Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Things I Don't Regret

My E is growing tall, all arms and legs and sudden grace as she grows into them. I watch with wonder, remembering the past, remembering carrying her through an enormous airport in my arms, so light I never had to shift her position to be able to carry her more easily, though we walked and walked and walked. She is no longer small. She has grown, healed, made her way in this life in ways that have surprised everyone. She is a wonder, through and through.

As my own children grow, I find myself reminiscing about our first days as family to each of them, sometimes prompted by observing lives of others who are welcoming children into their families in the same way we welcomed our children into ours. Older toddlers will always remind me of my Z and the joy of getting to know her. Any child who joins a new family and ends up in a hospital fairly soon thereafter reminds me of E and all those hospital days.

I have been watching one such story unfold. I have debated about whether to speak up or not. I'm not interested in naming or shaming a family who may be doing the best they can. But this is also a high profile case, and I know that some people may feel inspired by this family to explore adoption as an option for adding to their family. I think that the impressions I get from watching this family (and not knowing everything) may be impressions that others are taking away as well, and I feel that in this light, it is important to speak up about best practice for newly adopted kids with complex medical needs.

I am not a perfect parent. I have made loads of mistakes and will likely make loads more. But there are some things that I do not regret. One of those things is always putting our most vulnerable family member first in line to get needs met. In E's case in particular, this meant having a parent available to stay with her when she was in the hospital, every time she was in the hospital, for as long as she needed to be there. We wanted to set the precedent that we would always be there for her, especially in her most challenging and painful moments. No matter what. We wanted to show Z that this is how we do things as a family - everyone's needs get met, and we all work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable member. She experienced this in her own story; we made big adjustments due to her needs when she was in a vulnerable position.

And Z's needs did get met, too. Was her life different than normal while E was hospitalized? Of course it was. She knew it would be, and she accepted this with grace. She was a key part of our family team, and her presence at the hospital was a delight to E. She is still E's favorite person to hang out with, nearly seven years later. Z stayed with someone else during the weekdays (usually a family member), but she could come to the hospital anytime she wanted to see E and me. We all met up at the hospital for dinner each evening. Then J would stay with E while I went home with Z and put her to bed. I'd shower, return to the hospital, and J would go home to sleep and attend to any needs Z had in the night or in the morning before he left for work. On the weekends, we'd switch, and I'd be with Z all day.

It worked. It was hard, but it worked. And I believe that it contributed in significant ways to E's healing, but also to her budding attachment to us. Even now, when she is feeling insecure, we can tell the story of her life, and how we did not leave her side when she needed us most. Hospitals are hard places to be. Imagine being a child, in a new country, in a new family, and having to contend with hospital life. It made sense to us to be there with her, for however long it took. We were lucky, because none of our hospital stays extended beyond four weeks. But if it had taken longer than that, we were committed for the long haul.

Would this have been nearly impossible if both J and I had needed to work away from home? Yes. Absolutely. I recognize that privilege. I recognize the work it took on the part of our extended family, who often flew in from thousands of miles away, and our friends, who were on call for us when we needed them. There were a lot of people in place in our lives that made this happen. We did not do it alone. I am not going to pretend that we did. But I am also not going to pretend that we didn't make sacrifices as a family to make this happen, or that we didn't prepare for and consider the practical implications of her level of medical need before we brought her home with us. That was an essential part of the process. We knew that because I was home with Z already, we were afforded flexibility that would make medical care easier to accommodate.

This is what I want people to be prepared for if they choose to adopt a child with complex medical needs. Your child will likely need to spend more time in a hospital than you ever dreamed they would. Please, please, please, for the sake of the child who may join your family, be honest with yourself about if it is possible for you to meet the child's needs with the resources you have available. Do not look at the selective things that people share on Instagram and think that is all that will be required of you. There will be more, so much more.

It will take a toll on you. It will take a toll on other members of your family. Can you handle that? Can your other children handle it? Be ridiculously practical about this, before you commit your heart. All these sacrifices will be worth it - we have no regrets about all that hospital time and what it took to be there - but it will be work. If you cannot do that work, that's ok. It is better to admit that it is not going to work well than to find yourself in a situation in which your most vulnerable family member cannot be cared for as they deserve to be cared for.

And an aside, for those who are of the Christian persuasion (as I am myself): you will hear a lot of people talk about the healing of a child as being glory to God and talk as if adopting a child is being part of their physical healing and even their salvation. I don't like this sort of talk at all; I think it leaves out a lot of the conversations we need to be having about adoption ethics and good practice in adoption and family preservation. I will tell you honestly that I believe that the help I received from God and the saints when I called out for it has helped both of my children immeasurably (as it has helped me as well). But God responding to my cries for help for my children does not absolve me of my own responsibility to them. I cannot say, "God's got this!" and then make choices that will leave my child in a vulnerable position.

Our kids are only kids for a short time. There will be other things which clamor for our attention during their childhoods, which may seem important, but please consider this. You cannot get those early days, weeks, months, and years of pursuing attachment  and trust back if they are used up on other things. There will always be other things, worthy things even, to demand your attention. But your child will only be a child for a little while. The window of opportunity for your influence in their life will narrow more quickly than you imagine. It will go by in a blink. If you are not prepared to use the time that you have to attend to their needs, if you feel that there is something else that you must do that will prevent you from being the best possible choice for their future, then don't move forward.

I know this may seem overly forthright. I do not mean to shame anyone, and I am not pronouncing judgment on the choices of the family I have recently observed. That is not the point of this post; the point is to protect and care for children by giving others the information they need to make an informed choice. I believe that there remains a big gap in education about adoption of children with complex medical needs, and that agencies are not doing their due diligence in many cases to ensure that families know best practice and can follow it. We cannot know everything by looking into the window that social media provides to a family's life. So do your own due diligence. Be informed. Make the choice that is best for the child.

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