Thursday, December 07, 2006

Adoption is not for the faint of heart

I have been thinking of writing this post for quite awhile but have been hesitant to do so as the main purpose of my blog is to keep family and friends in touch with our newly expanded family so I usually keep it on the light side. I think what I have to say is important though so here goes.

Blogging and other such websites like mine have proliferated on the web exponentially to the point where there is seemingly no end to them. When I started the process there were websites to view but not anywhere near in the numbers that exist now. It just goes to show you that people seek information and camaraderie via the Internet in huge numbers. They do this through not only websites but also listservs. I own and moderate some of these myself. I know that many of these people; my fellow adoptive parents, view this blog quite a bit as my counter tells me so. It is for this reason that I share with you my view of our adoption thus far as well as the adoption of my friends that are willing to share their experiences with me. There are so many people that will never share the reality of adoption in general and international adoption in particular. They do not want to scare prospective adoptive parents while they are waiting for the arrival of their child. Some of them feel that it is like "airing their dirty laundry". I disagree with this approach. If I had heard a little more of what to expect at least I would not have felt so at a loss and ill equipped.

In a nutshell: Adoption is not for the faint of heart

This is a phrase that came out of my mouth during the early stages of this process and continues to do so to this day. Now don't get me wrong; when I speak this phrase or even think such a thing it is not due to the fact that I regret for one minute the addition into our family of our precious daughter. Quite the contrary!! It has definitely been the one of the three best conscious decisions I have made so far in my life. It is right there with the decision to conceive my amazing son, Justin and the decision to marry and share my life with my wonderful husband Marc. When I say that it is not for the faint of heart I mean that beginning with the paperchase, the long and grueling wait, the addition of a child into your family under extraordinary circumstances while in a foreign country, the transitioning of that child into your life and your family into hers and the ongoing attachment and bonding it takes great heart and stamina to do it well. If all of this is done with the best of intentions, self education and lots of support it is still not easy; not by a long shot.

I had this discussion with a woman whom I have grown to care very much for that just completed her adoption and has recently come home from China. She is already an experienced mother but is now navigating through the rude awakening that is the early weeks of this transition. As we spoke yesterday it brought it all back to me; the knowledge that you waited and waited with such anticipation and then you come home to a child that you feel that you have prepared for in every way humanly possible to find out that you can never prepare for the emotional issues that you are faced with. The sleep deprivation, the real world slapping you in the face after the referral and travel honeymoon period has passed. The struggle to bond with a child that rejects you. My friend has not experienced that particular issue but we certainly did. As I have mentioned previously on this forum, Katie was very bonded to her foster family in China and was turned over to us in her sleep. She really wanted very little to do with us after this very rough start. I struggled greatly with the day in and day out rejection. It was not necessarily rejection that the brand new parent would see but I saw it very clearly being an experienced mother. I remember the early days going to get Katie in the morning; greeting her with so much excitement only to find her almost expressionless. I remembered 21 years before to my son's excitement and joy at seeing me in the morning. It would break my heart at the disparity between the two experiences. Marc thought all was fine but I knew what "felt" normal and this was not it. It became so difficult to greet her each morning with the same excitement knowing what I would be facing. For the first couple of months she would not allow me to hold her close while sitting down without pushing away. She would reach for strange women randomly which is called "mommy shopping" and is a somewhat common behavior that fostered children display when not attaching properly. There were lots of little signs that all was not right with Katie's world and therefore our world. I searched for answers and finally got the really smart idea to call my social worker who gave me some concrete ways to move our attachment and bonding along. These were suggestions that are in any good book on attaching in adoption but she gave me clarification as to how to implement them properly with our daughter. Our SW also gently reminded me that while we had waited for this child for 18 months that she had not waited for us at all and that her trauma was very real. That even under the most ideal circumstances if there is such a thing, there is no escaping the very abrupt way that our children are turned over to us in their county of birth. There is no warning for infants; they just lose all that they have come to know; it does not matter whether it was ideal or not; it was their life. In addition to that, some children come with no ability to attach due to little nurture as well as unmet needs and some come like our daughter did with the ability to attach but with no immediate desire to. Add this potent mix to the sharp dose of reality that is coming back to real life during and right after traveling home and you can have a the mix for a case of Post Adoption Depression (PAD) ; a very real issue that afflicts many adoptive parents.

I did not experience PAD but there were many days that I truly thought "what did I do?" my life had been so easy with my grown son and happy marriage. Thankfully, with a great deal of perseverance and support when I needed it most we were all able to come through those first couple of months with a much greater understanding of Katie Starr and ourselves. It has been reported to me privately by many mothers that real depression set in for them and that they too wished that the veil of silence between mothers would be lifted for the good of us all. I for one cannot stay silent and want to reach out to other mothers and fathers who would just really like to know that they are not alone in the feelings that they and their children are experiencing.

I am happy to say that our life is so much richer because of this child. She has made such huge emotional strides and is truly a happy girl and getting happier by the day. She has taught us so much about the human spirit and true perseverance. This spirit is amazing and is alive in well in our daughter. We have grown in many ways ourselves. Marc, Justin and I have exercised patience, maturity and unconditional love to levels that we did not know in our earlier life before Katie Starr. Life is not perfect as it never was nor will be but who needs perfection when you can have all of the wonderfully messy things that love brings to your life. Katie has been such a gift to us that as you all know we have begun the quest for her sister or brother. We know that again there will be transition issues to deal with as well as potential sibling issues but we hope that our experience will help to navigate those hurdles that we are sure to deal with again. Someday soon we will also deal with the potential fallout that may come due to her coming to terms with her personal story and her life with us a transracial family.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart but we now know how strong our hearts really are and how much love flows from them to the children that we love so dearly. We look forward to the day that our little family is finally complete.

11 comments:

tracy said...

Very good post!

I love the motto, it is certainly true!

Karen F. said...

Well said. Very well said.
I find it sad that very few are willing to talk about the transition back to homelife. We all read about it during our paperwork stage, maybe talk about it during the waiting period, but when we are experiencing, it seems that no one is around to walk us through it.
Working through bonding issues, sleeping and/or eating issues, separation anxiety - all of these are hard issues - and we need to come together and help eachother through them!
Thanks for addressing them Lori!

dianne said...

Thank You soooo much for sharing this very important part of this wonderful journey,usally all we read about from most others are only the positive,thanks so much for your honesty on such a huge part of this wonderful (however not always so easy)journey.

NB Canada

Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing this. I hope to adopt and I love reading the blogs especially the ones that tell the "down and dirty" facts. I can't even imaging at this point the struggles that you go through after bring this precious child into "your world"...while they lose "their world"

Prayers go up and Blessings come down,
Michelle
marshm@zoominternet.net

Julie said...

You know my motto, "international adoption...not for sissies"!!!

The toughest thing is when people don't believe you, they continue to believe that everything is going to be ladybugs and roses no matter how you try to prepare them and share your experiences, until it's their turn! We can just stand by and support our sisters, their husbands and their wonderful, wonderful daughters!!!

M3 (Mary-Mia) said...

Good for you for writing this L! Great post and I hope a whole bunch of PAPs read it. People who think we all did this "the easy way" need a big slap of reality.

eggrolls and chopsticks said...

Thanks for sharing this Lori. I really hope that this reaches someone who thinks that it is all going to be flowery and smelling like babies. Our agency gives a conference call to all the travelling families and family members right be for we leave and tries to explain that the "moment" when our dream finally comes true is when our childs nightmare finally starts.
Luckily Katie Starr has an educated and informed mummy, daddy and big brother who were able to help her get through that awful time. It is so important to realise this is not an ordinary journey into parenthood.

Wicked Witch said...

Thank you for posting that. Really!

J said...

Lori,
Thank you so much for this post. I am going to save it and reread it again and again as we continue to wait for our daughter. I am trying to prepare myself for the trauma our daughter will go through but there is nothing like a real life story to put it into perspective.
Joanne

TaiwanMommy said...

Thanks, Lori. I, like you, have a grown son (just turned 22) and a terrific hubby. We gave birth to Kyra 30 months ago, and she is just the light of our lives. We decided to adopt, so she wouldn't grow up "alone", and in Sept., we added Harper and Taelor to our family. They're 14 months old.

Oh.

My.

Goodness.

Nobody ever told me what to expect. And there are TWO of them. God help me.

Thanks for the post.

love,
Val

Sandra said...

Oh, I can relate to this post on SO many levels!