This I Can Give Her

Since my daughter’s birthday, I have been thinking long and hard about what she lost to be part of our family. After blogging about it, I received a number of emails asking if I feel guilty for taking my daughter from a loving foster home. The answer to that is complicated. In a perfect world, Cheeky would never have been separated from her biological parents. She would not have been in foster care in a country where family size is mandated by law. She would not have been on the shared list, and she would not have become my daughter.

But this is not a perfect world, and Cheeky’s story, like all of ours, is filled with imperfections and little and big sorrows. That is part of who she is, and to effectively parent my daughter, I must acknowledge it.

There is a picture of my daughter sitting in her first grade classroom in China. It was taken the day my husband and I arrived in Chongqing, just hours before we met Cheeky. She is at the front of the classroom, looking at the camera. My eyes scan the photo each time I look at it. I see the other children – little boys with round cheeks and glossy dark hair cut short, little girls with pigtails or ponytails. And there is my daughter, right at the front of the class, her hair clipped boy-short. She wears a half smile, but I know that she is not happy in the photo, and I think that while I paced a hotel room, sick with dread and fear, she sat in her classroom, filled with the same emotions.

Since Cheeky’s birthday last week, I keep going back to that place and those days when we barely knew each other. Cheeky came to me as a seven-year-old. She walked into my arms on June 22, 2009. There has been no turning back for either of us since then. Cheeky accepted us as easily and quickly as we accepted her, and our story has been one filled with joy and discovery and very little drama. Often, I feel guilty for the ease at which we all transitioned into a family. And then something happens, like the March 31rst phone call between Cheeky and her China Mom, and I am reminded that there has been drama and grief. The fact that there has also been joy does not negate what was lost and does not take away the sorrow of that.

I blogged a few days ago about how it hurt to parent Cheeky. Not because she is a difficult child or because I mourn the time we didn’t have together, but because I cannot give her back what she has lost. As much as I love her, that love can never replace the love of her China family. It should never replace that love.

To feel the truth of that is to understand the paradox of adopting a child from a loving foster home. We know that these children must have a family name to call their own. We know that they need the stability that only a forever family can give. And so we bring them home. We give them the best of ourselves. We pour it into them…all that love and care and acceptance. If we are fortunate, as I have been, our children lap it up, drink it down and thrive. Trust builds, love grows, we move into an easy rhythm of togetherness that is called family.

But, as much as we give and love and accept, there are always pieces of our children’s hearts that belong to other homes and other families.

To sit with Cheeky and talk about how she misses China Mom breaks my heart, the reality of her loss sweeping over me. To not talk about it would break Cheeky’s heart, and so we must look back even as we move forward.

Cheeky’s world has expanded since her years in China. Now, it includes two mothers, two fathers and a host of siblings. On days like today, when Cheeky mentions China family frequently, I boot up my laptop and pull up the photos that China Dad uploaded while we were in China. I sit with my daughter, pointing to the photos, naming the people who were once her entire world, and listening as she tells me stories about a past that we did not share.

“There you are, Cheeky,” I say, “Getting a piggyback ride to the taxi that will bring you to meet us. There you are, waving goodbye. There you are, in the taxi with the ladies from the orphanage.”

There you are….

coming to me, while I am coming to you.

And sometimes, I have to hide my tears.

But Cheeky is never sad when she talks about her China family. She simply wants to look and share and remember, and I must remember with her. No matter the hurt it brings. I cannot give my daughter what she has lost, but I can give her this.

There you are, Cheeky, coming to me while I am coming to you.

That is the triumph of this story. Because there is not simply sorrow at my daughter’s losses, but joy in what we both have found. Two people with separate pasts, separate loves, separate families, looking into each others eyes and realizing they are home.

"How much did they sell her for?"

I originally posted this on my blog one month after returning home from China with our first daughter – almost 5 years ago. We’ve heard a few variations of this question over the years and even though we get better at answering the questions, we never really get used to them.


I went to Walmart yesterday and found $200 worth of things I didn’t even know I needed. However, there was no charge for the amusing conversation I had with the cashier (Socorro) who noticed right away that Gwen was Chinese.

I had a bit of trouble understanding her because of her very heavy accent but she was chatty and seemed proud that she was able to guess that Gwen wasn’t my daughter.

I explained that she *is* my daughter and happily added that she was adopted from China just a few weeks ago. She paused her scanning duties briefly and looked me straight in the eye and asked me with great curiosity how much the Chinese people sold her to me for.

I should point out that she wasn’t hostile with her questions. Even so, I was a little bit taken aback. Maybe she just assumed there was a market for Chinese babies and, somehow, the birth mothers of these children benefited financially from the transaction. She probably couldn’t imagine any other motive for a mother to give up her baby. It’s not unusual that she thought this so I (nicely) set her straight.

Truth is, Gwendolyn cost less than the hospital bill for my bio son’s birth 17 years ago.

I explained that most of the adoption expenses were for fees here in the United States and airfare and government fees in China. The orphanage got some of the money (which helps improve the quality of life for the other orphans) but the birth mother would never be identified and she gets nothing. I spoke, briefly, of the one child policy and the difficult choice the birth family probably faced.

Everyone in line behind me seemed keenly interested in our discussion. They all thought Gwen was adorable and they were shocked that she’s only been in our family for 5 weeks since she looks so comfortable with me. I enjoyed this opportunity to be an Ambassador to China-Adoption and clear up some pretty big misconceptions!

on the road to healing

Today’s guest post is contributed by Connie, mom to eight children… two recently adopted (at the same time!) from China through the SN program, Kooper 14, and Kinley 2. Connie has shared their adoption story on our Family Stories page, and blogs about life as a mom of many at One More Ladybug.

No doubt, adoption is full of so many unknowns. Our children from China come to us just as they are, many times confused, frightened, broken, without express, without emotion, like a puzzle missing many pieces.

Older children are no exception. Even though they may have memories of their past, they may be unwilling or unable to express what they’ve experienced or how they feel about it.

As I reflect on the five months since Kooper came home, I realize how difficult this transition has been for him. I don’t know what he was told to prepare for meeting his American parents. Based on his actions the first week in China, he was likely told to ‘behave.’ That became increasingly difficult for him, unnatural even. At the time we had no idea how hard he must have been trying to ‘behave,’ but with the passing of time we know his tendency is to look out for himself with no regard for others.

Communication was difficult for all of us, but Kooper didn’t even want to try. It was easier for him to involve himself in a computer game or movie than to attempt conversation with his new parents. It wasn’t until we returned home and began interacting as a family that we realized our son was emotionally six years old, even though he is chronologically 14.

The first few months were difficult but considered ‘normal’ in the transition. Eventually, at about the fourth month home, there were more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ days. He seemed to be getting slightly closer to his siblings, although he wasn’t interested in trying new things. And then we had this week!

Kooper started every day angry. In looking back, we can only note the things that are different about this week: he is on sinus medication; he is back to home schooling after spring break; and he has been to the doctor a few times.

As a mom to eight kids, my human response to his obstinate behavior would be, “Dude, I don’t have time for this; you can go to your room until you’re ready to cooperate.” But God has given me amazing people who have traveled this path and survived the rocky terrain!

We’ve begun to understand that our son is unintentionally seeking what is ‘normal’ to him. He is seeking opportunities to be alone, to be in his ‘safe place.’ See, his story has never had a ‘happy ending.’ He’s endured at least four abandonments. He doesn’t even know if he feels good or bad about those broken relationships; all he knows is that is ‘normal.’ He can’t comprehend a happy ending because he’s never experienced one!

Kooper has no concept of a forever family. He has called us Mama and Dad from the beginning, but those names do not carry any real meaning to him. Whether he’s frightened, sad or angry, he doesn’t know. He is doing what seems natural: “If I don’t trust you, don’t depend on you, then I won’t be hurt when you turn from me, I won’t have to perform for you, I don’t have to risk anything for fear of failing you…or knowing you are going to fail me.”

This knowledge has been huge for us! Even though we couldn’t tell him how much we love him any more than we already do, show him how much we love him, or demonstrate our love for his siblings any more than we do, he simply can’t make that connection. It has changed my response to his behavior.

God has granted me the grace (even in my frustration) to explain to Kooper that we are family from ‘beginning to end.’ I’ve explained to him that his ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior doesn’t change how much I care for him. He can make good choices or bad choices, and either way, we will not leave. I drew a picture of our family, and explained how his smaller siblings sometimes must go to the ‘naughty spot’ for making wrong choices. That is the consequence of their action, but it does not change how I love them. Of course, this is something that he doesn’t immediately understand, but with time and repetition it will begin to become truth to him.

Where do we go from here? With Kooper’s reluctance to learn, we have decided to seek the advice of professionals. He will take a non-verbal IQ test this week, just to help us understand where to begin. A month from now we will visit the International Adoption Clinic for evaluation of his needs , lab tests and practical advice on how to move forward. Kooper shows signs of various ‘syndromes’ and ‘disorders,’ but without confirmation, we are not trying to self-diagnose or play out the worst case scenario. After all, God moved mountains to bring our son home; He can move even more to make him whole again.

From Food Phobia to Food Network

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post written by a fellow adoptive mom about her son’s recent choking scare. It got me thinking about something… when you are waiting to adopt, social workers use phrases like “attachment issues” and “institutional behaviors,” but you don’t often break those phrases down to recognize what specific issues you might face. But they can occur, no matter whether you adopt through the special needs program or – like we did – through the non-special needs program.

Institutional behaviors. They range from self-soothing techniques to institutional autism to the far-less-scary-sounding food issues. You know, “small” things… like choking. And hording. And oral defensiveness. And oral-motor delays.

When we first met the Tongginator a little over five years ago, in Nanchang, she ate like a champ. She opened wide whenever we presented her with steamed tofu, watermelon, stage three baby food and congee. She loved mashed bananas and scrambled eggs. She didn’t enjoy her bottle all that much, but we just figured we weren’t getting the temperature or thickness right, not to mention the personal nature of bottle feeding during the early stages of bonding and attachment.

Then we arrived home.

Within the first week home, we met with our pediatrician, who happened to be very concerned that our twelve-month-old was less than 14 pounds and severely malnourished, with rickets. Our pediatrician decided that the biggest obstacle we faced were the hundreds, if not thousands, of empty calories in the Tongginator’s daily bottles. Although we’d been slowly lessening the amount of rice flakes in each of the Tongginator’s bottles, she reacted with stiff resistance to our efforts. Now… I’m one tough cookie when it comes to parenting. I used to be a teacher, often with students who displayed significant behavioral challenges. And *insert sarcastic tone of voice* it might surprise you to learn that I’m strong-willed. (Just a tad, mind you.)

Unfortunately, so – too – is the Tongginator.

After two more weeks of oh-so-gradually reducing the amount of rice flakes in the Tongginator’s bottle… and patiently introducing the Tongginator to new foods that WEREN’T the consistency of steamed tofu (did y’all notice that texture trend in her list of accepted foods?)… the husband and I felt ready to cry uncle. The Tongginator expressed her frustration in many strong and various ways, including one 72-hour hunger strike. That’s when we all came to realize that the Tongginator didn’t simply dislike her new diet, she also didn’t know what to do with it once it reached her mouth. She didn’t like the new textures, but she also did not know how to chew. Or swallow properly.

She choked on thin liquids especially.

To teach her how to suck, we bought countless bottle nipples, in both China and the United States, making each hole slightly smaller in China, then transitioning to X-shaped slits, then the size four bottle nipples. Our pediatrician and occupational therapist asked us to go one step further, switching to size three bottle nipples, so we did. And the Tongginator gradually learned how to better suck thick liquids.

She still didn’t know what to do with thin liquids however.

It took four months of extreme patience; therapy; countless trips to the grocery store to purchase organic juices, regular juices, smoothies, shakes and all manner of other tempting drinks; and a God-inspired idea to try decaf iced tea before the Tongginator successfully drank her first sip of thin liquid. Without spitting it back out. Or choking. During those four months, we also worked on strengthening her oral-motor skills by trying to drink through straws, blowing cotton balls across tables and bubbles into the air, chomping on chewy tubes, waggling our tongues and licking peanut butter off of our lips.

And yes, I did everything she did, including the tongue waggles.

(And yes, I’m sure it was a sight to behold.)

We also worked VERY hard to overcome her extreme oral defensiveness, with the coaching of her OT, by gently inserting different objects into her mouth to help her get used to different textures. She screamed and thrashed during each experience, which occurred at least ten times a day for about a month. I know that seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but our occupational therapist insisted on this. And it’s a good thing she did… otherwise how would we have ever gotten the Tongginator to tolerate such strange, yet necessary objects like infant or toddler toothbrushes, infant medicine droppers, infant or toddler eating utensils (including chopsticks), straws and sippy cups, thermometers, and on and on? How about dental tools and musical instruments and all manner of things as she grew older?

Once we overcame the worst of the Tongginator’s extreme oral defensiveness and oral-motor delays, we encountered a new challenge. The Tongginator? Was a hoarder. She hoarded food by hiding it around the house and in her mouth. She often displayed what we called her “chipmunk cheeks.” And she also didn’t know how to recognize when she’d had enough to eat. Twice as a toddler she over-ate to the point of spitting up.

All of this put her at high risk for choking, especially since she continued to struggle with some oral-motor delays.

The Tongginator’s pediatrician, occupational therapist and registered dietitian gave the husband and I many helpful coping skills. We learned to measure her amounts of food and record how much we served and how much she ate. We learned to serve small portions in timed installments during each meal. We learned to cut up her food pieces into much smaller bites than is typical for a same-aged child. We learned to say, “show me… aaaahh” and open our mouths, so that she would then do the same and we could check to make sure she was not hoarding food in her cheeks. If she was, I’d tell her to “make it gone or Momma will have to.” Most of the time she’d swallow what we’d jokingly call “her leftovers,” but sometimes I would have to scoop it out.

The husband also got great at hanging the Tongginator upside-down by her ankles and pounding on her back when she DID choke.

And we learned to navigate her fears that the meal she was currently eating was her last. We did this by serving food on an extremely regular schedule, every two hours, on the two hours. Friends nicknamed her “The Hobbit” because she ate first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch… well, you get the idea. We also kept some food visible, yet out of reach, at all times so that the Tongginator could feel reassured that food was available, if not accessible. And we remained patient.

Now? Five years later? The Tongginator is an incredible eater, willing to try all manner of new foods and self-confident enough to eat food that other children tease her about. She eats healthfully and knows to stop when she’s full.

She’s also a tad obsessed about food.

She still thinks with her stomach. And her favorite television channel is The Food Network. And she still won’t drink milk without Carnation Breakfast added to it. And she constantly talks about food and looks at food and loves to cook food. So no… I don’t think her food issues have disappeared.

But I do think that – at age six – she’s doing a darn good job learning to control them.

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

Luke 2adoptive momma (China) Nicole at The Baker Sweets… thoughts and emotions after their recent trip to see their developmental pediatrician and later a comment from a stranger who overheard her discussing the trip

Mamaadoptive momma (China) Cheri at Infinite Love… the reaction she received from her daughter upon arriving home after a two-week trip to China to adopt their son

My baby’s eyesadoptive momma (China) Kristi at Fireworks & Fireflies… detailing a recent trip to the pediatric ophthalmologist

Dear Moms Like Me
adoptive momma (domestic and the Ukraine) Tracie Loux at From the Heart… a letter to mommas who parent children with emotional special needs

Geographic Tongue adoptive momma (China) snapshot at Somebody Needs a Nap… a short, informational post (with photo) of geographic tongue

Reduced-Stress Easter adoptive momma (foster care) Hartley at Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys… a list of stress-reducing hints for Easter, especially if you have a child struggling with sensory issues

We Are Home
adoptive parents (China) Glenn and Lori at Our Life With Nora… describing their daughter’s cochlear implant surgery, with photographs

Older Child Adoption and the Education Dilemma
adoptive momma (China) and Love Without Boundaries (LWB) volunteer Lisa Kaden at the LWB Community… navigating education issues with older child adoption

Against All Odds — adoptive momma (China) Paulette at Love You Forever… Annalise beats the odds and is potty training

Grace Owes Me Big Timeadoptive momma (China) Ellen at Frannie’s Journey… a family navigates bleeding issues after cleft palate surgery

brain to toes — adoptive momma (China) Kris at Tell Her This… reactions after hearing an initial diagnosis of chiari II malformation

AP article ~ China special needs adoptions

Associated Press article released March 28, 2010:

Most adoptions from China now special-needs cases

That Rare, Highly Desirable Commodity: Me.

A guest post, contributed by KJ Dell’Antonia (aka Lola Granola). KJDA is a writer (for numerous publications) and is mother to four children. Her youngest, Rory, was adopted from China in July 2009. She blogs about life at Raising Devils.

It has been a rough trip, these last six or seven months, and there were times when I thought I’d never look at Rory and feel just unadulterated happiness. I thought I’d always see the shadow of the things I had trouble with — the way her arrival changed our family, the way it affected my relationship with the other kids, the fear I had that letting her fully into the family would somehow weaken the bonds I already had. There were a lot of things that helped: time, watching this little pumpkin struggle with leaving her foster family, and suddenly realizing that what seemed like sheer deviltry was Rory struggling in a different way, and watching a friend bring home a child Rory’s age, and — another realization — figuring out that adopting a three-year-old meant both making the adjustments you would for a baby, and making totally different adjustments. Not, unfortunately, making fewer adjustments — which I think is honestly what we’d thought. In other words, this was totally new and it was ok for it to be hard.

Which it was.

But we got there. Therefore all should be right and all things in the world should be of a happy rightness, except when they’re not. But now that we’re all in good shape — rolling along as a family, thinking more about speech therapy and soccer than about bonding and adjusting — I just want to be there. But not Rory — she wants to revel in it. Which means that every time I kiss her or love her up, she follows me around, touching me, leaning on me, every gesture asking for more. I try, I do. It’s not like I put out limits — sorry, only six hugs a day for you! — it’s just that I lose patience. I am not by nature a person of great snuggliness, and I am a person of a natural business, and I just — look, if I walk into the bedroom to put a book on the nightstand and then turn around and trip over you, I’m going to be frustrated, ok? I am not that interesting. You do not have to follow me quite that closely!

Then I feel like the dysfunctional boyfriend — oh, no, I only love you if you don’t call me. I draw her in, she asks for more, I push her away.

I know — I should grow up, and give a little, huh? I swear I do. But her well seems so bottomless just now. That’s a sad fact that makes me want to fill it, but I don’t know how much I’ve got. Today I sat down, and she sat on my lap, or curled next to me, for a solid hour and twenty minutes, patting me very gently, snuggling my arm, twisting my earrings. I tried to think of it as like nursing a baby — I certainly put in these kinds of hours under the other three — and that helped, some. But Rory didn’t get up until I got up, and I know she was disappointed. I know Rory loves me, and her new family, but some new mother would have had it in her to just let Rory soak and bask in her love and physical affection. Instead, poor Rory got this used-up model, happier wiping counters and baking cookies than pinned in under a child that really needs a snuggle. I’m going to do what I can to give her this. I just don’t think even the very most I can give — even when I, as a friend said to me recently, “put on my big girl pants” and do the right thing — is going to be as much as she needs.

Today I found myself setting boundaries. I love you, I said, so very much, but I’m not going to snuggle just now. And then — I love you, but I need this much space (as demonstrated with hands) just for me — because she was hovering, not snuggling, but as close as she could possibly be, and with hands out, fingering my magazine, touching my drink.

How awful is that, really? I love you, but snuggle time is over? I love you, but you need to be farther away from me now? I feel bad just writing it. Horrible. But I am who I am, and I can snuggle for a while, and then stop, or I can snuggle reluctantly until I just can’t take it any more, and all patience for the day is gone. I know she needs me. I know she needs this physical affection. I am trying.

I don’t think I realized how tough it would sometimes be to try.

a visit to the orthotist

Our daughter Vivienne was born with bilateral clubfoot.

Her feet were successfully casted, using the Ponseti Method, while she was still in China.

But she has a condition that is a relatively common sequela of clubfoot, known as foot drop.

She is missing the muscles on the top of her foot that help her to lift her toes. So she has to work really hard to lift her foot and swing her toes through as she walks.

For now, there is no correction for this condition. And, without intervention, she would probably continue to develop her own method of walking.

But we really don’t want that. We want to help her, now while she is still young, to learn how to walk properly, and to walk without having to work her hips and knees and ankles so hard with every step.

So the best option for Vivi are AFOs. Or ankle-foot orthoses.

These are custom made, so a trip to the orthotist for a set of Vivi-sized molds was required.

Once they are finished, these AFOs will help lift her toes as she goes to walk and should help her to walk more easily, with less stumbling.

So that’s great.

But she has to wear them, in theory, forever. And anyone whose ever spent a hot afternoon in uber-hot tube socks can imagine the misery of having to wear plastic boots year round.

So that’s bad.

But, as we’ve done with all our children’s special needs, we will take this new adventure one step at a time.

Whatever medical needs she has, we’re ready.

After all, she is the bravest of us all.

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

She did it!!!
adoptive momma (China) Amy at Finally a Family of Five!… celebrating the seemingly small success (that really IS huge) of a little girl who has a cleft palate

Firsts adoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… in adopting an older child, you give up the privilege of being there, but that doesn’t mean that ALL of “the firsts” are gone – and sometimes they are even more beautiful

honeymoon, interrupted
adoptive momma (foster care and Haiti) Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan… navigating discipline issues those first few months home with a newly adopted preschool-aged child

Her Special Need adoptive momma (Ethiopia and China) Christie at Bushel and a Peck… after adopting through the non-special needs program, a momma discovers her daughter’s special need

Video Clip of Sarah Tying Her Own Shoes adoptive momma (China) Karen at Always In My Heart… a video clip of her daughter, who has a limb difference, putting on her socks and shoes, then tying her shoes

The new kid in town
adoptive momma (China) Kristi at Fireworks & Fireflies… about her newly adopted daughter’s adjustment these first few weeks home and information about Sturge Weber Syndrome (SWS)

Thinking Long Term: Should They Be Moved Up?adoptive momma (Russia, Ukraine and Siberia) Christine at Smiles & Trials… decisions about grade placement as her children, diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, continue to grow and mature

A conversationadoptive momma (China) Sandra at The Daily Grind… a conversation with her daughter about being deaf and wishing stars

next shared list

A new shared list is expected to be released tonight.

Exciting news for anyone hoping to be matched with a waiting child!