Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fourth and FINAL LIDiversary

Today is our fourth LIDiversary. It is hard to believe we began the process to adopt from China 4 years ago. Time sure flies. I love all the excitement in the June group on RQ, as we are now less than a year away from bringing our kids home. People have started getting their nurseries ready, although we now realize that it is likely that at least some of us will get boys so final decorations will have to wait. Some of the early Junies may see a picture of their baby 6 months from now!

I alternate between excitement and panic. We know so much more about adopting now than we did 4 years ago (ask us anything – about any program J). With that knowledge comes the realization that not everything always works out well or is easy. Nikolai transitioned and attached easily; he very quickly caught up developmentally, really largely before we even finished the bonding period in Kazakhstan. Overall he is fairly healthy, and he has always been a good eater. His attitude of “everything is fun until proven otherwise” certainly helps him. There were aspects of his baby house that were great, and are pretty uncommon in orphanages. He had a consistent group of caregivers who really enjoyed and interacted with the kids, and his playroom was bright with lots of toys.

I remember everything about Nikolai’s adoption as easy, but looking back I can see that it was a process to get to the point we are at now. It is daunting to think about going through that process again – especially with a child who may have a significantly harder time attaching or have significant sensory issues. RQ did a good series of posts on sensory issues that can be read here You can read her posts on attachment here

During our visitation period in Kazakhstan, the first week Nikolai sort of played next to us, the second week he laughed and was excited to see us, but it was not until the fourth week that he reached back for us when we returned him to his caregivers. In China, our child will be handed to us after what may have been a long bus ride with people they didn’t know without any further transition – rip-the-band aid-off style.

After we came home, Nikolai was happy and engaging, and would cry for food or attention. But he did not seek us out for hugs and snuggling for some time. At the same time I realize I did not bond to him instantly either – not in the way we are bonded today where I think my heart would literally stop if I lost him. I found him adorable, but I was jet-lagged and sick and often just wanted a break. This is totally normal, and something we learned in adoptive parenting classes. It is especially important for people to keep in mind when bringing home a toddler or older child. When you suddenly have a stranger in your house who is grief-stricken and constantly raging or completely shut down, it is understandable that a strong bond is not felt immediately. Plus it is hard to shake a feeling of guilt when all your child wants is to go back to what is familiar to them. Fake it until it is real is the guidance always given.

Health wise, it is easy to forget that Nikolai had what we and other Kazakh adoptive parents called “orphanage cough” for almost six months. The doctor thought it might have been RSV or something like that. He had many appointments to get blood drawn and other evaluations just to get a baseline for where he was health wise. It turned out that all of his vaccines had to be repeated and that he had been exposed to TB and needed antibiotics for 9 months. He was in the 10% for height and weight, and quickly shot up to 50% in less than six months. So, life in the baby house was not exactly perfect.

I especially worry about how the China adoption will affect Nikolai. Before we had him, I would have said that we would be prepared to bring home a child and deal with anything, but now I am not so sure. I read posts of people who upon arriving in China find that their child has significant undisclosed needs and they are faced with a daunting choice of bringing them home when they feel utterly unprepared or coming home without a child. It would be SO much better if the orphanage/CCAA were honest in the paperwork. I always am relieved when I read that parents decided to continue, and heartbroken when they leave the child behind. But who knows how we would react in that situation? People often mention that there is no guarantee when giving birth that your child will not have significant issues and you can’t choose not to keep them. But adopting is not giving birth – and all adopted children have special needs that must be dealt with whether it be issues with speech, physical development, sensory, attachment, medical, or other issues; we are prepared to deal with these things. You can choose not to drink while you are pregnant, shouldn’t we be able to choose not to adopt a child with fetal alcohol syndrome if we don’t feel we can handle it?

I think that there are few issues that would cause me to leave the child behind, and most of those issues (mental illness, RAD, FAS) are impossible to diagnose in the one day you are given to make a decision. A child suffering from grief and exhibiting post-institutional behaviors (e.g., head banging, rocking) may appear to be severely disabled or autistic. How do you know in such a short period of time? The truth is you don’t. You just jump in and hope for the best. Many people describe the feeling of being handed their child for the first time as panic, as they put it “what the hell did we just do.” While there are no guarantees that the child is not disabled, I am lucky to have read many parents’ honest accounts about those first few days. In one example, the family was handed a 22-month old who did not appear to be able to even sit up unassisted, made absolutely no sound, could not suck on a bottle (the openings of bottles in the orphanages are large enough that the liquid just pours out), and certainly could not eat solid food. To the parents’ complete surprise, on the fourth day the child stood up and walked around! Chris and I are going to try to come to an agreement about some of the more common medical issues that appear in the NSN program. Some, like spina bifida and deafness, scare us more than others, so we need to do some research.

Of course the fact that I do remember everything as easy with Nikolai’s adoption should be reassuring. In rereading this post it sounds so discouraging. Now for the excitement part – yes, many things can go wrong, but in most cases everything ends up great. I know the first year or so may be hard, but you just take it one day (or one hour) at a time. Kids and parents make great strides in six months to a year. I have read only a few times out of the thousands of people adopting a second child that they had regretted it – and those times were only people whose children had severe RAD. I love having a sister, and want Nikolai to have a sibling. We are so excited about potentially having a baby in the house again (or at least young toddler). Nikolai keeps saying he wants a baby, and he doesn’t know that we are adopting yet (a year is too long for a 2-yr old to look forward to something). He will be a great big brother.

*READOPTING: Several people have left comments on our blog requesting info on readopting in VA. I am SO sorry I haven’t checked the blog lately. If you still want templates leave a comment and be sure to include your email address – or you can get on the adoption in VA yahoo group, where several templates are stored.

And now, what everyone wants to see – new pictures of our cutie!