Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Adoption Thoughts

Tonight I'm up with Emma as we prepare for a sleep deprived EEG.  Our first.  We have Barbie on TV and dogs sleeping around the living room wondering why the lights are on. Wuth 8 hours to go, I think I'll take a moment to summarize some points that have come around in a couple different formats over the last 3 days since wh have been advocating for Jackie.  I have to admit these are not all my own ideas. Maybe that makes them even more valuable.

Learning English.

How do you deal with the language transition.  When we adopted Kristin at 10 years old, we had a guide with us who helped while she was there for anything complicated for the first week or so.  But generally, we could figure out her basic needs with signs, symbols and she caught on to the most basic terms pretty quickly.  We discovered that if we had questions, we could ask them on Google translator and she could read the question and by answering a series of yes no questions, we could figure out anything we really needed. 

By the time we came home we could understand each other fairly well.  We probably used Google a hand full of times after we got home.  It was pretty amazing how fast each of us caught on.  It was true that we couldn't carry on much of a conversation, but for sure we could get our point across when we needed to.  We also had friends in a Chinese branch of our church who were very happy to see us. Kristin spoke with them quite a bit when we were there and they enjoyed having us there.  Through that we learned quite a bit about her history.  A Chinese friend is a great resource. 

 With school, most teachers in our school had a basic understanding of how to deal with English as a Second Language (ESL).  Many schools have programs that specifically deal with ESL.  We didn't find that this was necessary.  The school had various computer programs that they allowed her to use and the rest of it she seemed to pick up extremely quickly.  People who rarely saw her were amazed at the progress.  I'm pretty sure she was not atypical in this respect.

For Cole and Emma it was much easier.  Cole was 2 years old when we adopted him.  His first English word was bus. His language needs were quite simple and we learned to communicate VERY quickly.  Language was a non-issue.  Emma was 3 years old but with her learning delay, she barely spoke any Chinese so her language skills were actually even less demanding.

One more point here: Our children have loved having the connection to their Chinese heritage. Having someone to pour their hearts out to in their native tongue has been therapeutic every once in a while.  It has also been helpful for use to learn their history and about their feelings and needs.

Family Support.

The challenges you face in adoption requires 100% commitment from both parents. But most families will find that there are at least a few extended family members or friends who are not warm to the idea right away.  We've found that most (not all) warm up to the idea as soon as they see their smiling faces.   Like a good friend says (I hope she doens't mind) "I can promise you that not all the people in your life will support you. They will find you straight out insane for considering the adoption of a [child] from China. It makes no sense. But it makes the world a little more right."

We have found that children bond to each other very quickly.  We have been fortunate enough to have at least 1 of our other children with us on each trip.  It has been very helpful with the transition.  Although, I have seen many families go through the first weeks of adoption/attachment process without siblings around even without Dad or Mom around.  This works. It just requires a more patience.  I even know a few single adoptive parents.  My hat goes off to them.  They are nothing short of amazing... even angels!

How long until you feel attached like bio-children?

Assuming bio-children are the gold standard, full attachment is not immediate.  There are strong feelings at different times with every child but full attachment varies with each child and family and the whole situation. 

There are definite bonds that begin to form between parent and child before they even meet in person.  When we were within a few months of leaving for China to pick up Cole, we had the opportunity to possibly adopt Emma who was in the same oprhanage as Cole.  Since her needs were foreign and scary to us, we prayed about it for a long time. When we finally decided it was the right thing to do, we told our agent that we wanted to proceed. A day or 2 later, China said no.  We were surprised at the profound disappointment and the bonds that we felt in just a few days of the time we decided to adopt her and the time we were told no.   We sulked overnight and the next day called our agent back and told her we would go back to get Emma.  These bonds are important to help us make it through the adoption process and into the those first few months.

After the adoption, there are times that you feel those profound attachments and there are times that you want to throw your hands in the air.  I remember at one point shortly after Kristin came home,  I was so frustrated that I actually throwing my hands up and just letting the growl come out.  But a few hours later, I was back at her side comforting her as she went to sleep. 

I think it is important to remember that the same thing is going on with them. I remember the first time we went to visit our adoption agent after the adoption, we walked in and were talking about all the wonderful things that had gone on and how wonderful Krsitin was.  When there was a break in the conversation our adoption agent turned to talk to Kristin.  Kristin leaned over and said, "I have 2 words: Wrong Family."  Fortunately our adoption agent understood.  And just so you know, Kristin doesn't remember that.  I often ask her how she's feeling about her fit in the family. About a month ago I was teasing her about this story and asked her about how she was feeling with respect to the family.  With tears in her eyes, she said that she had so many reasons to love the family that she felt fully a part of the family.  I assured her that I felt the same way.

Like I said, there are times that you feel closer than other times but with work and faith, the feeling will become like a bio-child feeling.  Rarely are these feelings constant within the first 6 months. Generally, it takes years but during those years, you work through your issues and you are learning so very much about each other that those bonds go deep.  Very deep.  And the thought of being without them is as heart wrenching as you could possibly imagine.  Just don't get in a hurry and think it should be done by now. It will run its own course with each child.

As one wise prospective adoptive parent put it (I hope she doesn't mind me quoting her) "I guess the key is believing that those feelings will come. I told myself to look at [my child] through Christ's eyes and not my own. Surely those feelings would come." 

One-on-one time

During the initial 6-12 month period it is essential to isolate and protect these children substantially. There may be times when psychological counseling is needed, but for the most part, I think it is critical to teach your children to rely on their family to deal with problems and challenges.  If you do need a counselor, be sure that they are experienced in adoption and attachment. In this same light, it is important to talk with your children often independent of their language level they have so you understand their needs and so they understand you are interested in them. I have been amazed at the daring questions Doll has asked and the responses she received. It has been a great lesson for me.

As each of our children have come home, we have sat at their side holding their hand for the first several months as they fall asleep to help with that transition.  We hold them, swing with them, sing with them, walk with them.  We tell them that we love them, that they are good children, that they are our babies, our princess or our little man.  When I think back to my parents, I recall hoping that they would recognize my achievements (which they did frequently).  When they did it was awesome.  Even memorable 40 years later.  So I try to do it often to our children.  My mother's phrase was "Bless your heart." I have fond memories of competitions with my siblings for those blessings.

Its also important to note the response of the children.  Emma in particular did not want to be touched, held, cuddled or comforted.  It has taken most of the first 3.5 years for her to be receptive to these things.  She still only gives a single small peck on the cheek on queue.  That is just who she is.

Mommy vs. Daddy

Don't be surprised if the child latches on Mom and not Dad or Dad but not Mom.  They will likely pick one and then switch back and forth.  Some don't switch so much and some switch often.  Its just part of them figuring our what family means and how they fit in.  They've given up a lot and are afraid of being abandoned.  They subconsciously feel that they need to check to be sure mom and dad are in it for the long term so they'll reject one temporarily.  It gives them the feeling of control over their life but they'll work through this as mom and dad are patient. Again, this is only temporary.

To ease this transition, it is critical that Mom and Dad stick together and support each other.  Dad may come home at the end of the day having not seen what went on all day and think mom is just over-reacting.  This is a big mistake.  Likewise, Mom may get anxious when Dad is ignoring her issues.  Dad's often attempt to relieve the tensions by playing with the children.  While this is a great way to build bonds with the kids, be considerate that Mom has concerns that may need attention and support up front.  Be patient and supportive of each other.  Talk to each other often allowing feelings to be expressed and treading lightly on each others feelings.  If junior is playing Mom v Dad and Mom and Dad are not on the same page, it can be far more difficult than need be.


I believe religion plays a major roll in these transitions.  Kristin had been abandoned or transitioned 8 times in her first 10 years of life.  As she went to bed at night, she would put her head in her pillow and plead for a forever family.  She had never had any religious training and knew nothing of God. I believe this is an inherent instinct that we have. As Kristin began to learn about religion, she ate it up and gave her a wonderful grounding and a set of standards to live her life by.  We belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in part because of the family oriented principles it teaches.  However, I recognize that there are many religious approaches and believe that the basic principles and standards of wholesome religion will bless the lives of your children.


Adoption has been one of the most awe inspiring/rewarding experiences of our lives.  By blessing the lives of children we never would have thought that our lives would be blessed 10 fold. I highly recommend it.  If it is not an option for you, then I highly recommend supporting some child or some organization that supports adoption.

"In my life, I was the one with the special need and my child was the one that filled it. How was I so incredibly lucky to be given this child?" (Stefani Ellison)

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