August 1, 2006
Here's a WONDERFUL letter from Amy Eldridge (of Love Without Boundaries) that I
think EVERY adoptive parent should read! This makes me love Amy all the more. I feel so strongly about the issue
of parental preparedness in international adoption! What I could only "feel" strongly, Amy has put so eloquently. "Expect
the best, but prepare for the worst" is a good motto for any parent going into adoption (or parenthood for that matter :)). And
then continue to think of yourself as a "therapeutic parent". Thankfully, it's already easy for me to forget that Miyah
had been in an institution for a year, but I need to remember for her sake that her beginnings were far different than her
brother and sister.
The letter is quite long, but please take the time to read it if you are in
any way involved in the life of an adopted child.
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 just as many parents 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 (Hotel where parents stay in China) 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 (non-special needs) as well as the SN (special needs) path can
have issues with attachment, motor skills, emotional issues and more. I think all of us on the WCC (Waiting Children's - for
special needs adoption) 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
giving birth.. it is much more rosy to only read the happy stories on APC (another website for adoptive parents), 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
tiny and limp. Because our foundation often helps with the kids who have been disrupted (adoption terminated), 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".
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 (nannies at orphanage) 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
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 shetold 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.