In recent months, I have become very upset at what I have read on various international adoption forums, on how disappointed some parents seem to be with their newly adopted children. In some cases, it was similar to reading a review on a new purchase and it gave the impression that if they could return their child, they would, because it was not performing as it was supposed to. These comments have angered me and spurred me to write this article.
When I became a father for the first time I was full of expectations of what my life would be like and was quite certain my life would be pretty much the same, with only the addition of another human living in the house. I can tell you I was so wrong and I completely underestimated how my life would change. Since that beautiful moment where my first daughter turned my life upside down I have never been happier. This feeling has only grown more powerful with all five of my children given to me by my wife and the two beautiful children who traveled a much different road and were given to me by the gift of international adoption. And yes, I loved how each one has upset my routine and forced me to change.
So what should we expect from an adopted child? The thoughts shared here are based on the collective experience of my wife and I, two people who have welcomed children via C-section, midwifery hospital birth, midwifery birthing centre, two home births, and two international adoptions with one who had initially been designated as special needs but thanks to life , is in the end very healthy. Our different experiences have led us to the conclusion that all of our children basically have the same need for security, comfort, love and reassurance. However, we realized that those who might have had a more traumatic birth experience, or less peaceful if you want, and those who have experienced abandonment shortly after birth might have a more acute need for those requirements to be fulfilled. So let’s start!
Abandonment. Never underestimate the damage caused to a child’s emotional health from being abandoned by the woman who has given life to him or her. This single act will define these children’s lives and how they interact with everyone regardless of how old they were when they were abandoned or how long they lived in an institutional environment. So expect a child who has attachment issues. So what does this mean to the new parent? Your child may seem to be quiet, detached, and distant. Or on the contrary, your child might turn out to be very clingy. It might take a while for him to trust you, to trust that you will not leave him behind. It is to expect: try to imagine for one moment what it could be like. Imagine losing everything you know to never find it again: the heartbeat you heard for nine months, the voice you heard for nine months, her smell… Just remember the first time you lost sight of your parents in a crowd and how terrified you were for those brief minutes until they found you.
Fear is a powerful emotion that causes humans to either rise to the occasion and complete tasks which seem impossible or causes them to fall into a ball and become paralyzed. When you first meet your new child, he or she is very afraid. You speak a different language, you look and smell different. You remove them from the only environment they know and take them first to a hotel and then to a whole new world. This fear causes many different reactions. Think back to the last time you were afraid and remove the ability to communicate: then think of how you might act.
Institutionalization. Your new little wonder has spent most of his or her short life in an institution. Regardless of the different standards of the orphanages, they all have a few things in common with most North American publicly funded institutions. They are over-crowded, underfunded, noisy, and lack any sort of privacy by our own standards. They try to turn children into predictable machines because it is just easier. Any amount of time in an institution has an impact on children. We remove them from an orphanage to take them to a quiet hotel room with one or two strangers. This again has an impact on how they interact with their new parents.
Expectations. So you now have waited years for your child to arrive. You have the room set up, your family and friends expect to see your perfect bundle of joy you are about to bring home. This will be wonderful, like a fairy tale! You are full of emotions as you arrive in your child’s home land, you meet him or her for the first time and then the reality hits! You realize the child might not be as perfect as you had anticipated (by our society’s standards of course!): looking sick, thin, avoiding eye contact, sleeping a lot, crying a lot, not eating, not pooping, not looking right! This reaction continues as you travel 24 to 30 hours and arrive in North America. What a shock! We must remember we can’t impose any expectations on these children. And the same goes for biological children. Nobody is perfect.
Unfortunately, many adopted children arrive to big expectations : they have to be cute, proper, sleep through the night and so on. Let’s again remember what they have been through. Try for a moment to place yourself in your child’s mind and think back when you have felt any of these emotions. This is when the adult has to step up. Like my mom has always said, ‘it’s time to put on your big boy pants on and act with compassion’. And above all, remember that your child does not wake up in the morning with the intention of ruining your day. Regardless of what medical or physical symptoms or condition your new child may have, the one thing I can guarantee is that if you let yourself go and embrace the whole being, you will see that your child is there for a reason. Everyone comes with a special mission. Your child will help you become a better person, a less selfish individual.
This should not stop you from making the best of your adventure; embrace it because being a parent is the best most rewarding job on the planet. Follow your instinct, trust your gut and just go with it. All your expectations will be met in good time.
In closing, I want to thank life for my best ally, my wife Johanne, and our seven wonders, Rose, Fiona, Grace, Noah, Liam, Logan and Toan. You are my inspiration.