We have been blessed to become parents through adoption to two amazing kids. This wasn’t the way we assumed we’d build our family but as we embarked on the adoption path, we knew it was right for us. And it is, and it is better than anything we could have hoped for and imagined.
We adopted our first child, Claire, in February of 2007. Everything about her adoption – for us – was idyllic. (I say “for us” because while our dreams were coming true, baby Claire was going through massive upheaval.) We adopted her through China’s regular program and received her when she was just a few days shy of being 10 months old. Our only worry about her was that she was incredibly tiny but we weren’t overly concerned; we could see intelligence and spark in Claire immediately. We fell in love in an instant.
We adopted our second child, our son Ren, in February of 2009. We knew not to expect a “fairytale” like we had experienced with Claire’s adoption. We were adopting a child this time with a medical need, through China’s Waiting Child Program, and we had prepared ourselves with significant research on the condition as well as the usual things such as attachment, toddler adoption, etc. What we didn’t know at that time was that while you can mentally prepare yourself for the worst – which we did – it can still be extremely hard emotionally to accept things when the time comes.
Looking back, I see that some of our difficulty arose shortly after we accepted our son’s proposal. His medical need was not one that we had been prepared to accept. It was a surprise to us, and we did our best to research and understand it during the 48 hours we had to accept his proposal. It was the hardest decision we ever made and we didn’t know if we were doing the right thing. (Not knowing whether we had made the right choice haunted me for months after the adoption.) But our heart strings were tugged by the boy with that beautiful smile. After we accepted his proposal and during the travel preparations, my trepidation began to grow. Had we done the right thing? How severe would his condition actually be? (The medical information given was scant and there were a lot of unknowns about possible related conditions.) Were we taking on more than we could? More than we wanted to?
When we received Ren, we knew immediately that his condition was not good. We wouldn’t know the extent of the problems until we returned home to Canada but we had constant worry in China managing the condition and ensuring the problem didn’t get worse than it was. Added to that, or maybe because of it all, we don’t know – I didn’t attach to Ren right away, nor he to us. I had read about this of course. A parent not attaching to their newly adopted child is not uncommon in adoption. But I never thought it would happen to me. Unfortunately, that feeling – or lack thereof – continued for months after we returned home.
Just three months after coming to Canada, Ren spent five and a half hours on the operating table having his condition completely re-repaired. There were complications during his recovery and instead of an estimated five nights in the hopsital, we were there for thirteen. Seven months, two more operations and five more nights in hospital later, Ren was finally done with his surgeries. But to know if his surgeries were “successful”, we would have to wait and see. We knew the surgeries had been as successful as they could be, but they couldn’t guarantee the same outcome for him that a child without his congenital condition would have.
Flash forward to a year and four months later, and I am overjoyed to report that Ren is doing wonderfully. His health is still something we have to manage every day (an hour daily) and it may be a lifelong thing, we don’t yet know, but it is completely manageable, predictable and successful. Our effort in it is a small price to pay for our beautiful son, and we hope that Ren will continue to accept it as he has, especially as he begins to realize that the good health he now enjoys is such a gift.
As for me, attachment did come, but slowly. I fell into a deep depression following the adoption – the post-adoption blues. Daily life was an exhausting and emotional struggle, dealing with Ren’s medical issues and two toddlers who were constantly fighting (no exaggeration!). I would say it took a full year with Ren before he felt like my son. It probably took most of that year as well for Claire and Ren to reach a good rhythm together as siblings. Now, two years and four months later, I know he was meant to be a part of our family. I feel blessed to have him in our lives, for our sake as well as Claire’s. They are so incredibly close that it makes all the hardship we experienced melt away.
Many families who adopt children through the Waiting Child program become advocates for adopting children with special needs. I don’t feel I can do that without being hypocritical or something. I didn’t handle Ren’s adoption with grace and strength, and I know I will always look back on that time with sadness and some shame. I did everything “right” before the adoption: a ton of research, reading and soul-searching. And still it went the way it did. That said, I do hope and pray that children like Ren will find loving forever families. I also hope that in sharing my own not-so-pretty story, others who may be going through their own difficulties post-adoption will find some solace in knowing that they are not alone and that things can get better.
If you want to know more about adopting a child with special needs, google “China Waiting Child Program”.