Friday, May 17, 2013

Cocooning...What to Expect

To our family & friends,

Your love and support through this journey has meant more to us than you could ever know.  We feel so blessed and honored that God would call us to this journey, and we are glad to have you all holding our hands along the way! It is almost time for us to come home, and we would like to give you an honest idea of what to expect.  We also want to let you know about what our family will be going through. 

What this will be like for Eliana:

Unlike bringing a newborn home, Eliana already has a view of the world.  Before she left the orphanage, she already knew from where she would get her meal, how it would be presented to her, who would clean her, change her, and be the source of her care.  She already had friends, had favorite toys, and had shared laughs with her peers.  Her life may not have been ideal to this point, but it has been HER life.  She has learned to cope with an unnatural situation of not having parents.  She didn’t even realize she was “coping” with anything, though.  This was just life as she knew it.

While we have had years to prepare for our new addition, only your prayers and what little the orphanage caregivers were able to do have helped Eliana prepare.  At her young age, her caregivers couldn’t fully get across to her that those people in the pictures she was given are her new parents.  She’s never even understood what parents are. For almost every day of her life, she slept in the same spot and stared at the same ceiling when she was trying to fall asleep.  She had only ridden in a car a few times. She had probably seen some of her friends leave the orphanage, but never quite understood why they didn’t return.  This new shift in her reality is monumental.  What was the happiest day for us was to her a traumatic day. 

Because of the trauma she has faced and the need to heal those wounds, life for the Stoves family will be…let’s just call it weird.  We will go through some details about this weirdness in the remainder of this post. 

First, we want you to know that this is only a season.  Lord-willing it will be a short season followed by a much, much longer season of quasi-normalcy.  Also, please understand that we are leaning on YEARS of expert opinions on adoption; some by professional experts, some by friends who’ve adopted even from the same orphanage.  It may not make sense to you, and that’s okay.  We want your support, and part of earning that support is helping you understand, so questions are always okay

What to expect when we come home:

We are excited to meet family and friends at the airport (our airport party).  We welcome anyone who wants to be there!  “Welcome Home” signs, taking pictures and making video would be a great blessing to us!

We hope that our flight will be relatively uneventful, and that we will have been able to sleep.  However, even at its best, it will be a tough trip.  We will have spent around 24 hours in airplanes and airports by the time we land in Birmingham.

We will be very tired when we come home.  It is a 13 hour time difference from China to Central time.  We anticipate jet lag for us and for Eliana for the first 2 weeks home.

We will be taking Eliana to the International Adoption Clinic at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham in the first couple of weeks after we get home.  We are praying for a healthy report, and we are prepared to meet any issues with strength from God. 

Things will also be a bit different than when we brought the boys home from the hospital.  We'll need a different kind of support. 

Our approach to the first few months home:

We do ask that you don't ask to hold her or give her anything at the airport.  If you have special gifts, we can save those for later.  Her brothers will have a gift for her.  And she will have a gift for her new brothers.  Other than that, we feel that it would be best to wait for other gifts (or give them to us, and we will give them to Eliana once we are home). 

We also ask that you allow us to spend our first moments in the airport introducing our children to each other and reconnecting.  After the boys have had their opportunity to meet their new sister and to hug mommy & daddy, then we will invite others to hug us and to meet Eliana (while she is being held in our arms).

Eliana has a pretty strong case of stranger anxiety.  Please don’t be offended if your offer to hug us is met with tears or a blank stare. Even if she’s had weeks to talk with you via Skype!  This will be her first taste of “foreigners” en masse.  As of now, these “foreigners” have been the minority.  Every outing we have here in China she sees people groups she expects to see.  Things you may not even think are scary may scare her.  For example, some sweet friends of ours warned us before we went that when they adopted from China, their daughter will now tell them that her mom’s blue eyes scared her.  She had never seen blue eyes before.  Just remember, you can do everything right, and she will likely still be scared of you.  This is okay.

After the airport, we're going to try to lay low for a while.  In the adoption community it is called cocooning.

We understand that this is going to be hard for you guys and for us.  However, we are trusting all of the attachment/adoption experts on this.  We will focus our time on connecting as a family of five.

It will take time for her to understand that we are her parents now.  We are starting at a place where she has no concept of parents or family. 

Also our parenting will look very different.  She has lived her life, up until this point, in an orphanage.  She has shared a room with around 20 other babies, and she has had to do what has been necessary to survive and to thrive.  Once we are home, helping her find security in her new family (mommy, daddy & brothers) is very important to her attachment in the long run.

What do we mean by attachment? There are many articles and studies and professionals who can speak to this; but for a child who has experienced loss, finding a secure place is very important. Even if she is very happy and energetic, at the core she is still not sure what is going on yet. For her to thrive she needs to know that we will take care of her. She needs to know that she doesn't have to charm her way into being fed or getting a toy or being held.  She needs to know that she can give up her survival mode.

As infants, our boys figured that out, on their own, very quickly. We were purposeful about getting them used to lots of people who fed them, cared for them, and gave them things. 

Well, with adoption, it's backwards. 

So, we don't want anyone to have their feelings hurt or feel that we are keeping her from all of you. Everyone in our family & community has been a huge part of this journey!  From helping us financially and physically to helping us emotionally and spiritually, we are grateful for you.  So, we are asking you to join us on the second part of this journey.  This isn't the glamorous part.  This is when we parent and love and grow into a forever family with a new child who has come from a hard place.  The reality of her past doesn't go away, even when she maintains a playful disposition. 

What you can do:

*Please allow us to feed her, change her, hand her toys, food, and anything else she needs.  It is important that we are the only ones to meet her needs (ALL of her needs) at this time.

*If she reaches for you, please go ahead and smile at her and point to us.

*Please don't give her any gifts at this time. If you want to give her something so she knows it is from you, you can hang on to it, and we will let you know when it is appropriate to start giving her gifts.  If you do have a special gift that you want her to have now, you can give it to us, and we will give it to her at home.

*Please pay special attention to our boys. They will need lots of extra attention.  Their world is changing too!

*Please feel free to bring meals, call or text to check up on us, or anything else you would normally do for a family that has just added a child.  Just bear with us and understand that we will need to limit visits to very short/front door meetings.  (This will keep Eliana from getting confused and/or nervous with lots of people coming in and out of the house as she has severe stranger anxiety.  Again, we will be focusing on teaching her who our immediate family is.)

We know that this is a lot to ask. And we know this is going to be hard for the first few months. We've always worked very hard for our boys to connect and have special relationships with family & friends, and we want the same for Eliana. However, it's going to have to come at a slower pace. We have been taught that if a child connects more with someone else, rather than the parents, in the first few months, it can delay their attachment by months. So, we are grateful that you all understand and are going to allow us to have a different approach for a few months.

As her parents, we have to make the best decision for her and help her to thrive in the best way possible.  We really appreciate all of your support in this adjustment.  Thank you for loving us, giving us so much grace, and being with us through all of this. We invite you to the next phase with us! 

We don't know exactly how long this will take; but we've been advised to cocoon (lay low) for the first three months home.  So, that's where we will start.  It is really going to depend on Eliana, and how she adapts.  We will be following her queues.  Please keep praying for us!  We will be posting updates on the blog and sharing on Facebook.

Please feel free to message us or ask us if you have any questions on attachment or cocooning.  We aren't sure how crazy things will be; but we promise to be open and honest.  We appreciate all of your grace during this next phase. 

Living in a hotel with Eliana as an only child for 2 weeks has been a great opportunity for us to bond! But when we get home, it will get real!  We say, bring it on!

Randall & Candice

As for our BIG NEWS today:  We received Eliana's Visa!  We are going HOME!

Eliana's excited about finally getting her visa, while Daddy is less than excited about using his visa to change flights. 

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