Being Home: The Dark & The Light

How was the trip home?

What is it like being home as a family of three?

How is Elliott adjusting?

How are you adjusting?

How is attachment going?

Is there anything you need?

As time allows this week, I will answer these questions and just post them as they are completed (click links above for previous posts).  Thank you so much for your warm welcome home to our new life!

 

What is it like being home as a family of three?

I guess it makes the most sense to back up and talk about what it was like to be in Poland as a family of three, because we were a family for a couple months before actually making it home.  It is truly hard to find the words to describe the experience of going from two to three with a little person who already has 18 months of life under his belt.  At first, it felt a little like playing house, or like we were the temporary babysitters and not this child’s parents.  This was especially true when we were staying with the foster family, and I think continued to be in the back of our minds up until our adoption was finalized.

I want to say up front that the process of bonding with an adoptive child, and vice versa, is a deeply complicated experience.  We were fortunate enough to have this process happen under the most ideal circumstances imaginable, with a young child who was already healthily bonded to a caregiver (this is a very good thing!) who did all in her power to ease us all into the relationship.  Because of this, our bonding process happened faster and smoother than we could have ever hoped.  This is not to say that it didn’t have its difficult moments, but I believe we truly had an atypical experience due to the unique circumstances.

I think the general perception of adoption (that has probably been fueled both by Hollywood and by a general lack of discussion on the topic) is that from the moment that child is placed in your arms, the rest is just happily ever after.  In reality, this is never, ever, ever the case (even under ideal circumstances like ours).  Many families, marriages, and individuals struggle immensely in the beginning of the post-adoption phase, but do so silently out of fear of causing friends and family to think the adoption was a bad idea or that they are unsatisfied with their new child, or out of fear of casting a negative light on adoption as a whole, etc.  Because of this, “Post-Adoption Depression” is a very little known, but very real experience for many families.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  From the moment I laid eyes on my son, I loved him with a fierceness I didn’t know was possible.  He was mine, and would do anything for him.  I also want to ease any fears that Alex or I are suffering from Post-Adoption Depression or even anything in that ballpark – that is not why I bring up the topic.  I bring it up because the goal of this blog is to not only give you a window into our adoption experience, but to education on adoption-related issues, I do want to focus a little more on the difficult moments in order to give a broader perspective on what this process is usually like.  We have had more than our fair share of sunshine and roses in the attachment process, but you can check out my Instagram if all you want is a dose of cuteness.  Let’s dive a little deeper on here, shall we?

In a lot of ways, adoption is like an arranged marriage, at least from the parents’ perspective.  Without much (if any) prior relationship development, you are suddenly tied to this person for life.  On the parental end, there might be some element of “love at first sight”, but it is a “love” born from anticipation and longing, the kind manufactured from the ideal you have been shaping in your mind for months or years of waiting and dreaming.  It is not the sustaining love grown from an intimate relationship fortified by the deep knowing of the other person.  It could probably be more closely labeled as “infatuation”, maybe (in some cases) with a giant dose of maternal/paternal protective instincts mixed in.

But from the child’s perspective (particularly for young children like Elliott), this “arranged marriage” is often anything but welcomed, let alone longingly anticipated or even expected.  For kids who have never bonded with a caregiver, this means entering the relationship without even the concept of love in their brains.  For a kid like Elliott, it means entering the relationship while already deeply in love with someone else. Either way, you are matching up parents who have been bursting at the seams with longing to a child who’s feelings toward them are somewhere on the scale of ambivalent to outright hostile.  For these children, the experience of being adopted is more like the experience of being kidnapped.

So, had you asked me in those early days what it is like to be a family of three, I would have told you that it is absolutely heartbreaking.  There are not adequate words to express the feeling of going into your son’s room when he cries only to have him look up and be visibly disappointed with the sight of you, and then burst into grief-wracked sobs when he realizes the one he wants isn’t coming … or when he screams and arches away from you when you try to rock him … or when you can’t explain to him why this is best for him in the long run … or realize he would rather beat his head on his bed in rage at what you have done to his happy life than be near you … or when he stays up all night sobbing uncontrollably from fear, grief, and anxiety and rejects your comfort … or when he catches a glimpse of his former caregiver and radiates with a joy that he has never even come close to expressing towards you …

… when he does everything in his power to make sure you know that he. does. not. want. you.

That, my friends, is heartbreaking.

When you are isolated from your support system and anything familiar, and your whole world has shrunk to the size of a tiny apartment with a child you want so desperately to love you the way you want to love him/her, it becomes extremely easy to lose sight of the finish line.  It becomes easy to be irritable with your spouse and your new child.  It becomes easy to feel resentful of this child who you just emptied your bank account and turned your life upside-down for.  It becomes easy to let anxiety and depression creep up.  It becomes easy to put on a sunny face for the outside world, because after months or years of anxious waiting, how could you tell them it is falling apart when they (and maybe you) were expecting happily ever after?

There were two truths that sustained me during this time, that I had to repeat to myself over and over:

  1. This too shall pass, and the love waiting on the other side will be hard-won and infinitely worth it.
  2. My Heavenly Father went through much worse to adopt me into His family, and I was kicking and screaming all the way too.

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For us, this phase was mercifully short.  When a child is healthily bonded to a prior caregiver, the initial transition is much more painful, but is short-lived.  Once they accept you as the new caregiver, they literally transfer their prior attachment to you.  This is why almost overnight, Elliott went from pushing me away to never wanting to let me go.

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But remember: not only was Elliott previously attached to a caregiver he had his whole life (not common), but that caregiver invited us into her home and slowly walked the three of us into being a family (unheard of).  For most adoptive families, this phase can go on for days, weeks, months or even years.  I share this with you so that YOU can be an educated support to the adoptive families in your life.  Assume they are struggling.  Don’t let them walk this road alone.  Don’t talk to them like they are in “happily ever after” land – they aren’t.  However you can, get in the trenches with them.  Give them space to be honest about the struggles and unmet expectations and disappointments they are facing, and let them do it without shame.

So, how is life as a family of three now that we are home?  Wonderful.  And I’m not saying that to sugarcoat the reality or to paint an unrealistic picture for you.  I’m saying that as someone who has walked through the fire and come out the other side, as someone who had to earn the love of her child and finally succeeded.  There is still work to be done, and I’ll get to that when I answer the question about attachment.  But what I want you to know is that adoption will chew you up and spit you out time and time again, and none of it is more devastating than when it is coming directly from the child you fought so hard for.  But nothing, nothing is like the first time you come into your child’s room and his eyes radiate with joy and he reaches out to you, because he wants no one but you.  Every day in the darkness was worth that first moment of light.

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