My first glimpse of her she was sitting at a table in a small coffee shop. She seemed quiet and reserved and maybe a little confused about her current surroundings. As we entered the room, the quiet transformed into noisy introductions. Parents were meeting their children for the first time. The air was filled with a mixture of fear, excitement, and uncertainty.
The nannies rattled off details regarding their schedules, gave us a brief idea about eating habits, and told us tidbits regarding their personalities. Our little girl was pushed into our arms and she had been instructed well in her role. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, “Mama.” Then turned and did the same to David pronouncing him, “Baba.” Our hearts melted. She posed with us for a few pictures, sat on our laps while papers were signed, and smiled whenever we looked at her. It was a perfect introduction to our youngest daughter.
We had traveled by train with another adoptive family all morning and were looking forward to getting cleaned up at our hotel and then heading out to meet our little girl. When we arrived in Jinan, we discovered our children, along with their nannies, had been waiting in our hotel lobby for several hours. We were all happy to find the children somewhat content rather than distressed as a result of the long wait.
After the papers were signed, farewells were given, and luggage safely deposited, we were hurried off to get official pictures needed for documents we would sign the following day. The smiles and kisses we experienced in the lobby didn’t completely disappear, but fear seemed to be gaining a foothold.
It was well past lunch time and we were told the children hadn’t eaten. What was it the nanny had said as she was leaving? Something about Kylah not eating much solid food, I brushed it off sure that we could find something she could eat. I was wrong.
Our first outing was a disaster. In her 6 years of life, she had very little experience outside the walls of the orphanage. The normal sights and sounds of China terrified her. Walking any distance was exhausting. The normal treats we had shared with Chinese children dozens of times during our 9 years of living there were foreign to her. She had a meltdown in a grocery store and we, complete strangers to her, had to figure out how to calm and comfort her.
We weren’t strangers to adoption nor to Chinese culture, but we were struggling to understand the best way to help Kylah adjust to us and her new life. She seemed to have no recognition of her Chinese name. Her ability to communicate (in any language) was almost non-existent, although we saw her trying in the evening when it was just the three of us. She only ate liquids (good thing we had taken nutritious shakes with us) and things that dissolved quickly in her mouth.
We made a trip to her orphanage, about an hour from our hotel, to let her say goodbye to her friends and nannies. It also gave us a window into her life. And it was truly an “Ah ha” moment for us.
For whatever reason, Kylah had been deemed as special needs. Her room in the orphanage was filled with children who were unable to go to school, mostly non-verbal, many unable to get out of bed, self harm seemed normal, and frustration in the room was high. Her diagnosis was a mental and emotional disability with no hope of getting better. The nannies really didn’t know what to do with her.
It was as if she were hibernating. She had buried herself so deep and most believed she was destined to stay there, alone in the dark with no understanding of others and no one to understand her. When we entered that coffee shop on that cold January morning, this is the girl we met. She laughed and sang for no apparent reason, with no seeming connection to anyone or anything, and at the slightest inconvenience she would rail and scream as if rage and joy were the only two emotions possible in her world.
As the days went by, we would catch her looking at us, studying us. She would have the most serious face full of contemplation and worry. She didn’t yet trust us to meet her needs, physical, emotional, or in any other way. But that slowly began to change.
By the time we said goodbye to everyone at the orphanage, it was dark outside. We had an hour long trip down a mountain back to our hotel and Kylah sat snuggled in my lap crying. Not the angry outbursts we had come to expect, but quiet tears. She sunk deep into my arms and sobbed. Maybe it was the finality of those goodbyes or maybe she just knew life was changing. Regardless, she cried and allowed me to comfort her. And hope was sparked in my heart.
We came home without the expectation that she would eventually “get better” or “become normal.” We were uncertain what was really part of her and what was learned in an institution. We had no idea how many walls had been built around her tiny heart or if we would ever penetrate them all. We didn’t know what she was capable of but we were determined to give her every opportunity to succeed, whatever that looked like for her.
There have been many days when behavior threatened to squelch the little spark that was lit on the ride home from the orphanage. But, it has gradually grown brighter. Fewer places remain hidden and her mind is waking. We’ve been purposeful in helping her dig her way out of the darkness that once engulfed her. She is connecting with people, she’s learning healthy ways to express emotions, she’s learning to deal with stress in acceptable ways, and so much more. She still has a long way to go, but, in general, life is better and easier two years later.
We still have so much more to learn about this sweet girl that God gave us. There are still walls that surround areas of her heart and mind but we are resolved to continue digging deep and celebrating each victory along the way.
I just had to share some of the pictures from our time together two years ago. Enjoy this glimpse of our amazing girl.
Two years ago: the worry and fear were constant
Two weeks ago: hiking in the CO mountains with family
First meeting and spending time together:
Recent photo with Mom and Dad: