Friday – a Travel Day

Friday was a travel day for us, going from Nanning to Guangzhou. We worked on packing up all of our stuff, a somewhat stressful process, as we had acquired some extra things and an extra person and would need to negotiate both train stations and the train with my 2 suitcases for the kiddos and me, Danny and Sharon’s 3 suitcases, our new stroller for FangFang, and 3 backpacks and a large purse. Packing up took us most of the morning, and we just had time for a quick bite for lunch, so we walked over to the mall attached to the hotel and had lunch at the same restaurant we’d eaten at for dinner the night before. Not a lot of restaurants in that mall had English or picture menus, so we figured we’d just go to the place we knew would work. Our lunch experience that day was less ideal, though – the servers seemed to find us an interesting attraction, and several of them stood around watching us eat and competing for FangFang’s attention. I was quite ready to go by the time we were done eating.

Unfortunately, the hotel hadn’t made a record of our request for a late checkout (which they’d approved the day before), so our keys had been deactivated while we were out. It took us quite a while to get someone to help us get into our rooms and get our luggage, so by the time we checked out, we were running about 15 minutes late, and I was worried we might miss our train. Thankfully we arrived in time, but we were at the back of the line to board, which was somewhat problematic given the amount of luggage we had. We managed to get on board, but it was hard to get spots for all of our stuff, and we ended up with suitcases and stroller distributed all throughout the train car. Travel days are always stressful, but it felt like we’d run a marathon by the time we even got on the train.

We started out with Madeleine CaiQun, FangFang, and me sitting together with Danny and Sharon in the row in front of us.

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That didn’t last long, though. FangFang made her preference for Sharon very clear, so I passed her forward, and she sat with Sharon and Danny for a while. I was a little sad but figured I’d also been so emotionally and physically taxed all week, it wouldn’t hurt me to sit and read a book for a bit, so I tried to enjoy the break.

At some point, Sharon handed FangFang back to me, and she was quite disgruntled, making her dissatisfaction clear to everyone in the train car. I offered suckers, iPad, and toys, and I tried walking up and down the aisles with her, all to no avail. She was having none of it, not interested at all in being with me. After what felt like an eternity of trying to calm her (all the while being the object of the attention of a good number of people on the train), I asked Sharon to take her back, and she calmed immediately.

I may or may not have spent a good amount of time crying after that. I’d worked so hard to get to China to adopt this child, I’d spent hours researching osteogenesis imperfecta to know how best to care for her, I’d worked hour after hour of extra work time to earn money to bring her home, and she wanted nothing to do with me. Intellectually, I knew that I could expect nothing from her. I do the right thing because it’s what I’m called to do, not in order to obtain any sort of positive emotional response from her. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still hurts when it happens. I knew she could reject me. Kids coming from orphanages or foster homes often have trouble attaching to more than one person at a time, and they’ll often choose one adult to whom to attach and completely reject all others. I don’t think I had sufficiently considered the possibility that even though Danny and Sharon and I were clear on what the ideal scenario would be, and they were going to leave the attempts to build a relationship with FangFang to me, she might choose to attach to them anyway. All things considered, this is far from the worst case scenario. She wasn’t rejecting me outright – she just preferred Sharon. She’d still play with me and interact with me, and she understood that I was her source of food and diaper changes and getting all basic needs met. She was beginning to bond with me to some degree – she just preferred Sharon. And experiencing her refusal to spend any time at all with me that afternoon was so hard. I felt like I’d hit a new low.

I kept reminding myself of the advice my friend Becky had given me about pursuing and caring for FangFang but letting her receive comfort from Sharon if that’s what she wanted, plus the counsel of so many adoptive mamas (counsel that I myself have given to others), that China is all about survival. It still stung. I also felt like I was experiencing the reality of how different God’s love is from mine – Romans 5:7-8 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God makes the first move. He moves toward us even while we are rejecting Him, and He does so joyfully. When my daughter rejects me, I want to cry and have a pity party. I get over it, and I do move toward her, but it’s hard. 

We finally arrived in Guangzhou, and thankfully it was easy enough to find our guide at the train station. The elevator wasn’t working, so we had to do multiple trips down the escalator to get all of our suitcases down, but it worked, and we connected with Elsie, and we were relieved to be there. She took us over to the Pengman Apartments, where we’d reserved a 2-bedroom apartment for our week in Guangzhou. Our agency usually has families stay at the Garden, which is a beautiful hotel, but it doesn’t have great room configurations for a party of our composition. We’d need to meet our guide there, though, so we wanted to be nearby, and the Pengman Apartments were right across the alley. They’d offer us more space for a much lower price.

There had been an unfavorable report about them recently in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong, but we were hoping our experience would be alright. I think the place is fine – but it’s really just adequate. At first we agreed it would be okay. And I was excited that the other family from our agency who is in Guangzhou this week was also staying there. They actually came down to see us and give us some restaurant recommendations right away, and it was great to see them. But over dinner that night (at Pizza Hut, given that it was 9:00 PM by the time we were heading out for dinner), I told Danny and Sharon that I didn’t think I wanted to go through the hassle of switching, but if I had it to do over again, I would have reserved us a place somewhere else, probably the China Hotel. Sharon seemed relieved, and Danny said he really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to switch, and in fact, they could probably do it the next morning while I was at the medical exam with FangFang.

We discussed it more after we’d gotten the kids in bed (at 11:00 PM), and I texted with Matt a bit, and we decided to make the switch. It wasn’t that the Pengman Apartments were horrible. In terms of general quality, they’re maybe one step below a Motel 6 – peeling wallpaper, mold, random little holes in the wall, etc. That’s all probably to be expected.

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The biggest issues for us were related to the lack of real usability. There aren’t any dressers in which to unpack at all; the bathroom has just a shower instead of a bathtub (and Madeleine CaiQun had been playing in the bath for about an hour each day while FangFang napped and was loving that); there’s no bathroom counter on which to unpack your bathroom supplies; they didn’t have a pack ‘n’ play available for us when we checked in (and FangFang is NOT on board with co-sleeping). The elevators took forever. One bedroom was window-less, which gave it sort of a claustrophobic feel.

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To us, it seemed kind of like a cheap 2-bedroom apartment you get when you’re a college student. I don’t think it’s a bad place to stay. Under different circumstances, we would probably have stayed. But for this week, for this trip, we decided it was better for us to switch. We looked at the China Hotel and saw that if we went with the cheapest rate (no breakfast included) we could get 2 rooms for not much more than we would have paid for the Pengman for the rest of the week. We felt like we could have made the Pengman work, but it would be something we’d have to make work, not something that was really set up to work for us. If our trip was going as well as possible, we might well have stayed. But it’s not all perfect, and there are a number of other stressors, and I felt like I needed the hotel situation to be something I wasn’t just pushing through. We made a reservation online for rooms at the China Hotel that night and hoped that when we went to check in, we’d be able to get adjoining rooms.

We left everything packed up, only taking out what we really needed, and we headed to bed, knowing we’d have to get up early for us to make sure everything was completely packed up and for me to get out the door to go to the medical exam with FangFang and for Danny to head over to the China Hotel to request adjoining rooms and take the first load of luggage.

Thursday – Visit to Beihai

On Thursday we left the hotel early to head to Beihai, the city in which the orphanage at which FangFang lived is located and which is likely the city nearest to which her birth parents live. This trip to her city was somewhat emotional for me in and of itself – knowing that I’m probably closer to her first mom than I ever have been before and will be for quite a while. I wonder who she is and what her life is like, I wonder how our daughter will think and feel about her in the future and if we’ll ever have an opportunity to meet. I hope to honor her as I care for FangFang.

I dressed the girls in their matching shirts, and it seemed to help Madeleine CaiQun feel more sisterly toward FangFang – we’ve found that matching clothes are a good tool for attachment-building between siblings.

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Glenn picked us up at our hotel, and we boarded a bullet train to Beihai. We went to the orphanage first. Different provinces have such different rules – when we adopted Madeleine CaiQun, we were allowed into the orphanage, allowed to take photos of the room and the crib in which she slept and the room in which she played, and allowed to take photos of other children in general and specifically those who had families coming for them who had asked us to take photos. The Beihai Social Welfare Institute (SWI) considers that an invasion of privacy of the children living there. Glenn said that this specific caretaker with whom he was communicating about our visit is pretty laid back, and that’s the reason we were allowed inside the compound at all. We were allowed to take photos of the outside of the buildings and of the courtyard, and we were allowed into the lobby of the orphanage itself. We never saw any other children, and we were not allowed to go into any rooms beyond the lobby. It’s less information than I’d like to have for FangFang as she grows up, but I completely respect the perspective of the orphanage, and actually, it’s one with which I agree in principle.

This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.
This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.

So many of the nannies came out and said hi to FangFang and seemed excited to see her. There were only 5 children adopted from Beihai this year, so it is not a frequent occurrence to have a child leave through adoption. They said there were about 80 children living there, all with special needs. I was impressed with and thankful for the number of staff members involved in caring for the children.

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These are the people on staff at the orphanage.
These are the people on staff at the orphanage.

I had been pretty concerned about how FangFang would react to being back at the orphanage. It wasn’t the most recent place she’s called home, but it was her home for a time, and we’d be seeing people she knew and seeing the people who brought her to us earlier in the week. She happily went to each nanny and the nurse who wanted to hold her, and she told the main nanny that she missed her nannies. When asked what she thought of her new mama, she replied, “so so.”

I don’t think the orphanage visit itself changed much about how FangFang is interacting with us. She seems, more and more each day, to be preferring Sharon and sometimes Daniel, too, to me. Mostly she’s not thrilled with me. She doesn’t outright reject me, but she doesn’t really seem interested in bonding with me, either. If I’m engaging with her, she’ll play with me, but in a situation like riding on a train, in which we’re all together and she needs to be with someone, she wants to be with Sharon.

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I messaged with a friend of mine, a much more experienced and knowledgeable adoptive mama than I am, on Wednesday night – sidenote to any of my prospective adoptive parent readers out there – the wisdom of BTDT experienced adoptive parents is gold. Before you travel, one of the most important things you should do is make sure you have the names of a few experienced parents you can text or message or reach out to in some fashion while in country. I’ve been here before, I’ve done this before, but every kid is different, every adoption is different, and adoption travel is always emotional. You’re more likely than not to need those resources. I’ve talked with multiple BTDT adoptive mamas this past week and have been so encouraged by their words. Anyway, my friend encouraged me to relax about it, not to force things, but to focus on pursuing overall felt safety – obviously pursue FangFang, but if she feels safe with Sharon, great; if she feels safe in the stroller, great. We’ll have plenty of time to build our relationship. I’ve been trying to hold onto that wisdom.

After our time at the orphanage, we visited FangFang’s finding spot. It’s not generally legal to place one’s child for adoption in China, so children available for adoption are technically “found” somewhere. We know anecdotally that paperwork does not always match reality, but we don’t know for sure what is true in either of our daughters’ cases. We made the visit and took the photos. My personal feeling is that the specifics of this part of FangFang’s story are private, for her and her alone to share if and when she desires to do so.

After that visit we went out to lunch at a local restaurant. Usually we can find a place with pictures and/or brief English translations of the names of the dishes, but this time we had Glenn with us, so he ordered for us off of the totally-Chinese menu. FangFang was thrilled that we ordered a yogurt-milk drink that Glenn suggested for her – apparently that, not standard milk, is what she prefers drinking. She also announced to him that she thought diapers were itchy and she preferred using the toilet! I was shocked, as no one had ever mentioned potty training her. I took her into the squatty potty there, but I quickly realized that in order to hold her up above the potty, I was going to have to grab and hold her up by the legs, putting her at major risk of a femur fracture, and as I have no desire for her leg to break in a Chinese bathroom, we called off that one very quickly, much to her dismay. I asked her foster home when we got back to the hotel, and they replied that no, they had not begun potty training with her! Perhaps that will be something we’ll try once we’re home, but I’m not about to try to potty train a not-walking, Mandarin-speaking child while we’re in China 😉

After lunch we had a little bit of time before our train back to Nanning, so we drove around Beihai a bit, and then Glenn took us to an old, historic street, now a popular tourist destination, and we walked up and down it until it was time to go. Madeleine CaiQun was not a fan of the walking…or of several other things that day…which was not much fun for anyone, but we made it through.

Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up - it's not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area...
Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up – it’s not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area…

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It was pretty late by the time we got back to Nanning, so we just grabbed dinner at a restaurant in the mall attached to the hotel. Then it was back to the hotel to get the kiddos in bed and begin packing up for our trip to Guangzhou. We were all exhausted. Once everyone else was in bed, I did a little bit of packing, but I really just needed to get some sleep, so I fell into bed around 11:00.

Wednesday in Nanning – A Low-Key Day

Today was to be a low-key day, and for the most part, that’s what it was. Madeleine CaiQun and I were actually up pretty early – me because FangFang woke up and was crying for help getting her blankets and pillow rearranged, and then I was coughing and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Mei Mei because she had a bad dream. Once everyone was awake, we went downstairs to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet. FangFang is always a little bit sad – though less so each time – when she wakes up, so she was not thrilled at waking up in and of itself. And she LOVES being in her stroller and often requests it upon waking – I think, honestly, because she’s not comfortable with intimacy with me yet and prefers sitting in the stroller to allowing me to hold her – so she was not thrilled that I wouldn’t let her stay in the stroller as we left the room to go to breakfast. As an adoptive mama who knows that one pathway to children’s hearts – particularly children who have spent any time in institutional care – is through their stomachs, I offered her a chocolate donut 🙂

We met Glenn around 10 and headed over to a park near our hotel. This park actually had a playground – not typical for the parks in China that I’ve seen – and Mei Mei was thankful!

ChenFang insisted that she wanted to go on a swing, too, but she was pretty obviously surprised by what it felt like and was ready to be done and get back into her stroller after a minute or so!

Mostly we walked around and enjoyed the scenery and talked with Glenn.

Madeleine CaiQun has not really enjoyed the walking involved in this trip, and she is often requesting to be worn in the Tula. Glenn tells us that in China, six-year-olds would never be carried like that, because they can walk. However, she is experiencing some jealousy and a bit of regression, and while we’re not going to cater to her every whim, I’m okay with her wanting to be worn some of the time.

Our breakfast had been large, so we just snacked in the room for lunch – instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, and some of the odd flavored Pringles chips that you find only in China (cucumber flavor was alright; Mexican Tomato Chicken flavor was completely disgusting to everyone except FangFang). And then we went to Dairy Queen 🙂 It was a bit of a challenge ordering because of the different menus (and our not reading or speaking Mandarin), but we all managed to get something – I got a Mango Jelly blizzard!

FangFang is definitely stepping up her attempts to reject me and bond with Sharon. She cried for about 5 minutes straight at Dairy Queen because I wouldn’t let her sit next to Sharon and let Sharon feed her – until I finally got a bite of ice cream into her mouth, and she was willing to sacrifice her desire for Sharon in favor of her desire for more ice cream 🙂

I feel like I’m making it up as I go in terms of how to live out the specifics of encouraging FangFang to form her primary attachment with me while we’re in country with Danny and Sharon. When both parents travel and one is rejected in favor of the other, it can be really hard emotionally, but it’s pretty straightforward practically – there’s a pretty standard course of action to take in that scenario. However, when you’re traveling as one parent with two non-parents, it’s not quite so simple even from a practical standpoint. Everyone agrees that the parent should be the primary person to meet the child’s needs…but everyone also agrees that flexibility is key while in China, and sometimes “ideal in a perfect world” is not the same as “would actually work well in this situation right now.” For the moment, I’m meeting all of FangFang’s basic needs – I change her diapers, I get her dressed and undressed, and I feed her. I’m also trying to be proactive in engaging her playfully – I tickle her and play peekaboo with her and play with play-doh with her. Today I puckered up my lips to blow a kiss to her, and she leaned in for an actual kiss, which was encouraging, and we’ve been blowing kisses back and forth. I always have her sitting next to me at restaurants, and I push the stroller when we’re out and about. Sharon isn’t specifically seeking her out but does respond to her when she interacts playfully, and I think that’s alright. The biggest un-crossable line for me right now is that if I offer her something (i.e. ice cream), I’m not going to let her succeed in turning me down and requesting that same thing from Sharon instead. Treats come from Mom 🙂 It is tricky, though. It seems a little mean to pull her away from someone she’s seeking, but it is for her benefit – in just over a week, Sharon will head home to Washington, D.C., and FangFang will be left with just me, so the beginnings of her most primary relationship need to be with me.

After Dairy Queen I put FangFang down for her nap, and I did a few more sink-loads of laundry. We should have a washer in the apartment in which we’re staying in Guangzhou, but I need to have at least enough clean clothes for everyone to get us there! Madeleine CaiQun took a bath while I did laundry. This girl LOVES her bath time, so she’s been very much enjoying playing in the water for an hour or so each day while FangFang naps.

Once FangFang got up, we broke out the play-doh for a bit, and then we headed back to the mall down the street to do a bit of shopping and have dinner. Madeleine CaiQun had been insisting that she’d seen a shark in a tank at the mall. None of the rest of us had seen it at all, but she said it was there, and we promised to look. We walked all around the 5th floor – nothing. We said we’d go up to the 6th floor, and we started to make our lap, and we hadn’t gone too far before she said, “Guys! Stop!” and there it was! We weren’t sure what to expect from her description of a shark in a tank…but it turns out there really was a shark in a tank at the mall! Why? It’s completely unclear. But there was a shark in a tank 🙂

After we found the shark, we had dinner (back to Grandma’s Home – it was very good again!) and then did a little bit of shopping before heading back to our hotel. We made a quick stop in our room, and then Danny and FangFang and I went back to Walmart to pick up a few necessities (more water and more suckers!) and get some things to take for donations to the orphanage tomorrow.

I put FangFang in the Ergo for that brief trip, and she was NOT pleased. I’d tried it earlier in the afternoon to an even more disgruntled reaction, but I wanted to try it again to see if it would be at all an option for us for our day trip tomorrow, since Glenn’s advice was to leave the beloved stroller at the hotel. She doesn’t seem physically uncomfortable in it, but the emotional intensity of our closeness is pretty overwhelming for her. Her first reaction was to cry and arch away, but when I offered a sucker, she stopped crying and just leaned away from me and was rarely willing to make eye contact or even look up at me. So…for the moment, it’s an option, though it’s not ideal. But when we got back to the hotel room, I took her out of the Ergo and let her scoot herself around for a little while, and she was back to her happy little self, jabbering away and wanting to be tickled and laughing her adorable little laugh 🙂

Both girls are asleep now, and I’m going to join them shortly. Please be praying for our trip to Beihai tomorrow. Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun’s heart as she continues to adjust to being a big sister again. Please pray for the logistics of train travel with a new-to-our-family 3-year-old with OI, and please pray for the emotions of returning to a place at which she lived for quite a while and perhaps seeing people she knew before her time at her foster home (and almost certainly seeing the people who brought her to us on Monday). Glenn has told us we should not expect to be allowed to enter the orphanage and the baby rooms themselves, as we do not have any official permission to do so, but I’d love it if you’d pray that something would change, and we’d be able to go in. It has happened before. I’d love to have as much information possible for FangFang as she gets older. We’ll also visit her finding spot and perhaps see some more of the city which her birth parents may call home. It sounds as if it’s a pretty small city – actually small, not just small by Chinese standards! Glenn estimated its population as around 60,000 people, so that should be really interesting in and of itself, as every city I’ve visited thus far in China has been home to millions of people. I also may not get to update tomorrow night – we will return to Nanning around dinner time, and then on Friday we will take the train to Guangzhou, so we’ll need to get most of our suitcases packed up again tomorrow night. If you don’t hear any official update from me tomorrow, please be praying for our travel day and for our settling into the apartments we’ve reserved in Guangzhou (and that they’d be alright). Thanks for following along and supporting us and praying for us in this journey, friends!

Preparing for Attachment and Bonding (and How You Can Help)

The process of adoption is intense – the home study, the paperwork, the money, the travel, and the attention to detail through it all. It can be easy to see the travel to complete your child’s adoption as the finish line, the point at which you will have accomplished what you set out to do. Then the process is over, and you can celebrate! The celebration is, of course, real and deserved – a child who was without a family is now a beloved son or daughter. However, that is not the true finish line but rather the starting point for the real process – parenting, living life together, loving this child.

Matt and I have been thoughtful, these recent days and weeks, about what that will mean and what our next few months will look like. A lot of the specifics are still to be determined, depending on how her adjustment seems to be going in the first few days and weeks. But what we do know is that we’ll need to be showing FangFang that we are her forever family – that we will consistently be here to love her, to care for her, and to meet her needs.

There’s a lot about FangFang’s past that we don’t know – and even what we do know is her story, not ours, and it’s for her to share when and with whom she chooses. However, I do feel comfortable in laying out the implications of the obvious. This precious little girl, before she turned 3 years old, had lived in 3 different environments. Before she reaches 3.5, she’ll be in her 4th. Imagine with me for a moment what that would feel like – how it would affect your sense of security and your ability to trust – to live in 3 different places in less than 3 years, and not just 3 different places, but with 3 entirely different sets of caregivers. Imagine what it would be like if you were a child, and not only was this happening to you, but you had little to no understanding of what was occurring. You didn’t have the language to comprehend it, even if someone tried to explain it, and certainly no one asked your opinion about any of it.

That’s not the way God designed life to work. What’s supposed to happen is that a baby is surrounded from birth by familiar people, whose voices she has heard while in the womb. The baby expresses a need, and those people meet her need, and her relationship with them deepens. She learns to recognize and express her needs, and she learns that her needs will be met – that she will be warm, well-fed, safe, and loved – and she learns that these people are the ones who will take care of her.

But we live in a broken world, and that’s not the way FangFang’s life began. Because of that, we’re going to be parenting her a little differently than we would parent a biological child. We need to build these parent-child relationships from scratch. We need to show her that Matt and I are the people she can count on to feed her, keep her warm, love her, and care for her – and that we’re different from everyone else she’ll encounter. Doing that with a 3-year-old is a little bit more complex than doing it with a newborn baby, but we’ve been reviewing and will be using some tried and true attachment-building strategies that adoptive parents have been putting into practice for years. We’ll be working on developing eye contact (sometimes using stickers and funny games). We plan to treat her as younger than her chronological age, and we’ll hold and carry her as much as she’ll allow. We’ll offer a lot of healthy snacks and allow her to grow in her security with us through seeing our consistent provision of food. We’ll be band-aid parents. We’ll do mirroring play. We’ll cocoon – keeping her world small for a time (the length of which has yet to be determined) to enable her to get to know us and focus on building relationships with us without the distractions of other people and activities.

And as we do that, we also ask for your support and help. We need to give her the opportunity to learn what family really is and to learn to trust Matt and me specifically. And we’re not starting from a blank slate – we’re coming into her life at a time when she has learned, through experience, that caregivers leave, that the people she trusts today may be gone tomorrow. In that context, Matt and I need to be, for a time, the only people who meet her needs. To that end, we ask that you would refrain from offering her food, comfort, or affection. Please feel free to wave or smile at her and to interact with us as we are holding her, but please stay away from things like picking her up or giving her hugs or kisses, even if she seems to be initiating that contact. We plan to keep her close by, but if you see her seeking food, comfort, or affection elsewhere, please re-direct her toward us instead of offering to meet those needs yourself. A simple, “Oh, it looks like you’re hungry! Let’s find your mama,” would be so helpful. In time, after we have established the foundational family relationships, we are excited for all of you to get to know her as you know our other kids and to surround her with the same love with which you surround them. We just need to allow her to form bonds with us as her parents before she branches out into those other relationships, and it would be a tremendous blessing to us if you would support us in this process.

And if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to let us know at any time – we always welcome questions and conversation!

preparing for adoption

Matt and I have had the honor of doing pre-marital counseling for a number of couples at our church. One of the things we try to communicate to couples is that they’re guaranteed to be spending a lot of time preparing for the wedding – but they also need to make sure they’re spending good time preparing for their marriage. The wedding itself will be beautiful and wonderful, and it’s an important celebration – but its beauty is merely a reflection of the beauty of the deeper reality of the lifelong bond of marriage.

Adoption is similar in a way. There is so much to the process – the collection of documents, the gathering of funds, the planning of travel – that it’s easy to get wrapped up the preparations for the adoption day. But the true beauty is in the life lived thereafter, the knitting together of hearts that were once strangers but are now family, the healing and the growing and the loving together.

And this past weekend, I filled out immigration paperwork, but I also read about trauma and fear and their manifestations in tiny hearts and bodies and lives. I reminisced about our early days and weeks with Madeleine CaiQun, who truly settled into family life very easily, all things considered – but who definitely carries scars from the trauma her early days contained. Thinking of the moments in which we’ve most clearly seen the effects of those scars always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

And I wonder…how will our baby #4 react to her adoption? We believe her adoption is for her good (or we’d be monsters to pursue it) – but we also know that it is going to be yet another hard-beyond-hard event in the life of this little girl, who has already endured much more than any two-year-old (or adult) should be asked to endure.

I’m gearing up. I’m preparing myself both for rejection and for a velcro baby. I’m preparing for fits of anger, unending tears, a little one who shuts down completely and/or who wants nothing more than to leave the hotel room in which she’s stuck with us. I’m reminding myself that as much as I’d love to explore the beautiful areas of China in which we’ll be spending our time, the adoption trip is all about survival (and as much of the beginnings of attachment as we can muster). I’m remembering our favorite relationship-building activities – food sharing and stickers on noses and lollipops and parallel play. And though I pray frequently that this scenario does not arise (please pray for this with me!), I’m preparing myself for the possibility that she could fracture in China, and I might have to splint a broken bone while there.

The adoption process itself is an odd mix of both drudgery and excitement. But it is once babies are in their mamas’ arms that the true work of adoption parenting begins. We’re getting close, and I’m getting ready!