Yesterday marked Kira’s arrival at eleven months old. I spent some time with her on the floor playing with her toys and though my body was interacting with her physical activity, my mind went back to the baby of nine months old that I first met in her baby home. I don’t have to close my eyes to feel the sweeping physical sensations that erupted through me the moment I entered the crib room of the baby house and saw her familiar face wake up and wiggle in her bed. There was a moment of disbelief, “is this my baby?”, of course, I shook off the nonsense and doubt and pulled her out of her sleeping bed to hold her for the first time. There were so many people and toddlers swilling around a small space during an occasion I preferred to savor in privacy. That was a good introduction to the way of life in Uganda and it didn’t take me long to not only tolerate it, but embrace it.
My first thoughts while holding Kira were to simply enjoy how squishy she was in the legs. She was nearly as wide as she was long. She had the plump look of a baby who slurped every drop from all the bottles she could plug herself with, but she had no skills for physical output for all those calories, and that explained the folds and ripples in her arms and legs. I was thankful she didn’t cry when our white faces crowded around her. I prepared myself for the reality that she could very well reject us at first because nine months is the time when stranger anxiety in infants comes forward with strength. She lowered her brow and pursed her lips and looked us over intently probably wondering, why were these strange people passing her around.
All the months of waiting for Kira to join our family the first meeting could have been regarded as a great let down. But instead I approached it as the very beginning rather than the end of a significant event in our family. The waiting was finished. The relationship was beginning. So began the long hard haul towards gaining her trust and waiting for her to show signs of love. This is a difficult age to begin a relationship as intimate as mother and child. Often these past weeks I feel occasionally discouraged because we are still learning to communicate. She’s at an age where it’s critical for her to know she can communicate with me because she doesn’t have the convenience of words. When she fails to get me to see what she is trying to tell me that’s when she throws one of her tizzy fits. Once she gets to that point we are beyond communicating. I begin to wonder with the way she rejects me angrily during her drama if we have gone back to square one again with the trust.
Self doubt is the enemy and I won’t entertain those feelings and thoughts. I have eighteen years of parenting experience and if I know anything about showing love to my children it is established with consistent reliable messages that give the child security over time. For Kira and I there hasn’t been enough time yet. It’s only been eight weeks. Considering this helps me see how far she and I have come. I chastise myself for comparing our relationship to how well I could communicate with the boys at this age. For example, sometimes I miss the mark and think she’s hungry when she’s tired, or that she is tired when she is hungry. It made me feel a little stupid to get her signals wrong so I thought back through my experience with babies and I realized I had only ever breastfed my babies so when they were hungry my breasts were full of milk. My body communicated with the babies’ cries, literally the milk would rush down and spray when my hungry baby cried. Isn’t God just amazing in how he built in the way for baby and mama to understand eachother? Kira and I became mother and daughter in a most unnatural way, so it will take us some time to find our wavelength without static to communicate effortlessly. What gives me comfort is I know with all of my faith that this child was meant to be for me and God ordained the circumstances in the most unbelievable ways so we could be united. I celebrate this treasured favor as much as I do the memory of looking at the pregnancy test and seeing the positive sign for each of my boys.
Communicating with an adopted baby doesn’t just happen. We all have to work at it. There are times I’d like to shape her behavior a little off the fussy side and more towards the polite and patience end but I risk pushing her over her edge. It’s important to remember what she’s been through from her perspective. She has only ever known the care of the aunties at her baby home, and the “siblings” who kept her entertained every day. Then we come along and begin taking her out into the world. Then within a week of meeting she’s sleeping in a new house in a strange bed and the people she is familiar with seeing are no longer there. The children she likes to watch have gone. Now she has to get used to this new place and its people but that’s temporary too because just when she was in the rhythm of the Bridge Africa house, we went on a plane and arrived in a place where there are no more dark faces. I have to remember she’s only been in America for eleven days. There’s much for her to adjust to and it’s going to require all of us to relax and give her more time rather than expect her to move smoothly through her days without having regular fits of frustration.
I have to imagine the main point of difference for her is that every where we turn here in America she is strapped into some other device. First it was the car seat which caused her to arch her back and scream every time she was put in to it for the first week. I knew she loved it when I had a driver in Africa so I could hold her as we travelled around town. How do you explain to a baby it’s against the law to do that in America? I shouldn’t have even been allowed on the road during those first days because she was a mess of complaints while I drove and it distracted me beyond a safe measure. Thankfully, now she is forgetting that she hates her car seat. She is also strapped into the baby jogger stroller we use for our walks with Lucy. She’s strapped into the bike seat. And she’s strapped into her high chair to eat, rather than allowed to crawl on the floor as I fed her at the Bridge Africa house. Maybe she doesn’t like all the restraint. I know I don’t like restraint. That will make Craig laugh out loud. He’s seen me arch my own back when someone I don’t recognize as an authority tells me what to do. I have my own fits and it sounds like this, “I don’t need anyone else telling me what to do, I don’t even want my own husband telling me, we can discuss it and mutually agree, but I only follow orders given by God, so don’t come around here and start bossing me….on and on and on.” It’s not a good sight when someone gives me an order and I don’t see myself as their subordinate.
So maybe Kira is still finding out that she is our subordinate. That’s ok. If I remember this we can go gently towards our relationship where we, her parents are the authority, and she is meant to trust and obey our leadership. When it is all motivated by protection and love she will eventually feel safe. And it doesn’t happen in only a few weeks.
Just yesterday it was the first morning that she woke up from a twelve hour sleep through the night and she was playing in her crib rather than crying for someone to rescue her from the strange place. This is encouraging. She is beginning to give me big belly laughs every now and then. When I return to her after someone else has been assigned to play with her, she has a deeply happy grin and a quick crawl towards me. When we are both tired in the afternoon, it’s ok if she naps with me in my arms rather than in her bed. (This practice breaks my former parenting rules of babies napping in their beds.) She needs to learn my arms are her favorite place to be. (Craig is welcome to compete with that position.) When she can’t have what she wants, like a wad of paper in her mouth, I have to be creative in distracting her and ignore her loud demonstrative complaints.
We put a changing pad on the counter in the laundry room, which is just around the corner from her bedroom. She has been testy about allowing us to change her diaper so I got creative in my problem solving. I put little sticky mirrors in the shape of butterflies under the cabinet where I change her. Now my problem is gone, she loves to look at herself and make faces in the mirror while I change her. Now all I need to do is be equally creative in solving the other issues we encounter as she learns what it is like to be a restrained baby in an American home.
It astounds me to see how much she has changed in just two months. She looks completely different as she has thinned out with all her physical play and crawling. She is longer in her body and there’s no more of a little baby look in her eyes. She’s making all kinds of sense of everything she sees. We are beginning to teach her words and I see the recognition in her face when she hears a word and knows its object. She is babbling every sound and grabbing for every object she has not yet explored. She went from a baby who could not sit up from lying down, to a crawling baby who is learning to pull up to standing and loves to be held by the hands and practice the transport potential of her legs. We are going to have an action packed few months ahead of us as she learns to walk. There’s no wonder for anyone when I pass her to Craig, who has bedtime responsibilities with her, and then I walk straight to my own bed and climb in. It might be slightly before eight o’clock, but my body knows it’s been spent and sleep is the only restorative answer. I do stay awake long enough to see Craig return from putting her to sleep. I love to see the joy overcome him after they’ve had their special time together. He puts her into her pajamas, and he cradles her in his arms and prays for her while she greedily sucks her bottle, stares at him with big satisfied safe eyes, and slips into a secure slumber. He has never fed one of our babies because I breastfed all of them until they were one. He is so pumped up with love for her after putting her to bed that I eagerly wait to see the rapture all over him before I myself slide into deep sleep. It makes me so happy to see him enjoy her so much and equally proud when he laments over a business meeting that prevents him from being available in time for their special bedtime rituals.
I was encouraged last Sunday when I rushed past our Pastor’s wife in the hall of church and she admitted she’s not used to the rhythm of having a baby again. She is in the same circumstance that I am. She’s got two kids in college and a teenager at home, and they adopted a baby this year, and I think her little one is around Kira’s age. There was a relief inside me when she said, she hasn’t yet found the rhythm. I realized how vulnerable I feel as Kira and I become mother and daughter because my way of life has been temporarily displaced. I am searching for a predictable, reliable rhythm. Just knowing I am not alone in these unusual circumstances of having my nose plucked off hourly by a screaming baby helps me feel comforted. As we both adapt to our new circumstances we can laugh together at the absurdity of our clueless conditions. And we can remind eachother that we KNOW how fast this goes by so we are wise not to wish a moment of it away.