Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Kidnapping to Come

One of our first pictures taken with
Jonas, just minutes after meeting him.
When we adopted Jonas, he had a pretty easy transition into our family. He had already been through a move from Russia to Kyrgyzstan, and he spent his days and nights with 15 or so other children and various caretakers who came and went on different days. He wasn't really attached to anything or anyone. In fact, we had a problem for awhile with indiscriminate affection...he would have kissed the grocery store clerk if I had let him!

Our first meeting with Jonas couldn't have been more picture perfect. Zack held out Jonas's stuffed dog, he took it from him and walked away a bit, I called his name, he came to me and let me hug and hold him, and we've never looked back. Yes, he had one hard grief-filled cry one night in the hotel, but otherwise, he attached pretty quickly and easily. He doesn't seem to remember much about Kyrgyzstan, other than what we've told him and shown him in pictures. He had just turned two, and the ten or so words he did know in Russian were quickly forgotten. We talk about how he used to live in Kyrgyzstan, but Jonas doesn't indicate any attachment to the people or memories we share with him.

We're not even sure she ever received
this book we made for her.
We're not expecting things to go quite so smoothly with Johanna. For one thing, she'll be twice his age on Adoption Day. She'll have memories, even if they aren't complete or concrete in the future, of her life before coming to us. She speaks and understands both Mandarin and the local dialect, so switching to English is undoubtedly going to be difficult and frustrating. She's old enough to have favorite foods, songs, games, etc. We may not know what those are or even have access to them, and she won't know how to tell us about them.

She's leaving behind friends and a foster brother. She's leaving her foster parents, and she'll probably never see them again. She's lived with her current foster family for two years, going "home" to them each night (they live on the orphanage grounds) after spending the day in the orphanage at "school". Two years is longer than Jonas has been with us, and I can't even imagine what it would do to him to be taken away from everything he knows.

Articles we've read have likened this adoption experience to a "kidnapping" of the most extreme kind. While we're obviously not out to do her harm, Johanna will have no way of knowing that. Yes, there seems to have been some rudimentary explanation given to her (at least from what we can tell in the video chats) that we are Mama and Baba (Daddy), but who knows what those words mean to her? How can you explain the concept of a forever family to a little girl who's never had one?

From Johanna's point of view, we are complete strangers she's seen on a phone screen a few times, calling her by a strange name, speaking to her in a language she can't understand, feeding her unusual food, expecting her to follow rules and customs she doesn't know, and taking her away from everything and everyone she's ever known and loved. I'd be pretty upset at us if I was her! What is likely to be one of the best days of our lives will be one of her worst.

Johanna and her foster mother
on her 4th birthday last week.
We don't know how she'll react, both on our first meeting and afterward. She might be totally freaked out, and that could manifest itself as silent compliance, fierce rejection, anger, crying, or a myriad of other things. Things might appear to go smoothly at first, and the grief may hit later, most likely at night. That grieving may last a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. It'll likely come and go, and it'll probably show up in various ways for years to come. Adoption is messy like that.

But, and this is where this post is not all gloom and doom, studies have shown that kids who formed strong attachments to caregivers or foster parents before being adopted actually do better in the long run than those who didn't have any attachments. Because they've formed attachments before, they are able to do it again, and this has positive long-term outcomes for not only family relationships, but adult friendships and romantic relationships as well. So while the grieving we might see at first will be difficult, eventually (hopefully) Johanna will transfer her attachment to us.

We do plan on visiting Johanna's orphanage with her a few days after Adoption Day. Fuzhou is a couple of hours away from Nanchang, where she will be brought to us at the hotel. Some people find this to be weird, thinking why would we bring her back to the place she was just taken from? Won't that trigger memories, confuse her, make her think she's going back, make her go through the pain of leaving all over again, etc.?

A rare smile was seen on
one of our video chat sessions.
Actually, most adoptive parents have found the opposite to be true. It seems to provide a sense of closure for the child. We'll have a facilitator with us to translate and explain to Johanna that she's not staying there. Seeing where she spent the first few years of her life will help us fill in the missing pieces for her when she's older and asks questions. And we'll be able to get priceless pictures of where she lived and who she spent her days with. Hopefully we'll also be able to ask some questions to those who took care of her on a regular basis. We probably won't get to meet her foster family, though it would be amazing if we did. We'll definitely ask.

And who knows? We're kind of expecting the worst and hoping for the best as far as Johanna's transition into our family. Maybe the whole thing will be easier than we could have ever imagined. Let's hope so! But we are prepared if it isn't, and we understand why that may be the case. I just hope her little heart can handle what's about to happen to her...both the heartbreak of leaving her homeland and the love of the family waiting for her to come home!


  1. We're praying for a smooth transition for you! Life as you know it is about to change drastically for all of you. May God bless your travels & family!

  2. You have Jonas and he will be the bridge in this transition for Johanna. Kids can communicate with each other in ways that adults will never understand. It is good that you are going into this with your eyes wide open and recognizing the challenges that will come. You need to know that you and Zack are amazing parents, and with a big brother like Jonas, love will translate in any language and Johanna will understand that. Go get her and bring her home!

  3. Wishing for a smooth transition. You guys are great!