Monday, March 30, 2015

When We Dared To Love

Today I'd like to introduce Noelle Juday. Like me, Noelle believes in the beauty and power in sharing our stories. Noelle blogs regularly at NBrynn, where you will find everything from her daughter's gorgeous ballerina birthday party to insight about marriage, parenting, and orphan care. Please welcome Noelle as she shares part of her story with us today.


This is one of the only things I know for sure: That you have a story to tell. And so do I. I have found myself saying these words over and over again this year, increasingly convinced of the power of sharing our soulful stories with one another. In fact, my being alive today is a walking testimony to a story's power. And so it is with great gratitude that I offer a piece of my own tale to you today.

Almost seven years ago, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were young, enthusiastic and, like most youth, idealistic. After years of missions work, Christian leadership training and prayer, we were being sent by our church to work with a local Thai group who had a vision for starting bilingual elementary schools. We had traveled to work with this group many times before, building a friendship that spanned almost a decade. We were eager to begin our lives overseas.

But no sooner had we unpacked the four suitcases that held all that we owned in the world, than did we watch with horror as all our well-laid plans began to unravel.  All too soon we found ourselves in the wake of broken friendships, cultural isolation and spiritual confusion. 

It was in this wake of pain and confusion that we found ourselves taking a bold leap into the world of foster care. We had always had a passion for orphans and intended to build our family solely through adoption some day, so in many ways this was a logical leap. But we also had serious apprehensions in our hearts about fostering, all very valid and logical fears. 

"What if we end up with a child with special needs that we cannot deal with?"
"I've never been a mom, can I handle this responsibility?" 
"What if I don't love the child?" 
"What if I fall in love and lose him?"

Despite these risk and apprehensions, my mindset increasingly became, "These children deserve to be loved and I will love them with all that I am, even if it breaks me."  How could I be in a world with hundreds of thousands of orphans and children being sold into slavery and all sorts of other atrocities and not do something tangible, albeit risky, to help? And besides, there we were, halfway around the world, with no other Plan B. What better way to fill my empty days than to care for an abandoned child? 

And so, with the assistance of an acquaintance, I drove to the local orphanage in Chiang Mai one day and registered to be a foster mom. Within weeks I was answering a phone call about our first placement! 

I can vividly remember the Thai social workers dropping off a blank-faced, chubby 8-month-old baby boy who had only ever known life in a large orphanage. The orphanage staff had named him "Makham" after finding him a few days after birth. Makham complacently sat in my lap while I did my best to have an in-depth conversation in Thai about his schedule, eating habits and general routine. With only a few bits of information in hand, Makham and I watched as the social workers got into their pickup truck and drove away. I remember the strangest whirl of emotions washing over me as I found myself alone in a house, in a foreign land, with my new foster son. Now what?

We figured it out, with only a few bumps and sleepless nights along the way. We watched as Makham's expressionless face became a face of exuberant joy and life. We watched him squirm the first time he was buckled into a carseat and squeal as he learned the game of peekaboo. We watched as he got his first haircut, celebrated his first Christmas and took his first steps. We were the ones to throw his first birthday party and the ones to take him on his first vacation. We fell in love with this playful, joyful little life. 

Throughout the months of our time with Makham, many conversations with the orphanage staff, government officials and Thai friends were taking place, all with one goal in mind: making Makham our forever son. These conversations took us on one roller coaster ride after another, weeks filled with way too many twists and turns, ups and downs, "yes's" and "no's", uncertainty and lots of waiting. Finally, after several months, Thai friends came to our house for what we fully expected to be an announcement that the adoption had finally been approved. We had a pen ready to sign on the dotted line: Our baby would legally be ours!

I cannot put into words what happened next. 
..   ..   ..   ..   ..

My heart shattered. 

My dreams vanished. 

I couldn't breathe. 

My son was being taken away from me. 
We were given about a week's notice. We got to visit with Makham's new foster family once before having to drop him off for good. It still puts a lump in my throat and makes me sick to my stomach to think about that day. Unloading all his clothes and toys. Showing him fun things about his new house. Trying to be pleasant and positive so that he wouldn't be too scared. Then walking to the car, Makham reaching out for "mama", crying that I wouldn't take him...and driving away. We were silent the whole ride home. 

In many ways, I was silent for the next three years. 

How do you talk about loss like that? 
How do you live life and recover from such devastation? 
How do you explain the emotion, the struggle, the breaking?

We tried to figure it out. We talked, reached out for help and cried a lot. I grappled for a balance of keeping a living memory of him with me at all times and then just wanting to forget because the pain of not having him anymore was too overwhelming. I found myself - days passing by - stuck in grief. I couldn't bear the pretty answers and neat bows that people tried to fit our story into. I despised the silver-linings and chose instead to call a loss a loss, injustice a tragedy. 

Deep in our grief, I conceived our first son, Kyler, something we never thought could or would ever happen. Then the following summer, his sister, Havyn, was conceived, yet another surprise! Despite these two miracles, the loss of Makham remained a constant burden, nagging at the back of my throat whenever the topic came up. His memory remained alive in my heart - sometimes vividly, sometimes distantly - but always, always there. 

And then, three years almost to the day of losing Makham, an email popped up in my inbox. It was from Makham's forever mom. At first I stood in disbelief, made myself re-read the lines a few times through to make sure I was placing her words in the right context. Wait, this was our Makham?! From Thailand?? As I read, I learned that Makham had been adopted the previous summer by a Canadian couple. He had remained in foster care for another two years with the family in Chaing Mai where we had experienced our tragic goodbye, and then had joined his forever family in Canada, where he was renamed Joel Makham.

Joel Makham's mama had tried to connect with me shortly after their adoption was finalized, using the email address I had left in the baby book I had kept for Makham during our time with him. Since I had not responded, she assumed I was not ready or interested in talking, when really I had never even seen her email.  But now, here we were, sharing stories of this little boy that had completely changed both of our lives. 

Joel Makham's mama sent photographs to me, raving about how wonderful her little boy is, like any proud mother would. How he loved to swim and was starting his first season of hockey. How he had immediately bonded with the family dog and was as adorable as ever. 

My heart skipped a beat when I opened the first image and saw what Joel Makham was holding: Almost unrecognizable from wear and washes, there was our sweet Makham, now four-years-old, still clutching the baby blanket we had made and given to him on that fateful first day

I have struggled so often to find meaning in the pain and chaos of fostering Joel Makham, and then losing him. It has been hard for me to feel any joy about getting to be a part of his life in light of all the heartache that followed, and harder still to know how to put into words the sort of loss we felt. We dared to love and were broken to pieces because of it, and for a long, long time, it all seemed absolutely meaningless. 

But when I opened that image and saw a smiling little boy and his blanket, I knew we had dared greatly and I knew it had mattered. 


janzi said...

Yes of course you had mattered, you both were there for his first everythings and so important to him, that this blanket meant he still kept the connection with you and his first family. I am so happy that you were able to conceive your own children, and now knowing how well he is doing, despite breaking your heart, his future is important and you know its going to turn out well.. I love the fact that you could slip into loving this darling baby so much, but that hurt will fade when you recognise how important your input was to him... big hugs from across the pond.. have a great week, J

Cassie Bustamante said...

wow- what a great story... heartbreaking but also really uplifting, too.

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Such an amazing story, Noelle. I have experienced similar loss -- though on a smaller scale -- when children I nanny have started school or their families moved out of state. Kids that I love as much as if they were my own, but have to let go of. What an amazing feeling it must have been to get that email and those pictures.

Noelle said...

Thank you all for your beautiful words & encouragement! And thank you for letting me share my story with you. We'll actually be hosting Joel Makham and his family for a visit this summer, so I'll be sure to share the news of how that encounter goes!! Hugs & kisses, Noelle

Earlybirdmom said...

Wow! Your daring to love story brought a lump to my throat! It's so true that when we open ourselves to love we are saying yes to being vulnerable and the possibility of loss as well as joy. Sometimes I think that when we go through such difficult times we are experiencing a taste of God's suffering in the pain He endures when He is rejected by those He loves so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. Markham is adorable, I can imagine the pain of not having him when taken away from you. He reminds me of my boy a lot.

Unknown said...

Tomorrow marks 4 months since we were forced to say goodbye to two little girls that we fostered for over 4 years. They were only 18 months and a few weeks old when they came to us. They were 5 and 4 years old when they left. The plan had changed many times throughout the time they were in our care. Reunification, adoption, guardianship..... I know all too well the trauma that comes along with walking away while a child is screaming your name and begging for you. It plays out in my head every day and every night. I wish it would go away. Right now, I see no meaning with what happened. There is no positives. It is an absolute travesty for the innocent children and our family. I hope one day I will see them again and feel their arms around my neck. Thank you for the little glimpse of light during this dark time.

Noelle said...


I cannot even imagine the darkness of your grief right now! 4 months out from our own loss, and I wouldn't have even been able to read this post b/c of the intense pain it would stir up in me. I was doing everything I could just to wake up each day and not be suffocated by the impossibility of figuring out what life meant without my baby.

It is too early to say this to you, but things do get better, friend. It's not that the loss is ever any less, or that the wrong is ever any more's not even that you find good in it, as much as somehow your heart grows and stretches and learns how to hold all that pain alongside new seeds of hope and joy. Somehow you'll find yourself smiling again and learning how to honor that season and those precious girls' lives without falling to pieces in a pile of tears.

Please feel free to email me anytime the darkness is too heavy...just vent and don't expect easy answers or pat promises in return. I know how raw these days must be for you. Much love to you on your journey!