Flying home with Maddi-Fu
From last week’s episode
…it is bittersweet to leave our daughter’s birth country. We are anxious to get home, settle in, and introduce Maddi-Fu to family and friends. But, at the same time, it is scary to leave the safe bubble of our adopted extended family, those sharing in the same experience. We are all forging ahead into the unknown world of raising an adopted child. It is from this point that our real work begins...
We had decided to break up our trip home into two legs, the long 11 hour flight from Beijing to Vancouver, and the shorter 5 hour hop from Vancouver to Ottawa. We had purchased an extra seat for Maddi-Fu and we were so glad we did. The flight attendants couldn’t believe she was adopted. They were sure she was a mixed-race baby. My husband walked her up and down the aisle. They wanted him to sit down during some turbulence but he kept walking. He didn’t want her to cry, a newbie parent’s worst nightmare on an airplane. We became very adept at changing her on the fly, on an empty seat in the bus, in the airport, on the airplane, wherever we could find a convenient spot.
We thought it would be a good idea to have a night of rest at the airport hotel in Vancouver before embarking on the last leg of our journey. That night was our introduction to night terrors. It is common for adopted children particularly from China to have sleep issues. There is no scientific study on this but it makes sense that babies taken away from the warmth and comfort of their birth mother, their family, while peacefully sleeping and left in a public place, would have trouble sleeping from then on in. When they awoke, they had been abandoned, their whole world turned upside down. If you think about it, who would ever want to fall asleep again? Who could possibly have a restful night’s sleep after that?
Maddi-Fu went through many years of night terrors. She was generally a good night sleeper, early to bed and early to rise, but afternoon naps were really difficult. We gave them up early. If you have ever experienced night terrors, you know what I mean. As a parent, you feel so helpless. The thing is they are not really awake when it happens. She would kick and scream and cry, almost like a wounded animal, and her little body would go all rigid. She would want us to hold her and not want us to hold her. There was no way to comfort her. We just had to ride it out. Sometimes it would last for 5 minutes and sometimes for more than 45 minutes. And then suddenly it would be over and she would drop back into a peaceful sleep. Meanwhile you’d have to scrape us off the ceiling.
Thankfully, she gradually grew out of the night terrors but it took about 5 years. They became less and less frequent. We noticed she would only have them when her sleep pattern was disrupted and she got overtired. So we diligently protected her sleep routine as much as possible. She needed an early bedtime because she was always up at the crack of dawn, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00 am or earlier. She is still an early riser to this day even as a teenager. I think this was sometimes hard for family and friends to appreciate. It felt like we were being overly protective and cautious, maybe even a bit anal, but we knew what the result would be if we weren’t.
Family, co-workers and friends welcomed us home at the airport. They had flowers and gifts for Maddi-Fu. I had her in the baby carrier and she was so curious, turning her head this way and that to get a good look at everyone. She wanted to meet them all!
When we drove up to the house, our neighbours had put up a “Welcome Home Maddi-Fu” banner and balloons. They also have adopted daughters so they knew exactly what it was like, how monumental this occasion was. I will always remember their youngest daughter who is a year older than Maddi, saying her name, “Maa Dee Fuu”. OMG, it was so cute!
We put an adoption announcement in the paper and included the Gift of Life poem that we love. Check it out in Episode 3: Meeting Maddi-Fu
. Her photo also appeared in the annual “New Babies of the Year” for 2005. It probably looked a little odd because she was born in 2004 but we didn’t care. We wanted the world to know about her arrival. I have always told her, “You didn’t grow in my tummy, but you grew in my heart”. And that is the truth.
Our friends in the Japanese community held a baby shower for us. It was so touching. We couldn’t believe how many people came out to help us celebrate. Maddi was passed around the room from person to person. She greeted all with open arms and a big smile. They couldn’t get over it, not realizing she had been craving this attention for most of her life. She had come from a place with many babies and only a handful of nannies, where they were often left in their cribs or little wooden chairs for hours on end.
Me, on the other hand, a new adoptive mom, worried about her eagerness to go to strangers. Was she not bonding with me, attaching to me? Both are essential to a child’s development especially for a child who has spent more than the first year of her life in an orphanage. Bonding is the trust that develops when a baby gets his or her basic needs met. Attachment is the emotional connection that grows out of the bonding cycle.
I need not have worried. My friend remembers watching Maddi-Fu sitting in her high chair and never taking her eyes off of me as I walked across the room to answer the phone and back again. A standard follow-up question for adoptive parents is, “Who does she go to when she hurts herself and needs comforting?” Thankfully, I could always answer “me” or “her dad”. One time she bumped her chin and someone scooped her up to console her. But, she was having none of that, she wanted to come to me for comfort instead. Phew, what a relief!
We are so fortunate to have the International Adoption Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) here in Ottawa. She was measured, weighed, examined, and re-vaccinated. We were told she had received all her vaccinations but sometimes the information you get is not always accurate and sometimes the vaccines are not effective. So, we opted to re-do them just in case.
Our babies from China were naturally behind in their physical, mental and emotional development but usually caught up quickly with the love and attention of their new families. They often had a flat spot on the back of their head from lying in their cribs for long periods of time and Maddi-Fu was no exception. They tested and checked everything – urine, bloodwork, hearing, eyesight, you name it. She had a higher than normal level of lead in her system, which again was typical of babies from China, but that came down in time. Over the years, we have often felt that physically and intellectually Maddi-Fu was right on target for her age, even a bit ahead, but her emotional age was always younger.
Shortly after we arrived home, she took her first 6 steps on her own, and then she started to run and she has never looked back. She was constantly on the go and only had one speed…overdrive.
She took many tumbles but always got right back up and kept on going. I think we had her for about two months, when she tripped and hit her head on the ceramic tile step up to our kitchen. She had a huge goose egg, a cut on her forehead, and a black eye. By coincidence we were already bringing her to the clinic at CHEO that same morning. We felt like the worst parents in the world. She looked much the worse for wear but thankfully she was fine.
Adding to the drama, that very weekend we had a reunion with the other families who had adopted from the same orphanage. Oh boy, but we soon realized just how active and fearless she was. The other babies were more cautious. When they entered through the sliding glass doors, they held onto the door frame and carefully stepped over the threshold. Maddi-Fu barreled right through, no hands, and of course fell more times than not. It was after that, that our house was padded. All the sharp edges and corners were covered with rubber stick-on bumper pads.
For a period of time she experienced alopecia or hair loss. Her crib would be covered in hair when she woke up in the morning. She had a thin spot, not quite bald, on the left side of her head. It was very worrisome. The doctor at the clinic couldn’t explain it. We didn’t see her pulling or tugging on her hair even when we checked on her during the night. I guess it was just a period of stress for her although, at the time, she seemed like a happy, healthy, normal child. We are thankful it didn’t last long, and now she has long, beautiful, thick hair.
When Maddi-Fu and I were out and about together, there were no curious stares or questions because we looked alike. When we were out as a family, everyone assumed we were a mixed-race family and our daughter just happened to look like me. In fact, we were out having brunch one day and the ladies at the next table were admiring Maddi and commented, “Oh, she looks just like her mother”, which of course made me smile with pride whether she looked like me or not.
My husband never got any comments or questions when he was out with her on his own. He thinks it’s because he was always so focused on her and oblivious to others and had a “don’t mess with us” look. I’m not so sure.
I think, in general, people are more inclined to stop a mother and ask questions as opposed to a father. Within the adoption community, we have heard many interesting, sometimes amusing, and sometimes disturbing stories. It is amazing what total strangers will ask, not thinking about the intrusiveness of their questions. Would you stop a stranger with a newborn and ask how her labour went?
However, people would often make the comment, “She is so lucky”. We would always reply, “We are the lucky ones”. I understand where they were coming from. Her life would have been a lot different had she remained in China. But, it put her in the role of the victim, like we had to rescue her. And make no mistake, it was not a selfless, altruistic act on our part. We wanted a child, we wanted a family. You could even say we were being the selfish ones, taking her away from her birth country.
My husband and I recall meeting with a financial advisor, an older, experienced gentleman. He regaled us with a story about friends of his, a retired, well-to-do couple who had adopted a set of twins from China after their biological children had grown up and moved away from home. He chuckled about how it was like those kids had won the lottery, how lucky they were. That did not sit well with us and we eventually asked to have another advisor assigned to our account.
We have talked to Maddi-Fu about her adoption, her birth parents, and her birth country since day one. Even when she couldn’t understand us. I created a story book for her. We read it to her every day and she still has it. It is a treasured keepsake. I hope she will keep it forever and pass it down to her children.
As she grew older, she had some questions for us. Sometimes she would wonder if her birth mother looked like her. I would answer, “Yes, I bet she has the same big brown eyes, and lovely thick dark hair just like you”. I would let her look in the mirror and say that is what your birth mother looks like. For the last 4 years or so, she has not given it much, if any, thought even though once in a while we will casually bring it up. She seems perfectly happy and content being a Canadian teenager.
We have always been open about her adoption. But, when she was 7 or 8 years old, she overheard me chatting about her adoption to another mom at the park. Afterwards, she said to me that I should really check with her first before telling people about her adoption. She was right. Since then, I have always asked if I can share her story. She has always responded yes, just like she gave me her blessing to share it in this blog with you. It’s not about being secretive. It’s about being respectful of her private information. She gets to choose.
To this day, though, when people discover she is adopted, they will often ask us if she knows she is adopted. I am always a little taken aback by this question, even amused by it. We are not in the dark ages anymore. I can’t imagine keeping such things a secret especially from your child. It’s who they are. This question is especially disconcerting when they ask it in front of her. Well…if she didn’t know she was adopted, she certainly does now!
Ottawa has a vibrant adoption community. One of the life savers for us was the Open Door Society playgroup for adopted children and their parents or caregivers. We looked forward to those Friday morning playdates every week. We made lifelong friends there. We could share our experiences, stories, advice. Have you run into this issue? What did you do? What works for your child? What doesn’t?
Maddi-Fu and I went to that playgroup faithfully for more than 5 years. We went even when I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Maddi was 6 years old then. Those were the days of half day kindergarten and fortunately, Maddi attended school in the afternoon. Maddi met one of her best friends there. The two of them were two peas in a pod right from the beginning and still are today. They were probably more active than all the other kids put together. Her mom and I bonded over our shared experience. Her daughter is a year younger than Maddi. Even now, her mom says she always knows what’s coming down the road because Maddi does it first and sure enough, her daughter follows suit.
Maddi-Fu used to attend Chinese language classes with her little friends. When they sang songs, and danced, she loved it. Once they had to start learning the Chinese characters and do homework, she lost interest. Even though we would love for her to have a third, native tongue language, and she will probably blame us later in life for not making her go to class, I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to continue. It’s difficult to learn a language in an hour a week when you’re not exposed to it on a daily basis, when your parents don’t speak it at home. In other families, one parent has learned the language right alongside their daughters. I think that’s fantastic!
The best thing about our community is our kids have remained good friends. They have grown up together even though we are dispersed throughout the city, province, and country. We only get together 2 or 3 times a year now typically for Chinese New Year, the Harvest Moon Festival, or our adoption day celebration. The kids, mostly girls, pick up right where they left off. It warms my heart to see how they have grown over the last 12 years and developed different personalities, different interests, but still seem to share a common bond…a red thread.
It’s interesting to think how our daughters will be this blip in history, when more than 12,000 Chinese babies, mostly girls, came to Canada over a period of about 20 years. And then it was over. It was at its peak when we adopted, but it drastically slowed down right after that. Wait times extended to 5, 6, even 7 or more years. We were told babies were being adopted domestically. I hoped that was the case. And now the program is pretty much closed except for older child, special needs adoptions. The one-child policy was officially phased out in China in 2015.
Our adoption group is talking about a homeland visit, taking our daughters back to China in the next year or two. It will be fun to go back as a group, for the girls to experience it together. And now that they are teenagers, it is probably the only way we will get them there! Material for a future blog post…
Have you adopted, internationally or domestically, from China or elsewhere? Please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear your story. Or if you know of someone who has adopted, please share this blog post with them. Thanks for reading.
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna Designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made wellness wear for women. Five percent of online sales are donated to the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre in support of their Head Start Program for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.