This morning Lydia stood in the bathroom. She was wearing one of my favorite shirts I bought for her before she came home from China. The shirt is mint green and says “Do Small Things with Great Love.” It is a little small now but it still fits her or maybe it was too big before and I am just seeing it in a new light. I am not sure anymore. I just know that this morning, watching her in the mirror, fixing her hair, letting my hand rub her soft cheeks, just like I do when putting Lulu’s hair up, I realized that she no longer felt adopted.
Most of the time, the past 365 days are all kind of blurry. Bringing home a child, from another country, with disabilities comes with a whole host of emotions. You can read about it in books, talk about it on Facebook but still not really truly understand. All the dreams that you plan, the thoughts that you have, can never really live up to the expectations or the moments that will follow the day you become this child’s Mom. Overwhelming feelings that this child is often more like a stranger in your home, than your child.
If you have not had the privilege of birthing a child from your womb, the weight of PPD (post partum depression) or the difficulty of attaching to a birth child, you may not understand what I am going to say. You may believe all the hype of “love at first sight” or “you will just know” kind of philosophies that surround adoption but the reality is for many parents, the first few months (maybe even years) are wrought with internal struggles between love and strangerhood.
This child, who you so desperately long to love does not love you. To be honest, she may (on many days) not even like you. She doesn’t have any reason to believe that you are good or kind. She doesn’t smell like you. She doesn’t look like you or your partner. You don’t stare into that infant face and think, are those my Mama’s eyes? You don’t look at those little hands and think, I made that. There is no intoxicating smell of infant milk breath and cries that make your bosoms swell. There are no hormones swirling through your body to make you crazy with love.
Simply put you are missing all the “things” that make you love your child unconditionally, in the very first moment.
Instead you find yourself with a stranger in your home. They smell funny. They do things differently. They don’t understand love or kisses or bedtime snuggles. They don’t look like you. They don’t have your mannerisms or family tendencies. There are no little “things” that create natural connections.
They are strangers yet they are not, all at the same time.
Even though everything in your heart screams, YOU MUST LOVE HER. She still feels foreign. She feels separate. You may sneak in and smell her sweaty head as she lays sleeping or rub her soft face as she watches TV but something always feels a bit off.
You watch her smile and accomplish something new and you swell with pride. Pride is not love. At the doctors office you hold her tightly and tell her it will be alright and you burst with concern. Concern is still not love. She beams with joy and happiness and in return you know she is right where is belongs but still it feels different. It feels odd, strange.
And time goes on.
There is a new normal and a new day. Some days are more challenging than others. Some days hold a host of opportunities for connections and other days feel dry like a desert.
Then one day, you are standing in the mirror. You are watching her little face shine with a huge smile while you are putting her requested pig tails in, just the right way, just how you KNOW she wants them. And you take the back of your hand and brush it down her cheek, feeling her soft cool skin and it feels normal.
It feels like love.
And in that moment you realize that somehow, someday, the child that felt like a stranger for so long, no longer feels adopted.
She feels like yours.
So you take one more quick touch.
And you plant a kiss on her cheek.
Remembering the day she no longer felt adopted.