When Hannah was born, for reasons we will never fully grasp or understand, her mother made the choice to leave her. I am sure it was agonizing and I am sure she thought Hannah would be exposed to a better life and better opportunities as the result of her agonizing choice. Regardless, the person Hannah was most attached to, her mother, was now gone. She was placed in a orphanage from the time of her birth and lived there for six months. While I know the conditions in orphanages have drastically changed over the years, it still isn't home or family. I am sure Hannah had caregivers to love on her or squeeze her, but there are only so many workers per so many children. Hannah likely had to cry (or learned not to cry) to get her needs met and even still may not have had them met. She likely had to eat her meals in a set amount of time and was on a regimented schedule. After six months time, she was placed in a foster home, where she currently lives. This is great news for our baby girl, as she likely has access to a more "family like" environment with less children and more one on one time with a caregiver. This also means she is going to grieve her old life much harder than if she had remained in the orphanage all this time. There will be real people with real faces and smells and sounds that she will be missing. Prior to our arrival to pick her up, she will be placed back in the orphanage for a period of time. This makes my heart very, very heavy. She will begin grieving her foster parents without a new set of parents to help her get through it. It is SO MUCH transition for one little person to handle in less than two years of life. By the time we arrive to get her, she will have been in the orphanage, a foster home, back to the orphanage, and then to us. Too much for a little girl! All that transition makes her lose her ability to trust the people in her life. Why would she trust me? I will just be yet another caregiver in a string of many caregivers who eventually abandon her, right?
With a newborn baby, you bring them home and hold and cuddle and snuggle them. They cry and you meet their need. You do this over and over and over again and the infant trusts you. You are mom and you respond when they have a need. You are loving and kind. There is safety in who you are. Hannah did not get this type of consistency and as I mentioned above, there is nothing that sets me apart from all her other caregivers. She may have lost the ability to cry or make her needs known. She may not trust that I will feed her. She will not trust me to provide her love and safety. She knows nothing about the commitment I am making to her--to always love her and never abandon her. In order to help her learn all of these things and to earn her trust, we have to prove to her we will be consistent and we will respond. That means when we get home, we will likely treat her very much like we would a brand new baby. We will hold her...a lot. We will rock her and soothe her. We will wake when she wakes in the night. We will provide all her meals. We may continue giving her a bottle for a time (she still takes one in the foster home). We will do all of this to help her realize we are Mom and Dad and we are always going to meet her needs.
What does that mean for you? Why do you need to prepare? It means things will be different (and perhaps a little difficult) when we get home. We might ask you to do (or not to do) strange things. Please, please trust us. Trust that we aren't "spoiling" her or think that we are keeping her from you. We know it will be hard, but if we do the hard work now, in these first weeks and months of being home, then that means she will attach stronger and better to us and it will allow you the freedom (down the road) of experiencing life with her just like you experience life with our biological children.
We'd like to address some ground rules now, so that there will be no hurt feelings or misunderstanding when we get home. We completely understand your excitement and want you to know safe ways to express it. First, some things we will ask you NOT to do:
- Please do not pick up, hold, place in your lap, or attempt to take Hannah from our arms--she needs to learn to find safety and security with us, first
- Please do not give her full body hugs and squeezes
- Please do not offer her food or gifts unless we explicitly tell you to do so
- Please do not kiss her face
- Pat her back or give side squeezes (preferably when she is being held directly by mom or dad)
- Blow her kisses--lots of 'em!
- Hold her hand or kiss her hand (again, preferably when she is being held directly by mom or dad)
- Give her a high five or fist bump!
- Talk to her and babble with her--tell her all about how excited you are, how much you've prayed for her, and so on.
- Make silly faces
- Redirect her if she approaches you to be held, fed, or have a need met to go find mama or daddy--do not meet her need--let us do that!
- Love on our current children--lots! Don't let them get lost in the shuffle of excitement!
- Help us with meals, our biological children, running errands, etc!
So yes, please, come to the airport and welcome us home, stop by the house to visit or bring a meal, call and check on us, and all those wonderful things! Just let us be the ones to meet Hannah's needs and understand why we can't get out and about right away. We will cocoon Hannah at home for a while to help her learn about home, safety, security, and family.
We are so thankful for you, for your excitement, and all your encouragement. Join us in this time of preparation and start preparing your heart now for how things will look a little different and remember.....it is only for a time. It isn't for forever!