Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Adoption Stories

I've been hearing/reading some seriously rough adoption stories this week. Usually they have happier endings (present day), but boy, they could certainly scare a person off. I'm a big believer in reading all the bad stuff along with the good stuff, if you are considering adoption. Go to Pound Pup Legacy and see where some of those rabbit trails go. Google any agency you think of using and read everything. Read the horror stories. I know it can be harder to find the good stories, or just the not so bad stories. Certainly, the first year of any adoption is hard even when all other circumstances are perfect because we are dealing with human emotions and expectations. I guess it's possible that our adoption was the exception and we were blessed. Or maybe it's my perspective. Maybe I think it was the rosiest adoption possible because the "messy" or "difficult" stuff that came up wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Here's my experience, looked at through the lens of five years later:
We had three biological kids before our youngest joined our family. She was fifteen months old and very underweight. She came to us from an orphanage, and though there were many children, the caregivers were loving, warm and affectionate with the kids. Our daughter didn't smile at first. I didn't mind too much. I was grateful that she wanted to be held. I could work with that. We had a good first meeting. She went back to the guesthouse with us. It was all a bit surreal. I vaguely remember having a panic attack late in the night. There I was in a foreign country with all my other kids on the other side of the world. WHAT have I done?? But the sun came up again, and we went to the embassy. It was a whirlwind going to the airport and getting back home. I know she was literally attached to me for about 27 hours straight. Except for the 17 diaper changes (something about the airplane really triggered her digestive system to freak out). I distinctly remember using the airplane bathroom with her attached to me in the Ergo because she would scream if I took her off. It might have been difficult, but I just remember it as being really funny. I just talked to a mom last week and found out this isn't a very unique experience for a brand new adoptive mom on a ten or twelve hour plane flight. I also remember a four hour wait at customs where I was dead on my feet and falling asleep in the hard plastic chair (with her still attached to me). By that time my clothes were covered in all manner of foods, liquids and bodily fluids, and of course, I was wearing black! The first days home were surprisingly good as far as adjustment. She relaxed right away around the other kids and began smiling often. She quickly decided she didn't like my husband, and it took two solid months to begin to ease her into being held by him. I think the hardest thing for me was the health issues. She was generally healthy, although she'd had a double ear infection when we got home. That was normal for the kids coming home from the orphanage though. For me, it was the stomach issues. It took about a year and a half to figure out every parasite and worm that was plaguing her. But she was still having diarrhea and low weight gain. After celiac sprue came up, we cut out all dairy and gluten and it finally improved. A year and a half. I can't imagine what that was like for her. The other awful thing that comes to my mind was a phase she went through where she was smearing feces on the wall. Thank you God she didn't do that more than a few times. The cleaning and laundry each time was so exhausting! I guess she had a few peculiar habits that you sometimes see in children from orphanages. She would stuff little pieces of food down her onesie or tuck them under her pillow. She would hide toys in her bed. No big deal. There was no throwing food across the room, screaming rages, etc. But I wonder now if I would have handled that okay too and looked back on it fondly later. Maybe it's just perspective.
The big stuff: she attached to me, my husband and her sister and brothers firmly that first year. There was the occasional time of her giving out her affection to others a little too easily and we would reign it in when that happened. It took longer to build up her self esteem, but she has blossomed in confidence in the last year or two. We keep working on it. She has definitely turned downright sassy this year, so that is a new road for me. She is healthy, active, clever, detailed, beautiful, amazing, loving, and kind.
Now for a brief statement from my soapbox - I am grateful that I am a stay at home mom and we could cocoon ourselves in those first few months. It was a precious investment. My biggest piece of advice is don't go out for a while, and do not be a social butterfly. A newly adopted child does not want to meet all your friends and family, they just want to be fed, kept warm, loved and most of all, secure. That's it. Also, no matter how much you wanted this child or how long you waited, love is not automatic. While you are working on getting them attached to you, you are also working at attaching yourself to them. I didn't not fully realize that for awhile. Love takes work; it doesn't all just happen on it's own. There were times I plastered a smile on my face and hugged her when I really didn't want to. I don't have to do that anymore. That was a long time ago, and I'm grateful for all the growth.
I'm sure you've read or heard it, adoption is not for the faint of heart. That's the God honest truth. You need a strong heart, an open heart, a faithful heart and most of all, a committed heart. I think every parent's worst nightmare is the idea that you will make a mistake. You'll bring home the "wrong" child, a lemon. Plug on. Stick with it. Keep going. It's a marathon, and if you are committed, you will not fail. You will love and be loved. Besides, those lemons grow up into pretty amazing adults.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will not leave you or forsake you." Deut. 31:6

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