Adoption isn’t easy. It’s not easy for parents, and it’s not easy for a child. It takes perseverance, and it takes patience. Lots of patience!
Looking back, for our adoptive family, the waiting was the hardest. We really struggled with our lack of ability to control or influence the process. We read about attachment, about issues specific to transracial adoption, about the country of South Africa, met with other adoptive parents, prepared our home, did our home study and our home study updates and then… we were still just waiting.
We wondered what was wrong with us – we were flexible applicants, we were willing to accept an older child – we felt confused and a bit demoralized… and time went on. But then one day we received a match! And after all that waiting, it was a rush. We were getting ready to travel to South Africa in two weeks, and we were finally able to tell our other children and celebrate with our family.
We were able to see pictures of this small person whose life was going to be entrusted to us. We had to let go of our anxiety from the wait, in order to be ready to bond with our new daughter. Meeting her was not a movie moment. She didn’t know us from a hole in the wall, and after staring for a second, she hid under her house mama’s legs and then ran away. Some interest in us came later in the day. It was, as it should be, work to get her to open up to us. Her world was rocked. We wanted her to bond with us, but we mourned with her as she lost everything familiar and loved in her world, to become part of our family.
It was a bit hard for us to get used to the toddler stage again. It was exhausting to have an anxious child who needed to be held, and engaged with all day, in the beginning. But we were very lucky, and very awed, by how resilient our new daughter was. We were so fortunate to have her attach to us fairly quickly, and that in turn made it easier for us to return those emotions, and attach to her.
She is a feisty character, she is bold, she expresses joy freely. She was not afraid of doing things she had never done before. She loved exploring around Durban and going on safari. And snuggles when we got them were the sweetest. As the weeks progressed, she slowly became more comfortable and affectionate with us. Now, a year later, we are bonded as a family. It didn’t happen overnight, or in one climactic interaction. It happened, for all of us, bit by bit. We became her parents by the action of comforting, caring, meeting needs, and understanding emotions. She saw herself as part of our family by understanding that she could trust us to be there for her over and over, day after day.
We did not see the full depth of her personality right away. That also took time, trust, and things experienced together. As she grows and understands more about her life and her story, we know that we will have to be flexible. We’ll have to be willing to listen, and to accept the feelings she has about her adoption. She doesn’t belong just to us. Her first mother, and the wonderful foster mothers who took care of her until her adoption, will always be part of her family. We honour those people. The adoption process was emotional, and impactful, for them too. We feel privileged to help our daughter navigate and thrive in the world, knowing that they have entrusted her to us. We want to make them proud. We want to make her proud.
Family takes time. It happens from being together, caring for each other, and understanding and accepting each other. Sometimes it’s hard. It’s a leap of faith for parents, and for their children. It definitely doesn’t happen overnight, but in the end, isn’t that what we are all looking for in our family? Not an easy Hallmark moment, but a lifetime of community, support, and connection.