A feeling of peace and anticipation washed over me as we began our decent into Nashville, Friday, March 25, 2011. Our time in China was hard physically and emotionally and we were ready to be home. Due to several flight delays, it was almost midnight when we landed, yet we knew that a small group of those we love most were waiting at the gate to welcome us home.
Our 10 year old son Spencer was the first to come running toward us to meet his new sister. Lily took to him immediately which was the first of many new things we would learn about her considering that she would not leave my side in China or go to Michael without crying. She looked deep into the eyes of each person who embraced us. She had a sense of calm and peace as if somehow she knew that it was ok to feel safe in this new place she would soon call home. In keeping with our family tradition of making homemade buttermilk pancakes on Saturday mornings, we stopped by the grocery on the way home (just minutes before they closed) to buy some buttermilk and eggs. We stayed up late talking with my parents about our trip until we collapsed in the comfort of our own bed. Our first morning at home began with a new tradition for our girl and four years later she still requests pancakes on Saturday mornings!
Another night, much like this one, is written on my heart. Saturday, December 20, 2014 we arrived home from China together as a family of five with our youngest daughter Mary Katherine. The pancake tradition continued the following morning only this time she, unlike her sister, wasn’t a big fan. This would be the first of many ways we would realize how different their “coming home” stories would be.
What happens once the excitement of the airport homecoming has settled and you are faced with navigating life day to day?
The hard works begins.
Even as I write this I feel inadequate to offer any advice because we are still in the midst of our own challenges 9 months post adoption with our daughter Mary Katherine. So it is in my failures and through my mistakes that I share some nuggets of truth that have worked for us.
I find myself more and more trying to avoid the sun as I age (in an attempt to stay looking as young as possible with our little ones running around) but post adoption, sunshine was our friend. Vitamin D does wonders to re-set your internal clock and help lift the “fog” from jet lag…not to mention it breaks up your day and keeps the walls from closing in on you! Even when it was cold we bundled up our girls and took wagon rides, walks in the stroller, played basketball, drew with sidewalk chalk, and blew bubbles. We also tried to keep them up as much as possible during the day, limiting their naps initially, to help them adjust to the time change.
Keep your circle small.
We stayed in a lot, to help our girls learn that this place we called “home” was constant, safe and secure. This was a little challenging with Mary Katherine because we moved unexpectedly in March; however, she didn’t skip a beat and now every time we pull into the driveway she says, “home” with such a tender, sweet voice. (and if you know our girl she may be little but having a soft voice is rarely in her vocabulary). Close family and friends came to visit and spend time with us but we always let the girls lead the interaction and asked our family to respect any distance they needed before warming up to them. We also leaned on other friends who have walked the journey of adoption. They helped keep me grounded, answered questions and validated the range of emotions I had.
Relish in the joy.
Coming home is hard and most certainly has its challenges but there is so much JOY to celebrate! Some of my sweetest memories are those we made early on in the journey home with our girls. Hearing Mary Katherine learn to say “eee yuv ooo” (I love you), waking up to the sweet sounds of Lily saying “mama, mama” from her crib each morning, going in to kiss her goodnight and seeing her curled up in a little ball in the corner of her crib, laughing together, making new memories, reading notes of encouragement sent from family and friends, getting my Mexican fix a few days after we were home with Lily, watching the bond between sisters and brothers grow…so many beautiful moments surround the days, weeks and months coming home. Write them down, capture the moment in time with a video or photo, reflect on them often as these are the treasures that sustain us in the days that bring us to our knees.
Find the margin.
Our pastor talks a lot about finding the “margin” in life…those small but intentional moments of time that can have significant impact. For me, that meant trying to wake up early to capture a few quiet moments to be still and sit at the feet of Jesus. I love to journal, and wrote a lot after coming home with Lily. It was good therapy to put on paper the things I was wrestling with in my mind. Finding margin in my day recently has been a challenge. Mary Katherine is intensely curious by nature and lives every moment to the fullest leaving the pages of my journal empty, yet my heart is full. Somehow I need to find the margin again for quiet time alone with God is like water to my soul.
Make time for yourself.
Every ounce of emotional and physical energy is being poured into your child and the thought of doing something for yourself can become a distant memory. Finding time to do something that you love is a gift for you and your child. And if you are married, making time for your spouse is equally as important. Maybe it’s taking a walk, going for a run to clear your head, having a friend over for coffee, reading a book, or sitting on the porch for a few minutes of solitude… whatever it is, finding something that brings you joy will help you be better equipped to handle the daily challenges that come with transitioning home.
A few weeks after being home with Lily, Michael encouraged me to take a barre class he knew I loved. I was hesitant to leave because Lily was struggling to attach to him. Releasing that control and trusting she would be ok turned out to be one of the best things we did. That day was a turning point for her. She realized that I was always coming back home and slowly she began to trust her daddy more with each day that followed.
I didn’t do this with Lily but found it to be very helpful with our most recent adoption. A few weeks before we traveled to China I made 10 freezer meals we could use for dinners once we returned home. This is perfect for those days that have been L-O-N-G and you don’t have the energy to cook or your little one is stuck to your hip and you don’t have an extra set of hands in the kitchen. Not to mention my sweet husband loved coming home to dinner on the table after a long day at work.
Be intentional about bonding.
Coming “home” for our girls was not magical in their eyes. A chapter of their life – the only life they had known since birth – had ended. Their circumstances, while different, have the common thread of forming a healthy attachment to those who cared for them. This made the transition and their grief more profound initially, yet long term it laid the foundation for them to love and be loved.
Look for opportunities to build trust and attachment in your daily routine. A friend of mine calls it “love therapy”. Let them explore, be curious, get messy with paint, “help” unload the dishwasher, sit on the counter when you cook (oh how we loved our bumbo seat), try and imitate their big brother or sister, sing together, and dance because every interaction, regardless how small or insignificant it may feel at the time, is a building block to establishing a healthy attachment. I still sing the silly songs I made up in desperation while we were in China and our girls love it. We limit their use of technology because we want them to learn to be engaged by us and love being with us and not a screen. In fact we managed to survive both flights home with our girls without any screen time or technical device. When they are ready, tell them their adoption story. We began at an early age telling Lily her adoption story and she often asks me to tell it to her at night when I tuck her in bed. Over the Moon by Karen Katz is one that we love reading and used as a model for creating her unique story.
Embrace the unexpected.
With both our girls we knew there would be medical challenges and possible surgeries once we were home. Lily was born with a severe bi-lateral cleft lip and palate and Mary Katherine has a single ventricle heart. One month after being home with Lily she had her palate surgery and a lip revision 4 months later that we didn’t anticipate. While I feared surgery might unravel the progress she had made learning to trust us, it actually provided a unique opportunity for us to pour more intense “love therapy” over her and it brought us closer together. By God’s divine intervention, Mary Katherine is thriving and we are hopeful that we can wait a few more years before she needs surgery.
Honor your story.
Our story will look different than yours. What works for us may be the last thing you would ever want to try. I am learning more about the value of honoring our story, not trying to compare myself to someone else who may seem to have it all together or who is soaring through the post adoption process with ease. God is the author of our story and the creator of the beautiful children He has entrusted to our care. His design is perfect even when I feel inadequate to keep moving forward as the pages of our story unfold.
Our struggle is a gift.
With both girls, the days, weeks and months following the magical moments of our airport homecoming were hard.
With Lily, I was a first time, jet-lagged mom trying to navigate day to day life with our 15 month old beautiful brown eyed girl (Spencer is my step son and came into my life when he was 4 years old). Physically, I felt like I had been hit by a train. Adjusting to the time difference was much more difficult than I expected. I didn’t think clearly, I was sleep deprived and many nights as I fell asleep, silent tears would fall. I felt like I was failing in my new role of motherhood. Everything I knew to be comfortable, safe and secure was turned upside down. I yearned for the simplicity of our “airport moment” and missed the predictability of my life prior to adoption.
Slowly, I began to embrace our new normal realizing that life can be messy… maybe even ugly for a season when we take steps of faith that rock us to the core.
I am still walking the season of struggle with our second adoption, yet I feel God’s presence. We have a front row seat watching God at work in the story that is unfolding before us. When we said “yes” to the miracle of adoption, we welcomed struggle by default. Adoption is not for the faint of heart.
The gift of struggle.
Often wrapped with heartache, insecurity, humility, uncertainty and unknown challenges, but oh what a beautiful and treasured gift it is that God allows me to struggle. The more I struggle (and fail miserably) the more I need my Savior. The more my children need (and demand more of) me…the more I need Him.
A similar truth holds true for our children.
As their mom, I have the privilege of walking by their side as they work through their own unique challenges. I do my best to wrap it with unconditional love, trying to meet them where they are, allowing them to work through their grief in their own time and in their own way without rescuing them from it.
The gift of struggle is part of their healing.
The gift of struggle can be the wings that allow them to soar.
If you are struggling today, you are not alone. Jen Hatmaker’s post “after the airport“ is a reminder that the journey of “coming home” is beautiful yet oh so hard at times. I am learning to find rest knowing that God gives me a fresh start each morning. I am learning to end my days not by adding up where I have failed (and believe me there are many) but by celebrating the beauty of His everlasting grace and redeeming love.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:21-22
– guest post by Amy