There are a few things that new parents need to be aware of when their baby is first placed in their arms in China. Ways the baby has been raised that are different than the way Americans and (I assume) most Europeans will raise the child. If you don’t understand these things, life is going to be harder for parent and child.
For starters, the traditional potty chairs in China are not open on top, like a seat. Think of them more like a high chair that they can be strapped into, with sides coming up to keep them from falling off of it, a hole in the seat, and chamberpots under the hole. Babies are propped up in these chairs as early as a few weeks old, and learn to not “go” unless they are seated on the chair. In the home the mom learns the babies’ signals and puts the child in the chair when she sees them. In the orphanage, babies may spend hours a day seated on a chair, basically they sit there until they do something. And in some SWI’s they are spanked for “going” in their diaper. Depends on the orphanage, and the caretaker. Some orphanages just potty train infants for bowel movements, others also train for urine. Many families don’t understand why a child will go for days without a BM. Sure, some of that is the stress of leaving everything they know and being handed to strangers who look different than any other person they’ve ever seen. And some of it is the change in diet. But a lot of it can be that they are used to sitting on a potty for that, and that they’ve had consequences for using their diaper in the past. And now they are not being sat on a potty. Being held on the big toilet in your hotel room may not equate in their mind to being strapped into a wooden potty chair, they may not realize that is what the toilet is, they may have never seen a porcelain toilet before. (As with everything, there are no absolutes, some will have, but not all.)
Another thing that is different is the use of split pants. The use of split pants means that clothes don’t have to come off very often. Diapers can be changed without taking the pants off. The child can sit in the potty chair without removing pants. In the winter, it’s possible that a child may keep the same clothes on for weeks. Both of my girls hated to have their clothes removed. As new parents, we undressed GG too soon. She completely freaked. We waited longer before we undressed TT – four or five hours. She still freaked, but hopefully it wasn’t as much of a shock as being handed to people who almost immediately undressed her. Also, since they weren’t used to being undressed, they were no help at all in maneuvering. It was like dressing and undressing a newborn. Actually, probably worse than that, because they did not want their clothes removed and did their best to make it difficult, and then when we were putting more on they were pretty ticked off about the whole thing.
And this takes me to the issue of baths. Neither of my girls appeared to have ever been in a bath before. I didn’t push it. I cleaned both with a washcloth for a few days, until I hoped some trust was in place. They’d been that long without a bath, another day or two wasn’t going to hurt. And I took a bath by myself, with RK holding them so they could watch, for a few times before it was time for them to join me. And then I got in the tub, in about an inch and a half of water. and let them slowly get into the water. Standing on my leg, out of the water. Sitting on my leg, with just feet in the water. And finally, sitting in the water between my legs. One of them took to it a lot better than the other. Both were terrified at first, but I let them set the pace, and one of my girls was having fun by the end of the first bath, though it took a few times before the other actually enjoyed the process.
I don’t think this one is a cultural thing as much as an orphanage thing: Many SWI’s cut the end of the nipple off, so the formula just falls into the mouths of the babies, no sucking needed. The SWI workers add enough rice powder to the formula (or, just the water if there is no money for formula) to make it a little gloppy, so it falls out of the bottle slowly enough. The baby literally just lays and lets it fall into their mouth and swallows when needed. Both of my girls were accustomed to this and didn’t have a clue how to suck. To counter this you’ll need to take a lot of nipples, and every couple of days cut a hole that is a little smaller than the previous hole, (and make the formula a little waterier than it was for the previous nipple) until the child is finally sucking.
Oh, and the heat of the bottles. Both GG and TT were used to water that was practically scalding. On an orphanage visit I was horrified to realize how hot the bottles were for the babies. But, they are used to it, and won’t like it if it isn’t hot. Experiment around with temperature if you think you’ve got everything else right and the child is still not interested. I’m not advocating you start out with water that hot, just that if the child isn’t interested and you’ve tried everything else, make the water a little hotter than you think it should be.
I’ve heard lots of stories of toddlers and preschool aged children who had trouble eating from a fork or spoon, but were fine being fed with chopsticks. If you can’t handle chopsticks then take some cheater chopsticks with you to feed your child, just in case your child is a finicky eater and will only eat rice and other solids from chopsticks and not from a fork or spoon. It’s not forever, just until they get used to you and your ways. Those first days and weeks are hard, don’t make them harder than they have to be.
I’m sure there are things I’m missing. If people want to point them out in the comments I will add it to the post, so we can have them all in one place.
Part of forming attachment is in getting the child to trust you. Forcing them into a bath right away and scaring the bejeebers out of them is not going to help your case very much. And if you give the child a regular bottle that they don’t know what to do with, they may wonder about your parenting skills. Think of it from their end, if the formula has always fallen into their mouth and they don’t have a clue how to suck, they are going to wonder about your ability to take care of them if you can’t give them a bottle like they are used to, where the formula just falls into their mouth. They will be hungry, with no one to feed them as they are used to being fed. You want them to feel like you are capable of taking care of them, and sometimes that means doing things closer to the way they’ve been done for a little while. Their world has been turned upside down, the least we can do is try to understand their world a little bit to try to make the transition as easy as possible.