He Won't be Excited?
If you don't know much about adoption, join the club. Before we started this process, I didn't know much about the adoption process or what occurs with adopted children. Let me admit something to you so you know just how little I knew. Just over a year ago, I was surprised when I learned that when we receive our adopted child, he will likely feel sadness and fear. I thought, our child won't be excited that he's coming with us? He isn't excited to leave an orphanage and live in America with a loving family? I just didn't understand. So, if this is new to you, you aren't alone.
Through our required 30+ hours of education, we have learned a lot. We have learned about grief and loss, attachment and expectations. Let me share a few things with you that may help you understand our process just a little better.
The very reason adoption exists is because of loss. Every child who is adopted has experienced tremendous loss. Adopted children have lost their parents. In our case, Kai has lost any connection to his biological family. Birth parents experience loss. It's hard to fathom the tremendous weight of the decision to give up a child. We don't know the reasons why parents abandon their children or choose adoption for their children. But I am certain it isn't without much heartache and sorrow. Adoptive parents have loss. They miss months, sometimes years of their child's life. These are just a few examples of the loss inherent in adoption. Adoption is beautiful, yes. It is also very hard.
We try to put ourselves in Kai's position. The easiest way for us to do this is by thinking about Asher. Think about Asher walking into a room to meet two Chinese parents, excited to hug and hold Asher. Asher has no idea who he is meeting or why they are there. He is then whisked away from the only place he has ever known, staying in a strange hotel with beds, toilets and bathtubs that don't look anything like what he's used to. After 20 hours of flying, he is now in a country with a new language, strange looking people and strange sights, sounds and smells.
How does a 2 year-old process this? Typically these kinds of stressors cause children to engage in fight, flight or freeze behavior. Think about how you respond to major stress. Are you more likely to fight back, remove yourself from the conflict, or shut down? These responses are how these sweet children learn to cope.
We have learned that brain chemistry of children actually changes due to traumatic experiences. Kai's brain chemistry has likely changed for two reasons. First, he experienced incredible stress from the trauma of being abandoned. Second, he endured the trauma of having brain surgery with limited pain control before he was 10 months old. Therefore, one of our goals is to help him learn healthy ways of dealing with stress. For example, we want to help him grieve. Anger and sadness are common emotions, and even things like nightmares or night terrors are signs that children are grieving these losses.
When we care for babies, we attend to their needs. We hold them when they are afraid. We give them food when they are hungry. We clothe them when they are cold. From their very first days, we model emotions and show them love. This is called emotional mentoring. We don't even realize we are doing it. We show our very young children what emotions and connections are. Young children like Kai, particularly those who live in orphanages, miss these years of emotional mentoring. They often don't know what it is to be connected, cared for, or loved. They may not know what it is to express a need and receive a response, so they stop expressing need. These kids who are abandoned even at a young age often develop a deep sense of shame. They may think,
"I was abandoned because of something I did. There's something wrong with me."
This sounds like a lot of bad news, doesn't it? Here is the good news. Children that come from hard places heal in the context of relationship. In the relationship of a family, we can empower these children to express need and learn what it is to receive love and care. We can help these children heal through connection and love!
What does this mean for Kai? Although Kai is two, we will be very aware of his developmental and emotional age. Kai will have developmental delays common to children living in an orphanage. We will be starting from scratch emotionally and relationally. This means that our parenting may look different than it does for many families with biological children. Our number one priority for these first months is establishing relationship. Yes, behavior matters, but relationship matters more. He needs to be convinced that even when his behavior is undesirable, he is loved, he is precious and we will never leave him.
These first months together, we are focusing on relationship. We are teaching and modeling what it looks like to be family, what it means to have this deep love. We will ensure that every good thing comes through us. If he's hungry, we won't tell him to go to the kitchen and get a banana from the counter like we might for Asher. No, we will hand it to him. As simple as this sounds, these simple things teach a huge lesson. Good things come from mom and dad. As odd as this may sound, we want Kai to come to a place where he experiences emotions similar to separation anxiety. He is used to inconsistent caregivers-- similar to care at a nursing home where the staff changes with different shifts. We want him to expect that we are his caregivers.
We will try to make things fun. Play is an essential aspect of our attachment. Much healing and connection can occur when we play together. We will take normal, day-to-day activities and make them fun and engaging. This will teach Kai to pair positive emotions with the routines of family life.
Adoptive families often do something called cocooning when they return home. Cocooning is basically simplifying life in an effort to give time for everyone to adjust. This can particularly be helpful for toddlers. During this time, we simplify our schedule and create a predictable routine. We limit the amount of care he receives from anyone other than Paul and me. We limit outings and are careful with putting him in situations that could be stressful.
We are preparing that much of the summer will be slow-paced and family focused. Asher, Kai and I will spend a lot of time at home! We will introduce Kai to our family and friends slowly. We will be able to have people here as Kai begins to adjust. We have been advised that we will likely not be able to leave Kai with anyone for at least 6 months. We have also been advised that due to Paul's position at Calvary and the size of Calvary, it would be wise to keep him home from church for most of the summer. We are so grateful for the support of the leaders and elders at Calvary in understanding the importance of these first few months. We know that so many who have traveled this journey with us are eager to meet Kai. We will find ways to do this as best we can. These months at home will be pretty different from what Asher and I are used to, but will set an incredibly important foundation for sweet Kai to continue to grow and thrive.
We will have many supports-- families who have adopted, social workers, CHOP's International Adoption Clinic Team, attachment counselors and clinics. These are people who can advise and guide us through this process. We also have incredible family and friends who are eager to support and care for us all. We are blessed with a beautiful church family who is surrounding us with prayer and encouragement. This adoption journey has become something much bigger than our family.
Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. This has been our approach as we prepare for this adoption. There will be aspects that are easy and feel natural and other areas that feel broken and hard, but something beautiful comes from the easy and the hard moments. If you ask most adoptive families, they will likely share some of these struggles and challenges. Even the adoptive families who seem to have had quick attachment have likely faced some of these difficulties. Most adoption stories aren't quite as perfect as the family portrayed in Annie! It takes effort and consistency, love and care, but children can heal and blossom in their forever family.