Hi! I’m Erin and my husband and I just returned home from China on March 27th with our two newest daughters, Grace and Josie. They are both 5 years old and they both have Down syndrome. We already had four children at home, an 11 year old boy, an 8 year old girl, a 7 year old boy, and a 2 year old boy. I briefly taught at the elementary level before we began our family and I chose to stay home with our kids. I have a blog where I write about my life, my faith, and my interests: Excuse Our Mess. I have a passion to share the truth about my life and the beauty amidst the mess.
Stefanie contacted me recently and asked me to write a post on adopting two children at once. I am new to this, I have very little experience, but I can share with you what I know and what I have learned so far.
Pretend with me, if you will, that you are visiting my house today. You make yourself comfortable at the small table in my kitchen. For a few minutes, we chat about our mornings. I serve you coffee. Knowing you take both cream and sugar, I hand you the creamer. I turn around to get the sugar and see, from across the room, one of my five-year old daughters, who we recently adopted from China, snot running down her lip and her tongue inserted into one nostril, ready to stick a book into her mouth. I immediately say, “Excuse me!” and whirl her into our bathroom where I wash her face for, at least, the tenth time that day.
While in the bathroom, I realize that I might as well help her potty. She is mostly trained, but is messy and doesn’t do well washing her hands. Since we have battled giardia since our return from China, I like to scrub her hands for her. Once she finishes, I decide to take care of the same needs for our second daughter we adopted. I call for her, but she doesn’t respond to her name immediately and so I go looking. I find her on the floor whining. Indeed, she needed to use the toilet and has not yet learned that she can seek me out or go to the bathroom on her own initiative. That kind of freedom is still undiscovered, she believes she must wait until I take her. I change her pull up, her clothes, and wash her off quickly in the shower. Next, I change the diaper of my 2-year-old son, scrub my hands raw, break up an ensuing fight over an iPad between my older children, instruct the older kids to gather their dirty laundry, start a load of whites, and begin to unload the dishwasher when I realize you are still sitting at my table waiting for some sugar and a spoon. “I’m so sorry,” I say.
The phone rings. I decide not to pick it up, but I see it is a call from the doctor, so I answer it. I thought they were calling me back about my question about recurrent cases of giardia, but it turns out they were just reminding me of my coming appointment. Although I had visited the office three times in the past two weeks, I had still managed to completely fail to record one appointment on my calendar. I apologize, reschedule the appointment around band, chorus, ball games, and more appointments, and hand you a spoon and sugar with the phone between my ear and shoulder, my calendar in my other hand.
I get off the phone and we realize together that the troops are becoming restless, so we turn on a television show and I ask my older kids to fold the laundry pile in the living room. We note that we now have exactly one hour before we need to feed them again. I quickly make my coffee, ignore the partially unloaded dishwasher, and sit down.
You look at me and say, “Now that you’ve done it, what do you think about adopting two kids at once?”
I laugh out loud and sip my coffee, “It’s crazy, right!? We’re really busy now and there is a lot of adjusting going on, but overall, it’s been good. I mean, we knew we wanted to adopt again, eventually. This just made sense to us. But a lot of thought and prayer went into the decision. Since we already had kids, we fully understood that parenting children is hard work, so we expected that parenting children with special needs from a traumatic background would present its own unique struggles. Regarding adopting two at once, we assumed there would be pros and cons. After careful, honest assessment, we made the decision and we haven’t looked back, even when we were terrified. We knew we had made the decision with much prayer, thought, and education. The steps themselves required large doses of faith.”
“Your other kids, how do they feel?”
“I don’t really see, in our case, that there is a huge difference for them whether we adopted one or two at once. They are bonding and getting to know each other. They love each other, they are happy to have both of their new sisters, but bonding as siblings just takes time. It takes time for the whole family, we just have to give ourselves lots of patience and grace. After we had our youngest biological son, I realized it took about two years for him to find his place in the family with his siblings. They loved him from the beginning, but they were more bonded to the siblings they’d known longer. Of course, he began as an infant, so that seems natural. But, still, it took time for him. It will take time for our daughters who were adopted too. This isn’t some instant thing. It takes lots of prayer, lots of work, lots of initiation, lots of time, lots of resources, and a community of people who have done it before to help guide us.”
“It just seems like so much work.”
“Well, right now it is,” I laugh. “But really, it just comes in waves. Some moments are overwhelming and other moments I find myself feeling completely normal. I try to “go with it” and embrace and savor the moments of peace and calm. Not every moment is like this. I think flexibility is key if you want to survive. I mean, personally, I have always wanted a large family. To me, this is a gift.
In our case, it’s actually been an incredibly healthy and relatively easy transition. I know a lot of other families who have gone through some incredible struggles. Our girls haven’t had a lot of institutional behaviors or traumas from adoption. They aren’t food hoarding, they are sleeping through the night in their own beds, they are napping, they share, they enjoy physical affection, they accept our love and care and show love and affection in return. But, we haven’t been home long. This is a long-term thing. I mean, you have to be ready that things could change from day-to-day. For now, they seem great! But they are human, they are kids, things change.
Actually, I think having each other has really helped them. They aren’t always together and their personalities and interests are very different, but they do seem to feel a special connection. Maybe it’s that they went through those first traumatic days together, adjusting to us, to a new life. I don’t know. I think their bond is lifelong. I hear that from a lot of other families who have adopted two at once, as well. It might be harder, it might actually be easier. It’s hard to tell, this is all we know, it’s all we’ve done.
The brutal reality is that both of our girls, at the age of thirteen, if not adopted, would have ended up in an adult mental institution because they have Down syndrome. We could help. There are a lot of kids out there who need help, we helped the ones we could. A little more chaos and stress in our lives seems small in comparison, especially when we gain the amazing gift of them. It would be great if raising children didn’t take any sacrifice. It’s hard work, but we believe they are worth it.”
“Do you think adopting them together changed the way you bonded with them?”
“Yes, I mean, again, it takes time. I love them. I care about them. Love is a choice. There are times that one of them might feel like a stranger in my house and then other times I feel like I have love for them I can’t even express. I will say that I had an easier time bonding with our first daughter we adopted only a week before our second. We bonded so quickly with her that by the time we went to pick up our second daughter we felt very protective of our first and it did make bonding with our second daughter a bit more of a challenge in the first few days. It was difficult not to compare them, and the experience of the adoptions. They are very different people and the adoption experience was completely different as well. Thankfully, neither child has any destructive or aggressive behaviors, so bonding is fairly easy overall. I try to keep in mind that, to some degree, they experience the same feelings as me. I’m sure I feel like a stranger to them, at times, too. We grow closer together with each day.”
“What about the two of them? Are they bonding well?”
“Watching the two of them together, playing, hugging, helping each other; that is bonding for us as well! We have begun to see that they are learning from one another. They sometimes mimic words and behaviors or help the other to understand what is expected. I have found them helping each other to use a tissue, get dressed, go potty, stop crying, read a book, go to sleep, swing on the swing set, put away toys, eat, and more. They share the same special need and they are very close in age and abilities. I think there is a bit more understanding between them because of that. Long term, I think, having each other is a great benefit for them. But there is no magic formula. Each person is different. Parenting children, it’s a risky business. I don’t suppose there is any family out there without their own set of worries and struggles. We decided based upon what seemed best for our family and for the girls we chose to adopt. We prayed and we hoped, we prepared as well as possible, and we will work hard to give them the family they need. We are happy with our decision. If we ever think about adopting again, we’d consider it, but it would always depend on our family dynamic, circumstances, and needs of all our children.”
“Was the trip harder with two?”
“Yes. In our case, yes. We chose to adopt girls from different provinces. This made our trip a little more than a week longer than a normal adoption trip to China. A week may not sound like much, but believe me, a week in China on an adoption trip might as well be a month. It required more stuff, more travel, more stress, more effort. The first part of our trip was “easy”. If we had only adopted our first daughter, I would have left China with a much less realistic outlook on adoption. The thing is, every trip and every adoption is going to look completely different. There are just so many variables. Adopting two at once was more work, but it also had it’s benefits. They really enjoyed playing with each other. It seemed, in some ways, to put them at ease and helped them to adjust.”
“Was it more expensive?”
“It is more expensive. Of course, you do save some money on paperwork. We would have saved more money had we adopted two children from the same province. We are, of course, glad we have the girls we have and we wouldn’t change it. But, the trip would have been shorter and less expensive had we found girls in the same province.”
“Do you have a lot more doctor’s appointments?”
“No. Our girls have the same special need, so we can usually double up on their doctor’s visits. Also, since they are in the same grade, even our visits with teachers are made together. In our case, it is definitely a time savings that they share the same special need.”
“My husband and I have talked about it. I would like to adopt, he’s not completely sure. We may do it someday. Do you think we should adopt two at once?”
“Of course, I encourage and support adoption. I never want to discourage anyone. Adoption is an act of faith, there are so many unknowns and the potential for so many fears. None of us will ever by “ready”. If we wait until it’s all figured out, we’ll never do it. But, you need to be sure as a family. Be sure your marriage is strong and supportive. My husband and I needed each other in this and continue to need each other. If you have an unsupportive spouse, don’t do it. Pray about it, but wait for your spouse, don’t pressure him.
I would never tell you should adopt two at once. I would never tell you to adopt at all. I would tell you of the waiting children, and of our experience. Every family is different, every child is different, every situation is different. I can’t tell you what you should do. It’s not easy. It is a huge decision, a huge commitment.
The whole process has been amazing. When we began to pray, God answered us. We were unsure and scared, but He gave us faith and confidence. We didn’t have it all figured out ahead of time, but we began to take one little step at a time. One little step led to the next little step. Never was our faith blind or uneducated. But no matter how much we knew or how educated we were, we often felt like we had lost our minds and yet had an incredible peace and confidence that we were making the right decision. And always, God prepared the way and provided for our needs.”
Some of the kids begin to migrate from the living room, they are getting bored. I notice it’s lunch time, a very important time for children who know what it is like to go hungry. In order to keep them from waiting, from wondering if I will feed them, I fill three cups with animal crackers, one for each of our younger daughters and one for our two-year old son. We get up and peek into the room, snacks in hand. My eight year old daughter is lying on the couch with her new sisters on either side of her. One is playing with her hair, the other is cuddled to her side.
As soon as the girls see me and their snacks, they jump up. They recognize, now, our color coded system for cups and snack bowls. Josie makes it to me first and grabs her sister’s color. At first I thought she was taking the wrong bowl, but she turns and hands it to her sister. Then, she grabs her brother’s and hands it to him. Next, she takes her own. She looks at me and blows me a kiss, smiles, jabbers some unintelligible words, and begins to enjoy her snack. I look over at Grace to see that she spotted Elias’ blanket on the floor, walked across the room to pick it up and bring it to him. Elias leans over and kisses her, looks at me and says, “That was so, so nice!” Our oldest daughter excitedly says, from across the room, “Grace just called me sister!” The older boys cheer and immediately try to get her to say “brother”. I tear up. Little moments are most precious right now.
It is time for you to go. It was a nice chat, but I realize that we have only talked about me the entire time. I make you promise to come over again soon so we can talk about you. I tell you I really appreciate the fact that you asked me questions and listened to my answers, not many people want to talk about it. It was nice to talk about it. I feel inadequate and like I have missed millions of things, important things, that I should have told you or talked about when you asked me those questions. I worry that I have glamorized it or perhaps just the opposite. I don’t want to scare you away.
I pray God uses my words for what they are worth. I pray you will still want to be my friend even though some aspects of our family probably make you uncomfortable.
I pray you and your husband will seriously consider adoption.