Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Two Week Blur

Here's a glimpse into the early days of an adoption (at least from my two experiences).   Most people are not terribly familiar with this scenario and I have heard many people tell me how much easier it must be to be past the exhausting newborn stage and into the easy part.

Adopting is a lot of wonderful things, but it isn't easy.

 In fact, one of the hardest things about coming home is that people don't always understand how difficult it can be.  Then, I feel like I am in the difficult position of saying things are great (which they are) and utterly physically and emotionally exhausting (which they also are).  When a mom gives birth, people expect this dichotomy of feelings.  People don't always imagine adoption in the same way.

So let me start this post on a positive note. 

I want to thank all the family and friends who have been extraordinary to us during our paper pregnancy, adoption trip, and in this early time home.

Thank you for asking me, "How is the mother-to-be?" during our wait to travel. That was a perfect way to check in and acknowledge that I was just as eager to see my child as if they were growing inside me.  Thank you for oohing and aahhing over pictures of our child while we were waiting.  Thank you for listening to me worry over our child's health and living conditions.  Thank you for taking care of our children while we were gone.  Thank you for driving them to and from various activities.  Thank you for making my parents feel welcome at my kids' schools. Thank you for asking questions, but respecting the fact that we aren't willing to share all of our child's story.  Thank you for bringing over meals to us.  That typical new-baby gesture feels even more special when the adoption is celebrated as much as a birth.

THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING!

We have been home safely for nearly two weeks.  My apologies to you, faithful readers, for not being more on top of the whole blog thing.

I could have blogged about how smoothly our consulate appointment went in Guangzhou.  I could have written about the "joys" of a 16 hours in a plane on a very long day home.  I could have posted about how the kids were immediately taken with their new little brother and how he was equally entranced with the five little people admiring him.

But I didn't.

I didn't because things have been rough.  Not with Levi specifically.  He is cute and wonderful and silly and adjusting well to the family.  What has been most challenging is our lack of sleep.

Adding a child to the family always involves disrupted sleep, whether the child is added via adoption or more traditional routes.  I've been to this rodeo before.   I expected to be bucked off my sleep routine.  But this has been pretty brutal.

Most people are familiar with the needs of a newborn - either through experience or word-of-mouth gossip about middle of the night feedings.  I know.  It's tough.  I've been through it four times. 

But I will maintain that adoption sleep deprivation is harder, at least for me.  What you don't always think about is that this new child is frightened and feeling pretty vulnerable.  Everything is different and scary, including his or her new parents.  Often children are hyper vigilant, fighting sleep.  Top that off with sleeping someplace unfamiliar and you have a child who is needing a lot of comfort and reassurance in the middle of the night.

Newborns can sleep anywhere.  Once they are asleep, they usually stay sleeping for two or three hours at least.  But when you have an uber alert, recently adopted toddler monitoring for danger even when (especially when?) trying to sleep, they need to have you there RIGHT NOW when their eyes flutter open.  Once worked up into a crying jag at night, they can't be comforted with a clean diaper and nursing session and off to bed like a newborn.  Instead, the parent comforts as best they can, not knowing of the child will be awake for the next 10 minutes or 10 hours.

The days aren't much of a break, either.  This isn't a newborn who can be set down on a blanket, in a crib, in a baby swing, anywhere really and be expected to stay.  Toddlers are explorers.  Its their job.  They should be looking in every nook and cranny, pulling stuff down off shelves and figuring out their new world.  That doesn't mean that a mommy doesn't have to keep a close eye on all this investigation to make sure Little Sweetums doesn't eat something out of the garbage, yank kitty around by her collar, or bash the window with a metal truck.

If a newborn is fussing and wants to be close to Mommy, baby carriers are great.  You can wear that tiny little person without much exertion.  (Unless you had a c-section.  That can cause its own set of challenges).  When you are hauling around the equivalent of three average sized infants, your body can get plum tired now and again.

Toss in a big ol' hunk of jet lag (14 hours difference!) and its a recipe for exhaustion.  Remember folks, The parents and new child are jet lagged.  The other children are not.  And life goes on.  Children need to go to school.  Doctor's appointments need to be attended.  Birthday parties need to be planned.

Once the jet lag was nearly finished, Ben, Levi, myself and a couple of other of the kids got sick and are still sick.  

Even exclusively nursing mothers can call in the reinforcements.  During a rough spell, mothers, sisters, friends can come over to help watch your children.  They can hold your tiny baby and hand the sweet smelling bundle to you when they are clean and dry so all you need to do is stick them on your breast for 30 minutes and get back to a much needed nap.  Even if you had to pay for a babysitter, nanny, or baby nurse, for a week, you could get your mojo back pretty quick.

When adopting, though, for attachment reasons, the parents should be the only ones to feed the child, comfort the child, and provide any care like bathing, diaper changing, etc. for the child.  So kiss that help good-bye.  Add in the fact that, unlike a newborn, this child has been through a lot of trauma and loss and isn't always interested in being helped by you.  Newborns don't throw tantrums.

I haven't written this blog post to vent about my situation.  Okay, I'll be honest.  I'll take a smidge of pity. I know things will get easier once Ben and I catch our groove and get in sync with the new rhythms of family life with our six kids.  The joys are going to soon overshadow the struggles.  Days will demand less energy as everyone settles into a new normal.

What I mainly wanted to do was enlighten you, dear readers, about the reality of the first days home after an adoption.

Not everyone is called to adopt (although I think there are many of you out there who would be spectacular adoptive parents if you are willing to take a leap of faith), but I do believe many of you want to be a support for those who do.

So what can you do?

     Show the new family the same level of interest and enthusiasm that you would show to a pregnant woman or a newborn.

     If this is the family's first child - offer to host a baby shower. 

      Recognize that the family may need to limit visitors and outings in the first few months home (more so than if the child was born to them)

     Don't offer unsolicited parenting advice, especially about discipline, setting boundaries, etc.  When fostering attachment and helping a child through the trauma of losing everything they had previously known, some of the standard parenting practices aren't always the best.

     Help the parents foster attachment by not sneaking treats to the child or trying to hold them.  They may go to you and you might find it endearing, but the child needs to first rely on his or her parents and not "mommy shop" for anyone who might take care of him.

     Offer to drive siblings to events or home from extra curricular activities if you are already picking up your own child.

     Make a fuss over the siblings.  Especially in trans-racial adoption, the adopted sibling tends to get a lot of attention.  Try to help the child's brothers and sisters feel special in their role.

     Don't be offended if the parents don't answer personal details about their child's background.  If they want you to know, they will tell you.  Especially don't ask "Why did their mom give them away" in front of the child.  Or ever.  It is just rude. 

   Bring over a casserole.  Really.  The family will love you forever.

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