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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You), Mommy

Can I just say how much I've loved hearing from y'all these past few days? I haven't responded to emails and comments for awhile, mostly because I've been neck deep in baby and toddler clothes. And because last night my husband and I finally had the opportunity to watch the POV documentary Wo Ai Ni (I Love You), Mommy.

Have you seen it yet?

It felt very triggering for the husband and me, mostly because we know our daughter's experience, in many ways, mimicked Fang Sui Yong's journey to become Faith Sadowsky. Obviously international adoption is much more difficult for an eight-year-old. Or even for a three-year-old. Our daughter was just days from her first birthday when we met her, but after over five years parenting her, I can say with all certainty that the Tongginator felt her losses deeply; she just didn't have the language to communicate the emotions she felt.

I don't wish to pick apart what the Sadowskys did right and wrong.

Because - frankly - if someone placed a microphone and camera in my home for that long, during such a traumatic time, I'd cringe in fear at how we all might look.

But I did want to point out one major thing that I believe this documentary shows quite clearly. There is a tremendous power differential in adoption. We can see it throughout the film... the orphanage workers telling "Faith" that she should not feel afraid, that she needs to say "I love you" to her new mommy; the onus placed on Faith to learn English quickly rather than both sides meeting in the middle to learn Chinese and English together; constant requests from family members that Faith tell them how to "fix it" or communicate with them rather than simply sitting with her as she grieves; I could go on and on.

Adoptees have very little - if any - say in what happens to them.

Sometimes this power differential is prompted by the adoptive parents or adoption professionals. Sometimes it comes about because of circumstances. Yes, Faith gained much. She also lost just as much. So, too, did my daughter. I'm not saying that international adoption is wrong, although many DO believe that it is. What I am saying is that, as adoptive parents, we should do whatever we can to help our children regain some sense of control, some sense of power. Hold them as they grieve... LISTEN TO THEM... rather than rush to find a fix. Demand open and accurate records, both domestically and internationally, so that our childrens' lives are not hidden from them (and kuddos to the Sadowskys for insisting upon contact with the foster family). Give adoptees power over their life stories by sharing with them the known facts, so that nothing surprises them later in life. Grant your child permission, with your words and your actions, to love two (or three!) families at once. Meet them where they are.

Meet them where they are.

I didn't always do a good job of this as I stumbled my way through those first early months parenting the Tongginator. I cringe at some of the mistakes I made... I absolutely cringe. And I pray that I do better this next go-around. I know not every adoptee feels their losses as deeply as did Faith. Or even as deeply as did my Tongginator. But I know that it can happen, regardless of whether or not the child is verbal or too young to speak. And I know that some children feel it even more deeply than did Faith, as seen in this documentary.

Because international adoption is HARD. And Wo Ai Ni (I Love You), Mommy gives us a glimpse of just how hard it is. So what did y'all think of the film? And how did it make you feel?


LucisMomma said...

I have not seen the film yet.

but this comment you made--"Hold them as they grieve... LISTEN TO THEM... rather than rush to find a fix" really resonates with me! My DH (who had been gone for 13 months in 2008-2009 in Afghanistan) thought I was planting thoughts in our DD's head about "China Mommy," since the sadness is usually just for me to see. Until this past weekend. DD (now 5 years old) had a meltdown and began crying for her China-Mommy. DH was in another room, and I told her "please go tell Daddy." He had to hold her and listen to her grief.

That hole of loss is so deep.

Annie said...

Very well said TM. Hubby and I watched last week and while we did gringe at some of the ways this family chose to handle things, I agree that if there had been a camera in my house right after we got home, I am certain I would gringe at some of the ways I handled Lizzie's journey as well. Like you, I felt as thought they were rushing things a lot and not just letting her experience her feelings and grieving WITH her. I mean my goodness, the lose that child went through and the adjustment she had to make and the isloation she must have felt - way beyond what most of us have experienced in our lives! So I would agree, TM. You gotta let your children grieve and let them know that it ok to have those feelings. What better way to earn their love and trust!!!

Keating Mom said...

Well put! I think the film did a good job at what it set out to do- show the assimilation of an adopted child into American culture. Faith's struggle was hard to watch at times. I agree- there is much loss inherent in adoption. We can't gloss over that part.
At the same time I wanted to cheer for Faith and how she pushed through , lived it, felt it, and grew! It's how I feel about my little guy too- he works through the hard stuff, and comes out on top. It is inspiring :)
(Of course, I'm glad there's not a camera on me;) )

Laurie said...

I've been waiting to hear what you thought of it- glad you finally had the opportunity to see it. I must say that I cried throughout most of the movie. It was just downright painful for me- and mostly due to the lack of holding/loving/patience shown in the movie. I stress "shown in the movie" because we all know that editing takes away the true scene. All I wanted to do when it was over was hop on a plane and go meet an 8 year old girl. Just sayin'.

Aus said...

Great work here TM - you ought to cross post this one to NHBO....a couple thoughts....

Being mere mortals (though we wish we were perfect parents / spouses / friends etc) - I guarantee you that 5 years from now you will be cringing at the mistakes you make on your next go round - trust me - I'm 3 for 3 on goofups!

At least when we make mistakes in pushing the kids for commuication or providing us a fix we are making a mistake of the head! Most all of us adoptive parents intrinisically (and sometimes even intellecutally) know that the one big source of grief for our kids is their LACK of power - they were abandoned without their input, given to a US family w/o input, thrust from one culture to another (radically different) w/o input - the list just goes on and on. I like to think when we are asking our kids what we can do to fix it - we are really trying to return to our kids 'their power'!

And finally - if our experience is common (and I think that it is!) the grieving goes on for many many years - it just changes 'form' or 'perspective' as the child ages. Brianna has been home for 7.5 years and was handed to Marie at the age of 6 months....and still every 6 or 8 weeks has a 'moment' when she grieves and misses or wants to return to her former life. Well - the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and all of that - and these moments aren't as emotionally charged as they once were - but I really don't think they will ever go away....she will always wonder 'what if'....and for my part I'll always want her to, as long as at the end of the day she's still happy to be home!

We haven't watched the video, I don't know that we will, we've walked many of those roads as long as their family, and every family and situation is just so different....but for those that are thinking about IA I think it is time well spent - and for those 'new' to building a family from the heart it's probably good too - but I get a world of different experiences and idea's here - and maybe a tad more honestly. But I am SO PROUD of the Sadowsky's for opening their experiences to the world - and I thank them a great big bunch for that!

Love your heart - thanks for sharing your thoughts....

aus and co.

Jennifer P said...

A wise social worker said to me, "There is no gain without some loss." This helped me to understand the shadow that went over my 4 year old's face when people congratulated her on her (domestic) adoption. Worse yet is when they tell her how lucky she is. Lucky to lose everything she ever knew or had? Do we really understand what it is like to be stripped of your life as you have known it? I know I don't but I sure try to be patient and allow those grieving times, crying jags, and emotions that surface from time to time. As a trans-racial family like yours, this is a life long process because it's pretty obvious that we chose our family!

Kudos to the Sadowskys for the level of contact in China. That was a good reminder for me.

Michelle said...

YES!! You hit it dead on...thank you for your eloquent words.

Football and Fried Rice said...

I haven't seen the film, but would like to! ((where did you find it?))

While I don't feel this need to "dwell" on Mya's grief (it doesn't define WHO she is, but it is VERY much a PART of her) - we HAVE to recognize the reality of it.

Would she even KNOW the words "China Mommy"? had I not taught them to her? No. Is that wrong? absolutely not! Yes, we talk about her losses (mostly her foster family and her foster brother, now living in Denmark) she has shutterfly books filled with pictures of them and her. She tells me she misses them.

I"m sure she does.

I can't make her void promises. I can only tell her how much I love her and how I'm sorry that she misses them.

I think I "get" her grief & loss the more time goes on with her. I think in the beginning, we were both pretty overwhelmed. I am glad that I get this time & opportunity with her to walk this road. God has truly blessed us!

Great Post!


p.s.I felt awful when we first met Mya and she had this dead look in her eyes when they nudged her towards me and said, "there's your Mama"......what must have been going through her little mind & heart?

sara said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but it's on my list.

My brother's children are Vietnamese. He brought his daughter home at 11 months and his son at about 2. The differences in the two experiences are staggering.

His daughter was in foster care with a single caregiver. They have information about her biological mother. She was loved and taken care of wonderfully. My brother had a picture of her and her caregiver in her room so she could still have that connection. They also spent a great deal of time at the local Vietnamese Center.

My nephew on the other hand was left under a tree and then bounced around foster care and orphanages. He had no single caregiver and has definite attachment issues as a result. They have no information about him at all. His age was estimated, his birthday assinged. He is a complicated little man.

And while my niece loved the interaction at the Vietnamese Center, my nephew wanted nothing to do with it. He withdrew from the language and the people there.

Having seen that and having gone through a domestic adoption myself I am constanty struck by how different each one is, because each child involved is so different.

Gail said...

I haven't been able to watch it yet, but I am...hopefully this weekend. I've seen some clips and 2friends who have seen the film have told me about it.

Having adopted a baby(12mo. old) and a 2.5 year old toddler, there was a world of difference with their transitions. I 'got' both of my children's grief and loss from the beginning and allowed them to grieve. I'm not sure the mom in the film did, though I shouldn't criticize her since I haven't seen the film yet. The most important advice I give friends who are adopting is that it's lifelong process.

We are thinking about adopting again, an older child through the SN program. I know watching the film will help me greatly.

And as my daughter who is now 8 gets older, I 'get' her loss even more if that makes sense.

Thanks for the post TM. :)

Holly said...

Well I come at this with a bias- I know Donna Sadowsky and think she is a fabulous Mommy.
I truly CAN NOT IMAGINE allowing the cameras in my face during such an emotional time...knowing the world was later going to be judging my every move. I think Donna really and truly was herself and not putting on any airs. With that being said, I think that there were some moments in the film that gave the impression that she was a bit too demanding of Faith and maybe not as compassionate as the viewers would have liked her to be. What we MISS is all the moments in between film shots that truly paints the ENTIRE story. And I can honestly say that when Faith was crying to go back to China and Donna just held her and stroked her hair I was wondering if I might have been able to keep it together or if I might have felt like crying too. Also, keeping up with the foster family in China DESPITE how it might make THEM feel, the Sadowsky's were truly looking at Faith's interests and not their own. I too cried through much of the film. I too cringed when the O-workers were telling Faith to tell her new Mommy that she loved her. Their intentions might have been good..but seriously?
It is a painful journey- adoption. But I still stand behind it....especially when children have been abandoned and have NO ONE but orphanage staff.
I say three cheers for Faith Sui Yong! She is the true hero!!

Colin and Jill Canada said...

I really enjoyed Holly's comment...above.

No one is perfect.

I think we all go into adoption thinking nothing but the best for our child (I did) and sometimes we do stumble and fall and error (I did).

We learn so much along the road, and we look back and well, hindsight is always 20/20.

Can't wait to watch this movie. I'm sure there are things in it that I could learn from. Just like there are many things on your blog TM that have made me think and learn from. I appreciate it. :)


Wendy said...

I've been parenting for 18 years and I still cringe...sometimes at things I did last week! And that's ok, I've learned. Being a good mom is all about being on learning curve! We all make mistakes; it's owning up to them and moving forward with and in love that makes the difference.

Life with Kaishon said...

I would really love to see that movie. I can't imagine what that would be like to go thru as an 8 year old. That has to be very terrifying.

The Raudenbush Family said...

I had a very hard time watching it. My heart broke for the little girl. She seems happy and well adjusted now. But, I cried several times throughout and thought that the producer (I'm hoping it was an editing thing) made it seem like the mother was making it more about her than about her child. I agree wholeheartedly though that it's a short program of a long and arduous process. So, I'm trusting that they cut a lot of stuff out. But, because of that, it really made it look like tragic mistakes were made, mistakes that made me cry watching it.

Number 6 and no more counting! said...

I am going to watch it. I am a little afraid but will watch. Thank you, my friend.


Suzy said...

I found it really interesting when I saw it with my son earlier in the summer. I began crying as the film opened - which I hadn't expected since I don't cry much anymore. Watching babies, toddlers, and older children being joined with their new families always makes me cry, though, so it shouldn't have surprised me. I've read that Donna DID learn some Mandarin before she went to China, but Faith spoke Cantonese. And I really believed then & now that she was pushing the Faith to learn English SO she could empower her to express her needs & desires. It's just hard all the way around, though, and there is no prescribed right way to do it or we could just educate ourselves and follow the formula. I completely agree, though, that some times it is just best to be there while our children grieve because you can't fix their loss.

Marla said...

Just hit "publish" on my take of this as well, TM. I like the your quote of "meet them where they are", those are wise words.

snekcip said...

I had very mixed emotions about the film and was a little apprehensive about watching it. I watched the "trailer" about the film and even watch the interview of the film-maker Stephanie Want-Breal. I wanted to "prepare" myself for witnessing "raw emotions" of a little girl that was being thrust into "culture shock". While I think it's easy to judge, I think it was some difficult parts in the film to watch. I found myself grieving with a little girl that was "pushed" to learn English, and "pushed" to communicate her feelings verbally. It was hard to watch her struggle to "maintain" her native language and communicate w/her family via skype! The look on her face when she realized "her little sister" in China, said "she didnt know how to communicate" with her, is forever in my memory. It was like watching a part of her "disappear" right before our very eyes.

The Sadowsky's seem like wonderful people, as with all parents, none of us are perfect. I guess I'm trying to say, if there was a camera in each one of our houses, we probably would all be criticized surely.

My hat's off to Faith, I couldn't think of a better name for a more beautiful and courageous little girl. She truly "kept the faith" and it proved to sustain her thru such a difficult transition!

Stephanie truly captured the "real side" of adopting. I think some tend to glamorize adoption and fail to realize the "hidden emotion" behind what the kids has to cope with. I think it's a PERFECT film that all adopting parents need to see. Both internationally and domestic adoptions!

lmgnyc said...

I liked this movie very much because finally we get to see something from the adoptee's point of view.

The internet is full of blogs from the AP's pov. We see blog after blog of PAPs about to travel, APs just home, then there are all of us, right? tee hee. ;-)

Not to mention the adult adoptees. The internet is full of them. I've seen plenty of them thank you very much.

I liked this film because it showed a real child, who could have been my child, going through the transition--and we had a translator there. And man, oh man, it was excruciating. It was so hard to watch this. I guess I was internalizing it. I kept picturing my daughter in Sui Yong's place.

This was hard to watch, but so very important to see.

My daughter is my hero. She is without a doubt the bravest person I know.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I thought what you thought. :)

I saw a really interesting interview with the filmaker. I actually found the movie so harsh that I thought maybe the filmaker was anti-adoption, but in her interview she felt that the criticsm of the mom was harsh. Interesting.

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

I watched the documentary twice....the first time I was so taken my Faith's grieving it was hard to concentrate on anything else, and I will admit that my first instinct was to say that Donna was not endearing or compassionate to the grief she was going through....... but after I slept on it, I began to wonder if we were seeing the "entire picture".......

I believe that the filmaker picked the scenes she wanted to show......and it did not always place Donna in the best light because she did not show what led up to that scene. As many have said, it is hard to get a true sense in just 76 minutes of footage over an 18 month span.

I have read many of the comments left by others in disucssion groups and have been more than horrified by the things that have been said about Donna and her family. No one has the right to place judgement on them......

I know if I was followed around with a video camera, there would be some not so pretty scenes captured and people might call me harsh too. I give the Sadowsky's so much credit for doing this and putting their lives out there for others to see and learn about adopting an older child internationally.

Great Post!

Happy Weekend~



Norah said...

M turned 8 during our adoption in China. It was helpful for me to see Faith grieve. M has never expressed feelings appropriately , so to see a child go through what she did at the same age and express her feelings the way you and I would, well it was helpful... I watched it 3 times and M watched it twice. Sadly, I had her write about it in her diary and she noted that Faith was happy in the end, but not her.

sliy said...

I recently saw this film, and had a different perspective. We are not adoptive parents, but my husband is Cuban born Chinese. He often talks about his loss of culture. I thought the movie was heartbreaking. I had previously been very pro-international adoption, but after watching this my option has changed. I agree that international adoption should be the very last possible option.

Janet said...

I haven't seen it, but would like to. And I, too, CRINGE about how I reacted to some things, how I dealt with things. I was so....ignorant. It still bothers me. And I am quite sure I am making numerous mistakes now. Because NO parent is perfect, adoptive or bio. We can only do our very best. And cringe afterwards.

Anonymous said...

As an adult adoptee, I wasn't sure about where the having seen enough of adult adoptees "thank you very much" was coming from. Just because you go on the internet and read some blogs doesn't mean you've really engaged with adult adoptees. How many do you talk with in your real life?

I agree we need to hear from adoptees that are still kids. But remember, adult adoptees can tell us about their childhoods.

Found that comment insulting and condescending.

Patty O. said...

Wow, TM, as usual you bring up great points! And what's interesting to me is that your points can apply in many different situations. I have been thinking about emotions and how we deal with them, because Charlotte has been really emotional lately. I think it is her (newly diagnosed, as of yesterday) SPD, but I have noticed that my first instinct is to tell her to stop crying, everything is ok.

Which then makes me think of my dad who ALWAYS got angry if I cried or was emotional and how that has made for some issues as an adult. Anyway, I have realized that I shouldn't just try to shush my kid; I should listen to them and try to understand and validate what they are going through. THAT is what is going to help them not only feel better, but be more emotionally healthy in the future.

I guess your post just made sense to me, because I think in general, with other people (but especially with kids) we tend to discourage grieving or processing uncomfortable emotions. And when we do that we miss major opportunities to help our kids deal with their emotions in a healthy way.

Yoli said...

The child never had a choice, not with keeping her name, not with having this most stressful and painful of times kept private. The mother decided to strip even that from her and now finds herself defending that decision. It is very telling how many excuse her, the focus always on the poor adoptive parent, not the child. As a matter of fact this whole film was not about the child. The truth is that the mother was not prepared to adopt an older child, she could have done research but she decided that since she already adopted once, she was probably a pro. This is a story about how a child was forced into adapting so that she could fit in. The Mom cannot get upset about the comments made. You place the life of your child for the world to see and you are going to get feed back. What is done is done and we can debate it back and forth to no avail. I do hope parents watching this film learn from the mother's mistake.