Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life Book Update

Back here, I wrote about the beginning of the process of creating lifebooks--books which tell the individual stories of my four unique children.  I was able to complete this project in time for Christmas, and the gift has been wonderful for us all.  To hear them tell their stories, to correct misconceptions, to see their faces light up as they remember or realize something fresh, to sit with them and let questions be asked, to work through some hard parts, to rejoice in our has been a tremendous joy.
For those of you who might be interested in such a thing, I would like to share some practical suggestions.  For making the photo books, I used and had a fabulous experience.  I really liked the flexibility of their program as well as their assortment of beautiful templates and page enhancements.  I found their prices to be competitive and was pleased to find that they regularly offered promotional discounts.  Their production and shipping times were short, and I am very satisfied with the final product.

As far as writing the story goes, I tried to narrate from the child's point of view.  Sometimes, I used details or stories that a child had actually told me.  Other times, I simply stated facts from their perspective.  I tried to be very careful not to impose too much of my own understanding onto the stories.
Below are some examples of our adoption lifebook pages.  Text samples may be changed to maintain privacy, but I hope they will provide some helpful ideas.  In my own online research on writing a lifebook, I did not find many actual examples of text offered, so I want to put some ideas out for others!  Page numbers are just guidelines, of course, and can be adjusted according to each child's story.
Page 1: Child's "blessing" verse (for more on this, see this post!)
Page 2-3: Birth information
sample: "My life has been an amazing journey, but I believe that God has been with me from the beginning.  Perhaps only God knows the exact moment that I was born.  I can't know for certain, but it was probably in the middle of 2005, during Ethiopia's rainy season."
"I was born in Ukraine on April 6, 2008.  The weather was...[I used to help me determine information about the weather in a particular city on the day of birth]."
This might also be a page to describe any special circumstances of the birth.  For photos, I inserted a scanned copy of the child's birth certificate.
Page 4-5: Birth parent information
sample: "Before I was born, I grew in a special place inside a woman.  That person was my birthmother.  Her name was... She gave me my birthday.  She gave me my looks.  We probably have the same skin color, maybe the same hair and eye colors, too.  I can't remember her anymore, but I wonder if she... (describe something particular about the child) like I do.  It takes two people to make a baby, a man and a woman.  My birthfather's name was...  I don't know much about him, but some things I might be able to guess about.  I wonder if he was good at ... like me, when he was a kid.

This might also be an opportunity to discuss the child's name, given at birth, and its meaning.  If pictures of the birthparents or any birth family are available, they would be great for these pages.  Another option is to use photographs of the child's skin, hair, and eyes or of the child doing the activities described in the paragraph.

Pages 6-7: Information about birthplace
sample: My birth family's village was located... OR "The city where I was born, ____, is known for..."  I included information about language, population, predominant job opportunities, and unique cultural features.  A good map and pictures from the actual location are helpful visuals.

Pages 8-9: Birth Country Information

These pages are a great place to briefly describe the history of the country.  Also, particularities such as the country's flag, famous foods, cultural contributions, etc. can be communicated.  Here is a sample from one of our books on Ethiopia: "Ethiopia is often called the 'birthplace of the coffee bean.'  There is a legend that tells of a herder who was grazing his goats in the highlands several centuries ago.  Some goats tried eating some small brown beans and started behaving wildly, so the goatherder tried the beans, too.  He liked them so much that he shared them, and, eventually, everyone wanted to have some of the special, energizing beans.  In this way, the tradition of coffee-drinking, performed daily in most households across Ethiopia and now in many parts of the world, came to be."
Pages 10-11: The Difficult Stuff
Describing what led the children to become available for adoption was very difficult.  I think it is important for the child to know this information, but the knowing can hurt.  I started with age ("When I was just a little baby boy..." or "When I was six years old...") and told about their tough circumstances.  I tried to share as many details as I had while emphasizing that what happened was not their fault.
sample: "Another problem was that my birthparents drank too much alcohol.  When people are sick with alcoholism, they might do things that are mean or things that do not make sense.  Some people started to notice that my birthmother and birthfather had grown-up problems and were not able to take good are of me.  A baby should always be kept safe."
sample: "Since I was so little, I could not take care of myself.  Someone took us to a small care center for children.  There, I was given food, medicine, and a safe place to stay.  For a couple of months, some ladies took good care of me."
If you have photos of this time or early photos from a care center, these are great inclusions.  If you were able to visit an orphanage or care provider, use these photos, too.
Pages 12-13: Orphanage or Transition Home or Foster Care Information
In these pages, I described the care centers that provided services during our adoption processes.  I also used information from referrals, staff interviews, monthly updates, etc.  I tried to include very personal information, such as a favorite teacher or playmate (with a picture, if possible!) or specific personal behaviors or group schedules.  When possible (as throughout the books), I tried to make connections between then and now.  For example, this sample: "The cooks made lots of soup--maybe that's why I like soup so much!'

Pages 14-15: New Family
This is where I found it most tempting to start including MY details, and I had to remind myself to keep telling the story from the child's perspective.  Do include important dates, some details of the legal process, and any uniquely personal memories.
sample: "...caregivers brought me and a couple other children to a large room.  There were strange, big people there who gave me lots of attention.  On that first day, I particularly enjoyed..."
Don't forget to include a family photo!

Pages 16-17: Big Changes/New Home

Remember that l--o--o--o--n--n--n--g--g--g--g--g flight home!  Or the crazy things that happened those first few weeks together!  This is a great place to tell a funny story about how much life changed for your little one. 
samples: "I soon learned that Playdough tastes terrible and people dress all crazy at Halloween..." and "I learned a lot of new things: how to be a good big brother, how to speak a new language, how to trust my new family to lov me and take good care of me, and how to ride my green tractor."
Pages 18-19: Life Now
sample: "I am older now, and I've learned a lot more.  I can...  I really like..."
If the child's name was changed, it might be neat to include some information about that, including what the new name means or why it was chosen.
Pages 20-21: Wrap-Up
sample: "I still wonder about my life in _______.  I love my parents very much, and I wouldn't want any other family, but I think I will always miss knowing the parents that weren't mine to keep.  Mom and Dad tell me that I am a strong and brave kid to experience all the hard things and enormous changes of my life and to get through them all.  I like to think about it that way.  A lot of experiences have gone into making me who I am."
"I was born in _______.  Sometimes, I still wonder about my life there and about my birthparents.  It is part of my story.  Now, I am also ________ like my Mom and Dad.  I love the family I have now.  They are part of my story, too.  I believe that God knows my whole story, even the parts that haven't happened yet.  Whatever they may be, I know that I am loved and that I can do amazing things!"
Our lifebooks ended up being 25 pages each, as some sections needed more than just two pages. 
Also, I wanted to note that we made a lifebook for our daughter who came to our family by birth.  (I never even started a baby book for her, so this lifebook, complete with ultrasound photos and lots of pictures will have to suffice!)  Her story starts with the wonder of her (unexpected!) arrival and the meaningfulness of her name.  It includes pages that describe Mom and Dad and how she seems to take after each of them.  Pages include information on her birthplace, her peculiar baby habits, her big overseas trip as a three-month-old, her favorite toddler/preschool activities, and her various homes.  Her book also ends with current life happenings and a hopeful wrap-up.
If anyone has any more questions, I'd be glad to offer any insight that I can on this process.  If you have considered doing something similar but put it off, take it from me (who also put this off for years)--it really is worth the effort!


Andrea said...

Wow, Kristy! This is a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing. :)

Melodie Monberg said...

I love this...thank you so much for including such specific information. When Desta was two I made her a small Shutterfly book...which ended up in a pile of pieces in her crib...lesson learned! Now that she is almost 4, I think this would be a great thing for her! Thank you!

Mary Laubach said...

Wow, how awesome that you did this! What a wonderful gift to your precious children.

Anonymous said...

Kristy - you are so talented in writing such thoughtful and meaningful things for your children and with such sensitivity. I enjoyed reading about your process of doing this, and can only imagine how happy they were and how special they must feel to receive these books. What a fantastic gift!

Stephanie Heddon