I need to write about last week. I probably should have written daily, as I tried to do the week before, but I just couldn’t. For one thing, with two babies, four arms are occupied almost constantly. For another thing, I’ve been sick for the last week or so with a cough and congestion, so I’ve preferred sleep to blogging. But those might just be excuses for the big reason I didn’t write: I was afraid to write what I felt, and then look back later and be ashamed of what I had written. No, it’s more like I was afraid of expressing something in a way that later on would be hurtful to Saige. I don’t want that, but I do want to be real about what we encountered with her, as I believe it is a trial God gave us for the purpose of further developing our faith and broadening our experience for the purpose of ministering to others.
Here’s a post I wrote on the 12th, a day without internet.
A new road
The last couple of days have been altogether new to us. Transition into our family has gone so smoothly for Emet, Jamin, and even Glory, but Saige is a different story. So far, her entrance has been a bit choppy. We’re learning how to help her deal with mealtimes, waiting to be served rather than whimpering and screaming between each bite. And we’re praying for discernment regarding her almost perpetual discontent. We suspect we will wind up having some attachment issues with this little daughter, and I’m not very excited about that.
I feel blessed to have just recently completed a study of James with the ladies at our Foreign Fellowship in Wuhan. Through that study, I began to understand that to James, considering trials joy was not merely finding a silver lining, or looking on the bright side of things. It isn’t optimism, it is surrender to the God who sent the trial, and genuinely looking forward to the result: steadfastness. And here is my trial. Here is my test: a child who screams to be in my arms, then, once there, pushes me a way. A child who, when put down because she’s screaming about being up, throws herself down and bangs her head against the floor or the wall. A child who, when I do not feed her quickly enough will slam her head into my sternum as she yells about there not being food in her mouth, though she has food in both of her hands.
Please pray with us for Saige. And please pray for us- it is difficult to care for (and, dare I say it? love) a child who is inconsolable, but the challenge increases when there is sweet, happy Glory who rarely makes a fuss, and two energetic boys that need attention, too. There have been shining moments, for which we are thankful- a chubby cheeked smile, a wave of the arm, or an appropriate silence between mouthfuls, but these glimmers seem so faint given her more frequent behavior.
On Monday, December 10th we received this quiet little girl. She happily played on the bed with her new sister, Glory, banging two cups together and smiling occasionally. She ate slowly. Very slowly. So slowly I wasn’t really sure how we were going to manage mealtimes for the next 17 or 18 years. She let out a little cry at bed time, then passed out, on her back, little fists on either side of her head.
Tuesday we signed her adoption paperwork, and Han Huixiu became Saige Annalise Magnuson. She was a little fussy. I figured she didn’t really like the carrier. And then we had started the day crazy early, too, so being tired, in a new place, exposed to a new language and people, all seemed sufficient reasons to be grumpy. But then in the evening, when we stayed in for dinner, we began to see a different side of Saige.
As we ate dinner, she became angry when I took a bite if there was no food in her mouth. She would hold food in both of her hands, but then demand that I put food into her mouth. It wasn’t fun, but we thought she was just very hungry.
On Wednesday, we had another early morning as we went to visit Saige’s orphanage in Xuzhou. We took the bullet train north 1 1/2 hours, then toured the brand new facility that Saige called home for a whopping 2 days! We have a picture of the exterior of the orphanage where she did actually live, but that was not the building we saw. I’ll post some pics of the orphanage later; I don’t want to detract from the subject at hand.
She was angry all through breakfast, unwilling to feed herself, and demanding food be ready to fill her mouth the second she swallowed. During our travel and our orphanage visit, Saige was grumpy. She griped and cried whenever I sat down instead of stood while holding her. At the orphanage she eagerly went to her former care givers, and did not reach for me when I took her back.
Following the tour, the orphanage director, Ms. Tong, along with several people who work in the orphanage office, took us to lunch. It was wonderful food, and there were many new things for us to try. But Saige was hungry. And the moment she saw food, she went ballistic! She screamed any time her mouth was empty. She held food, and refused to feed herself. She banged her head backwards on my chest, and arched her back. She threw herself forward, hitting her head on the table. She knocked food she didn’t like from my hand, and spat it out of her mouth. And all this in front of the orphanage officials!
Our guide, Jin, and Mrs. Tong both offered to hold Saige so I could eat. I declined, telling them I did not want Saige to think that this kind of behavior would change her situation. She continued in this uncontrollable behavior throughout the meal. Ms. Tong told me, as Jin translated, that she thought I had “spoiled her already. She was always so gentle and easy going.”
My “gentle and easy going” baby cried whenever I sat down in the car or on the train. She fought us at dinner, and screamed when she saw her bottle until I could get it securely plugged into her mouth. It was a hard day. And Thursday was more of the same. If she was awake, she was screaming.
Jesse and I prayed. I felt really disappointed, and unprepared for the challenges that seemed unavoidable. Attachment disorders scare me. I’ve seen friends go through some really serious stuff with their children with attachment disorders, and it is a lot of work. A whole lot of work. Not like a quick-fix surgery that requires a couple months to recover. Attachment disorders can take a lifetime to overcome.
Thursday night we had a little break through. Jesse, who had been taking care of our other three while Saige and I tried to work things out, and with whom Saige did not want anything to do, decided he would feed Saige at dinner. We sat down at the table, and Saige began squawking. When the food came, it intensified to a screech as she screamed through our prayer and banged on the table with her hands. She pulled all the same stunts, but then Jesse took her off his lap and sat her on the high-backed bench behind him where she was safe, but separated from both the family and the food. Boy, did she howl! Never have I been more thankful for a noisy restaurant and a big table to keep the waitresses from attempting to comfort our baby!
Y When she calmed down a bit- I don’t think she was quiet, but she wasn’t screaming any more, Jesse brought her back up on his knee and fed her some more. As she began to scream once again, he removed her from the table, and the whole process cycled through at least 5 times. By the end of the meal, it was taking her less time to calm herself, and longer for her to get worked up into a frenzy.
I think it was that evening, and if it wasn’t it was the next morning, that Saige began to smile again. She would wave at me when I looked at her playing on the bed, and yell to me, “Ma! Ma!” She was less adverse to Jesse holding her, and in the next few days even reached for him when he put out his arms for her.
I was dreading our Friday flight to Guangzhou because she would have to sit on my lap the whole time, I was afraid she would scream throughout the flight, and they would serve us a meal on the plane. God provided that Saige was happy to sit on my lap. She played with me, and even with Emet across the aisle. Then she charmed the grandpa sitting next to us, and was asleep when they served the food, which meant I got to eat some, and could concentrate on feeding her. And truthfully, it is easier to deal with a cranky, hungry baby when I am not cranky and hungry myself.
Since arriving in Gunagzhou, things have been so much better! We have continued to remove her from the table when she is throwing a fit, and we’re helping her to sign “More,” to replace the screaming. We’ve also made a point of snacking in front of her and not giving anything to her. Not in a torturous way, of course, but after she has eaten and is full, we’ll eat a cracker as we straighten up the room. The reason for this is we suppose she never, or rarely saw a caregiver eat in front of her. All day every day of her life she’s been part of a schedule that is all about caring for babies. Whatever food she saw was for her, and it was only out when it was her mealtime. The food was never too hot, and she wouldn’t have to wait on it because it was prepared and cooled before she was ever plopped in her chair to be fed. But in a family, she has to become accustomed to not always eating the same thing at the same time as every person in the family, and she also has to get used to the idea that her parents do, and need to, eat.
We’ve applied the separation consequence in other ways as well. For instance, when it is nap time and she is screaming in her bed, we’ll cover the rail with a towel so she can’t see us until she has calmed down, then we remove the towel.
She seems to be responding well to these efforts to correct and direct her behavior. She seems happier, and is becoming more active. She gets excited when she sees the carrier, because it means we’re going out. She likes to give me her toys, and receive kisses in return. She can balance a cup on her head like a champ. She likes to chew on the socks Glory sheds as soon as her shoes are off. She is throwing fewer and fewer fits, although if she is awakened prematurely, watch out!
I am so thankful to see this progress. It is such a great encouragement! I know that we are not out of the woods. Not with Saige, and not with any of our kids. There will always be challenges to overcome. And God will always be there to lead us through it. Thanks for your continued prayers for our family! We could not ask for a more precious blessing!