I’ve kept it real for the duration of this adoption (that’s not really a stretch for me anyways), so I’m going to keep on keeping it real here. It has also been very helpful for me to read the one or two blog posts I could find from families who were very honest about their experiences as they came home from China.
We’ve been home as a family of five for one full week now. Yay! The feeling of driving up to our house with all three of our kids was sweet relief and victory. Also, brushing our teeth with sink water, sleeping in our own bed, making coffee how we like it in the morning, and having access to a kitchen. It is good to be home.
Home was also very, very hard for a few days.
While we were in China, Elliott became increasingly more comfortable with us. For her, comfort means that she feels secure enough that she will allow us to put her down without throwing a fit. It means that she will play independently and walk around, without holding up her arms to be held constantly. We also saw less and less “indiscriminate affection” as the time went on (“indiscriminate affection” = randomly approaching anyone and lifting her arms to be held in an attempt to get attention. This is common for kids coming from orphanages. It is also a big deal – we want her to learn that we are her parents and we meet her needs. It is also deceiving, because just because someone may hold her it is not true attachment. Often if someone else will hold her there will be a fit or sadness afterwards for her, because the attention eventually ends.) In China, she would lift her arms up to EVERYONE. Even random people on a billboard. That decreased significantly as time went by and by the last few days she stopped completely.
Almost immediately as we got home, things were very hard. Elliott reverted back to some of the earliest behaviors we had seen in her – maybe even more difficult and puzzling behaviors then we had seen before. She was scared and irritable. She would throw a fit if we set her down or even rested her on the counter. She was very resistant to the kids. She can be a little spitfire when she’s not feeling something, and we saw a lot of that the first few days; some hitting, crying when the kids would even talk to her, and lots of fit throwing for various reasons.
The kids were pretty heartbroken. Bennie especially struggled for a few days, grieving hard his loss as the position as the youngest child, pretty disillusioned that this little sister we had waited for was so cranky, and trying to adjust to us being home from China after two weeks.
It felt sort of like Russ and I had our two kids, Campbell and Bennett, and then this other kid. Maybe we were babysitting? We both felt pretty irritated with her and overwhelmed with trying to manage the needs of all the kids.
And finally, jet lag is a beast. We were not just tired. I felt moody, foggy, and angry. I couldn’t think clearly. I didn’t like Russ anymore, who wasn’t exactly acting like Prince Charming. I felt like I left my nice, loving, helpful husband in China.
Things reached a peak of bad on Tuesday night. Russ was sick with some awesome stomach thing he brought home from China and I did night-time duty with our little jet-lagged girl by myself. That night just happened to be the worst – she was up from 12:30am to 4:00am. Somewhere around 3:30 I lost all ability to have rational thought and wondered (hysterically) if the rest of my life would look like this. It wasn’t pretty. That’s a drastic understatement.
I would say for the most part I have felt pretty educated about the adoption process as we have gone along. There has been a lot of training involved, I have an incredible friend and mentor who has two little girls from China who has walked me through it all, and I’ve made lots of connections in Facebook groups and gained lots of wisdom from these women who have done this – some of them many times.
So although I have felt very prepared for many parts of this, this was definitely one part of the adoption process that I was just not prepared for. I knew jet lag would make us tired, but that is about the extent of what I expected. I did not know that re-entry would be this hard.
I am so thankful for the people who have gone before us. One of my favorite passages of scripture has long been 2 Corinthians 1. Paul says “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.”
I think so often we miss out on this because we aren’t willing to release the hurt. We are still mad or resentful that we went through something to begin with and so we miss out on the beauty that God can redeem it by using it for good and to bring comfort to someone else. Or maybe pride says it is ours and we don’t need to share. And sometimes, on the other end of it, we aren’t willing to be vulnerable enough to say “I need comfort. I need to learn and glean hope from God has already gotten you through.”
I was honest with my fellow adoptive mamas and my closest community and got some feedback that I desperately needed.
I was reminded that jet lag is more than just tiredness. That it can mimic depression. That we aren’t necessarily falling apart, we are struggling with the effects on our bodies of warping through many time zones. I was also reminded that she is struggling the worst of all with jet lag, and likely some of the irritability and clinginess is the result of jet lag for her.
In these interactions I was reminded that she has lost the country she is familiar with, that every single thing is now new. I was reminded Russ and I breathed a sigh of relief when we walked in our home, but for her – this is a big, unfamiliar, scary place.
And I was told, over and over, that she would adjust. That a week from then, a month from then, six months from then, I would not be sitting on my couch holding her. I was reminded that we would get to see victory after this very hard point.
I was reminded that although this time feels unimportant and boring, my endless sitting on the couch is exactly what I am supposed to be doing right now. Although it feels like I am essentially a lazy bum, I am giving her the connection she has lacked for the first two years of her life. I was reminded that if I sit on this couch long enough, she will eventually feel safe enough to get down and start playing.
This hope helped me endure through what has been, without a doubt, the hardest days through this adoption process.
Around Thursday things started to look up. We started to get more sleep. The three of us started to feel like we belonged in this time zone. Russ got himself on an antibiotic. We started to like each other again. We started to make it through the day without feeling like zombies (now we just feel like normal very tired parents of three!). We started to see glimpses of the Elliott we knew in China – funny and spirited. She did, in fact, get down off my lap and start playing around me. She has started to get down and play more and for longer stretches. She started to interact with the kids more and seemed to not be so overwhelmed by their presence. She actually walked on the tile yesterday for a minute willingly (she is adamantly opposed to hard flooring – tile & wood!)
Last night (Saturday night), Elliott slept a full night – from 7:30pm to 6:30am, with no help from Melatonin and no waking up. Hallelujah!
There is still a lot of transitioning happening and left to happen. Becoming attached is not a one and done thing. The goal is to become securely attached – where time away and other relationships do not effect her relationship with Russ and I (and Campbell and Bennett) as her primary relationships. We are continuing to cocoon. We are continuing to work through hard moments (hello, high chair). We are continuing to try and learn her (today I realized she becomes very clingy when she is hungry). We are continuing to love on Campbell and Bennett through the newness of this. We are continuing to pray for wisdom and grace as we navigate all of this.
We are definitely grateful to be doing it without jet lag now though!
Some pictures from our first week home:
Meeting the neighbors!
Middle of the night jet lag shenanigans
I love french fries
Hanging out at home
Car seats are the worst.
We spend a lot of time on the rug on our living room floor
Black Friday shopping with the girls
Girlfriend will NOT walk on hard surfaces. She stays on the carpet or the area rug. She is nosy though, and is starting to get interested in what is happening beyond her self-imposed limits. It’s only a matter of time before something entices her to take those scary steps!
I’m so grateful to rock her to sleep. I think often about how much touch she missed out on for the first two years of her life. She is such a sweet snuggler.