Monday, July 25, 2011

Adoption and Attachment

We have many friends who have adopted.  From time to time I want to share some of their stories.  Encouragement can be found through common experiences.  For me it helps to know that we are not in this alone.

The following is from a fellow classmate at Ozark Christian College.  Her family has been involved in oversees adoption.  For the protection of their privacy I will not share their name or pictures, but I hope you will read their thoughts and experiences with attachment in adoption.

                      Attachment in Adoption

We didn’t think attachment, or rather the lack thereof, could happen to us!

Our first two children were adopted from a wonderful, loving orphanage where there was no shortage of food or workers, and our babies were held and cuddled at every meal and played with in between meals.

Our daughter, just days after her birth, was taken straight from the hospital to this orphanage, which was more like “Grandma’s House with a Lot of Cousins” than the idea most of us have in mind when we hear the word “orphanage.”

Our son spent three months in a neglectful and probably abusive birth home, and was described to us as “inconsolable” when he was first brought to the orphanage, but within a few months’ time there he became a happy, cuddly baby. Even now, more than a year after his adoption, I have a hard time remembering that this sweet baby boy experienced some of the early trauma that he did.

When we adopted our daughter, we spent two weeks with her in her orphanage and were her primary caregivers from the first day. When we brought her home, we assumed we had established a solid bond.

But we noticed from the beginning that our baby girl was unusually serious. We heard her laugh less than once a month. She was clingy rather than cuddly. She didn’t acknowledge pain but would simply stumble away with a dazed look on her face when she bumped into something uncomfortable. She had low muscle tone and was slow to develop speech. As she grew into her toddler years, she seemed obsessed with lining up her toys, shampoo bottles, condiments at the table, or whatever else she could obtain. She was terrified of other children, and when her little brother arrived two years after her, she was wild with jealousy and insecurity. She was easily frightened by loud noises, and she had a phenomenal visual memory. She had an awkward run, as if she might fall over, and would flap her hands when she jumped.

In short, we began to fear she was developing a so-called milder form of Autism, PDD-NOS, which is not as common in girls as it is in boys, but it does still occur.

I grieved! It was such a bitter blow to think that my precious baby girl, who had seemed so alive with intelligence and imagination, might suffer the lifelong social consequences, and even potentially the loss of relationships within our family, that are often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

During this time when our daughter was three years old and our son was one, we began the adoption process for a third child, a six-year-old girl with mild cerebral palsy, and we noticed in our pre-adoption training that the words “Autism-like symptoms” and “attachment disorder” frequently appear in the same sentences, from different authors writing on different topics for different publishers.

I began to read more about attachment disorders and soon realized, even before an Autism specialist at a children’s hospital told us so, that our little girl had attachment issues rather than an ASD.

Within two months, through one of God’s amazing “coincidences”, we found a truly wonderful attachment-counseling specialist in our area who has been helping us week by week, and we began to read other adoptive families’ websites and some of the most current books on attaching. (Two favorites of mine are Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray and The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis.)
As there was with the thought of an ASD, there is grief in this new diagnosis of attachment issues. We would have handled so many things differently as new parents if we had understood our daughter’s needs better! How different would her life be today if we had simply believed from the beginning that attachment would require serious, deliberate work?
We are now about four months into our attachment focus and are beginning to see positive changes in our relationship with our little girl. She is becoming more light-hearted, more cuddly, and a teeny, tiny, microscopic bit less anxious and controlling as a result. (Sigh! Our tiny dictator!)

Just in the last three weeks and as a result of our attachment studies, we have also begun to realize that our son shows attachment issues, though in a different way than our daughter does. For instance, after nursery at church, he will run happily to the arms of any parent who walks through the door, but when I give him a late-night bottle, he doesn’t relax against me but remains stiff and wary, as if he doesn’t know what will happen next.

And we fully expect that our third daughter, who has spent her entire eight years in a big-city orphanage, will have attachment issues.

This time, though, we know where to find resources and who to go to for help.

May God bless us richly with His love, mercy, provision, and wisdom, as we seek to teach our three children what it means to be in a loving, trusting relationship. We love our children – they are the joy of our life – and we long for them to be healthy and whole in Christ.

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