No amount of adoption training in the world could've prepared me for the reality of bringing a once-orphaned child into our home. To be honest, it's hard. Adoption is hard all the way around. The long drawn out process and the hurting heart to bring that little person home, you already so strongly love, felt almost impossible on some days to get through. Our days were filled with constant stress, and at times hopelessness. Towards the end when we received our RFE for our son, I am sure I wasn't anyone's favorite person to be around ever. I am certain I pushed most of my friends and family away with my never ending conversations about our process. I couldn't help it! My son, whom I loved was over there and I was here, missing his first birthday and watching him grow up in pictures while he sat in an institution. I was a whining mess of deep pain and sadness and no one could relate unless they had walked it, so at times I felt super alone. It was the most intense thing I think I had ever experienced.
Then finally that long-awaited day came. We were cleared to go get our boy! All the sweat, and tears, and prayers, and fighting to bring him home had paid off and we were on our way to get him. I envisioned rocking him, and holding and singing to him, and being the mom that he never had for so long. I wanted to fill that void he had been missing his whole life. This was my calling, my destiny! I knew without a doubt the Lord had gifted me the privilege of calling His beloved one my son, and I knew JoMo would love me. After all, I'm a full-time mom. I do it for a living! It's what I was made for! I'm not talented in anyway, but I'm a great mom! I am a nurturer's nurturer when it comes to my kiddos. This I knew I was good at, and I knew this boy would absolutely adore me. I couldn't have been more WRONG! Imagine my shock when I realized he didn't like me. He didn't want me to hold him or get too close. He wasn't hungry for cuddles or kisses or nurturing. He was hungry for the attention and playfulness of a dad. He clung onto Aaron quickly. And the harder I tried, the more he didn't want me. OUCH! My mom ego was a bit crushed. I felt rejected by this dear one I had fought so hard to bring home. Once home, I very quickly realized that life the way I had envisioned with JoMo home was going to look a lot different and be more difficult than I had anticipated.
The first month wasn't too bad, JoMo was forced to tolerate me when dad had to return to work. Little by little we had progress in attaching, and I could tell he was starting to like me. He started looking forward to our cuddle times in the rocking chair and loved for me to sing songs to him. Then around month 2, the newness wore off and JoMo started testing us like we had never been tested before. Someone explained to me in the midst of his controlling behavior that he was "acting out of grief and loss." Hmmmmm... something you wouldn't think an 18-month old would deal with, but they totally do. He was grieving the loss of the only life he had ever known, and he didn't know what to do with himself, except take it out on mommy with some extreme behavior. The way our agency explained it, is that he had felt like he had lost total control of his life. Everything had changed for him drastically, and he didn't know how to deal with it, but what he did know, was that he could control his behavior, and for a while, he could control me and Aaron with his behaviors. For some time, we weren't sure how to deal with it. We felt torn on how to respond to him. It was a little tricky knowing whether we should hug him because of his grief or discipline him in fear of behaviors getting worse. We let him act out a lot, until it kept escalating and he kept pushing his limits further and further. When the behaviors started controlling our house, was when we decided it was time to start disciplining and teaching him he couldn't push any further before it spiraled totally out of control. And let's just say, he did not like the word "no" and leave it at that. His little "time out/in" chair was being wore plum out. Like I said before, no amount of adoption training had prepared me for this. Even though I was a seasoned mom, this was different. He had sadly learned the skill of manipulating his behaviors to get what he wanted and this wasn't going to be a fun thing to try and undo. Admittedly in the midst of the 1,000th screaming fit or biting episode of the hour , I would forget where these behaviors were coming from and I allowed frustration to creep in. It wore on me. Many days I felt I was at a loss. I begged Jesus to give me His heart and to HELP ME! Since JoMo didn't like to be disciplined and I was the one home disciplining him all the time, we went through another I-don't-like-this- woman phase and he would cling to total strangers (women) out in public who would ogle over him and give him any kind of positive attention. I had to peel him off of strangers legs kicking and screaming while calling them,"momma" on more than one occasion. IT WAS PAINFUL! Anytime in public a woman would speak to him, I would almost get angry at this oblivious- to- adoptive- children's- attachment -issues woman and wanted to scream at her and tell her to back-off! I seriously thought of having a t -shirt made for when I was grocery shopping that said, "Please if you are a woman, don't make eye contact or speak to my son, attachment in process." I just couldn't take feeling rejected by this boy I loved one more time. At the end of my rope, you think? I was! It was a horrible and confusing feeling to love someone so much and not get that reciprocated and feel unattached to them. So I built up a wall around my heart to protect me from getting hurt from all the rejection I had allowed in. That wall of protection in the long run was leading me down the road of resentment and getting in the way of my attachment to him. I found myself having cynical thoughts of "if you only knew" when people would compliment me on how sweet or cute he was. I found myself being annoyed with God because I felt I had said yes and answered this calling He so clearly had called me to, and all I was getting through the whole process was hurt and pain. I was even angry with Aaron because I felt he was reaping the benefits of being the favorite one, while I felt I was the one putting in all the work. It wasn't fair! Whaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa! Poor me! It had turned into being all about ME! That wall was blocking my view of the bigger picture and vision the Lord had once placed before me. The picture of redemption and mothering and loving a child who had no one. The picture of heaven and how God loves and adopts us into His family. A life focused on Jesus and others and not on myself. How had I become like this? It was ugly, and I didn't even recognize myself anymore. Then came the guilt. I started feeling like I had failed God in the calling, that He surely was disappointed in me, and that I was failing my son too, and he deserved a better mom. Then on top of all this, God calls us to Kona, Hawaii to attend a discipleship training school with Youth With a Mission. LORD JESUS! I can't handle anymore change right now! I really just might totally lose it! But He spoke so loud and clear on that one, if we didn't say yes, we totally would be being disobedient to God, and deep down, even though the thought of all we had to do to prepare to leave was overwhelming, in the midst of our attachment issues, I didn't want to miss out on anything the Lord had for our family. So we said yes! To make a longer story shorter, for a while I stayed in a funk. I don't know what did it, but one day we woke up different. I think I had been told over and over that these feelings in the beginning with attachment were "normal, " and they are normal. I had learned that 65% of adoptive moms struggle with post adoption depression, and I wasn't the exception. I was hoping I would be, but I wasn't. It is very typical to feel this way, and we are all sinners and fall short and none of us are perfect and we all mess up with raising our children from time to time. The difference for me came when I realized that even though my struggles were typical it was still wrong. I made the decision I wasn't going to stay there. I didn't want to be the mom that still had attachment issues 2 years down the road from now. No WAY! God gifted me this boy and I wanted us to have a healthy mother/son relationship, and I knew that we would. So that was my prayer everyday. That God would supernaturally bond our hearts together.... mine to his and his to mine. I made a choice. I sent an email out to all the important women in our life (because it was women who we had trouble with JoMo wanting to go home with, not men) and asked them to please back off a bit until JoMo learned that I was his only mom. JoMo had MANY moms in his short life, so it was so normal for him to go to any woman available to comfort him or for help of any kind. In the orphanage, I am sure that if he didn't like the way one nanny responded, he could run to the next, and this is what he was doing with me ALL THE TIME. I explained my reasons and just asked for them to please respect our request and be friendly at a distance. I asked them not to kiss or hold or feed him, or be motherly to him in anyway. And said no over-the-top doting or playfulness or going on and on about how cute and sweet he is to him. He devoured that kind of attention, and if he wasn't getting it, he sought it out using his uber-cute smile and charm to draw people to him. I was the only woman that needed to be giving him that kind of attention for a while at least. Some didn't understand, and they thought I was overreacting, but at this point I really did not care what anyone thought. I was in the thick of it everyday and knew that it was necessary, and not only necessary but crucial. I wanted to do what had to be done to create a better environment for me and JoMo to connect. It was the best thing I could've ever done! We were at the hospital a couple weeks ago visiting our friends, and this very sweet woman was talking to JoMo and going on with him. He grabbed her hand, brought her over to me, pointed and said, "My Momma." I nearly started crying right then. Do you know how huge that moment was for me???? It was a moment that was 8 months in the making. The other night I went out with some friends and Aaron put JoMo to bed instead of me and he woke up at midnight crying for me. I walked in his room, he saw I was there, and then he was fine. He just wanted to make sure I was there. I think he missed me! So I can finally say with confidence that although I didn't do things perfectly, I feel that we are both finally connecting on a healthy mother/son level. He's always had my heart but I think now that I have his. I very well could've kept those walls up and never really felt connected to my child, or I could've taken the other road, which I did, and made the decision to open my heart back up. Even though it was painful and difficult at times, tearing down those walls so that my heart could be open and raw allowed God to work within me. And you know what? When my heart became open, JoMo's heart became open. That's just how it works. They respond to us. So now after 8 months home, I feel we have found our new normal. I have this amazing gift of a son from God who is a light everywhere he goes. He is a living testimony of God's love and faithfulness every single day. He is radiant with joy and just as content as could be, and he is thriving in our family. Most of the time it feels like he has been here all along, and then the other half it hits me that I still can't believe he is finally home forever. Our days still are not perfect and I am sure I mess up on a daily basis, and we still have many temper tantrums that come with a 2 year old, but they are more normal 2 year old tantrums now and not coming from a place of control or grief. These past 2 years I feel like I have been thrown in the fire and reshaped and molded over and over, and let me tell you, it hurt! But I know God allows us to walk through the fire and come out on the other side so that we can share what we have walked through to help others that may in the same boat. So to all you newly adoptive parents out there that may find yourself in that place where I was, keep asking the Lord for help. Don't build a wall up with your child. This road you said yes to is hard, and it's a day-to-day battle, but it's so worth it! Your child is worth every tear. Eventually your child will realize you are forever and not going anywhere and things will start to feel more "normal" (whatever that means ;)