Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The good, the bad and the honest truth

I subscribe to a bunch of China adoption message boards, and enjoy them all. But with all the challenges we have faced with Quinn, and with all the challenges most all adoptive parents I know have faced, it worries me just a little to see so many people jumping into international adoption without an apparent understanding of what MIGHT not go according to plan.

Before Quinn came home, I read time and time and time again that kids may be behind when you meet them but they'll catch up practically instantly, like when you're still in China. Um, not in our case. I stupidly expected that because I had read it so often, and I really panicked when it didn't happen.

So the other day a prospective parent posted a message to one of the boards asking for advice. One of her concerns was which SNs might work best for her family because they already have a special-needs child. In our case, the SN is not the issue, it's Quinn's 16 months of institutionalization that left him so challenged in so many ways.

I truly don't want to scare anybody waiting to adopt, but I think it's vitally important that we're all aware of the negatives along with the positives. So here's what I wrote to the prospective mom, and here's what I believe more every day:

Let me preface this by saying that adopting my son was the smartest thing I ever did, and my life is changed immeasurably for the better from having him in it. I would not change a thing and I love, love, love being a mom to this incredible child.

Next I will say that now more than ever, I think it's vital in international adoption to prepare the worst and pray for the best. When I say now more than ever, what I mean is that from what I've read, China's orphanages increasingly are filled with special needs kids, many with visible differences. Many people in China still consider people who look differently to be "unlucky," and sadly, some of those people work in orphanages and are caring for kids. That means it's possible that some of the kids in orphanages today are not getting the care that kids in orphanages even a few years ago got. I don't mean medical care - I mean someone to hold them and coo at them and make faces and sounds at them. All the stuff that fosters healthy development.

For us, dealing with our son's special need has been a breeze. It truly is one of those minor, correctable things so many of us seek. He had one surgery and we do some follow-up exercises. Honestly, that is the least of his issues. He came to us at 16 months seriously developmentally delayed. He could sit up only with assistance, would/could not eat solid foods and did not make a sound. I had read time and time again on these boards that kids arrive delayed and catch up almost immediately, but that is not what happened in our case - and the same is true for many, many, many parents who have contacted me not on these boards but privately after reading my blog. After 2 1/2 years Quinn is still seriously delayed in pretty much every area. He gets speech therapy, occupational therapy, is in a therapeutic play group and attends special-ed preschool. He displays several symptoms of autism - he does not like to make eye contact, often won't acknowledge spoken directions, does a lot of self soothing behaviors like swinging his head around. But every therapist we've seen says he does not have autism, but simply missed out on learning the basics of normal human interaction. They think that with some pretty intensive therapy while he's young he can catch up to his peers. So when he's not in formal therapy we're working with him on in-home therapy. It's fun and seriously rewarding, but it takes a lot of time. So much so that both my husband and I cut back to part-time hours.

We went into adoption fully expecting to have two kids, but have decided that it's in Quinn's best interest that we focus on him utterly and give him the very best possible chance in life. Honestly, right now I think that if we had another child, they would both suffer for it. I know many families have many special needs children and juggle it all very successfully, but for us this feels right.

I think you need to go into international adoption assuming you may deal with serious developmental delays as well as disorders associated with a lack of stimulation in the early months (Quinn has sensory integration disorder, which is common among institutional kids.) You also need to research reactive attachment disorder and realize that this could be your reality. These kinds of things do not show up in reports from the orphanages. If your family situation requires a child who needs very little intervention or extra attention, honestly I would rethink whether international adoption is for you. You may get lucky and end up with a child who has no issues at all - I hope so! But you need to be prepared that might not be the case.

I truly do not mean to scare you off. Had I known three years ago all that I know now, I still would have traveled with very same road with joy and enthusiasm. But I wish I had gone into it knowing more, which is why I share my story - the good and the bad.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yay, Barney!

Yes, I know the world is full of Barney haters. But our family will not throw a single dart at the giant purple dinosaur. Music-loving Quinn gets bored with most DVDS, but Barney - with song after song after song - he LOVES. And you gotta admit, some of the songs are pretty catchy.

It's no surprise that Barney has good, positive messages - I've read criticism that he shouldn't teach children the world is such a good place. But we didn't expect to find a positive adoption message tucked into the final moments of  "Let's Go to the Zoo," which Quinn dug out of the cabinet this weekend. Baby Bop, the baby dinosaur, asks Barney to help her leave her beloved stuffed baby elephant in the elephant enclosure so it will be with its family. Barney tells her he thinks the baby elephant should stay with her because she is its family now - she loves it and cares for it and "that's the very best part of being a family."

No, there was no acknowledgment that the baby elephant might be missing its birth family, but none of the characters in this video was adopted - they were talking about someone else who was adopted. And of course, Barney is for very young kids.

I'm trying to build a library of books and videos with positive messages about adoption, and I must admit that a lot of the books I've collected so far I don't really love. Most are about girls, of course, and some I just don't care for. Here are my  fave books so far:

A Mother for Choco
Motherbridge of Love
Letter of Love from China

Help me build my library! What are your favorite books, music or DVDs with positive adoption messages?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Life, narrated

Now that Quinn is attempting full sentences, we're having a blast hearing what's going on in that head of his. Mostly what we hear is narration. The moment he wakes up in the morning, he starts talking to himself, narrating each and every move he, the dogs or either of us make. "Go see Rosie? Eat? Go for walk? Look! Mama getting out of bed. Mama is putting coat on. Baba is walking up the hill."

Just this week, after MUCH work, he is starting to answer our questions about things that have already happened. What did you do in school today? What game did you and Nana play? What did you do while you were outside?

And just today, he started expanding on those answers, turning them into actual conversations. At dinner tonight he told me that he and Baba watched the sun go down. Now it is dark, he said, but he wanted the sun to go back up in the sky. I told him that the sun would go up, but not until he woke up in the morning. "Sun go up now," he said. Not yet, I told him. Just like you need sleep, the sun is sleeping. We went round and round about that and you could really see him trying to wrap his head around the concept. After dinner, while he was playing with my cell phone, he hit some feature that activated the voice control and the phone invited him to "Say a command." "Tell it to do something," I told him. He looked at the phone and commanded, "Wake up the sun!"