Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, They are Important

Earlier this week, heaven gained another tiny angel when baby Ethan quietly passed away. We had learned of him too late….and we were unable to provide him with the emergency care he needed to survive. Such a tiny little baby whose life ended far too quickly.

I can still remember like it was yesterday the very first time I was confronted with the death of a baby. Some of you might remember, from the very first days of LWB. Her name was baby Kui, and she had been born with a fairly simple heart defect, but it had gone untreated for so long that the pressure in the main vessels to her lungs rose to a level that made surgery impossible. We didn’t know it at the time. We fundraised for her surgery, sent her off to a top surgeon with such hope, and then I got a phone call saying that nothing could be done. They were going to discharge her with the knowledge that she would soon pass away. I was stunned….I could hardly comprehend it. Surely there was something that could be done for her. Surely someone had made a mistake. But all the doctors we asked for second opinions gave the same tragic news. We were too late. There was nothing that could be done.

The days following that diagnosis were difficult ones for me emotionally. I had her little photo taped to my computer, and her eyes stared out with such a solemn little expression. I publicly wrote asking the question of whether Kui’s life was important. Why would a baby be born, only to be abandoned, and then pass away as an orphaned child, never knowing what it truly felt like to be loved? Did her life really matter to anyone?

My mailbox was flooded with replies. I received hundreds of notes and cards for Kui, each one with the statement, “I believe Kui is important.” Some had letters, some had pictures drawn by children, others had the most beautiful prayers. I saved every one.

Tonight as I was thinking of baby Ethan, I went to the cabinet drawer and took out Kui’s letters. I read each of them once again, and cried for the newest baby who didn’t get his second chance here on earth. I think the hardest thing for me in knowing that an orphaned child has passed away is that there will be no grave, no marker, no family to lovingly save their photos and memories; nothing to really prove that he or she existed. How quickly they could be forgotten. That is why I treasure Kui’s letters so much. Because they are a permanent reminder that a beautiful little girl once lived in southern China, a little girl who left too soon….but who was most definitely loved and prayed over.

In the last six years, I have learned again and again that many babies are born in this world who are too sick to survive. While it never gets any easier to hear the news, I now know with certainty that every day a child spends on this earth has immeasurable worth. They deserve to be remembered. The fragility of their lives should remind us all how precious each and every day is that we are given. Sweet Ethan….I pray you are now being held in the arms of God. May you finally have the gentle comfort that you deserve, with no more pain…..only peaceful, perfect love. We will never forget that your life was so very important.


Monday, July 27, 2009

How Do You Talk About Your Child's Adoption Story?

Recently I was talking with a friend who is also an adoptive mom. She was telling me how open her entire family had always been about the topic of adoption, and how she frequently shared with others about the joy she felt when she received her girls, how they reacted, and how the days that followed their initial meeting went.

She told me, however, that recently as she discussed her older child’s adoption, she saw for the first time real hurt in her eyes. She said she stopped to briefly talk to her about what she didn’t like and then had a longer talk with her after the friend left. She was surprised to learn that there were parts of her daughter’s story that really bothered her, namely her reaction upon meeting her family and all of the grieving she did in the days that followed. My friend said that seeing her daughter’s pain made her feel horrible, as she had no idea that there were parts which hurt her so much.

How have you dealt with what is acceptable to talk about and what isn’t with your family’s adoption story? Of course sharing an adoption story can encourage others to adopt, but can talking openly about your family’s story sometimes be at your child’s expense? How do you best find out which parts of your child’s story bother them and what they are comfortable speaking about in front of another person? My friend said she never wanted to hurt her daughter like this again, and she wondered if a parent should just stop talking about their child’s adoption story altogether?

Karen Maunu

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Inspires YOU?

Over the weekend, the LWB Executive Team met to discuss so many items to make LWB better, run smoother, and how to move into the future. Being with this group of smart, passionate, and loving women just inspires me to do more and be a better person.

Every time I have traveled to China, visiting orphanage after orphanage, playing with the children, meeting with orphanage staff, and government officials, I come back so inspired, wanting to work harder, better, for the children. I feel like we are a team with the staff and officials, all working to better the lives of the children we help. Whenever I have a slow day, it is these trips that I look back on to get me focused on what it is that needs to be done.

What inspires you? Do you have a thought, idea, or person that spurs you into action? What are you passionate about?

Karen Maunu

Monday, July 20, 2009


The following blog was posted two years ago, and a conversation this weekend reminded me of it.

My son TJ was adopted when he was 2. He had lived in the orphanage his entire life, and so he had never known what it was like to have a mom or dad to love him until the day he was placed in my arms a little more than a year ago. I wondered how long it would take for him to learn his place in our home and how long it would take for him to understand that we were now a FAMILY and that he was our little boy.

TJ loves animals, and he loves collecting miniature plastic ones from the zoo or from toy stores. One day when we were out shopping together, he kept trying to place two zebras into the shopping cart, and I kept insisting that we would only buy one. TJ became so upset when I put the other one back, and cried all the way out of the store, trying desperately to tell me why he needed both, but since he only had a few words in his vocabulary at that time, it wasn’t working. I kept assuring him that he only needed one, and he kept stretching out his arms and pointing to the back of the store hoping for the other.

Every time we would go into another store with animals, he always would try to buy two. Mom (being thrifty) would always say “we only need one panda”, or “TJ, you should be happy with one cow”.

It wasn’t until his language began to take off that I FINALLY understood the depth of TJ’s desire to always have two animals. One day he was carefully searching through his bucket of animals until he found two lions. He put one up on the table first and said “baby” and then with great care he put up the second, right next to the first, and earnestly said, “MOM”. He dug some more into his bucket and managed to find two elephants and once more he placed the first one on the table and said “baby” and then gently sat the larger one down near the first while saying to himself with great relief, “MOM”.

TJ had learned so quickly that babies need moms. And that was the source of his distress when I would only allow him to buy one animal. He had been trying to tell me even at age two that his baby zebra needed a mommy. How could I not have seen that? Now we always buy our animals in families. Because TJ is so concerned that everyone needs a parent to take care of them.

This weekend a question was raised at a meeting I attended on whether children who once lived in institutions have a deeper sense about what it means to have a family. What do you think? Can that awareness have both positive and negative implications? For instance, do your children have a heightened fear that something could happen to you someday? There is such a fine line for many children in understanding what it means to be part of a family while at the same time not ever being made to feel like they should somehow be grateful for being adopted.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Photo of the Week - Where's Mine?

Cindy, one of our China staff, just visited our Heartbridge Pediatric Unit and we just received some wonderful photos. Little Gina just loves her Bumbo seat....looks like baby Faith wants one too!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do You Wonder?

I came across this blog and I loved it. It was by one of my most favorite social media blog writers, Chris Brogan, and it is called The Value of Wonder here.

Raising children, being able to step back and see the world through their eyes is such a gift. So often, the ordinary is extraordinary to them. How often do you just go through the motions during the day, but fail to see all of the gifts we are given?

There is nothing like a trip to China to put our world into perspective for me. For the children we visit, the joy they have when we play is something that touches me so deeply. They have so little, but the spirit within them is truly amazing. The wonder they have for life and something new just resonates from their faces….to them all is a sense of wonder.

What a wonderful way to view each and every day!

Today, find something remarkable, something you can wonder about, that makes today a gift. What is it?

Karen Maunu

Monday, July 13, 2009

Parenting Institutionalism

We have five children who are all so different. I love watching them all grow; watch their personalities and ideas form. Parenting is one of the most wonderful things that we have done, but it also can be one of the most challenging.

I saw this quote over the weekend and it has really made me think - "If I raise my children well, it doesn't matter what I don't do well. If I don't raise my children well, it doesn't matter what I did right" Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

In parenting both biological and adopted children, we have dealt with many different issues….some just general parenting issues and others that are rooted in the fact that two of our children were institutionalized for 2 ½ years. When dealing with the issues that have come to us during our parenting years, we discuss and research the best way to deal work through these.

I have always had a nagging thought in the back of my mind with my daughters who lived their early years in an orphanage, are the issue we are dealing with related to their early years or just a regular stage that they are going through? This has challenged me in new ways.

Do you ever get to a point when raising a child who is adopted and was institutionalized where you stop wondering what the root of the parenting problems are? We just want to handle the issues best if they aren’t normal parenting issues. Have you found good parenting resources to weed through these questions? How long does institutional affect behavior? Forever? Thinking back to that quote….I just want to find the best way to raise my children well….

Karen Maunu

Friday, July 10, 2009

Photo of the Week - Am I cute or what?

Little Gwen is a new baby in our medical program. She lives in Jiangxi and is definitely brightening this world with her presence!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Family Tree

There was a time many years ago that I was fascinated with my family's genealogy. I poured over Census documents and Ellis Island ship records, and each time I could take my family tree back one more generation, I would have a little jolt of excitement go through my body. With a maiden name of Flynn, I would imagine my Irish relatives and what their lives were like “back home”, and so it was fascinating to me to eventually weave my ancestry back to Germany and Bavaria as well, and never did I dream that my family tree would actually start with a love story in France in the 1600s. I would meet people online in my research who were part of the same family trees, and we would trade information and sign our letters to each other “your distant cousin.”

And then I was blessed beyond belief to adopt my two children from China. And the family tree became a whole lot more complicated for me emotionally. Of course my children are listed proudly under my branch as my much loved son and daughter. But now when I look at the complex chart that essentially traces parts of my DNA back hundreds of years, I have an empty feeling inside that there are essential people missing now on our tree. My children’s birthparents deserve to be on there. And I am uncomfortable now that I have the knowledge that my great, great grandmother was a seamstress or that my great, great grandparents on my dad’s side were married at just 18 in Ireland before getting on the ship to America. And yet I cannot even give my own children one piece of information about their parents who are most likely still living in China.

Last night I was googling “adoption and family trees” and I found an article on a blog called “Harlow’s Monkey” that really touched my heart. The author was adopted from Korea, and she talks about the issue of genealogy and how it really surfaced for her when she became pregnant with her first child and was given a baby book that had “two solid pages of family history waiting for my pen to fill in the blanks”. She used her adoptive family’s information, but then she wrote these lines about her birthparents’ history:

“However there are spiritual blanks where the Kim family’s names should be. I see the personal history and family I don’t know as the shadow of my family tree – not the big leafy one represented by my adoptive family and their history, but as the strong silent presence fluttering behind it.”

When I read her blog, I realized that is exactly how I feel now about our family tree. There is a shadow now, a very real emptiness that I wish I could fill for my children’s sakes. I wish I could tell my daughter with certainty that her dad was a student or her mom was a farmer. I wish I could meet them and learn the history of their family line as well. There are very real leaves missing on our family tree now, and I want to make sure their importance is part of our family history as well.

Has your family discussed the issue of family trees? What have you talked about and how have you adapted yours post adoption? Do you include all of the people in your children’s lives, such as foster parents and caregivers who were so much a part of their lives as well?


Friday, July 3, 2009

Photo of the Week - Imagination

I loved this photo from our foster care program. It reminded me of a quote I had read earlier this week by Francis Thompson, an English poet:

“Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of to-day. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul.”

Isn't it amazing that a child, anywhere in the world, whether poor or orphaned, can find a piece of chalk and pretend to be a classroom teacher, can put on a paper crown and transform into a princess, or can pick up a plastic horn and imagine the beautiful music they can play. Every child has dreams, and in the beginning....every child is filled with such innocence on what the world will allow them to become. Our job as adults is to make sure we do everything possible to keep those dreams alive. Nothing is sadder to me than to meet a child who truly believes that hope no longer exists.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009


What is a label? One of Webster’s definitions is a descriptive or identifying word or phrase.

Labels are great for identifying things. We can say that an apple is red or grapes are green…but what do labels do when we use them on people?

A dear Twitter friend, Kathy Ireland (@kathyireland), tweeted about labels on Saturday after a discussion on what it means to be a Christian. She wrote that people like to use labels because they divide and dismiss…that we are one race and that is human. Labels can be used to dehumanize people and that all horrible dictators of the world did just that. It is easier to demean someone when you can label them.

I believe that she is right in many ways, especially in discussing race and religion. I have thought about this a lot after her discussion. In adoption and parenting, I see labels used a lot. I will hear…is that your “adopted” child? He is so smart, she is so musically talented, she is so impulsive, he is so tall, she is so dark, he is so kind, her feet are so small…just to name a few.

Why do we feel the need to use labels? I hear parents, myself included, doing this. How are these labels good and bad for our children to hear? Do we put someone into a box or separate children when we do this or are can it be positive for their self-esteem? Does hearing these labels set limitations on who our children can be and what they might be able to do…like a self-fulfilling prophesy? How do you use labels? Should they just be for objects and not for humans? Tell us your thoughts.

Karen Maunu