If you’re currently climbing the papery mountain of adoption and diving into the humbling waters of fundraising, you probably have a lot of questions about the looming adoption experience.
Let’s face it, China is sorta, kinda far away….there are numerically, a billion unknowns, plus a myriad of questions running through your brain during the cricket filled hours of moonlight.
Don’t be afraid, my friend! We have experienced all of the above and I would just be so honored if you gained some insight with this post.
1. He’s petrified, just like you…learn useful mandarin.
When we picked up Lian, he was kind of like a tiny, scared, slightly smarter than us wild animal. He had no idea how to manage his fear or his emotions. He managed his fear by spitting, hitting, slapping, pinching and even threw a few solid bites in there to really make sure his opinion was respected.
I remember one initial bath time, he just hauled off and slapped Chris across the face in an admirable “hallmark-movie-spurned-lover” kind of way. If people he didn’t know spoke to him, he’d spit at them. I understood this behavior as his way of saying “stay away”. New people, new situation, he was in all out self-preservation mode. He had no words and no other way to communicate. How terrifying to be so small and feel so alone.
So, we ignored the spitting and within about a week, it lessened and finally faded out as he became more secure. If people were offended, I’d just raise my eyebrows and shrug. Don’t get in his face…. Every time he would pinch or hit us, we would say, “no” firmly and take his hand and show him how to stroke our arm or face gently….and then we’d stroke his face gently and say “gentle”. After many repetitions of this, he learned to respond to us when we just said “gentle” to him…..and, of course, he would test us, but overall, he desired to learn, which was encouraging. Eventually the aggression faded away until we got home, and then we had the unparalleled joy of regression to help perfect us in tossing quick, heavenward prayers.
Good thing God is a great catcher.
Before we left for China, we also had a friend of ours translate some useful mandarin phrases in pin-yin for us, such as, “Are you hungry? Are you tired? More? Don’t be afraid. I love you” and so on.
Think of some useful phrases to help in your communication and memorize them before you leave. Life. Saver.
2. Your little person may not know how to “play”
Lian had no idea how to play with a toy. He had no idea what a book was or how to turn the pages.
Lian’s one and only idea of play was to grab an object with mind-defying speed and throw it as hard as he could. As you can imagine, this made eating out an adrenaline filled experience when chopsticks were expertly thrown like ninja stars across crowded restaurants. Miraculously, nobody lost an eye. Also, waitresses in China seemed to have no concept of child safety and would routinely place piping hot dishes, hot tea, knives and other injury inducing objects right in from of the aforesaid tiny ninja.
This soon honed our reflexes and observational skills. It also trained us as anticipatory prophets of future injurious related events….all invaluable parenting skills that we exponentially grew in.
Also, napkins. Why do the Chinese not use napkins? Every restaurant we went to acted like we were personally strangling adorable panda cubs when we asked for napkins….and with Lian, we NEEDED napkins….so, I recommend taking napkins, wet wipes, or entire rolls of paper towels with you every time you eat out.
3. Magic and more
Before we went, I had viewed this “go to sleep right now pretty please, Tiny Energy Sucker” YouTube video, which I thought was amazing! A parent took a soft little blanket and repetitively drew it down the baby’s face until sleep magically came.
Before you injure yourself by rolling your eyeballs too hard, it totally works, or at least, it did for Lian, so don’t get mad if it doesn’t work for you…(please, no angry digital epistles) I just used my fingers to lightly stroke down Lian’s face, over his eyes, nose and mouth. It makes him very drowsy.
I cannot emphasize this enough: TRY YOUR HARDEST TO KEEP A SLEEPING AND EATING SCHEDULE. Yes, I know it’s difficult with all of the running around, but nap time and bedtime routines really help with regulating your little’s already topsy turvy world.
Here was our bedtime routine. Bath every night, followed by stories (if he tolerated it), then we darkened the room and put on soft piano music on iTunes (Relaxing Piano with Ocean Waves was a favorite). Chris and I would lay on either side of Lian, stroking his face, sometimes singing, and he’d drift off. After about 30 minutes of Chris and me frantically catching up with family on social media on our phones while we lay as still as possible, he’d be in a solid sleep and we’d transfer him to the crib. Anytime during the night, if he cried, we’d bring him back to bed with us and repeat the above. Overall, he did pretty well sleeping, which I chalk up to the one of the many blessing of Down Syndrome….they are GREAT sleepers.
I kind of view adopting a little one who is blessed with Down Syndrome like this…God said, “Oh, you’re taking this step of faith? Well, I will bless you with *Ta-Da* SLEEP.”
And I’ve heard this from a myriad of parents, not just us.
We always made sure to be back at the hotel in the afternoon for nap time between 1-3:00, if possible.
4. Mourning and night terrors
Your little one might have a period of mourning. About 4 days after we got Lian, he woke up one morning just sobbing his little heart out. We instantly recognized this as mourning for his familiar life and, I’m sure, he was grieving the loss of his foster mother. He spent the day very dis-regulated, crying and being sad intermittently. We simply held him, sang to him, and let him mourn. I remember crying right along with him as I sang “Jesus Loves Me”, it just broke my heart to hear him cry so.
After that one day of solid mourning, he seemed to consistently improve and commenced attaching to Chris and me in a healthier way.
A few times, when we got home, he did have some teary days where he seemed distant with memories, and he did have a few night terrors where he woke up screaming, but if you answer every cry with compassion, those things eventually fade.
5. Don’t panic if you’re the rejected parent
It was simply the Lord that I “accidentally” stumbled across an article about being the rejected parent.
75% of adopted children initially reject the mother, according to statistics.
Maybe the dad is an anomaly since most of their orphan care is done by female workers, or maybe they are angry with their foster mother for “disappearing”, I’m not sure. I was so glad I read this because it helped me mentally prepare to be the rejected parent, and guess what? I was the rejected parent.
All the years I begged, bargained, and pleaded with God to adopt and all Lian wants is Chris.
I suspect it would have been much harder for me if I hadn’t known this beforehand. The rejected parent needs to then do the majority of the nurturing/bonding acts such as hand feeding all food, rocking, soothing, and playing. The non-rejected parent can do the diaper changes and not-so-fun things (there were perks to being the unpopular one!)
On a side note, it’s way easier to feed the baby bird noodles with chopsticks than with a fork. The Chinese were on to something here, but rice…yeah, not so much.
At first, Lian would only tolerate me, avoiding any eye contact. I understood that he had had a foster mother with whom he was close AND he was an only child in the foster home. I was replacing his foster mother and Lian wouldn’t allow himself to love me. It was really challenging, but I was determined to break through to him.
The first time Lian locked eyes with me was, I’m not kidding, over a Starbucks coffee. We had stopped for a rest and a drink. I started scooping whipped cream off of the coffee and letting him taste it from my finger and after the second lick, he locked eyes with me and I smiled. He kind of half smiled, opening his little mouth for more, and there was no going back. We were both smitten with each other.
6. You don’t have to do everything
It might be tempting to do every single event that is on the tourism schedule in China, but if you don’t want your time there to be super stressful and exhausting, opt out of a few things. It’s ok. Give yourself down time in your room to recoup and rest. You and your new little one need time to play together quietly, go for a walk on the hotel grounds, connect, and just be.
You’ll see and do plenty even if you don’t do everything.
7. The Walmart stroller
When I tell you that the $20 Walmart umbrella stroller is literally a God-send, it is. Best $20 you’ll ever spend, especially if carrying your child constantly isn’t a good fit for your back (like mine) or if your child is too heavy for the carrier.
When we’d go out to dinner and have to walk through the city or if we just took a late afternoon walk through the park, Lian would just ride along or cat nap. It was perfect.
Plus, you’ll have it for the subsequent airport runs and it makes life so much easier.
8. Sores, crusty eyes, straw hair, and spots
The wonderful, terrifying, sorely anticipated day when Lian was placed in our arms was filled with questions and concerns.
The first time I stroked Lian’s hair, it wasn’t baby soft as it should have been. It was coarse, dry and pieces fell off in my hand. I was actually alarmed when I stroked his head because I knew that damaged hair was indicative of some pretty severe malnutrition issues. Come to find out, it’s a protein deficiency. These kids aren’t fed meat or protein, hence the “orange” colored, straw-like, thinning hair and flaking fingernails.
Even as I write this, looking back at pictures, I can see how pallid he looks as compared to the sun-kissed, strong body he has now.
The first night we went to give Lian a bath, we were horrified to see large, deep blue marks on his lower back and buttocks. He also had a quarter size raised boil on his neck and some rashes, along with horribly runny, crusty eyes.
My first panicked thought was that he had been hit on the back several times. After sending a photo to our pediatrician, we were relieved to find that the spots were Mongolian spots, which is very common in Asian children. The raised boil was a really bad case of eczema and the crusty eyes were blocked tear ducts.
I’m going to let you in on a secret….eczema is a milk allergy, but you will NEVER find a doctor that will tell you that. I also knew that the constant congestion, eye bags, and crusty eyes were from a milk allergy. Lian was fed mainly yogurt and rice congee in China. Some mornings, he would wake up and he literally couldn’t open his eyes, they were that crusted shut. We’d have to carefully clean them with warm water (which he hated).
As soon as we got him home and I cleaned up his diet (i.e. NO dairy) within a few weeks, his eczema cleared up completely and within about 2 months, his blocked tear ducts also healed themselves.
The majority of children cannot digest milk and it causes an excess of phlegm in their systems. Children do not actually need to drink milk. Their bodies cannot process the calcium in milk. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend some naturopathic research on the subject.
9. The dreaded plane ride and being yelled at
Oh yes, the dreaded million hour plane ride. A few tricks held us through: children’s chewable melatonin, a book of 1,000 stickers to distress the flight attendants with, some tiny packs of play-doh, favorite snacks, and emergency lollipops for when things might go south. We were fortunate to get a flight at 7:30 at night, so he was about ready to go to bed at that point and ended up sleeping a large chunk of the night, which was a blessing.
If you can manage to get an evening straight flight, it seriously helps. We also didn’t fly straight home. We had a straight flight to JFK, then we spent the night there and got a quick flight out in the morning to Raleigh. It made a huge difference in our energy levels to do that and we didn’t arrive home completely spent.
Also, be mentally prepared in China to endure glares, be yelled at occasionally, and be adulated, not necessarily in that order. On several separate occasions, I was yelled at by women who seemed angry with me for reasons I still know not of, since I don’t speak Mandarin. I think one woman thought I hadn’t dressed Lian warmly enough for the 74 degree day (they like to WAY over layer their kiddos there and strangely allow their over-layered kids’ cute little bottoms to hang out in the air for the occasional sidewalk poo-poo squat)
A few people were positive to us, giving us smiles and enthusiastic “thumbs up”. Those were always encouraging.
10. Fear of strange things
Like grass. Also leaves, sticks, being dirty at all, touching things, any sort of loud noises, being outside in a park, and anyone resembling another person besides us.
Lian was petrified of walking on grass and being outdoors. One of the great joys of motherhood is playing outside, picking up leaves and sticks, exploring. Nope. You couldn’t show him a flower or a leaf, but he’d motion no or look distressed. It took quite a bit of coaxing to get him to walk on grass and when he finally did, there was great rejoicing in the land.
I’m not entirely sure he’d ever seen grass, flowers or tree leaves before.
Yes, he’s eating a dandelion. You saw that correctly.
BONUS – Things you don’t think about
Claustrophobia. I felt so claustrophobic in the cities where it was just endless people, endless miles of tall buildings, no green unless you travelled to a park, and no rest for the eyes or ears.
People are too close! Yipes! As an introvert, it was a stretch for me to have people standing constantly close enough that they are literally breathing down your neck. Literally.
It totally just shivered typing that.
Also, being pushed and shoved. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
Longing to hear English. After a few days, you suddenly long to hear your own language. It’s a very un-settling feeling. It’s almost as if your brain gets weary of not understanding anything and your ears strain to hear something familiar. It helped me have patience and sympathy for Lian, for the language switch for him.
All in all, just do what you can to survive the trip, enjoy it as much as you can, remember to rest when you can and know that we are all rooting and praying for you!
Also, keep your sense of humor!