I love all the encouraging comments people are leaving on the pictures we have posted of our new daughter on Facebook: "Love at first sight!" "I can see the connection!" or "She knows you're her mother/father now!" "Wonderful, she trusts you already!"... I accept the comments for the love and kindness that is behind these words. At the same time, it is SO important for us (and our friends and family!) to realize that there is nothing fast or instant about adoption and attachment, especially not from our daughter's perspective.
Our family has known for a long time that we wanted to adopt, and have had years to prepare our hearts to welcome our daughter into our lives. I have spent hours at night imagining the first moments of holding our daughter, and the happy life we will spend together. From the moment of her referral, I have stared at her photographs, imagining the wonderful little person who lives far away, and who is our daughter.
When we finally got to travel to meet our daughter, when we finally got to see her in person, it was amazing, and exciting. My entire being was flooded with love for this small girl whose eyes seem to reflect the whole world. Feeling her soft warmth in my arms, looking in her eyes for the first time created a connection in my heart that will last for our whole life.
From our daughter's perspective though, being handed over to us for the first time was NOT a rosy tinted moment of instant love and connection. It was terrifying for her. She is old enough to feel stranger danger, and everything about us is "OTHER" to her. Initially too shell shocked to react, she stared at us, without reaction. This made some beautiful 'first meeting' pictures possible, but we could tell our daughter had retracted inside herself.
Once the shock of meeting us wore off, her *fight* surfaced. Our daughter screamed. Our daughter cried. Our daughter hit, and kicked, and clawed, and pinched, and bent herself backwards to get away, and screamed some more when she couldn't. When fighting proved futile, she finally gave up and fell asleep - an avoidance mechanism that helped her mind protect itself.
I don't blame her. She had just been handed over, out of the safe and familiar arms of her nanny, into the arms of 2 people she had never seen before, who looked different, smelled different, and seemed incredibly, eerily happy to see her! She is old enough to know that something important was happening, but still small enough that nobody seemed to have explained anything to her. What a scary and confusing situation this must have been for her!
Over the course of the next days, our daughter became more comfortable spending time with us, even seemed to enjoy our company. The initial hand-off from the nannies each day was always tear-filled though, and she was relieved to return to her familiar surroundings at the end of the day.
Our daughter has known enormous loss and pain in the two years of her life. We are choosing to keep her story private, so that she can choose whether (and with whom) she wants to share it when she is older. I can tell you though that our joy of welcoming our daughter into our family is preceded by a situation of both tragedy and brokenness. She has lost her first mother, and we have the honor and privilege to be her second family, her forever family.
Our daughter has spent more than half of her life in orphanages, and has been moved at least 3 times, each time with different caretakers. She was lucky: the institutions she has lived in are clean, and the nannies are attentive and loving. We are SO thankful for the love and care her nannies have provided her with. It is clear, seeing how she interacts with them, that our daughter is well attached to her nannies, and this attachment is a precious gift. This attachment means that she will be able to attach to us, once she has grieved the loss of her beloved nannies. That's right. Our daughter will need to grieve - again.
Her life at the Transition Home is currently her whole world, and as soon as we clear Embassy, we will joyfully, excitedly, yank her out of this little world to bring her home. Hers isn't a perfect world, but it is the one that is familiar to her: a world of nannies, and other orphans, and routines. She doesn't know yet that we promise a happy life together, full of love and adventure. She doesn't know yet that we have prayed for her since before she was born. She doesn't know yet that we are trustworthy and kind.
Our daughter has lived in a series of homes and institutions, and has had multiple caretakers in each. We expect that she has guarded her heart increasingly after each consecutive move. She doesn't know yet that her world won't change, again, half a year after she comes home. She doesn't know yet that she won't have to adjust to another set of caretakers after us. She doesn't grasp yet that we are her parents forever.
In a way, our daughter's heart is broken. This brokenness is part of her story, and hopefully, with time and love, her heart will heal, and her story will turn into something beautiful. We will do everything in our power to help make this possible.
We need to ask you, dear friends and family, to support us in making this possible. You can do this by respecting the boundaries we will set, and by encouraging us, and by praying for us (if you are the praying type). We need to take several months during which we spend time together as a family, without outside visitors.
We know you are eager to meet our daughter. We know this is going to be a sacrifice for you, too! You can briefly see her when we arrive at the airport... and then we ask that you please wait yet a little longer before getting to know her. This initial time together is so important for our daughter's long-term well-being. This intense time together will allow our daughter to heal and to bond with us at the pace she needs. This may take 3 months, it may take 6... we will adjust our time frame depending on how our daughter adjusts to life in our family, and we ask that you respect this.
The initial months together after an adoption are often called "cocooning" - time spent together, isolated from the outside world.
We ask that you extend lots of patience and grace to us during this time - isolating ourselves like this will not feel natural, and will be difficult for us, too! We love our friends and family, and we are thankful that we will not be alone in this.
What will our time of cocooning look like, specifically?
- When we arrive at the airport, we would love for you to be there! We know you are excited to see our bundle of joy in person, and the airport is a good place to do this. Please don't touch or hug or kiss our daughter. I plan to carry our daughter in a sling, so please don't hug and kiss me either...
- For several months, our daughter will be at home with one or all of us at all times (except for brief car rides to bring our boys to school). We will take turns taking the boys to church and to sports, while the other parent stays home with our daughter. Our home and our yard will be her world initially.
- During our first weeks at home, (even though we adults will hunger for contact with other adults!) we will not be hosting visitors. If you are dropping by a meal (which is so amazing, and kind, and generous!), please don't expect to visit and stay... even though selfishly, we want you to - our daughter needs us to keep our cocoon tight.
The length of the 'no visit' time will depend on how well our daughter adjusts. Please trust our judgement in this, and respect our boundaries.
After a few weeks, we may welcome brief visits. When you visit, please don't hug, kiss, or ask to hold our daughter. If she approaches you, please allow us to guide her back towards us. Also, please don't give her gifts. At this time, she does not need more things (though we love the generosity of so many of you!). We are trying to keep her initial months as simple and as predictable as possible.
- During our first weeks at home, we will limit electronics. We might not answer our phones quickly, or may let calls go to voice mail. We will answer texts and emails as possible, but please extend us grace in that respect. Encouraging messages are welcome, and we are looking forward to hearing from you (the social butterfly in me hungers to hear from you). Snail mail is also always welcome, though we may not be able to answer promptly.
- We will be the only ones who hold her, kiss her, feed her, and tend to her needs. Our daughter needs to learn that we are the ones who will care for her from now on. Once we start welcoming visitors or we venture out, our daughter may seek affection or assistance from you. Please allow us to guide her back towards us.
A toddler who has grown up in a normal environment would absolutely be welcome to come and explore and interact with a new person, at their own pace. A child who, however, is not yet firmly attached to her parents, due to being raised in an institution, may often show some indiscriminate affection. This behavior is part of a behavior sometimes called "parent shopping." A child who is not yet firmly attached to her new family will sometimes engage and charm a new person with the motive of exploring if the new person might be a good parent person.
This possible indiscriminate affection behavior is why initially it will be important for us to guide our daughter back to ourselves, to reinforce that she doesn't need to look for other future caretakers, but rather, is safe with us now.
- Our boys might feel like they are going a little crazy, cooped up. We would welcome them getting to visit their friends for play dates occasionally, to help keep their life somewhat normal.
- We adults
will definitelymay feel like we are going totallya little crazy, cooped up. Please pray for us, encourage us, and re-engage us once we feel that our daughter is ready for us to venture out and about. 5 minutes of saneadult conversation with someone we don't live with may be very welcome occasionally...
- There is a good possibility that we will forget a few birthdays and other important holidays. Please don't take it personally...