It’s a long, exhausting yet rewarding trek from the Midwest to Beijing, China. Despite the plane flights, security protocol, and jet lag, it's worth it for adoptive parents like Keely. In the second part of this story, Keely meets her new son Rainer for the first time. (Read the first half here.)
Advice for adoptive parents.
Be prepared for a powerful and emotional experience when you first meet your child, Keely told us. “It is an intense experience, a little like having your child at the hospital while you’re having a baby. There are a lot of emotions and feelings.”
“Try your best to see the experience from the child’s perspective,” she continued. “Consider being a small child and then brought into a room with adults and kids, and they mostly don’t look like you. That can be scary.”
For Keely and Rainer, it was a typical scenario at the Chinese embassy where all of the families wait together in the same room. In their case, a staff member announced Rainer and brought in a very reserved two-year-old boy. At first he wanted nothing to do with Keely. Having talked with Rachel, Keely was prepared for this. She sat with him and played, and even plied him with candy. After about thirty minutes Rainer warmed up to her, so Keely just picked him up and held him. After that, Keely fondly recalled, Rainer wouldn’t let her put him down.
Keely also noted how fast the experience goes. Generally, a nanny escorts the child in and then leaves quickly. In Keely’s case, the nanny was there only about five minutes. For any child, there is some trauma regarding that separation. In addition, the child may have had a very long bus or train ride before arriving at the embassy. Keely said that as the adoptive parent, you are likely prepared for this meeting, but the child will not be as prepared as you. While you’re an adult who can process emotions and the situation, the child doesn’t have those skills, so patience is key.
Be prepared to be in China for two weeks and to be knocking out a varied to-do list. While the casual reader may think that the parents and children are on a sort of vacation at the hotel while they get to know each or go on fun outings, that’s not exactly how it goes. Those two weeks include a good number of meetings, consulate appointments, and doctor visits.
On very much the plus side, children and adoptive parents spend a good deal of time together as the bonding process begins. Some children attach more quickly with parents and others less so. In Keely’s case, she and Rainer bonded fairly quickly. She felt she became his “security” early on. During their first meeting when she picked him up, she believed that experience had a profound, positive effect on him.
A week after Keely and Rainer came home to West Plains, Missouri, he had surgery. Because of his heart condition, oxygen couldn’t move through his body properly, which gave him a blue pallor. Keely was thankful to get him to a competent heart surgeon and commented, “The hospital time helped us because he needed me. It was a scary situation, and I was there for him. I never left his bed. I never wanted to leave his bed. It was so good for us to have that time.”
Despite four-year-old daughter Esme’s previous eagerness for a younger sibling, she did struggle with jealousy when Rainer came home. Before her new brother, Esme had all of Keely’s attention all of the time—and perhaps more so than other parents because Keely worked often from home.
Esme is good about talking about feelings, and that proved so in this case. She told her mom that she was jealous of Rainer, which enabled Esme to move forward and embrace the role of her new brother. Because Keely’s job allows her to work from home, the three of them were together a lot during that transition time. And within only a couple of months, it was obvious Esme cared a great deal about her new younger brother and started to take ownership of that relationship by helping take care of him. Keely noted it was tough but ultimately good for Esme because it helped steer Esme away from the notion that she was the center of the universe. Since that time, Esme and Rainer have grown very close and play together. Though they are siblings, they fight, too. Indeed true siblings?
Family time: the power of nurturing.
“There is a surreal feeling when you get home of, ‘Wow, we did this.’ This bed has a kid in it now,” Keely told us. She said the trip to China and back felt like a whirlwind, but eventually time slowed down. She began parenting this child she had prepared for. “You may have built up in your head what that will look like when the times comes, but it tends to be quite different. And in some ways, the experience is better,” Keely said.
Keely knew from other adoptive parents that she’d have the temptation to have friends and other family over. But she made a decision in that first month that the three of them would just stick together and get quality time together. They didn’t see a lot of other people, and it was hard, but as a family, they did the hard thing together. She had to learn how to parent Rainer, and he had to learn how to be parented—and that’s difficult if you have a lot going on.
That family time has been positive for everyone, particularly Rainer. “It’s been joyful to see Rainer’s growth,” Keely told us. Rainer had a lot of issues because of his medical condition, and life remains a challenge. He is behind in preschool because English is not his native tongue. Even though he’s a sharp kid, his maturity level is behind compared to his peers. Keely commented that we all have our hard things, and as parents you just need to have confidence that your child can grow and learn.
“In China, I thought, this is going well, But now when I look at him, I can see the difference. I am his mother now. He has gained a lot of self-confidence. Before, he was scared and timid, now he may have too much confidence,” she laughed. “He’s brave and willing to try new things.”
How you can get involved.
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