“He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan’. I just wish I’d realized at the time, he was talking about MY life.” – Lucy, referencing a conversation with her father, in While You Were Sleeping
This has been a recurring theme in my life. I am a planner and, yes, a little bit of a control freak. I think God has a sense of humor about this character trait in me and has allowed my life to live in a perpetual state of detour. The last time I remember anything go according to MY plan was when my then husband and I bought our first house in 2004. You see, grew up a “typical” white, middle class, Christian girl. I graduated from high school, went to a Christian university, met the man who would become my husband, got married just before my senior year, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, got my “dream job” as an ICU nurse right out of school, bought a house, and got a yellow lab.
A few years into our marriage is when my life on detour began. For us, the next natural step was children, and we started trying, with the plan that 9 months or so later a baby would emerge at the beginning of the summer and we could spend that summer learning to be parents. Instead, what transpired was one of the darkest periods of my life as not only did I not get pregnant, but a year later found out that our only option to conceive was through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which we did, hopefully, three times, without success. It was a brutal two years and we emerged broken and hurting and angry with God.
In 2008, about 6 weeks after our last failed IVF, in a moment of clarity, we felt God lead us to international adoption. I did the research and found an agency to work with and chose to adopt from Ethiopia. Initially, the plan was for a “waiting” infant and toddler (waiting, as in a child already in an orphanage in need of a home). Oddly, our agency had recently place a lot of children, and only had two children under the age of 5 (which is what we were approved for due to our age) available. We looked at their profiles, talked to people who had met them, and soon accepted the referral of the two boys who would become our sons, then aged 3 and 4. We foolishly believed the process would be smooth sailing and would have the boys home around Christmas. By the following January, we still had no date in sight, so for my birthday in February, I made my first international trip, solo, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I spent a week getting to know my sons and it broke my heart to say goodbye, not knowing when they could come home. It wouldn’t be until September of 2009, one year after we accepted the referral, that we would travel to Ethiopia to bring the boys home.
Many would think that bringing the boys home would be the beginning our “happy ever after”, but adoption is messy and hard. We brought into our home two boys (nicknames used), then aged 4 (Messi) and 5 (Bolt), who spoke no English, and had spent years living in an orphanage. The first few months were exhausting, but we were hopeful that with a lot of love, we would all settle quickly. That didn’t happen and we began the journey of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) with Bolt. Years into therapy, I was sitting talking to his therapist as we both began to question that we might be dealing with something else as well, autism. Sure enough, about 18 months after that conversation, Bolt was given the official diagnosis of autism. We then spent the next year trying to find therapists and providers to work with him and hit road block after road block. I remember asking his psychiatrist what he would do in our situation and he told us he would relocate to another state with better services for those on the spectrum. I spent the next month doing research and talking to people who are experts in autism and was basically told some of the best states for services, most of which were on the East Coast. A month later, we put our house on the market and travelled to Pennsylvania to interview for jobs. We both accepted jobs on that trip and found a house to rent the school district we had already chosen. We returned home, our house quickly sold, we packed up everything, and began the cross-country journey in January of 2015.
As far as the move went, it was absolutely the right decision for my sons. Both have flourished in Pennsylvania. The school autism support has made a night and day difference in Bolt’s coping skills and social skills. For Messi, he has developed friends and found an awesome soccer club. I, on the other hand, really struggled with the move and found my introvert tendencies fully blossom in an area where I knew no one. My job as an emergency room nurse was no longer fulfilling and I found myself angry and withdrawn and almost paralyzed by fear in social situations. By October of 2016, I realized that I needed to do something for myself and began seriously thinking and praying about going back to school. In early December, I was accepted into a master of public health (MPH) program and found the fog I had experienced since the move begin to lift. Little did I know that while I was busy finding myself again, my husband was finding himself…with another woman.