This month we are highlighting time in China and coincidently, dear friends of ours are in China right now as I write, hours away from traveling to their daughter’s province and seeing her face to face. By the time this posts, they will have her and will almost have finished their time in China. So, naturally, I am remembering our trip and feeling all the feels and thinking all the things about China and our time there and if you read my post last month, “When it all hits the fan in China,” you will know already that our time there was not easy. The trip was not smooth. It was not how I imagined it would be – but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Outwit. Out play. Out last. This is Survivor China.
There were moments in our trip that it felt as though I was on a reality show: survivor meets amazing grace. Honestly and truly – time in China is first about survival. For some of us whose children have significant health challenges – it very literally is the standard set for the trip – bringing home a living child. Our daughter’s heart condition was not repaired and she was cyanotic. When she cried her pulse ox dropped and gotcha day was wrought with crying and grieving as most are. There were very scary moments as we got to know her and in China we barely scratched the surface of what made her tick. We went to China knowing the rules about attachment and bonding but for us, time in China had it’s own rules: Whatever it takes to get her home alive is what we do, and that meant keeping her as pink and happy as possible. For the first few days our daughter was her favorite person and that was ok. At times she sprinkled puffs around our airplane seats in flight – and that was (embarrassing but) ok. For a while baths made her scream her head off so we were like a pit crew and had 60 second baths – and that was ok. A happy child was a less blue child. The end.
We traveled with our then 14 and 12 year old biological children and moments into our trip I knew we had made the right decision. They were monumentally helpful, selfless, and instinctively knew (by God’s grace) how to make her laugh and feel at ease by being kids with her (gosh I miss those kids). We spent time before our trip, however, priming them for the truth that this trip was not about them – it was about her, and while life would not always be all about her – it would be all about her for awhile. They were birthed into a family who kept them and rocked them and loved them forever. She was just getting a family. They were always healthy and she’s never been healthy. They were old enough to understand that, therefore they learned about empathy, and their expectations were set ahead of time. If you plan to take children with you – or – you will be returning home to waiting children creating expectations for this new sibling, do yourself a favor and begin priming them to realize this important truth… For now – for a while – this new child is going to require more time and attention than anyone would probably wish; but it’s not forever – it’s just for now. Set and reset expectations as much as possible to avoid siblings who have bought into the hype of a new adopted sister or brother only to face the harsh realization that all of a sudden they might cry all the time. Sometimes they hit unprovoked or bite or break toys or won’t share anything – especially Mom and Dad. Putting any expectation on an adopted child other than they will grieve a loss of something we cannot possibly understand is unfair and misplaced and it sets the stage for a whole lot of disappointment for everyone.
We set our own expectations ahead of time as well. The China trip is not about us as parents either, not really. It would be easy to set ourselves up for the idea that we are going on a vacation to China. Say it with me: China ain’t no vacation, not when your purpose is adoption. The first couple of days we spent in China it almost felt as though we were on a vacation. We stayed in a nice hotel and visited some tourist attractions, tried some new food, or did a little shopping. These things were important because they kept us busy and gave us an advantage in the battle against jetlag – which is a battle you would be wise to win before you meet your child. The touristy things helped us stay awake and adjust and are a nice distraction from all of the “what ifs” as you anticipate seeing your new child face to face for the first time.
The next phase of the China trip for us was the “gotcha phase.” In your child’s province you may have opportunity to see where they were found or visit their orphanage. I felt as though it was more important to see where our daughter was found than her orphanage because she hardly spent any time at the orphanage between hospital stays and foster care. Seeing where she was found was both difficult and a relief. I had hoped that we would be able to tell her that the place she was found was a busy place and it was. It was filled with people and gave me peace that she was intentionally placed in an well traveled environment so that she would be found and would receive care and attention soon. Our time in province was limited because our process was expedited due to her heart condition. We spent almost a day in a local hospital to receive paperwork to help us travel with our portable oxygen concentrator which limited the places we could go and the things we could do in her province. One thing I’m really glad we did is purchase several gifts for her from her province to give her on special days, birthdays, graduation, wedding…etc. Other than the place she was found, the hospital, and some shopping we did basically nothing in her province except eat noodles and KFC, play ping pong and nap.
These first days with our daughter were joyful, terrifying, exciting, exhausting, and that’s about how it is for most folks I would imagine. The range of emotion is intense but our child had her own highs and lows. She adjusted pretty quickly to being in our care. We gave her tons of attention and had silly kids with us to entertain her and she soaked it up. Every morning though, for the first week, she woke up shy and sometimes crying and grieving. We knew this was normal and expected it, but it constantly made us aware of how much had changed for her and while we were ready to get on with normal life – nothing was normal for her and we had to create new-normal together – and some days we had to re-create. The final leg of every China trip is time in Guangzhou. We stayed at the Garden Hotel and it was glorious. This hotel has an English speaking doctor in the medical clinic (8th floor of the hotel) which I had thought would come in handy for our cyanotic child, and as it turns out I was the one who needed medical intervention when I had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to an antibiotic. Go figure. Everyone takes their new child to a different clinic for their required medical exam and photo. There, the doctor told us that our daughter had a serious, life threatening heart condition and asked us if we knew this ahead of time. We told him we knew, and he thanked us for being kind hearted as he shook his head #crazyamericans.
Finally, it is time for the consulate visit to obtain your child’s visa so that they are allowed to enter the USA. Cue the Halleluiah chorus. It is a relief to know that everything you need to do in China has been done and you are free to go home – and by the time we were leaving the consulate – we were missing home pretty good. As ready as we were to go home and begin our new life together I tried to not wish away our time in China because it goes so much faster than it feels. There were days where it felt as though China was our new home and we had been there forever. I don’t know if it’s the time difference that made me homesick because when we were awake our loved ones were asleep and vise versa. However, we skyped when we could and stayed connected to friends and family and it helped a lot. Taking a tablet or a laptop that allows you to remain connected to your people was so helpful when we needed a touch of home and a reminder of the truth that He who made the way to China is continuing to make a way home and to a new normal with a child who is finally yours.
All of the paperwork seems overwhelming but there came a day when I would have done anything to just have paperwork. All of the packing and overthinking what we should take and how we should prepare was overwhelming, but there came a day when I would have loved to just have to pack. The hijinks of international travel is overwhelming because for most of us its double digits on an airplane and we ain’t flying first class – but then you return home with your new child and you think – gosh I should have been more thankful for the flight without a child to keep entertained – that was so much less stressful. Then you return home and discover jetlag and you think – wow, I thought I was tired in China. On and on it goes, this marathon, this dance we do. Each stage preparing us for the next, and we learn and we’ve grown and have become stronger than we ever knew we could be even though at times we’ve never been so vulnerable or felt so lost. You can’t possibly be ready for China until you have had it up to here with paperwork and packing and education and have read all the mind blowing things about trauma and your soon-to-be-grieving child. Brick by brick we build a foundation to be parents to kids from hard places and make them our own. Each step is important. Each season of waiting has purpose and gives birth to a new season and a new challenge and we cannot do it well alone. Any of it. We need each other to be honest and admit when it’s hard. We need a network of people we can trust to be honest about things like, “this child we sought after and fought for and risked everything for is driving me insane.” Because that’s okay to admit. Sometimes hearing another parent say, “me too” is more valuable and more healing than hours of therapy. We need to admit to our spouses or our support network that we need respite care at times to recharge because this adoption thing is precious but it’s hard as heck.
We need to tap in, lean on, did deep into God and who He promises to be until our hair is white with age:
“I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime —
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.”
This promise is so dear to me. It was on my mind and heart throughout our adoption journey whether it was paperwork or at the time of referral or packing and travel. “He will carry us along”. It doesn’t end when the plane lands for the last time. It doesn’t stop once you return home and begin new normal. It began before we were born and is promised throughout our lifetime. We are carried along to China and back and beyond.