It has been almost seven months since "A" joined our family. We have seen so much positive change in her and in ourselves over this time, but it would be dishonest to say that it has all been a bed of thornless roses. There have been good times that match posted snapshots and showcase the picture perfect parts of a new family member, and there have also been times that were not so perfect. This post is meant to encourage those of you who are getting ready to adopt or are in just the beginning stages of post adoption: it does get easier. I don't have all the answers, and I am aware that some families that have hard struggles that do not look at all like what I am posting here. This is simply our experience so far.
Undoubtedly, many of you have heard of the What to Expect books for soon-to-be expectant moms, the first year, the toddler years, etc. Before we adopted our daughter and in an effort to be ready for the challenge, I read hours of blogs and information from those who had gone before me. I was especially interested in any clues for how things might play out in the beginning months. No two stories are the same, and what we experienced may be true for some and not others. What I will write about in this post is more likely (IMO) to be experienced by families with children who are adopted from about the age of five or six and younger; those young enough to have little real understanding of what being adopted means for them. In our case, "A's" caregivers had done their best to prepare her for adoption but there is only so much understanding that a three year old is capable of, especially if the concept of a family is still not really grasped. "A" was excited about flying on a plane and going to America, but she had little understanding of what either of those things meant and even less knowledge of a family.
Following is a general idea of how the last months have been.
Month 1 - extreme survival
This may sound discouraging, but it is the most accurate description of our first month with "A". At the time we really felt that we saw bits of progress every day, and we did, but it was still full blown survival mode - for everyone in the family. For the first week or so, we dealt with constant grief which worked its way out in such forms as late nights (she wouldn't go to sleep until exhaustion knocked her out), frantic self soothing behaviors, extreme restlessness, and constant demands to eat or move on to the next activity without enjoying the one she was currently doing. She could not be left outside of adult supervision for even a bathroom break. Everything went in her mouth, and she would stop to smell almost everything whether it was edible or not. She did not want to sit still long enough to even look at pictures in a book. She loved music Youtube videos (sung in Polish), but to start with she would only sit for a couple minutes to listen to them. (By the time we left the Poland, she was up to watching 15 minutes.) We did our best to just keep her busy for this time, but it proved to be interesting because in many areas, she did not have playing capabilites or attention span of a three year old.
Communication was non existent to minimal at best, and we looked forward to bedtime when a sigh of relief could be made because we made it through one more day. We did our best to communicate through some Polish words and phrases (Thank you Google translate!), charades, and hand signals, but it was often frustrating and draining for her and for us. "A" understood Polish that was spoken to her, but she spoke very few, recognizable Polish words. Even those who were fluent in the language struggled to understand her. "Daj mi" (pronounced "die me", meaning "give me") along with a pointed finger was her most common communication.
Month 2 - survival
Notice that the "extreme" is gone from the first months description. Unless it was absolutely necessary (grocery shopping, court related, etc.), for the first month we did not do much outside of the house where were staying. This month (still in country), we ventured away from the house for day trips. We knew of families who did a lot of traveling and (overnight) sight seeing during their stay in Poland, but that was not practical for us. For the entire time we were in Poland, "A" was very attracted to anyone who spoke Polish, especially women who were around the age of her foster mom. We had to keep her very close to us to keep her from striking up a conversation with others that we could not understand. (Even though she did not have a huge vocabulary, she could still manage some communication.) If someone had food that she wanted, she would point to it with the "daj mi", and without asking us first, the stranger would just give it to her. That was not acceptable to us, for her or the stranger, so we took to not allowing her to get more than a few feet from us when others were around.
Communication was slightly better, but it was still mostly one sided. We taught and began enforcing the substitution of "please" for her oft used "daj mi". "A" was beginning to comprehend some simple words and phrases such as "sit down", "yes", etc. We learned to say some of the basics in Polish as well and would say the phrase in both languages to be sure she understood. (Our pronunciation was/is probably not the best, but it was good enough for us to have some sort of communication. :D)
Month 3 - getting into a routine at home
Though we had a loose schedule in country, there were many days that it had to be adjusted. Once we arrived home, we stayed in the same schedule for the next several weeks. Outside of church, either Mark or myself was here with her, rarely taking "A" places while we allowed time for her to become comfortable with her new surroundings. For the first several church services we were home, "A" stayed with me, (Mark is the senior pastor at our church, so he was not available for this.) but she was very excited to be allowed to try the church nursery during this month. We eased her into it over a few week's time, and she has done well with it ever since.
Communication was getting better this month. "A" now understood many (basic) things that were spoken to her in English, and she began using words and phrases. Two way communication was beginning which was making things a bit easier, but there was still a lot of frustration.
This is also the month that I began potty training. This has not been a favorite parenting task of mine with any of the kiddos and this time was no exception. Enough said on the topic. :-)
Month 4 - testing out the boundaries
Since day one with us, "A" had tested some boundaries. This testing was different: she had a decent idea of the boundaries and was going to see if we would stick to what was said. We still had survival days, but now we had some "survival" hours: part of the day would go well and the rest of it had us counting the minutes until nap or bed time. There was a two to three hour time period that we could count on being difficult - every.single.day. Though we tried to decipher the cause, there never seemed to be particular reason behind it, and it resolved itself after a bit.
Communication continued to get better. Enough words and phrases were being used that we started working on correct pronunciation (not all words at once). We were beginning to understand what was said more often, but pronunciation was not clear enough for others (not around her all the time) to understand it.
Month 5 - still testing things out
The first part of this month and then in spurts for the rest of the month, "A" continued with the same pattern as we had in month 4. We still had many "survival" hours, but they did not stretch out into days as often. We could begin leaving her in a room for brief periods of time and expect to come back without a disaster striking.
It was about this time that she started interchanging the Polish and English words for "yes" and "no". She always spoke in Polish when she was angry or frustrated but began using English frequently. She used more and more words, and seemed to be daily adding to her vocabulary.
Completely potty trained - woohoo!!!!! There are still occasional accidents, but except for sleeping, we are back to being done with diapers.
Month 6 -seeing a light at the end of the tunnel
She has a clear understanding of the house rules and is consciously deciding whether to obey them..or not. Two way communication is progressing quickly. She is daily adding new words, phrases, and complete sentences. We are able to have two way communication about 70% of the time. Use of
|She loves this "bouncy ball".|
"A" can play alone in a designated spot for short periods of time, without getting into things she shouldn't be touching. She can play alone. This may not sound impressive, but she did not have that capability six months ago. She did not know how to play with many toys and had to learn what to do with them, besides dumping them out and scattering them across the room (Legos, blocks, etc.). She can put together simple, age appropriate puzzles. She will sit and listen to us read an entire story...and then ask for another one, sitting through that one too. She has graduated to fighting with the other siblings...in English: I am not sure this is a good thing, but it does show language progress. :D She recently began asking to watch a movie and though she still does not watch the whole thing, she can understand enough of what is going on to enjoy some of it. She can draw or color for short periods of time, though we often still have to take away the crayon/pen because she puts it in her mouth.
It is my hope that what I have shared will be a help to others - to the families who adopt and those who want to help or understand a family who has or is adopting. I know I have appreciated every bit of encouragement others who are farther down the adoption road have given. I found this post, written by an adoptive mom a year after they adopted, to be helpful...and pretty accurate so far.