I find that it has taken me a particularly long time to process my photos of China...and I'm coming to realize that it's not just about processing the photos themselves, but about processing the new and tangled emotions and the unspeakably vast life changes that took place for us (all three of us) there. It's not quite a year since we traveled through China on our adoption trip, and
I am apparently still "processing".

During our early days in China, while waiting to meet our daughter, I spent a lot of time photographing children. This was a deliberate project and one in which I took great pleasure. Those photos have been the easiest and most obvious for me to go through, and I have posted almost all the best of them in previous months. The photos that relate more to our own experiences, and our first days with our daughter, have been more difficult for me to touch. I have just not felt ready, it seems, to delve into that deep (and still confusing) well of emotion.

Here's the thing: Now? It's easy-peasy. A cakewalk. A bowl of cherries. Sure, she's entering her "terrible twos" soon, and we can already see the occasional sign. But it's hard to worry too much. We are fully-integrated as a family. We are deeply, madly, blissed-out in love. We are goofy with it, and the endorphins that this daily infatuation produces just make all the difficulties fade away. The financial fears, the medical appointments, the speech therapy, the academic issues and pressures and the ongoing struggle to find the time to work...all of this is just a gnat buzzing around our ears, a shadowplay behind the brilliant scrim of our happiness. This time is pure joy. That's where we're at now...not quite a year after meeting her for the first time.

The beginning, THAT was another kettle of fish. It was difficult. It was difficult in ways that I can't even describe. Adoption is in some ways a very unnatural process. Once the seed of wanting to be a parent is planted, one's body and mind begin to undergo changes much like they would during a pregnancy. But instead of waiting nine months, one waits years...years of red tape and doubt, years of upheaval and near-loss, years of agonizing decisions and the constant fear that the dream will be snatched from under one's nose before one can ever lay hands on it. It does things to a person - unnatural things. It twists the mind and creates irrational thought.

And we were the lucky ones! We only waited two years. The international adoption world is in a tremendous upheaval at the moment, and I know many people who have not been so lucky, who have waited years longer than we did, who have faced much more challenging decisions and more devastating disappointments. Adoption is not for the faint of heart, sadly.

When the wait is over, it seems to happen very quickly. But instead of the anticipation of a physically grueling birth, one faces only a photo and a journey - a photo of a stranger's face, and a journey through a country that yone has precious little time to attempt to learn. And when at last they place that little, living, breathing stranger in your arms...that's when the real test begins. Can I love him/her? Can he/she love me? Will the chemistry work? All these things run through one's mind, along with the guilt attached to one's own doubt. It is a tremendous upheaval, a trial by fire. Instead of undergoing a vast physical and hormonal change over the course of nine months, one is faced with going from freewheeling adult to responsible parent in the matter of a heartbeat, a sigh, the batting of an eye. I think there is no easy or graceful way to undertake that sort of transition. Like childbirth, it's messy and gorgeous and chaotic and agonizing and physically exhausting and the most incredible miracle on the face of the earth, all rolled into one.

So yes, those times in China are fraught with strange and lurking emotions for me. I'm not sure why, since all that is behind me, and since the future is wide and full of joy. I think the thing is that I'm still not sure how I pulled it off. I feel like I was, during those weeks, skating on very thin ice, over a tank seething with sharks and roiling, dark water. I feel like my success in this process was a very near thing...I could so easily have failed myself, my husband and her. It could have gone either way. I feel like if I turn and look back - back at the me that walked that tightrope for those few early weeks - I might turn into a pillar of salt.

There: I've mixed every possible metaphor I could think of! How do you like that?
In any case, today, I went through the remainder of the China photos. I glanced over them quickly and pulled all those I thought worthy of seeing the light of day. I put them all in a folder, and quickly closed the folder so as not to change my mind. As we approach Q's second birthday, and our anniversary as a family, I will take them out one by one, brace myself, and take a really good, close look. Maybe, in the light of day, the perceived demons will vanish. Maybe I will be able to draw the poison and banish my bogeyman. At very least, I will create a visual record for my daughter, for someday when she needs to know. And she will need to know.


Yoli said...

Very well said Maia. It is two tales in one. It is the one we imagine and the one we confront. There is no feasible way to prepare. If you are lucky you click from the get go, if not, you learn together as time passes. Regarless of how you arrive at your destination, it changes you forever.

FDChief said...

"If we fall in the race,
Though we win the hoof-slide is marred on the course.
Though Allah and Earth pardon sin
Remaineth forever remorse."

R. Kipling

You know our story.

I can only hope that when can you finally open that book your thoughts and feelings are at peace. Whatever the beginning, what matters most is the journey. You three have become a love-laden caravan, and all I can hope is the best for you on your own Silk Road.

Jeanne-ming said...

For some months now, I have wanted to express something to you. My great-grandmother went to Nanking as a doctor. My grandmother was born there. My family were Quaker doctors and started orphanages and clinics.

I work in GuangZhou...mostly. I grew up in Taiwan, the southern part, where our family again, took in orphans. I want to tell you that releasing the children to good homes and loving parents is as difficult a journey as receving them. Perhaps that is why the photographs are difficult to process. Maybe there are still strings in China that might pull you back.

When I was young, still a kid and helping my parents, I would hope that no one would adopt some of the kids we cared for because I, WE, our family, were attached to them. I would see Americans come to pick them out or select them and I would frantically try to disuade them (when my parents went around) ..."ah no, this kid cries too much, this baby has colic"...any excuse to turn them away, until my Dad would thunk me on the head and shoo me out of the room.

After the baby was adopted I would cry. I would wonder how they were, or did they miss our food, or would they ever remember me? I wondered about them and their new homes and new families and felt jealous. I would also get anxious as I knew the news would spread and the birth mothers would get wind that their child had been adopted. I would anticpate what I would tell them if they asked me. My Father had strict policies and wouldn't divulge information, but I was loose and figured his rules didn't apply to me, so I would tell anyone who asked and slowly the "mothers" figured that out and would seek me out on the train or in the market...psst psst..." you know what happen to my baby?"
Usually I lied, "WA they are doing great! They got adopted by RICH family, they got PHD now...they eat so good they got FAT!" I wanted them to feel bad they gave up such a nice baby, but actually I felt bad too that they got adopted. I missed them.

Only decades later did I realize that actually my lies were true. A few times I have met them as adults or teenagers...sometimes 20 or 30 years later. Happy. Normal. They seemed to have no sense of me or my family or our mission at all.

I began to learn of the the extraordinary journeys that couples would make, like you, to adopt these children that had temporarily been in our care. I had this new respect, wonder, even awe of them. Nothing about the adoption process is an accident or causual or even natural as it is when children are born into families. Indeed dear one, it is not for the faint of heart.

Even in the vast orphanages of China, many inadequate to be sure, there are children who sparkle with life and spirit and who survive and thrive no matter what. QQ has all this in her. But I think this spirit in her was in some small part given to her by those who surrounded her from the moment she was born. People who knew where hope and possibilities for Q might exist. I am pretty sure she was loved until she was placed in your arms. They loved her as best they could. I speak for them. They are proud of you and your husband. They have respect and awe for what you have done. They feel joy for Lucky QQ and they send you all the love you need to keep leaning forward.
My heart is full of love for you too dear stranger.

Alyson & Ford said...

Wonderful post; well written. I can relate to some of the emotions as I remember our time in China. Your words caught me, in a beautiful way.

Alyzabeth's Mommy for Nine Months

Lorna said...

You express your heart so beautifully. Your pictures show such a slim, delicate frame, but one can see that you are strong because your capacity for love is so profound.