First Days

When you adopt from a “waiting child list,” you are not expecting a healthy infant. Children are placed on the list because of special needs, which range from minor to very severe, and for no other reason than their age. This is the route we have taken with both of our adoptions. And, I encourage others to adopt waiting children. Just know that adopting a child is like entering an undiscovered world where none of your weapons work and your support systems generally don’t understand the true nature of the need.

We knew from the beginning that there would probably be special needs in addition to the normal adoption needs. Buzz words like “cognitive delay” and “emotionally needy” and “language delay” and “bladder control issues” appeared scattered throughout the paperwork giving us clues as to what we could expect.

On the day we met Kylah, she had been waiting in a hotel coffee shop for several hours. We walked in and she and the nanny stood up. She smiled and raised her arms to be picked up. Through a huge, toothy grin I heard her voice for the first time, “Thank you, Mama.” Very distinct, very sweet, very practiced. But, it was music to my ears! We sat at a table while the orphanage staff told us a few tidbits regarding her needs. “She is very emotional and gets upset easily. It takes her a long time to eat. She just started a solid food diet 4 months ago. She has very little language skills, just simple words and sentences. She has no bladder or bowel control. There is a lot she doesn’t understand. She imitates everything.” They asked if we had questions. I had a million, but not very many of those could be answered by the nannies.

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Papers were signed, pictures were made, and there we stood with our daughter. It was long past lunch time and we knew we needed to find her some food. So off we trekked, with another adoptive family, in search of something to eat. That first outing we discovered K didn’t like crowds, noise, new people, new places, solid food, or walking more than 5 steps. We were in a large city in China and we had to leave our hotel everyday, often on foot. Yes, this was going to be challenging.

Back in our hotel, we sat holding this amazing little girl we’d just met. She was curious about her new surroundings and seemed to relax a bit in the room. She smiled as she pulled out her toys and began to explore her new world. One big difference between Kylah and Hanissa, K seemed to know how to play and she seemed to enjoy toys. Wow, this might be huge! H was home for 1.5 years before she really started playing.

It only took us one dining experience to discover that ordinary meals were going to be a challenge. The poor girl doesn’t know how to chew. Any food that passes the smell test, she willingly puts into her mouth. After sucking on it, anything that doesn’t soften enough to swallow gets rejected and spit back out. And, we discovered she is a pretty good spitter…so the food goes flying. Swallowing isn’t all that easy either. She goes through a range of strange facial contortions and chest heaving to get solid food down.

Our “let’s just survive in China” checklist was growing. Stroller, instant oatmeal packets (NOT the US kind), bananas (and other soft, smashable food), teething toy to start chewing, spoons, a travel bowl with lid, and the biggest diapers we can find are items that made it on to the list. And, we found some baby toys that she thinks are amazing.

The next day we found ourselves sitting in a government office for 4 hours. This was the place that would give us official custody of K so we were happy to be there. We joined many other adoptive families in the room. The small playground and toys kept Kylah happy for about an hour. Then the screaming started, off and on (more on than off…at least it seemed that way to us). Poor thing. How do you comfort a child who wants to escape from you and everything else around her? How do you soothe a child you don’t even know? The only thing that seemed to calm her down was her water bottle, which she guzzled.

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So many unknowns came into our lives along with our little ladybug. Tears, smiles, fits of anger, laughter, more tears…all part of the process. There are moments when I just sit and stare at her. She is a mystery. I try to imagine what she is thinking. I can’t. Her whole world has been turned upside down. One night, David walked into the bedroom. He found me sound asleep and K sitting up, just staring at me. I’m sure she finds us to a mystery, too.

~ Regina

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