Lilypie Kids Birthday tickers

Lilypie Kids Birthday tickers

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We are so lucky......

Over and over again, I hear how lucky my daughter is. How fortunate she is to be with me. How much better her life is here as opposed to there. She has been rescued. Saved.

Telling the people that voice these platitudes that I am the lucky one, that I’m the one that needed saving, that I’ve been rescued is usually met by blank, ignorant smiles. They accept this as something nice I’ve said, but they don’t get it. They don’t realize that my child is not the lucky one. That she is not necessarily better off here as opposed to there.

She hurts. Aches. Grieves. Suffers. She is confused, I feel guilty.

Sadly, I was completely unprepared for my adoption. Even worse, I was completely ignorant of this fact. I knew how to take care of a child, meet their basic needs (okay, my parenting skills of a preschooler could use some serious work!). I had lots of education in transracial and transcultural adoption. I read a little bit on attachment as it related to infants, I read a lot on the integration of an internationally adopted child into a new family. I thought I was prepared.

Until the grief hit. I wasn’t prepared for my almost-4 year old to suddenly wake up to her reality.

How can a child that was brought home at 9 months remember anything? You have to remember something in order to grieve its loss, right? You can’t miss what you’ve never had, right?

But what if you missed learning basic human interactions? Why do they put newborn babies right on the mother’s chest and encourage immediate breast-feeding? If that is so important, then how can you dismiss the longterm effects a child will experience from not attaching to anyone? How can you say that a child was too young (at 9 months of age) to be affected by the turmoil of adoption?

Yes, I just said adoption and turmoil in the same sentence.

My daughter was born. She had a mother and a sister. At around 3 months old, a time when most infants are starting to connect with the main caretakers in their lives, she was taken to an orphanage. She remained there 3 months….she was in a small room with only a few babies and a sweet grandmother of a nanny. When she reached the impressionable age of 6 months, when most babies are interacting and seeking attention from those they love, she was moved to a transition home. She remained at this transition home for 3 months, in a room full of infants with several nannies running around busily. At 9 months of age, a complete stranger showed up and whisked her away. To a new climate. A new language. New air to breathe (if you’ve ever been to Ethiopia - you know the air there is VERY different). New people. New routines. New tastes. New smells. New sounds. New emotions.

4 living situations, 4 “families”, 4 completely different environments in 9 months. 9 months in which she should have been learning who her family was. She should have been learning how to make lasting, trusting relationships. She should have felt unconditional love. She should never have known hunger or cold or fear or loneliness or anxiety.

But in those 9 months of life, she learned far more than most. She learned survival. She learned she didn’t need love. She learned to trust only herself. She learned that if she wanted attention, she had to initiate it. She learned that she existed for herself and no one else.

Will she remember these times? No. Do they still affect her? Yes, daily. Will they always affect her? They shape who she is and will become.

We are learning to let go of a lot of these things. I say we because she, while being very emotionally mature, is also very emotionally immature and needs help and guidance. She’s felt things we adults can never begin to imagine but she did not have anyone to teach her appropriate responses to emotions in the beginning…she is still learning how to deal with her feelings. She is giving up her independence….a tough balancing act for a strong-willed, spunky almost-4 year old. She is learning to trust me, that I will always love her - even when I’m angry, disappointed, or just plain grumpy. She is learning that she does not have to be the center of attention in order to be loved. She is, quite simply, learning what unconditional love is…..and testing it to the very limit to make sure it sticks.

We are also learning to grieve. Mari is sad and angry. It is very easy to blame myself for this and feel guilty. I question the choices I’ve made and the ways I’ve handled things as being the source of her deep-rooted confusion. But it’s becoming quite obvious that we are going through a grieving process right now. 3 years after the fact may seem like a long time but we’ve just now reached a new level of comprehension. Mari is learning how families start, how families live, how families interact, how families love. She is just now learning that hers is different than most. It’s with this newfound understanding that she is beginning to realize what she has doesn't have.

We celebrate her family in Ethiopia. Her mother and sister. We’ve talked about them from Day 1. I call her birthmother Mama H, as if that’s her name. I don’t say your mother or your birthmother or your first mother anymore…..it’s too confusing. We say Mama H, just as we would say Grandma or Auntie, etc. We talk about her birth story in very simplistic terms, leaving emotions out of it and focusing on physical things like lack of food and shelter. We talk about how I came to find her and that Mama H was happy to see me, how we gave a stuffed toy to her sister to remember us. We have pictures up in our house and light candles on special days.

It’s only beginning to settle into her little brain. Why is my sister in Ethiopia, Mommy? Is she hungry too? Did you take her food? Does she go to school like me? Do I have to go back to Ethiopia? Can I go back to Ethiopia?

We talk, we cry, we hold each other.

Recently, the anger and sadness in Mari has escalated drastically. I had a feeling that it was adoption related as her behavior was very rejecting and hurtful towards me (this is her defense mechanism…she puts up a wall to protect herself….she can’t lose what she doesn’t love, right?). Finally it all hit a boiling point and one night she asked me “Why didn’t God give me a daddy?” I was starting to make supper and I could tell by the way she was asking (in the middle of quiet sobbing) that this was a turning point. I stopped everything and turned off burners and scooped her up. I explained, again, how I was not married so she did not have a dad. I explained that we did not know anything about a dad in Ethiopia, I was honest and brief.

And then she asked, “Why doesn’t anyone love me enough to be my daddy?”

We sobbed together for a long time (I’m crying as I type this and it’s been over a week). She was so sad and so angry because she didn’t have a daddy. And she thought she was the reason.

I’ve known for a long time that she wants a dad. What child of a single mom doesn’t dream about having a dad? But I never would have guessed that she felt it was her fault. We are still learning. And these lessons in life come neither easily nor painlessly.

Don‘t try to tell me that an infant is too young to know loss.
Don’t try to tell me that my child is lucky.

How many 3 year olds cry because they want to see their sister that they don’t remember?
How many 3 years olds cry because God didn't give them a daddy?
How many 3 years old are that lucky?