First time parents.
In the beginning, these were not words or phrases that I would have put together in any combination in regards to adoption and expect success. And yet, my husband and I did them all. (And you’re reading this on an adoption advocacy site, so you know know I am still alive and our family is intact!)
From a young age, adoption was something that I knew I really wanted to do to grow my family one day. Once married, I shared my dreams of having a family, both biological and through adoption. Like many husbands, the idea of adoption took some time for my sweet one to join me in my enthusiasm of growing our family this way. I’d mentioned it a few times, but he just wasn’t ready. We’d been married over six years and waiting for a child the entire time. I’d gone through one surgery and we were on the cusp of beginning fertility treatments, but my heart just wasn’t okay with it. I have nothing against fertility treatment whatsoever, but the thought of it left me feeling empty. Something was missing. I certainly didn’t want to force my husband into adopting, yet I had no peace about the treatments. For a few years, I trusted and waited on God. After a while, I resolved that we might very well be a childless couple.
Then something changed for my husband.
He saw a picture of a friend’s beautiful little girl with cleft lip and palate. That friend shared their child’s story. And that sharing changed everything. He was ready to begin this new journey, with God’s help.
My husband had spent some time in China before we were married and fell in love with the people there. He felt God calling us to this country. Based on his experience in country, he felt called to adopt a girl.
Soon, we had selected an agency and began filling out the paperwork (and we though that was a lengthy process – ha!). God began to tug at my heart strings again. My husband and I were older than most of our friends when first starting our family. I knew I wanted more than one child. The area we live in is rural with no other small children around. Two. I knew we needed to have at least two. But what would my husband say? What about the money (oh, what a big God we serve!)? We already lived on a shoestring budget. We were first time parents. Was this something God wanted me to do or something I was pushing for?
Finally, I asked my husband about it one rainy summer afternoon. Come to find out, he had been thinking the same thing. Relieved, we poured out our thoughts and plans to each other as we watched the summer sky. We thanked God for His love and agreed to pray more about adopting two. Though unlikely, we hoped for biological twins. As our conversation ended, we looked up and saw two rainbows together in the sky. God keeps His promises.
Of course there were doubts and we weren’t always on the same page. My husband had five or so different excel spread sheets comparing income, cost, etc. and spent time each week “crunching numbers”. I, on the other hand, felt strongly there would be two, bought presents for them that first Christmas and made a Christmas tree ornament with two little Asian girls holding hands and a red thread. I told everyone we were hoping, praying and striving towards two children from China.
Because of the long and uncertain wait in China’s healthy child program, we began the process for the special needs program. I was admittedly a little fearful, but pressed on with the task of going through what special needs we felt we could and couldn’t handle. Like many families in the adoption process, we spent much time agonizing over “the checklist”. What needs could we handle personally and financially? Were we being too open? Too closed?
I remember specifically leaving one box unchecked. Tetralagy of Fallot. Too many variables came along with this particular heart condition. It seemed too risky for first time parents. And what was the likelihood that we would be matched with this need anyway (you’re chuckling as you take another sip of your coffee, aren’t you?)?! I felt strongly we would be adopting a child with a heart defect, but not this one. My husband was wanting a child with cleft lip and palate. We talked with our social worker about our desire for two, which she wasn’t very excited about, but approved it anyway. She told us that China would make the final decision on that and it was not likely to happen. She also asked about our stance on virtual twinning. We had done a little reading and were absolutely 100% against it. No exceptions. There wasn’t any way we would consider twinning. I remember the social worker smiling and nodding in agreement, scribbling some things on her papers and told us she was glad we had educated ourselves so well (now you’re laughing, aren’t you?!).
Fast forward through the agonizing wait (there’s no way to fully describe it) of gathering mountains of paperwork, shuffling it between two governments and being matched…. We first saw a picture of our beautiful daughter, Flora Lin, on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 (I still have the message from our agency calling about her referral on my phone and listen to it from time to time!). Joy! I felt like I was floating on air and couldn’t concentrate on anything but my happiness and my precious daughter. At this point, we had waited over seven and a half years to be parents. Nothing could stop me from running to everyone I knew and showing them here picture!
But that evening, back at home after a full day of sharing the news with our families, a heaviness fell on my heart. I knew my other child was out there and I had to find her, quickly. That very night, when my husband wasn’t looking, I pulled out my phone and began searching for my other little one on every site that I could think of. When I woke that morning, I felt happy but heavy at the same time. I’d just been matched with the cutest little girl, but my heart felt something, someone was missing. I poured out my thoughts to my wonderful, patient husband who told me he understood and wouldn’t be surprised if I had already started the search!
I called the agency that morning to get clarification on the two child process (which we had already been approved for) and to impress upon them that my child was out there and I was super serious about finding her/him. Flora Lin was over the age range we had wanted for our younger child (0 – 18 months) and her special need was on our maybe list (bilateral cleft lip and palate) but we were so thankful they showed us her file despite it going outside previously set parameters. We were delighted to be her parents! “If you come across another file that might be a good fit for our family but has something outside of what we listed as a need, please, please let US make the decision if it is our child or not.” I remember begging. They were wonderful and very reassuring that they would do everything that they could. She thanked me for letting her know our thoughts and feelings.
About two weeks later my husband called to tell me that he had gotten an email about a potential second match for our family.
“She has a heart condition,” he said.
My own heart leapt with joy – this is my Charlotte Nicole! I knew!
“Something called tetralogy of Fallot.”
“And she’s about 50 days older than Flora Lin.”
Twinning?! No! Yes! God help me!
Would you be surprised if I told you this sweet little girl is currently napping in the next room with her younger sister?
There were so many ups and downs, unknowns in her file and delays in paperwork trying to bring Charlotte home, but we prayed for God’s will, not ours, and promised Him to parent her to the best of our ability, no matter what her challenges might be. I’m so glad we said yes! I’m so glad we said yes to adoption, to special needs, to special focus, to two, to the unknown, to these beautiful little children, to God’s call. I can’t fully express it!
My children, my daughters that are sisters but not twins, are such a blessing. We are over seven months into being a family at home and I can tell you that we have reached such a sweet spot. As rough as the waiting process of gathering paperwork, waiting to be matched and finishing up the final documents as things expired and changed was, becoming a family was even harder. It was harder in such a different way. We were new parents. We had taken one child away from a small, predictable, closed, lonely world into chaos and unfamiliarity. And we took another little child away from a loving foster family that she had happily lived with for over a year and a half. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t graceful, but looking back it was beautiful and full of His grace.
When the plane’s wheels first touched down on American soil I braced myself and my new children for a huge jolt, but the plane landed with such softness and skill that I never felt it. Not so with our entry into life as a family at home. I began the sprint that I thought I had prepared for, quickly expending every ounce of energy I had to reach the finish line, only to realize that I was (and am) in the middle of a marathon. A lifelong marathon.
I can’t say for certain that my challenges as a new parent to two internationally adopted, special needs two and a half year olds are any different than that of any other parent. I’ve only lived my through my own experiences. I do, however, have a few thoughts to share.
For one, I am not my children’s first parent, but these are my first children. They have come with previous habits, customs, behaviors, etc. We all play an unconscious role within our families and every family has those understood and unspoken rules. My husband and I played and knew our eight-year role of husband and wife well before we welcomed in our two children. Now we were parents of two children that we truly did not know or understand, who had both experienced trauma.
One of my daughters knew her role as the youngest, much loved child of four foster sisters and was suddenly thrust into the position of being the “oldest” of two by two months. With parents that did not look, smell, sound or act like her previous ones. Once again, she’d been seemingly betrayed by those she’d loved and trusted the most.
My other daughter was a child who viewed other children as competition for food, toys and attention. If you were cuter, louder and stronger you got more of everything. In her world, there were more children than adults. Suddenly she was in a small room where nothing familiar or comforting was to be found.
We had come prepared to love these children within our family. Unlike a newborn, these children were not prepared to love us.
All the rules had changed for all of us.
Sure, I read piles of books, attended conferences and webinars about children from hard places and read countless blogs. Every spare minute was taken up in preparing. But all the preparations and planning can only do so much.
Another possible difference from biological families rooted in love is that in our adoption experience, both parties started with fear and assumptions and gradually grew into love and understanding. Both of our daughters were afraid of us. One showed it by being overly friendly and euphoric. The other showed it by screaming, crying and hitting. Now that I know my children better, I can see these behaviors for what they are: fear.
When we brought the girls home, neither wanted to be rocked to sleep. One would say, “All done mama. Bed.” The other would arch her back away from me and point to her crib. Once in their cribs they would fall asleep quickly. I was surprised how much this rejection hurt me.
Rocking them was uncomfortable for me (and for them, I’m sure!). We seemed a tangle of sharp elbows in tender places, heads that couldn’t find a spot to nestle, flailing legs, restless bodies and one exhausted mama. I didn’t know how to hold them. Did they like their hair stroked? Back rubbed? Singing or humming? Kisses (NO!)? Big or gentle rocking? Add to this the feeling that someone else knew exactly what they liked and how to soothe them… Or that they only soothed themselves and preferred that. I wasn’t what a mama should be to my own daughters. I didn’t understand what they needed and they didn’t know the feelings and desires of my heart where to give them that very thing. It was a hard place to be and I am glad we are getting past that!
But the hardest part of all was me.
Yes, I’d read the information telling me what my children might act like, why they might act this way and what I should and shouldn’t do. I. Was. Prepared. What I didn’t expect was that I would fail. That my own emotions would blind me to what I had learned. That I would automatically default into traditional parenting techniques. That I would quickly reach my threshold of patience. That I would feel so unhappy. That the love I had once felt for two little paper faces would disappear.
My children were as textbook as adopted children can be. I was the problem. I wasn’t the mother that they needed and deserved.
Arriving home in America, these feelings snowballed into what I later found out was post-adoption depression and halted the bonding process with my children. The details of those days are still toO painful for me to share so publicly, but I am happy to say I am recovering very well, and feel so much love for my two precious, wonderful little girls!
(And just in case they ever read this someday, dear daughters, please understand that you are wonderful and precious in every way and always have been. Your mama is the one that was broken and struggling to overcome herself, by herself. You are so lovable that it can’t be put into words!)
As for twinning, I feel like it is a non-issue at this point in time. Comparing the girls to each other is very easy to do, but it is with any sibling set. My girls are SO different in almost every way that comparisons are more like a celebration of differences. They look different, enjoy different things, have very different personalities and have different talents.
In some ways, twinning/adopting tWo together has been a blessing! They were a comfort to each other when traveling to come home. They share a room, making the transition to sleeping apart from us much easier. They always have a playmate. They are determined to do what the other child can, causing huge jumps in development. I would say our main challenges are making sure we get enough one on one time with each child, remembering that emotionally and developmentally they are each at a different place, and fostering and encouraging a good relationship with each other.
There are fights over who goes first, sharing, who gets what part of Mama’s lap, but isn’t that most families? Of course, they both have special needs, doctors appointments, therapy, etc. but as long as we roll with it together as a family it just becomes a part of our days!
I would imagine that we are like most families: our challenges and differences become our new normal. Being new parents, adopting two together, twinning… it’s our family! However, there are a few pieces of advice I have picked up from therapists, doctors and adoptive moms: the attachment process with take twice as long, if not longer due to your attention being divided. Prepare for several months of cocooning and being the only ones (husband and wife or singles) to meet their needs for a year. Don’t compare. As they grow older, steer them away from comparing themselves to each other. Do whatever you can to help them build a positive relationship with each other. Focus on what each child needs in the moment, not what is fair.
Also, remember that each and every family is different. You could adopt two children from similar backgrounds, with parents similar to us, in a similar living situation, and it could look completely different! Be gentle on yourself. Know you won’t be fully prepared, that you will make mistakes, have regrets, hurt, lose your patience and be forever changed by the experience.
As I look back on the past seven months and all of the many things throughout my life, my husbands life and our life together, I see so many wonderful ways God has prepared us to step in and be the parents of these two precious children. Whatever your story may be, trust in Him, His plan and how He is growing you. My relationship with my daughters has taught me more about His unfailing love these past few months than any other life experience. So much so that we can’t wait to add more!
Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. – Psalm 40:5
– guest post by Michelle
At NHBO, we love Family Stories. And we know our readers love them, too. Beyond being encouraging and informative, Family Stories shared here have actually resulted in children coming home to a forever family. If you’ve adopted a child through China’s special needs program, we hope you’ll consider sharing your family story. It just may be the reason another family considers that very special need.