Saturday, November 26, 2011

Red Thread

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, space or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break." — Chinese Proverb

Often used in reference to us, as adoptive parents, who feel they are linked to a special child waiting for us in China.

Welcome to Holland

This past week was the best and worst of the adoption process.  Monday night we received our much anticipated Travel Approval.  TA is the final step in the frustratingly long journey through myriad bureaucratic quagmires that is international adoption.  Somewhere deep in the bowels of a government building in Beijing, a functionary to whom we were just another form on a desk stacked high with papers, made his final determination that we could come and get our daughter.  A mark was made, a stamp affixed, three lives forever changed.

Wendy and I decided to adopt about a year ago.  We originally thought that adopting a child from Taiwan would be a great option for us.  Wendy was born in Taiwan and moved with her family to the US when she was 6 years old.  We went to an informational seminar held by the adoption agency we eventually signed with intent on finding out the details of the process of adopting in Taiwan.  However, the seminar was actually more focused on the agency's China Waiting Children program.  We politely listened to the information about the China program while waiting to ask our questions about Taiwan.  However, the more we heard about these waiting kids, the more we wondered if this program might be right for us.  

When we received our referral to Sophia we knew she had Cerebral Palsy.  We knew it affected her legs, but that she was able to stand with help.  That was pretty much all we had to go on.  We spent several days thinking about it.  I had read many accounts of people getting their child's referral picture and just knowing that that was their child.  Love at first sight.  That was not the case for me.  A picture of a little chinese girl with a crooked smile in one picture and tear stained eyes in another, a description written in the stilted language of a chinese bureaucrat and then translated by an american bureaucrat -- these were all we had to go on.  Could we love this little girl?  Could we help her find her way in the world?  Could we be her parents?  Yes.  Yes. And Yes.  The decision was made.  The process was begun.

In the six months that have passed since our referral Sophia has become our daughter.  She was our theoretical child at first.  We knew we'd one day meet her and bring her home, but it was still quite far in the distance.  In some ways knowing about her cerebral palsy made the wait feel like it had purpose.  We had time to prepare and educate ourselves to be able to better help her when we brought her home.  We read books and talked to doctors and visited an Easter Seals facility.  And all the time spent planning, and thinking, and dreaming about her had the effect of making her real.  She wasn't just a picture and description on my computer screen.  She was our daughter, and we were her parents.  We were a family and we were ready to go, all we were waiting for was our TA.  

Monday, November 21st, at 6:47pm we got the email we had been waiting for - TA - we were going to China.  It's hard to put into words the excitement and relief we felt.  As it turned out there was way too much excitement for either Wendy or I to get much sleep.  We both tossed and turned until morning when we woke up to an update from China about Sophia.  

Guo, Yi Hua is now 92 cm tall and weighs 12 kg.  As she grows up, we discovered that besides having mild CP, she also has seizures, it happens sporadically.  After she has seizures, she needs some time to recover.  This definitely affects her development and rehab.  She is shy, when she is with her close caretakers, she is willing to talk and can speak simple phrases and sentences.  She can use body language to express what she needs.  She cannot walk, jump, run.  She can walk with other people's assistance.

Seizures?  My little girl has been having seizures?  Oh shit!  How do we handle that?  What do we do to help her?  And why in the hell are we just now being told?  It was a pretty sharp punch to the gut only hours after we thought the adoption journey was nearly over.  We thought we were prepared for CP, and now we weren't even sure where to begin to prepare for seizures.  We spent the day talking to doctors, and friends and great people who've been through this before.  Actually, we learned that seizures aren't particularly uncommon for kids with CP.  With the right medications they can be nearly eliminated, and many kids grow out of them as their brains develop and mature.  

So, we've got our feet back under us.  We're confident and determined that we will handle this as a family.  And we can't wait to hold Sophia in our arms!  

And that brings us to Holland.  I found the following story and I think it is a great way of looking at not just kids with disabilities, but life in general.  We can make all the plans we want, but our happiness depends on our ability to react to what life throws at us -- be it Italy, or Holland, or China.


I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Emily Perl Kingsley