Friday, March 27, 2009

The Naked Truth

This post is going to be a difficult one to explain. Geoff and I have been having deep discussions on Lexi's adjustment a lot lately. I've also been consulting with a lot of adoptive moms to see advice and learn from their experience. Before anyone even thinks it, I KNOW that all children are different and that all experiences are not the same but there are many commonalities and much to be learned from others. I preface this post with this just as food for thought as I make a very difficult post.

We have been having some adjustment issues with Lexi for the last few weeks. Perhaps it has been from the begining but only since we returned home and really began to focus on routines and adjusting as a family have we really noticed that there are many issues to tackle. We've realized (in hind sight) that we most likely did many things wrong. We read (or to be quite honest, mostly I read) about attachment and bonding with the adoptive child during our wait. I read about other people's experiences and did recognize many simularities. Our fault came from thinking that our adjustment would be easy. (you know it is kind of like the feeling that many feel about many things... the it won't happen to US mentality) We saw our happy little Lexi who was eagar to take to others as a sign that she was a "go with the flow" kind of girl. People see me out and tell me all the time how happy she is and how bonded she is with us. What people don't see is the behind the scenes reality. They don't see the screaming, over stimulated, grieving baby who doesn't understand what is happening around her.

I do believe that Lexi is beginning to bond with us BUT something is going on with her and parenting her has been difficult. One thing we have not done consistently that is a recommendation of experienced adoption professionals is the need to implement specific parenting approaches to help encourage a strong, attached, emotionally healthy daughter. Lexi needs to learn that we are her parents. She needs to feel nurtured and safe. She will not be used to having a mom and dad to love and care for her.

As strange as it may seem, adopted children who act very outgoing and affectionate with strangers is not a healthy thing. It is called "indiscriminate affection" and can mean that they haven't really attached to anyone. It would not be a good sign that our baby has attached to us if during her first months home she will let just anyone take her and hold her without searching for us. Geoff and I have seen Lexi do this at an alarming rate. She will go to practically anyone. In one of the books we are reading it states that when parents see their child seeking attention indiscriminately, they need to intervene quickly, firmly, and kindly. This behavior is pure and simple her using survival skills. From our observations, Lexi is acting mostly out of pure survival. She craves attention and most likely is fearful of being abandoned or having her life change YET again. We have NO real IDEA what she has endured during her short life. But we do know what how we interact with her and what we allow others to do will impact her future and hopefully she will blossom into a healthy child both emotionally and physically.

In the book we are reading now it tells you how to establish relationships. Lexi needs to learn and must be taught who her parents are and who will ultimately be the one she can rely on. It suggests the following interactions:

Parents and Siblings ~ hugging, kissing, sitting on lap
Extended Family ~ Blowing kisses, sitting close but not on lap
Friends ~ Shaking hands, sitting nearby
Acquaintances ~ Waving, but not touching
Strangers ~ Nodding, keeping near parents, no touching

We have been very consistent with us only being the one to feed her, pick her up from her crib when she wakes up, and changing and bathing. But we have not been consistent with letting others hold her. We plan to change this.

I anticipate that many people (those not familiar with attaching in adoption) will think we are being over protective. But honestly at this point, we can only operate on our feelings and advice from professionals who have studied adoption at length. Some people believe that all she needs is love and she will prosper. It is not that easy. Geoff and I fully accept that we have done many things wrong. We probably still will but just know we ARE going to work harder at it and are trying even more to educate ourselves even more. Lexi is what is important and if we happen to step on anyone's feelings in the process, I am sorry you feel that way. We must do what we need to for our daughter and not try to please everyone else. No one else lives with us and experiences the daily ups and downs. The past few weeks have been mentally and physically draining on me especially since I'm the primary caregiver for now. I dread leaving her to go back to work with her needing so much at this time but I do feel better leaving her in the care of my mom here at our house. I'm actually hoping that Lexi seeing me leave and come back every day will reinforce to her that her Mommy will never leave her.

So there you have it... the naked truth of how things are really going. Yes she is a beauitful happy little girl at times but there is more to the story and because we love her so much we will do everything we can to help her.


Stephe said...

Great post Wanda. We are going through the same thing with Giorgia. It's really, really hard for family and friends to understand where we are coming from and not taking things personal. I finally beat it in to my brother that it has nothing to do with's about my daughter. An issue with us that might be the same with Lexi is overstimulation and loud noises from visitors. I don't know if Giorgia officially has any sensory issues that a lot of our children have but the soft speaking and quiet play have helped tremendously. I wish you both all the best in working on your attachment with Lexi. It will be hard for those around you at first but they love you and they will come around. Hugs.

Melissa said...

Great post Wanda! I know how hard it is for extended family and friends to understand the boundries we have to set up. We have been home almost 6 months and I am just allowing Lily to be held by family and Lily is always looking for us! Good luck..this is not easy or a short process but in the end you are doing what is best for your daughter!!

Wanda and Geoff said...

Thanks for your support Stephe. We have removed the loud noisy toys and are focusing on toys that we can sit and talk with her quietly. Sometimes she will let us and others not. I have made an appointment with our Dr. to discuss issues and make sure everything is still okay with her. It's hard to distinguish between adoption issues and regular baby issues so I just need to double check. The appt. is more for me than her! LOL! I also am seeking help from our agency's post adoption counselor. I hate that we have made so many errors in judgement but at least we recognize them and will work harder from now on. She is our little treasure and she deserves the best we can give her.


MeiLi's Adoption Journey said...

Wanda, as you know we are in the same exact page as you with this. I think you are doing the best thing for Lexi, and the early stages of attachment are the most important. We have only been home 2 weeks, and see that same things in ML with "indiscriminate affection". These babies are starving for attention. But really only need to get it from Mommy and Daddy for right now. We have implemented the same "rules" and have seen improvement. We are here to support you when ever you are in need. It takes time, and I hope your friends and family understand how important it is for Lexi to attach in a healthy way to her new parents.

Sophia's Mama and Baba said...

Wanda this is a wonderful post. It shows that you are aware and on top of Lexi Jayne’s needs. It is not an easy issue to discuss with anyone so I applaud you for posting this, sharing your experience and educating yourselves friends and family to Lexi's needs. We have been home from China with Sophia for 9 months now and I can tell you we are still focused and working on the Attachment and Bonding process. It is just that a process you will be working on for a long time. It is hard for friends and family to understand the complexity of this issue if they have not lived it.Your family and friends love you and Lexi jayne and they will understand that you and Geoff are doing what needs to be done for your daughters health and well being now and in the future. We had many of the same issues and once we started focusing on what Sophia needed from us and not making sure that others feelings did not get hurt we saw real progress. The important thing is that your eyes are open and you are doing what you need to for Lexi Jayne..

Big Hugs

Mike and Rhonda said...

AMEN sista! Nobody wants to talk about the "hard" issues. Thank you for posting this. Those closest to me had the hardest time with the attachment issues. I think everyone thinks I am just being overprotective or a first time mom. They do not understand that for the 3.5 years I educated myself on these issues.

Yes, sure if you take a snapshot of my DD she looks the picture of a well adjusted toddler. They do not see the horrible sleep issues we have, the gorging because she is horrified she might not get enough food for the next few days, the raging because she has LOST everything she has ever know, or the worst - the crying of a baby that is grieving. This cry comes from a place so deep and it just breaks my heart!

It is hard to step up at first. You will get a lot of push back. But, I am a firm believer that as parents we KNOW what is best for our children. We took the International Adoption Clinic's advice that has seen thousands of these children and participated in their adjustment....we pretty much have stayed home and away from everyone for 3 months and practiced everything you mentioned.
Hannah still has a lot of anxiety but things are so much better

Anonymous said...

Wanda, I am sure you have not made any "mistakes" that you can not remedy. Good luck, and I hope no one gives you too much static about this plan. It makes perfect sense. I'll kick their behinds if they do.(((((Wanda))))


Anonymous said...

I do hope that things get better for you and your family. I probaly like others had no idea how hard it has been so far. Of course people on the outside looking in, realize that it is hard, but never really realize the full impact that adopting can have on a family. I wish you the best and am always thinking of you and pray that everything gets easier in time.


mhsands said...

I've been praying for this specifically since we talked. Please feel free to call me anytime (that way I'm not interrupting the routine)! H&K!

Sharon said...

Wanda, it takes alot of courage to post about the not so rosy part, but it is truth of the matter that these children do not always respond to "traditional" parenting techniques. Congrats on recognizing the sometimes subtle signs of attachment/trauma issues and being proactive in adjusting your parenting style. I think you will reap the rewards down the road of child who is securely attached to her parents, who can regulate her emotions and anxiety and can fill in the gaps that are present due to her earlier circumstances. Good luck and I hope your extended family respects your decisions, because you are right on target and do not need to be second-guessed. No adoptive parent needs to be second-guessed by people who have not walked in your shoes and done the research that you have done.


Lisa and Tate said...

Thank you for posting the naked truth. So soon (next week hopefully) I will be seeing the face of the gal who will become My Tate. I have read the attachment adoption books but until I hear from a BTDT mom, these are only words. I will have my mom and siblings read this post, just so they will have a little understanding of what is to come.

With such thoughtful parent's as you, Lexi will get the bonding and attaching for a bright future.


KHM said...

Stick to your guns. You are the one watching what is going on with your baby and you are the one who has her interest at heart!

Our JJ's a bit older, but you better believe there are a couple things we are watching carefully.

Also remember - attachment and bonding take time, so you HAVE time. I keep seeing hurdles that we passed with JJ AFTER we get over them. I fully expect we will be doing attachment stuff for at least the first full year. In some ways I think we will be doing it forever.

Ah, but they are so worth the work.

Thanks for a good - and honest- post

mumma to many said...

Hi Wanda and Geoff
Attachment is a life long process and doing things right or wrong doesn't neccessarily have the long term outcome we would want!
I have an almost 14 year old who we still work on attachment with! Yet alone the 5 year old or the 21 month old!
Holly van Gulden's book dance of attachment is so easy to read and the best practical advise I have read to date!
If you ever get a chance go and listen to her she is amazing! A true BTDT woman! She has truely lived the attachment theory and advice she gives out!
The best thing I have done with all my children is cuddle and cuddle skin to skin. Mold them like little babies and they still come back to it now! Luckily the 14 year old is over the skin contact but he loves a back rub! :)
Just remember that children do dictate alot of the daily interactions!
Hugs Ruth in NZ

Wanda and Geoff said...

We really appreciate all the helpful, positive comments from so many people. Everyone has offered such good advice and support. It really warms my heart! Adoption is unpredictable and it is a lifelong journey. We all tend to want the fairy tale experience but in reality it's hard work for most of us. I'm sure there are cases out there where the everyone just bonded immediately but we are not one of those. We will have to work hard to gain Lexi's trust. She does depend on us and she does like us but she is still searching for love. That's why this time is so important. She needs to know it is us she can love and count on. We don't want to bring more confusion to her life.

I have to say my mother has been awesome. She will be Lexi's secondary care giver when I go back to work. My parents fostered kids for 25 years! I know this experience is valuable and will help so much. But I also was surprised by my Mom today when she called and told me that she bought a book about attachment. She is reading to learn more and try to understand the unique experiences that Internationally Adopted children go through. Of course, I love my mom with all my heart but this simple gesture really made me just thank God that I have the parents that I do.

This attachment issue with Lexi has even effected areas I at first thought was so cute. I had intended to post about how Lexi just took to my brother in law so easily. She ran into his arms the first time meeting him. We joked that she must think he is Chinese. She even listened to him and did everything he said. It was heart warming on the surface but not necessarily a good thing. She needs to run to us like that and listen to us like that. So the reality is it was a big signal that she is not attached to us. This is why we must protect her more and do all we can to encourage her to take to US this way. It warmed my heart today to watch her run to the door when her daddy left to go to work and when he came home she couldn't wait to get to him. These ARE good signs! We just need these all the time and we need her to not go to just anyone so easily. We are committed to ensuring that this happens.


P.S. Lisa.. I feel your excitment. I hope you see your darling daughters face next week. (FYI... your scrap of fabric and wish from so long ago are well appreciated!) And for what it is worth, everything everyone says is true! As soon as you see her face, you will feel she has been with you forever! And once you get her home it's like you never knew life before without her. It's wonderful! It's not always easy but it is wonderful! I will watch your blog and pray for your journey to Tate!

Anonymous said...

I know you will make all the right decisions when it comes to Lexi and her care. We have had a lifelong education in childcare and all sorts of issues dealing with children with a multitude of problems through the graciousness of our wonderful parents fostering children all of our lives. Remember Alyssa....we all loved her and each of us wanted to adopt her....she had severe attachment disorder.(later adopted by her therapist) We have also experienced reactive attachment disorder in our own family when Jenna went through her divorce when John-Michael was only 2yrs old. He suffered from it. Sad thing was it took multiple doctors, over-medication, 4 school changes, 3 living arrangement changes and finally a custody change to get him the proper diagnosis. No child or parents or for that matter family should be subjected to that kind of trauma!!! My heart ached for him. So you do what you feel is right for your daughter and if someone doesn't understand and gets their feelings hurt SO WHAT!!! Think about Alyssa that we all loved so much that never was able to attach even with the best of care available. Think of your nephew JM and all the hell he went through and what a joy he is now! I will always be available to listen, laugh with, cry with, whatever you might need. I am just a few miles or a phone call away. I love you sis and I am your biggest cheerleader!!!!
Love, Carolyn

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add this.....PS....While it will probably drive me NUTS not to pick her up and love all over her and get me some more of that sweet "neck sugar" I will be content to let her sit close and blow me kisses until you and Geoff give the go ahead for more. I have already had a talk with Uncle John and told him the rules!!! We may have to remind him but so be it. Lexi Jayne's well being comes first!!! Love you guys. Your Sis, Carolyn

Wanda and Geoff said...

Carolyn, your posts brought tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful sister! I know all the experience we have in our family will help get us through. I am glad you reminded me of all of this. Sometimes after moving past experiences like we had, you forget details but it is important to remember that we pulled together as a famly and that support is so important! Believe me, it is hard to not let Lexi go to family members. I loved seeing her get all excited and and want to go to everyone but until she knows who we are, it's best that we help her learn that we are her parents. The day will come and hopefully sooner than later. I love you for understanding!


Alyson and Ford said...

You are doing just as you should for your child. We feel it will be a long process, attaching. We see it in AA everyday, even though we do not blog about it much. She is not ready for family and friends to be close to her; we keep her very close to us. We will know when she is ready for "outsiders". We are protective and have been told we are "spoiling" her. Ha!
It takes time, lots of love and touching, eye contact, quiet play, etc. You know what is right for your baby. This is alot of the same comments you already received, just wanted to say "ditto".

Alyzabeth's Mommy for Six Months