Friday, July 08, 2005

We Came as Soon as We Could

One of the interesting things we learned in training with our adoption agency was that children born into institutional settings have no category for having a mommy or a daddy. Their caregivers, competent and caring as they might be, are just an endless loop of day shift, evening shift, and night shift. The agency actually recommended that when we first bring our daughter home, we should minimize her contact with other adults, so she can learn that the two of us are special people in her life and not just another wave of caregivers. We can’t wait until the day she calls us mommy and daddy, because it will mean she is beginning to learn what mommy and daddy means, beginning to understand that she has a mommy and daddy.

Another thing she’ll need to learn is to communicate her needs. Babies born outside of institutional settings cry when they are uncomfortable (i.e. hungry, gassy, or poopy), and they quickly learn that crying gets the attention of someone who can help alleviate their discomfort. In an institutional setting, there may not be enough caregivers to get to babies at their moment of discomfort. These babies soon learn that crying doesn’t get them help. Some cope by turning off the crying mechanism. Others resort to drastic measures to get attention; if banging my head against the wall or holding my breath until I turn blue gets me care, that’s what I’ll use when I need help the next time.

I don’t mean to dis orphanages; I know that most of the ones in China are safe, well-run, and staffed with workers who genuinely care and who give good care. I also don’t mean to convey an inflated sense of “saving” children from a lifetime of abandonment and misery; our motives for adopting are probably more selfish than selfless. Nevertheless, it will be a rush to meet our daughter, to introduce her to us and to the concept of having a mommy and a daddy, and to help her learn that she can use reasonable forms of communication to express appropriate needs.

Most of all, it will be a rush to just hold her, to let the good things about physical touch work their way through her body and mind, so that she comes to know she is deeply loved and cared for. However old she is when we meet her, she will have had that much life experience of being loved and cared for as best as possible, but not yet from a mommy and a daddy. And when we finally arrive to be that mommy and daddy, after so many months of paperwork and waiting and prayer and anxiety, I think the first thing I will tell her is, “We came as soon as we could.”

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