My crochet journey through love, loss, and self-discovery…
Each of us crocheters has a story. Perhaps it begins sitting on the couch with mom or grandma practicing chaining for hours. Or in a 4-H club or Girl Scout troop. Crochet came much later into my life, part of the growing trend in the last few years of young women picking up for the first time from friends what could have become a forgotten skill. I’m so glad it did. Here’s why…
I learned to crochet from a friend (thanks Jody!) while living and working as an English teacher in Prague, Czech Republic. My husband and I spent four years there in our carefree, pre-kid days, and I had plenty of time to sit around and crochet scarves and blankets to my heart’s content.
Then 2-year-old Anna came into our family…
The adoption of a toddler turned our lives upside down — in wonderful ways! Our little girl was the answer to years of prayer. I like to think we were an answer to her unspoken prayers, too. Under the stress of new motherhood, I found that the baby blanket I had been working on for a year before Anna’s arrival got set aside. It was years before I would pick it up again.
Three years, to be precise, passed between Anna’s joining our family and my next crochet project. During that time, our family went through the hardest season of our life together. Having had a wonderful experience with Anna’s joining our family (we adopted her from an orphanage while living in Prague), we discovered that we were having some trouble getting pregnant and decided, rather than opting for fertility treatment, to become foster parents with the hope of adopting via that route.
Our first foster placement was a precious baby girl — just 4 lbs, 5 oz ! We called her “Sarah.” All signs pointed toward us being able to adopt Sarah, and we moved forward joyfully until learning — after she had been with us from birth for nearly 5 months — that she was going to be reunited with her birth mother. This was the beginning of a very dark and painful time in my life. My “mother’s heart” was broken, and it was at least two years before I was really able to think about Sarah without experiencing a dull ache (the story of our journey with Sarah was published by Adoptive Families magazine a few years ago.)
Around this time, two major life events coincided. First, I became pregnant (without realizing it till I was about 7 weeks along!) with our first birth child, Noah. Just a few weeks after Sarah left, we also accepted placement of a 2-year-old boy. I remember receiving the phone call from the foster family agency worker. “A little boy…very cute…very shy…his case is in a good place, legally… He should be ready for adoption within a matter of a few weeks.” We would be Isaiah’s 6th home — all the previous ones having been single moms. There were indications of neglect and possible abuse as well as a family history of mental illness. Were we up for the challenge?
Interestingly, it was my husband who had the gut sense that we should move forward. Usually, it’s me. There was some uncertainty for both of us, but he needed to be moved quickly from a difficult situation, so I drove down to L.A. the next day to meet this little boy. He was everything they had said: cute, shy, and desperately in need of a loving and stable family. It felt crazy fast, but we had a sense of urgency and conviction that God had brought us to this little boy.
The next day, Isaiah came home. My most distinct memory of that homecoming was his bursting into tears when we presented him with the welcome cake that Anna and I had so lovingly decorated. Food had been a source of trauma in his life, and anything new was a threat. For about 4 months, he ate almost nothing but fish sticks and bananas. The social worker and child psychologist encouraged us not to worry. He needed to learn that this place was safe and his needs would be met. Balanced nutrition could come later.
Falling in love with Isaiah was a rocky journey. I have needed to be honest about that. He came with such brokenness and so many challenging behaviors. He instinctively trusted my husband and bonded quickly with him, but things were rough with me. His heart had been broken by too many moms before.
With time, we began to sense that Isaiah had some difficulties surrounding language. He hardly spoke at all, and when he did, it was nearly unintelligible. “Isaiah, say ‘shoe’….” would be followed by his baffling attempt: “Pata!” Was this how he heard the language or was something just getting scrambled on the way from the language center of his brain to his mouth and vocal chords? Fortunately, we were blessed with two court-appointed lawyers who shepherded Isaiah through the Special Education IEP process and helped us get him into a wonderful preschool program with speech and occupational therapy. We were able to have him assessed and learn about a variety of special needs that he faces. He’s getting the help and support he needs and is really thriving now.
That was the ONLY part of Isaiah’s process that was easy! The case that was supposed to be going to the adoption stage in “2 weeks” dragged on for 2+ years. We went to court something like 13 times before Isaiah’s adoption was finalized. Each time (except the last) ended in tears of frustration and powerlessness. Lawyers and social workers dropped the ball, former caregivers appealed, the judge hadn’t had time to read the reports… come back in 90 days! Again, and again, and again, we cycled through hope and despair.
When things got close and we finally signed adoptive placement paperwork (the last stage before the adoption hearing), we had the option of waiting 6 – 12 months for a pro-bono attorney or hiring a private adoption lawyer to finalize the case as quickly as possible. After all the ups and downs of the journey with Isaiah, mentally, emotionally, and physically, we desperately needed to get to that court date and make things official! I knew that part of me had been holding back, emotionally, both because of the struggle the two of us had had in bonding and because of the fear that he — like Sarah — would ultimately be taken away suddenly and unexpectedly.
So where does crochet fit into all of this? Earlier that year, I had rediscovered my forgotten hobby. Through the inspiration of Pinterest, I had been developing a stock of crochet hats, scarves, baby blankets, and other items. Actually, it started with creating a Very Hungry Caterpillar costume for Noah’s first birthday party. As Isaiah’s adoption process was nearing an end, it suddenly dawned on me: ” I bet I could sell some of this stuff!”
My Etsy shop opened soon after, and I attended my first two craft fairs. I was delighted to find that people liked the things I made — and a few of them even wanted to buy them! In less than two months, we had raised enough to cover the cost of the private adoption attorney!
More importantly, though, I discovered a different side of myself — one that helped to bring healing after that terribly difficult season in our parenting journey. Crochet fed my soul and calmed my mind. I realized that there was a creativity in me that I had never tapped, and — honestly — it helped me recover a sense of self-worth that had taken a beating in the past few years, particularly as I discovered what a struggle it was to connect with the wounded little boy who had so suddenly become my son.
In the summer of 2011, crochet came to the rescue one more time! With the stress of a difficult pregnancy with Noah and the transition of Isaiah coming into our family, I had left my full time job as an ESL instructor at a local college. With this change, we lost our employer-provided health insurance and had to go on COBRA. We would have had another year and a half of COBRA coverage, but, due to an oversight on my part, we missed a payment by about 5 days. If you know anything about COBRA, you know that means you’re 100% out of luck! With a family of 5 members and some preexisting conditions, it was going to be next to impossible for us to get affordable health insurance again. Acorn Tree — our little family crochet business — had to “go legit.” Six months later, we had a business license, a tax ID number, a Seller’s Permit, and all the other trappings of an official small business: including health insurance! I teared up in the waiting room on my first visit back to the doctor after six months of white-knuckling it through.
Today, I’m continuing to crochet — round the clock — while navigating the joys and responsibilities of parenting, managing a household (with 4 kids now!), and holding down three part-time “day jobs.” Acorn Tree has its good months and its slow months. Sometimes there are more orders than I feel like I can handle (apparently everyone and their mother needs a turkey hat in November!), and other days, I work on patterns or crochet (gasp!) just for fun. But it’s a constant part of my life. It has become part of the heart of who I am. My friends and family know to expect me with a bag of yarn and my latest project, everywhere I go. And I like this new me. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to create, I love keeping in touch with the artistic side of myself, and I’m thankful for the ways that it continues to bless my family.
What about you? What’s the story of your crochet journey? I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom this is more than a hobby, right? : )
Interested in opening your heart to foster or adopt a child? We are so glad we worked with Children’s Bureau as our agency. Not able to foster or adopt at this time? If anyone in your circle of friends or family is involved in this life-changing experience, I hope you’ll consider crocheting something special to honor the welcoming of a new child into their home. Sometimes adoptive and foster parents miss out on many of the special rituals of new parents (like baby showers, for example.) It means so much to have our unique family-building experienced honored and celebrated!