When we started the process of adopting Evelyn, we had all of these choices to make. The first two were: First, did we want a child? The answer to that was pretty easy. Yes. We wanted a child, with every fiber of our being, we wanted a child. Second we had to decide, did we want to start the adoption process for a "healthy child" or a child with "medical needs"? This, my friends is where you look into the darkest pits of your soul and see what is reflected back at you. For Evelyn's adoption we chose to go the route of a non-special needs adoption. I will not go into the reasons why, I don't feel like I should have to, if you have been there, then you know, if you haven't ever had to make that call for yourself then you can't know. My point is this however, well after we had adopted Evelyn and had her home, I was reading up on adoptions, bonding, attachment, how to be the best parent for your Internationally Adopted child, I read something that struck me. I came across a phrase that said something along the lines of, "Every adoption is a Special Needs adoption." I had to think long and hard about what that meant. I mean, when we got Ev, yes, she had a terrible case of Bronchitis, she had Scabies, she was malnourished- but all of these things were in the realm of what was considered to be expected issues of adopting and accepting a child out of an orphanage in China. No biggie. After I was her Mama for awhile though, I began to pick up on a few things, an independence that was a bit too fierce, a need to control that was just a bit too evident and omnipresent, some borderline OCD behaviors (in an 18 month old child) and that phrase just kept coming back, banging around in my head like an old tin drum.
The first time Papa ever saw Evelyn's face
Our first family picture
I kept reading. Doing research. I found out about the things that I was seeing in Evelyn's behavior. I found terms for what was happening. Words like Hypervigilence, Grief, Trauma, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These things did not scare me, they ripped my soul. I broke because I understood that if my tiny daughter was displaying these things it meant that simply having Les and I in her life wasn't going to enough. I was going to have to take a long hard look at the way we became a family and what that meant for my daughter and then I was going to have to help her.
When a child looses their birth mother that creates a wound so primal and so deep, it is almost incomprehensible. Studies are there to prove that it does not matter if this loss happens when you are one hour old or one hundred years old. The loss of a mother is profound. To compound this wound, my children (yes, Liam had faced this loss as well) were then placed in Institutions where the food was scarce, there were not enough Caregivers to go around so basic needs were barely met, the loving interactions you may have come to think of as part and parcel of a newborn's life did not happen for my children. These things must happen for a child to begin to learn trust and love, to begin to comprehend that someone will come when you have a need. Each individual reacts differently. Evelyn is a fighter. She decided very early on that she would survive no matter what, that she did not need a single person to do so. I have no idea how early this was triggered in her, I can tell you this, it was way too early. We took Evelyn Elaine Fu Mei into our arms when she was 10.5 months old. Her Inner Warriors were already firmly ensconced and doing a mighty fine job of keeping her alive.
The very first time I held Evelyn
The years passed and we have faced many obstacles together. Those OCD tendencies? We have all but eradicated them. She was still in a diaper and needed to have every single mark that occurred in her skin covered in a Bad-Aid. Every one, or she would freak out. At one point she would have to carry like 7 little purses stuffed to the max with papers and bits of things that she felt was important - all of it junk really, this was everywhere, all of the time. She would hoard food. She would keep food stored in her cheeks for later. The one thing though that we could not get her to budge on was talking about her Birth Mother.
This was when I had her down to 1 purse
Over the years I must have tried hundreds of times, every time I have met an absolute stonewall of resolution. "They didn't want me, I don't want them." -was a very typical response, but not said in a way that made you think she was mentally healthy, it was said in a closed off, angry way that made me think a storm was coming. She would be in the same room with Liam as he howled in the night in agony over the loss of his Birth Family and she would sit stony and dry eyed, never even blinking, not asking about her family, not offering comfort to her brother, refusing to see the sameness in their stories. She would say, "I have you and Papa, I don't need to talk about my Birth parents."
Recently though, those OCD tendencies are creeping back in, in the form of some Hypochondriac behaviors. This is because I think she is in that twilight of childhood and the dawn of adulthood-feeling so out of control and that is a terrible place to be if you are an adoptee who needs to have a strict level of control at all times. She has started Public School for the first time this year and that's put a lot of new stressors in her life. She has quit Gymnastics, her lifelong sport and started an all new sport. We are in a really strange place with her brother's health issues. Just so many things happening and coming at her that she needs something to freak out over and fuss about and have me helping her with. It's time though, time for me to finally talk with her about why she has these tendencies and why she feels like she has to control and why she might be freaking out over the fact that she is having an allergy attack.
I sat her down and broached the subject, carefully and gently. She was instantly on guard. Face turned to stone. Hands into fists. Complexion pale. I persisted. I had to. Sometimes we have to fight the ones we love to save them. I explained to her that sometimes when a person experiences what she and her brother have experienced in their young lives, that it leaves a mark, that it somehow forms our personality and the way we behave as we move through the future. I told her that I truly believe that the sadness she experienced from loosing her Birth Mother, from being abandoned, from living in and orphanage, from not having a family of her own for ten months was so traumatic that it meant that there were things she was going to live with the rest of her life. I told her that was okay. That to feel that pain meant she was human and that we could work on it together. For the first time in my daughter's life I looked at her and saw her release some of the pain that she has been carrying around. Tears were streaming down her beautiful face. Her shoulders were shaking.
I simply have no words to tell you how my heart felt. It was shattered. My daughter is the happiest, most smiley, helpful, most obliging girl. She walks around the house singing and dancing. She giggles constantly. When I saw her face crumble in that way, when she let that wall down and I saw that pain, I was breathless with the depth of it. The cold truth is that my children carry that pain. They will. It's my job to help them. I will never be able to fill that darkness, I will never be able to take away that pain, but I can help them learn how to move through it, to find love in this life, to find a peace in spite of it. I can tell them the stories of their beginnings and I can fill those stories with as many possibilities of love that I can and in those possibilities maybe they can find forgiveness and a semblance of understanding.
We talked a good long while that night. She said many things that surprised me. I hope that my responses were what she needed to hear, I hope I was enough for her. I hope I got it right. All I ever want is to be what my children need. I can't be perfect but, maybe, just maybe I can be enough. This was the first time in her life that she ever opened up about her feelings on being adopted, about being abandoned, about having a family other than Les and I. I hope it's not the last as she has so much healing to do. I am so proud of my brave and beautiful daughter. As Shakespeare said, "And though she be but little she be but fierce"
I wouldn't change a single second of my life, it has led me to my husband and my two children. I can't speak enough about how adoption can come into your life and change you, taking you from a person longing to be a mother to having a child in your arms and having all of your dreams come true. I can't begin to describe what it is like to be eating dinner and look up and realize that right there, all of my dreams have come true and I actually got to go to China to meet two of them. I am not naive though. There was a price that was paid. I suffered the pain and grief of infertility. My children suffered the loss of their Birth Families and they are not living in the countries of their origin. But we have love. Love and love and love and love. And we are better together than we would have ever been apart.
*from a Melissa Etheridge song
**I asked Evelyn's permission to make this blog entry.