Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Something New Adoptive Parents Should Know...

As a sort of follow up to my musings yesterday, I have been thinking about an offshoot topic.

First, I read a great blog post yesterday that every adoptive parent (or friend or family member of an adoptive family) should read. "After the Airport" is a great summary of how a truly wonderful thing (adoption of your child) is not an easy thing. In fact, it can be terribly sad and frustrating and scary and ... exhausting, especially at first. I truly don't remember much of the first three months after Hana and Abi joined our family.  There was just so much adjusting for all of us. They were learning a new language and how to live in a family and we all had size adjusting to do. It was honestly a really, really hard time. Was I happy to have my kids home. YES YES YES. Would I do it again? Obviously, I've done it twice more.  But it was hard.

Right around that 3 month mark, things eased up. Hana and Abi had learned quite a bit of English, so communication issues were less fierce.  We were all settling in and learning about each other.  It was at that point that we finally felt like we were capable of parenting another and we decided to pursue Selam's adoption. 

I don't know if I've really blogged about it too much, but we had to jump through quite a few hoops to get approved to adopt Selam. A couple of major issues were our age (we were pretty young to parent an almost-teen), the fact that she would be our oldest child (major birth order disruption), and that it had been less than a year since our last adoption.  The last issue was quickly waived due to the fact that Hana and Selam are siblings.  I remember dismissing it as an issue myself, at the time.  We were ready. Hana and Abi were doing great. We could handle it.

And all of those things were true. All still are true.

But what I have only recently realized is that no matter how "fine" things are after 3 months, 12 months or 5+ years... it's not ever quite fine. The honeymoon period might last you only hours, but it could last years. You may have no idea what kind of underlying trauma has affected your kids before they were part of your lives. You don't know how various parts of their past - a past they may not remember - has formed and shaped their little hearts and souls.  You can't know because they don't know.  These scars run deep, but are often hidden for some time. It may take years and years before your child will trust you - if ever.  Yes, you have to be prepared that your baby may never truly trust you, as heartbreaking as that would be. Because that's reality for some.

All this may affect your child's personality, their academic performance, their most basic brain functions and sense of reason. And their hearts. Always their hearts. 

And although the first three months are tough tough tough and full of adjustment, time does not necessarily make things easier, but different. Less about triage, about putting out fires, and more about doing everything you can to help them heal inside and out. And this is an ongoing process.  

Any adoptive parent that tells you otherwise is lying - to you or themselves or both. I don't care if your child was 2 days old when they joined your family, she suffered trauma. I don't care how many times your son has been on the honor roll - somewhere, he's probably hurting and needs your help. 

I don't say this to dissuade people from adopting. On the contrary, we have now adopted four times and although I don't plan on doing so again, I learned that I will "never say never." But I have also learned that I cannot just look at my family now and think "oh sure we could do it again" or "they are all adjusting so well, we could handle another" or "there is not need for therapy, everyone is so well adjusted!" Because trauma and grief simply don't work that way. Don't be complacent. They may need you (and need to heal) as much 5 or 10 years after homecoming as much as they did at 5 months... and maybe more.

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