8/20/08

In the interest of keeping it real

Some of you have written in to offer support and your own experiences from the first weeks "at home". It's one of the great things about this virtual adoption community, the ability to share these unique and rather rare experiences we go through as adoptive parents. I am sure it is a bit different for each of us, just as each of our children are unique as snowflakes, but there are enough common threads, enough binding agents that we are able to sympathize, empathize, and share what wisdom we gain along the way.

I have to say that the first couple of weeks at home have been at once much, much easier than I expected and much, much harder. How is that possible? I'm not sure. I think it has to do with the illness that I've been going through since before leaving China - this illness has made the whole experience very surreal. That said, I am quite sure that it's surreal even if you're in the peak of health. But the illness has intensified the strangeness of it.

The easy part has been largely thanks to QiuQiu, who has been a real sport about the whole thing. I do not say that lightly. When I think what she's going through - this abduction by total strangers, this transportation across the international dateline and halfway around the world to another country that doesn't look, smell, taste or sound anything like the world she has known - I am amazed, astounded at her cool and her aplomb, her awesome heartiness in the face of all this strangeness. I am amazed, above all, by her ability to actually enjoy the experience.

This kid has been a champ. Her jetlag-induced sleep issues lasted four days. Four. Days. I was prepared for weeks. She was not airsick in the planes on the 24-hour trip home. She has not awakened in her strange nursery with night terrors since being home. She has taken every bottle of food that we have handed her without complaint, even those that were the wrong temperature. Even those including flavors and textures she'd never been exposed to before. She has gone along with every outing, doctor visit and family occasion with very little complaint, only fussing when she's bored or teething particularly badly.

She certainly still has a lot of attaching/bonding to do. She is one of those babies who deals with her institutionalization by becoming everyone's friend. She likes attention and isn't afraid to flirt shamelessly with each and every comer. I am quite certain that she doesn't yet know us as her one and only, permanent parents, and equally certain that she'd go with anyone who gave her a friendly smile. This is an attachment issue, just like the child who violently rejects their new parents. She likes us just fine, revels in our presence even, but she has yet to identify us as "the real thing". Still, as attachment issues go, hers are on the easy side, at least at this stage, and she has been a real pleasure.

Now let me get to the other side of the coin. During these weeks, I have awakened some mornings to a vast feeling of wellbeing, a thrill at the idea of bending over the crib of this new little creature who has been handed over to us for life, and seeing her lovely waking smile. I have known how very fortunate and blessed we have been in this child.
Withing a matter of hours, however, I can be shipwrecked, smashed on the rocks by a feeling of utter desolation. I mourn profoundly for the life I have left behind. I had a good life - better than good, and for most of that life I have had a great deal of freedom. I have seldom been tied to an office, a mortgage, or even a spot on the map. That is an enviable thing, and I have reveled in it. When we decided to adopt, I felt that I had done with that freedom what I could do with it. I felt I had used it well, but used it up. I felt it was time to move on to the next thing - to teaching and giving and being responsible for another human being. I still feel that way. But it does not stop me from mourning the life I've left behind.

Some nights during the worst of my illness, I curled on the couch in the dark and actually cried tears over my dog Sam, my road trip companion and sidekick for the past 8 years. I cried for those long, hot days on the open road which we shared, the nights sleeping on the ground in the desert, side by side, with no one else nearby, the fourteeners we climbed together, the long, solitary hikes in the snow. I cried for my solitude and my independence.

These emotions turn over as quickly as playing cards, leaving me reeling. I can't keep up with the changes running through me like water. It is a massive transformation, probably the biggest of my life. Hard as I try to grasp and hold onto the new feelings, the fleeting joy that passes like cloud shadows over my landscape, it runs through my fingers. I can't pin it down. I'm not quite all the way through the looking glass yet - I still have a leg on each side. I am not finished "becoming".

I know also that some of this is the illness. It's a tough one - one that leaves me weak and dizzy and shaking, that scours my insides and takes the bloom from my cheeks. It's an illness with a lot of pain involved, and one that goes on for weeks without respite. But I also feel like the illness is, in a strange way, a part of the alchemy that is this transformation to motherhood. I have to learn a new kind of endurance. I have to learn to do that which seems like it can't be done. I know that this experience will leave me stronger in a way I couldn't duplicate. But I also resent the hours that it's taken away from me. I resent the time it's sapped from my first weeks with Flynn. I'm a stranger to myself, so how can I become familiar to her? I also feel like I've become a stranger to my husband, between the new duties of parenthood and the weakness of being ill, and I resent that too. I resent the joy that was so easy for us in eachother's company before, and which seems to remote now.

I know that all these things will return in their time, and eventually, when this passes, the time it has taken will seem much shorter. Right now it seems forever - a seperate lifetime in the space of a few weeks.

Reading through this, I see that I haven't properly explained how it feels both much easier and much harder than I expected. When people assure me, "It gets easier, I promise!" I want to say, oh, but it's been so easy! She has made it so easy! But when I'm alone, suffering through yet another protracted bout of pain or trying to rise to the needs of a child on zero nutrition and not nearly enough sleep, I think...how can I possibly do this?

I have a feeling, ill or not, no matter how difficult or easy the transition of your child, most of you have gone through a similar experience, feelings of profound loss, feelings of profound joy, that rarefied feeling of surreality that comes with a little stranger, a small, brave, lone human being placed in your waiting arms.

22 comments:

Diane said...

I feel your emotional pain, and joy. Our daughter was the opposite, she attached to me like a limpet to a rock! The whole time in China she would cry if I wasn't holding her while standing, an impossible thing to do 24/7! At one point I told my husband to take her or I would throw her against the wall. (Ok, I really wouldn't have, but my emotions were running that strong!) After he took her, I sat at the laptop and cried for a while. Then there was the joy of her first smile with us. It showed up after she decided that the toys we gave her might be fun to play with. It was such a relief to see her playing!

We've been home now for 4.5 months. I still mourn my loss of quiet time and the ability to go to the movies whenever we decide to, but I'm beginning to believe that the trade off is going to be worth it. For a while I knew that in my mind, but not in my heart. My heart is finally catching up! I can't say how fun it is to watch her try to figure out how things work. To see her processing the information she has and how to use it to get what she wants. She's not even two yet, but she's already learned how to manipulate people to get what she wants. I realized a couple of weeks ago that she really does understand a lot of what I'm saying to her by giving her choices like "do you want to go home or go to the event?" A variant of this was said while she was having a tantrum because I wouldn't carry her, I had her in the stroller instead. She instantly calmed down and we continued on our way. Now that's a smart little cookie!

It does get easier, but I think the easier is more of the parents finding their new groove. Of learning how to work with and around the little ones needs and desires and still be able to meet our own needs and desires.

~Diane
(http://mrs-madpanda.spaces.live.com/)

Amanda said...

This described so much of my early days with Sofia. So much. So clearly. There are still moments that I mourn the life before. I have to believe that it is just a part of this long, strange trip. At least it is for me.

Take care, Maia...and once again you are bringing your truth and beauty in full force. Thank you.

Melissa said...

Thank you for being so honest about this. We have yet to get our referral but it is something I think about often. I occasionally wonder if we are making the right decision. We don't have any children at home and like you lead a happy and free lifestyle. I was beginning to wonder if I was being selfish or was the only one having this type of feeling.

MotherMotherOcean said...

I think it is the one thing we as new mothers, do not talk about enough. We mentioned this on the group when one of our friends was going through this. You will never have your old life back again. And you suddenly went from having choices and free time, to having none of it. That is very hard. I totally understand what you are feeling. I have been there. And I still have days like that. I would like to pee alone, I would like to run an errand without someone on my hip. Lots of things. Life will transition. You will get new rhythms in your life. Things will never be the same, but you slowly learn that things never were the same before.

Snowflowers Mum said...

perfectly said.

tiffany said...

You express this better than I could have and better than I have seen it expressed. We were married 10 years (together 14) before adding our first kiddo. I never did the 9-5 thing and I had that freedom- to tag along on business trips, load up for a weekend getaway, go to school on a whim and it was a shocker when it suddenly ended. Or changed really. For me, it takes 6-12 months with each kiddo (actually seems to get longer not shorter with each new addition!) to adjust. Suddenly, my life comes back in to color and a new kind of normal emerges.

I think the adjustment process, like the attachment process is interesting and I also think that some of us almost need that. Like having kiddos the more traditional way would be too dull and the extra challenge is exactly what we need, even if it takes a bit to realize that. :)

I know you have family in town but anything I can do? Does Miss Flynn need some playmates? You all would be welcome to come visit any ole time! Or we could make the trek your way.

I know how these first weeks and months home are and I am thinking of you. Bravo for being so honest and well spoken about it. I think this post could be of benefit to anyone about to travel and also to anyone just home.

Mamacita said...

For someone who is so physically ill, you are incredibly eloquent. I felt a lot of the same emotions and thought the same thoughts when we came home almost five years ago. I mourned the loss of my adult life. The separation between my husband and I. Now we affectionately refer to our daughter as "The Wedge." The wedge between us. It is often the case. I try to balance this loss by touting the invention of "The Triad". Hopefully there will be more equality in needs and the ability to meet those needs between the three of us. In the beginning, the scales are severely tipped. I hope you feel better soon. Thanks for keeping it real for everyone.

Yoli said...

Isn't it a humbling experience? I worked very hard all my life but I have also enjoyed the thing that used to be my first love--travel. Waking up in another city and country was vital to my existance. When my daughter came into my life all of that freedom changed. It was a shock to the system to realize that life, as I had known it, will never be the same. So my old self grieved hard and silent. I did not want people to think what an ingrate I had been when I had just been bestowed such a blessing as my daughter. However, life slowly but surely began to find its new pace. You will find your footing and you will be back to doing the things used to do but now with Flynn. She needs to know why the title of her blog is the "Wanderer's Daughter."

Thank you for sharing your feelings so honestly. I think you worded it in a way that people totally understand and can relate to.

kerri said...

I silently went through these difficult emotions with not 1 but 2 of our adoptions, I had a more difficult time the second time around, this confused me! I overcome so much I sought help, I am not ashamed to say it was the best thing for me(speaking for myself only here).
I still long for those quiet times.They are different now, the girls needs are changing as they get older, I am now starting to find time for me.
You have once again made me so proud, your so honest and open with your writing, where were you 6 yrs ago, LOL.
Your doing such a great job Mom...

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

Maia... I have always admired your honesty in things that some people are to 'scared' (for the want of a better word) to share... I am trying to soak in as much as I can of what you write so that when my time comes that I am somewhat prepared... there have been a few times when I have said to myself 'Do I want to give up travelling the way I do'... or 'Am I ready for the change in lifestyle etc' yes on one hand as kids are something that I have always wanted and no cause I was with my ex b/f for so long and was use to being controlled... you could say that I have only just begun to 'live' my life... the way I wanted... and financially the way I can... it is my first taste of 'real' freedom this late in life and I like it... but I too feel like I am still growing and learning... like Diane said - the trade off is worth it... never tire of reading your posts... take care

Beverly said...

yes and it gets easier and stays harder all at the same time. I hope you are on the rode to physical well being. You will find the freedom again just in a different way and will enjoy it too.

fourlittlehawks said...

I completely agree that new Mommies don't talk about these feelings near enough. I've come to believe that those who swear they never had them are in denial or just afraid of being honest.
One of the reasons I struggled so much after my first child was the guilt I felt because I wasn't bursting with ecstasy as I'd expected to. I have four children, and each of them has required me to change my perspectives and my routines - "stretching" me, if you will.
I still say that the most difficult transition for me was going from having no children to having our first. It is such an enormous life change, and it is so normal for you to feel the pain of that. Change always brings loss of some kind, but you WILL find your rhythm again. And when that happens, you'll be able to use your experiences to stand alongside another New Mommy... and you'll be the old veteran!

((Hugs))
Love,
Jen

Torrie said...

I really felt this way with our first adoption. I was formerly a work-aholic and in love with my career. I had no clue how hard it would be to leave that life. I loved being a new mom, but it took 8 months before I felt an ounce of confidence.
Now that I'm in mommy mode, I didnt feel this way at all with our 2nd.
It's just a short phase when our children are small. Soon enough we can create a new version of our former lives, that will be different, but someday Flynn can travel with you.

Glinda said...

I have no life lessons to pull from in order to offer you wise words from past experiences that would ease your burdens; I can only offer you my gratitude for your honesty and my admiration of your courage to offer it up for all to see.

Bless you and may you find a balance of peace and immeasurable joy as you find your way, on a path that will be lit forever by the brightness of your daughter's smile.

tracy said...

i feel your pain, maia, and i know that after hearing so many 'it will get better' comments from everyone, you start to wonder 'ok, when?' i still mourn and wish for what was, but even those thoughts come into my mind less frequently now than a month ago and much less frequently than a year ago. you will change and flynn will change and it really will, now hear me this time, it really will get better. and it happens without you even noticing because you'll be too busy living to stay focused on what was... you'll be too busy being what is.

kris said...

I think you actually did an amazing job of explaining both- it's that loss of freedom that i fear most, the monastery slipping away from me- all my own time to do what I want...

but then I think about sharing those things with her- as she gets older especially- and i think any sacrifice now is worth it-

i see you and flynn having the kind of relationship you and your mom share-

anyway. thanks for posting this. i need to be reminded of what lies ahead. i think i'm even more afraid because i'm single... irrational probably, but there you have it.

Juliette said...

You are so right. You tell it so well!

You will still miss this freedom, no doubt. Sometimes you'll feel guilty. You will work hard to keep time for your couple and for yourself, your soul.
But your girl is now part of it. And your perspectives and gravity centre will never be the same.
Yes welcome to motherhood dear Maia!
Be well!

Stacie said...

It just takes time. It is one of those cruel/ wonderful things that cannot be rushed or manipulated... you will look back in a year and see strangers from a lifetime ago. You will be a stranger to yourself (and i do not neccessarily mean that in a negative way) and your daughter (as you now know her will be a stranger). Nothing can hurry this along or change it or improve it but time. Attachment is a process (this is still so hard for me to remember)- yours to her and hers to you. Just trust the process. It is very hard to do at times. You will wonder if this will ever end. Then one day you will just know- ok this is it(honestly it took me over a year). And it is amazing I remember when our AT told me i could not take Z ANYWHERE for 3 months i felt like my life had ended. In retrospect it was the best 3 months of my life.

I feel for you with giardia. I felt like the earth was moving below me in waves for months. I cannot imagine how you are feeling while trying to care for your new baby.

Hang in there- you are just trying to get your land legs....this too shall pass!

Stacie

Yen973 said...

That was so well said. As a new mother I never shared those feelings with anyone. I felt guilty about them. We have been together 2 years now and it does get easier. Hope you feel better soon.
Dana

Nicole said...

Maia, BEAUTIFUL!!! Beautiful, profound, honest words. It is a wonderful thing to be able to be transparent.

We just got LOA to get our Logan from XuZhou. He will be our 5th child, 4th adoption, 3rd adoption from China.

I love following your blog! I will pray for your strenth, clarity and health!

:-)
-Nicole
www.bakerssweets.blogspot.com

Cavatica said...

Yes, this is it. I can't wait to read about Flynn discovering you as parents and not just more awesome people. I think the people-watcher kids do well through all this - abandonment by their birth families, institutional living, and moving onto their forever families. Their interest and curiousity about people keeps them going and attracts others to them when they need them most. I know it has been a big pay-off for our Bing-Bing and I expect it to be a lifelong strength.

Easy, yet oh so hard. Maybe that's parenthood?

Beautiful post.

Poppy said...

I think you're describing everyone's journey into motherhood to some extent - it certainly rings true for me... Even your attachment comments fit with our 'traditional' little boy, who at 17 months has finally started to get really excited and shout 'Mummy' when I return from work or go to his cot in the morning, rather than passively take in that its another carer in his day. It's been quite useful that he will happily spend time with anyone who shows him love and attention, but I've felt guilty the whole time by how much it has been bothering me. I think guilt is part of motherhood though. Its a gene that gets switched on the day the baby arrives as far as I can see.
Keep enjoying the good bits - they're the store for the not so great bits.