Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The First Days

This post is to demystify some of what goes on during the first few days of bringing an orphan home.  At least, it's how it went down for us.  I know that everyone's experience is different, but for those of you who are considering adoption (and several of you have contacted me), this is probably the part you are both excited for and fearful of at the same time.

When we first picked Ella up, she was very frightened as I have said in previous posts.  She cried for the first 10-15 minutes in the car, clinging desperately to me for dear life.  As hard as it was to witness that, I was thankful that she was looking to me for comfort.  That is a sign that your child is capable of forming an attachment.  The rest of the ride back to the hotel and at the hotel, she was very reserved, did not talk, did not squeal, did not make a peep for about 3 days except to cry piteously when I would change her diaper, change her clothes (even her socks), or give her a bath, which I did as little as possible.  Julie and I discovered the bite marks and understood why.  If every time you were naked, someone bit you, you wouldn't want to be naked either.  And forget about brushing her nasty teeth.  I decided to tackle that one back in the states since she was already dealing with enough change, and I'm pretty sure she had never seen a toothbrush before, much less used one.

She would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and it would take hours to get her to go back to sleep.  She didn't know where she was, and she was frightened.  Julie would put on some praise music or I would sing (through my nasty cold), and I would rock her or rub her back.  Sometimes only turning on the light and letting her play with toys would calm her.  It let her look around and see she was in a safe place.  Ella and I both had a horrible cold, and I would find out in the U.S. that she actually had pneumonia.

Feeding was a challenge.  She would only eat 4 things - baby food (at first, and then she started rejecting this), oatmeal, soup, and chocolate chip cookies.  It wasn't that she was incapable of eating other foods.  It was that she had such a limited diet in the orphanage that she did not recognize what we were offering as food.  It was a constant battle to get enough calories in her the whole time in Russia, and she mostly survived on juice.  Once we got home, we started making high calorie soups in our Vitamix packed with veggies and enough potatoes and cabbage to give it a nice homey smell, and feeding became a little bit easier.  After 2-3 weeks home, she started branching out, and now she'll eat almost anything, but she's still not a fan of fruit.

The plane rides were easy, aside from one horribly nasty diaper that Julie and I both detected at the same time.  You should have seen the look that passed between us.  But aside from that, Ella was quiet, playing with her toys and sleeping. 

The morning after we got home, we planned on going to church.  Ella was in bed with me and Ryan, and she was playing with Ryan's iphone.  It ran out of charge, so Ryan took it away to put it on the charger.  You would have thought Ryan had taken away her only meal of the day.  This was the catalyst that brought all of her proverbial chickens home to roost.  She was mourning; she was angry; she was confused about where she was.  She was screaming, throwing toys, trying to hit us (not very effectively since she was so weak from malnutrition).  She refused to let me hold her, so I just sat next to her on the bed, talking to her, trying to rub her back, and saying 'Ya lublut tebya' (I love you) over and over again.  She needed to know I wasn't going anywhere, even when things got ugly. 

This was probably the hardest point of our journey, but I welcomed it because it meant she was progressing.  In our adoption classes, we learned that this phase was common.  They try to push you away because they want to know if you'll leave.  And they mourn the only life they ever knew, the only people they ever loved.  And I kept reminding myself how blessed I was to be her mama, that I got to be the one to help her heal and be there for her in her most desperate time.  We sat there and cried, both of us, and I prayed for God's healing in her little heart.  Needless to say, we did not make it to church that morning.

You see, children who have been deprived of a parent's love are like people without Christ.  Many times, they don't even know what they're missing because they've never had it.  They don't realize they need that relationship, so they push God away and say, 'I don't need that', until one day they get a brief taste of it and learn to want it, to expect it... and then they start turning to God when they are scared, in times of need, and in times of joy.  I find that the more time I spend with God, the more time I want, and it is the same with these children learning to be loved in families.

Over the next 2 weeks, slowly, slowly, the butterfly emerged from her chrysalis.  She started to relax; she started to eat new foods; she started to laugh; she started to say words... in English.  She went through a period where she decided not to walk.  I'm not sure if she just wanted to be carried or didn't want to go anywhere, but she did eventually start walking again.

And now... those first few weeks are but a memory.  She is like a completely different child.  She will still occasionally throw a tantrum, but it is short-lived.  She will lay down on her own for a diaper change, loves to take baths, and climbs up on the stool to have her teeth brushed.

So there it is.  The truth about how bad those first few days and weeks were for us.  The worst of the worst.  Does that scare you?  I really don't know how it sounds or looks to other people because I lived it, but I hope it doesn't scare away those of you who are considering adoption.

Because if that's the price I had to pay for this...

It was all worth it. 

"See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."  Isaiah 43:19


  1. Oh sweet Marj---what a blessing for you to share this with us. Love and prayers to you and your family....KB

  2. This was a wonderful post. I have been following your journey for quite some time and it was great to see just how the beginning went for you. My husband and I have talked about adopting but, I have to admit, it always scared me a bit... just how bad would it be in the beginning? I know every child is different but, it was nice to see your story. Thank you.

  3. Marj! Your posts and pictures keep bringing tears to my eyes.... Such a beautiful journey, such a precious little girl! I hope you keep us updated on your journey. What you describe above about Ella's adjustment seems so absolutely normal, not scary at all. If that's all I would face, it would not faze me at all.

  4. I read your post a while ago, but did not get a chance to respond. I appreciate you sharing what happened during the beginning for you. I have followed several adoption stories and am very interested in adopting ourselves when God opens the door. :) Thank you!

  5. Our God is so good!!!! Tears of joy and heartache that your beautiful baby girl felt anything other than love! I so very much desire tk adopt and actually reading this post makes the fire burn more..... tobe reminded that children do not know what it is like tk have a parent, a family love them destroys my heart!