We all imagine what it will be like when finally the paperwork is complete and we can see the face of our new child and begin to prepare for him or her. Then, after referral (if that is the order for you, it was for us) we make plans, consult specialists, send photos or stuffed animals or trinkets or toys; and we begin to ready for travel. We long for the travel and to have those missing blanks in our imaginations filled with images of a first family photo and first giggle and a trip to a really great wall. Then once we are there, we begin to long for home even though we have finally arrived in the place where we longed to go and we hold the child we longed to hold – now it’s home we want most. Everything will be right as rain when we arrive home. So we put one foot in front of the other and we survive all of the things in country, and we have the medical check, and we get the passport and we swear the oath and at long last we pack for home.
It’s not the home we left though, is it…
We return to a new normal with a new part of our family who is dearly loved, sought after, wanted and for some of us – critically ill. Most adoptive families will agree – China time is survival time. You just get through as best you can and once you’re home you begin to try and follow the rules of attachment, the cocooning, the steps to create security and bonding… just as soon as we recover from ridiculous jet lag. amiright.
We have only adopted the one time so that is the only experience I have to recount. Our homecoming was picture perfect, our new daughter – a delight and adorable and attached to us without a hitch. When we returned home though, her heart condition was not repaired and on a good day, her oxygen saturation was in the 70%’s and when she cried it dropped even lower. At nineteen months, kids tend to cry for no reason at all and she had about a hundred reasons to cry. Survival for the first six weeks we were home meant – avoid situations which would cause her to cry as much as possible. She slept close to us, she was held a lot, if she wanted something badly – she got it. For the first six weeks she pretty much only wanted Mama, and so Mama was on call 24/7. We were trying to cocoon as best we could amidst 2-3 doctor appointments a week, invasive tests, uncomfortable bloodwork, and two busy middle-school aged children. We didn’t have company, we didn’t go anywhere as a family and we prepared as best we could to surrender this child to open heart surgery.
It’s tricky to cocoon with a medically compromised child who needs to see a variety of doctors and experience procedures and tests and surgeries, but it is possible to do the best version of cocooning you can. Here are things that worked well for us in the short six weeks from airport to surgery:
• Have the parents be the only people to provide comfort and meet basic needs. If you have older children who are all too eager to play the role of mama or daddy – they need to step back, for a while. When your new child starts looking to you for food, reaches first to you for comfort, acknowledges you with a look for approval – you will know you’re getting there and soon you can happily accept help from eager siblings to assist and attend to the plethora of needs – and you will be ready for the help, lemmetellyou.
• If doctor visits, procedures, surgeries and exams are immanent, communicate with the medical personnel that you must not be the person to hold down the child for the painful or uncomfortable things that require them to be restrained. Another nurse could do that job, or a trusted family friend of relative perhaps who understands that they are there to be the bad guy so that you can remain the person of safety, comfort and all good feelings. Try not to be in a situation where you are associated with pain or discomfort – until you have reached attachment milestones and build trust. Trust is a fragile and precious commodity in these first months home.
• I am in favor of co-sleeping with adopted children if it is a benefit to them and if all parties are able to rest comfortably. Ain’t nobody functioning well if they ain’t sleeping well. Amen. So if you have a child who rests well in your very spacious bed and you all are just the picture of serenity and quality sleep – good on you, man. Our queen sized bed was no match for our spinning-like-a-clock-toddler and my visions of tranquil-co-sleeping were quickly replaced with horror and sleepless nights. Our back up plan was great though – we had a second crib made available to us. Naps happened in Grace’s room, but bedtime was right next to Mama in the crib where we held hands as she fell asleep and sometimes through the night. My goal was mutual sleep and this is how I achieved it. I would do it all over again – and I have had to, because the attachment dance is two steps forward and one step back. While I feel that we are well attached – Grace and children like her often have separation anxiety and sometimes hers is off the charts. Getting back to basic close sleeping, for her, is a remedy for a while. Co-sleeping or close-sleeping can be a very good thing. It can save your sanity and your sanity is worth it.
• When one parent is favored over the other it can be difficult for the both the unfavored parent to know how to woo their new child, and draining for the parent who is trying to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally afloat with their new child, who’s very existence it seems, rests on their constant presence and touch. For us, I was the favored one both in China and once we returned home; and remember how I said our child had low oxygen saturation when she cried? She cried if I wasn’t available to her. When we determined the things she loved to eat, play with, and do – Daddy became Mr. Goodtime. Daddy gave the cookies, the puffs, the chocolate pediasure. Daddy played in the little tent she loved and stacked cups for her to destroy. Daddy read the books and gave stickers and wooed and wooed and wooed until he was trusted fully. Currently, we have a “Daddy’s girl” in our house who is equally content in every situation with her Daddy as she is with me – Glory to God.
• This last tip for coming home with a medically compromised child is fairly simple. Role-play. For our daughter, a doctor visit was not a friendly visit in any kind of way. I purchased a fisher price doctor kit and we would play doctor for hours. For her, this helped ease her fears and by the time surgery happened she was much less anxiety ridden in the presence of medical personnel.
I am happy to say, once it came to be the day of surgery there was no question in our minds that we had attached well to one another, thus far. Of course attachment is ongoing, but in those moments where we surrendered our drugged up 16 pound, 20-month-old daughter for heart surgery it was my heart that broke in a million ways. How is it, that a child I knew personally for only six weeks could do such a number on my heart, that I would have laid down on that table without hesitation and taken it for her if I could.
How is it that she was every bit ours as our biological children were ours and it was as if we had known her since birth? We had been knit together in ways I cannot express with words. I can’t tell you how it happens except I know a God who’s specialty is healing the broken hearted and binding their wounds (Ps. 147:3). I know a God who sets the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and who promises to carry us, save us, rescue and restore us (Is. 46:3-4). I know a God who does a new thing where it seems unlikely or unnatural (Is. 43:19), and makes what seems impossible for man, possible for Him (Mt. 19:26). The physically broken heart is a simple repair compared to healing brokenness from loss and trauma but those are no match for our King of Kings.
Maybe you are reading this having returned home already and this resonates with you, or maybe you are still waiting for Travel Approval and wading through all of the suggestions or rules for travel and bonding and returning home.
Charles Spurgeon has great advice for all of us no matter where we are on this journey of adoption: “The God who has been sufficient until now, can be trusted to the end.”
If you believe that He has set you on this road of adoption, you must believe He will not leave you there. He will continue on sustaining you, restoring you, remaking you, reviving you as He has been all the way home.