Dear Internationally Adoptive Parent,
For the past three months I have met you -- families who are anywhere from three weeks to several years post-adoption. I have looked into your bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. You told me you had no idea it would be this hard. Or you told me you did know it would be this hard but still it is So. Very. Hard. and you need relief yesterday.
You’ve told me the stories of how your sweet babies (and toddlers and big kids) came to be eligible for adoption. Of damaged families from whom they had to be removed. Of loving, desperate families who left them to be found by people who could care for them in ways their birth families could never afford, losing their child forever so that their child might thrive or just live. Of anonymous families whose backgrounds and motives you’ll never know.
You told me about arriving in-country with your arms full of gifts and your bank accounts practically empty, counting the minutes until you could hold the child you fell in love with through pictures and on Skype, the child you knew in your heart was always meant to be yours – who will make your family complete. And you told me about finally meeting that child, only to have them kick and scream or completely shut down when they were put in your arms. You began to realize the inaccuracy of the records you received, the abuse or neglect they suffered, the massive medical and emotional needs they brought with them. Or you realized that you were taking them from orphanage workers who adored them, who sobbed at having to let them go forever, from foster families too heartbroken to say goodbye.
I’ve heard the countless ways you’ve sacrificed your time, money, sleep, patience, and social life. You’ve told me you don’t mind except that your other children have to do the same. You’ve asked me how to explain to them that fair is no longer the gold standard in your family – that the distribution of your attention will no longer cut in their favor; that their new sibling won’t be disciplined as swiftly or as frequently as they are; that they will have to share their toys, their bedrooms, and their parents.
You’ve told me you feel like prisoners in your own home. You know from your pre-adoption training that your new child needs cocooning – to be with only nuclear family, to avoid crowds and new faces while their attachment to you grows bit by tiny, stingy bit for days and weeks and months. And you’ve had to figure out how to make it to the grocery store and the dentist and church when the only acceptable babysitter is your spouse. Goodbye date night. You’ve missed dance recitals, ball games, family picnics, and family vacations. And your extended family hasn’t always understood. You’ve asked me how to explain to exuberant grandparents who can’t wait to hold this precious new addition to their family that they will have to wait – probably for months – to love and cuddle and care for them.
I’ve seen you do things you never thought you could – or would have to. You’ve consulted medical specialists, cleaned wounds, learned sign language, cooked Asian or African or Eastern European or South American cuisine, rocked children who are too big for your lap, bottle-fed children old enough to have permanent teeth, and slept with squirmy, nightmare-wracked toddlers in your beds. You’ve watched your new child grieve – wail and rock and hit or go eerily silent – because they can’t be in the orphanage or foster home or hospital you took them from – a place you know is better left behind but is still the familiarity they crave. You’ve watched them charm strangers, reaching their arms to them for the comfort and love and safety they’re supposed to want from only you.
I’ve seen the pain on the faces of those of you who are the rejected parent, whose hugs and gifts and smiles are violently rejected or coldly ignored for no reason other than you had to go to work or for no apparent reason at all. And I’ve heard from you favored parents, who have done all of the cuddling and rocking and feeding and comforting and have been touched 24 hours a day for so long you can’t remember what it’s like to feel like your body is your own.
I’ve walked you through how to attune and attach; how to discipline; what to look for; when to worry. I’ve reassured you that it will be OK – not today or tomorrow but slowly, a little more each day. It will be OK and then good and then normal. There will be moments of joy, moments where you know you did the right thing. I’ve reassured you that it’s OK not to feel that now – to question whether you’ve made a terrible mistake, whether you’ll ever feel like a normal family.
I’ve been so lucky to share some of your happier moments too. I’ve always known that every child is lovely, but I’ve had the privilege of seeing the endless forms beauty takes in children who are unbelievably tiny, with intense medical problems, with scars visible and invisible, whose smiles are electrifying, who are rambunctious and delicate and so strong. Because only strong children survive such difficult circumstances, be it abuse, neglect, poverty, frightening hospital stays, long hours in a crib, or just the uncertainty of not yet being with their forever family. I’ve watched your face light up when they return your smiles, snuggle into you to fall asleep, and say those first sweet English words: please, more, thank you, Momma, Daddy.
I have thought of you every single day, my heart heavy with the depth of suffering in the world and full with the love and sacrifice I watch you give your children. The secret of helping professions, certainly of counseling, is that we helpers receive so much more than we give. We are not selfless – we are enriched and blessed by being part of your lives, humbled that you seek our help, honored to hear your truth, thrilled to watch you succeed. That is certainly true of my IAC experience. I will never forget you or your stories. And I will always keep you in my prayers – that you will be blessed with patience, with supportive family and friends, with kind doctors and understanding teachers and increasingly frequent restful nights.