We've been home from China a little over a month and it's time I do an update on our Lucy Fei.
All in all, she is doing excellent. I have consistently been surprised at how well the transition has gone. The little girl we received on April 16, 2018 is so different the little girl who lives in our home today. Her eyes are brighter. Her smile is more authentic. She is beginning to really show us her sweet and silly self. That's not to say there haven't been many rough spots.
I'm writing this so that I will be able to go back- but I also have a few other purposes I want to be clear about:
1) I want others in the adoption process to get a real-life picture of what one family's experience looks like. It comforted me so much to read others' accounts before Lucy came home.
2) I want others who may be interested in adoption to find some answers- possibly to questions they didn't even know they had. There is nothing special or extra brave about our family. God called us to care for orphans and this is just simply how we have responded.
3) Please, please don't miss the God-story in this. Without Him, this would be a very different story. He is THE reason we have/had hope- the reason our girl is home with us now- the reason we are functioning as a family!
If you've been following along for a while, you know that we adopted Lucy through China's special needs (sometimes called "waiting children") program. More on that here. So, we knew that Lucy would have some type of special need (one that we had pre-determined we were ok to consider) when we first viewed her file. We had a 72 hour review period to consult doctors and then make a decision on whether or not to pursue adopting Lucy. We consulted with 3 doctors- two who are international adoption specialists and review files like this all the time, and our pediatrician, who was also familiar with the process and had reviewed children's files for adoption as well. Their opinions were extremely insightful and helpful. Each one went over every detail of her file, which included documentation of hospital visits, blood work, and a statement on her finding place.
Our Lucy was born prematurely and was diagnosed with two forms of Congenital Heart Disease- PFO and PDA. Beyond that, she seemed to have been a very sick baby- there were many hospital visits listed during her first year of life. Of course we googled her heart defects, and it seemed (from our uneducated perspective) that they weren't a huge deal- the internet (where everything is true, haha) even said that both of these types of defects can heal themselves.
We did have one problem- we had no updated photos of her- just one mug shot style photo of her head at 1 year old. So there was no way to tell how she was developing with her heart defects. We requested updated photos from her foster family but our agency told us that we may not get any photos before we needed to make a decision because of the city Lucy was in (updates apparently did not come quickly from there). So we waited and prayed.
Miraculously, we received updated photos and videos the very next day- and they showed us a beautiful, smiling, running, walking, playing little girl. It was amazing! After sending the new photos and videos to our doctors, each speculated that Lucy's heart conditions had already healed themselves. So, we felt much more confident and chose to pursue her.
I have not shared about Lucy's heart condition until now, because we wanted to have her looked at here at home first. In many cases, there are additional, non-documented issues that a child may have, and we were prepared for that. 2 weeks after arriving home, we took her to the doctor where she had a thorough well-check. You guys, there was NO HEART MURMUR. Our pediatrician said that there was absolutely no indication that she has any heart issues at all at this point. Of course, we are going to keep monitoring her- I am fully aware of all the signs of cardiac distress and I'm sure it will always linger in the back of my mind- BUT all we know is that God did a miracle- again! Praise the Lord!
I can't finish this portion without saying, though, that even if she hadn't received a clean bill of health, it would have been ok. Seeing her now, in our home, as part of our family...we would do whatever it took for her. And we will!
This is the number one question we are asked about- so much that it makes me laugh a bit. My sarcastic self wants to respond, "well, is your 2 year old quoting Shakespeare?!" Ours sure isn't.
She IS, however, speaking really, really well. We have been told by several speech paths that this is the perfect age to learn a new language. I would say she understands about 90% of what we are saying. We don't speak to her any differently than we do our other children, and having them around has really helped her put together what is going on. There is a lot of monkey-see, monkey-do at our house right now. We do also use the few Chinese words we know, and turn on Elmo in Mandarin from time to time. Knox and Liv love watching it too.
We began with some simple sign language in China and that has really helped us bridge the gap. At this point, she can communicate to us when she wants food or drink, or when she wants something else- and she is even putting together a few small sentences. Granted, we may be the only ones who understand at this point. :)
She loves to sing, and so it has been fun to hear her pick up songs/words in English. The "L" sound is unheard of in Chinese and of course every female in our house, including the dog, has an L name (no, I didn't do it on purpose!). But, she's even started forming that sound in the past week or so. This video isn't great (there is something going on with the microphone on my phone so the sound is awful!), but you can see that she can really say a lot!
This has been one of the toughest battles we have faced- but even still, we've seen so much progress- it's no longer a huge deal. On the surface, Lucy sleeps great. She has never been super cuddly- which is fine. Chinese culture is not one of tons of physical affection. We have also been careful to leave her her own personal space, so that she doesn't feel violated or overwhelmed. And we were, at first, on high alert for any sensory issues she might have. When we received Lucy, she did not want to cuddle, be held or rocked before bed. Her foster mother told us to just lay her down, and she would go to sleep- which is exactly what happened. Lucy had several "ticks" she uses to put herself to sleep- rubbing her blanket on her palms or chin, for example.
While we were in China, this was fine- but when we came home, my heart began to break over it. We had figured that Lucy would co-sleep with us for a while just to promote bonding and attachment- but she wanted nothing of that- and we really didn't either, as she turned out to be a wild sleeper. I noticed her "ticks" were getting more extreme in her new home- and she was fighting to stay awake longer and longer at bedtime.
So one night, I just knew that this was going to need to change. I knew in my gut that this was our biggest opportunity to bond. She had really attached to Shawn (attaching to the father first is very common and great, but can be really tough for adoptive moms like me!), and I just felt like I needed to help her fight this battle.
I realized that her "ticks" (flinging her arms and legs, tossing and turning, rubbing her chin and hands) were not really helping her go to sleep, but helping her stay awake. I observed her fling her foot over the side of her bed, hitting the metal bed frame and actually hurt herself. There was no reaction- she stayed silent and just rubbed it. My heart broke again. This habit was not ok. We don't hurt ourselves to feel better, or to cope.
So, I started rocking with her before bed. She hated it at first. We spent a good two hours rocking pre-bedtime for at least a week. It felt so backwards. With Knox or Liv I would have been so excited to lay them down and have them go to sleep on their own. But Lucy needed to trust me enough to fall asleep safely.
At this point, rocking before bed is something she is happy about. It still takes a good hour most nights. But I love my alone time with her, and she will sing with me to our sleep playlist, which has been a huge blessing. At some point every night, her fight-or-flight kicks in and she fights to stay awake. I have seen her be asleep for a good few minutes and her body literally jolt itself awake. Because of some research I did pre-adoption (the Whole Brain Child is awesome for any parent, adoptive or not!) I know that this is just her brain kicking in to fight, and that it will just take time to re-train her brain.
It's been a battle for me to not take it too personally. I can't let myself believe that this is about me. She's been through more than I know and it's because of the fight in her that she is doing as well as she is today. So we do a lot of rocking and praying, and crying. I spent a lot of nights in that rocker with Liv, praying for our other daughter across the world- so God's done a lot of work in that rocking chair, and it's not hard to remember His faithfulness while sitting in it.
Daily, Shawn and I shake our heads in amazement at how well Lucy has fit in. God has clearly placed her in our family- in His good, pleasing, and perfect will. We are so thankful. Before we were even matched with Lucy, we received the advice to not make any judgements about your child until they have been home at least 6 months. This has been such a wise and relieving piece of advice- because it has allowed us to just relax and be accepting of her in the moment. I forget constantly that every day, she is experiencing all-new firsts. We can see her get a little burst of joy every time we return to our home after an outing. She is so glad to be back, and she is clearly comfortable in her home now.
From what we can tell right now, Lucy loves music, singing and animals. She is an excellent traveler and has done really well riding in a car seat. We did take a road trip to Dallas and she screamed the last two hours, but she's also a two year old so we didn't worry too much. :)
She is still getting used to dirt, grass, being wet, etc. Her big sister LOVES to get dirty so as Lucy follows along it has been funny to watch her look questioningly at Liv as if to say, "you're doing this on purpose?!".
Lucy is brave and will pretty much attempt whatever her big brother or sister are doing, which keeps us on our toes. This also means that she has acquired quite a few bumps and bruises- but it's all in the name of fun.
On of my favorite memories of Lucy will always be carrying her on the street in China while we ate sweet steam buns together- this girl loves her carbs, just like her mama!
She has eaten pretty much non-stop since we have been home. I've attempted some Chinese dishes that she devoured- but then again, she has devoured almost everything we've put in front of her. In China, she was still taking a bottle, which is normal for her age in that culture- but she didn't seem too attached to that practice, and so we were able to stop once we found she could feed herself and drink from a sippy.
We have had to help her slow down a bit while eating- but all in all, this has not been a point of struggle for us.
Transition and Siblings:
I've been writing another blog post in my head entitled, "Things International Travel Taught Me About My Children" because ya'll- I had insights on them I never would have had we not taken them with us- but until then, I have to say that Knox and Liv have been great.
Knox seems to only dealt with a slightly heightened level of "annoying little sister"- which he has handled pretty well, except for a few outbursts. Once we got home we realized it was important to make sure we were giving him time to communicate to us, and that we were checking in with him as much as we could. Being older (he's 7), it's been really easy to push him to the side while we take care of the screaming 2 and 3 year olds. So we've both had individual outings with Knox, which we plan do continue. It's good for us, too!
Liv has had a harder transition, for sure- which we expected, going from the only girl and baby to the middle girl with a sister. She's also 3, which I would argue is harder than 2. Most of the time, she is either playing the Mommy role (taking care of Lucy) or being the baby (having ALLLL the needs). She has been a really great helper, but has thrown her share of fits. However, I have been so thankful for the way she and Knox have welcomed Lucy. They have never questioned her belonging. The only issues we have observed are all things that we'd encounter with any new sibling. They love showing her off to people, which is a little funny and awkward at times. This is ok because Lucy is generally outgoing and friendly.
We can already see special relationships building between them all and it blesses our hearts. These little people will be our biggest accomplishment and greatest work.
Shawn and I have had our good days and our bad days in the past month. On our good days, this family-of-5 thing feels totally natural and we love watching our kids just be kids. On our bad days, we are tired of the constant needs to be met, work to be done, and wonder if we will ever have our own personal ambitions (outside of our kids) again. I think that's normal. I can't say that anything we've experienced is any different from adding a biological child- except we are always considering whether or not what we are dealing with (with Lucy) is adoption/trauma related, or just a 2 year old being a 2 year old.
That being said, I am really grateful we had the experience of parenting before we adopted. There have been several moments that I have been reassured that her fits are not the result of bad parenting, but the fact that she's 2 and exploring her boundaries like every 2 year old does. I did a lot of second-guessing myself with our first child, and so I can only imagine that a first-time parent with a newly-adopted child would have a tough time dealing with some of these issues. So, if you know of an adoptive parent who is also a first-time parent, PLEASE go to the extra effort to reassure and support them. There are so many layers of guilt that parents have to wade through- and this brave group of parents need all the encouragement they can get! Ain't nothing more confusing and frustrating than a toddler throwing a fit because you gave them exactly what they asked for. :)
This turned out to be a little long- so if you made it this far, thanks so much for loving on our family! We know that so much of the beautiful parts of this process have been a direct result of God's great love for us and the prayers of our tribe. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!