Adoption has kind of a fairy tale connotation for most people. Like the movie Annie, the poor orphan is whisked away to a life of luxury and love in the wealthy US. Certainly Leo’s life will be better over all for having been adopted, but it is important to understand that every adoption involves a lot of loss for the adoptee.
Leo spent about a week and a half with his family before he was abandoned. We will never know his family’s circumstances, but it’s likely that they could not afford the medical care that he needed. He was wrapped in a blanket and left in a very public place where he would quickly be found. He won’t remember that short time with his family, but he still suffered a loss when he was separated from them.
When a routine search for his birth parents didn’t turn up any family members, he was placed in an orphanage. His orphanage is a very good one, where the nannies care for specific children to foster attachment. They have plenty of toys and books, and he was well fed, which is not always the case in orphanage care. Leo was described as being attached to his nanny, but she had several other special needs children to care for.
As Leo grew older, his caregivers noticed that he was starting to lag behind a little.
They thought he would do better with some individual attention so he was enrolled in the Half the Sky infant nurture program. He was assigned a “grandmother” from the local community. She came to visit him a few times a week. She worked with him one on one to meet his developmental milestones, fed him snacks, and served as a special person in his life, just as a grandmother might in real life.
(Everyone asks me about how he is dressed in this picture. The orphanage doesn’t have a central heating system to the children are dressed in multiple layers to keep warm.)
When he was around a year old, he was selected to move to foster care. His orphanage director knows that children grow best in a loving family, and there are several foster families in his city who keep children from the orphanage. He joined a foster family with a mother, father, and foster siblings. Not only does he get more individual attention than he does in the orphanage, but he learns what family life is like.
When he moved to the foster family he did not lose his relationship with his nanny or grandmother because his foster mother brings him to the orphanage for several hours a day, similar to a daycare arrangement. Leo does not know that he is an orphan he is being cared for by paid childcare workers. Everyone he knows lives in this orphanage or in his foster family! He has a nanny, a grandmother, and a foster family. But that is all about to change.
A photo album of our family was sent to Leo’s orphanage along with a letter I wrote to his caregivers telling them about our personalities and the activities we enjoy as a family. I am told that his foster mother shows him the pictures often and has taught him to call us Mama, Papa, sister, and brother when she points to the photos. But because he is so young, he will not really understand what is happening to him. We will basically be kidnapping him, taking him away from the life he knows. We look different, we don’t speak his language. But at least he will still be in China. Until we travel to the US, and then he will have even more loss.
Through this adoption he will lose his orphanage, nanny, grandmother, and foster family. He will lose his language, and his country, with it’s familiar foods and smells. Even a two year old will go through a grieving process, and he might be angry at us. Eventually his life will be better for having been adopted into our family, but we have to recognize that this isn’t something that he is excitedly looking forward to. Adoption is wonderful because every child deserves a family, but every adoption begins with loss.