I’ve had an interest in adoption since I was teenager, reading stories about adoptive families and lurking on photolistings of waiting children and family blogs. I always hoped we would adopt someday, but that desire took a backseat as my husband and I started teaching careers and had three biological children.
Our lives were busy and full, and the idea of adoption was kind of a hazy someday plan. I still lurked on photolistings of waiting children, though; in particular, I visited the Reece’s Rainbow website almost daily to look at their newly listed children and to check on my “favorites” and see if they had found a family.
On April 14th, 2014, I clicked on the Newly Listed Children link as I had done hundreds of times before, and this time a picture and description of a little boy popped up in front of me. I had never really bought into the whole mentality that “when you see your child, you know” – but I felt such an instant connection to this little guy that it was overwhelming.
I had been drawn to children before but never with such intensity. The picture showed a happy, chubby little baby, and the description briefly stated that this two-year-old boy was blind, had lived in a foster care home as a baby, and had been back at his orphanage for over a year. Since returning to his orphanage, he was said to lie in his crib and cry most of the time. The picture showed such a healthy, fun little guy!
I emailed the link to my husband, and we jumped into the adoption process within a few days. Several weeks later, we were able to get an update on our son, and we were shocked to learn that he was not doing well. He was losing weight (in fact, weighed less than he had over a year earlier when he left his foster home) and was unhappy most of the time. He had also lost skills that he had had in the foster home, such as walking with assistance and imitating sounds. We received one picture (below) and he looked miserable.
While this didn’t deter us from moving forward, it was very upsetting and we pushed to get our process done even faster. We also started having discussions about how we would manage travel, and how to manage time off from work to be with our new son upon his arrival home. Although we had intended to travel together, in the end it was impossible to find someone who could stay at our home with our other three children due to their various schedules and needs. The decision was made for my husband to stay home with them, and my father graciously agreed to travel with me, a huge relief for me, as he is experienced in international travel and I was not.
My husband and I are both teachers and decided to stagger our leave from work to keep our new son home as long as possible. I would start my leave when it was time to travel, and remain at home for several weeks after returning home with our son. Then I would return to work and my husband would be on leave for the rest of the school year. We would then have the summer at home as a family, and our new son would start preschool and daycare in the fall. We had a wonderful daycare provider who had cared for our other children for 8 years, and she agreed to take our new son that fall.
Our adoption process went quicker than most, and on January 11th, 2015, I received our son in a hot, stuffy hotel room in China. The information we had been given about him was accurate. He was underweight, could not walk or talk (or even sit up), and had been left almost exclusively in a crib without being held or touched. I knew these things, on an intellectual level, but seeing it firsthand was something else completely. He was such a tiny, pitiful little creature, wanting only to be left to lay in a fetal position while he poked at his eyes and played with his spit. He would not take any food other than formula from a bottle.
Fast forward through a couple of intense, emotional weeks in China, and on January 24th, we arrived home! I was so relieved to be back with my family, but the next several weeks were harder than I could have ever imagined. Our son did not sleep. He did not want to be held, but he spent hours every night rocking in his crib, either fussing or laughing hysterically while he poked his eyes and rubbed saliva all over his face and hands. Enter sleep deprivation. I thought I was going crazy; I couldn’t function and I was completely irrational at times.
I was home with our new son and our other three-year-old for several weeks, and I tried so hard to teach our son new skills, to get him to sit up, play with toys, and eat food other than those bottles. I think I probably made things worse by pushing so hard, but I wanted so badly for him to learn, to have experiences, to explore this new world.
Although it was hard for me to go back to work, on some level, I think it was what I needed. I needed a break from my son and from feeling like I had to work with him every second. And I didn’t have the anxiety of leaving him in daycare since he was home with his daddy. This brought a new kind of stress, though, because our son sometimes refused to eat all day long for Daddy. So I would come home after a day of teaching and need to try and feed him right away (for months, he would only eat a decent amount of food if it was me feeding him). In other ways, though, he and Daddy did very well. Our son bonded much more easily with his daddy than with me, and he still prefers Daddy over Mommy.
Our other children were amazing. They were never jealous, resentful, or unkind to their new brother. They loved him and accepted him right from the start. I am in awe of my children and how easily they achieved the acceptance of their brother while I struggled.
When we had been home about four months, we had to face the fact that he had needs more severe than we had anticipated. We knew he was delayed, but we also knew that he had been doing well developmentally in his foster home, and we had expected that he would improve quickly once he came home. He made progress – constantly – but not nearly as quickly as we had hoped. It was around this time that our daycare provider expressed some concerns about caring for him in the fall. She was worried about meeting his needs and keeping him safe. We would need to find a different daycare situation for him.
This was not easy. In addition to being blind, our son at this time was nearly four years old, nonverbal, just starting to walk independently, and had significant eating issues that required a lot of time devoted to feeding him. We would need a very special daycare provider for him.
I spent hours calling every daycare I could. I was very honest on the phone and explained our son’s needs. I don’t know how many times I was told that they didn’t feel they had the time to devote to managing his needs.
In the end, I found three daycares that were willing to meet with us. Two were larger child care centers and one was a small home daycare. I visited the centers first and was unsure if they were the right setting for my son. None of the staff at either place made any effort to talk to our son or interact with him. Visiting the home daycare was a very different experience. She immediately sat on the floor with our son and tried to play with him. She seemed to instinctively know how to present things in an appropriate way for a child who couldn’t see. She was willing to take him into her daycare.
Our son started daycare and then transitioned to a special needs preschool class in the fall. It was very stressful. He struggled with eating, had periods of time when he would cry and cry, and came home distressed and exhausted. It took two long months for him to settle in. Attachment was still a concern.
Because he is blind and nonverbal, we couldn’t use his eye contact or his verbal interactions with us as clues to judge how well we were bonding. He liked us to hold and cuddle him, but he was equally as happy to be held by his daycare provider or teachers. It was several months into the school year before he cried when I dropped him off at daycare. I never thought I could be so happy to hear him so sad.
So where are we now? Our son has just started his second year of daycare and preschool, and he is settling in well. We are fairly sure he is attached to us, but he still tries to get hugs and cuddles from others, and he doesn’t always acknowledge me when I say hi to him at school (his preschool is in my school building), but he lights up with a big smile when I arrive to pick him up from daycare. Although he now walks, plays, dresses himself, uses the potty (sometimes), and explores lots of toys, he is still mostly nonverbal.
Medical testing has found nothing out of the ordinary, other than his blindness and a mild issue with his hips. We have no idea what the future holds for him. We have no idea if his foster home missed something and he had additional issues even as a baby, or if the trauma of neglect for two years in his orphanage is the cause of his delays.
Just look at our handsome little guy (home about a year and a half) as he starts school this year!
Being a parent is hard. Being an adoptive parent is harder. Being a working adoptive parent is probably even harder, but it’s not impossible. There is no doubt in my mind that our son is infinitely better off in our family (daycare and all) than he was in that bleak orphanage crib.
– guest post by Kathleen