From Kelli: Adoption is beautiful, redemptive, and yet messy and hard all at once. These children have experienced more loss in their short time here on Earth than any of our brains could comprehend. In all of the smiles and happiness in a child, so much loss remains. It is unrealistic to think otherwise.
Families considering adoption should research and understand that the loss for children is tremendous. They are no longer with their biological parents, people who look like them, speak like them, etc. The feelings can be overwhelming.
Sixteen months ago, I traveled with Maureen and Rob Osborne as they adopted Vivian and Paul and I brought home Noah and MeiLi. Tonight, Maureen writes of the loss in a tangible way through the eyes of Vivian.
Vivian has been home more than a year. She has come so far and changed so much in these months. So much that sometimes I think it can be easy to forget where she was, and what her life was like 16 months ago.
I think people see the happy, well-adjusted, beautiful child we have and assume she has left that painful part of her life behind her. I think people assume our hard days are behind us. Friends say things to me all the time like, “She’s not even the same child she was in China”, and “It’s like she doesn’t even remember her old life”, and “she’s just like any other kid now”. And in many ways, they are right. She has changed so much, and she is mostly happy and moving forward with her life and she is, in so many ways, like a typical 3 year old.
But in other ways, the they are wrong. She is the same child that she was in China. And she’s not just like any other kid. And she certainly remembers.
We see the scars of her past show up in our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Probably the biggest way is in her fear of being away from me. If I go out, to the grocery store, or even on a run, she hugs and kisses me and hangs on my legs and follows me out like it is our last goodbye. She still cries when we leave her with babysitters. She did end up loving preschool and stopped crying on school days, but we had the same conversation on the way to school EVERY SINGLE DAY up until the last day of preschool. I kid you not, every single day. The entire car ride this is our conversation:
Vivian: “Mama right back.”
Me: “Yes, Vivian, mama will be right back.”
10 second pause
Vivian: “Mama right back.”
Me: “Yes Vivian, you know mama will come right back and get you.”
This would go on the entire ride. Over and over every school day. I could not reassure her enough.
She is totally happy if I am nearby. On her first day of gymnastics, she looked just like every other kid smiling and jumping and playing. Well, she was, until the moment I decided to go to the bathroom and she didn’t see me and this is what I came back to. Complete panic.
Sometimes I will try to get a little walk in on my treadmill. The treadmill is in a room right off of our playroom so with my other kids I could walk on the treadmill and they would play in the playroom. Not with Vivian. You will always find Vivian when I am on the treadmill.
The same thing happens when I work on my computer. There is one place she likes to be: right next to me. Oh, and if we are touching she is that much more content. Sister does not understand the concept of “personal space” yet.
She also still has food issues. She hates if you take her food away. She likes to have her breakfast plate left out until her lunch plate comes out and then likes her lunch plate to stay out until her dinner plate comes out. Yesterday I cleaned up her breakfast plate because I thought she was done. When she came back to the table and saw it was gone, she literally fell to the floor hysterical that her bacon was taken away. This happens all the time. We have been feeding her as much as we can for 11 months and she still does not seem to trust that there will be enough food for her.
And every once in a while she just has a sad day. I don’t really know how to explain it or how to put my finger on what it is, but she will have a day where she will just seem far away. Like a few weeks ago when she woke up one day and literally just would not be put down all day long. And then in the afternoon, my non-napping child crawled up on my lap and situated herself so I had to hold her like a baby and closed her eyes and fell asleep on me. I can only imagine that transitioning to a new life can be exhausting on some days.
There are times when I can tell people think I am coddling her too much. And maybe I am. But I just don’t think it would be fair to try and parent her exactly the same as my other kids. She just didn’t have the same start in life as them. My sister had three premature babies. I remember she fed them different formula, adjusted their age for certain things, and cared for them differently than I cared for my full-term babies. They had a different start to their life and so they needed different things. So do kids from hard places. They sometimes need different things, different strategies. You just can’t expect them to fall in line with your family and do things the same way your other kids did. You can’t expect them to leave their past in the past. It is in their hearts. You have to make adjustments for them, for all they missed. You have to allow them room to grieve.
And make no mistake, they all grieve. How could they not?
The other thing I think people have wrong is when they tell us how “lucky” Vivian is. Everywhere we go, well-meaning friends and strangers say “what a lucky little girl”. Just a few days ago Rob took Vivian to breakfast. A sweet old woman came up and said to Rob …. you guessed it….”isn’t she lucky”? He came home and said to me, “I hate when people say that, I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?”
Of course we understand it is meant as a compliment to Rob and I and our family. And we appreciate that. We can all agree that Vivian is better off here with us than in that orphanage. We can all agree that we are glad the orphanage decided to file her adoption paperwork when so many others at her orphanage were not given that chance.
But I have a really hard time finding anything in her life that should be deemed “lucky”. When people use that term I feel it minimizes all the hardship she has endured.
My daughter was left alone on a cold night in the middle of the winter at the gates of an orphanage.
The only information she has about her first few weeks in the world are a few words written in her file, “female abandoned baby found at gate and sent to Welfare Institute to be raised”.
She lived in an orphanage where she was left in her crib 22 hours of the day for 33 months.
She was fed congee, and only congee, for every meal for 33 months.
She was not fed when she was hungry, she was not picked up when she cried, she was not held when she was sick or scared, and she was rarely taken outside.
She was one day handed over to complete strangers by the only people she trusted in this world and, as soon as they handed her over, they disappeared from her life forever.
She left China with ONE possession to show for the almost 3 years she spent there: a pair of squeaky shoes.
She will never know the man and woman who brought her into this world. She will never know whose eyes she got or who her beautiful little lips come from.
She will never know if she has siblings in China.
She will never know why she was left.
None of this is lucky. It is tragic actually.
I want people to stop telling her how lucky she is because I don’t want her to grow up feeling like she has to feel lucky. I have no idea how Vivian will feel about her adoption as she grows up. But I do know that she will be allowed to feel however she wants to about it. If she feels lucky, great. If she feels sad or angry or confused, that will be completely understandable and fine with us. I am afraid if all she ever hears is how lucky she is supposed to feel she may struggle to admit when she is feeling some of those other emotions.
I do not consider Vivian lucky. But you know who is lucky? Rob and I.
Vivian has lost so much. We have gained so much.
Vivian has experienced so much sadness. We have had nothing but utter joy since the day we met her.
We got to choose to adopt from China. She had no say in being taken from her birth country.
We got to choose Vivian to be our daughter. She had no say in who would be her parents.
Lucky for us she seems, for now, to be pretty happy to have gotten stuck with us.
And while her past shows itself from time to time, she does not let it have the last word. I hope that is how it can always be for her. I don’t ever want her to forget all that she has been through. I think it has made her an incredibly brave and strong person. But I hope she can continue to hold on to this amazing ability she has to live in the present and with an open and trusting heart in spite of all that she has been through. I need to follow her lead because God knows I spend more time wrestling with her past than she does. She has such an amazing spirit.
She is my hero.