Lydia is our first adopted child. She is our first girl, and we had never before parented a seven year old. We didn’t have any experience working with visually impaired or even special needs children.
We never dreamed we would have a child who was blind.
But our hearts changed after learning about this precious, capable child who needed a home. We were filled with passion to give her a family and a home and the Gospel was nudging us to do so too.
So, we took a leap of faith and said a forever “yes” to a child we had never met.
Here is some of our story.
I am a researcher. When it came to adoption, I read numerous books, blogs, adoptive China Facebook group posts (okay… probably every post from those pages!) and I enjoyed connecting with parents who have special needs children from China. Before adopting Lydia, I connected with several adoptive families of blind children, visited the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, connected with several organizations who work to support visually impaired people (and signed up to receive a free cane and free Braille books, and even met a Chinese adoptee who was 16 and also blind. I thought this would help me understand my daughter better. And it did… a little.
It wasn’t until I met her and got to know her that I really began to learn what she was like and what she enjoyed. All children are unique. Blind children are similar in certain ways and do like some of the same things, but it’s really their past experience and their personality – their likes and dislikes – that make them who they are, not being blind. That said, I still recommend educating yourself and learning from other people’s experience! That way, you can use the advice that works for you and for your child.
So, here are a few things I’d like to share about what we experienced in China when we met our girl with special eyes.
The moment we met our girl:
When we met Lydia, it was obvious that she could not see us. Our guide swept in and told her who we were and where we were. We were prepared for a child who did not have much vision so this did not surprise us. We knelt down to her level and our guide put her hands on us to help her find us.
I can still remember the tone of her voice as she said “Mamaaaa!” and “Babaaaaa!” She sounded like a little baby. She embraced her new Mama then went to Baba. He gave her a long, Daddy-bear hug. She sunk right into the arms of this foreign but warm and safe man, and I think she liked it! She gave Mama a longer hug and acted like she wanted me to pick her up. (You got it, kid!) For several minutes we greeted and held her and our guide helped to translate.
We were blessed to have been able to have two video chats with her prior to our meeting so she may have recognized our voices but, nevertheless, we had some connecting to do! Several things began to happen to facilitate that process. Our guide was experienced and intuitive enough to know how to introduce us in a way that this little blind child could understand. She placed Lydia’s hand to my face several times so she could learn more about me. Also, she asked me to say my daughter’s Chinese name over and over so she could begin to learn the sound of my voice.
Lydia would call “Mama!” and I would say her name. She did this often during our time in China. She was learning the sound of my voice, and she was getting reassurance that I was there. Baba was often carrying her and she didn’t do this with him very often. But this call and response game became one of our regular activities. She just wanted to know where I was.
Soon after meeting her, we played a fun little “kissing” game with a stuffed rabbit we gave her. She held it and I said “cheen cheen” (kiss in Mandarin) and she began to kiss the toy’s face. Then I said, “Baba cheen cheen” and she gave Baba a kiss (once she found her way around his beard!) Then, she gave me a kiss and then I gave her a kiss. This was a fun, simple game that continued to facilitate our connection.
We were so emotional and happy to finally meet our girl. Upon meeting her, I immediately felt responsible for her. I was protective of her. The Mama bear instincts were in high gear from that moment on. She was finally with us.
Her disability was not something I thought about often at that point although I was very protective of her safety in China. She always needed a hand to hold, and it was scary when she would try to run off (which she did try to do at times). She was eager to explore the world and wanted to talk to everyone. She did sit in a stroller some of the time while touring in Guangzhou which was a nice break – I also could have used one of those kid harnesses!
During the second week, we decided to skip some of the tours and stay in the hotel. This helped her calm down a bit. (We still have to “scale back a bit” for her when we observe her being overstimulated. We try to keep her world small and predictable and this reduces her anxiety.)
At one point in the first day, Lydia started crying (screaming!) because a dog came and touched her leg. (I had no clue where he came from! We clearly were distracted not to notice this!) It turned out that animals were a great fear of hers. She was screaming and crying and we couldn’t calm her down so her Ayi picked her up and tried to calm her. I suddenly realized that I had Chinese kids music on my phone and began playing it. Her Ayi told her, “Look, your mama will help you. She has music.” Lydia was instantly captivated by my phone! She loved making the screen move and pressing the buttons to make a new song play. She still remembers that Mommy played music on her phone for her when the dog scared her.
As it turned out, Lydia knew almost every Chinese song that was on my phone. Learning Chinese songs was one of her favorite activities from her orphanage days. She did not learn anything academic when she was in the orphanage but she learned Chinese poems and the tunes and words to at least 30 songs. This was a little part of her old life that we could bring with us. Even to this day, she will not sit and watch TV or a movie for more than a few minutes (though she will watch youtube up close on her tablet for hours!) but, singing, playing and listening to music captivates her in a special way.
When it comes to adoption, the only way to get through it is to have an attitude of surrender. There is so much that is foreign and hard about this process. But, if we commit and choose to love our rewards will be great! And trust me…. they are!