Thursday, September 5, 2013

Worth the Wait- That Adoption Wait Doesn't Always End When Our Child Comes Home...

When an adoptive parent hears the words "adoption wait" one thing usually comes to mind. The long months before the child comes home, months  that often turn into years. Years of filling out paperwork, waiting for approvals, standing in line at the Secretary of State's office, locating floor plans to your home, creating fire drill exit strategies, rearranging work meetings to accommodate getting that second, or third, set of fingerprints. Months of looking at that tiny, blurry, grainy referral photo. Months of loving this child you may have never met, and months of waiting with arms aching to hold that sweet child of yours. The adoption wait. We know it well, don't we?

With the adoption of my second child the term "adoption wait" took on a whole new meaning. The final signatures, the court decrees, the flight across the world and that first walk through the door as a family recently grown by one did not end my adoption wait. In fact, when that front door closed behind my newly formed family of four, our adoption wait was just beginning.

Suddenly everything that came so easily the first time around was a huge challenge. I found myself waiting for so much. Waiting, really, to be a mom, again. Waiting for the eye contact. Waiting for the anger to stop. Waiting for my new son to stop racing about the room as though driven by a motor. Waiting for that first hug. You know, the one where he actually hugs me back. The first good report from daycare.  The first family dinner without chaos. The first calm bedtime. The first calm car trip. The first calm anything.

Waiting. Always with the waiting. The first 27 months of our lives together were spent mired in the adoption wait.Waiting for the storm to pass. And when it didn't, I found myself waiting again. This time, waiting for therapists and doctor's appointments. Waiting for diagnosis and treatment plans. Waiting for spots to open in special schools and IEP's to be created. And then to be updated. Waiting for return telephone calls and emails. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. And just when you think you can't wait a moment longer, some new reason to wait pops up.

With our first adoption wait we knew what to expect. Fill in all the blanks in the paperwork, make the required five copies of everything, visit FedEx for the 100th time, and then wait. While that first wait wasn't easy, not by a long shot, it was, at least, predictable. At the end of the wait, if we followed the plan laid out by our adoption agency, and if nothing went wrong, like political unrest or a natural disaster, we would have our child. Maybe I was naive during those two "first" waits. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, seeing how the Russian ban on American adoptions has torn families apart, I am sure I was very naive. Thank God I was naive.

With this second adoption wait, the wait that started the day we came home with our 24 month old son, there was no "plan". My plan was to follow the same steps I took with our older son, steps to bonding that worked beautifully. Practically from day one my little Chinese son and I were glued together, bound by a love so deep that nothing could tear us apart. Meeting each expected growth and developmental milestone, cruising through surgeries with flying colors, our bumps in the road were small stones. The second time around, those bumps in the road were huge boulders that threatened to tear my family apart. Spouses arguing. One child craving the attention he suddenly lost when his little brother came home. One child pushing me away at every turn. And a tired, lost mother, with nowhere to turn. After all, I had asked for this. I wanted  this. I did this to myself. And so, on top of all of the other waiting, I waited for that mommy bliss I felt the first time. I waited for that bliss for two years.

So with all the waiting then came all the guilt. Why wasn't I more excited about this child? Why couldn't I make this work? Where was my heart?

I added waiting for the love to kick in to my list. Don't get me wrong. I loved my young son from day one. From the first moment I saw him toddling down that dingy hallway at the orphanage I loved him. Maybe that was why this adoption wait was so difficult for me. Because my love for him was so strong. My desire to have that family I had always pictured was strong. And so I waited.

The funny thing is that despite all that waiting, that perfect family never showed up. And as each day passed, full of tears and fighting and thrown food, that perfect family picture changed a little. Maybe I didn't need perfect. Maybe I would settle for a dinner without a meltdown. Maybe I would trade perfect for less bruising at the hands of a two year old. Every day the perfect picture faded and eventually a new image settled into my heart.

Happiness replaced anger. Grace replaced selfishness. The wait came to an end. The end snuck up on me, really. We are not through with the issues. My son may always have early life trauma related baggage to carry around. But I will always be there to help him carry it. And I no longer feel as though I am waiting for anything. I think I realized it for the first time the other day, as, ironically, I was waiting for our behavioral therapy appointment to begin. My son and I were sitting together on a sofa in the waiting room, surrounded by older kids and harried looking adults, and as we snuggled together to read a book I realized something. I was not holding my shoulders so tight they ached. I was not practically sitting on my son to get him to sit still. I was no longer holding my breath. I was simply a mom, reading a book to her four year old son. Yes, he still cannot sit still. He still has food issues and he still has moments of total meltdown. Yes, a good part of the reason that he is doing so well is all of the work we have put in to getting him to where he is. And yes, there are days that it is exhausting. But I am no longer waiting. No more do I wait for the anger to pass, both in him and in myself. No longer do I wait to run an errand because I just can't face taking him with me. No longer do I dread bedtimes or family dinners. No longer do I feel as though I am simply housing this lost little boy. No more. Now when I look at my persevering preschooler, I see my son. And it makes me smile. Because we made it through the wait. There will be more waiting in our future. More therapy, more issues, more meltdowns and, I am sure, a lot more frustrating moments. But during all of those waits  it will feel less like waiting and more like what it is- living. The wait is over! We may not look like the perfect family, and we may not look like the family I always pictured as perfect, but we are perfectly placed together. And that was worth the wait.

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