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Saturday, September 16, 2006

How could I?

How could I leave that sweet little face in China? How could anyone leave any of these sweet little faces in China? I just don't understand it. Although I don't know how Sophie will be when I get her, I can't leave her there. I wouldn't leave her there. We signed up for this. We signed up to be parents, the good and the bad. I just can't imagine going to China and having Sophie cry and cry and just telling her "Sorry kid, you must have other problems you have to stay". I am nervous about meeting Sophie don't get me wrong and I know the grief that she will have will be intense, but I'm not giving up. She has lived in an orphanage all of her life. That is all that she has known. She will have some strange blond woman who doesn't speak Chinese picking her up. I have stared at her picture everyday for the last 6 months. She is my daughter just as Maddie is my daughter and Brandon is my son. She will be our daughter regardless of what happens. My heart hurts for all of the children this year whose families went to China and then decided not to take them home. If you think you are prepared to go to China without understanding grief and institutionals life, please read this article before signing the contract to adopt.

This is by Amy Eldridge, founder of Love Without
Boundaries and I think the information is so valuable
for anyone who has not yet traveled. This is posted
with her permission. The first part was her posting,
the second is her reply when people began asking her
to share.

I most definitely wish there was a way to educate
ALL adoptive parents about the truths of institutional
care, however I have come to realize in my daily work
that just as many parents are not online
reading everything they can find on adoption as are.
There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of
parents out there who have no idea what life is like
for a child in an orphanage, and who head overseas to
pick up their "China doll" only to be handed a baby
who is unresponsive, thin, unable to eat..and on and
on and on. While adopting my son last month, I walked
several times over to the White Swan to talk to
parents, and over and over I spoke with moms and dads
who had no clue whatsoever about the issues their kids
were having.

I heard so many times things like, "she won't eat
solid foods" (oral aversion), "she has no muscle tone"
(muscle atrophy from lying in a crib all day), "she
won't smile" (pure grieving from being taken from her
foster mom). I guess since I live China 24/7, I assume
everyone adopting does, too, which is not the case. I
talked to at least a dozen parents who didn't even know
their child's orphanage name, and while I gently said "you might
want to memorize that for your child's sake", at the
same time I was trying to process how many parents get
all the way to China without ever reading about
post-institutional issues. It was sobering to me.
Babies in the NSN as well as the SN path can have
issues with attachment, motor skills, emotional issues
and more. I think all of us on the WCC list
acknowledge that, while also acknowledging that all
children (whether bio or not) can have these same
issues. Living in an orphanage of course increases the

I think the easy out is to say that agencies have to
do more, as well as social workers, but I do think
that most of them do try to give information to the
parents but often parents don't want to hear it or
else think it won't happen to them. Again, I am often
surprised to talk to parents leaving soon and to
realize they are not prepared. One family was
adopting from our foster care program, and when I
told them that the child was DEEPLY attached to the
mom, the father said, "guess she might cry for an hour
or so then?" An hour or so? She had been in foster
care for over a year! I tried to explain that
this little girl was about ready to lose everything
she had ever known, and that they should not expect
her to be sunny, happy, and full of personality after
an hour. I told them to please remember the 72 hour
rule.......that after 72 hours they would probably see
her spark, but that she would probably grieve for a
long time after that as well.

I don't think many want to read the "bad stuff", and
so I do think that ultimately it is the parents who
are at fault for not doing more to educate themselves.
There certainly are books galore out there about
post-institutional issues. I equate this to when I was
pregnant with my kids and I would read "What to Expect
When Expecting", and I would
get to the C-section part and always skip it. Each and
every time I would jump to the next chapter as "that
wasn't going to happen to me". Well, on my
fifth baby, when they were rushing me in for an
emergency C section, I sure was wishing I had read
that section earlier! But at that point in the OR,
while they were strapping my hands down to the table,
it was too late, and so I felt complete panic when I
could have been prepared. I think adoption from China
is very similar to giving birth.. it is much more rosy
to only read the happy stories on APC, but I now
encourage every family I meet to read the harder ones
as well, because if you are the family who is handed a
child that is limp and listless and who looks
autistic, what you have learned in the past will help
you make the right decision for your family during
those very emotional first few days.

I have been called many times in the last few years
by parents in China worried about their children. I
agree that having a support network to help you
through the initial time is essential. Everyone
should go to China with at least one phone number of
someone they can call if they are panicked upon
meeting their new child. I remember feeling so alone
when I was handed my daughter and she was so tiny
and limp. Because our foundation often helps with
the kids who have been disrupted, I am aware that
sometimes there are children who have much more
serious issues than originally reported and that is
such a hard thing for a parent to get to China and
then discover their child is truly autistic or has
serious mental delays. I think everyone on both the
China and international side would agree that it is
absolutely wrong of an orphanage to not be honest in
their reports, and no one would excuse that, but I
also know without a doubt that the majority of kids
who are disrupted are just suffering from
institutional issues and would catch up quickly in a
loving home. It is always a very sad day for the
orphanage and everyone involved when a child that they
know is absolutely fine, but perhaps thin and
grieving, is returned by their new parents for being

I think far too many people believe their child's
life is going to begin the moment they meet them. The
truth is, and everyone must realize it a child's life
is going on RIGHT NOW in China, and all of their
experiences are shaping who they are. The vast
majority of aunties that I have met in China are such
kind and caring people, but it absolutely is not the
same as having a mom and dad at your beck and call. I
have had new parents call and say "we didn't think
living in an orphanage would affect her at all", and
those statements truly puzzle me. How could they not
contemplate life in an orphanage? Walk through Babies
R Us and you will see every gadget known to man to
make our children's lives here as ideal as possible.
Now Americans have two way video monitors, so that
when baby awakens not only can mommy see when to
immediately rush in and comfort him, but she can
talk to baby so that he doesn't even have one single
second where he feels alone. How many new parents
would have a newborn and then put that baby in a crib
22 hours a day on their own? How many would only
feed their baby, even if they were really crying hard,
every 8 hours? Or prop the bottle in her crib and then
not watch to see if she ever really ate? Of course no
one would do that we feed newborns on
demand, comfort on demand, love continuously and
whether people want to recognize it or not, that is
NOT the life of an orphan in an institution. ...even
when the aunties are as good as gold. I remember
one night when I took some volunteers in for the night
shift in an orphanage, when normally just a few
aunties are working. One mom looked at me with tears
in her eyes as she slowly realized that it was
absolutely impossible with just two hands to feed
every child, to comfort every child, to soothe every
baby who was crying. She said her heart was aching to
realize that her own daughter most likely had many,
many times where she cried without someone to comfort
her.....and she told me that for the first time she
finally understood why her daughter had such a deep
seated fear of being out of her mom's sight.

The aunties are trying their absolute best, but that
doesn't equal mother/child care. I remember being in
an orphanage in the north this past winter and the
aunties were so proud of how they had 6-8 layers
of clothes and blankets on every baby to keep them
warm. They were swaddled so tight that they couldn't
move, but it was freezing in the orphanage and so the
aunties wanted the babies to stay as warm as possible.
What alternative did they have? It really was freezing
there..I was cold in my wool coat, so the babies
couldn't be up and about with just 1-2 layers on, with
the ability to move their arms and legs. To stay warm
they had to be immobile, and so of course all of those
kids have weak muscle tone. But the aunties were truly
trying their best, and when a parent is given one of
those beautiful children on adoption day, I am sure
they will go back to their room with concern and say
"she can't sit up by herself..she can't put weight on
her legs". That is absolutely the truth, but she also
survived 10 degree weather in a very cold province and
she will catch up soon enough with parents to encourage her.

To not acknowledge that living in orphanage
circumstances can cause lower body weights, low muscle
tone, inability to make good eye contact is very sad
to me. Can it be overcome? Most definitely! The one
thing I have learned over and over again about the
kids in China is that they are fighters and survivors.
But for some reason, people seem to want to ignore
these issues in public forums.

Recently, one of our medical babies that we had met
several times in person was adopted, and we all knew
that this child was a "spitfire". When the family
arrived and spent a few days with her, they decided
she was too much of a handful for them and they wanted
to disrupt. She absolutely was not what they expected.
When they called their agency, they were told they had
two choices: adopt the child, bring
her to the US, and change their expectations of what
they were hoping for, or adopt the child, bring her to
the US and the agency would have a family waiting at
the airport to adopt her locally. Option three of
leaving the child in China was never once given. I
admire that agency so much, as they were thinking of
the child and the child alone. The family followed
through with the adoption and handed the little girl
to a new family upon her arrival in the US. As
horrible and tragic and emotional as it was for
everyone involved...I still feel this was the right
decision for the agency to make. It was done in the
absolute best interest of the child, who had waited a
long, long time for a family. I wish more agencies
would advocate for the rights of the child, instead of
always seeming to give in to the parents, especially
in those cases when they know with absolute
certainty that nothing is permanently wrong with the
child. Recently with another disruption, the agency I
spoke with told me that it was "easier" to just get
the family a new baby. Sometimes easier does not equal
right. The first baby who was rejected has now been
labeled "mentally challenged" even though the agency
knew the child was really going to be okay.

I think all of us, who do realize that delays occur
and that babies can usually overcome them, should be
these children's advocates by continually trying to
educate new parents on what to expect in China.
By helping them be better prepared, we just might help
stop a disruption in the future. I love Chinese
adoption with my whole heart, and it is my life's
work..but I also want every family who goes to get
their baby to go with their eyes open and to be as
emotionally prepared as possible, for the child's

Amy E

I don't mind if you share the post, although I am so
far from an expert that I get embarrassed by anyone
quoting me. The only thing I would add is that I think
it is very important that parents spend at
least as much time educating themselves about
post-institutional issues as they do decorating the
nursery or working on their packing lists. I know the
wait to referral can seem SO long, but I believe
that is a wonderful opportunity to educate ourselves
on how to best handle any situation that might come
up. Our future sons and daughters are depending on us
to care for them in the best way possible and to help
them overcome any issues they might have, and that
means being informed. I believe with all my heart that
the vast majority of babies being adopted are indeed
healthy and happy. As I said, I am a passionate
advocate for Chinese adoption. I wish every
single child I have met in China could find a
home......every single one. I am humbled each and
every day by their strength, their spirits, and their
capacity to reach out for love, even after being
abandoned. But I also believe that we should all be as
prepared as possible for the different situations that
we might face with international adoption. When we
finally meet the child whose photo we have stared at
each day, we owe it to them to understand as much as
possible about what issues they might be dealing with
from losing their birthparents and being raised in an
institution. I was asked once by a government official
in China what could be done to stop parents from
turning children back in, and I really do think
that pre-adoption education is essential.

Some of the topics I think every parent should read
about include:

What are some of the immediate things I can do in
China to promote attachment with my child?

Am I informed about head banging, rocking, and other
self sothing behaviors?

What are night terrors?

What does it mean to be tactilely defensive?

Is it a problem if a child only bonds to one parent?

What are the signs of oral aversion?

How can I help my child overcome oral issues?

What does it mean for a child to have sensory
integration issues?

What are the common parasites that my child might have
and what are the symptoms for each of them?

What is anxious attachment?

With older children adoption, do I understand possible
initial behaviors like "over friendliness", hoarding,
premature independence, fear of rejection?

Have I prepared myself that my baby might be much
smaller than expected or weak in muscle tone?

What are some of the emergency symptoms that require
me to call a doctor immediately?

Have I prepared myself mentally for the different
"forever day" scenarios, from a child who shuts down
completely in shock to a child who grieves intensely
for their foster parent to a child who rages
and actually acts like they hate me?

What does it mean for a child to have institutional

Do I understand that attachment is a process and that
my child won't love me instantly, even if they cling
on for dear life?

Do I have someone I can trust completely to call and
talk to in the event my child is not who I expected?

I don't write any of the above questions to cause
fear.......I truly believe adoption is so beautiful
and amazing. I write them so parents can be informed
of some of the "possibilities". I am sure you all
could come up with many more important questions to
ask ourselves as we prepare for adoption....but I
think we all agree that these are very important
topics for new parents to consider.


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