This is Part II of a three-part post. You can read Part I "The Beginning" by clicking here or scrolling down.
Gentle reminder that I prefer we do as our mothers taught us: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't leave it in my comments.
This particular portion of our story is so difficult for me to relive long enough to get it down. I don't think we could put enough distance between the experience and the telling of it to actually assuage the pain associated with it. So, in other words - no time like the present to get it out.
I'm asking for one kindness: understand. Understand that it's hard to re-tell, but oh so necessary and cathartic. Understand that I want truth and so should you. Understand me. Understand the meaning behind the words...that some will seem unkind or hard, maybe even seem immature or childish, maybe foolish or in poor taste. Just try to understand me. Try to see, feel or experience this the way we did. Understand me. Understand her.
And so it goes...
When Keira was handed to me in those first moments in China, those first frantic overwhelming moments, she went rigid. Not just on the outside - which you could hardly tell if you weren't holding her, because of the massive amounts of layers she was wearing. On the inside too. She cried a deep agonizing cry. There was no salve, no remedy, no clear-cut path to fixing it.
At first, I was sad for her. "Oh sweet baby...it's ok...I know...I know". Like that. Then I was a little flustered. Think what you will of me, but I crossed over to frustrated fairly quickly. We were in that room for about 40 minutes total and I went through those stages in rapid order. I was panicked I think, on some level. Why isn't she stopping? Is she hot? Is she hungry? Wet? Confused?
Either or all of them...she was screaming. I was so sure of myself coming into this moment. The arrogance...the (remember) cavalier know it all...so sure I would flip my wrist and all would be well. That even if she cried, she would be calmed by my "expert" mothering. (oh help me! it's so hard to type it) That she would be upset, but once I worked my mommy magic, we would be seeing smiles and hearing giggles. Seeing the girl in the pictures.
That didn't happen. I think you know by now.
Instead, my mind was a jumble of thoughts. In a room full of people, I made every effort to keep my cool...stay calm...find a solution. I took off her coat and a jacket underneath that. She was sweating profusely. I retrieved a toy from our bag, but she was not interested. I walked her around, rocked her, spoke to her, sang to her, rubbed her back, wiped away her tears over and over...smoothed the sweat from her brow. All the while looking on as the other new parents in the room held their already sleeping or otherwise calm babies. Only one other child was carrying on as Keira was...and she was 2. This did not comfort me. I felt so alone in those moments. So conspicuous. So raw.
Nothing was effective.
AB took over after I caved in defeat. She didn't want me in that moment and I was already working to accept that our magic moment was not going to be. Not right now. Maybe not today. And somewhere in the back of my heart I heard "maybe not for a long time" and I brushed it aside quickly. That was more than I could accept.
I have to tell you; I wanted to curl up and cry myself. It's not pretty to say, but I was already crushed that she would not be comforted. Would not be comforted by me. I was totally frazzled and taken off-guard by her reaction. I needn't have felt so alone...it became abundantly clear that she wanted nothing to do with AB either.
Our travel mates gave us pats on the shoulders...hoping to extend comfort to us through glances and brief words of encouragement.
I told myself that once we left, she would stop crying. The room was too hot. There were too many people. She was hungry. She was wet. She was hot. She was uncomfortable. She was...angry.
Not a moment too soon I heard our guide calling out to us "ok, we can go now". Back to the hotel and maybe we could get control of this.
I can tell you now, we did not. Not really. Not there.
What I want to tell you now is not a play by play of every day of the rest of that trip. It's not important to this telling. I could rattle off to you detail after detail and all we saw and did - and it would not matter here and now. Factually speaking, we saw many wonderful sites. We ate wonderful meals and some not so wonderful. We loved many, many things about China. Some things, not as much.
I want to tell you what really happened in those days from the moment she was in my arms to the moment our plane landed in the USA.
Understand me. She was angry. Angry like no other 7-month old I've ever known or even heard of. Angry to her core. Hurt. Wounded. Broken. Angry.
The three days following our first meeting she rejected every single attempt at affection, love, care, and physical contact that Anton and I brought to her. She wanted nothing to do with us.
Her preference was not to be touched at all. She would tolerate only her basic needs being met. She allowed (and I use that word intentionally) us to hold her, but generally only if she was in the Bjorn and facing away from us. She did not allow us to touch her hands or face without jerking away and going rigid. Often if we would touch her hands, she would cry.
If I looked into her eyes and tried to speak love to her, she would cry. So would I.
She cried when we tried to feed her - and for 24 hours, she refused food. When she did eat, she came to reject the idea that we were the ones delivering the food. She wanted almost no skin contact. Once I captured Anton struggling to get her to eat. She exhasuted herself struggling away from him - so he finally put pillows between his skin and hers. She was red with fury and sweaty from crying.
She cried when she was held and she cried when she was put down. Not a painful cry. An angry, furious cry.
She would lose herself in her crib, playing with a toy and coo-ing to herself. When I would approach her to attempt interaction, she would see my face and begin wailing. Recognition that she did not want to accept. Still you. You again? When will you leave me alone.
She felt the same for her new Daddy.
She would wake in the night crying and I would reach out a hand to comfort her instantly. She would turn to face me, and upon seeing who was offering the comfort...she would scream and cry until I would stop touching her.
I want to tell you what this does to your heart. And it's not pretty.
I was so angry with her. Rejection. Total and utter rejection. Honestly? You think irrationally. We made a mistake. What have we done to our little family? What were we thinking? It's not too late. We haven't left China yet. It's not done yet.
Irrationally. I can never love a baby that behaves this way. We've ruined our son's life. This is not my daughter...it can't be. This is not Keira. It's not. I can't do this. We can't do this. This was such a mistake.
We went through checklist after checklist. Hunger? No. Gas? No. Teething? Yes, but we had a pediatric nurse in our group and we took care of any medical issues that arose. She was not in physical pain.
She was in deep emotional pain. And every time I held her only served to remind her that she was in that pain and why.
On and on she cried and refused us. Day after day. Morning and night. Nights were the hardest. Every evening like clockwork, she would grieve heavily.
I can tell you what hurt the most. Looking at her and feeling....nothing. Except anger and hurt. Nothing except pain. Nothing.
The rejection was overwhelming. We had waited so long, labored so hard, rallied so many people to our side...raised the funds, waited the excruciating process out, renewed and renewed the paperwork, prayed for her, cried over her, loved her...
Maybe we just loved the idea of her. It certainly wasn't love we were feeling in those hotel rooms all over China. It was obligation.
You might think this is cold of me. I do too, in a way. I felt cold. I felt numb. I had compassion for her, but I was so hurt I could not use it to my advantage. I had feelings for her, but they were broken up. I wanted to love her, and hold her, and comfort her...weep with her and cradle her. Tell her she was safe and that we had come to rescue her. But she did not want to be rescued. How could she know what that would mean to her? She's so little...so hurt herself. What could rescue mean when all she wanted was familiar, comfortable, known...and we had none of that to give her.
A friend reached out to me with words of hope..."you promised to love and care for her...start with care and love will come later". I hung on those words. I read and re-read them day in and out. Care for her. Do the basics. Like you're babysitting.
Days bled together, honestly. The crying and wailing continued. The stoic baby we did our best to care for. I felt totally trapped. I told my husband "she hates me". He said "she doesn't hate you". But he left it there. What more could he add? He was feeling the same way.
We were tired and worn down emotionally. On excursions she would charm the locals and even our travel group. Smiling and cooing. It was those moments I tried to snap pictures of her to share with those back home. I have many, in fact. Smiling Keira. Even giggling in some. But unhappiness seeped around the corners of her eyes and you could see she was coping the only way she knew.
I heard that others in our group were beginning to experience some of the same issues with their little ones. It gave me comfort to know I wasn't alone. It made me sad and left me feeling we were wrong for doing this to her. Wrong for taking her from her home.
I knew we weren't technically "alone", but after a long night of Keira screaming and refusing to be comforted, our hotel neighbor and travel-mate offered me a hug and an understanding sigh the next morning. She had heard it all. She couldn't even find the words to try and support me in that moment. She knew it was bad. Keira was crying herself to sleep...exhausting herself until she could fight us no more. Everyone had to be able to hear it.
And I think many of them knew what we went through. Because I was lousy at hiding my pain. I was tired. Exhausted. Of her. I know how bad that sounds. It does to me too. But it's the truth.
I felt so bad for Quint. What had we done? What had we brought down on him? This crying, inconsolable, broken, angry little girl that would want nothing to do with him. What had we done to our sweet boy? How much would he lose when we had to devote so much of ourselves to her and her pain? I had never imagined I would be thinking these thoughts...but here they were...biting at me and tormenting me.
And I know what you might be thinking. Maybe that I was childish to think she would be fine to begin with. Maybe that it was immature to have those dark thoughts and not to give her time. Maybe that I didn't give her a chance.
Funny thing about crisis - you don't think clearly or rationally. You think that right now feels like forever. It feels like forever, I can vouch. Sweet Lord, it feels permanent and never-ending.
What if she never accepts us? What if she develops severe Reactive Attachment Disorder? What if we get home and she spends the next 18 years rejecting us and our love? Could I handle that? Could I love her anyway? Could I accept her or hurt her more by struggling to love her? How would this hurt our family?
Over and over and over...
Each day I would wake up and smile at her and each day she would wake up and see me and cry. Each day I would hold her and she would squirm away from my touch. Each day I would feed her the only way she would accept it. Facing away from me. If I tried to hold her like an infant and feed her, she would squirm and cry and push me away. Unfathomable to me. I was so broken.
Where was my little girl? Where was my Keira Joy?
I would like to say that looking back, each day improved a little bit while we were still there. By "little bit" I am implying hardly at all. That's what you should hear. A little bit meaning - not much at all.
On the outside looking in, she was smiling to others and behaving normally. Crying at normal intervals, eating, sleeping, etc. It was behind closed doors that she unleashed her pain. The only time I felt free from her was when she slept - and it was fitful sleep at best. It nearly broke me.
I was devastated. Weak from the brokenness I felt. Shattered on the inside, trying to smile on the outside.
My strong wonderful husband...amazing father to our son...also so deeply wounded by her rejection of us.
Walls had gone up that I didn't realize. We were protecting ourselves now. Going through the motions of her proper care. But inside...oh the pain and despair. Wondering how we could have misjudged ourselves so badly. Wondering how someone so small could make us feel smaller. Could make us hurt so badly.
When my son was placed in my arms for the first time, it was love at first sight. First touch. I loved him with a deep abiding love that has not wavered for one second of his little life. I adored him. I cherished him so deeply from that first moment on.
I did not love Keira. Think what you will, but I am speaking truth even if it's ugly to hear. I tolerated her. I longed for her. I longed for my own version of her. But I did not love her. I merely did whatever it took to get through a day.
There was no magic. There was no bonding. Just three people trying to make it through that trip. Trying to get home and figure it out.
I've looked over the pictures...many times. I see her smiling and I know it was through a lot of cajoling. And it almost looks sincere to me. But I know it was in the midst of a lot of confusion and pain for her. There were moments I think she just forgot on some level, and let herself giggle or smile for us. I have the pictures as a reminder to myself that the pain I felt was also calmed by those rare moments we could get a smile or laugh out of her. It was a hope offering of sorts that we were given to get us through. And it worked...because we did get through it.
Each day we would see her smile and say to each other "I know she's in there...somewhere...under all this pain...you can see it when she smiles". It would melt us. Melt our tired hearts and give us reason to believe that she was that smiling happy baby somewhere underneath the rejection. Somewhere down inside, she was this amazing beautiful girl...and we had to find a way to get to her.
But oh, I wanted it to be so much more. I wanted it to be pretty. I wanted it to be amazing. But it wasn't. It was painful. It was broken and long and heart-wrenching.
I wanted to scream at her "do you know how long and far I have come to be your mother? How much I have sacrificed? How much others have sacrificed? How many people love you already and have prayed for you and longed for you? Don't you know how much you are wanted?"
But it would have made no difference, as you know. For she could neither understand nor did she know or comprehend any of that. How could she? Of course she couldn't. And so I just felt it to my core and wished she could for both of us.
I believe that Keira was very attached to her nannies. She had two dedicated to her. Just her. She slept with them, and I believe was carried a lot. She was well-fed as you can tell, and from the pictures in the orphanage we could see her big smiling face - telling us she had a big personality.
That she was happy at one time. That it was possible to see her smile again...a meaningful unfettered smile that came naturally and instinctively to her little face. Not cajoled or forced.
What she knew with us was her own deep pain. Her loss. Her deep cutting loss. She knew that her nannies were no more. Gone, just like her mother. Everything...every single thing was different. Sights, smells, tastes, clothes, temperature, beds, people, eyes, words, voices...faces...so different.
Can you imagine that loss? I can't. Maybe that's why I felt so inadequate to care for her pain in those moments.
In those days, I tried over and over to remind myself of this. But I would hold her little hand to extend myself to her, and she would rip it out of my grasp. I would kiss her cheek, and she would arc her back and arms away from me, whining. I would hold her feet, hoping she wouldn't notice - and she would twist and turn to get away. I would try to cradle her at night, and she would struggle, arc her back again, and cry until I would release her.
So painful to even think of it now.
This is how it went, my friends. For the whole of our trip. And I've wanted to share it with you because it matters.
My heart was broken. But its healing. My spirit was broken, but its mending. My pride was humbled and my mouth, too quick to give advice, silenced.
I've come to learn in a short time what good lessons these are. How they grow you. How they move you. How they force your hand at change and that goodness comes from them. Can come from them, if you're willing.
Coming home was profound in so many ways, but that's The Ending, and it's not time for that just yet.
Let me tell you about tonight. Yes, tonight will tell you how my broken heart is healing and my broken spirit mending. My pride still being humbled, even now...because you're reading this truth and it's hard to share...so hard to share.
Tonight will show you...and so will The Ending...so look for that soon.
Tonight, I was curled up in the corner of our lovely, comfy couch. I love that couch and always have. You could die from the way it soaks you up and puts you to rest instantly. The lights were very dim and all was quiet, except the low hum of the calming music playing. I was sitting with her and we were going through our nightly ritual. She was in her pj's. I was in mine. She was drinking her final bottle of the day. This is our time. Just ours. Her little body nestled snugly against mine and curled tightly to me. Her left arm folded underneath mine, in comfort. The other hand free and grasping my cheek or her bottle...or resting on my own hand.
She drifted off to sleep...still making the sucking motion, though the formula was gone. I gently removed the bottle from her lips and set it aside. Now she just sighed and I felt her go limp. Her feet, in constant motion, now calm. Her hand, resting on her chest. Her eyes closed and those long beautifully shaped eyelashes resting. I touched her face with the smallest gesture. I whispered "I love you, sissy-girl. I do". I reached down again, those irresistible cheeks of hers calling to me, and softly planted my lips on one and then the other. Eyes still closed, she smiled. Irresistible. I told you. I repeated the kisses. She smiled again, a small beautiful smile. Then she very slowly opened her eyes and looked at me. Saw me. And her smile grew bigger at the recognition. So did my heart.