Grief

Not gonna lie.

Joseph is really struggling. Struggling to grieve. It may sound strange that I want my son to grieve but removing a child from the only home, the only life, the only people he has ever known has got to have its consequences. In a situation like this, it’s preferable and indeed healthy for a child to cry. But our sweet Joseph is keeping it all bottled up. And it’s preventing him from being able to fully trust us and bond to us. Until he feels safe enough to let down his guard around us, to freely express his feelings (whether sad, glad, mad or bad) this bond between him and us will not form. I pray each day that the tears will finally flow…that the grief will finally be expressed.

That he will finally get the good, cleansing cry that he needs.

Where Marianna has no trouble expressing her joy, her sadness, her anger or her delight by crying, grinning, shrieking, arm-flapping, hand-clapping, etc., Joseph has remained fairly non-emotive. He will brighten around the kids but when he is with Mike or I, he is completely labile, stoic, unemotional, unmoving, non-reactive. He does not make eye contact but instead looks away as soon as we try to talk to him, does not even attempt to cry. He just kind of sits there, motionless, just observing, just tolerating us. He will lay his head on our shoulders but I think more out of apathy (and perhaps emotional fatigue) than anything else.

His eyes betray an emptiness that just breaks. the. heart.

I sense that he just wants to return to what he knows as normal: life in the orphanage.

I’ve been waiting for him to cry…to just grieve and get it all out. But it’s like he’s holding it all in…because that’s all he knows. The wall he has built around himself is proving so hard to break through. The older kids can penetrate it but we can’t quite manage to do the same. They can solicit smiles from him but we can’t. He follows them around and will leap into Isaac or Sam’s or even Sarah’s arms whenever given a chance. And praise God for that.

It’s bittersweet.

It’s not that he won’t go to us–he does–but not for emotional comfort. It’s suspect that it’s more out of apathy than anything else. He’d certainly rather sit in Mike’s arms (or when Marianna will let me put her down, my arms) than be left on the floor alone. So he’s got that going for him. But he just has a flat affect. A stone face. It’s like he has no energy to fight so he just accepts what’s going on around him without complaint, without a battle. Perhaps he learned early on that his cries were ineffective, so why bother?

I breaks a mother’s heart.

Today, we got both kids down for a nap at the same time. Marianna went down first and when I heard him whimpering (not crying, mind you) from his crib I gladly pulled him close and rocked him and held him against my chest until he too fell asleep. He woke up not long after, whimpering where I had laid him and I rushed to pick him up again. And for the first time I could sense a sob coming on. I kept holding him, looking into his eyes, talking to him and suddenly he just burst into hard, heavy tears. I prayed and cried with him, hoping this was it. But it was short-lived. His eyes drifted away from mine (again) and he just turned his head from me. I offered him a bottle and he drained it but then just gave up again, put his head on my chest so as not to make eye contact…and stayed there motionless until he fell back to sleep.

Defeated?

And that’s where I’m sitting right now…with him on my chest, sleeping, and me stifling my own grief and tears. This is so much harder than I thought it would be. And it’s made that much harder by the fact that Marianna will not let me out of her sight or allow me to hold anyone but her. So it’s taking more energy and effort to mutually work through this.

But I know we’ll get through this. I know we will. I know it will get better when we’re home and not halfway around the world sitting in a hotel, keeping strange hours in a strange land. I know he will learn to trust me. To trust both of us. I know that he’s young enough and resilient enough to get through this and he will likely never remember this time. But that doesn’t make this time of transition any easier.

As beautiful as this experience has been, it’s also been one of the hardest and most emotionally taxing. Definitely new territory for us and a whole new set of challenges.

Pray for him? For us?

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11 thoughts on “Grief

  1. Oh Annie, tears are just flowing as I sit here reading this. I will pray for you today. I can’t even imagine how hard this is for you. My heart goes out to all of you. You are in my prayers.

  2. Annie, as I read this, my eyes sting with a Momma’s tears, knowing the grief that can tear at a heart. The love that you express and the true desire for your little one to mourn what he’s had to say goodbye to and rejoice in all that he’s been given is going to prove a beautiful treasure. You are a gem in the King’s crown, and so are your kiddos. He will not leave this chapter unwritten. Prayers as you journey through the next pages. Hang in there, and please know your whole family, and most especially sweet Joseph, are being lifted up in prayer.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear this. My SIL, Meagan, I believe knows you and she has put putting your blog on FB so I have been eagerly following along though I don’t comment. Leila from The Little Catholic Bubble I see is also a shared friend of ours–she also has put you on her blog. 🙂 It’s been so good hearing/reading about the success of a child adopted for those of us who would love to adopt but just simply can’t…and I do call it a success because the child has found a home and a family. I know that this time right now is very hard but Joseph will soon learn to trust you. Love will eventually make a breakthrough. So sorry that this is so hard for you right now. Have patience and I will remember you in my prayers today that he lets his grief go…

  4. Sorry, just one more thought as I was getting my coffee ready to start my morning. 🙂 You probably already have considered this, but it might be that Joseph is already grieving. Not every child is the emotional type and perhaps this is the most that Joseph can do for now. As he learns to trust you, I’m sure you’re going to see more of the emotions he feels. Anyway, just a thought and I’m sure you’ve already considered this but wanted to throw it out there in case you haven’t. I will give you the most important thing I can give though, which is my prayers.

  5. This is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry. I only had a small piece of this. I got a newborn back from the NICU after 3 weeks and 2 intensive surgeries that was nothing like the pink, trusting, smiling baby I had for the first 6 days of her life. Trust God. When you can’t trust him and you can’t trust yourself and everything is heartbreaking, Trust God. There will be things that you can’t predict that will break through emotional trauma.

    Remind yourself that you’ve gotten better from emotional bruises also. The Orphanage. The NICU, it seems so foreign and totally unfair to tiny babies. Yet the process of emotional healing is the same as for adults.

    Love and prayers!

  6. Prayers! I know this is difficult! It will come with time. I think he is doing so well just letting you hold him and it’s amazing that he is even starting to let some emotion come through so quickly! So many kids refuse to be held or touched. And many takes months to let any emotion out. You are doing exactly what you should be. Bonding takes time and grief takes time. Praying for all of you!

  7. Praying for your whole family as you go through this transition! There will be ups and downs! Hang on tight to God. He loves all of you!

  8. Thank you for sharing all these details. I will definitely be praying specifically for that connection and trust to continue to build. I too think it is a very encouraging sign that he allows you to hold him and fall asleep on your chest. It seems to me that the process of attachment is kind of like a dance, and it is so delicate. You are doing a phenomenal job. I am thinking perhaps that time will be your best friend, and a steady routine will help a lot too once you are all home. Prayers for safe travel.

  9. It’s so early. I remember those first days and weeks of our adoption and it was unbelievably exhausting emotionally and physically. You’re all in the trenches right now, and I know from adopting twins how much you’ve taken on here, but you can totally do it and God will provide the grace.

    As you know well, every child is unique and will be affected by trauma differently and grieve differently. Sounds like Joseph is in emotional survival mode, which makes complete sense from his point of view. One question and idea that I was inspired to mention (but just ignore it if it’s not helpful!): Was Joseph his given name in China? If not, you might consider — if you haven’t already — calling him by his original name for a bit (at least when you’re with him), or at least hyphenating it with “Joseph” until he’s more attached to you. With his entire world turned upside down, it may be comforting to him. It sounds like you’re a pro (well, as much as you can be!) at facilitating attachment and healing and, of course, God chose you to be the mother of this little boy so He will lead and guide you in helping Joseph to heal and to thrive. Prayers for you all!

  10. you are way ahead of the game, just understanding the ideas and needs of attachment. we adopted twin girls, 10 months old, from China 3 years ago, one was more attached like your M and one was not at all, like your J. We had to work very hard to attach with our girl. She wouldn’t make eye contact, didn’t really like to be held, didn’t like to be rocked and the biggest thing was she never complained, cried or “needed” anything. We had to anticipate all her needs, she stopped needing in the orphanage! If it was something big, she would whimper for a moment then self sooth. She had to be taught to cry and to voice her needs, and that took nearly 5 months.
    Annie, you are doing a great job! A really great job! You will be exhausted when you get home, but you have started J towards attachment! It will be easy to lean on the older kids to help with J, but try not to allow that for a couple of months. Wishing you all the best, you have a beautiful family!
    karen

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