Becoming a parent, no matter how it happens, is never easy. But for those just looking into the possibility of adoption it can seem positively overwhelming. It is our hope to change all that. This 8-post series will go step-by-step through the process to adopt through the special needs program for those of you who are just starting out on the adventure of a lifetime. Join us.
Here are the topics covered:
1. Why China?
2. Special Needs and the Medical Conditions Checklist
3. LID vs. Special Focus
4. Picking an Agency – Part 1
5. Picking an Agency – Part 2
6. The Steps of the China Adoption Process (Acronyms Decoded)
7. Beginning the Paper Chase and Homestudy
8. Things to Read, Do and Study While You Wait
It’s hard to know what to do while you wait. I’ll tell you what I did — I obsessively refreshed my email every minute, and stayed up half the night worrying about what ifs, and unknowns, and things which were completely out of my control.
I really don’t recommend that.
This time around, I’m trying to do things differently, and with the benefit of hindsight, and a three year old taking up a whole lot of my free time — I feel so much better and, dare I say, more relaxed.
Here is what’s at the top of my list of things to do while I wait to bring home our newest son.
1. I’m enjoying time with my boy.
This is the first and most important thing on my list. He will have been ours for exactly two years when we travel to meet his brother, and though it seems like we’ve known him forever, in some ways I feel like we just got home with him. I’m trying to parent him with more intention than I ever have — showing him how important he is to us, and solidifying that bond between us as much as I can.
We used Theraplay with great success when we came home from China, and so I try to incorporate some of the play-based bonding activities that we learned there, even when it feels like our relationship is fully secure. A quick google or pinterest search will lead you to a list of play-based activities if you want to try some of them at home, although nothing can substitute for having a trained therapist to help fine tune the interaction between parent and child.
Here is a list of trained Theraplay practitioners — if you don’t see one in your area, I suggest calling the number to the main office. They were able to find a local practitioner for us who hadn’t yet been listed on the website.
Another resource that has brought us great attachment success is a book called I Love You Rituals. This book contains nursery rhymes, and playful games that encourage healthy attachment.
I truly believe that one of the most important things we can work to develop as adoptive parents is this notion of felt safety — the idea that children who feel safe can turn off those portions of their brains that keep them in “flight mode” all of the time, and that they can then relax into a state of healing and trust.
I’ve learned more about some of the concepts listed above in two other places that I will recommend. The first is a Facebook group called Parenting With Connection. It is a huge group, and can get quite overwhelming, but when you need advice about connected parenting skills, it is invaluable. One of the resources that is most often recommended there is called TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention). This is an amazing resource for parenting children who come from trauma backgrounds, as all of our adopted children do. You may recognize the woman who founded the TBRI institute from her book – The Connected Child – which is often recommended by adoptive parents as the go-to resource for understanding trauma. I love that book, but I think the DVD series that you can purchase from the TBRI institute is an equally valuable resource, and has maybe been more useful for me, because I often lack the energy to sit down with dense reading materials these days. Here is an introductory video, and there are several others if you search TBRI on youtube.
I can’t recommend the above resources enough, even when you’re not completely in the thick of attachment struggles. I’ve often heard of attachment as a continuum, and since these issues can come up from time to time as our children grow, and as they understand more about the hard circumstances of their early childhoods, I try to keep reinforcing these concepts even when things feel secure.
In particular, since we are about to bring another child into our lives, I want to do everything that I can in the few months of one-on-one time that we have left to reinforce the concepts of family, safety, and permanence. The good thing about everything that I’ve mentioned is that the exercises are fun, so it’s no work for either of us really — we just play!
The other thing I’m doing a whole lot of these days is saying yes. If Shaw wants to go outside, and I want to sit on the couch and do nothing, I gather up his bubbles and sand toys, and sidewalk chalk (and my camping chair), and I say yes. If he wants to help me cook, and I know that it will take me three times as long to get dinner done, I say yes. If he wants to take an hour long bath, and I dread the thought of sitting in the bathroom, I say yes, yes, yes. Whenever I can, as much as I can, I say yes. I can’t be sure exactly how my attention will be divided once his little brother comes home, but I know that it will be, and so I want to model for him that I will always be there to meet his needs, even if everything looks a little different six months down the road.
2. I reflect.
The tendency to obsessively check email and worry about timelines is still there, don’t get me wrong. But whether I check my email 1 time or 100, it will get there when it does. I’m trying my best to let go of things over which I have zero control, namely: when either the US or Chinese governments will issue certain documents pertaining to our adoption. It is so easy to type this, and so obvious, but I find that for me, when I get going down the road of worrying about our adoption, my thoughts are like a runaway train, and I have a really hard time getting them back under control.
So I’ve been reflecting… on my finite amount of energy, and on the ways that I can best use that energy for the benefit of myself and my family. I struggled so much when Shaw first came home, with the transition from not being a parent to being a parent. In many ways, that transition was the greatest joy of my lifetime, but it was also just a huge change. Truth be told, I’m not very good with change. So, my eating habits quickly went by the wayside. I stopped exercising at all. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I can’t even blame it on him — I just craved alone time at night after he went to bed, so I’d stay up way too late just to get some time to myself.
When he was home about a year, I started to slowly make some changes and start to try to feel like myself again. Little by little, I’ve gotten my diet under control, started walking at lunch, and most nights, I go to bed when he does. I might read for an hour after he falls asleep, but I’m finding that I much prefer that quiet time in bed to sitting up in front of the television. In the lead up to our return to China, I’m doing a lot of thinking about how I can set myself up for success and a continuation of these healthy habits when we return home. I know that maybe above anything else I can do for Shaw and for little brother, self-care makes me a way better mother.
So, while we wait to travel this go around, instead of obsessively checking email and worrying about things that are out of my control, I’m eating healthy, real food 90% of the time with a few indulgences built in as I need or want them. I’m getting at least 8 hours of sleep every single night. I’m trying to get out for a walk at lunch most days. I’m making some time every day to either meditate or do some reading that allows me to lean into my faith and quiet my mind. In addition to having a network of adoptive mamas on FB, I’m working hard to cultivate a group of women who are on my wavelength with regard to prioritizing self-care, and I know that they will help to support me, and to keep me accountable when we get home.
And a note on the exercise, especially for people who are going from zero kids to one: I wish that I would have spent more time doing some light weights and strength training before we were to China for Shaw. Going from a sedentary office job to carrying a 25 pound toddler everywhere was very hard on my 36 year old body. Some of the strain on my body was mitigated by using a soft structured carrier (I recommend Toddler Tula or Kinderpack in particular), but I would have done myself a huge favor to get my back, arms, and core in a better place before we met Shaw. So, if you have a little extra time and energy, some strength training would be well worth the effort.
3. I plan.
So, as I mentioned, I’m thinking a lot about how to set myself up for parenting and transition success with adoption number two. Some of that involves thinking about self-care and meal planning, etc., but I’m also preparing for this new little guy to enter our world. I’m going through toddler clothes to see what we can keep and what we can donate, I’m trying my best to get rid of half of the junky toys that have taken over our house, I’m nesting and getting my boys’ room set up so that little brother will feel like he has a place here. And I’m also going back through the things that we did when we came home with Shaw — what worked, and what we could have waited on…
This time — we will drastically limit the amount of toys and books and stimulation that little brother has access to from the moment he sets foot in the door. That’s right — I am proactively limiting the junk. Shaw doth protest a little, but it feels good to have less mess.
This time — I won’t be so worried about language when little brother gets here, and I will devote more energy to learning and showing him some simple signs. Those were so helpful with Shaw, and gave us just what we needed to diffuse some of the meltdowns that happened early on simply because we couldn’t communicate with each other. I highly recommend Signing Time and Baby Signing Time to give you a good head start on signing. You can find the videos on Amazon Prime, or they have a subscription streaming service on their own website.
This time — I’ll save the non-urgent doctor appointments and appointments in general for a time after we are over jet lag and after little brother is feeling a little more at home. I booked everything before we got home with Shaw —hematologist, pediatrician, Early Intervention assessment, and on and on. This time, I want little brother to feel more relaxed before we start running him to every non-urgent doctor appointment under the sun.
This time — I will set better boundaries about visits when we get home. Part of what overwhelmed me so much when we got home with Shaw was having family come to stay with us, and lots of visits, and people to see and places to go. I struggled so much with feelings of guilt, knowing that everyone wanted to see and hold our new little guy. I think it’s so important to play a lot of this by ear — you know your family, you will know how your new kiddo is doing — but, I think that setting the extended family up to understand that you may need to hunker down in the house for a couple of months and limit the amount of visiting is an awesome idea.
Here’s the thing: you may not need to do that. Maybe you won’t have jet lag. Maybe your kiddo will transition super smoothly. Maybe you’ll need to have that interaction with extended family. But if you set those boundaries before your trip, you won’t have to feel guilty about telling people down the road that they can’t come to stay at your house for Thanksgiving this year.
In my opinion, the best time spent before the China trip is time that you spend caring for yourself, caring for your husband, caring for your existing kiddos, getting your house in order, getting your body in order, and getting your spiritual and mental health in order.
Checklist of miscellaneous things to do while you wait.
Get your medicine cabinet ready for the trip. Lots of adoptive parents get antibiotics and other meds from their doctor prior to travel, just in case they are ill in China. Go ahead and set that doctor appointment several weeks before you think you might travel so that you aren’t stressing about it at the last minute. Order no jet lag (I have friends who swear by this, and we were so hobbled by let lag for weeks after we got home, that I will try just about anything this time.)
Go check out your local Asian market. I loved doing this just because it got me excited about the trip, and it was fun to try new things. Nothing beats the snack aisle at the Asian grocery. You might want to pre-stock your cabinets for your kiddo’s arrival, assuming s/he is eating solids. Some general favorites are: noodles and rice, and I will tell you that my boy could not get enough congee when he came home.
Here’s a nice recipe: Chinese Chicken and Rice Porridge
Meet up with other adoptive families. Facebook is everything these days, and you should have an easy time finding other families in your area if you hang around in the China Adoption groups at all. I loved going to visit with my online friends who had their babies home before we traveled. I loved to see the children who were home, and hear stories of their trips. I visited with one mom who handed down her entire medicine bag from her journey, and gave me several essential oils to bring along.
If your child has a chronic, visible, or time intensive special need — find other families in your area who have kids with the same special needs. Not only will this be awesome for your kid once he gets home—to be able to see that other people are going through the same things that he is — but anything that you can do to set up that support system for yourself and your family before you go to China will be one less thing you have to figure out once you are home.
Install wechat on your phone, and plug in contact info for moms who will have your back just in case everything hits the fan in China. The trip is hard. I can’t tell you how to mentally prepare for it — you kind of just have to be there — but one thing I know is that the 3 or 4 moms who I’d chatted with most while we waited to travel absolutely got me through all of my fears and sleepless nights while we were in country. Do this. If you do nothing else on my list, do this.
Make a packing list. You can find several if you search old posts in the China Adoption groups, and read the NHBO packing posts shared here. We set up our travel pile in our guest bedroom, and started to prepare several weeks in advance. I would highly recommend packing cubes (there are tons of brands out there, but here is an idea). Another must have for the long flight is compression socks. Make sure you get the knee high ones (again there are tons out there, but here is an idea).
Read, read, read. I recommend reading for pleasure as much as possible, but here’s my book list from adoptions 1 and 2 to get you started…
(Note: these are not all adoption related, so don’t get confused. Some of them appear on the list just because they made an impact on me for one reason or another.)
In addition to The Connected Child (mentioned above), check out these:
Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child
Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft
Love Me Feed Me
No Drama Discipline
The Whole Brained Child
Parenting From the Inside Out
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
When Breath Becomes Air
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Dream of Ding Village
With this post, I haven’t even tried to create an exhaustive list of things to do while you wait, but just give you a nudge towards some overarching concepts or ideas that you might think about in the months between today and your China trip.