Adoption From China

national adoption month correct

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.  In the spirit of bringing awareness to adoption, our agency mission and the successes of families we serve — we are filling our blog with guest stories throughout this month. Chrysalis House, Inc. believes in the power of sharing experiences and in learning from the stories of others.  We present this series, realizing the words might be the insight that an adoptive family, adoptee or birthparent is searching the internet for!

Our sincerest thanks to the families who have put their lives into words.  We are still accepting submissions through the month of November!  Please send your submissions to stacy@chrysalishouse.com.

Please enjoy the story of a family’s: Adoption From China. In the event you wish to discuss our China program, please contact the office at 559.229.9862.   

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The walls of our five-star hotel on Shamian Island in Guangzhou were closing in on us. It appeared that our major problem was that we were far too organized and prepared.  Our appointment at the adoption office was not until 11 am, but I woke up at 4 am. I had planned five weeks prior what I was going to wear. And we had important papers, passports, diapers, cheerios, baby carrier, and anything else we thought we might need in separate zip lock baggies packed in a backpack.  Most of the items in the baggies had been packed three weeks before.

We planned a morning filled with mundane activities that came nowhere close to keeping our minds off the fact that our lives would change forever in a matter of hours when we met our daughter for the first time.

We were told to bring three gifts for three ladies, but fortunately  I had forgotten to bring gift bags. At least the hunt for wrapping paper would take some time. The search for wrapping paper was fun, but it did not use up enough time as we still found ourselves with far too many hours to wait until our appointment. I think we ended up waiting in the hotel lobby for the last hour and a half, sitting in the lobby chairs analyzing air particles, staring off into space, realizing that the year and a half of waiting was almost behind us.

The adoption office was only fifteen minutes by van from the hotel. Don videotaped some of the chatter in the van and the approach to the adoption office. Everyone pretended to make conversation, but all of the parents’ eyes seemed glassy, excited and full of anticipation. We arrived at the Provincial Affairs office and were led by our fantastic guide into the room where we would become a family with our daughter, Liu, whom we had named a few months before. The room was large with heavy dark wooden furniture. And there, right when we entered, sat three nannies with three little babies all dressed in identical blue pajamas.

They had identification badges hanging around their necks. But there were four couples, so there was one more baby on the way who was coming from another orphanage. We recognized Liu right away, and our hearts swelled with every emotion you can think of—love, amazement, excitement, and a tinge of sadness knowing she was leaving the country of her birth. She was sitting in the middle, sitting up straight as a book and looking around at everyone with a very intent look on her face. She was very alert, and to this day, she loves to people watch.

They told us to sit down, but no one could sit. We all just stood there in a semicircle about ten feet from the babies, but we were not allowed to hold them yet.  After about five minutes (which seemed like an hour!) Ming Ming, our adoption guide, called out “Wang Min!”  That’s us–Liu’s given name. I am ready, but we need to have our travel approval letter and passports out before they will hand her to me. We had spent weeks, years, lifetimes getting ready for this moment, but at the last minute we look unprepared as we fumble with video camera, backpack, envelopes, passports, and tears. Finally, we show the orphanage director’s assistant our passports and travel approval documents and they hand her to me.

What a moment that was … the first moment that Liu was in my arms. She was quiet, looking at me, looking at Don, and the other people around us. At that point, everything else was forgotten and the three of us were the only ones in the room. Later, I hear the other babies and their parents. There is still one couple waiting for their baby to arrive. The waiting mother is crying, waiting for her baby to come through the doors.

Liu examined us with that same intent look on her face. The same look that we saw in her earlier photo. She cried a little, but she really looked at us.  She has this way of wrinkling up her forehead that makes her look very wise and serious. The other babies expressed themselves through loud tears, but Liu seemed to show her emotions more in subtle facial expressions.

We returned to the hotel afterwards to complete more paperwork, for feedings, and naps. Don held Liu on the ride home, and he was smiling with a deep sort of joy that only fatherhood can produce. After a few hours of time alone with Liu at the hotel, we went back to the adoption office for visa pictures, interviews, and to ask the orphanage director any questions that we may have for him. He answered all of our questions, took a picture with us, and wrote a nice little note in Mandarin for Liu.

The next week in Guangzhou was wonderful. We were able to bond with Liu in China, which is an important part of the process in our opinion. We have strong feelings about the importance of certain aspects of international adoption, and since Don is a Korean adoptee with many friends involved with Korean adoption policies, he was sure to ask many questions about Liu’s birthplace and gain as much information as possible so that if and when Liu begins a search for birth parents, we want to help support her in every way possible.

Parenthood is amazing. Liu is a light. We took a long time, as many parents do, to be certain that international adoption was something we wanted to do. With Don’s experiences, we wanted to be extra certain that this was the right thing to do. We started the adoption process because we were ready to build a family together. We chose China because we both have various connections to Asia and I speak Chinese after having lived and worked in Taiwan for a few years. I am part Filipina, and Don is Korean, so we knew we wanted our daughter to have Asian heritage. In June, it was one year since we became a family. In July, Liu turned two. In December, she will enjoy her second Christmas.  And in the years to come, we hope to be the best parents we can be and enjoy every moment with our beautiful daughter.  A coworker advised me that having kids would change our lives, and she grinned as she added, “But you will quickly forget what it was like before.” Our future was stretched out before us the first time Liu was placed in our arms and we leaned in and hugged her close.

And at that moment, we forgot what our lives were like before she was there.

***Family Names have been changed to preserve Confidentiality.

Grief and Loss in Adopted Children

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Adopted children are ‘lucky,’ they are ‘blessed.’ They have been rescued. Perhaps they came from an orphanage or from a foster care system that moves them in and out of temporary homes ..or from a birth mother that is just a child herself, unable or unwilling to safely parent. Do these statements/thoughts sound familiar? Have you wondered:  What on earth does an adopted child have to grieve over? What have they lost?

The answer is, plenty, and if you are an adoptive parent you need to be able to understand and acknowledge these losses and help your child grieve through them.

It is difficult in our society, for an adoptee to mourn when adoption is only seen as a joyful event. Adoptive parents will help their child best when they allow them to express their grief openly, listen carefully and offer comfort.

What are some of the losses? Primary losses are: birth parents, siblings, extended family, foster parents/orphanage caregivers and fearing the loss of you. Secondary losses are: culture, religion, ethnic and racial connections, medical history, birth history, birth order, language, someone with a physical resemblance, familiar tastes and smells and the chance to be like friends growing up in a birth family.
Your child did not choose to be separated from their birth parents. It is OK for them to feel sad, angry or hurt by the losses in their lives. They need to live and work with and through their grief and they need your help to do that. It is likely your child will perceive the disappearance of their birth parents as desertion or abandonment and that they caused it. It may take a long time for your child to fully trust that you will ‘be there’ for them.

Allow your child to express all the emotions they need to. They may just need someone to bear witness to their pain. You can’t change it or fix it and you need to be OK with that. Don’t send the message that they need to hide, change or deny their feelings. Respect their unique timing and duration for grief which will, typically, come up at various ages and stages in their life. Be a good listener. Be patient. Be aware of possible triggers.

What are Possible Triggers? Perhaps, when your child reaches developmental stage where they understand “loss,” triggers might be: birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, anniversary dates, moves, divorce, death, school activities, peer relationships or stress.

A tip from a mom who’s been there: During the teen years grief and loss in an adopted child can look very much like anger, disrespect and defiance. Know your child well. Keep communication lines open so you can tell the difference because parenting grief and loss – and parenting anger, disrespect and defiance. These look very different and will have very different outcomes. You will need to recognize which one you need to parent and at the right time.

The good news is that studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of adopted children do extraordinarily well in their adoptive homes. Many even show higher rates of self-esteem than children raised in birth families!

Adoption Related Sleep Challenges

All new parents probably struggle with a lack of sleep.  Although most expect this with a newborn… sometimes adoptive families are surprised to learn that an adopted child -of any age- can struggle with sleep issues during the first few weeks and even months at home.

So much depends on adequate, restorative and restful sleep. We’ve got important work to do at night including physical growth (80% of growth hormone is secreted while we sleep), to mental growth (integrating themes, lessons and memories of the day), to other functions that even experts don’t fully understand yet.  We all sleep in cycles, but children have unique sleep patterns.  Children of various ages require a certain amount of quality sleep to insure that development progresses as it should:

SleepingChart
Remember that attachment, bonding and teaching a child that a parent is trustworthy IS crucial… however, this puts adoptive families in an interesting predicament. A sleep-deprived parent is probably short on patience and flat-out exhausted.  In married families: remember that it’s important to divide up the nighttime wake up calls so that there isn’t only one parent bearing the burden.  (and no… it’s not appropriate to have the parent who isn’t employed outside of the home, taking care of all nighttime duties!) Have some talks and make plans for “worst case sleepless scenarios” before your child joins you. If you’re a single parent, tap into your support system. Nana’s, grandpa’s, best friends, etc. might love to help!

A few points which might insure future Zzzzzzz’s:

Take stock of the child’s former environment – if you have the opportunity.  Your child may be used to a communal room, specific lighting, noise levels, etc.   Creating a smooth transition into sleep at your home will require babysteps from this familiarity to your preferences.  Comfort objects should definitely be utilized (blanket, stuffed friend, or even a shirt or bed linen).  If the child doesn’t yet have one, now is a great time to introduce a “lovey” by making it part of a bedtime ritual.

Speaking of rituals… create one.  Sleep experts agree that creating associations tell our brains “it’s time to sleep” and a consistent routine is key.  A family bedtime ritual might consist of any of the following: quiet play, bath, pajamas, story time, a song, books… followed by bed.

Children who have been exposed to loss, chronic stress, multiple incidences of stressful events, or a significantly stressful one-time events are more prone to sleep disturbances and difficulties. Literature describes the sleep-wake cycle as one of the systems that is vulnerable and easily impacted by stress or trauma. Even in the best orphanages, institutional life can be a “chronic stress” because of the infant-caregiver ratio. The impact that multiple losses, (for example – birth parent to orphanage to foster home, to adoptive family), can have on children can be traumatic. Even for those children who don’t have lasting sleep problems, many internationally adopted children have difficulty in the first few weeks because they may be adjusting to a new time zone – in addition to experiencing a major and shocking change.

Know that night wakings are normal.  All children wake.  Statistics indicate that 70% of infants, 47% of toddlers, 36% of preschoolers and 14% of school-aged children wake and request parental intervention.  The less eventful the better: Keep calm & be brief.  Don’t turn on lights and be absolutely boring.

Some children have episodes of extreme terror, however the child is still in fact asleep. These are called “night terrors” and are different than typical nightmares or awakenings. Children can flail, panic, kick and show a gamut of behavior that may be truly atypical for them.  Many children have night terrors only when coming down with an illness.  Some do it on a chronic basis.  The incidents can be remarkably scary, intense and oddly…once it passes, the child will lay back down and go to sleep. Most experts recommend that you do not intervene with night terrors – other than to insure safety.  Children may not even be truly aware of your presence, and talking to them can be quite ineffective. The next morning, many will not even recall the incident occurred.

A good guideline for families is to not worry about or immediately expect their adopted child to sleep on their own for the first six to nine months of placement. The first one to two months, the child will be working on adjusting to their new environment on a sensory level – new sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and faces to adjust to. While they may have formed an “immediate dependency bond” (a bond that occurs rapidly to ensure a child’s survival) to one or both of the parents to get their basic needs met, the “real” attachment and bonding process usually doesn’t start happening until they have gotten very comfortable in their new environment. The attachment and bonding process continues to grow and strengthen over the first year of placement and beyond. Over the first several months, parents can relax and treat their child like a newborn, no matter how old they are – spoiling them and meeting their needs unconditionally.  Even at night.

Discuss your sleep challenges with your pediatrician and social worker! Our families have tried a great number of solutions and one of them may work for you too!

For further reading:
Sleep Information from the Center of Adoption Medicine:
http://adoptmed.org/topics/sleep-and-adoption.html”>http://adoptmed.org/topics/sleep-and-adoption.html

A book for reading about sleep challenges, that goes beyond the “cry it out” method:
http://www.amazon.com/Sleepless-America-Child-Misbehaving-Missing/dp/006073602X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Conspicuous Comments: Part 1

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Following up on a previous blog post, “Words Can Hurt,” we’re furthering the discussion a bit on the topic of specifically being a Conspicuous Adoptive Family.  This can be more obvious from the standpoint of adopting a child of another culture.  Or it can be less obvious – with physical characteristics such as hair and eye color differing greatly from those of the adoptive parents.  Whichever the case, surprisingly, sometimes any difference at all… can seem to open the family to comment from the community.

We can all expect to meet people who oppose multiracial adoption for political reasons – some will be the same race as the child, and some not.  A family built of multiple heritages will be especially visible and that will influence the reactions of other people.  Some of these families may feel like they are on display every time they go out!  They might come to expect questions and comments about their conspicuous families, from strangers and people they know.  These comments may challenge their family identity and privacy boundaries.

Any responses to the curiosities about your family, needs to reflect pride and confidence and above all, serve the child. As a family you can decide what info you are prepared to share (“Yes she joined our family by adoption, she was born in ______”) and what needs to remain private (“I’m sorry, we don’t share our child’s story with anyone but family. I hope you understand.”) We advise that families develop a few “scripts,” short and sweet …and practice until you feel comfortable. Role-play with kids works well and can be fun too, especially if you employ the dress-up clothes stash!

Adopted children may need to be prepared to handle attention, comments and questions that they will receive when they are with their families – and on their own. As parents, you need to model for them how to respond while honoring their story and their dignity.  Give your child some control over sharing his story – “Would you like to answer the strangers question?”  A parent can answer if they or you wish – and you CAN choose to not answer at all.

It’s natural to feel and respond differently to people who share your child’s heritage. You shouldn’t feel obliged or pressured to share private family information simply because those posing the questions are the same race/culture as your children. Share what you’re comfortable sharing.  Getting involved in the community is a great opportunity to build bridges. Similarly, if your children see you treating people who share their heritage with respect and openness, they may feel more comfortable interacting in their own racial communities. This can have a positive effect on our children’s self esteem and make them more comfortable with their identities as they see us building relationships with people of all different racial and cultural backgrounds. 
You may be particularly aware of this when travelling to your children’s countries of origin. You may also feel defensive, protective and even inadequate in responding.

You can absolutely provide information on a need-to-know basis. Remember that your children’s life details belong to them, and parents are the caretakers of those details. Understandably, most adoptive parents have had a lot of experience working with professionals before the adoption even takes place – and as result, boundaries around confidentiality have been stretched. Now is the time to tighten these boundaries and take back control of them.

There are as many ways to respond to difficult situations as there are people, but the types of responses tend to fall into three different categories:

INFORMATIONAL:

…gives the questioner some kind of information about the child’s adoption or the adoptive family.  This is usually more effective with people you see frequently.

HUMOROUS:  

…defuses difficult situations with comedy  or sarcasm.  This is usually more effective in public situations with strangers.  Be cautious when using sarcasm, however, as children of certain ages may not be mature enough to “get it.”

PRIVACY GUARDING:  

…are responses designed to protect your child and your family.  They quickly cut off further discussion.  Often these responses are posed as questions.

 

W.I.S.E. UP! is  a program created by Marilyn Schoettle, at C.A.S.E (Center for Adoption Support and Education) that teaches effective techniques for helping kids with the painful and often disturbing encounters with others who are uneducated about adoption. The kids are taught that they have 4 choices:

      W: Walk away or choose not to pay attention

      I: It’s private: I can choose not to share information

      S: Share some information about adoption or my story

      E: Educate others about adoption in general, by telling them correct information and helping them to understand it

Here are two sources discussing/offering the W.I.S.E. UP! Powerbook:

To Read Review:  http://adoption.about.com/od/guidereviews/fr/wiseuprev.htm

To Purchase:  http://www.amazon.com/W-I-S-E-Up-Powerbook-Marilyn-Schoettle/dp/0971173206

Another great resource is the PACT Family Camp, which is open for registration.  A Gathering for Adoptive Families
With Children of Color will occur on:

July 3-7, 2013 at the 
Granlibakken Conference Center and Lodge, in 
Tahoe City, CA

For more information: https://www.pactadopt.org/adoptive/services/education/pact_camp.html

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Because this post is a lengthy and important one, we are splitting the content into two posts.  The next blog post will address specific examples and conversations and how they have played out in real life.  Our social workers and parents have shared insights about how to manage each of the situations.

Stay tuned for that post later this week!

Maintaining Your Child’s Chinese Culture: A Trip Opportunity

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All of us belong to an ethnic group by birth. For most of us, our belonging is part of our life experience. For transracially internationally Chinese adopted children, this may not be the case. Because the majority of adoptive parents in this population are Caucasian, much effort must be applied to maintaining an affiliation with the child’s culture of origin and ethnic identity.

Many families choose to join play groups, attend culture camps and access Chinese community events to encourage an ongoing connection with their child’s heritage.   Many families also celebrate country specific traditions and holidays within their homes. They also proudly display artifacts and mementos – and prepare dishes unique to the child’s homeland on a regular basis.  A large number of families also entertain the idea of future trips to revisit the child’s country of origin.

Chrysalis House, Inc. has recently learned of a Chinese Culture Trip opportunity and wishes to share the opportunity with our families:

POP’s Foundation and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (in Beijing) are pleased to invite your family to participate in our Summer 2013 China Culture Trip. This heritage tour is designed specifically for families who adopted from China and are interested in bringing their children (age 10+) back to visit the land of their birth. We will enjoy many tourist venues and cultural performances, but we will also have the special opportunity to visit schools, orphanages, a factory, and many more behind-the-scenes destinations. An official welcome by high level Chinese government officials and scheduled activities with local Chinese children will make this tour truly the trip of a lifetime!

This summer will be our 4th tour in China with families like yours, and our diverse itinerary showcases the wide variety of experiences that China has to offer. Highlights tentatively on our itinerary include:

·         Beijing: The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square

·         Tianjin: The Prince of Peace Children’s Home

·         Xian: The Terracotta Warriors

·         Yangshuo: Li River cruise

·         Guilin: Reed Flute Cave

·         Suzhou: Humble Administrator’s Garden

·         Shanghai: Shanghai Children’s Palace, Bund waterfront, and General Motors plant

TRIP DETAILS:
Tour dates: June 30th -July 13th, 2013 (14 days).
Cost: $1745 USD per person (age 12+), $1480 per child (age 10-12). Cost includes hotels, most meals, entrance fees, transportation for the duration of the tour (domestic flights, high speed rail, overnight train, and bus), and tour guide tips. It does not include international airfare/visa fees, insurance, or personal expenses. This trip is partially subsidized by the Chinese government and we promise you won’t be able to find a better deal anywhere else!
Short trip: For interested families, we are also able to offer a partial 9-day trip (June 30th – July 8th), visiting only Beijing, Tianjin, and Xian. Cost for the partial trip is $530 per person (age 12+) and $490 per child (age 10-12).
Application and payment deadline: Application package and payment must be received by March 29th, 2013. Please note that participation is limited and space may not be available through this date.
Questions? For application forms or questions, please contact Maisie at the POP’s Foundation office at POPCHeNewsletter@gmail.com or (510) 723-2425. We hope to hear from you soon!

Additional Contact Information:
POP’s Foundation
3536 Arden Road
Hayward, CA 94545
www.facebook.com/POPChinaCultureTrip

In closing, CHI would like to remind you that all children have different personalities, levels of maturity and emotional needs — so you, as parents, are the best people to decide if a culture trip may be suitable for your family/child.  Preparation will be key: Discussions should be held on a myriad of topics before traveling to minimize surprises proactively.  Talk about what to expect, potential challenges, whether the child would like to visit their orphanage and the place they were found (if abandoned). Conversations about hopes and fears can be integral to ensuring a positive experience for the entire family!

If you’re considering a culture trip for your family, this tip-sheet may be of use to you in deciding whether and when to go: http://testnuke.wiadopt.org/Portals/wiadopt/Tipsheets/Culture-Diversity/LandofBirth.pdf

**Please note that Chrysalis House, Inc. is not affiliated with POP’s Foundation and that this post shall not serve as an endorsement.  We seek to share resources with our families and do encourage you to research this opportunity fully, in the event you may be interested.