Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Silence of Adoption

They are beautiful boys.
 
Our sons from across the ocean.
 
 
 
Each day I get the pleasure of greeting them in the morning and each night kissing their little heads to sleep.
 
They go through the day talking and creating messes and making plans on this, that or the other.
 
 
They are silly and fun and keep us on our toes in this house.
 
But they are more than just beautiful boys in a picture.
 
Though they are fun-loving and silly and creators of all the mess in our house, I would be selling them short and this blog short to only imply that is all to their lives.
 
Our boys come with stories. Stories filled with grief and loss. Both were abandoned at birth.  Both spent their first five years in baby houses where they learned that soft hands would never pick them up if they cried, so they learned to bury their cries deep down into the very depth of their beings.
 
They never had the luxury of being rocked in someone's arms.  So they learned to rock themselves. Back and forth. Back and forth in their cribs. Hour after hour. Day after day. Year after year. My boys rocked themselves because no loving hands took the time to rock them. They still rock themselves.  Break my heart. They still rock themselves at night.

Both boys had disabilities that sidelined them. Labeled them.  Disabilities that caused them endless hours of suffering in hospitals without kind hands to caress away the pain.
 
Both boys spent way too many years living in institutions where survival of the fittest was the rule they learned to live by.
 
And they bear those scars.  Both of my boys. They bear the scars of neglect and abandonment. They carry with them the trauma of their early years in and out of hospitals. 
 
I would be wrong in this blog to indicate that they came blazing out of their former lives and danced merrily into our family with ease.
 
Five and a half years ago we met a scared little boy who had been sentenced to live the rest of his life in a mental institute, but for the Grace of God. 
 
Last year we met another little boy who had spent almost 11 years of his life whispering prayers for a family to love him best of all.
 
Both boys in their own way have rocked our worlds.  There have been times when we have been deep in the trenches with our sons. In those times we have struggled to put into words what it is like because we barely understood the rules of engagement. 
  
Here's the truth.
 
When you are in the trenches  - you often don't have the mental clarity to explain what is going on. And just when you think you can put into words what is happening, everything changes and you find yourself in a different trench. Sometimes a whole maze of trenches.
 
Some trenches are shallow and easy.
 
Some are deep and devastatingly complicated.
 
Some are private.  Things that can't be shared openly.
 
Some are too darn confusing.
 
I am not usually one to be at a loss for words but honestly, when it comes to figuring out the world of my adopted sons I tend to be often at a loss for words.
 
There are some days when I want to just sit down and write a book.  Because maybe then I could bring clarity to what we have experienced with our sweet sons from across the ocean.
 
There have been many many times in our journey with Aaron over the years that I formulated words in my head only to find that by the time I got the words on paper they made no sense in relation to the trench we had moved into.
 
 
There are a million books about caring for a newborn baby.  I read them all when I was expecting Ben and Elijah.  There are just as many million about what to expect the first year of life with that baby.  I read those too.
 
There are few books on how to care for a child just out of a mental institute.  Few have written how-to's on what to do with a child who has lost all language because of the devastating trauma of transfer. Or what to do with a child who is happy and engaged one minute and 'gone' the next.  No one has written the manual for how to teach a child who was raised where books were non-existent and who spent every single day of his first five years in two rooms with just baby toys which most of the time sat pretty on the shelf.  There are only a few books out there that gave us clues on how to navigate in a world where our son cycled back and forth from emotional sunshine to rain throughout the day. And the book on what to do with a child who spent a solid year sitting in a shed surrounded by moaning boys - not on the shelf.
 
There are no how-to books about the effect of transfer to a mental institute on a five year old little boy. None that I have ever found. 
 
So we winged it.  We trial and errored with Aaron.  He had given up all language in the mental institute.  We instituted talking as a rule in our family. We developed battle plans when he 'disappeared' and we worked through his rages.  He learned what family meant and we learned to love a little boy who recoiled when touched.  We realized early on that formal learning was out the window.  He needed time to just play. No toys sat on the shelf in our house. We let him play.  Hour after hour after hour he played, surrounded by trucks and trains and planes because for two solid years every single one of his simple little conversations was about trucks or trains or planes. We battled for his heart and some days we felt vindicated in our battle and others battered and bruised. 
 
Trench life is hard on the family.
 
Children from institutes are world-class experts on how to manipulate between the parents. And let me tell you that it doesn't take a lot of speech for a child to spin his web. We had to learn quickly how to deal with the manipulation. 
 
We waded through the trenches with Aaron and because of our time spent, we thought we had a clue how to help another child into our family.
 
Then came John.
 
 
 
Last year we brought home a little boy who wakes up with a desperation each morning  to know again and again and again that he is loved. Some days, many days, his attempts at love get muddled up in behavior that causes conflict and struggle. 
 
He spent almost 11 sorry years in an institution. No matter how nice or pleasant an institution, it is not a family. It never will be a family. Children belong in families. From birth.  In institutes they learn to lie and steal and manipulate to survive. They learn the rule that only the fit survive so they make themselves fit and fast and sure. They learn that certain behaviors gain them the greatest attention so they become professionals at those behaviors. 
 
It's how he survived.
 
He was a master at survival.
 
It doesn't work in a family.
 
It's a disaster in a family.
 
 I wish with all the deepest part of my heart that I can erase the pain in John's hurting self and be his mom from birth. I wish I could reach back and take him out of his crib and hold him and kiss him and whisper love into his ears. I wish I could.  We are playing catch up. It is hard work.  It forces me to my knees every single day praying for God to give me tender love and eyes that see for my little boy.
 
Eleven years is a long time.  One year is short and barely scratches the surface on helping a little boy heal from so much neglect and abandonment.
 
And with John's pain, much has surfaced for Aaron. 
 
So we have spent a year focusing in on our two sons from across the ocean. Those who live in our world have listened and encouraged as we have shared our journey.  Those who follow our blog have wondered as this blog has been silent so much of the time.
 
It's the silence of adoption.
 
 
 
It's not because we are hiding. 
 
It's not because we want to gloss over our lives and give a false impression of adoption to the world.
 
It's because words are shabby and elusive and so much of the time I just don't know what to say and don't truly have the mental energy to chase after those elusive words.
 
It happens to many many families after they come home. It is a disappointing reality for those who are watching and praying the child home.  The family is so great about sharing the adoption story and so many jump on board to support and encourage and then the family hits American soil and suddenly the family is silent.
 
A blog here or there with happy pictures or maybe hints that things are tough but few words and little information.
 
It's the silence of adoption.
 
It's those early days with a traumatized child and a family in shock trying to wade through in a process where the handbooks are sadly inadequate. 
 
The truth. It is in that time that the family needs the support the most. The months of quiet.  The silent times.  When words are inadequate and thoughts are too jumbled to get onto paper.
 
It is those times when the family needs prayers.  They need the church, the neighbors, the friends, the family to step up. They need people to encourage.  Call. Ask. Listen. 
 
Without judgment.  With ears of understanding.  With a willingness to give the family a break so they can pass through this season free from guilt. And shame.  Because with the trauma comes layers of shame for the mom and the dad.
 
Wading through with a child lost in trauma is a humbling, scary and guilt-ridden process. There are times when the family struggles deeply with how to love. They struggle with questions and doubt. When they see the trauma affecting their other children the layers of guilt get ever deeper.
 
They feel shame for the anger and frustration they feel towards the hurting child in their midst. They feel shame that they aren't experts on raising this child despite many of them who have been there and done that with the other children in their family. They feel guilt that they can't even find the words to express their current world.
 
And one of the hardest parts - when the child who spins out of control at home, goes out in public and smiles and glad hands everyone in his or her path, charming the socks off the adults around him leaving the parents feeling ever more alone. How can they share about the battle when the child is obviously so sweet and easy?
 
It's a complicated bunch of mess in that silence. 
 
I can say this on a personal level.
 
We have come a long ways.
 
The trauma that marked every waking hour of the first months has become trauma a few times a month instead.  In the same way there were no manuals for Aaron, we have found that the books out there for raising a child 11 years in an institute are woefully inadequate when you are living the day to day. So we have waded through the trenches, trying this, trying that. Praying a lot.  Seeking counsel.  Talking to each other.  Talking to each other even more because communication between the spouses is a HUGE part of confronting the trauma.  Because as I said before, children from institutes are world-class experts at manipulating the adults around them!!
 
We have come a long ways.
 
Through it all God has been good to us. 
 
I wouldn't trade either of my little boys in their crazy, silly, trauma-filled ways for anything in the world.
 
They are our beautiful boys.
 
They have stretched us. They have enriched us. They have challenged us.  They have taught us about love and redemption and grace.
 
We are not through the trenches with either of our sons.  You can't erase their loss with a quick Band-Aid and a feel good kiss.  They suffered years and years of neglect.  John spent 11 years without a family.  Aaron spent a year in a soul-sucking institute.  Both boys spent far too long alone in their cribs.
 
 
 
 We are not na├»ve to think that our boys have, by the force of our love and will, shed the hurt from their pasts. We are well aware that we will encounter the wounds of their past again and again as they get older and pass through different stages of life.  They both learned at the earliest of ages how to hide their deepest cries down in the depths of their being.  We are wise enough to know that there are layers upon layers of protection our sons have placed around their hearts to keep the grief at bay.
 
 
We will continue to wade through. We will continue to try this and that.  We will read what we can. We will seek counsel. We will continue to pray for grace and love.  We will battle the demons of shame and guilt that whisper to us. And one day maybe we will write a book.   About two of the most beautiful little boys in the world who have suffered so much, lost so much but who have enriched our lives beyond belief.
 
Do you know an adoptive family who seems awfully quiet today?? Give them a call. Send them a note of encouragement.  Let them know you care. I know from experience that they will deeply appreciate it!