We've been home 10 months and I can honestly say that it's been the best time in my life. I think I'm pretty good at keeping it together but there have been times where I just lay in bed wondering if I really can do this or if I'm just playing a part in some big dream.
An issue, I decided to share tonight is my experience with attachment. I think it's a critical part of our story. It's a subject that in the required educational work, I skated through in an over confident way. I thought I would of course attach and I would of course do whatever/however to get my daughter to attach if she should have any issues. I underestimated all that encompasses attachment and didn't give it the pause & consideration it so greatly deserves.
With that said, I was right for half of it. I attached hard and fast. During my wait, I received various feedback that there could be significant developmental impairments to LT. I of course was scared, concerned and felt helpless. I consulted experts & tried to demand more but ultimately reached in my heart of hearts and took a leap of faith. As a single parent I questioned if I could give her what she needed but I saw no other option but to move forward. I'm a "check my gut girl" and my gut knew it would be fine. This pretty immediate response cemented my attachment to the daughter I had never met in the flesh. Her described condition I NOW believe was a type of trance - a result of never attaching based on her life experience in four very different environments in her 1st year of life under severe malnutrition and minimal to no health care. I have not shared this story with many but it was one of the hardest two weeks of my life. I can only share it now because we're on the other side.
On the day I met her, it was like silent fireworks (she was 13 months). I felt we got each other and she found safety in my arms. I felt true, mutual comfort. I was not worried at all about her health. LT was physically showing signs that she wanted me and knew me as her mommy. I think I romanticized our connection because it felt REALLY good. She was a toddler but an infant for all intensive purposes. She did not crawl or walk but had very wise, knowing eyes. I would describe her as a velcro baby for the first two months home. I did what I thought was right to make her feel strong and safe with others. I did not want her to be a victim and I wanted her true self to blossom. I left her with babysitters early. I mean I was a working single mom and knew that I needed to incorporate a "care circle" fast for both of us. I let her cry on the floor and learn how to play independent. I took her to public settings and cheered her to crawl away from me and participate. I know this is not what adoption books suggest but it felt right to me at the time. I still loved/cuddled on her but did focus on praising independence and adaptability. LT was a master student and I began proudly describing her as fearless & strong.
The other fact you should know is that I sleep trained LT. Since week 3 home, she's slept from 8-8, 95% of nights with seldom ever a whimper when going to bed. (NOTE, this is not a push for sleep training, I'm just providing the info to set the stage of our situation). The point is I thought, WOW how smooth this all is...I felt like a pro...
Then I began to notice some things over time:
- she did not want me holding her
- she did not want me to read the books, she wanted to alone (and she LOVED to read them just without me)
- she rarely initiated touch and did not ask for me to hold her
- she did not want me to hold her bottle to feed her
- she was avoiding eye contact
- she would detach at times and sort of get a trance, glazed look and not respond
- she hit me in the face when she got angry
I wrestled with what to do. These signs didn't hit me over the head at once. They kinda sneaked up and then layered together and I really realized the issue when she was about 18/19 months. Even though these symptoms seem severe & obvious in a list, our day to day was very loving, with an easy flow. I also figured that some were age appropriate behaviors and to be expected. I guess what I'm trying to say they came out very subtle. Most onlookers (I think) thought our attachment was a great success.
I was worried. I beat myself up a lot over it (with lots of crying). I thought, Amy she's just a baby, with an unbelievable past, why did you push her? And then I realized that I didn't have all the answers and I needed to figure it out. So I reached out to friends, observed a lot, read books and took online classes through Adoption Learning Partners (which I recommend).
As a result, I aggressively implemented:
- gentle touch time in front of mirror
- phrases of entitlement (your my daughter, I'm your mommy)
- cuddle bed time every morning when she wakes up
- bathing together
- more hand feeding from me to her
- forced acknowledgement (won't allow her to ignore or detach - I make her engage, even if it takes up to an hour, which happened a couple times)
- touch play time - wrestle, dance, tickle
- face to face imitation time
Now, I know these things may seem obvious, but for me it was really powerful to sit back and remember to make time for these things daily. I have been implementing them now for several months and I've seen great strides. LT's eye contact is present with me and others. She's good at hugging and touching now. She's consistent with greetings and appropriate hugging and kissing. I am just amazed at how adaptable she's been with the therapies. I have to say that now we're back to her needing me more, wanting to be held and having more separation anxiety but I'm confidant that as I maintain a balance, so will she. Some days she'll need more and some days she won't but as my classes reminded me, attachment is an issue for life - not weeks, months or years.
I've learned to check in and take her cues because for the most part she tells me all I need to know in how best to serve her needs. I also remind myself that I don't have all the answers and the more I open up - the more reward.
I'm happy with all the progress we've both made and again very thankful to my local and blog friends for giving me much support along the way. Every combination of kid and parent are unique and figuring out that special formula for parenting has been intense, powerful, frustrating, amazing and perfect experience. As I've always said, "I'm learning to Liv."