Wednesday 10 November 2010

It's Been A Year

Our adoption was finalised on October 27, 2009. That was the day we went to court, got some stuff stamped and signed, then went out for lunch, then went to the children's home one final time, took our babies back to the hotel in a taxi and became parents. Yikes.

We have video of all of us in the taxi on the way home. We seem calm-ish, but if you know us well there's an unmistakeable hint of hysteria in our voices. Rather than two well-prepared, rational adults, we seem a bit more like a couple who met in Vegas, had a few too many shots and are now walking out of the Chapel of Love wearing matching sweatshirts saying Mr & Mrs. Our voices are saying "we're so happy!" but our eyes are asking "what have we done?"

And we were happy, of course. But it was the strangest feeling to suddenly become parents. We had met the babies and spent time with them. We already loved them, but we knew that until the court made the ruling, they weren't our kids. Now, suddenly, they were. You know that feeling when you have eaten way too much and your tummy cries out "stop! No more, no more!" That's how my heart felt that day. It felt crammed full, too full of feelings. It was like being forcefed on emotions by a very insistent host. "Here! Have some happiness! It's excellent! Try the relief! Here, have more! How about the guilt? You like guilt? Ah, take a double helping! You have room for some gratitude? And please, you must take a little confusion. I see some more room on your plate! I'll put a bit of fear of the future on there! How about some generalised, non-specific anxiety? It's extra good with my specialty: feelings of inadequacy. Hey, look! All your happiness is gone! Okay, you must have some more! No, I insist!" You get the picture.

So, hearts full to the point of nausea, we took the babies back to the hotel and unwrapped them. I don't want to get all symbolic on you and start talking about chrysalises and butterflies, because if I do that you will all need to run off and find a container to barf into. But unwrapping them felt incredibly important to us - it was our first act of parenthood. They had been so tightly and thickly swaddled while in the children's home that they were always bathed in sweat. This is pretty dangerous for babies (duh!), and seeing it had always terrifed me. Every time we visited them, they were damp, and limp and underneath all the layers it turned out they had no muscle tone at all. But now we could let them move. We didn't change their clothes, because we wanted them to have familiar smells, but we massaged their little arms and legs and watched their huge eyes widen as they learned that their bodies could s-t-r-e-t-c-h. We held them and fed them and looked and looked and looked and drank in the fact that we were all together in the same room, a family at last.

Well, that's how it felt to J and I, anyway. We knew that this wasn't 'at last' for them - adoption issues aside, they were three months old and three month old babies don't really have a concept of time.

Eventually, everybody over two feet tall got hungry. Mum and J decided to go and get pizza from the shop at the end of our road, and I stayed behind to keep up the flow of milk. They left, and suddenly I was on my own with these two tiny humans. It was amazing. I remember putting baby I down on my lap to feed him. I pulled my knees up nearly to my chin and we stared and stared at each other. He blniked at me quietly and drank and drank while L slept. M and J can't have been gone for very long, but it felt like hours. Things would get really, really hard in about six hours time, and stay that way for weeks, but that first time on my own with my children (my children!) felt magical.

We'd been advised by the paediatrician to just let them drink as much as they wanted, and so that's what we did. That afternoon I think he drank pretty much his whole bodyweight in milk. Three month old babies don't know very much, but it turns out they aren't stupid. They had been, frankly, neglected. I am not drinking adoption Kool-Aid when I say that they obviously preferred the care of two imperfect, utterly overwhelmed parents to the life they had immediately before adoption. On that first day they learned that they could have all the milk they wanted, whenever they wanted it and they adapted to life on the milky train pretty quickly. I don't mean that they loved us, but they were perfectly happy to have us around. This was actually a bit of a surprise. I had prepared myself for some kind of writhing yellfest, but it really didn't happen. I know that all kids are different, and I know that babies process loss in ways that aren't always obvious. I'm not saying they were wearing badges with 'I love my new forever family!' written on them, but I never had a moment's doubt that they were better off (yes! I said it! Better off!) with us than they were in the orphanage.

Let me tell you something about that orphanage: it was awful. You know how some people get to say "oh the care our baby got was wonderful"? We did not get to say that. I've heard that things are better there now, and I'm really glad about that. And I know that, as institutions go, it was a pretty good institution. So relatively speaking, it was fine. But as a place to leave your child, it was not a good place. The guilt I feel (and believe me, I feel plenty of guilt) has nothing to do with taking the babies away from there. In fact -if you will bear with a digression - I think the main reason why so many conversations about ethics get derailed with the old saw about families being better than orphanages is because adoptive parents see, first hand, how visibly children tend to thrive when they leave an orphanage for parental care. It makes us think about butterflies, and I'm not the kind of person who often thinks about butterflies. I compare my children's life in the afternoon of that day with how it was in the morning and I know it was better. That makes me feel, viscerally, that our adoption must have been a Good Thing. But when I'm thinking clearly, I don't really think that the 'orphanage or family' question has very much to do with the heart of international adoption ethics. The real questions must be about this: why was that baby in the orphanage in the first place? Because if you stole my children from me right now, or paid me to relinquish them, or coerced me into it, and then put them in an orphanage, anybody who adopted them in six months time would have the same post-adoption experience that I did. Life with their new family would be infinitely better than it was in that orphanage, but if the children shouldn't have been there in the first place that isn't really the point, is it? But that's a whole different post. Okay, digression over.

And so now it's been a year. I'm so thankful. But there's a part of me that feels like we don't have the right to celebrate it. Like all I should ever say as an adoptive parent is I'm sorry, I'm a bad person. I didn't post about it at the time because I felt kind of weird publicly celebrating something that was making me feel so conflicted. I feel like there's a lot of anti-adoptive-parent sentiment out there, and sometimes I find myself buying into that out of guilt. And how can I write about something when I don't even know what to call it? This post is a great explanation of why I'm not fond of the term 'gotcha day'. I would lean towards family day, but there are times when I feel like even this is more than we should claim. I'm so aware that these are our first children, but we are not their first parents. They were born into a family before they were adopted into one.

And so, 2010. My mother was here with us again, and my father too, this time - so we swapped stories about our memories of the day, and kissed the babies a lot, and thanked God for all his mercies to us. We ate pizza and milk that day a year ago, and so this year we marked it by doing the same thing - milk for the babies and pizza for the adults. Next year I'm hoping the babies will actually eat some pizza too and not just fling it on the floor. So maybe we should just call it pizza day. And maybe we will. If we were being scrupulously honest about 2009, we would call it "pizza and milk, most of which got vomited up later" day, but that's not really something we're hoping will become an annual event.

But the more I think about it, the more happy I am to confidently claim Family Day too. Not just as a technicality, but as a celebration. Forming our family was difficult, ethically complicated and the result of tragedy. There's no disputing that my babies have four real parents. But J and I are definitely two of them. We are definitely a family. Our babies have to face some very sad anniversaries in the years to come, but October 27 is not one of them. So Happy Belated Family Day, babies. We're so glad we're yours.


  1. Love this post...especially that last paragraph. Happy Family Day!



  2. especially the last sentence.

    I give you a very holy Amen.

  3. I love this post, too. So honest and just -out there- just trying to hold anything back. Thank you for that!

  4. So perfectly written. Thank you!

  5. Happy Belated Family Day! My boys and I were just considering renaming theirs under the same moniker, so I'm going to read this to them in the morning. Thanks!

  6. Happy Family Day Claudia. Beautiful post.

  7. Happy Family Day! Hope the pizza was good :)

    What's your favourite?

  8. "Milky Train," I love this concept! Beautiful post. Happy Family Day to the four of you!

  9. I can't believe it's been a year. Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to bask in the happy without the conflicting emotions interfering. That's my prerogative as an honorary Texas auntie. Loveloveloveloveloveloveloveand evenmorelove.

  10. Fascinating:

    I can't tell you how moved I was by this post. I'm not a gal built of straightforward emotions. For every sense of miraculous gratitude, there is, as you described, the accompanying feelings of guilt, defensiveness, shame, and on and one. Love holds the center, but what a sphere! Sometimes though all it takes is one thought—written or murmured aloud—to clarify matters. For me, it was your last line here. "We're so glad we're yours." THAT IS IT! Oh sweet child, glorious daughter: I am yours.

  11. The AP Kool-Aid, it has different effects on different people. Some people see butterflies and other's can't see any beauty at all.
    Most people don't actually drink it, they pretend to drink it and pour it in a potted plant (like a bad after-school special). Then they pretend to not see the beauty or only see the butterflies so the other APs will think they are hip.
    I think those of us who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid need to talk about it.
    Happy Pizza and Anything-But-Kool-Aid day.

  12. So touching. Happy Family Day. :)

  13. beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing! and thanks for linking too :)

  14. This is a beautiful post! Happy family day!


  15. I love how you write about the complex emotions that go along with adoption. Happy belated Family Day!

  16. NOBODY told me there would be Kool Aid along with adoption.

    I am a new reader and am happy to find you with this post. You've spelled it all out so wonderfully, the happiness and confusion and sadness and how nothing, nothing, about family fits into a box.

    The blogamigas told me to find you - and I do whatever they say. Nice to meet you! They were aghast I did not know you and why not and why didn't I see you when we were in London on our return from Ethiopia last summer.

  17. Every time I read something you write or Mama Dog writes, I just want to point your direction and say, "Yes, what she said."

  18. Claudia, I feel like you surely have been a fly on the wall of my brain! You have captured so much of what I've been processing lately...well, except for the pizza, milk, and vomit parts. But the rest is spot-on. May I link to you?

  19. Love this post.

    Not many people in the world have the amount of love that you have in your heart and without it they may tend to only see the negative aspects of adoption. Adoption may be complicated, but never lose sight of what it truly is - an act of love.


Over to you!