I have been writing this post in my head for a long time, almost 6 months actually. And I debated it for several reasons, one being the effort it would take to actually type it (can you say TIRED??) and two being the consideration of how my daughter may feel one day reading it. So I have prayed and feel like God gave me the ok to write it for 3 reasons--to encourage those who have walked a similar path that they are NOT alone, to help those whose experience was different to understand us others, and for those who have not yet adopted to see all sides of the journey. So without further adieu, I will share what it has been like for our family since meeting our newest family member.
I read a good bit about struggling with attachment and the possibility that it may feel awkward at first with your new child and even post-adoption depression, so I felt like I was prepared for that possibility. I prayed that that would not be the case for us and that our first meeting of our baby girl would be wonderful-and it WAS! It truly was one of the holiest moments in which I have ever participated and God showed us a side of His love that was truly magnificent. With this fabulous first moment where the clouds parted and angels sang and all the world was rainbows and happy tears came a reassurance to me that, yup, we were a-ok and would not have one bit of trouble with loving and attaching to this sweet creature. In fact, we were already hopelessly entranced by her. Within just a few minutes of holding her, I could tell she was not well--she had very rattly breathing and just seemed pretty out of it, so I was a little concerned. As the rest of the days in Ethiopia went on, she continued to have a hard time breathing, even one night had me sitting up praying fervently that she would not die because she was wheezing and struggling to breathe so much. I was very worried at that possibility-I realized didn't even know if this was normal for her, if she had a serious illness, how to comfort her, where a doctor or hospital might be-she felt very unfamiliar to me and it was a weird feeling for a mom of 3 to feel like she had no clue what to do with a baby. I felt less competent with this tiny stranger than I ever did with my first daughter and it was unsettling. I just wanted to get her home and get her taken care of with familiar doctors and pharmacies and rocking chairs so we could begin our joyous new life as a family of 6. The trip home was fairly uneventful, she slept great and it was wonderful to get my other 3 kids back in my arms at the airport, wonderful and FAMILIAR. We got her to the doctor the very next morning where it was debated whether or not to put her in the hospital, but she was ultimately put on significant breathing treatments and medications and round the clock care, plus bottles to deal with every couple hours (a big difference from my nursing experiences) and so our new life together was not joyous, but rather chaotic and crazy. She continued to have breathing problems that eventually landed me and her in a locked-down isolation unit at a hospital an hour away from home while they tried to figure out if she had TB (which she did not, btw). We got out of the hospital on Mother's Day and I realized I felt totally disconnected from my other kids from not having spent much time with them at all in the last month, and also from this baby whom I had been spending all my time with, but who I really didn't know b/c all that time was spent with doctors and medicines and hospitals. Well, NOW I was ready for that joyous family of 6 thing. But again, it didn't happen. Instead, I began to get to know our newest little lady and guess what? She was NOT fun at all!! She screamed all. the. time. LOUDLY. And a LOT. As in ALWAYS. The only thing that would even come close to getting her to stop was to hold her, all the time, and no, not in a carrier. It was exhausting. And I wanted her to stop, a LOT. Not to mention that her screaming would then set my 2 year old into a wailing, inconsolable crying fit of her own and we spent many a day with 2 very loudly wailing children next to me on the floor while I silently wept, amongst great Mt. Everest's of laundry and heaps of dirty dishes and tumbleweeds of dog fur on unvacuumed floors, and asked God why He had called us to THIS? Was this what we had prayed for, hoped for, wanted, anticipated so eagerly for the last year? Is this what all of our friends and family had been so excited about? Had we misunderstood what God asked us to do and this was the consequences? I felt like I couldn't function normally in any way and it felt like my family was all coming unglued. And the biggest panic I had was that I COULD NOT GET OUT OF IT. I debated giving AGCI (our agency) a call and asking "What is your return policy?" but really felt that "because she is driving me to the brink of insanity and shattering the peace of our household with her ridiculous, never-ending caterwauling screams" was not a reason they would accept for disrupting the adoption. But really, I would panic-this is FOREVER. I cannot get out of it and I am stuck and my life will never be enjoyable again, my other kids will resent us and their new sister for ruining their nice life and our family will be a shambles and I will celebrate all my holidays alone while my children prefer to be with their in-laws and talk about what a horrible family they grew up in. Did I mention I felt a little panicky here and there??? And the worst was the blogs of other families who had adopted, too-with their shiny happy pictures and stories and reports of feeling like "they have always been a part of our family and were meant to be with us! we are so blessed!" Ugh. I just felt like this little person did NOT feel like a part of our family, and I resented her coming in and up-ending everything that was good and comfortable and happy about our family, even if it wasn't her fault (and even if I had also felt this way about one of our bio kids when she was born and had severe colic). And then oh, the GUILT. It was consuming. Well-meaning friends would squeal with delight when they saw my little girl for the first time and say "Oh Jody, you must be on cloud 9!" and "How wonderful!"and "You are so blessed!" as I would manage to eek out a smile and respond "mmmmhmmmm", while silently flogging myself with the whip of guilt--"what kind of mother are you?" "how can you feel that way about a helpless ORPHAN? don't you know that God called you to love her?" "you ARE blessed, and not even grateful, how terrible..." "it is really not that bad, you are just being selfish and unloving" Not to mention the guilt of all the attachment information swirling around in my head: do not let your baby cry, immediately meet their needs so they know they are loved and cared for, don't let anyone else hold/feed/TRY TO SILENCE them for the first few months, spend time holding and cuddling your baby as much as possible and if you do not, your baby will never ever feel like you are her mother and will grow up severely dysfunctional-how does one do this with a baby who never ever is still or quiet ever unless she is asleep?? That was the other thing-this girl, once she could breathe, would NOT be still, ever. And drooled and spit up literally 24/7 so I was always filthy and smelly, she was always filthy and smelly, and it was just unpleasant to say the least. I would relish the times she was asleep and hiss vicious threats to my other children through clenched teeth:"if you wake that baby up, you will never see the light of day again, and also will be forced to eat spinach and lima beans for every single meal until the day you die! and we will stop having Christmas. and fun. forever." The whole time she slept, I felt the urgency to do whatever I could possibly do during that time b/c when she woke up, I was going to once again be a slave to the whims and demands of this loud 15 pound little tyrant. The minute I heard her start to stir in her bed, I would say "no no no..." and wish her back to sleep. And again, the guilt-'what is wrong with me???' Other moms posting about "oh I woke my baby up b/c I missed him so much" and I am thinking "here! take mine then so you have something to occupy your time!" And another kind of guilt that I couldn't shake-had we made a mistake taking our child from her homeland? How would I feel if I had to relinquish my children and some person of another race, another culture, another language, another EVERYTHING took them across the world to absolutely NOTHING familiar?? That guilt was haunting and paralyzing (and honestly still is some days--I place those questions at God's feet regularly). I felt empty and spent and angry and sad and overwhelmed and confused. THIS was NOT what I prayed for. THIS was NOT what I wanted or seemingly what anyone else was going through. THIS was NOT what God called us to. Or was it? I would constantly replay the last 18 months of our life, and sometimes even further back to things God had done, and I knew without one speck of a doubt that God had walked us right here. "But Lord? Right here stinks." And He said "I know, but I am right here too." And honestly, some days that was an encouragement, and some days I yelled at Him, "Then DO SOMETHING!!! Fix this!!" I began to pray very specifically to have a heart of love for my baby girl. To love her with my feelings, not just with my head-because I was willing and able to do whatever necessary to take care of my girl and provide for her, but I just felt no affection, just anger and frustration. I clung to articles by Melissa Fay Green where she talked about similar experiences with her newly brought home son. I would read, and re-read them. She is a champion of adoption, had done it multiple times, and yet, could it be possible that she had a hard time adjusting to her new children, too? God showed me many other women and families who had adopted, and struggled like I was, as well. And I began to realize that it did not mean that this was how things would be forever, even if it was for now. And I remembered the dark days of colic with one of my other daughters and how now she is without a doubt one of my favorite people on this planet. And I surrendered it to God and asked not for Him to "fix it" anymore, but to give me the stamina to walk through it with Him. I knew He had called us to this little girl, and I knew He was good, so I knew I needed to choose to trust, even when it seemed like unending darkness sometimes. And you know what? God has slowly knit our family together and grown great, deep affection and love in our hearts for each other. It did NOT happen overnight and it was at times very challenging. But I can honestly say, now, that I love our newest daughter passionately and love to spend time with her and feel like she is every bit as much my own as my other 3 daughters. Yes, life is still exhausting, and yes, she is still crazy busy and LOUD and likes to be heard and attended to, um, promptly--I guess she knows she is number 4 and is not about to be lost in the shuffle, haha! It has been a long 6 months and we have been stretched and tugged and pulled and broken. But I would hope that we have been broken like warm bread, that from being broken can be shared to nourish others rather than broken into jagged pieces that wound and cause pain. This was ultimately my goal in sharing our story-to take our brokenness and use it for God's glory. To encourage others who may be struggling to feel affection toward their new children. To raise awareness amongst those who are adopting that it may not be like you expect, and that is ok. And to let my newest little Thing know I love her--and that I would do every minute of the last 6 months over if I needed to for her to be here as my daughter.