Bringing LiLi Home
Our lives changed dramatically when we adopted a seven year old girl from China in June of 2003. We began the adoption process as knowledgeable, well-educated, expectant parents. We thought we had done our homework. When weighing the pros and cons of older child, special needs adoption, the column of “strengths” out-weighed the column of “weaknesses.” I was a seasoned ER nurse, and had worked with special needs kids. My husband had years of experience in the developmental disabilities field, and also had raised a daughter with Down syndrome. We had joined the international adoption ranks two years earlier when we brought home our first child, a beautiful, perfect little almond-eyed baby girl from southern China. Her transition into our home had been joyful and seamless.
Dang Li had been on our international adoption agency’s “waiting child” list for nearly a year as my husband and I perused the countless files of orphans waiting for a forever family. Waiting children were older children, and/or those identified with a special need. Dang Li fell into both categories. She was seven years old and had a cleft lip-palate. Her file stated she “may need speech therapy.” She was older than what we had in mind, and I knew that cleft lip palate involved years of reconstructive surgeries and dental work. When we considered the waiting child program, we had envisioned a pre-school aged child, or one with an easily-correctable physical defect. Without sharing with one another, both my husband and I had felt our heartstrings pulled by her photo as it remained on the site month after month. She had a pitiful look about her and seemed to call out to us through cyber-space. After a particularly exhaustive exchange on whether to proceed with this second adoption, my husband peered at me with eyebrows raised and asked, “What about Dang Li?” This was all the urging I required to take a blind leap of faith into the world of older child, special needs, international adoption. The urge to become a mother for the second time and enlarge our cozy little family drove me through any barriers of caution my common sense had constructed. Through the years since that precise moment, I have questioned my motives for this adoption over and over and over again.
Six months later, my husband and I were off to China with our three year old daughter and my sister in tow. Our adoption agency had prepared us with mandatory classes on the issues of bonding, reactive attachment disorder, and other challenges that we might face. We read books, talked to other experienced families, and felt prepared. Yet only fifteen minutes after returning to our hotel after that fateful day of meeting her and completing the required paperwork, I began to feel the pangs of regret. The bubble had burst already, and I felt a knot in my stomach. I sensed something wasn’t right. The feelings were swirling in my head, and I was afraid to speak to my sister or my husband. It was an agonizing time, and continued through the remainder of the two-week trip, spilling over into our arrival home and beyond.
After arriving home, I continued to hide my feelings amid growing concerns about LiLi’s development and behavior. My three year old suffered by the amount of attention LiLi required. I felt guilty for my role in this adoption. The transition was not progressing as I had envisioned; LiLi and I were each having bonding issues with the other. She clearly needed a maternal figure in her life, but we each weren’t sure it was going to be me. Her behavior repelled me. She was undisciplined, nearly feral at times, and I detested the constant scowl she had on her face. A year and a half into our adoption, testing revealed what I had feared the most: LiLi had major cognitive issues. Through the years further diagnoses were added to include speech and language disability, anxiety, dissociative disorder, and reactive attachment disorder. Her years in an orphanage as a social pariah within her native culture had taken its toll.
Fast forward to present time: With five surgeries and countless psycho-social appointments behind us, all of us have survived and our family is intact. Raising this child has been the toughest challenge I hope to ever face in my life. She exposed deep fears, longings, and truths about myself that were as uncomfortable as rocks to swallow. At times I choked. At times I thought it was all about me, and then I remembered from where she came… and loathed myself. She has grown into an exotically beautiful teenager who is endeared by all who meet her. She loves her family and extended family dearly and we can’t imagine our lives without her. This child is a survivor, above all, and so am I.