The visit

I’ve had occasion to look at the photos from the day we visited Mimi’s orphanage. Due to a computer snafu, I hadn’t seen these pics for quite a while. I’m not sure where God is leading me in this little trip down memory lane. Certainly there is something to be learned by seeing them and remembering, but for me some of the images are so painful. Heck, much of the trip was painful. Yet… I would do it again in a heart beat. It was an amazing blessing.

We knew we would visit with Mimi’s foster parents. In her CWI, (Children’s Welfare Institute) many of the younger children live in the orphanage with foster parents in apartments. So we knew that we would be able to see Mimi’s foster mom and dad and more importantly she’d see them. I approached that day with a flexible attitude and lots of prayer. I prayed in the 3-hour van ride there to have the strength to “go with the flow” and do everything I could to help my daughter with yet another huge transition in 4 day’s time. Please God, help me show Your grace. Please help me give her peace. Let me know what to say and when to say it. Let me know how to help my daughter. When to step back. When to step in. When to be strong. I had heard from the many women who traveled this very road before us that this visiting of the orphanage was a good thing. A tool for transition and closure, and maybe it could be a pivot point for our daughter who just seemed to be grieving almost nonstop so far. On the other hand it seemed cruel to bring her back to the orphanage just to make her leave again. All over again. My heart broke to make her do it. But they said it was a good thing. A good difficult thing. So we went.

She was quiet on the way there. In hind sight, I think it was much more than that. She suddenly had diarrhea in the van. She hadn’t had it before then or since. In hind sight I wonder if she remembered the car ride 3 days earlier that took her from all she knew, and I wonder if her body was in knots with stress.

We got to the CWI and more than anything I just wanted her to have some peace during our visit. When the nanny swooped in, even before I got out of my seat in the van, I let Mimi go to her arms. I could see it all over Mimi’s face. Her body relaxed in the nanny’s arms. She had her peace. And for the following 2 hours, I let her have it. I let her stay safe with in the arms of her mama that had loved on her before me. Arms that knew far more about my daughter than I did. These wonderful generous arms gave her comfort and peace that I couldn’t.

We toured the orphanage. We were invited in to her foster family’s apartment (located in the CWI). We saw her bedroom and her crib, still with her blankets and her name and photo above the bed. We met her foster sisters. We saw the empty shelves for the toys that did not exist for these girls to play with. We witnessed the smiles and love that these wonderful foster parents shared with “their children” and the smiles and the love that the girls shared with them. I saw the way her foster mama held her and seemed to anticipate her needs before she even had them.

She changed her pants. She took her to the potty. She pulled up a sock and filled her hands with her favorite treats. And my girl was at peace.

Then it was time to go. The part I had been talking to God about the whole trip there. Foster mama held Mimi as we walked out to the lobby. This is where it would happen. Our guide stepped in. Our guide asked foster mama to tell Mimi that she loved her and would always remember her and that it was okay to go with her new mama. And foster mama leaned into Mimi’s ear and whispered to her. This woman was so amazing. She was giving me her child and she was going to give her everything she could right up till the very last moment. I don’t think if I would have had such composure. What does a 23 month old understand? I don’t know. Mimi’s body became tense. She leaned into her foster mama… away from me.

Our guide instructed the 3 of us, foster mama with Mimi, and me, to hug one another. We did. Mimi wanted nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with being that close to me. But we hugged, and it was awkward.

I didn’t know what to do next. I ineptly stood there not knowing. The our guide instructed me to take Mimi {from her foster mama} and get into the van.

And I did.

I took my daughter from arms of this amazing woman that was able to give her love and peace.

And I got into the van.

I will not show you the pics of what happened next. Actually I was unaware there were any photos being taken, but one of my teens that was still snapping away. But these images are too much to share.

Our girl who had been filled with grief for days, then short-lived peace for just a few hours, was finally angry. Taken for a second time in 4 days from her “home” and foster family, everything in her was full of rage. Everything I had been fearing finally came out in those moments. The biting. The hitting. The screams. Nobody said anything. It was so in the open for all to see. For the next hour in the van, she raged until she finally collapsed asleep in my arms.

When she woke, as we were pulling up to the hotel, she was back to her quiet stoic self. Except for just a little lighter. In the days that would come, quickly, we’d see more of her heart. Her smiles came more easily, and we were privileged to see who our new daughter really was under all that grief. Was the orphanage visit a turning pint? I’m not sure, but it certainly marked a time that Mimi started allowing herself to open up, feel joy, and I think to be vulnerable again.

Six months later, we looked at the computer screen, and she saw the photos. She touched her little finger to the screen and touched her foster mother’s image. She looked at me with a smile on her face like she found a long lost friend. She pointed to her and said Granna. Then her finger moved to her foster father saying, Baba. She was happy to see them again. I was surprised she remembered them. We looked through the photos together. Mimi’s bed she pointed out. Then she looked up at me and pointed to her bed here at home. Mimi’s bed! And then pointed to my bed next to hers. Mama’s bed! Yes, sweet amazing strong girl. You now have a bed here too. And it’s right next to mine. In her heart I am her mama now, but there’s still definitely a happy place for her first family too. Love and good memories from both coexisting in the same little beautiful soul. I am blessed to have the opportunity to help her keep these sweet memories alive. As we flip through the photos, we come to the ones when she leaves her foster mama. I didn’t mean to go that far, but I did, and then she saw the photos of her anger and her tears.
Mimi sad. she says.
She gets it.
Yes, we were all very sad. Foster mama loved you very much. We were all sad to say goodbye.

And then there are the questions… Should we have gone back to visit the orphanage at all? Could we have orchestrated the final hand off differently? Was it okay to leave her with her foster mama while we looked around? Should I let her see the photographs? Is it okay for her to see the images of when she was “sad?” Should I have said something or done something differently? Do I need to do something more? Can I say something else to help her understand? I guess these are just more of the unanswered questions that are part of the journey of adoption. It’s full of lots of unanswered questions and no promises, except the one that if we fully surrender and follow where God leads then there is peace that we have done His will.

Much of the trip was painful. Yet… I would do it again in a heart beat.



Comments

  1. So we got out little man (19 months at gotcha) in August. He had lived with his foster mama since 3 days old (but left her seven days before Gotcha for a week-long stint in the orphanage before being handed off to us…. this, this “return to the orphanage’… I cannot imagine what those days were like for our John Paul)

    Anyways, we drove to Nanyang (in Henan adoptive parents must visit the “hometown” to apply for the passport) and specifically asked if we could see his foster mama (who lived about an hour outside of town). The orphanage graciously sent a car to pick her up and bring her to meet us. We shared about fifteen minutes on the steps of a government building. John Paul lunged for her the minute she walked up, and spent the entire time in her arms. We actually asked her to explain to him that we were his family now, and we video’d the moment too. And she had done SUCH A GREAT job preparing him. She kept saying “see, I told you they were coming, I told you your mama and daddy were coming to get you”. She’d turn to me and say “I’ve been telling him about you, telling him you were coming. I would play a game and say “go get the phone and call your daddy” and he would go “call daddy”.” (my husband and I live in china and speak mandarin, we could converse quite freely with his foster mom)

    But the handoff, same as your story Nancy. We all walked to the van. Matt and I climbed in. Foster mama peeled John Paul’s arms from around her neck and handed him screaming into the van. She turned and walked away, sobbing.

    I haven’t shown him any photos, and have been wondering when/how to do it. It surely seems too early now. And I’m surprised your mimi remembered. at 19 months (gotcha) I figure that within 6-12 months he’ll forget his foster family?!?! but maybe I’m wrong about that.

    We actually maintain contact with her, I managed to slip her a note with our phone number and she has called several times. I just sent her a packet with a letter and photos this week. The first time she called I walked out on our porch, concerned that if John Paul heard her voice through the phone line he might panic.

    anyways, this got longer than I thought. So appreciate the chance to share and hear from other foster baby situations. It does seem quite unique, and often very different, from those who adopt from an orphanage setting.

    • I so appreciate you’re reply, Laura. It is a unique situation in China to re-meet with foster parents. And it’s so so hard, but I do think it’s good even at it’s most awful. We know first hand the conditions our children come from, and they see FIRST HAND this transition from one family to the next. Without their firsthand witnessing of it, even when it’s SO ugly, they are left to wonder and create scenarios. I think this happens at some levels even when are so young.
      Mimi was 23 1/2 months when we visited with the foster parents. And I too was surprised she remembered them 6 months later. She’s such a different girl now. But even though she said she was “sad” when she saw the photos of the moment we left, she was still happy to see it all in total and smiled back at the image of her foster mama. I think it’s her story to have in total.
      What a blessed gift for you to be able to talk and have those moments together! So many would give so much for that.
      nancy

  2. mamagringa says:

    What an amazing story. So sad yet poignant… Reading of the heartbreak for Mimi and yourself made me tear up. All the best. :)

  3. I’m so glad you shared her grief *after* seeing her foster family again. We got to meet K’s foster family on the day we got her, but her grief was already so, so awful to witness that we wouldn’t let her see them again. We did get a picture of us with them and her foster brother, who is now also adopted to the US. Her grieving was awful, pure torture and hatred towards us, until 2 months later when we finally showed her “the picture” and from that moment on, there is healing. She still remembers them, I have their email address and we send pics monthly. They appreciate it so much, and some day I hope to bring K back and God willing have her say “Thank you” to them herself.

  4. So tough. We had an almost identical experience with Sophie when I took her back to visit her ‘mama’. It was absolutely heart wrenching. Sophie (8 now) was not quite 2 1/2 at adoption and she doesn’t remember much about China but she, without a doubt, remembers her ‘first mama’.
    Adoption is not for the faint of heart. But oh the blessings that come.
    It’s been amazing to see sweet Mimi blossom and fall in love with her forever family :)

  5. Our son was 10 at adoption, so he could process better than a 2YO obviously, but he grieved much the same way. I will never forget him running out of our hotel room at the China Hotel in GUZ. I called our agency guide who came up quickly. It wasn’t long before we found my son sitting on the floor in a hallway … and he was crying the deepest sobs. He told our guide he was just so very sad. After that day though, I think he knew w/out a doubt that we understood he was sad and that we gave him permission to grieve as he needed. Up to that point, I’m not sure he believed that we saw the NEED he had to grieve.

    We KIT with his foster family and send photos and updates. We email back and forth and we got to visit with them again back in February when we went for our baby girl. Cherished memories. It was hard to get some difficult questions answered, but I needed to know them. I will always wonder why he couldn’t stay with this other family, but I have to choose to believe God is working good from it all, not that God planned it all mind you, but that He is using all of the sadness and grief for good.

  6. Good morning Nancy et al – thank you for sharing this part of your journey! Like you – we agonized about “the visit” – and we too made the journey. For our daughter it was “the turning point” – from the moment we got back into the van it was clear she KNEW who her Mom was from that moment on. Now some 5 years later (almost exactly) she looks at the pictures and she compares one of our update pictures (she’s playing in front of a mural) with a picture of my bride holding her in front of that same mural 6 months later – and she really “get’s it”. Our oldest adopted daughter (6 months old at adoption) had a chance to meet her FM during that trip as well – and she knows that closure. And in a couple years we’ll journey back to China with all three of them for another “homeland visit” – and God willing – all will have a chance to meet their FM’s again as older kids / young adults.

    Because – while bitter sweet and maybe even difficult – it IS a part of their story and a part of their life.

    the right choice for everyone? No – absolutely not…but only because (at least today – and like all things subject to change!) it IS the right choice for our kids!

    hugs – great joy for you guys – and Mimi is right – sad….but happy now!

    aus and co.

  7. We were lucky to get to meet our youngest daughter’s foster family as well, and we met them at their home and spent a few hours with them and went out to eat. It was, by far, one of the most difficult days and nights I’ve ever lived through. Our new daughter was 2.5 when we adopted her, and had lived with this family for 2 years. She had slept in that foster Mom’s arms for 2 full years. My experience so mimics yours…and oh how much I could write about that visit. How for 4 days my new daughter did NOT cry, but she started wailing when she saw her foster Mom. How the foster mom cried as she left (it haunts me still). It was soooo hard. We have an amazing amount of photos. I did not know what to do with them, but someone wise told me to give them to my daughter.

    I did. I put them in a small album and handed it to her. In the past 2 years since I gave them to her I’ve replaced those photos 3 times due to them being destroyed in fits of rage and grief. I’ve replaced them once due to being loved and handled so much. There is one my now almost 5 year old daughter figured out how to frame (she replaced another photo) and put it by her bed along with one I had framed that she already had. I’ve found foster family photos taped to the walls around the house. We’ve sent care packages back to the foster family with updated photos. We talk about them all the time.

    I’ve been told that Foster Mom is the good mom and I’m the bad mom because I punish her for doing bad things. It is a difficult road to travel, and navigating it with grace is something I am still learning to do.

    If I had it to do over again, I would see that foster family again. I’d do everything we did but maybe I’d try to get the foster Mom to tell our daughter that yes indeed she wanted her to go with us! I treasure the knowledge I have now from meeting with them. I treasure the glimpse into our daughter’s memories and fears.

    I weep for my older daughter who was also in foster care, but has NOTHING from it. She has NO knowledge about them. It is so difficult on her.

    • what a blessing to have the photos as such a powerful tool to help her process it all. I hope we can use our photos too for such a great purpose if need be.
      thank you for sharing, Carla!
      nancy

  8. I know. Oh, I know. I am so glad sometimes we didn’t meet Lily’s foster fam because it probably would have been much like yours. Man, did that little girl grieve. And yet, still, I wish and wonder. I doubt we will ever have the answers. There is only forward to go.

    • Our girl grieved… raged when being taken away a second time. But it was still such a valuable trip. These pics of her and foster mama are already her treasures. And I really think it was a turning point for her processing of what was happening. It’s so hard (impossible?) to explain it to a 2 year old.
      There really are few answer to many questions.
      nancy

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