know she was my daughter yet.


This year was different.


Today, I woke up to one of my precious Ethiopians snuggling me, sound asleep, wrapped around my neck. When I tried to get up for work (3:00am), she tightened her grip on me in her sleep. I kissed her tiny face and thought about how much I love her and her brother. How my heart almost explodes with love for them.

Today when I go home from work, two grinning faces will meet me. One will jump into my arms and bury her face in my neck, squealing and laughing. The other will run up and wrap his arms around me and say, "All-L-Ow-OUU!" (I love you) in my ear.

On this day at church, I will stand with the other mothers, and I will look at the child sitting next to me, and think of the one in her class down the hall.


I will cry this year too.