The first visit with our new daughter could be summed up in two words: flying high. Similarly, the rest of the visit could be summed up in two words: emotional rollercoaster.
I won't go into gory details about every single visit, because then I'd have to write six individual entries that would be very long. Every time we returned to the orphanage, we went back with that cautious optimism in tow. Every time we left, we talked for hours about how amazingly well it had gone, focusing on some moment or episode from the day that had given us great hope an encouragement. We also discussed the things that concerned us, of which there were a few.
We had acquainted ourselves beforehand with the signs of "institutionalization." The longer that these kids stay in an orphanage, the more closed off they become socially and emotionally. As this develops, certain habits are seen. Self-soothing behaviors are probably the most common habit, along with a resistance to eye contact and extreme sensitivity to physical contact or sensory issues. Self-soothing an take many forms, ranging from the not terribly alarming rocking to the mildly alarming violent head banging or hair pulling all the way to the rather disturbing (for most people) genital stimulation. Sensory issues can be anything from refusal to be touched to constantly seeking overstimulation of the senses. Sometimes a kid with sensory issues will run everywhere, crashing into everything, or stuff food into their mouth so fast they choke because they require extreme amounts of sensory input before anything registers. We expected to see some of these behaviors in our girl and we were correct and, I think, wise to be emotionally and mentally prepared.
She does rock. When she's hungry she does this thing with putting her fingers in her mouth, almost gagging herself, that is hard to explain. If she becomes extremely upset she will hit herself, although we only saw it once and she was VERY upset with VERY good reason. From time to time, hubby and I would exchange little glances that said "did you see that too?" Yet, nothing we saw scared us because we expected to see worse, honestly. Plus, we were very encouraged by what we saw around all of this.
Yes, she rocks, but we noticed early on that we can interrupt it by providing nurture. That's a fantastic sign! Her self-soothing behaviors are entirely non-violent towards others, and only in extreme cases violent towards herself. They concern us because they are an indication of the lack of nurturing care that she has received to this point, not due to neglect per se but because nurture takes extra time and effort and orphanages have too many kids to worry about. We, obviously, would rather she didn't have these behaviors because we wish her life had been different. We are sad that she ever felt so alone and afraid. Yet, we can see that these behaviors have not taken over. She can still be reached, she still responds.
On the second morning she fell asleep on my husband and slept in his arms for an hour and a half. It was amazing. Now, sometimes kids use passing out as a coping mechanism, but this was not the case. We actually saw her do that on the third day when she was extremely upset, but this was different. She drifted off slowly in my husband's arms. She shifted position at times, sucked her thumb, and seemed peaceful. She slept for a long time, shifting and moving around like a normal sleeping person would. When she passed out from being upset it was very quick, it was not peaceful, it only lasted about 20 minutes, and she seemed to be less sleeping and more unconscious. But that time that she fell asleep on him was incredible, because that demonstrated felt safety. She felt safe and secure in his arms, she knew there was nothing to be scared of. She trusted him a great deal to become that vulnerable. It was incredible.
During our last visit we sat in a rocking chair together, her and I, and I began to sing to her. She sat in my arms for a long while and I sang to her, song after song. She was awake the whole time and she relaxed visibly. She rocked only a little bit, here and there. She leaned against me, resting against me comfortably. She even began vocalizing with me, making pre-speech sounds that she had not made in our presence before. She was smiling the whole time. I sang lullabies, hymns, folk songs... everything I knew. I don't know exactly how long it lasted, but I think it may have been a whole hour that we just rocked in that chair, me singing and her smiling and vocalizing. It was beautiful.
There were plenty of times that I felt a bit at a loss. I don't really know her yet, so I don't always know how to read her. We both felt sort of like babysitters with a child we hadn't seen before. We weren't able to do everything for her, and the fact that I had to ask staff to change her for me reminded me that she is not yet truly mine. Sometimes I would feel very tired when we were with her, wondering how much longer we would be with her and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Then, invariably, Eti would tell us it was time to go and I would think "Already? But we just got here!" Time made little sense, but overall it was going way too fast.
Our days became incredibly routine. Get up, eat, visit her, eat, visit her, eat, go to bed. We didn't sight-see, except for what we saw walking through town to find a restaurant. We were terribly exhausted. Every night we would fall asleep quickly at 9 pm, then wake at 2 am totally alert. We'd lay around in bed, trying desperately to fall back asleep, until about 5 am and then wake up at 7 am. Some mornings I felt so tired I thought "I'm not going to be able to do this," but then it would be time to see her and all my tiredness would vanish. After seeing her I would be so excited and happy that I would feel wide awake. Every night, at dinner, I felt like we were celebrating. Every morning, at breakfast, I felt like a nervous wreck. Emotionally draining, absolutely. Worth it? Yes, yes, a million times yes!
Sometimes I sort of miss those days now. I never felt closer to my husband. Part of it was the whole experience of being overseas. You feel so much closer to anyone who speaks English. We felt like two people in a little bubble, the only ones who understood us. Eti's English was great, but there were still little disconnects here and there. We had a hilarious conversation over dinner where we exchanged words and phrases and she taught me some things in Bulgarian. My attempts to pronounce things on the menu had us all laughing, and hubby's tendency to learn the phrase and promptly forget it was hilarious. "I can't talk to you or I'll forget how to say fruit salad before the waiter gets here!"The environment was so foreign that it drove us together, clinging to each other as the only Americans around.
The other part of it was going on the emotional rollercoaster ride together. We were sharing a whole lot of emotion, a whole lot of anxiety, and a whole lot of encouragement. We leaned on each other, reasoned with each other, bounced ideas and made plans. We communicated constantly about things that really truly matter. We had deep talks about life, about society, about God and ourselves. We examined our hearts and our lives very closely during those few days. We shared a lot of joy and it brought us closer together. We felt amazing gratitude, every single day, for the path that we were on and for each other. And every single day we looked at each other and said "I can't possibly do this without you." That has an amazing effect on one's marriage. I know some people worry that adoption can tear a marriage apart, people have actually said that to us, but so far it is pushing us closer together. If the trend continues when she comes home then we owe her a huge debt of gratitude for becoming our daughter, and for doing it in this way.
Gah this is way too long. If you've hung on until now, thanks. I promise someday I'll write short, light-hearte entries again. Probably when all the kids move out. :)