7:10 PM

Another Great post from Amy Eldrige

What to Expect When You Are Adopting (from China)
By Amy Eldridge (Love Without Boundaries) I 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 there are just as many parents who 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. Parents 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 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), and “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. 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 and social workers have to “do more”. I think most of them try to give information to the parents but often parents don't want to hear it or think it won't happen to them. Again, I am often surprised to talk to parents traveling to China soon and realize they are not prepared. One family adopting from our (LWB) foster care program was told that their child was DEEPLY attached to the foster mom. The father said, "I 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 might see her spark, but that she would probably grieve a long time after that as well. I think many adoptive parents just don't want to read the "bad stuff". 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. When I was pregnant with my children I would read "What to Expect When Expecting". When I reached the chapter about Cesarean sections I always skipped it. Each and every time I would jump to the next chapter as "that wasn't going to happen to me". An emergency Cesarean Section during the labor of my fifth baby, made me wish I had read that chapter! When they were strapping my hands to the operating room table, it was too late to educate myself about Cesarean sections. I felt complete panic when I could have been prepared. I think adoption from China is very similar to giving birth. It is easy to only read the happy stories but I encourage every family to read the hard ones as well. 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 first very emotional 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 so tiny and limp. Because our foundation often helps with the kids who have been disrupted, I am aware that sometimes there are children who have more serious issues than originally reported. That is a hard thing for a parent to arrive in 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 it is absolutely wrong of an orphanage not to be honest in their reports. No one would excuse that. I also know without a doubt the majority of children who are disrupted are only suffering from institutional issues and would catch up quickly in a loving home. It is always a very sad day for everyone involved when a child they know is absolutely fine, perhaps thin and grieving, is returned by their new parents for being "delayed". I think far too many people believe their child's life is going to begin the moment they meet them. The truth that everyone must realize is a child's life is going on RIGHT NOW in China. All of their experiences are shaping who they are. The vast majority of aunties that I have met in China are kind and caring people. However it 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". 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 as ideal as possible. Parents can have two way video monitors so when baby awakens not only can mommy see to immediately rush in and comfort him, but she can talk to baby so that he doesn't even have one second where 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. 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 I took some volunteers for the night shift in an orphanage. Normally just a few aunties are working at that time. One mom looked at me with tears in her eyes as she slowly realized that it was absolutely impossible to feed, comfort, and soothe every baby who was crying. She said her heart was aching to realize that her own daughter likely had many times where she cried without someone to comfort her. She told 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 best, but it doesn't equal mother/child care. I remember being in a northern orphanage this past winter. 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 they couldn't move, but it was freezing in the orphanage. 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. The babies couldn't have only 1-2 layers on though that would give them the ability to move their arms and legs. To stay warm they had to be immobile, and so all of those kids have weak muscle tone. The aunties were truly trying their best. 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 the truth. However 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, and/or 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 about the children in China is they are fighters and survivors. For some reason, people seem to want to ignore these issues in public forums.
Recently, one of our medical babies we had met several times in person was adopted. We all knew 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 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, 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 arrival in the US. As horrible and tragic and emotional as it was for everyone involved, I still feel this was the right decision. It was done in the best interest of the child, who had waited a long time for a family. I wish more agencies would advocate for the child. Especially when they know with absolute certainty that nothing is permanently wrong with the child. Instead they seem to give in to the parents. 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 realize that delays occur and babies can usually overcome them, should be the children's advocates. We should continually try to educate new parents on what to expect in China. By helping them be better prepared, we just might stop a future disruption. I love Chinese adoption with my whole heart. It is my life's work. I want every family who adopts to do so with their eyes open and as emotionally prepared as possible, for the child's sake.