Meeting your adopted child is not always sunshine and rainbows, as adoptive parent Kristen Cook can attest. But getting through those tough first months can often lead to greater understanding and a better, more rich, relationship.
I boarded a plane with my husband on November 29th, 2011, bound for China and ready to meet my daughter. “My daughter.” Eight years earlier, that phrase would have sounded completely strange, but now it made perfect sense. I was sure. I was ready. I, of course, will never forget the day we met Naomi. I remember seeing her for the first time. A door opened in the back of the room, and there she was. Then, I held her. The feeling was indescribable. I didn’t have to wonder anymore about how tiny her feet were, what she smelled like, or how she would feel in my arms. I knew. We had been waiting for this day for years. And here she was.
It turns out, however, that our daughter didn’t exactly share the same sentiments for me, as I did for her. Initially. China was hard. Naomi was not my number one fan. I honestly didn’t have many expectations for this trip and considered myself prepared for anything. Typically, I’m the one scouting the nearest exit on a plane. Always prepared. This was different. I don’t think anything can prepare you for being rejected by your child after you have waited so long to become a mother. I was not able to do anything for her. I couldn’t hold her, feed her, touch her or change her. Today, I, of course, can laugh at the fact that she would wipe off my kisses, but at the time, it was not a laughing matter. Thankfully, she liked my husband, who ended up doing almost all of the caregiving in China. I can’t lie. I was a bit jealous.
Here’s an illustration for you: Day number two in China will most likely go down as one of the strangest days of my life. All of the families in our province made a trip to a grocery store. Naomi, of course, did not want me pushing the cart. Our guide decide this would be an opportune time to explain to her that I was her new mother. By the time the whole ordeal had come to an end, I think we had the entire grocery store watching us. Do you know what it’s like to be one of the only white people in a store, having someone tell your Chinese child that you are their mother, while 50 other Chinese people stare at you. Let’s just say it was not on my “bucket list.”
The one thing Naomi would do is play with me. I engaged her at every moment she would let me. Constantly engaging a child who wants little to do with you is extremely exhausting emotionally. I kept trying to remind myself of all the things she was going through. It was a crash course in selflessness that I honestly didn’t always succeed at. In all likelihood, I was her fifth female caregiver in 21 short months. No wonder she didn’t trust me. She had been through more than most adults in her short little life.
I will never forget the day Naomi first reached for me. We had had her for almost a week and were out to dinner with the other adoptive families in China. Naomi was sitting with my husband and, for some reason, she held out her arms to me. She let me hold her and feed her the rest of the meal. I could draw you a picture of that restaurant. I felt like her mother for the first time that day. I couldn’t feel the tension in her muscles or the palpable anxiety I felt the other times I tried to hold her. For brief moments in China, she would let me in. I am now somewhat grateful for the experience I had with Naomi in China.
My path to motherhood was far from what I ever envisioned. I take comfort in knowing that Naomi was meant to be my daughter, and I was meant to be her mother. We both had to choose to love and accept one another. We both had to fight through painful and uncomfortable experiences to get to where we are today. All relationships are complex and people are not perfect, whether it’s a mother and daughter, a husband and a wife, a brother and sister, or whatever. Ultimately, at some point you have to choose to love the other person, and hope that they will make the same choice. That’s the hard part.
Our time in China will most certainly not be the only time that my daughter rejects me. It won’t be the last time our relationship is tested. One day, in her teenage years, she will slam a door in my face and tell me she never wants to talk to me again. I am hopeful that during that time, I will remember where we’ve been. Today we are light years from where we started. Naomi is the most resilient and loving person I’ve met. The joy that comes from knowing she chose to let me in and be her mother is like none I’ve ever experienced.
by Kristen Cook | Omaha, Nebraska
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Speaking in a “Mother” Language
Abraham came home to the Herstons two years ago. A hearing-impaired child, Abraham had no means of communication and found a special bond with his also hearing-impaired dad, Steven. Right away, the family began teaching Abraham sign language and Jamie Herston began to connect with her son in her own special ways
We began the adoption process in October of 2011, after I had received a recommendation of Holt International from a friend who had researched adoption. I sent an email to the agency, inquiring which countries would be open to working with my husband and I. Given that my husband is deaf, we worried that other countries would view his deafness as a disability that would prevent effective parenting. I received a response from Holt that ifwe were willing to adopt a child who was also deaf, most countries would be open to working with us. So, we sent in our application and began praying.
About two weeks after submitting our application, we were asked by Holt’s waiting child assistant if we would be interested in looking over the file of an older, hearing-impaired boy from India. We were cautiously optimistic. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but the minute we saw Abraham’s face, we knew he was our boy.
A week later, on November 3, 2011 to be exact, the Waiting Child committee at Holt met to discuss Abraham’s future. That same afternoon, I received a call that we had officially been matched with him. We will never forget that day. Because my husband is deaf, we knew that getting Abraham home in a timely manner was key. Due to the fact that he was an older child, his timeframe for successfully learning language was growing thin. We had to get him home fast, so that he would not miss his opportunity for learning language.
Exactly one year to the day after being matched with Abraham, we got on a plane to India. We felt a myriad of emotions and asked ourselves many questions. Would he recognize us from the pictures we sent? Would he run to us, happy to finally meet us face to face, or would he run in the opposite direction, knowing he had seen our faces before but scared to death of who we were? While I would like to say that he ran to us with open arms, it was clear that his reaction to us was similar to how we were feeling about meeting him, nervous. When we entered Abraham’s room, he smiled a smile that told us he recognized our faces. He walked towards me and allowed me to pick him up. I had prayed in the weeks leading up to travel that God would give me the grace to control my emotions. I didn’t want to scare him by sobbing uncontrollably. God answered my prayer. While I felt the emotions and tears of joy creeping up into my throat, I suppressed them, giving Abraham just a slight hug and a reassuring, friendly smile.
I tried to hand Abraham to my husband, Steven. This is when Abraham showed his fear. We had been warned that Abraham might not be used to a male presence. This proved to be true. So on that first day, Steven patiently and sweetly kept a distance from Abe, so that Abe could determine when he felt comfortable and ready to engage Steven.
We were taken to the YMCA School for the Deaf, where Abe attended classes. On the bus, Abe sat between Steven and I, allowing me to hold his hand. When we arrived at the school, Abe proudly guided us through the room, lightly slapping our arms to get our attention. He showed us various drawings and crafts that he was clearly very proud of, but couldn’t express to us through words. On the way back to Abe’s care center, we practiced the sign for “pretty” and played pretend with his butterfly craft, making it fly and hearing Abe laugh for the first time as the butterfly “flew” and gave him “kisses.”
Abraham has been home for three months. During that time, he has gone from having no means of communication, to having a sign language vocabulary of over 150 words. He can sign short sentences, tell us what he needs and that he loves us. Before learning about Holt, we thought that having children would not be a reality for us. But our prayer was answered, and we were blessed with the most amazing little boy. Our family has settled into our new normal. After having 10 weeks home with Abraham, I went back to my job as a high school teacher at the Georgia School for the Deaf (GSD). Abraham is a student in the preschool program there; it’s very reassuring for him to know that I am close by.
Abe and I enjoy our morning rides to school. As I drive, I can hear and see him looking out the window at the trees and birds, signing the signs for each of them – things that just three months ago he had no names for. When I look at him, I am truly amazed at how far he’s come. I love seeing the joy on his face now that he knows he can communicate.
While Abraham was initially fearful of Steven, they have since built a truly amazing bond. Through Steven’s gentleness and love, Abe has learned to trust Steven, and Abe’s love for his dad is evident on his face every time Steven enters the room. Steven has helped Abe develop a love for football and basketball and many hours are spent outside playing catch or shooting hoops. Abe is particularly fond of basketball, and Steven and I have worked to foster that love through watching games as a family, playing basketball, helping Abe shoot, and attending our first NBA game as a family. Because they are both deaf, Steven and Abe share a special bond that a part of me will never understand. While I am fluent in sign language and can communicate effectively with my husband and son, I will never fully be able to understand that special connection they feel.
When we realized God had Abraham in his plans for us, I felt immense joy. But like other mothers who have adopted, I faced questions that were sometimes hurtful. Other women would ask me why I was adopting an older child. ‘Wasn’t I sad that I would miss out on all the baby moments?’ I would just smile and say, “God’s plan for everyone is different.” I would say those words, but inside I would indeed wonder if they were right. Would I miss out on being the mother of an infant? That question was answered the first day we met Abraham. I felt immense joy watching him do the simplest of tasks—putting on his new clothes, eating a French fry for the first time, giving me a kiss on the cheek and trying on daddy’s sunglasses. At the end of the day, he would climb up in my lap and let me rock him to sleep. At that moment, I knew that not only did I not “miss” any of those newborn baby moments, but that God was giving us our own special moments. Every day since coming home, God has continued to give us more special moments. There are hard days, there are exhausting days, but we forget those days quickly. The wonderful, happy days far outweigh the tough days. Of all the emotions we’ve felt over the past months—the fear, the joy, the happiness, the exhaustion and the frustration—what I feel most is blessed beyond measure that God chose me to be the mother to this sweet, loving, happy little boy.
Jamie Herston | Cedar Bluff, Alabama
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