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Life After Adoption

Two days after my husband and I adopted our second daughter, Lucy, at age 6 months from an orphanage in Vietnam, she stopped eating. Completely. She'd writhe and howl when we put the bottle to her mouth, which meant we had to force-feed her with a syringe—an agonizing undertaking for all involved.

Our older, biological daughter, Olivia, was also capable of pulling scary stunts (like keeping us awake for four months straight), but because we'd known her from the second she was born, it felt different. She'd arrived as a blank slate in a way that Lucy did not, and we knew, for the most part, what to expect with her. But Lucy's time spent in a Hanoi orphanage meant that she had a tiny history, a way of doing things. We spent the first few months together learning and adapting to each other's respective "ways of doing things." The process was filled with challenges, yes (like Lucy's hunger strike), but feeling our love grow more and more every day was the ultimate reward.

If you're bringing an adopted child home, whether from across the globe or across the state, expect your own set of challenges as well. Here's some help in making the transition as smooth as possible.

"She's not eating enough!"

No physical cause for Lucy's hunger strike was ever found, and two weeks later her appetite returned as suddenly as it had disappeared. In retrospect, we wonder if it was a grief reaction, which is not uncommon in adopted babies.

"Even babies as young as 4 months old can experience loss," says Karen Rispoli, a psychotherapist and adoptive parent. "They're losing the sights, sounds, smells, and people that are familiar to them, and may react in different ways, one of which is by eating less."

Or more. Some babies may overeat because they hadn't been getting enough food where they were. For toddlers, one way to reassure them that food is plentiful is to leave Cheerios or teeny bites of soft fruit out on a low table; usually, once they see that food is available when they want it, overeating resolves itself. If you're worried your baby isn't eating enough, or if unusual eating habits last for more than two weeks, consult your pediatrician.

If possible, ask your baby's previous caretaker what kind of formula or cereal she was eating, and purchase several cans of it (note that even the same brand's formulations differ from country to country).