When is a 12-hour international flight with an angry baby actually a pleasant experience? When you compare it with your previous flight, a grueling 18-hour slog of a haul into a place we’d never been — a communist police state, by the way — with a whole lot of questions and very few answers.
Now, at least, we were headed home. And in spite of our worst fears, Laine did pretty great, especially when you consider it from her point of view as a 15-month-old locked up in a loud metal tube with a bunch of strangers for half a day.
We were in the very back of the plane, near the area where the flight attendants did all of their prep work and took their breaks. They were all quite smitten with Laine, and they treated us like VIP’s, holding her and heating up bottles for us and generally making everything less of an ordeal.
And though we still had a lot of questions, at least we had some answers. We were still tag-team wrestling Laine to make her choke down her epilepsy medicine three times a day. But in spite of the fact that we actually got some down her throat maybe fifty percent of the time, she had shown zero symptoms — and not a whiff of a hint of a seizure — the whole time we’d had her.
As soon as we got back to the States, the wonderful people at the International Adoption Clinic gave Laine a once-over. She was small for her age, but that was to be expected. All in all, she was shockingly healthy for a baby from a Chinese orphanage. We made an appointment with a neurologist to get a full work-up including an EEG, so we could finally get a diagnosis about epilepsy for sure. In the meantime, the pediatrician advised that, just to be safe, we continue with the anti-seizure medicine. So, that thrice-daily fistfight would continue for a little while longer.
Then the neurology appointment came, and we took Laine into a room where some nice people taped a bunch of electrodes to her little head, and we waited for word. After a while, we got back a surprisingly calm little girl and a neurologist who pronounced her brain scan “clean as a whistle.” No epilepsy. Her anti-seizure medicine was so powerful that we couldn’t stop right away; we had to wean her off of it. But the doctor gave us a schedule to step down the dosage over a few weeks and congratulated us on our healthy new daughter.
To this day, it remains a great mystery to me why Laine was diagnosed with epilepsy in the first place, and why that diagnosis wasn’t in her file from the beginning, and why it was then shared with us at the last minute before we were about to leave for China. I have a lot of theories that I won’t take the time to go into here, but suffice it to say that communist bureaucratic ass-covering and face-saving are heavily involved in all of them. I genuinely do think that most of the caretakers we met in Laine’s orphanage were good people trying their best to do a good job. But they were also people mired in a very bad system.
With medical worries set to the side, we moved on to more garden-variety parenting worries. Laine had bonded with Rachel pretty quickly. And she was, ever so slowly, coming around on me. We had figured out some of her likes and dislikes, and on the horizon, if we squinted, we could see the possibility of maybe developing a regular parent/child relationship.
The biggest problem was sleep. It’s true that sleep is a problem anytime you bring a new baby home, but this was different from colic and midnight feedings. This was a little girl who was still confused by her new surroundings, who hadn’t received the soothing support that a baby gets from a stable mom and dad over the first year of her life. And the way her anxiety manifested itself was in a furiously stubborn desire to stay awake all the time. She didn’t cry to be held and comforted. When we held and comforted her, she just cried harder. Because she was afraid she might fall asleep.
Sleep difficulties were among the many things that the adoption agency warned us about going into the process, so it’s not like this was a surprise to us. But knowing about it intellectually is a different thing from sitting with a screaming baby and watching the clock tick by 2am, 3am, 4am… every night.
So, you know how Navy SEALs talk about “Hell Week,” the part of their training process where they’re forced to do grueling tasks while sleep deprived and being screamed at? Well, this was parenting Hell Week for us. Or I should say, Hell Weeks.
It’s a good thing that we had had two kids already, because it took every bit of the combined parenting skill we had acquired in the previous go-’rounds for us to endure this period. We slept in shifts. We traded off parenting tasks, trying to keep the other two kids from feeling like we had abandoned them. On weeknights, my precious wife got by on just a couple of hours of sleep a night so I could be fresh enough to function at work the next day.
We tried putting her in a crib close to our bed. We tried putting her in a crib far from our bed. We tried putting her in our bed. We tried starting her in our bed and moving her to the crib. We tried to outlast her, rocking her for hours in the hope that eventually she’d be too exhausted to fight sleep. I stubbornly believed that this would work, even though babies have proven to me again and again that they have some bottomless reservoir of willpower from which they can draw if they decide that they’re just not going to sleep. And draw from it she did. We told the pediatrician about our travails and she said, almost admiringly, “Yeah, she’s a fighter.”
It was a tough time, but I’m sure it was as much so for Laine as it was for us. She hated, absolutely hated, for Rachel to be out of her sight even for a minute. She had to unlearn a lot of the defensive instincts she had built up in the orphanage to be able to play with our other kids without hurting them. To be able to play with adults, for that matter. More than once, she grabbed a visitor’s face and demonstrated some truly amazing grip strength. Those little teeny hands could crush walnuts.
But even considering all this, knowing what we learned from our agency about the problems other adoptive families faced, on the big bell curve of adoption difficulty, ours was far on the easy side. Not because of any special wisdom on our part; God carried us and shepherded us through the whole thing in a million little ways.
First of all, our other two kids, Graham and Campbell, totally embraced Laine as their sister from day one. When they’re a little older, I’m going to want to sit down with them and tell them what heroes they were for our family during this time. They were incredibly patient, especially considering they were eight and six years old at the time, and they accepted great upheaval in their own lives without a single complaint.
We originally planned on Campbell sharing her room with her new sister, which she happily agreed to do. And she was a trooper for a while, but eventually the late night/early morning screaming jags was too much for her, and she said, “You know what, mom and dad? How about I just sleep in the guest bed?”
Both kids were generously accepting of all the time and attention we had to spend on the new arrival. The only problem we had with jealousy came from Laine, who couldn’t stand to see anybody else sitting in mom’s lap, and would throw herself in the middle of any hug Rachel tried to share with someone else, including me.
Our friends and family were endlessly supportive. Our adoption agency was and continues to be great. And circumstances worked out pretty well for us, to be honest. COVID lockdowns were tough for everybody, including us, but if there is ever a time when it’s a good thing to be stuck at home for an extended period, it’s when you’re trying to integrate a newly adopted child into your family. Most of our first year with Laine was spent close-quarters bonding, because we didn’t have any other options. And, myriad other COVID-related troubles aside, that was a good thing.
Now we’re working on our second year, and Laine is a healthy, happy almost-three-year-old. She still has her crying jags, but they’re more of the standard overwrought-toddler type. And when she gets over whatever she was crying about (couldn’t find her baby doll, mom gave her the wrong kind of raisins, etc.), she’ll say to us, “Happy now.”
And she is. And we are. The adoption process is the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life that didn’t involve somebody dying, but now we have our little tribe of five, and I’m pretty glad about it. I wrote this down so we’d always have it to remember how we got here. This is how blessings happen. Sometimes you have to fight your way to them, or just endure until they bloom. Why did God set it up like that? I don’t know. But who am I to challenge the process? The results speak for themselves.