If you've been following along on Facebook or Instagram, you know the countdown to departure is on and our minds may already be in China! I wanted to take a few moments of your time and share a little about our trip, some of the things we are anticipating, and also our plan for arriving home. It seems most appropriate, especially this Thanksgiving week, to say again how thankful we are for each of you who played a role in bringing Mila home. There are so many of you who sacrificially gave, offered support and help, prayed for us, celebrated with us, followed along in your own ways. You are all so precious to us and we wouldn't be here if not for the overwhelming support we received from 'our people.' Thank you!
We depart San Diego early Thanksgiving morning! Austin is THRILLED to be missing Thanksgiving dinner (too many foods touching each other, savory foods that are sweet, sweet foods for dinner, etc, etc... weirdo.) We hop up to LA- our favorite airport (not) for a couple hours before we head to... Tokyo! We then fly from Tokyo to Hong Kong. We will be staying in HK for two nights in an attempt to quickly reset our bodies to a new time zone and appear slightly less-zombie-esque when it comes time to meet Mila. On Sunday, we will take a bullet train to Guangzhou, China (GZ). Mila is from Guangdong Province so we will be in GZ our entire trip.
Monday, November 30 in the afternoon will be when we finally meet our daughter.
All countries have different practices for international adoptions. In China, it is an abrupt hand-off. Mila will meet us at a civil affairs office, accompanied by orphanage personal. We may have a few moments to speak with the orphanage staff and ask questions, but for the most part, they will bring her to us and leave. And she will be under our custody. We don't know how Mila will handle this- she may be terrified and fight us or she may completely shut down. Or something completely different. We have been praying for this moment for over a year and as far as we know, she has no idea we exist and are coming for her. I have zero expectations for how she should or shouldn't act, just that she will undoubtedly be very confused and possibly very frightened. And we will get through it. So friends, please pray for Mila's heart on Monday afternoon (Sunday evening your time).
The following day we return to the civil affairs office and officially make her a Nielsen! The following days will hold various appointments, medical exams, etc to enable Mila to come to the US. While these appointments are necessary, our main focus will be winning over our daughter's heart and building trust with her during this time. We will do whatever needs to be done and take our cues from her. This could possibly be the most boring trip across the world if we determine that Mila really just needs to stay in the hotel room and bond with us while we are in China. And that's OK!
Now is probably a good time to remind you of Mila's life up until now- really the life of any orphan living in an institution. She has lived at the same orphanage her entire life. Her entire world has been the same four walls and a small play yard inside the gates. Each day she wakes at the same time as other children- the same children she has seen every single day- is met by one of several care givers, given simple, bland meals that just meet the nutritional requirements of growing children. She has been taught to potty on a schedule, nap on a schedule, play, and go to sleep each night, all on a schedule. There is very little room for individuality in an orphanage setting. Caring for many children at once requires time management and efficiency. Not necessarily nurture. I've written before about institutionalized children and the eerie silence that results from them not having their cries heard and their needs met. As a defense mechanism, Mila will likely exhibit various behaviors that are not desirable or healthy in a family setting. But more on that in a bit...
We will be in GZ for about two weeks. Our final adoption related task is our consulate appointment where the final paperwork is submitted to receive Mila's visa to come to the US. As soon as Mila touches US soil, she will become a US citizen. After we receive Mila's visa, we will depart for Hong Kong and fly home on December 11, 2015.
We are arriving in San Diego at 1:14 PM on December 11. If you would like to catch a glimpse of the newest Nielsen, we would love to see you there!
This process has been a long journey, and though we will finally be home as a family of five, we recognize the season of adjustment that God has planned for our family. Because we know your care for Mila and our family, we want to share some information that we hope will best equip everyone around her to assist in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation- emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
In many ways, Mila will be like the children who entered our family through birth; we will seek to bring all of them up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. But there will be a few, initial differences in the way we have parented in the past.
We are confident of this: God’s design is PERFECT! His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker (usually mama) meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses & calms the baby – which teaches her that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.
Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and father at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts. Mila has experienced the loss of familiar and comforting caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country. When Mila comes home, she will very likely be overwhelmed. Everything around her will be new and she will need to learn not just about her new environment, but also about love and family. She has not experienced God’s design for a family having lived in an orphanage setting. Her world is turned upside down. She may struggle with feeling safe and secure and she may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs. The good news is that we can now, as Mila’s parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds.
The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed her. As this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that Mom and Dad are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Mila starts to establish this important bond, she will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships.Mila will have, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Although it may appear that we are spoiling her at times, we have been advised that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, and we are prepared to help her through it and prove that we are a forever family. You may also notice us tighten our circle a bit, stay close to home, and we may seem a little less available socially, for a while. Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on our personal research and instruction from trusted adoption educators and mentors. We will be doing what we believe is best to help her heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible.
Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping Mila settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:
The first is to set physical boundaries. We cannot WAIT to see some of you at the airport when we arrive home!!! Keep in mind... It is imperative adults limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with Mila. This will (for a while) include things like holding, hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage and foster care settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and very welcomed! Mila should know that the people with whom she interacts are our trusted family and friends.She is going to love each and every one of you!
Another area is redirecting Mila’s desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having Mom and Dad meet those needs. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually something that isn’t good for the child. To share this is difficult for us because you have openly loved on our other children and we have loved on yours as well, and treasure that connection. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Mila hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. But until she has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct her to us if you see that she is seeking out food, affection or comfort.
How does this look for Christmas and life with Corbin and Leo? Honestly, we don't know yet. It is our hope in writing this that you will extend us grace as we learn was Mila's needs are and seek to balance them with the needs of the other members of her family. We know there will be some element of holiday craziness - actually, at our house, its all the time craziness, not just holiday! We will be doing the best that we can to help our little girl settle into her family and will be praying like crazy that God's grace will cover over our mistakes!
Also, please feel free to ask us any questions at any time. We are learning too and are grateful that you are seeking with us to help Mila feel loved, safe, and secure. We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family and circle of friends for our precious Mila Christine. Thank you so much for your love and support through this process so far. We are so truly blessed!