all the things + ___________
When we were preparing for our adoption, our agency had us go through a good bit of training and education. Seemed like it took an eternity to complete all of it, but it was good. As with most things, the paper-ready person doesn’t necessarily mean the “completely ready in every aspect” person. Example: I completed the required student teaching rounds during college. Student teaching is far different from being the Real Teacher in your Own Classroom. Very different. Adoption training is the same. We knew a lot of information, and we were as ready as we could be, but time in-country proved that there is more to it than we could ever imagine! Regardless, the training was helpful, and has made a huge difference in how I perceive the behaviors of our 0-2-4 year old.
We have an almost 4-year-old. At least, chronologically she is almost 4. Emotionally and developmentally she’s closer to around at 2. Add in a few bonding and attachment practices, and we’re backed down to the newborn stage. I feed her by hand (not letting her use the fork or spoon) if possible. This helps her understand that Mama is the one who will take care of her hunger needs. We let her sleep close by to us so that if/when she wakes we are right there to be with her. We meet her needs as quickly as possible… all things that you do with a typical newborn baby. Only this one is 4. This classification system has quite honestly help keep me sane at times. The moments when I am at a loss, or feel my patience growing thinner, I remind myself that she cannot be treated the same way I treated my other children at this chronological age.
In the pre-adoption period, our agency training let us know that there were a number of behaviors we could look for and expect once we had our daughter in our arms. In my mind, it made perfect sense. Here they are in no particular order…
Manipulation, Triangulation, Sleep Issues, Attachment Difficulties, Nightmares, Hoarding, Control Issues, Trust Issues, Aggression, Grief, Language Difficulties, Sexually Acting Out
These are All the Things that people usually see. We have seen several of these behaviors in the almost two weeks since we had our Gotcha Day, some more frequently than others. It’s a hard thing, to live any of the Things on this list; none of them are easy to walk through, and depending on personality, some are really really hard. If you’re a person who depends on a good night’s sleep to fully function the next day, you may really struggle for a while! Fortunately, there is coffee (lots of coffee!) and Jesus.
Compounding the hardship of living the Things is a little something called a “special need”. In China the adoptions that occur are special needs adoptions. The non-special needs program is at a halt because of the tremendous waiting time. So, with the All the Things, mamas and babas are also dealing with __________. Fill it in. Cleft lip/palate, limb differences, brain differences, Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, blindness, deafness, HIV, heart defects, and a whole other long list of needs. In our case, the blank is completed by EB.
The special need is what is may be listed on the medical form, but in reality, it’s the lesser need compared to All the Things. It may exacerbate the Things, but it’s not more trying or more difficult than the Things. EB has made the Things more interesting for us in a few ways. Julianne is more prone to injury, so when she becomes angry, and throws herself down, I worry about the Anger and her skin. Will this form a new blister? Will she rip her skin? When she has trouble going to sleep rocks herself back and forth in bed, it inevitably causes new wounds (on her ears, on her arms, on her legs… yes… a daily occurrence).
ANY adoption is about the Things. ANY child that comes from this place will, to some degree, experience something on this list. Special needs adoptions are no different. Special needs adoption may be about a medical condition, but it’s also most assuredly about All the Things. It’s about loss, and abandonment, and a more fragile body. It’s about family, and love, and finding new strength. It’s about caring for the body, and healing the soul. In our case, it’s about a diagnosis, and sometimes knowing there is no cure for the diagnosis, and finding joy regardless. It’s about looking on the inside versus being caged in by what’s on the outside. It’s beautiful and difficult and a blessing.
It’s also heartbreaking, but I know that it’s normal, and that slowly, over time, things will change. Knowing that change will happen, and that these Things are normal doesn’t really help with the reality of them in the moment. It’s HARD to see these Things. It’s HARD to know that hoarding things comes as a result of never having enough. It rips my heart open to know that sleep issues are a result of being one in a room of eighteen and not being rocked to sleep. My Mama-heart wants to fix all of the boo-boos, the ones on her skin and the ones on her heart, but oh! The REALITY! My heavens! It’s EASY to lose patience when aggression rears its ugly head! It’s EASY to want to right wrongs in the ways I would have with my first three kids! Those moments require more than what I have. Those moments are the ones that I have to breathe deeply and just survive. Those are the moments my prayers are, “less of me, more of You… and right away, please.” In the minutes after a flare-up and she wants to sit close and hug and giggle, I have to take another deep breath! Wait! Weren’t you just mad at me? Wasn’t I just frustrated with you? And now it’s all good??? Yes. Right now, that’s exactly how it is. And when I think about justice, I just remember the Cross. How many times have I pulled away, or been angry, or had control issues and the Lord flung that as far as the east is from the west when I ran back to Him?
If you’re looking at adoption, international, or domestic, and you find yourself looking down the list and categorizing children based on their medical needs, that’s okay. There are some needs that my family would not have been able to care for, and we needed to be honest with ourselves about that. But don’t think to yourself that one need is “easier” than another. The truth is that they are all the same.
All special needs adoptions are All the Things + __________.
That blank space needs to be something you can handle, but the Things need to be something you’re aware of, too. Because in my opinion, that’s where the real healing happens.
Healing happens slowly. It happens day by day, hug by hug, snuggle by snuggle. It happens in the moments when I want to be far away from her, and I pray through the pain and pull her closer because that’s what she needs. It happens when she wakes up at night murmuring “mama” and hears me answer her, no matter what time it is. I will know it has happened when she hurts herself and rather than just carry on, she comes running to me crying. The shell will have cracked, the salve of mama-hugs will be able to sink in a little more deeply. Healing will be when she realizes I’m not just “mama”, I’m “Mama”, with a capital M; someone more than just a caretaker, someone who loves her and isn’t going to leave her.
Today, tomorrow, the next day, and for weeks, months, and years to come. All the Things do not heal overnight. But they can. They will., because Jesus heals. Family becomes a reality. A new thing (a GOOD thing!) is happening.
(All pictures courtesy of my friend Amanda with Mint to Be Mine Photography)