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, September 05, 2012

Adoption: What does it take?

So you've decided to travel to another part of the world to adopt a child. I'm so glad you have. I've asked before, are you truly prepared?

There have been a couple situations recently that have people wondering if we, the parents who have already adopted, have been honest in our posts about what it's really like. Forget the rainbows and unicorns, where are the thorn bushes and riptides?

The very first fairy tale is that your new child will be plopped in your lap and you will love them as if you've just given him or her as if you've just given birth. The family who meets their new child and feels an instant bond with them is rare, I think. With a pregnancy you spend nine months nurturing that child, even learning some of the earliest things he or she likes or dislikes. With your adopted child you've had none of that. You are looking at a total stranger. It is no different than the woman on a plane from Frankfurt who, without warning,  handed me her infant to hold while she tried to stow her bags. The difference is if you'd received a picture of your child prior to that first meeting. I think it is nearly impossible to not create an imaginary personality to go with the picture. What do you do when that imaginary personality doesn't match the little person now standing before you?

When we adopted Axel, I told you about my first day with him. It was rough. Axel acted like a feral child. He had never been taught how to behave in public, and I had approximately 10 days to get his behavior to a point I could make it through airports with him. There wasn't "love", in the sense that he didn't feel like my child. That would take months to develop. I could have picked him off the street. I mean, I showed up at a foster home in the middle of Serbia and walked out with a child who was "mine".  Developing a relationship between was real work, as in sweat dripping down my face, ripped shirts, a black eye and nearly broken nose kind of work. Later it took him going through major surgery and suffering a lot of pain and me - whom he had learned to feel felt safe with and trusted - being the only one who could make it better. That's when the real love developed. He'd been home 6 months by that point. It didn't come easy. Love isn't automatic with a child with whom you share no biological connection.

With Asher I shared how far I had to "dig" to find him, bringing him out of his own world he'd sought as refuge. It took me several days of twice a day visits to get eye contact from him. It took me more than a week (that would be 14 visits totally 28 hours) to get him to smile. Those smiles were rare and took a lot of work. Talk about earning your wages! My "work" was to show him that that eye contact doesn't have to be scary, that he has the ability to laugh - and to cry - and he doesn't have to be afraid to do either. My "wages" were smiles, and - many weeks later - giggles. And just this week, and nine months home, an unsolicited kiss.

For both boys it took them being dependent upon me to meet their every need. For Asher this meant feeding him every bite of food one spoonful at a time. For Axel it was making his pain go away after surgery. Mommies and Daddy's are there for you. Just recently Asher has started to cry when he gets hurt. He never felt safe enough before. Now he's also learning WHEN to cry, because the ability to regulate emotions was something he turned off years ago. Now sometimes when's he's really excited he cries when he should be laughing. Sometimes when he should cry, he laughs. Asher has been with us 9 months and is finally finding his voice and experimenting with it. NINE MONTHS of work for all of us to get to this point.

And yes, with all of that, I am ready to do it again. I am ready to show another child the life she never knew she was missing. School and pizza, ice-cream and carnivals, kisses goodnight and lullabies, hugs for a job well done, hugs for a skinned knee, hugs when she's afraid, hugs just because she exists, she is valuable...because she is are loved.


Milena said...

She? Who? Here's hoping it's Ianna!!

Leah S. said...

Milena, if you haven't already, go read here.