Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I didn't know I was his mother

 It was April 2010, and I'd made the trip to Serbia with a friend. We visited two foster homes to meet the boys who lived in them. One had Down syndrome, and one did not.

His name was Djordje. This little boy came out to greet us. I said to my friend, "Wow, for a boy with Ds he's tall for 4."

"Four? He's NINE!"

"Ok, well then I take it back. He's really tiny for 9!"

He was a funny little guy, eager to show off for us, and play with these two crazy ladies who didn't know how to talk right.

The first time I met Axel, I didn't know I was his mother.

When I returned home from that trip, Dean and I started the process to adopt a little girl I'd also met along the way. As things with that adoption continued to fall through, we started thinking: Who was most in danger right now? The little kids with DS had time, but that older boy. That 9 year old. His foster family was ready for him to move along. Dean asked if Djordje had any issues that I worried about dealing with, and I said, no, absolutely not. He's a lovable little guy who I wouldn't hesitate to bring into our family.

Suddenly I had lots of questions that couldn't be answered. When I had met him the first time, I wasn't looking at him with a mother's eyes. What size clothes was he wearing? Did he seem to hear? What size shoes? What kinds of sounds was he making? Did he say ANY words?

One month later, on December 1st 2010, I was holding him in my arms once again. Only this time, I knew I was his mother.

It wasn't easy. Bringing home a 10 year old boy who had lived in four different settings before coming to us was tough. He'd never been allowed to form bonds that weren't destroyed when he was moved from one place to the next. He tested us...oh how he tested. There were many times when I begged God for insight into what made Axel tick. What was the root hurt that was fueling one behavior or another. How many times I stood in the shower (aka my prayer closet) and cried because I really didn't know what to do or how to help him. And always....always clarity coming to me in those moments, when God would give me a word to explain Axel's latest antics, like "bruised", "fearful" or "distressed", or maybe show me an image from Axel's eyes and how he viewed a certain situation. That doesn't mean I handled those situations perfectly with this information, and I have made plenty of mistakes, believe me. I'm human, and often felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants. But Dean...Dean has been my rock and together we made it through some rough adjustments.

The first time I met Asher, I didn't know I was his mother.

It was November 30th, 2010, and I was making a visit to the orphanage in Belgrade. I hoped to visit the little girl we'd originally tried to adopt, and also check up on a few other kids. The next day I would be meeting Axel again! Oh, there are SO MANY cute kids there, its very hard to know that you're going to leave them all behind.

I was with another family at the time, and together we met this little guy. Other than the fact he was very cute, he didn't stick in my mind as "my child" because he was so young. Still in a crib. Our age minimum was 6 and this little guy was no more than two...or was he? His name was Lazar, and I didn't know he was already 6!

But he knew...he knew I was his mother. He tried to tell me but I didn't hear. I wasn't speaking his language because I wasn't  his mother...yet.

When I met him again, exactly one year later, he looked much different. 

This time I came knowing I was his mother. I didn't remember ever having met him before, probably because he looked so different. His face wasn't familiar eat all! No, this was a new child I had never met before. And to be honest, he was. GONE was the child I didn't remember meeting. Clearly his nutritional level had changed, and he was "flat", without any affect at all. Gone was the eye contact. Gone was his ability to participate in the world around him. No, I had never met this child.

*It wasn't until we were home for about 6 weeks that I discovered the pictures I'd taken that very first time I met Asher one year prior. I still don't remember having met him. *

If you read back through my adoption blog during those first few visits, you'll see it was not easy. Three months ago I wrote these words:

Asher has had his entire 7 years behind institutional walls. Through the glass partitions I watch him in his group.  Sometimes toys are scattered on the floor, like miscellaneous blocks that don't go together. Nobody has taught the children how to play with them so they are nothing but objects with which to hit themselves in the head or tap on the wall. Asher stands in the middle of the room or lays on the floor, eyes cold and distant, unfocused, lost in his own world. His world, the one in the institution, has nothing for him so he has left to find somewhere better in his mind. He doesn't rock, he just stands frozen like a statue. If he lays on the floor he is still. Sometimes he finds a thread from someone's clothes, or a stuffed animal that still has it's tag, and dangles it before his eyes, occasionally using his other hand to give it a twirl. This is Asher's day....every day....for every waking moment.
Ever so slowly, over the course of the next two weeks, Asher started to appear. 

With flashes of eye contact...

And a the hint of a smile...

I eventually found him.

The little boy who now sleeps down the hall is not the same boy I met just three months ago. I am his mother and he is my son. Today he spends his day bursting with squeals of delight and great enthusiasm at every new experience. 

So many adoptive parents think that they will feel an instant connection to the child they're adopting, and if they don't they think there must be something wrong with them.  I met BOTH of my children prior to adopting them and there was no "instant connection" then, so why would there be when I returned to adopt them? I didn't expect there to be, and there were no guilty feelings when there weren't. I have parented children who were not biologically mine before. I knew ahead of time that it feels different. 

Bonding takes time, particularly when the child is not biologically yours and he or she is no longer a baby. And sometimes...sometimes a child who is not biologically yours never feels like they are your child. Sometimes they never get past feeling like a niece or nephew. And do you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. If your niece or nephew suffered a terrible tragedy and came to live with you, do you think you could help them heal? Absolutely! And so too will you help your adopted child. And those days when you really don't feel like loving them, you might have to fake it. Have you ever had an annoying neighbor kid come over to play? Their every habit grating on your nerves but you still treat them well should! You even find yourself watching the clock for when it's time to send him and his habits - which were created in his other life - home. Sometimes your adopted child might feel like that annoying neighbor kid. Because you might feel that way doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. You can still show a child love and caring without feeling like they are "yours", just like you do with the neighbor kid. Your job is to help heal the wounds in that child's heart and spirit. Love them. There will be days when you feel like you can't. Get support, pray, call a friend, talk to your spouse, pray some more, stand in the shower and cry. It will get better eventually, but you MUST seek out support if you feel like you're sinking. 

As for us, both Axel and Asher are truly "my" children now. We have bonded. That doesn't mean every day is a cakewalk, but I can say I have never had one single day where I regretted the decision we made to bring these boys home. 


Jennie said...

FANTASTIC post, Leah. I so appreciate your candor.
I'm still somewhat an outsider to this adoption journey, as we haven't brought a child home yet. But... I worry about the people who look at adoption as a way to fill some hole in their family... as if adoption is about THEM and not about THE CHILD.

After telling someone I know about our decision to adopt, she replied with, "Oh, I didn't know you were in the market for another child." Hm. I know the comment wasn't meant to be heartless... she just has a VERY different view of adoption than we have. We're adopting because we feel it's one thing God has called our family to do... a small part of our call to care for orphans and widows.

Anonymous said...

You are a very special person. I have a four year old sister who was born with Down Syndrome and she is just an amazing little girl. I love my sister but between school and therapy it is a full time job. You are so amazing for managing two adorable little boys and their schedules. They truly look happy.

Kathy said...

I love this post. Thank you SO much for sharing your real life. :o) I love your family!

Amy L said...

Beautiful! Everything you wrote is so true. I'm so Happy that YOUR precious Asher is home and thriving with his Mama's love. And Axel, his little face just makes me smile every time I see him.:)

Hevel Cohen said...

So. Perfectly. Written.

Anna said...

Oh how I wish I had read this post, and many others that I was blessed to read recently, BEFORE we actually met our daughter. I had a long waiting time, so I was so shocked to "feel like I was babysitting" as I told my husband with tears streaming. (I posted yesterday about it.) I find the more I read, share, pray, and play with our little one the easier it gets. Your boys are beautiful, its amazing what love and a family will do isnt it!! So blessed to be on the journey with you.