Friday, January 2, 2015

Adoption: Staring at Loss and Family

The adoption journey is one that I am still processing and probably will be for years to come.  There’s so much wrapped up in “gottcha” day that never really gets talked about.  You hear the fairy tale stories of instant love or the hero stories of “rescuing” a child but there’s also confusion, a (temporary) sense of hopelessness, and grief. Lots and lots of grief.  Let me try and explain.

When I walked off the bus in Zhengzhou, my son was right there in the arms of his loving and dedicated foster father.  He was obviously well loved and happy.  I had a moment that I was awe-struck; he was so beautiful, so perfect, and so mine.  It was the day that I had been waiting for, the day that I was going to meet and hold my son in my arms as he had already been in my heart for months.  I was in love.

[caption id="attachment_352" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Photography by Renee Booe, owner and operator of Ronee Booe Photography and Spur On Love Photograph by Renee Booe, owner and operator of Renee Booe Photography and Spur On Love[/caption]

Then came the moment that the “hand-over” occurred and he was taken out of the arms of the family he had known and placed into mine.  I knew what was happening, but all he knew was that a stranger was now holding him.  What child could or would possibly be okay with this?  I think back to when my oldest little and middle little were young and they barely let family members hold them at that tender age, let alone a total and complete stranger who looked, smelled, and sounded completely different than everything he had ever known.  And then it was time for his foster family to leave, and it was just us alone to figure each other out.  After many, many tears, this precious little boy fell asleep in my arms and we headed back to our hotel.

At the hotel we had a chance to really look at one another.  He stared at me and I stared at him.  Looking back now, I think we were both in shock.  He had lost everything, and while I had gained another son I felt totally and completely unprepared to parent him.  I understood his grief, but I was surprised by my own feelings.  I wanted to revel in the happiness and delight of a dream come true, but that didn’t seem quite right given my gain came through his loss.  I also had a 21 month child that already had likes and dislikes and I didn’t know any of these.  He had a system for expressing his needs, and I couldn’t decipher one cry from another.  I even thought about giving him back because I honestly didn’t know how I could make things right for either of us.  I was heartbroken for him, and I completely recognized that I was the cause of his pain and yet he clung to me because I was all that he had in that moment.  He totally and completely trusted me the same way my newborn daughter and son did when they were born, and yet he had absolutely no reason to.  That was a tremendous sense of responsibility that I didn’t know if I could handle.  I wondered if our family would ever be able to blend in a way that allowed us to change to meet his needs as much as he was changing to meet ours.  I didn’t want to “rescue” him because I knew he was fulfilling our dream, not the other way around.

[caption id="attachment_353" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Photograph by Renee Booe, Owner and Operator of Renee Booe Photography and Spur On Love. Photograph by Renee Booe, Owner and Operator of Renee Booe Photography and Spur On Love.[/caption]

But here’s the thing, I was afraid to say anything about my feelings to anyone.  My travel group all seemed so happy and content; I worried that there was something wrong with me.  I couldn’t share my feelings with friends or family because my dream was coming true--what did I possibly have to complain about? And I didn’t know if I had the right to complain because my feelings seemed trivial compared to what this baby was going through.

So I did the absolutely worst thing that I could have done; I shut down.  When I finally was home, I couldn’t figure out how to turn my feelings back on.  When I finally did, I cried.  I cried a lot and I cried often.  When I finally started researching all of this, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my feelings and I decided when I was strong enough I would share my story.  My story doesn’t take away from the grief and loss my baby experienced, but it is still a valid story to tell.  And much like the stories I have shared about autism and primary immune deficiencies, it is just my story.  Others will have a very different story, but I hope that by sharing mine, they will find the strength to accept and share theirs as well.  I could have prevented a lot of heartache on my part if I would have found the strength to talk about my feelings as I was experiencing them.  Truthfully, I would have been in a better place to be the mother that my baby needed.

Now that I look back on the past 5 months, I don’t regret our decision to adopt for a second.  In fact, another adoption weighs heavily on my heart.  I love this little guy with all my being and I think he does me as well.  As he gets older though I am going to make sure that he knows how sorry I am that he had to experience such loss and heartbreak in order to join our family.  I’m going to let him know that however he feels is exactly the way he should feel.  And I’m going to tell future and present adoptive parents that however they are feeling those first few days, weeks, or months is okay too.  The road to most fairy tales is paved with heartache, hardship, and trial, but you get through it together because that’s what family does.

[caption id="attachment_354" align="aligncenter" width="300"]IMG_20140916_162115085 Caden, Mommy, Sayre, and Ryley[/caption]