In this edition of our Contributor Q and A, we share gotcha tips, feelings on orphanage visits and ideas on how to get through meetings and tours with transitioning kids.
What is one thing you were most glad you had along with you for gotcha?
Liberty: Snacks, bottle because he was super thirsty, camera, toys. And acupressure techniques to keep me from vomiting, ha ha!
Desireé: An extra copy of the gifts I had sent ahead of time. My child was able to associate me with something they were already familiar with and when the foster family kept the photo album for themselves, I had a copy to transition my child with.
Mandy: I am so thankful that I knew that half a world away, there was an army of believers praying for our family. My daughter grieved so much. Our friends were praying for us in 15 minute increments, 24 hours a day. There were many nights that this brought me a lot of comfort.
Whitney: SNACKS! Toys were whatever, snacks ruled the day.
Rebecca: How about a few? Sippy cup/bottle, simple snacks, lollipop, kid sunglasses, small doll, light up spin toy, bubbles and a cell phone for them to see photos of themselves. We kept it all in their own new backpack and pulled things at over time so as not to overwhelm them. They all LOVED their backpacks. One child only wanted the snacks and water, but the other two loved it all.
Amy A: Devices to record and take pictures!
Stefanie: Bubbles. Snacks. Light up toy.
Amy S: The iPad. It was the only thing that stopped her from crying and she was cyanotic so crying was dangerous.
Carrie: A person dedicated to photography/videography. Granted that wasn’t something I arranged as it was an agency plan for some new promotional materials, but if there’s any way for a travel group to chip in and hire a local photographer, I think that would be an awesome idea!
Jennifer: Two of her new siblings
Jean: The backpack with things inside of it! If the meeting got awkward we right away had “stuff” to look at together. Bubbles, coloring book and markers, toy (a doll or action figure), little bit of candy/ treats, mini electronic game, etc. For me as the new Mom- I was glad I had my camera, another adult and our older daughter that spoke Chinese!!!
How did you capture gotcha day? Pictures? Video? Anything else?
Liberty: Video during gotcha moment and pictures after. They are priceless to me.
Desireé: Video AND pictures. If possible, get both! Video helps relive the moment much better and is good for your child to watch with you at home. Being able to hear the voices of their foster parents/caregivers I think is important.
Mandy: We are glad that we recorded all of the audio – both of our phones were recording audio. My husband filmed most of it. We took turns writing down the orphanage director’s answers to our questions.
Whitney: Our 8 year old daughter was with us and she took the video on one of our phones. We took a few pictures, but were really overwhelmed by how quickly and suddenly they just ushered her into the room where we were sitting and doing paperwork!
Rebecca: Photos, video and immediately writing down all my thoughts/emotions in a journal that evening.
Amy A: My husband used his iPhone for video, and I used my nice camera for pictures.
Stefanie: Yes and yes. We had hoped to get more pictures and video, but our daughter came in unexpectedly. We do have pictures, but it wasn’t how I’d imagined it. Thankfully, none of that really matters in the long run.
Kelly: Video for the first moments and then pictures
Amy S: Our phones and a camera. It happened so quick – I wish I would have had more time to set up.
Carrie: We had a CCAI-sponsored professional photographer with us. Awesome but unusual.
Jennifer: Pictures and video
Jean: That was hard when we didn’t have an extra person to do the photography. We just tried to do the best we could and be sure to get a few of the important pics such as 1. the first time we lay eyes on them 2. the actual meeting and then 3. a posed pic together. Most importantly, we had to be forgiving and just do the best we could. I would like perfect amazing pics, but that just wasn’t possible.
Best tip for managing your child during adoption processes/dinners/tours, etc?
Desireé: Baby MeiTei at all times. He knew that no matter where we went, he was literally with me. Also brought Happy Baby smoothie pouches to every meal as a supplement.
Mandy: Remember that your child is grieving. Put yourself in their shoes. The best thing you can do is be present, patient, calm, and caring. Food equals safety for many.
Whitney: Crayons & paper. She loved drawing and coloring so it was easy to keep her busy. Having our older daughter along helped immensely.
Rebecca: Lots of snacks, and keep them coming. Hold them close, stop often to look into their eyes, whisper or sing into their ear, comfort items, and a sippy cup or bottle. Also, bring a notepad with pen for them to “write on” while you are filling out forms. Give yourself an abundance of grace. Everyone is in trauma mode, don’t expect amazing behavior. Some kids shut down and sleep and others cry. Our daughter, Evelyn, had a 104 degree fever during most of our appointments. She screamed at the top of her lungs on passport photo day. The workers were agitated and there were long lines waiting. Grace, grace, grace and a big sense of humor.
Amy A: Use a carrier for small children, bring drink/snacks, pray a lot, and remember that it is a marathon. Take one moment at a time!
Stefanie: Snacks and more snacks. Food is inexpensive in China, and it’s a great way to promote bonding, so try buy a big variety of things when you’re at the grocery store to find which little treats your new child likes. We also brought a light-up camera that Clementine loved, and the Ergo was a life-saver for keeping her content in new places and feeling safe.
Katie: Survive. Just survive one day at a time. Don’t let their behavior get to you and put headphones on.
Amy S: Distraction. Diversion. Entertainment. Ask the guide to take you to a store where you can purchase some Chinese crackers or puffs that might be familiar to them.
Carrie: We pretty much kept rice crackers in her hand all the time. And we held her a lot… She was tiny and pretty flat emotionally most of our time in country, so keeping her close and well-fed seemed to do the trick.
Jennifer: She was amazing and we were smitten. Very little things to actually manage. She was “in charge” and we weren’t ashamed to let her be.
Jean: Prepare them ahead so they know what is happening, what to expect and how you expect them to behave. Keep them very, very close to you. Hold them, carry them, hold hands, sit close, sleep with them, hug if you can right away to establish closeness. Set them up for success – have snacks, have meals at mealtime, plan time doing things and plan down time! We allowed Chinese cartoons on TV because it helped them when they didn’t know what else to do with themselves (and when we needed a break). Communicate with the others with you so your new kiddos will feel good about their day- have a plan (but be flexible)! Hook up with another family so the children can play and you can have support!
Did you visit the orphanage? Would you recommend it to other adopting families?
Liberty: Yes yes yes! We learned things on that visit that we might not have known otherwise. Like how he was used to being fed and the temperature of his bottles.
Desireé: Not an option for us. Our interpreter talked us out of visiting my child’s finding place. I kick myself daily for not pushing to go there.
Mandy: We were not allowed to, though we begged. I feel like it would’ve given us so much insight into Lydia’s transition. I wish I could’ve gone to her finding spot. I wish I could’ve met the nannies.
Whitney: Yes, and yes! It may well be the most difficult day of your life, but it will be worth it, and you will know it was worth it as soon as you leave. The pictures we have from there are invaluable. The first-hand knowledge of seeing her living quarters for her first 4 years is invaluable. Seeing her reaction to being there was & is invaluable. Her resting her head on my lap (for the first time!) once we got back in the van to leave… invaluable.
Rebecca: Yes, we were fortunate in that we met two kids in their orphanages and one in her healing home. We felt it so important to see as much as we could see, to go there physically and emotionally. We got to document in photos important parts of our children’s history, though it was truly gut-wrenching. One orphanage gave us very limited access, but from the two others we have photos of little left behind beds, cups with toothbrushes, and photos with nannies and friends.
Amy A: Yes, I would absolutely recommend it. I know my son’s better having been there. I had the chance to hug and cry with the nannies who cared for them. That might have been a once in a lifetime experience. I have pictures to share with both of them to help fill the gaps of their past.
Stefanie: In eight trips to China, I have visited my new child’s orphanage four times. Of the four times I did not, twice it was not an option (parents were not allowed) and twice we simply chose not to go based on the condition of our child and the circumstances. I would encourage families to go if possible, it can be an invaluable connection. It can also be a heartbreaking reality check, so be prepared for the possibility of an extremely difficult day. If you are not able to go, or choose not to go, don’t beat yourself up. Your goal in going to China is to bring your child safely home.
Kelly: YES and YES. Absolutely. Things in China change too quickly. Buildings are torn down so frequently. Get to the orphanage. Get to the finding spot. You don’t know when you will be back and whenever it is – I can nearly guarantee it will be different.
Katie: Once I did, twice I wasn’t allowed. I recommend it highly. It gives me a footprint of who my son is and why.
Amy S: We did not. We were expediting and because of a hospital visit during our trip we didn’t have time. I don’t regret not going. I have seen pictures of it from other families and our daughter wasn’t there very long.
Carrie: Yes, and yes. Though it was a challenging experience for our little gal. It definitely shook her a little bit… But in the scheme of everything, it didn’t set us back that far, and I feel like what we learned and saw was worth it. We asked orphanage staff if they had kept anything from our daughter’s finding day, and they had! They dug it out of storage and gave it to us. That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t visited.
Jennifer: Yes, and yes. Though it was a challenging experience for our little gal. It definitely shook her a little bit… But in the scheme of everything, it didn’t set us back that far, and I feel like what we learned and saw was worth it. We asked orphanage staff if they had kept anything from our daughter’s finding day, and they had! They dug it out of storage and gave it to us. That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t visited.
Jean: Not with the first adoption but yes with the later ones. I would highly recommend it. It’s a glimpse into your child’s life. It was painful and hurt my heart – it actually made me uncomfortable BUT it was 100% worth it. Our children did well with it and it was closure for them.
Next up in our Q and A series, we ask our contributor team to answer the question, “What do you wish you’d done differently?” With more than 50 trips to China between us, the answers are amusing and enlightening.