Let's see...Oh yeah! I left you all sobbing uncontrollably from our touching video.
If you missed Part One, it's kind of a big deal, so go back and read it.
Let me start by saying that every adoption story begins with gut-wrenching loss and grief.* This concept became painfully tangible to me when it came time to leave the transition home with Sophia. Ethiopians are not given to displays of strong emotions (at least not in public). To face a room full of nannies who had known my child more intimately and for a longer period of time was humbling. To observe their tearful goodbyes was crushing. The only thing I could do was offer my sincerest appreciation for the role they played in my daughter's life. "Thank you" was not enough, but it was all I had to offer.
As painful as this was for the nannies, there was, and is, another woman who grieves more deeply. She loved this child first. Her arms will be empty tonight, while mine are overflowing with the blessings of children. Sophia and her birth mama both suffered traumatic loss just a few months into Sophia's life. A loss that each of them will undoubtedly grapple with for a lifetime. There is a part of Sophia that can never be adopted. A part of her will always belong to another mama, another country and another culture. To top it all off, every fiber of that was ripped from her when she and I stepped onto the airplane. The cabin door sealed, shutting out everything familiar.
Yes. Every adoption story comes at a steep emotional cost.
Here's where the plot really thickens. Refill your coffee, stretch your legs and then come back.
I'll spare you the flight details, but I will say this: If you are traveling internationally and see a woman on the verge of sleep-deprived hysteria, carrying a child who is leaking poop, your sympathy (and some baby wipes) will go a considerable distance to restoring a smidgen of sanity for that woman. She has a long road ahead of her.
The airport is where all the magic happens. You are greeted by signs, balloons, flowers, teddy bears, your own cheering section, and enough camera flashes to feel like the paparazzi have found you out. Everyone at the gate knows what's going down and a lump forms in the throats of onlookers and passerbyers. It's a "Dear Diary" moment. Everyone feels good for giving you a proper welcoming, but they have no idea what else to do.
After the airport is light years more crucial than those few minutes in the airport.
While we truly appreciated the support shown at the airport, I felt completely misunderstood and alienated in the following weeks. While I wanted nothing more than to cocoon in our home and focus on attachment and bonding, circumstances outside of my control dictated otherwise. I felt forced to go out in public, when it was least desirable to do so. Well-meaning people would say things like, "This is so precious." or "You just fit together so beautifully."or "Look at how happy she is with you!" It took every bit of fortitude I could muster to plaster on a fake smile and say "Thank you". No meal deliveries had been set up. Two friends independently brought us enough food to last a few meals and one young woman did some grocery shopping for us. They are all lucky I didn't turn into a sobbing puddle of gratefulness. Our phone remained silent. No one asked how they could help or how they could pray for us.
I won't belabor this point, but I want to make it crystal clear that Post Adoption Depression is real and very sticky. Sticky because it is a big question mark to those outside the adoption community. Everyone understands Postpartum Depression. We identitfy the hormonal changes as the major culprit. Considering the lack of hormonal changes taking place in an adoption, struggling newly adoptive parents just seem mental and needy. There's a sense that others are thinking, "You made your bed. Now lie in it." You chose this path. Ouch.
So here's what I have to say to families who are waiting to bring home an adopted child (or children):
1. Rest in the Lord's timing. I know it's agonizing, but savor this season and use it prepare your heart for the tough months to follow. Saturate yourself with God's word.
2. Devise your "after the airport" plan, and stick to your guns. You will not be popular. You can always relax the plan as you reevaluate. Yes. You will miss out on things. Events will come and go on your calendar. So be it.
3. Set up a strong support system. Do not be shy about telling people ahead of time what you will need. Encourage close friends, family and pastors to educate themselves on the unique challenges adoptive families face. There are excellent resources available that you can pass along to your support network. Get to know adoptive families. Most of us are more than willing to answer your questions and address your concerns with transparency. Ask someone to be in charge of setting up meals. It doesn't matter whether you are bringing home a baby or a fourteen year-old, you will appreciate this gesture!
4. Lastly (and unfortunately), be prepared for criticism. A lot of people don't understand the delicate thread holding your family together right now. In our case, most people didn't seem to understand that a one year-old is not a "blank slate".** It didn't compute that she couldn't be held by everyone or go in the church nursery. Again, stick to your guns. It'll be worth it in the long run.
To friends and family of a future adoptive couple:
Don't wait until the airport to declare your support. Walk the long journey with them. Let them know ahead of time that you want to help them during the tough first months. Respect the boundaries they lay out. Call them to ask what they need. Don't wait for them to call you. Remember that they won't always be this needy-it's only a season. Let them vent and say demented things without passing judgement on them.
One of the best conversations I had during the rocky first weeks was with a friend who caught me at a vulnerable moment. I confessed my attitude and admitted to sounding like a deranged woman. Her response was heaven-sent. She told me nothing I could have said would have sounded crazy. I clung to that small measure of acceptance. Every adoptive family needs that caliber friend.
Adoptive families, what did I miss?
Striving for Transparency,
*I know this doesn't fit nicely into adoption reality tv shows. POP! Now that your bubble is burst, we can continue.
**More on this later. Consider it a cliffhanger.