"Whenever we follow Jesus near to the world's hurt,
brokenness and beauty become intertwined."
- Christian Alliance for Orphans
Today's guest blog post is written by Sarah Schmidt. Sarah is an orphan advocate, and has adopted two children with special needs. Connected Hearts Ministry had the privilege of helping Sarah's family raise funds for both of their adoptions. Sarah's article is an honest look at the real life trauma that children go through who have grown up in an orphanage, and who have had loss in their lives. We are grateful for Sarah's honesty, as we know it will resonate with many families. Adoption is an incredible blessing, but it is also only possible because of extreme loss. Sarah's article is a great reminder to adoptive families that children who experience trauma and loss can still express that hurt once they are home. Thank you Sarah for your open and honest blog post.
It’s been nearly one year since we traveled to China to welcome our son Alex into our family; our second adoption from China in just under two years. The past seven months had been a whirlwind of paperwork as we tried to expedite Alex’s adoption once we learned how low his hemoglobin had dropped. Alex has a blood disorder called beta Thalassemia major, and his body doesn’t make hemoglobin. Every few weeks Alex needs a blood transfusion to replace the hemoglobin his body can’t produce, and living in an orphanage in China, his medical needs were not being met. We spent nearly a year researching the condition, meeting with doctors and specialists, going along to watch a friend’s son have a transfusion, and educating our children and family on the condition. We knew it would take time for us to get used to the routine, and we thought constantly about how Alex would do with the adjustment to a new family and getting medical care in the States.
The biggest adjustment for all of use was not one we had prepared for- the trauma that Alex endured in China, in his few years living in an orphanage as well as his abandonment. We were educated, we were prepared as much as we could be. We read articles, we took training's, we grieved the losses our daughter grieved when she joined our family two years prior from China. But this… this was something so excruciating and painful. Seeing a child try to come to terms with leaving the life they had, as well as trauma that occurred at a young age, not speaking much English, being thrown into a new routine…. It was so very hard. For all of us.
When Alex was with us in China, he would scream and cry quite frequently- which was to be expected. When he came home, he would cry and scream, for at least 30 minutes at a time. He was scared. He didn’t want us to hold him, touch him, give him food or toys or tv time. He simply needed to just let it out. And then he would calm down and go back to the happy boy we saw glimpses of throughout our day.
By about 3 months home, we realized the yelling was beginning to be linked to a very specific time of day; when he would wake from a nap. It would happen if we woke him, if he woke up on his own, if it was 10 minutes and he dozed in the van, or a 2 hour nap on the couch. He would wake up, look around as if to make sure he really understood where he was, and then scream. Big screams with tears, snot and drool. It was so hard to see. More often than not, he wouldn’t want any comfort until the cycle was ending. Then he would come to me and cry and say he was sorry. It was heartbreaking to witness, for our entire family.
We began to dread nap time. We began to lose our sense of compassion and it was having an impact on our relationship and the relationship between Alex and our other children. They would cry when he cried and it took awhile to bounce back after he would yell. It was hard really knowing what he was going through, but our best guess is it goes back to the trauma he endured early on in his life, as he was old enough to remember his abandonment during the night. And then the grief would hit us, and you have this horrible guilt for being upset when he is upset, especially knowing the loss he endured. We were really in a difficult cycle.
Around six months home, we sought out counseling for Alex from a counselor trained in play therapy for those who have endured trauma. I think even just talking to her for the first time was a relief for me, just telling her about our struggles amid the joys. It’s not that we had been keeping it a secret, but in the days of sharing so much joy and happiness on social media, and trying to increase advocacy for adoptions, it was hard for me to just share how we were still in a hard place, even at six months home. Even when Alex looked so well adjusted when we were at church, or when he was at pre-school. I used to dread when people would comment on how wonderful he adjusted to it all. It was hard to share as I feared judgement; that we weren’t able to handle meeting his needs, or that some may feel that we “asked for this,” as we were the ones who willingly took on another child with special needs when we already had a full plate.
When Alex started therapy, our goal wasn’t to get him to stop yelling (although I hoped this would also be accomplished), rather to get him to use his words to express his feelings, even if it occurred after he yelled. Increasing his vocabulary to include words like scared, alone, happy, and sad has helped us understand how he is feeling in the moment, which has led to Alex sharing he woke up and “felt sad.” When he adds a feeling to the yelling, it has somehow made it easier to work through rather than just 30 minutes of madness. It has also made it easier for his siblings to understand and have compassion with what he is processing, rather than just listening to him yell again.
We are now just a few weeks from our one year family day anniversary, and we are to a place where I can say we are doing good. Alex is slowly starting to not take naps, which in turn cuts out the yelling in the afternoon. On the days when he does nap, the yelling has decreased. Don’t worry, there are still the typical arguments with sisters over toys, whose turn it is to watch tv, or who gets to go on the yellow swing (which is preferred over the green one!) It’s really been a year of growth for all of us. Alex has taken us on a journey that was one I never expected we’d be working through. I remember back to a year ago when my focus was solely on preparing for our trip to China, and making sure I understood his medical needs. I had expected for Alex to grieve his loss, but I was not prepared for the trauma he endured, and how we would process through it all.
know that what we have seen is probably only the tip of the iceberg; that the older Alex gets, the more memories that surface, and the more he can process about the first few years of his life, the more questions he will have, and more that likely- more trauma that will resurface. We are forever going to be balancing between the early losses and trauma, and life in the present. I know there will continue to be more joy than sorrow as time goes on, but those moments of deep sadness will forever take us back to a time that will forever be a part of Alex’s history.