March 2 – one year ago today we met our third son.
So many prayers, much planning, and anticipation all led up to that moment of walking into the conference room of our hotel in southeast China.
It’s often referred to as “gotcha day.” We call it family day, as we celebrate our family as a whole. And annually, it will be a reminder of how God knit together our specific family unit and the day our youngest sweet boy joined us.
This day is a reason to rejoice. And while it’s been our first year with him, we do not celebrate the common developmental milestones one may naturally celebrate in a first year. We aren’t cheering for rolling over, sitting up and first steps. What we celebrate is so much more meaningful in terms of bonding with our son.
This year has been hard. And lonely. We quickly realized there is no way to properly explain to others what we were walking through without sounding like we were crazy. We first had to tell family and friends that we were going to try “cocooning” (a period of time in which you stay in to foster attachment) and when we did start going out we had to tell them not to feed or pick up our new son. This often ended up in uncomfortable reminders when others did this anyways.
And with him, of course, it was just extra important that we be the ones to do those specific things because he had no idea that we were “mommy” and “daddy.” He wasn’t sure who he may be going home with, so he would be especially charming and silly and cute to everyone. And everyone else just saw an adorably sweet boy that surely needed that extra cracker and cheese. Again, confusing him as to whom he can get his needs met from.
So, back to one year ago today.
My love for him was growing in the months beforehand as we tackled mounds of adoption paperwork, attended classes, had meetings, and daily prayed with his photo in hand. That love was instantly tested as he pushed me away the next day after meeting him. He did not like me. My son strongly DISliked me. We had done our reading and knew this was a possibility so we did our best to make it through the rest of our China travels. Chad was the one to hold him and the one to try to comfort him (despite my best efforts, it was clear I was not a comfort to him) and I worked on playing with him and doing the things with him that he seemed to like, simply to work on any form of positive association with me. Basically, Chad traveled carrying our son and I traveled carrying the bags.
Not how I pictured it.
But completely understandable.
He had no idea we were coming for him.
No natural bonding had formed.
He did not grow in my womb.
He suffered loss.
I couldn’t blame him for leaping out of my arms. We took him from everything he knew and if he had to be with one of us, he was going to stick with the one he felt more secure with.
Everyone that has walked these steps before us says just do what you need to do to survive while in China and that was what we did.
And before we knew it, we were home.
When we got home, we started to try to get into a routine and we quickly learned there was a lot we had to work through. There are parts of our son’s story that are his alone and we will honor that by keeping much private. Perhaps the best way to review this past year is to explain the change in me and my heart.
One of the the most difficult things we have been working through is his attachment to me. For a long time, I felt like I was just going through the motions of being a mother to him. Feeding, changing, bathing, clothing…hugging, kissing, when it felt the most unnatural. I was so discouraged because I was letting his obvious feelings towards me question how I responded to him. For months on end, I had to prepare myself to enter his room every morning with a happy face because I wasn’t sure how he would respond to seeing me that day – whether he would make eye contact with me at all or scream upon seeing me. This was so wearing on my heart as a mother and this daily response from him was not something that went away quickly.
We learned that he would act different in social settings around others than he would at home with just our family so we often didn’t share our struggles because no one else was seeing what we were going through. When we did share, one of the hardest parts of being true to this journey and openly talking about how this past year had been going was hearing a response like “well, all kids do that.”
All kids have meltdowns or tantrums. I am honored to have become a mother both biologically and through adoption. The difference in behavior and response is the why behind it. The “all kids do that” response dismisses our son’s story. Not all kids have experienced and grieved loss by the age of 18 months. It’s shown that children that have past trauma and spent time in institutional care have structural brain differences. So while we are giving him a safe home and family, anything that triggers fear may express itself in behavior that looks like typical toddler outbursts or disobedience but often times there is a difference and that why behind the behavior is what we have to work through differently with him.
Many adoptive families walk through similar issues that we have gone through this past year. Some being overcome sooner, some longer. For us, this past year has shown a pattern of taking some advances forward with him and then a step or two back. So overall, I’ve been taking that as growth! Our son did not enter our family in a natural way. But there is nothing he needs to do to earn our love. The Lord knew I needed him to be my son. This year has been a breaking year for me. Time and time again I’ve tried to fix everything in my own might. I have done nothing in my own strength. I have seen how weak I am and how quickly I can feel defeated simply when my expectations are not met or I am not responded to in a way I think I should be. I had moments of reaching what felt like the end of human love and have cried out to God to show me how to love when it isn’t always my first natural response.
This one year anniversary brings about a lot of reflection. There is nothing magical about one year but we seem to be noticing more advances lately than setbacks. I feel like I’m climbing out of a valley. Things are getting better and feeling…natural!
Here are some of the things we are rejoicing in as we reflect on this past year:
• we can leave the house without a meltdown in fear of where he is going
• when we pull in the driveway, he now says “home!”
• after being in daddy’s arms he will willingly come into min
• we can grocery shop without needing to eat all the samples
• recent, consistent mornings of smiles when I walk into his room
• play is becoming natural for him
• real snuggles that he knows he can come to us for
• a new, genuine belly laugh that we hadn’t heard before
• he now stands next to me in public, often with his arm wrapped around my leg, instead of feeling the need to charm strangers – he understands family!
And most importantly, we celebrate a bond that we had to work on, fight for. There is a reward in this love that wasn’t natural, didn’t come from his growing inside of me and needed way more work than I thought it would. This love that I had to completely rely on Jesus for – the only love that God can give and equip us with. This love is redeeming, deep, and oh so rewarding.
I am so thankful for this past year. I am blessed beyond words to call him my son.
I celebrate “momma, ahhh youuu”
(Momma, I love you)
The journey of adoption is redemption and it is beautiful but it is also hard. It doesn’t end with the wonderful airport homecoming.
I’d like to encourage you, if you know an adoptive or foster family who has recently welcomed a new child into their family, please reach out to them and in any way you know how to, show love. Show grace. Understand that while the way they are doing things may not make sense to you, they have poured their hearts into researching the best ways to help their child. So send a meal, bring over a coffee or give a hug. I promise you, it will go a long way!