People who don’t understand special needs adoption have not grasped the concept of their own salvation.
~my friend Sabrina, in a comment to this blog
Emotional and Behavioral
Twenty years ago, I was a young woman in my upper teens, living in my parents’ home.
I spent a lot of time at the little local pregnancy care center, helping in any way they would allow–doing paperwork, answering the telephone, acting as receptionist, counseling, cleaning, organizing baby and maternity clothing, driving clients to appointments, praying with the other volunteers–and loving it all.
Some of the work was emotionally very challenging. It could be heart-wrenching, exhausting, stretching, frustrating, at times exhilarating, and sometimes all in the same day.
I will never forget the first client I counseled who had a little five pound baby girl on my birthday. I will never forget the stiff faces of an affluent evangelical couple who insisted that the best choice for their young daughter was an abortion to “wipe the slate clean,” and give her a “fresh start”–or the privilege of witnessing their change of heart over many weeks, or the name of the precious granddaughter who was born to them. I will never forget the bitter and angry countenances of the women who shouted in our faces at the charity sale, when they saw the charts we displayed showing the month-to-month stages of prenatal development. I will never forget the twelve-year-old girl whose baby lost his or her chance at life. I will never forget the young mother who lived in a broken-down trailer back in the thick trees and underbrush, who used blankets for doors, and who had lost most of her teeth.
And I will never forget one encounter which encapsulated for me the single biggest challenge of this type of ministry.
I was asleep in bed during the wee hours of the night when the telephone rang and my parents woke me up. One of my young clients, not much older than I was, was calling in distress. The father of her unborn child, who was twenty-five years her senior, had beaten her in a drunken rage and she had fled empty-handed to her neighbor’s house. My mom helped me make up the sofa bed in our living room and I drove to bring the bruised and frightened girl back to our home.
In the morning, she was still shaken, but underneath the weepiness was a solid determination to go right back to the man she knew would now be sober and penitent. She knew this because she had lived through this scenario multiple times. I pled with every rational, eloquent, and impassioned bone in my body, to no avail. She was polite, but adamant: Thanks, but no thanks. I love him. Please take me back home.
Should we be shocked by this? No. It was what she knew. No matter how squalid, destructive, hopeless, ugly, and outright painful her life was, it was the life she had learned to survive. Unless God would open her eyes to her true state, her true condition, and draw her to reject that and embrace a new life, she would return to the life and the man she knew. The pull of the known, the familiar, is one of the strongest forces inside us.
This experience came back into my mind recently as I watched some brief video clips I will share with you shortly.
Just as with the cultural and medical issues, there is no way I can give you an exhaustive list of all the emotional difficulties that Katerina may face as she transitions to being a daughter in our home.
First off, we did already know that she wouldn’t jump into our arms with glee, exclaiming, “Oh Daddy! Mommy! I’ve been waiting for you all my life! I am so happy that you are adopting me! I love you so much, and will make you glad you came for me!”
But what reactions will we see?
We are grateful to say that we can see God actively preparing us for what lies ahead.
From the adoption training we received to other reading we have done, we have gleaned a lot of general knowledge. But it didn’t take long to figure out that this type of adoption–adoption of a child with Down syndrome from an Eastern European institution–is still so new that there is next to nothing in the literature that specifically deals with it. I would say there is nothing in the literature, but just because I haven’t found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
The richest source of knowledge about what may be involved are blogs written by other families, and there are a growing number of these families, thank the Lord.
But when you add severe delays and malnutrition to the mix, and a child who has spent nearly all her life in a crib in her orphanage’s lying room, that narrows the field even further. I’ve found only a few blogs so far that are kept by families who have adopted a child with needs similar to Katerina’s.
Last year, a remarkable woman named Adeye brought home two little girls with Down syndrome, one of whom, little Hailee, was in very bad shape due to spending most of her life drugged in a crib. Adeye has been a source of information and encouragement for me personally.
One story began this past March when a family flew home with their new little daughter, Carrington, who has Down syndrome, only to go directly from the airport to the emergency room. She was sick when they went to pick her up, and was refusing to eat. She would have died had they not brought her home and obtained immediate medical care for her. If you visit her blog, you will see that her family is organizing help for another adoptive family who also needed to take one of their newly adopted daughters (both have special needs that are not Down syndrome) straight from the airport to the hospital.
Then last week I found the blog of a family who just brought two little boys home. Both the boys have Down syndrome. Levi is relatively healthy. Gabe had spent his life in his orphanage’s lying room and was withering on the vine. At the beginning of this month, they posted several videos of their first interactions with their new son, Gabe.
As I viewed these videos and read the story through my tears, I immediately realized that here is a unique glimpse into what we have been preparing for. I wanted you to be able to see it, too. If you take time to skim through what Gabe’s new mom writes about her first four days with him, and watch the videos she posted, you will see why we are grateful to the Lord for sending this information to us now, as we prepare for our first visit with Katerina.
Their road will be a long one, but just look at the difference in Gabe after one week at home with his new family.
What about Katerina? What have we observed from her videos? What emotional difficulties and behaviors are we expecting her to have?
We have learned through parenting Verity that the attention of a child with Down syndrome must be purposely engaged to keep them from developing a habit of “spacing out.” In the videos from Katerina’s orphanage, we see the caregivers go about their work, chattering to one another, oblivious to the childrens’ need for direct interaction. Knowing what we do about Down syndrome, even if Katie can hear the chatter, it means nothing more to her than so much background noise.
Since she has been forced to spend so much of her life in her own little world, we can see that Katie has developed several “orphanage behaviors,” such as fixating on her moving hands in front of her face and rolling her head around, in an attempt to deal with the extreme boredom caused by the lack of stimulation in her environment.
We can see that she fusses when she is taken out of her crib, and settles when she is returned to it.
We know that Katerina has a volunteer granny who comes in for some hours during the week to interact with her, and we can see an improvement in her demeanor between her 2009 video and the videos that missionary Sasha Bliss was able to capture a few months ago. She shows more interest and energy in responding to what is going on around her. Her caregivers told Sasha that they can see a difference in all the children who received a granny. We consider that an answer to our prayers that God would prepare her to receive our affection.
We expect her to show anxiety at many things for a long time.
We expect her to react in fear to being taken out of her known–her surroundings, her routine–into the unknown.
We expect intense, direct interaction to be initially overwhelming for her.
We expect her to push us away with her weak hands.
Since we know that Katerina has not had all her cries for help answered with the help she needs, we expect her to have difficulty trusting us to consistently meet her needs.
The answers to our specific questions about Katerina’s emotional condition can not be known until we bring her home and learn to know her.
But the biggest message we have received from other adoptive parents is this:
Do not be afraid.
We fully expect our Katie to need to learn what true love means.
And we fully expect that God will help us teach her.
[Coming next: Part Five, or Summing It Up]