Just over four years ago, I was waiting in a cold government office in Zhengzhou, China to meet my second daughter.
I had hesitantly said yes to adopting a child with a heart condition. In saying yes, I had armed myself with knowledge and facts and learned everything I could about my daughter’s medical diagnosis.
She has tetralogy of Fallot and it was temporarily managed, but not fixed when we adopted her. After consulting with multiple medical personnel, I felt confident that we could get her the needed treatment and we said “yes”.
For months I prepared and planned. I spent time reading and learning about what her needs might be and I was ready.
I thought I knew what to expect.
But after my daughter was placed in my arms and I got to know her, I realized my preparation was primarily related to her physical condition. I had not adequately prepared myself for the impact of months and months of laying in a crib.
When I met the orphanage staff, I learned that she had been taken to a hospital two hours away and stayed there alone… once for a month and another time for six weeks. The orphanage staff loved her dearly and had worried that she would be harmed if she exerted herself, which meant that most of her time she spent on her back.
Just over four years ago, I met a little girl who had learned the only way to manage loneliness was to self-soothe.
And she preferred that to being soothed by a stranger. Namely me.
Accustomed to spending most of her days in a crib, she would rock herself to sleep, grabbing the side of the crib, humming. Having gone through frightening and possibly painful heart procedures alone, she had learned to detach from those around her.
My expectation was that we would fight together.
Her history had taught her to fight alone.
The hospital is a difficult place to teach a child that they can trust you, especially when they have experienced medical trauma.
Our time in the hospital was one of the hardest periods of our relationship. During the weeks in the CICU for her heart surgery and multiple resulting complications, nurses would ask me what she wanted. I didn’t even know what to say.
She needed me, but she didn’t want me.
I determined that I would pursue her and earn her trust. She didn’t want me to hold her, but I would sit beside her while I read books about attachment and learned ways to meet her needs.
While she lay with her back to me in her hospital bed, I prepared myself for the real fight. The fight for her heart. Those months we spent off and on in the hospital laid the tenuous foundation for a relationship that we were then able to begin to build upon.
Finally, the last week we were at the hospital, after she had only wanted me to pat her back at night, she let me hold her while she relaxed and slept.
Her attachment to me took time and her trust in me was slowly earned. While I was very prepared for her heart condition, I realized that tetralogy of Fallot was not her greatest need.
Her history had taught her that you deal with your darkest moments alone. It was my job to change that expectation for her. It was through her heart repair that I began the process of teaching her that I would always be there for her.
Today she is a spunky girl, with a scar on her chest.
While she was fighting for a healthy heart….
she was teaching me how to fight for her, with all of mine.
– guest post by Rachel