Airport Sept. 8th 2016 with Big Sister
Just over one year ago we arrived home with a little six year old child who had become our daughter merely a week or so before our arrival home. I thought I was completely prepared for International adoption, I had read all the books, I studied reactive attachment disorder, I researched institutional autism.... I knew exactly what I was going in to......or so I thought.
There truly is nothing that can prepare you for the journey of loving a child from a very hard, traumatic past aside from living through it. The journey is different with each child and therefore even previous adoptions and experiences may not prepare you fully for the next. It is a daily journey with each child and it takes a lot of courage, patience, long-suffering, kindness to manage each day.
We were completely and utterly alone in this journey, I don't say this to condemn others, but merely to point out that there is just a simple lack of understanding or knowledge in the general population about the very significant special needs of Internationally adopted children.
Our needs as we arrived home were FAR more dramatic than those bringing home a new baby. We had to purposely allow the fridge and cupboards to dwindle to basic non-perishable items. The house was scrubbed clean, but very empty. We traveled for 36 hours straight on our journey home with a child who was terrified because in all reality to her, she was traveling with complete strangers. When we drove into the driveway and walked into our home, we were starving, it was 4:00 pm and after a lengthy trip with a very traumatized and frightened child we were exhausted to the bone.
We were able to rummage up some spaghetti and pasta sauce from food storage in the basement to feed ourselves before collapsing in a rocking chair with an overly tired and frightened child. It wasn't much of a homecoming, there was an emptiness and silence in the house and yet weary excitement that we were finally home.
We did need time alone to bond with our daughter, we did need a safe and quiet space for her to relax and feel safe. We did need friends, neighbors, family and others to respect our quiet and safe space but we didn't expect to find ourselves as isolated as we had become. It was lonely to say the least.
In all my study and preparation I was not prepared for what institutional autism looked like in real life. The previous two weeks my daughter, rocked back and forth rapidly, stimmed constantly, screamed, refuse to interact other than absolute necessity for water or the bathroom. She was completely lost in her own world. Anyone not familiar with institutional autism...she would appear SEVERELY autistic.....and yet...she was not!
In the coming weeks....because she is completely blind and now living and the exact opposite time zone her sleep patterns were severely disrupted. Jet lag is NO joke! We woke up at 3am starving for dinner and could not sleep, we were feeding a crying six year old dinner at 3am. I know eating is not helpful for jet lag but you do not refuse food to a child suffering from trauma, loss and grief...I found myself cooking frequently in those early days at 3 or 4 am.
Six weeks home and I was still severely sleep deprived, caring for a child who still thought waking up at 3 am was totally normal. My nerves were shot, I was exhausted to the bone and desperately needed some support, even just a friendly person to talk to. All that preparation and yet, I wasn't prepared at all.
Among the rough sleepless nights, meltdowns, grieving for hours and sitting in a chair with her on my lap for hours there were also times of laughter, joy and amazement that this little one brought into our home.
We watched as she slowly but surely learned to trust, she started to laugh and smile and in fact, she began speaking, not just words of necessity but she started teasing us and making us laugh. Now, I can truly say that I know exactly what adoptive families always say, International adoption is the most broken, heart-wrenching, beautiful, joyful journey you will ever take!
There is one wish I have....that more people would come to understand the profound needs of children from institutions and the families who adopt them. It would have made such a difference to have a support system in place of people who brought meals, came to visit, could lend a listening ear or even offer to run some errands or offer help as I was holed up at home for the long haul with a scared, grief stricken little one.
I also wish people would understand that she needed her space, she needed time to realize that these people who 'kidnapped' her could be trusted and would love her. She needed to learn what love really means and that it is NOT random strangers telling you they love you or trying to hug you and invade your personal space. Extended family should be respectful that they are strangers to these children and they should be kind and helpful but avoid physical expressions of love until a true relationship is established.
It is a rough road to walk, and the misunderstanding of all those that make up your community just makes it harder and far lonelier than it ever need be.
There were days I didn't know how I was going to make it through, there were days I wasn't sure I would ever sleep again, isolation and loneliness were difficult to bear......but as the days, weeks and months progressed I started to see what a blessing this little girl was in our lives.
Many people have told us that we are so 'amazing' for adoption her or that we are amazing people. I am no more amazing than the next person. Why am I amazing for adopting her? She is an amazing, sweet, talented little girl who has brought laughter, joy and happiness into our family and we are blessed to call her ours. There is nothing special or amazing about me and it did NOT take an amazing person to adopt her. People almost act as if these children are less worthy of a family and therefore it must take an amazing person to be willing to open their life and their homes to a child. I honestly and truly hope this is not the case.. I would hope that ALL would be willing to open their homes to orphans!
As the one year mark has passed, I will admit....many of my expectations of where she would be now were not met..in fact, probably none of them were. This was a lesson in itself. I expected her to be able to use the restroom on her own, to be able to speak to us like a typical 5 year old (even though she is almost 8), I thought she would get her own food from a special drawer made just for her......
If I focus on all the things she has not done, I miss all the amazing accomplishments she has made. She went from only speaking absolute necessities to speaking in small sentences, even putting two thoughts together in sentences. She has learned to tease us, she has learned to clean up her own toys and put them back in a toy box, she navigates the house well without any assistance and can come and find me wherever I am if she needs or wants something......
I learned that if we put children into an 'expectation box' we miss out on celebrating all that they accomplish and seeing the beauty of each step of opening up and learning to trust and love despite developmental delays or academic deficits that may persist. It isn't about a child's math ability, reading ability or academic performance.....it is more about a child's ability to learn to trust again when they have experienced the ultimate betrayal in their life, about a child opening up to love again, when love has hurt them before..... there is so much more to life than 2+2=4
As I stand looking back on the past year, I can say I am thankful for every moment, for every sleepless night, every messy diaper, every difficult part of this journey because it has changed me forever...it has made me a better person than I ever would have become without it. I feel blessed to have walked this journey with its tough climbs and its joyful moments all wrapped into one beautiful experience.
I have learned to take life as it comes, to love without expectation and to accept her exactly as she is and who she will become. I do have high expectations for her because she has immense potential but I know that no matter what she chooses to become and no matter what obstacles we may face.....we will always love her exactly as she is.