My friend Shelly, has a two year old boy. He is such a sweet little guy! The other day, a young couple came to visit their home. Shelly’s son had never met them before, so he was feeling a little bit shy, but quickly warmed up to them. When the couple was ready to leave, they bundled my friend’s son up in his jacket and shoes, plopped him in their car and left for home – all the way back to Italy. My friend is expecting that her son will feel very grateful to live in such a beautiful country with such rich history, and she hopes that her son accepts his new family right away. And of course she knows that language for a two year old won’t be that big of a deal for him as he was hardly speaking yet anyway.
Would you be shocked at this story if it were true? Of course! It seems cold and ridiculous. But why should our daughter Giselle’s story be any less shocking?
In our opinion, Giselle has been raised in less than ideal circumstances, but to her the orphanage in Haiti is home. The children and nannies are her family. When we go to bring Giselle home, she will be leaving everything that is familiar to her.
~ familiar faces (and skin colour)
~ routine (even if it’s a lack of one)
~ environment (her house, her friends, her bed, her clothes)
~smells and sights
I have to wonder what she thinks every time white people come through the orphanage doors. “Are they bringing me treats/toys? How long will they hold me before they leave again? How can I get them to hold me the most/longest? Which of my little friends will disappear with this person – or will it be me who disappears?”
Many people go to visit the orphanage and give some love to the children. Of course, getting affection is always a good thing, but in a child who is about to come home, we have to consider how this will affect their thinking towards their new family – do all white people give some affection then leave? Then, occasionally a family arrives to bring their new child home… what do the other children at the orphanage feel when one of their friends disappear with a visitor, never to be seen again? Will the fear of losing another little friend teach her not to give her love even to her siblings when she arrives home? Will she worry that if she loves Amara, Amara will disappear someday like her best friend at the orphanage did?
Even if Giselle remembers me from previous visits (which I highly doubt), she will expect me to leave her again, because I always have. She doesn’t distinguish me from the many other white people who come, then leave. She will notice that something is different about our visit when she comes on day trips with us, and eventually spends the night in our room. It will probably scare her. On previous visits, I have found that she is happiest at the orphanage because that is all she knows.
Currently she rarely leaves the orphanage grounds – unless she needs to go see a doctor, or attend an adoption-related meeting. She doesn’t go on shopping trips, or to church. She doesn’t go to a local park or visiting at a friend’s home. The orphanage is her life, day in and day out.
When she comes home to our family, she will go on the trip of her life! On an airplane, a night in a hotel, riding in a car seat for the first time with her arrival into Canada. The smells, sounds, climate and language will all be different. And of course… she still won’t understand why she is with us. She will probably be wondering when will she be going back home.
After our arrival home, it will take her time to realize that she belongs with us now, that this is her new home, and we are her new caregivers (parents). If we have many visitors (just like the orphanage), how will she know one of them won’t take her away again and take her on another crazy trip? How will she know whom to trust? If we take her on a lot of outings (church, grocery store, sports events), not only might she be overwhelmed, but how will she know exactly where home is? Of course, many of these thing she will figure out eventually (and in the process most likely grieve her losses of all that is familiar), but our goal is to allow her to figure them out quickly… so she can get down to the business of feeling safe with us, growing and learning in many other ways.
When Giselle first arrives home, we will stay home with her as much as possible (this is called cocooning in the adoption world). We want her to feel comfortable here as her new home, and with us as her new family. For at least the first 6-8 weeks, we will not take her to church, grocery shopping, errands, or any other public place where she could be touched, prodded or feel completely over-stimulated. When a baby is first born, the new family often take a few weeks to settle in at home and get to know each other, keeping outside interests to a minimum. That is what we are hoping to give to Giselle. Adoption professionals recommend that a child be cocooned (or intense therapeutic parenting time) for 1 month for every year that child was not with you. That puts Giselle at about 10 weeks of “therapy” IF she comes home this summer at 2.5 years old.
What will we do? Cuddle! Listen to music, cuddle. Play little games, learn to speak each other’s language…cuddle. Crafts, massage, read books and play in the hot tub. More cuddles. Eat, try to make lots of eye contact and cuddle some more. Hopefully play in our back yard a lot, eventually go for walks to the park. Get her used to our dog, and (hopefully) figure out how to help her sleep well. She will sleep in our bedroom with Darren and I so that when she wakes up, we are the first faces she sees – she will never be left alone. We will carry her, hold her while she drinks her milk (hopefully from a bottle), feed her, do her hair, dress her in all the clothes we have been dying to put her in, and give unending hugs and kisses. Either Darren or I will carry her in a carrier as much as possible. We will not have any visitors come into our home the first few weeks, and after that only family members who are very close to our family. When we see she feels ok and safe with that, then we will slowly introduce friends, and gradually some quick little outings. No one outside of our family will hold her, change her, feed her or comfort her for a very long time.
Does it sound like we are reverting her back to being a baby? I hope so! She has missed out on so much babying in her life. For her to heal well, we hope to go back to that time of her life and give her all of the nurturing and love that she missed. Will she enjoy this? She might or she might not. She is used to being independent. Her ‘survival skills’ have gotten her this far and it might be hard for her to let go of them now to learn her ‘family skills’. Or, she might just soak it up. I am praying that God has been preparing her heart for this. That she will delight in learning how to relate, trust and give in a safe family setting. You can pray for us too! This will be a hard a stretching time for us. We will miss our friends, outings and regular life. How can you help? I’m so glad you asked…
Denise and her husband are blessed to be the parents of one son by birth, one daughter by adoption (USA – at birth), and a Haitian daughter they are anxiously waiting to bring home. Denise is a regular contributor at Adoption Magazine and blogs at Pressing In.