Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Not Your Teddy Bear

Amelia, 2 months old, with a short term
missionary who graciously loved on our
girl while we could not.
 Adoptive parents must be careful not to fall in love with an illusion.

I speak from experience. I first fell in love with Amelia on some level in November 2008 – long before she was even conceived. The love increased as we progressed in the adoption process, and bubbled to boiling as we received our first pictures of her beautiful face. I was determined to know Amelia even before I ever met her. I squeezed snippets of information about her from every short term missionary and adoptive parent who passed through her orphanage. In my mind, I created a paper-mache version of her from photos, facts, and 9 second video clips… dab “snuggly” here, “sweet-natured” there, glue together and wait for her to dry. It was a comfort to imagine that I knew my daughter.

And then, on that glorious, hot February day when I finally held our beloved girl, I discovered that she is not paper mache. She is not static. She is complex and alive! On that day, I touched her warm, soft fleshy cheeks and heard her both laugh and cry. She was not a newborn awakening to the world, but a ten month old who already had personality and preferences. The box I’d put her in just would not do. And so began Amelia’s six month journey towards busting the piƱata I had made of her. I am glad she succeeded. The real Amelia is better than any version I could have crafted.

Still, exposing my hallucinations for what they were was a bit uncomfortable –both for me and for Amelia.

You see, the wait to adopt a child is excruciating on the parent. It is filled with unknowns and silence. And so we fill our minds with whatever knowledge we can gather… and often subconsciously fill the gaps with our own beliefs and expectations. We picture life once the adoption is complete – the good and the bad! We use fragmented descriptions of our child to create a persona of them in our mind. We do whatever we can to feel like we hanging on to something real.

The problem comes when OUR “real” meets TRUE reality. When the imaginary version of our child is shoved to the side by the child herself.

Amelia's first days in her new home.

Psychologists describe it as the Teddy Bear Syndrome. During the adoption wait, Imaginary-Amelia was my teddy bear. I could see into the future and smile at life with Imaginary-Amelia. Sure, it wouldn’t be perfect. I’d done my homework and learned about attachment issues. But I’d be the perfect mother for all of Imaginary-Amelia’s needs. I knew the bumps ahead like the back of my hand, and I was prepared for each one.

Fast-forward to the early days at home with REAL Amelia, and you can see the mirage begin to melt away. Amelia would not take a sippy cup… she’d rather starve. And while this battle lasted only 24 hours before it’s quick, happy resolution, it made me crazy for that one day. Imaginary-Amelia never had this particular problem. I’d never thought of this! Imaginary-Amelia would have trouble being away from me and I’d have to quit work – THAT would be the big problem!*** I was prepared for that, for no other reason than that I’d thought it through. But Real Amelia throws curve balls. She is so… REAL! Unpredictable! It is as if – gasp – she’s HUMAN!

***(Real Amelia loves our church preschool, although she’d prefer to be with me, and thus I am still employed!)

Okay, can I stop calling her “Real Amelia” now? :-)

Amelia has adjusted so quickly and so well. I shudder to think how poorly I would have handled it had she not. It took me months just to realize that my greatest frustrations did not stem from any “issues” SHE was having, but instead from the issues that did not conform to the version of her that I’d created in my mind. I’d prepared myself for certain things. There was a prescription I had ready for our new life. What I had not prepared myself for, however, was the fluidity that comes with any human relationship.

I do not have the same control over Amelia as I did when she only lived in my mind. Thank God. Do I really want to be the kind of parent who imposes expectations so heavily upon their children that it stifles their true personalities? No thank you. My baby girl is too tough to be stifled anyway. She was going to blossom in spite of me. I’m just glad I can now enjoy watching her bloom into the girl God made her to be. She is teaching me to love surprises.


Shannon Evans said...

Great post, Rachel. I know it rings true with probably every adoptive family- and sharing it offers good preparation for families who are currently waiting!

Stephanie said...

What a great reminder for all AP's! Would you be willing to let us feature this on We Are Grafted In? I believe one of your posts was previously featured earlier this year, so could just use your same bio and pic -- unless you would prefer to update one or both of them. Just let me know your thoughts!
co-administrator of WAGI

Stephanie said...

Oh, silly me. I double checked and perhaps I was wrong about you previously having one of your posts featured on WAGI. I'm so sorry.
WAGI is a Christian adoption website/forum, and we'd love to feature this post if you'd be willing to let us. Just let me know. Sorry for the previous confusion!
co-administrator of WAGI