Letters From China – An Adoption Story, Part 3

Follow author Elizabeth Curry as she travels to China to bring home two more daughters.

Elizabeth Curry February 28, 2016
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(This article is part of a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of these stories here.) 

While this is not our first adoption trip, it is our first time adopting two children at once. I know there is some discussion over the appropriateness of doing such a thing, so I thought I would share how our experience has gone so far.

We didn’t really set out to adopt two older children at once. Actually, we thought we were done, so we weren’t really planning on adopting again at all. Sometimes things just happen. At least that’s how it sometimes seems to us. It was the combination of an outrageously large grant and falling in love with two very different faces that caused us to find ourselves in China with two new daughters.

We didn’t really set out to adopt two older children at once. Actually, we thought we were done, so we weren’t really planning on adopting again at all. Sometimes things just happen.

One daughter is 10 (on paper, but in reality probably older) and has the same genetic condition as another of our children. The genetic issues have some pretty significant developmental delays associated with them. The other daughter is 8, and though she has some mobility issues, she is showing herself to be far on the other end of the intellectual spectrum. They are very different girls, with very different needs and abilities. What they have in common, though, are incredibly sunny dispositions.

We had no idea what to expect when the girls met each other. In preparation, in the welcome books we sent to introduce our family, we also included the information that each of them would be joined by a new sister. I will admit to being a little trepidatious when it was time to meet our second new daughter. On top of the general anxiety such a moment produces, there was the vague worry about what the girls would think of each other. There was also the fear that our first daughter, who had been with us for just five days, would feel displaced by the new addition.  Would she understand and would we be able to give both girls the attention they needed?

The initial meeting with our second new daughter went well enough. We knew she had been well prepared and was excited to meet us and her new sister. But meeting a brand new family is also a stressful experience, and she dealt with the anxiety by becoming louder and more manic as the morning progressed. When you combine this with her developmental delays, well, we were all feeling a little bit overwhelmed.

This is all preface to say that I think the most challenging thing about adopting two children at once is that all the normal mix of emotional reactions increases geometrically.

Sometimes you meet a new child and think, “Okay, this is going to be good. We can do this.” That can happen even if there are some surprises (and there usually are). There is just a sense of peace that this will be all right. Other times, when you meet a new child, there is a sinking feeling of, “Oh no, what have we done?” Things feel off. Being faced with the reality of what you have volunteered for, even if you were fully aware of it, can feel overwhelming. I have experienced both these extremes and some in between as well. I never know ahead of time how I will emotionally react and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to my reactions.

This is all preface to say that I think the most challenging thing about adopting two children at once is that all the normal mix of emotional reactions increases geometrically. There are your own personal reactions to two different children, multiplied by your spouse’s reaction, multiplied by the reactions of the two children, both to the new parents and to each other. It is a volatile emotional cocktail of giant proportions.

For us, because we’ve experienced these emotions before and know that they bear little resemblance to what real life is going to actually be like, we were able to get through that initial hard part without too much drama. (I won’t say I didn’t practice significant amounts of deep breathing combined with nearly constantly reminding myself that what I was feeling was temporary. I did. A lot.) If this were our first adoption, it might have proven too much. It was good to know we had been in this same place before and had seen the other side of it.

And what were some of the things we needed to navigate? Well, first of all, our younger daughter has taken some time to warm up to her new older sister. There is really no way to prepare a child for a sibling’s delays and I think they took her off-guard. Over the past week, we have seen her learn what her sister is and isn’t capable of, and to be more accepting of some of her quirks. We aren’t all the way there, yet, but things are considerably better. We’ve even seen them share some private jokes between themselves, usually because their new parents do not understand some bit of language.

I won’t say I didn’t practice significant amounts of deep breathing combined with nearly constantly reminding myself that what I was feeling was temporary. I did. A lot.

My husband and I are also learning about our new daughters and what they each really need from us. With two new children, one of the other really difficult parts is that there is so much need initially. It feels a bit overwhelming to try to meet all the needs that are before you. We also brought our 15-year-old daughter along on this trip for this specific reason. It gives us another pair of hands to help, even if it is just someone to carry the luggage. As it turns out, both girls have fallen in love with their new big sister and it has given us another person to meet the temporarily high needs each of them has. The whole thing would be significantly more difficult without her along.

The $10,000 dollar question is, would I advocate families adopting two children at once? I can’t really answer a straight yes or no. Is this a first adoption? Is the family flexible . . . or do things have to be done just one way? Does the family have a good support system? How trauma-informed is the family? These are all things that need to be taken into consideration. I’m not sure I would recommend a family adopting for the first time to adopt two at once. I know I will make some people unhappy by saying that. Any adoption is an emotionally fraught experience and adopting two at once makes it more than double the emotion. If you have never experienced what trauma can do to children, I’m not sure having twice the amount is a great thing. It’s great for children to have families. It’s not great to have children lose new families because those families are too overwhelmed. The bottom line is that it is not something to be undertaken lightly, or just because it will save you a bit of money. These are children we are talking about, not two-for-one commodities.

Yet, I am eternally grateful that we now have these two new daughters. There have been moments that have not been easy, and more moments like this are ahead, but really, they are both doing well. We are blessed.

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Elizabeth Curry

Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing the experiences of her family she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, home schools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.


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