Adoption Update

It’s Update Time

It’s been a little more than two months now since we’ve been home. I hate that we didn’t keep up with the updates between leaving China and now. It’s been a busy few weeks with doctor’s appointments and follow-up home studies. On top of that, continuing the remodel of our house and getting ready for Christmas…

Sometimes when your boat is cruising into active seas, you need to put down the excess stuff and focus on navigating to calmer waters.

So let me take a few minutes to catch you up. Here’s the highlights of the last couple months:

Doctor’s Appointments

In early November, Aila had her first round of doctor’s appointments since arriving in the US. She’s had other appointments since we’ve been home and for the most part everything has come back normal. She had a long-awaited eye appointment TODAY at the butt-crack of dawn. The doctor has scheduled an MRI soon but this means that Aila will need to be under sedation during this process which always gives us a bit of anxiety. Not sure yet when all this will take place but please pray for us and for little Aila through all of this. I know at some point maybe we will get beyond all these discoveries and diagnoses and we’ll know everything that’s going on – everything that we need to watch and maintain – and we’ll find a groove.

Progress Isn’t What You Think

Not to say that we’re not finding a groove now. We are. Things are actually moving along quite nicely. She’s attaching well. She’s coming into her personality. She’s more mobile. More expressive. More demonstrative. Her skin is clearer. Her eyes are brighter. She’s sleeping pretty okay… sometimes. She knows how to tell us she’s hungry or sad. She loves Daniel Tiger. All these things are good things and give me comfort knowing that she is beginning to know her place in this party of six and we couldn’t be happier about it. But the new discoveries, especially the ones that require sedations and surgeries kinda interrupt our rhythm and we long to get back to creating our normal flow.

I know the radio silence of the last couple of months may have caused you to believe that everything was without worry and full of endless perfect moments and that our family never felt interrupted or out of sorts or perplexed by the addition of a new family member. Most of that is accurate. Most of the time. But it took us awhile to get there. And we seem to take a step back here and there.

Kelley was recently chatting with another adoptive mom who will be on the plane in less than a week to go bring her new little boy home. This mom was asking questions about what to expect and things from the Mom-perspective that she didn’t anticipate but could pass along. This is a brilliant observation that I think all of you adoptive parents out there should know…

For many of you, when you pick up your child and go to your hotel room, the first few days and nights will feel like perfect bliss. It’s likely you child sleep through the night. It’s likely he’ll never cry. The sad part of this is the reason why…

For most of these kids, they’ve learned that crying does no good. Nobody’s coming. Nobody’s gonna pick you up. Nobody’s gonna comfort you. So they stop crying.

Heartbreaking, right? I cry now just thinking about it. They don’t wake up at night. Or if they do, you never know because they make no noise to indicate that they need you. Because nobody’s coming. So for however long they lived in the orphanage, they stopped calling out. They just stopped. And then you get them home. And you love on them. You hold them. You kiss them. You play with them all day long. You keep them awake at night just so you can see their beautiful eyes and tickle them and make them laugh. And in the process of the playful interactions, she bumps her head on yours and she cries. She cries! For the first time, you hear her cry. And you comfort her. You pick her up. You kiss her and hold her and rock her and sing to her and tell it’s gonna be okay. And she calms down and looks at you with those deep dark brown eyes and you melt and she begins to unlearn what she once thought was true.

Someone will come. Someone will care. Someone will help calm. It’s okay to cry. Someone is coming.

Over time, these little moments happen again and again and the serve as little hooks in her little heart that she begins to hang her trust upon. She begins to think, “I can tell someone I’m in need and they will respond.” And she learns to cry again.

For parents who haven’t adopted, to celebrate this may seem a little backwards and in fact it is. Why would you want a crying baby? Well, we don’t actually want her to cry all the time. But we do want her to know that if she cries, we will be right there. If we walk out of the room and she whimpers – no matter what – one of us will turn around immediately and go pick her up. I told her the day we met that I’d never leave her lonely. She was left in an alley behind a hospital when she was days old. Then she was left in an orphanage. Then when she had open heart surgery at a year old, she was left alone in the hospital with only the attending doctor to check on her from time to time. She will never be alone again. And when she cries to tell us she’s scared or overwhelmed or insecure. We consider that a step forward. Progress. She’s just gone from believeing that no one hears her cries to knowing that when she cries we pick her up. That my friends, is a win.

Day 9 – Attachment

As a dad, one of the hardest things about the first few weeks (sometimes months) after coming home with your newborn baby is that you so desperately want to be able to comfort and console your child but often the experience for dads falls short of what we imagine it to be. If your experience was like mine, my little baby would cry, I’d pick him or her up and they’d keep on crying, sometimes working themselves up into a full out fit because you aren’t giving them what they want… the lady with the boobs and the soft voice. She’s warm and familiar, but not you. She had nine months of physically bonding with this little miracle and now you’re new territory. You sound familiar, but what’s that smell, and why are you so rough and scratchy? And why don’t you have boobs like the other one? I don’t like you. It was hard for me, those first few months. I cried sometimes. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, turned off the lights, and cried. I was afraid I’d never be able to comfort my child.

While we were going through the adoption process early on, there was some required reading and testing that we did. I remember riding on a train back from Philly one night and listening to these lessons and stories from other families about this idea of attachment in adoption. The first few months are critical, especially for a young child. They gave all kinds of techniques to aide with attachment. Many of which we did with our other kids already, so these weren’t new ideas. The unknown factor for us though, is the reality that neither of us have been able to bond with her for the first two years of her life. When she had open heart surgery, we weren’t there to give her comfort, to tell it was gonna be okay. To hold her when she was scared because someone was taking her into a big, loud city, with people in masks taking her to a back room somewhere. When she got a cold, neither of us were there to suck the snot out of her nose and rock her to sleep. Two years went by. These are critical years in the process of trust building for any child. We missed those. So it’s important that we begin the bonding process immediately. Probably one of the more common fears of adoptive parents is, “Will this child bond with me?” Because we all know that how well they attach (and how quickly, in some cases) determines a large part in the quality of life this little person will enjoy down the road. These moments are critical.

Who knows what life back in the States is gonna look like once I return back to work and we get back into a routine with life. But we realized something tonight. Some things have been hard, for sure. Some things we’re facing now are hard. But for months we’ve prayed and we’ve asked you to pray that somehow, Aila would know in her heart who we are and that God has preserved her in our hearts forever and that while we were away, we were always near. We asked that our love be conveyed through the hands of her caregivers. And as you may have read, it was only a minute or two at that first meeting that she reached for Kelley and tucked her head into her chest. Only minutes before she whispered, “baba.”

When we walk out of the room without her she gets angry and one of us goes to her. She knows that we are the ones she can trust for care and love and nurture. She knows that we are her people. She knows that if she cries, we will pick her up. She is so aware of it at this point that she now has a game. If we sit her down, she will fuss and cry (it’s a very fake cry, but her facial expressions really sell it — drama queen). And then when we pick her up she laughs and smiles the biggest smile you’ve ever seen in your life. She knows we are hers because we’re consistent and our response to her needs is consistent. She laughs because what she hoped for came true. She wanted to be held and that’s what she got. She smiles because she knows she can do it again with the same results. She is growing more and more confident in the ebb and flow of this relationship.

Her development is increasing by leaps and bounds already as well. She had not crawled before in the orphanage. Two days in and she crawls across the hotel room floor for her bottle. She is also pulling up and scooting along the edge of the bed. Walking may not be far behind. She makes noises that sound like words but nothing more than Mama and Baba at this point but she knows who Mama and Baba are. She gets the kids to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Bringing Home A Baby Bumblebee” and she will mimic the hand motions with them. Yesterday, the kids held their hands to their heads like moose antlers and blew raspberries with their tongues and she did exactly what they did. She remembers games we play together, like pattycake and peek-a-boo, and will grab your hands and make you do them with her. She’s incredibly smart. It really catches us by surprise sometimes because all we’ve seen are a few pictures and a couple videos from the orphanage and none of them indicate anything like this.

She’s a two year old toddler but not really. Developmentally, she is delayed. In stature, she’s like a one year old. Some mentors of ours at church have raised a beautiful you teenage girl with Down syndrome. Some of the best encouragement they offered us early in the process was that their daughter made them slow down and have fun. It’s hard to know what to expect but for now she keeps blowing our minds and making us laugh.