Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reality 101: A required course!

Recently there was much controversy on the internet about a family that disrupted their adoption. Their child Hannah was smaller than expected, was sick with conjunctivitis and was not thriving in the manner they expected or hoped. After adopting Hannah and being her parents for 3 days, they asked to disrupt their adoption and be assigned another child. Hannah 2. first I was outraged. Hannah was their daughter and I felt they threw her away. Merely tossed aside like a pair of old shoes and replaced with a newer cleaner more beautiful pair that would look better with their already existing outfit. I was angry at them. VERY.

But, I am the type who feels first and thinks later. It's part of the "artist" in my soul I guess. React then think. Now that I have thought. I am still angry...but not in the same way. I am angry because I have met people who have told me their agencies or their families or someone else has discouraged them from doing research because this research will only "scare" them and keep them from adopting. People I have met currently going through the process are remaining ignorant because they are afraid.

I had a great support network and agency. Neither of which ever encouraged me to sink my head in a hole in the sand and just hope. They told me to remain cautious, but to go out and learn as much as I could. They encouraged me to listen and to see and to know. I, being an academic type probably would have done this anyway. Knowledge is empowering. I knew before I went to China much of what I may face. But I also knew I didn't know everything I may face, and that I needed to be prepared for that as well. I went to China knowing what services were available not only in my town, but nearby cities as well. I had phone numbers of doctors, social workers, and family and friends with me in case I needed advice or support while in China. I brought a borrowed laptop so I could access the web and research any concerns I had about Lydia's health or well being.(And trust me...once she was asleep--I spent a lot of "Gotme Night" online researching some concerns--because Lydia did not come to us completely healthy.)

I think a parent should be scared. Parenting is hard. It's scary. It's a huge responsibility. A life, a precious life, literally in your hands and heart forever. To only tell potential parents good stories is irresponsible. It does the child and the parent a huge injustice. I'm not saying you should focus on only the bad. There is sooooo much joy. I bask in Lydia's light daily...but there is a lot for which parents need to be prepared. To discourage a parent from doing that preparation is unconscionable.

Honestly...I am the type that even if anyone had told me not to seek knowledge, I would of anyway. But many are not that way. Many are trusting and will "do as told" because they fear not receiving what they most desire. Many adoptive parents have faced so much sadness already they don't want to approach the possibility that more may exist. But no matter what we fear we MUST be strong and open our eyes and see. I implore you if you are waiting or paperchasing or contemplating...READ, RESEARCH and KNOW! Go prepared to China. Know what your resources are, even if you think you won't need them. Have numbers to doctors and friends. If you can, bring a research tool with you to China like a laptop. Do it for your child. She needs you to be ready for her...she needs you to be ready for anything.

Attached is a letter from Amy Eldrdige from Love Without Boundaries that mirror my sentiments. They are spoken far more articulately than I ever could speak.

I have been so saddened by this situation. I most definitely wish there was a way to educate ALL adoptive parents about the truths of institutional care, however I have come to realize in my daily work that there are just as many parents who are not online reading everything they can find on adoption as are.

There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of parents out there who have no idea what life is like for a child in an orphanage, and who head overseas to pick up their "China doll" only to be handed a baby who is unresponsive, thin, unable to eat..and on and on and on. While adopting my son last month, I walked several times over to the White Swan to talk to parents, and over and over I spoke with moms and dads who had no clue whatsoever about the issues their kids were having. I heard so many times things like, "she won't eat solid foods" (oral aversion), "she has no muscle tone" (muscle atrophy from lying in a crib all day), "she won't smile" (pure grieving from being taken from her foster mom). I guess since I live China 24/7, I assume everyone adopting does, too, which is not the case.

I talked to at least a dozen parents who didn't even know their child's orphanage name, and while I gently said "you might want to memorize that for your child's sake", at the same time I was trying to process how many parents get all the way to China without ever reading about post-institutional issues. It was sobering to me.

Babies in the NSN as well as the SN path can have issues with attachment, motor skills, emotional issues and more. I think all of us on the WCC list acknowledge that, while also acknowledging that all children (whether bio or not) can have these same issues. Living in an orphanage of course increases the odds.

I think the easy out is to say that agencies have to do more, as well as social workers, but I do think that most of them do try to give information to the parents but often parents don't want to hear it or else think it won't happen to them. Again, I am often surprised to talk to parents leaving soon and to realize they are not prepared. One family was adopting from our foster care program, and when I told them that the child was dEEPLY attached to the mom, the father said, "guess she might cry for an hour or so then?" An hour or so? She had been in foster care for over a year! I tried to explain that this little girl was about ready to lose everything she had ever known, and that they should not expect her to be sunny, happy, and full of personality after an hour. I told them to please remember the 72 hour rule.......that after 72 hours they would probably see her spark, but that she would probably grieve for a long time after that as well.

I think for many adoptive parents, they just don't want to read the "bad stuff", and so I do think that ultimately it is the parents who are at fault for not doing more to educate themselves. There certainly are books galore out there about post-institutional issues. I equate this to when I was pregnant with my kids and I would read "What to Expect When Expecting", and I would get to the C-section part and always skip it. Each and every time I would jump to the next chapter as "that wasn't going to happen to me". Well, on my fifth baby, when they were rushing me in for an emergency C section, I sure was wishing I had read that section earlier! But at that point in the OR, while they were strapping my hands down to the table, it was too late, and so I felt complete panic when I could have been prepared. I think adoption from China is very similar to giving birth.. it is much more rosy to only read the happy stories on APC, but I now encourage every family I meet to read the harder ones as well, because if you are the family who is handed a child that is limp and listless and who looks autistic, what you have learned in the past will help you make the right decision for your family during those very emotional first few days.

I have been called many times in the last few years by parents in China worried about their children. I agree that having a support network to help you through the initial time is essential. Everyone should go to China with at least one phone number of someone they can call if they are panicked upon meeting their new child. I remember feeling so alone when I was handed my daughter and she was so tiny and limp. Because our foundation often helps with the kids who have been disrupted, I am aware that sometimes there are children who have much more serious issues than originally reported..and that is such a hard thing for a parent to get to China and then discover their child is truly autistic or has serious mental delays. I think everyone on both the China and international side would agree that it is absolutely wrong of an orphanage to not be honest in their reports, and no one would excuse that, but I also know without a doubt that the majority of kids who are disrupted are just suffering from institutional issues and would catch up quickly in a loving home. It is always a very sad day for the orphanage and everyone involved when a child that they know is absolutely fine, but perhaps thin and grieving, is returned by their new parents for being "delayed".

I think far too many people believe their child's life is going to begin the moment they meet them. The truth is, and everyone must realize it..a child's life is going on RIGHT NOW in China, and all of their experiences are shaping who they are. The vast majority of aunties that I have met in China are such kind and caring people, but it absolutely is not the same as having a mom and dad at your beck and call. I have had new parents call and say "we didn't think living in an orphanage would affect her at all", and those statements truly puzzle me. How could they not contemplate life in an orphanage?

Walk through Babies R Us and you will see every gadget known to man to make our children's lives here as ideal as possible. Now Americans have two way video monitors, so that when baby awakens not only can mommy see when to immediately rush in and comfort him, but she can talk to baby so that he doesn't even have one single second where he feels alone. How many new parents would have a newborn and then put that baby in a crib 22 hours a day on their own? How many would only feed their baby, even if they were really crying hard, every 8 hours? Or prop the bottle in her crib and then not watch to see if she ever really ate?

Of course no one would do that..we feed newborns on demand, comfort on demand, love continuously..and whether people want to recognize it or not, that is NOT the life of an orphan in an institution. ...even when the aunties are as good as gold. I remember one night when I took some volunteers in for the night shift in an orphanage, when normally just a few aunties are working. One mom looked at me with tears in her eyes as she slowly realized that it was absolutely impossible with just two hands to feed every child, to comfort every child, to soothe every baby who was crying. She said her heart was aching to realize that her own daughter most likely had many, many times where she cried without someone to comfort her.....and she told me that for the first time she finally understood why her daughter had such a deep seated fear of being out of her mom's sight.

The aunties are trying their absolute best, but that doesn't equal mother/child care. I remember being in an orphanage in the north this past winter and the aunties were so proud of how they had 6-8 layers of clothes and blankets on every baby to keep them warm. They were swaddled so tight that they couldn't move, but it was freezing in the orphanage and so the aunties wanted the babies to stay as warm as possible. What alternative did they have? It really was freezing there..I was cold in my wool coat, so the babies couldn't be up and about with just 1-2 layers on, with the ability to move their arms and legs. To stay warm they had to be immobile, and so of course all of those kids have weak muscle tone. But the aunties were truly trying their best, and when a parent is given one of those beautiful children on adoption day, I am sure they will go back to their room with concern and say "she can't sit up by herself..she can't put weight on her legs". That is absolutely the truth, but she also survived 10 degree weather in a very cold province and she will catch up soon enough with parents to encourage her.

To not acknowledge that living in orphanage circumstances can cause lower body weights, low muscle tone, inability to make good eye contact is very sad to me. Can it be overcome? Most definitely! The one thing I have learned over and over again about the kids in China is that they are fighters and survivors. But for some reason, people seem to want to ignore these issues in public forums.

Recently, one of our medical babies that we had met several times in person was adopted, and we all knew that this child was a "spitfire". When the family arrived and spent a few days with her, they decided she was too much of a handful for them and they wanted to disrupt. She absolutely was not what they expected. When they called their agency, they were told they had two choices: adopt the child, bring her to the US, and change their expectations of what they were hoping for, or adopt the child, bring her to the US and the agency would have a family waiting at the airport to adopt her locally. Option three of leaving the child in China was never once given. I admire that agency so much, as they were thinking of the child and the child alone. The family followed through with the adoption and handed the little girl to a new family upon her arrival in the US. As horrible and tragic and emotional as it was for everyone involved...I still feel this was the right decision for the agency to make. It was done in the absolute best interest of the child, who had waited a long, long time for a family. I wish more agencies would advocate for the rights of the child, instead of always seeming to give in to the parents, especially in those cases when they know with absolute certainty that nothing is permanently wrong with the child. Recently with another disruption, the agency I spoke with told me that it was "easier" to just get the family a new baby.

Sometimes easier does not equal right. The first baby who was rejected has now been labeled "mentally challenged" even though the agency knew the child was really going to be okay.

I think all of us, who do realize that delays occur and that babies can usually overcome them, should be these children's advocates by continually trying to educate new parents on what to expect in China. By helping them be better prepared, we just might help stop a disruption in the future. I love Chinese adoption with my whole heart, and it is my life's work..but I also want every family who goes to get their baby to go with their eyes open and to be as emotionally prepared as possible, for the child's sake.

Amy E"


Blogger Sheryl said...

AMEN Lissa! I feel exactly as you do. We had a wonderful SW who has prepared us for the worst case scenerio. Every parent should research and know what issues could possibly come along with their child.

Thursday, July 20, 2006 5:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. What happens to the children with disrupted adoptions in China and disrupted in the US?

Thursday, July 20, 2006 8:02:00 PM  
Anonymous The Cady Chase said...

Lissa, thank you for sharing that letter.
When DH and I were in China, we looked around at the buffet at the WS, and one of the first observations that he noticed was that there were too many new parents that seemed uneducated about China, and adoption and SWIs. Many looked as if they hadn't a clue what their children had been through in their short lives.

I think Amy hits it dead on, when she says that many of the children do not smile at first because they are grieving for the loss of their nannies. I know that was the case with Cady.

It would be an interesting experiment if each of those parents were placed in seperate chambers, away from their families, in unfamiliar surroundings, and talked to in unfamiliar tongue. ...and then judge their personalities and behaviors by their response to that change, or whether or not they can giggle or eat or not be numbed by the experience. Anyone with the capacity to love would fail that test.

Cady grieved termendously. So much so, that we became concerned that she was autistic for the first two days...but it was from the abondance of love that she felt for her nanny that made her that way....and in turn, she now has a deep capacity to love.
That couple left their daughter in China.

Thursday, July 20, 2006 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Salome's Mom said...

Excellent letter both Amy's and yours. This is something every parent should read. I am going to post it in other boards. Thank you Lissa.


Friday, July 21, 2006 9:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

Thanks for sharing this. I couldn't agree more - even with the feel first, think later - we, as parents, have an obligation to prepare ourselves.

I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to put this letter on my blog - just in case a waiting family visits it & could benefit.


Saturday, July 22, 2006 6:37:00 AM  
Blogger Perrin said...

Thank you for posting this. I felt compelled to share this with our travel group who will be leaving in a few weeks to meet our daughters. I hope they understand it is not to scare parents but to be informed and with good judgement as we become new parents in China.

Monday, July 24, 2006 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger PeiLien said...

Excellent job here Lissa. It was great of you to share this information. I hope others continue to pass this letter along.


Monday, July 24, 2006 3:56:00 PM  

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