Tuesday, 17 February 2015

When we feel our children's pain

It's been almost 7 years since we adopted the love of our life.  She will be 8 years old next week.

I don't really remember her as a baby.  I remember bits and pieces of experiences, but when I look at her, I forget that she was once an infant.  Then I look at pictures, and am reminded that she was once a baby.  And a toddler.  And a school aged child.  And now, she's almost 8.  Sometimes I have more vivid pictures of what she might be like at 18 than the way she was at 3.

Then photos and videos surface.  I see them and delight in seeing how my baby girl has grown.

For years (7, to be exact), I have hoped that someone in our adoption group had captured our 1st moments with our daughter.  The person who was videotaping our magical moment accidentally pressed the button on our video camera twice, thereby starting and immediately stopping the recording before the important moment happened.  She was devastated when she realized this, and she felt so bad, we couldn't possibly be mad at her...  Surely, someone else might have caught it.

Seven years later, it arrived.  Another family in our group had indeed captured this moment and provided us with the video.

I watched it.  And bawled my eyes out.

I got hubby to watch it, and he got pretty emotional too.

Then we asked our daughter if she wanted to see it and she said yes.  We'd told her the story many, many times, about how unhappy she was when she was placed in our arms.  How she screamed and pushed us away.  And how we patiently let her, knowing that this was likely a "good" thing in the long term.  It meant that she had formed attachments to her caregivers, therefore meaning an increased likelihood of her being able to form an attachment to us.  All these years, we focused on how difficult it had been for us to be rejected in this way by this little girl we had been waiting for forever, but being proud of how strong we were to get through this together as a family.

Our daughter watched it and thought it was cool.  It matched the story we had told her over and over again.  She even asked to watch it again before she went to bed tonight.  How lucky we felt we were to have found this piece of our daughter's life puzzle.

Then I watched it again, and worked really hard at analyzing the sounds in the video, trying to commit every detail to memory.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks....

I've always known that our happiness in becoming a family came to the detriment of our daughter's linkage to her 1st family,  Adoption is only possible because a child has experienced loss.  Tragic loss.  Horrible, painful loss.  Loss of their 1st family.  Loss of their orphanage caregivers.  Loss of their foster parents.  Foster siblings.  Crib mates.  Culture.  Language.  Familiar smells. Familiar voices.  Ethnic heritage.  Racial connection....

In the video, the nanny comes out with a beautiful baby girl. Our girl is calm, content.  She seems happy. They say her name,  Then they say our names.   We move forward, and I hear my husband crying.  I can't see my face in the video, only the back of me.  But I know I am crying too. Then I hear her cry.  A lot.  Hysterically.  She cries louder.  My husband tried to soothe her, as she is in his arms.  I try to soother her too.  She is un-con-so-le-a-ble.  The video ends.

But I remember what happened after that.  She continued to cry hysterically. She kicked.  She screamed.  She pushed away from us as hard as she could.  She whipped her little head back to try to distance herself further than her little arms could.  She kicked us so hard, we had bruises on our bellies (it took a while before we realized that if we took off the cute little shoes they put on her, it wouldn't hurt so bad),  I remember her lying on the floor and us just protecting her so that she wouldn't hurt herself as she flailed. I remember the other parents coming into the room, one by one, and reminding us that this was a good thing.  It meant she would eventually attach.  I remember the orphanage staff eventually coming over to tell us that it was time to go, so we had to do our family photo.  The photo that would end up on our adoption certificate.  It has us smiling and our daughter miserably sobbing.

I remember her finally falling asleep on my husband's shoulder.   Her face was haughty. Her eyes and nose dripping.  But she fell asleep, exhausted.

Photo op:  Dad holding sleeping daughter.  Thumbs up.

We got on the bus to the hotel.  In the bus, she woke up.  She looked at us with a look of horror.  It was a "you're still here?  WTF???"  and she started crying again.

When we got back to the hotel, she eventually stopped crying.  We sat on a blanket on the floor with her with some toys.  I took off her pants, to make sure she had a diaper on.  Check. Then I started taking off her sweater.  One arm,,, then she grabbed on to the sweater and got upset again.  So I let her keep it on.  We have photos of her lying on her belly, with half a sweater on.  She looks so sad in those pictures.

I remember the next day, she was standing in her crib next to me.  Still sad, she called out "Mama!".  But that wasn't me.  She wanted her Mama.  She was asking me to find her Mama.  To get her Mama for her.  Her foster mom, who she obviously had considered to be her forever mom.  She was calling out to the one person she knew to be able to find comfort with.  And although I had longed to be her Mama and she had been my daughter since the day we saw her photo for the first time, I was nothing to her.  Surprisingly, I wasn't hurt by this.  I knew this would be "good" in the long run.

Fast forward to today.

My daughter and I love each other more than anything in the world.  We have this cute thing where she tells me I'm her favourite mom.  And I tell her she's my favourite daughter (I have no other children at this point).  Every few times, I remind her that this is not fair to her other moms (which she knows to be her birth mother and her foster mother) because she doesn't remember them and that it's ok for her to love them too, even though she doesn't remember them.

She does this thing where she sets the scene ("Mommy, I need to talk to you about something very important.  Something I've been wanting to talk to you about for a long time") and then "pops" the question ("Will you be my mom forever?") I pretend to cry like I'm being proposed to, and then I assure her that no matter what, I will always be her mom and that I will love her forever. Sometimes I "propose" to her.  She's been doing it about once a day, lately.  It is our way of helping her feel like she has a bit more control over the choices that grown ups have made on her behalf.

Our daughter is a perfectly well-adjusted kid.  She's also been a relatively easy kid to raise.  I can count on one hand the number of times she has had tantrums.  When she's had them, they've been doozys.  But she does not show very much emotion, so when tantrums happen, they are always with very good reason.

The day we met her was one of those times.  She was hysterical.  Knowing her like we know her now, we know how much it takes for her to show any emotion.  The day we met her, we figured, "well, babies cry,  She's just a normal kid".  We were wrong.

This child trusted the people who cared for her. She was a happy, healthy, trusting baby.  On the day we met her, our "magical moment" was one of the most traumatizing thing she had ever had to live through.  This was the beginning of our life as a family.  But it had to come to the detriment of her connection to everything she had ever known.  She was ripped away by strangers,  She was the answer to our prayers. We were her worst nightmare,

In the end, she has accepted us.  She loves us more than life itself,  She doesn't know or remember any other parents than us.  Even though she knows there are people out there who are a part of her, she can't picture them,  And that makes my heart break.   As she grows older, I know her need to know who they are will likely grow.  And I hate the fact that due to the nature of Chinese adoptions, we'll likely never be able to find them.

When I heard her crying in the video I received today, I recognized that cry.  It was the hysterical cry of a child who was frightened and needed her Mama.  And that wasn't me.   That day was hard for us as parents.  We often talk about our own experience on that day and how it felt to be in our shoes.   But that's nothing - NOTHING- compared to what she has had to live though...  Today, I felt it.  I felt her anxiety, her sadness, her fear.  I felt it like a pit in my stomach. It hurt.  A lot.  Because seeing my child in pain hurts me so vehemently.  I wish I could have protected her against this pain.

Our daughter doesn't remember that day.  She's not overly concerned about what she saw in that video.  But that's the way she is.  She see the good in everyone and everything.  She is an optimist at heart and doesn't let emotions stand in her way.  But someday, she will recognize what this video represents and she will feel the pain that I felt today.  I could hide the video away and shield her from it, but it is not my right to do so. This is a part of her history.  It's a piece of the puzzle that is her past.  All I can do is be there for her if/when she needs me...  And cry with her when she needs me to...

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