It Takes A Village: Thoughts on Adoption from Gramma

October 21, 2015 adopting as a single mom, China trip, Desiree, Developmental System, Down syndrome, Gotcha Day, grandparent's perspective, October 2015 Feature - It Takes a Village 2 Comments

For every nuclear family that is forever changed through adoption, there are grandparents somewhere in the mix. Hopefully, they are the family foundation for which the adoption is built on, but generationally, there may be relational, cultural, racial or even spiritual issues that hinder healthy adoption support. Even the bureaucracy of adoption can overwhelm and distance senior family members.

These are some thoughts from one grandmother…akk, sorry, Gramma (she hates the term ‘grandmother’) who walked along side us and even traveled with us to China during our adoption process:


Audrey: mother to three (I’m the cute one!), Gramma to five, including Isaac from China.
Registered Nurse for 44 years. Lover of Jesus, maker of amazing enchiladas, and fanatic of the Green Bay Packers.

What was your exposure to adoption growing up and while raising your own family?

It was unusual given the time (1950s & 60s), but our family lived a short distance from a large foster home. My siblings and I visited that home nearly every day and befriended the foster kids there. We had endless hours of fun with them and were very sad when each of the children was transferred out of the home. There was one child who stayed when the foster parents adopted her. Otherwise, adoption was not generally acknowledged or talked about in our community and children in foster care were usually seen as of lesser value and largely discriminated against.

What did you think when I told you I was going to adopt?

It was a little surprising at the time but not totally unexpected. When you were a pediatric nurse you were drawn to taking care of children with special needs. You needed to share your heart; adoption seemed a normal pathway to express that love.

(Personal note: It was during a heated discussion on the phone that I decided to announce my intent to pursue adoption, to which my mother immediately responded “Well, that’s the first thing that’s made any sense in this whole conversation!” “…oh.”)

How did you feel about having a grandchild that would be racially different from you and the rest of the family?

I immigrated from post-war Europe as a child. It was hard to learn a new culture, eat new foods and learn a new language, and this was during a time that cultural uniqueness was not celebrated. In elementary school I was ridiculed because I was a “foreigner”. That affected me my entire life. I may not look different from those around me but I’ve experienced what it’s like not to be accepted because of my heritage. It certainly helped me understand what my new grandchild might go through.

How did you feel about having a grandchild that would have special needs?

With four homegrown grandchildren there was never a time when I was assured one of them wouldn’t have a special need. From the moment I knew a child was conceived I started loving him/her. I didn’t know if they would be “normal” but I wouldn’t have loved them any less had they been born with any special needs. Working as a RN probably helped form a healthy view like this. The minute we knew who my new Chinese grandchild would be I started loving him because he had just been conceived into our larger family.

Did you feel supported from your social circle?

My best friends and beyond have been nothing but supportive. We love sharing photos and stories of the grandchildren.

Did you feel you needed to explain or justify the adoption to anyone?

Nope. I’m proud of my daughter and my grandson.

What would you recommend for grandparents who may not feel supported by their social or generational circle?

Find support where it should be available–within your family and church groups. Social media/facebook is a good place to share openly about in coming grandchild. You can also check with your family’s adoption agency about possible grandparent support or you can start one yourself! By engaging in the adoption as much as you can you will find yourself lifted up and encouraged.

How did you prepare yourself during the paper-pregnancy of adoption?

I did find that period confusing and overwhelming. I watched what you had to go through with paperwork and finances and I didn’t understand why, so I prayed. That’s all I felt like I could do.

(Personal note: My mother asked to read many of the adoption books I was reading and asked for copies of notes from my agency’s required online learning so she could be better prepared. This was wonderfully helpful! To know that the primary member of our support group was actively preparing herself for possible adoption and culture related issues in her grandchild was a hyge encouragement. Grandparents, if you are able to actively walk alongside your children as they prepare for their adoption in this way, I think you’ll be equally as blessed.)

You traveled with us to China – was it helpful to experience your grandchild’s culture?

Yes, very much so! I had no idea what China was really like. My parents were of a generation that did not accept different cultures and races. I have to admit I recognized some of those residual negative feelings in myself. As we traveled, we were blessed to see both the affluent and poorer side of parts of China. That helped me understand a bit of the culture my grandson was coming from.


Riding the rickshaws, Beijing China

How can grandparents NOT going to China prepare themselves for having a trans-racial family?

Spend time researching about China. I borrowed documentaries about China’s history from the library. There are many videos from PBS and National Geographic about China. Get creative with your research: have lunch with a Chinese friend at work or church or take a field trip to the international district of your major city. The point is to have some basic understanding of where your new grandchild is coming from.

Was going to China overwhelming?

It was a full experience but not overwhelming. The worst part was being stared at so much. That was uncomfortable difference from our American culture. We looked so different from the locals and they seemed to be enamored by the white people roaming their streets. Having them ask to have pictures taken with us was so unique and very special. In some way I suppose they were blessed to see us and my light hair.

Physically, did you have any challenges in China?

We traveled in August so it was VERY hot and humid; without regular access to air conditioning or safe water it was physically stressful. I made sure to get medical clearance before travel and that included preparing for the long flight (avoiding blood clots, etc). My doctor encouraged me to bring all my medications and an extra supply for longer than we planned to be in China just in case. I also carried a copy of my health history. If you have any control over your lodging while in China, pay to stay at a higher end hotel. This may seem frivolous, but between the emotional stress of adoption, cultural stress of travel and physical jet lag, meeting your physical comfort needs is important to avoid getting sick.

(Personal note: if you as a grandparent have dietary, physical or medical restrictions and are used to standard American accommodations {low fat foods, ramps or elevators, avoiding rigorous activities, etc} China may not be the best place to travel for you. At least check with your medical provider first. My mother trudged through 110 degree Chinese heat without a peep of complaint, but people {our travel group and locals alike} were constantly asking if she was OK. On two occasions local women–strangers on the street–gave their personal fans for her to use! I was honored that she was willing to {safely} sacrifice her health and comfort for my little family.)

How did you feel on Gotchya Day?

The circumstances were rather disconcerting. The race from the airport on the other side of the world in a rickety van with people we didn’t know; the dirty, old building we entered (social welfare office), the tiny elevator which made me feel claustrophobic, and the smoked-filled room where people were obviously busy doing something, but they couldn’t communicate with us. I kept my antennae tuned for the inevitable end of what felt like a bad dream. But when we saw Isaac for the first time all of that was forgotten.


Gotchya Day 2012

What was your most emotional day in China?

When we first met Isaac he was such a happy boy. Taking Isaac to the hotel and having him in our room was surreal. The next morning when we returned with him to complete the adoption, he saw people he was familiar with yet he reached out to me, let me kiss him, and then let me hold him. Then suddenly the adoption was official. He was my daughter’s son and … my grandchild. Yes! We did it! It was a flood of emotions.

Many families have a strict attachment incubation period in the weeks after placement. How did you process that time?

Having you and Isaac bond was the most important part of this process but being able to bond with gramma was important too. Gratefully you let me be part of that bonding time. He was already attaching to you and to him I wasn’t as interesting as I was in China. I knew it would just take time for him to truly bond with me, and I was willing to wait.

(Personal note: We found that grandparent support during incubation time was much like a new father supporting his wife and their breastfeeding child. In order to make sure my new child was attaching to me, it was important that I was meeting all his needs. However, Gramma could still bring him to me, cuddle after, and help physically care for me during this time. Her presence pointing to me as the center of his world was as important as anything I was doing to foster attachment.So grandparents, be encouraged, you have a VERY important role!)

How can grandparents be helpful to their growing family during that time while supporting parental attachment?

Just like parents with home grown children who need time to bond and get to know their newborn, so it is with having an adopted child newly in the house. Let the parents set the timetable for how and when they want you to be with their child. When you do get to spend time with your new grandchild, let the child set the pace of how he/she wants to be loved by you. His/her world has just been overturned and he/she needs time to adjust to that; any adult would, even more so with child who doesn’t yet have coping skills.

How did you feel your attachment to your new grandchild went?

It was slower than I would have liked but I totally let him do the leading in our relationship. I reached out to him but wasn’t put off when he didn’t respond. I knew he wouldn’t just fall into love with me any more than my home grown grandchildren did. I had to earn their love as well.

When did you KNOW emotionally he was your grandchild?

I started loving him as soon as I heard about him. I knew he was my grandchild the moment I put my eyes on him as a person instead of a photo. The moment I touched him…that was at that instant Isaac was truly my grandchild.


How long did you feel it took Isaac to reciprocate your love?

It took nearly a year for him to really attach to me. I took advantage of the intermittent and short periods of bonding that he allowed to build a foundation. I would stop by for frequent short visits to cement my presence in his life. Once he finally decided to attached to me, he has been committed to the relationship. Now he’ll even push momma away for dear ol’ gramma!

What advice would you give to grandparents to support their adult children through the entire adoption process?

I wish there would have been a way to be more involved in the paperwork portion of the process but I had no clue how to be. Be there when your child needs you or needs advice or needs an ear to listen to her/him. Offer but don’t push. This is a phenomenal process which, now that I look back at it, really cements the commitment for the new parent, not unlike being pregnant. We can’t do much for the pregnant mother except be there for her. Thus it was with the adoption process.

What would you recommend to potential forever grandparents to support their own attachment to their new grandchild?

Be patient. Know it will happen. Don’t give up. Reach out to the child but let him/her respond in his/her own time. Love, love, love on both the parents and the child. And above all else, pray.

What specifically would you recommend for prayer support?

Pray daily and without ceasing. Build a prayer team that includes one person you can bear your heart to and pray alone with. Pray for your children and the adoption process, but also specifically for: protection for your new grandchild’s body and mind, for his/her heart to grow towards his new family—both giving and accepting love. And that his/her little heart would grow tender towards Jesus and that he/she’ll always know that they are well loved.

How has grandparent-ing your forever grandchild been different than your home grown grandchildren?

It isn’t that different. As a child grows we watch them learn every little detail of how to function… from eating, sleeping, rolling over, sitting, walking and learning to love. It’s no different with an adopted child except what he/she needs to learn has a different focus… learning a new culture, a new language, a new love. It’s miraculous process to be a part of.

What are some things that are special to only you and Isaac?

Evening bath time routine started early in order to give momma a break, and now he asks for a bath any time he see me. We also have a special through-the-car-window-kissing-goodbye game that is saved just for he and I. The most fun is watching football together. The Green Bay Packers can only win if we cheer them on and yell as loud as we can! Then we hike the football in the family room during commercials. It is a joy to share something I love with my precious grandson.

(Personal note: My heart couldn’t be more happy that my little boy has such a great relationship with his Gramma. He asks for her specifically, gets upset if I drive the “wrong way” to her house and takes great pride in the secret stash of otter pops that Gramma keeps for his personal use. Most of all, I am thankful for the legacy of faith. The same God that was faithful to my mother as she came to the US after World War II, is the same God that protected my tiny son through his little life, adoption and new forever with me. Being able to share the adoption process and travel to China with my mother has highlighted the Banner of Faithfulness that is over our entire family.).


Go Pack Go!

Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

– Psalms 119:90


2 responses to “It Takes A Village: Thoughts on Adoption from Gramma”

  1. Laura Reed says:

    I need this today. It gave me the strength to tell my parents. Not only are they excited, but my dad wants to travel with me! Thank you Desiree and Gamma for sharing your story!

  2. Hana says:

    He looks good, post adoption. One look at him now, we can tell he is not an Asian-Asian. The way he carries himself is different.

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