Thursday, March 30, 2006

Adoption Seminar - Part II

Back by popular demand…Adoption Seminar Part II

(I’ve had this post partially written for a while but finally tweaked it enough to post today. I hope you’re enjoying reading and learning. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned over the past year and am happy to share some of it with you. I'm sure many of things I’m mentioning you already know but hopefully you'll learn something new.)

Suggestions When Meeting Your Child – Part II:
The room we meet the babies in will probably be crowded and noisy. Ideally it would be nice if the handoff took place slowly but again history proves that the handoff is often very quick. If at all possible, try to separate from the others a bit and spend some time gently getting to know one another. This is probably common knowledge but speaking to her in hushed, calm tones in the beginning will also help her through the initial transition from her caretakers to her new parents.

It is common that the baby won’t want to make eye contact. This isn’t an issue to be forced, it will happen with time. My guess is that if she looks at me she’ll be thinking, who are you and what are you? Blonde hair? What’s up with that? Also, facial hair on men will probably be totally new to her and could be quite scary. (Dad, so glad you’re through your ‘Kenny Rogers’ phase and back to just a moustache. How attached are you to that moustache? Just kidding! I wouldn’t know you if you shaved it off!)

Another very common thing after handoff is that the babies fall into a deep sleep on the bus ride back to the hotel. Partially because they’re tired, partially because their little bodies are in shock and sleep is a way to cope with all that is happening in their lives. Even though they’re small, they will still go through a grieving process. This can include sleeping, anger, not eating, etc. Not only will my daughter have lost her birthmother and birthfather shortly after being born, she will now have lost the nannies/foster parents that were her entire world.

To help us understand what she will be going through we were asked to write down the names of the 5 most important people in our lives. (You can do this too…I’ll wait…..)

Next, cross off one of the names. Ouch! Then, cross off a second, third, forth and finally the last name on the list. Did your stomach just lurch a little? Mine did! Every person my daughter has ever known and loved will be removed from her life, the majority of them on one painful day! You and I know that she will be coming home and learning that we are a forever family – a family full of love and one that will never, ever leave her. But, she doesn’t know that. She only knows loss at this point. The trust will need to be earned and that will take time. A lot of time. (…More on that later.)

When you return to the hotel, it will be tempting to immediately change her clothes and put her in that ‘cute little outfit’ you bought especially for today and can’t wait to see her in. Please don’t do that. Please wait. Unless her clothes are so soiled that you don’t have a choice, please leave her in at least some of the (10) layers she came to you in! Once again, the feel and scent of these clothes are one of the only familiar things in an upside down world to her right now.

Something I’ve planned if possible is that when I do take off some of the layers I’ll put them in ziploc bags to help them retain their scent. On days when the transition is particularly hard on her, I’ll give her a piece of this clothing to hold. In particular, I’ll keep something for that first night when we’re home in Canada together and there is nothing familiar (other than me by this point) for her to grasp onto. Anything I can do to help her out with the initial transition time, I plan on doing.

We were also taught about bathing the girls. More than likely the only bath they will have had will have been a sponge bath so a bath in a tub, however small can be a scary thing the first couple of times round. Begin by having a sponge bath beside the sink/tub. Bring a couple of tub toys if possible as this will also help with the transition. Another rough spot will probably be hair washing but isn’t it that way for most babies/children? Another thing not to do with any child, adopted or bio, is to pull the plug while they’re in the tub. They think they’re going down with the water.

Babies = Toys but there’s no need to bring too many. In fact, too many can overwhelm and over stimulate her. I’ve heard from many that stacking cups are perfect! They’re easy to pack; colourful and fun for the babies. The children will have spent most of their time in cribs without a lot of stimulation. Another suggestion by someone in the class was to save 1 new toy for the plane ride home when things get a little hairy on a long flight!

Along similar lines, it’s recommended that the nursery not be decorated too brightly or with too many things. Over stimulation can happen with this too. In general, keeping things calm in the beginning will ease the transition. One family at my table laughed that they were going home to move toys back to the basement for a while.

Visiting the Orphanage:
This is probably the best lesson I learned all day as it changed my viewpoint 100%!

If you have the opportunity to visit the orphanage and/or meet the foster parents, do it with your child! I had always planned on visiting the orphanage if I could but had considered not taking her inside so as not to traumatize her. The total opposite is what is proven to be best for the children.

As was mentioned earlier, often the babies are removed from their orphanage/foster home while they are sleeping and travel to meet the adoptive parents with a caregiver. Visiting the orphanage allows the baby the opportunity to see that the orphanage is still there, the care givers are still there and that those people fully support them being with their new parents. It can really help with the healing of their little hearts if they get to visit. It will mean that those important people didn’t suddenly drop off then end of the earth. They are still there and they agree with the changes that have happened in the baby’s life.

Having learned this, I’ll do everything I can to visit Hannah’s orphanage if I’m able to and I’ll take her with me! This was a HUGE lesson for me to learn!

Also, while visiting the orphanage, take pictures of as much as possible/allowed. Many orphanages do not allow video taping so that probably won’t happen but I’ll take all the pictures I can. Even though she won’t remember them, I hope to take pictures of the people who cared for her so wonderfully before we met. This will be an important link to my baby’s first days and caregivers. They’re important to her so will in turn become very important to me.

[This paragraph was not discussed at the seminar but fits in well here.] If you have an opportunity to see you child’s ‘finding spot’ it’s an important place to take a picture of as well. Whether you choose to tell people what the picture is of or if it’s just another one of your ‘pictures of China’ is up to you. At this time, I believe I will not share with people the meaning behind this picture – it will just look like any other picture of our time in China. At a later date if Hannah chooses to tell people what this is a picture of that will be her choice. (Back to the seminar…)

Upon returning to Canada you may or may not want to have people meet you at the airport. For me, I would love to have people there!!! I will share with family and friends before I go to China that to help her with her sense of security I won’t be passing her around at the airport. I’m the first one at a baby shower to want to hold the new baby but this situation will be a little different. She can meet people but from the safety of Mommy’s arms. It’s recommended that it be this way for the majority of people for the first 4-6 weeks to help her with initial bonding and attachment. (Grandparents and special friends will be different by my own choice.) Attachment is a growing process and there are lots of steps along the way. These first weeks are very important for bonding and initial attachment. In the same line, it’s recommended that friends wait at least 4 weeks before planning a baby shower. At a shower Mom will be busy opening gifts so it could be difficult for the child to be surrounded by a lot of people yet have Mom’s attention needed in 2 places at once.

(I understand that some of the things I’m saying may sound ‘extreme’ and maybe to a degree they are. But, many people have gone before me and I’m trying to learn from their experiences. That being said, Hannah will still be my #1 teacher and I’ll take my cues from her. If she’s an outgoing child and wants to visit people I don’t want to hold her back. Yup…lots to learn. Some things I’ll do well, other times I’ll make mistakes and learn from those.)

Adjustment Considerations:
When you get home, if people want to help you, encourage them to help with things around the home (picking up a couple of groceries, making a meal, laundry, etc.) but the child care should be left to the parent(s). Hmmm…wonder if I can start getting help with the house cleaning now? LOL! I’ll have to work on that one!

One of the most difficult transitions now lays before you…sleep (or lack thereof!) Welcome to parenthood! You now have a baby who’s just learning who you are. A 24 hour period of traveling home and then returning to a time zone that is exactly opposite to her internal body clock. Uh oh, sounds like a recipe for sleepless nights if I’ve ever heard one!

I remember reading about this on my friend Karen’s blog shortly after she returned home with her daughter last fall. She remembers putting Gwen in her crib for a nap and then sitting down on the floor of the nursery to fold laundry. 2 hours later she woke to find her face planted in a pile of onesies! She’d been out for the count and Gwen was still fast asleep in her crib. That’s jet-lag for you.

For sleeping preparations, I’m going to set her crib up in my room. I’m choosing to do this for a few reasons. Firstly, my child will never have slept in a room by herself. She will probably have had a cribmate if she was in an orphanage or if she was in foster care she would have slept with the foster parents. Many have shared that if their baby sleeps within arms reach they feel them reach out with a hand or foot during the night ensuring themselves that someone is there and then go back to sleep. I want to be there for her. I want to help her learn that I will always be there for her and won’t leave her. I understand this is not for everyone; it’s just how I’m planning on doing things. Each of us needs to decide what is best for our child and ourselves.

This leads into the topic of comforting our children. If they cry, go to them. If they fall, pick them up. If they hurt themselves, don’t be afraid to spoil them by making a big fuss over a little bump. This may be contrary to the way things are done with a bio child but again this is part of the process of her learning that someone is there for her. Never in her little life has she known for sure that someone is there for her 100% of the time. Some adoptive parents tell of watching their newly adopted children tumble hard, possibly bump heads with another child etc. and it not even faze them. It’s not that they’re not hurt, it’s just that they may have learned in the past that nobody would come if this happened so why call out now. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach your child that things have changed and now someone is there to comfort them when they hurt. They no longer have to do this for themselves.

As time goes by and your child grows to know you and trust you more this type of ‘over comforting’ will decrease but in the beginning it’s a great teaching time.

Self-comforting/Self-stimulation is something our children will often have become efficient at when we get them and this can be a very scary thing for us as parents. When a child is seen rocking in a crib we often wonder if there is a problem. If she’s lying on her back and wiggling her fingers in front of her face we can stress that it’s the sign of something wrong. We can relax. Often, these are actions that the child has learned to entertain and comfort themselves while in the orphanage. Once a child is in a loving home with one-on-one care and stimulation, these habits will normally decrease over time. It may be tempting to stop her if she’s rocking in the crib but its best not to do so as it’s her coping mechanism. Before long, that habit will be replaced by something else and it will be a part of her past.

Food changes will also need to be taken into consideration. We did an ‘experiment’ where I was ‘the victim.’ (I should have known by that term that I was in trouble!) I sat with my eyes closed and allowed someone to feed me. The first thing she did was wave something with a really fishy smell under my nose. Expecting fish, my taste buds were shocked when she fed me a small piece of chocolate. Next she fed me a small piece of lemon. My taste buds were jumping…partially because of the variety of flavours, variety of textures and partially because they had no idea whatsoever to expect. The food that is ‘normal’ to my taste buds will not be normal to hers. Guess I’ll be learning how to make congee…whatever that is!

Another part of eating that may happen in China, in Canada, or both is that she may just not want to eat. Again it can have to do with her little body being in shock. Some children don’t eat…others don’t know when to stop. If a child has never felt the feeling of being ‘full’ they may not know when to stop because they don’t yet have the confidence that food will always be available to her. For older children, it is not uncommon that they store food in their cheeks just to make sure there's something for later.

I think I’ll leave this post at this time and create a Part III. As you can see, it was a great day with a ton of wonderful information!

I hope you’re enjoying reading this and learning as much as I did!


  1. Oh Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing all this great information!! (I linked to your blog on mine, cause it's just so good!)

    I will be printing this off and adding it to my binder so that I can reflect on these great ideas and suggestions while we wait this long year out!

    Thanks for taking the time do share it Catherine!!


  2. Thankd for part 2! I was waiting for it to print and add to my binder also! Guess great minds think alike!

  3. I love all the info you have been sharing. This will help a lot when we bring home Sophia. Thanks for sharing all that you learned!
    Jenny V


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