Thursday, September 12, 2013

attachment and adoption: a visit with Faith's birth parents

Faith's birth parents are in town for a few weeks so we got to spend some time with them this week.  We spent most of the day Tuesday with them and a good chunk of this morning with her First Mama.  As I have tried to write about the last few days, I am realizing how much I left unfinished in our Getting Our Girl series.  I am going to try to take the next few days to give some background information and fill in the gaps so that I can share my thoughts from this week clearly and freely.

The plans for them to visit came together rather last minute and I was grateful to only have a few days to obsess and fret over this first reunion!  I have exchanged emails with First Mama over the course of the last few months, but the last time we saw her was a week after we picked Faith up.  The last time I saw First Baba (birth dad) was when we drove away with his baby in our car.  I owe you a whole post about this tender and surprising and wonderful man.  I literally tear up every time I think about him.  He loved our daughter so and his love of her touches a deep, deep place in my heart.  I hope I can put the words together to be able to give you all a glimpse into who he is.

A few days was long enough to get me sufficiently worried and nervous for our meeting.  I worried that Faith wouldn't respond to them and they would be hurt.  I worried that she would respond and I would be hurt.  I worried that she'd be grumpy (ha, she's never grumpy!) and that they'd think she wasn't happy.  I worried that I hadn't lotioned her up enough, fixed her hair the right way, dressed her appropriately, etc to meet the expectations of her First Parents.  As you might imagine, all of this worrying turned out to be extremely futile and silly when it was all said and done.  I continue to amaze myself at how easily I forget how faithful God has been in our story.  Why do I worry?  I worry because I can't control.  It's a problem I have.

Anyway, the plan was for them to meet us at Faith's therapy class.  I invited them to come observe her physical therapy appointment thinking that they would enjoy being able to know what I was talking about when I sent them pictures.  I had given our therapist a heads up the day before that we would have some extra guests and I'm so glad I did.  I ended up getting there a few minutes late due to the traffic on the way back from dropping Lila off at preschool, but because Jenn was expecting them she was able to welcome them while they waited for Faith and me to arrive.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by our multi-cultural and enthusiastic welcoming committee!  Faith grinned big at her audience (I don't know that she recognized them, I think she just was in a good mood and enjoyed the attention and excitement she was receiving) and let her Baba and Mama hold her.  She reached for me and smiled especially big when she saw me which made me feel so good.  A sense of relief rushed over me as I watched her First Parents cooing over her and her reacting positively, but not anxious or confused.  Those first few moments gave me the confidence that all of our hard work of attachment and bonding had been successful thus far, and I had this sense that it was safe to be generous with my daughter.

I want to take a break from the events of this week to give some background information about attachment.  I intended to talk about it when we first picked Faith up, but other things took precedence.  Like cute pictures of cute babies.  Oh, and surviving.  Ha!  I'll do my best to explain what I can.  We took hours and hours of education classes to learn this stuff so trying to pare it down is difficult!  And to be clear, I am no expert and I am not speaking to the realities of every child.  I'll just try to give a few examples so that you can understand how important the journey of attachment really is.

I'll start by saying that babies who are born into a family naturally develop a unique bond with their parents.  As long as everyone is healthy and appropriate in their interactions, this is usually something most moms and dads don't think twice about - it just happens through many late-night feedings, diaper changes, comforting sessions and general caregiving.  However, a child who is removed from one set of circumstances and placed in another has to relearn that attachment with her new caregivers.  We benefited greatly from the fact that Faith was well cared for and loved by her First Mama.  She had a loving primary caretaker who met her needs consistently for the first six months of her life.  Because of this, she learned how to attach so we just had to work to transfer that attachment to us.  We had to be intentional about teaching her what our role in her life is - that we are reliable and consistent, that we can be trusted to feed and clothe and soothe and meet all of her needs.

Our approach to this was a form of "cocooning" in which adoptive families limit the interaction of anyone other than mom, dad and siblings.  Some families literally will not leave their homes for several weeks in order to create a consistent and reliable environment for their new children.  Think of it as mimicking the first few days and weeks of having a newborn home from the hospital.  The needs of the child and the mother (whose body is healing) take precedent and families typically hole up at home while they adjust to the new person in their life.  Cocooning imitates those first few weeks of newborn bonding in a highly intentional and highly protected environment.   This is so important because some children who have had multiple caregivers or have lived in environments where basic needs are not met need to be taught to whom and how to attach.  It can be confusing if many people are around because the child does not yet know who will be the permanent family and who is just passing through.

Again, we benefited from the wonderful work Faith's First Mama did in teaching our girl how to attach through her consistent and loving care.  We just had to teach her that we were now the people she could trust to meet her needs.  Because of this, we could take a bit more relaxed approach to cocooning.  We didn't hole up in our house, although we were intentional about not being away from our home too long or too often.  But we were committed to being the only people to hold her, comfort her, change her, feed her.  We were the only people we allowed to meet her needs - a sort of crash course in becoming a Kautzi!  This was undoubtedly hard for our family who desperately wanted to get their hands on their new granddaughter/niece/cousin, but they were all very gracious and respectful of our wishes.  It was hard on us, too.  There were times when Lila needed something and I really would have loved to hand Faith over to someone to hold while I met Lila's need.  And it was definitely uncomfortable to have to tell people "no" when they asked to hold her (at least most asked!  There was one person who tried to just take her out of my arms and I had to hold on tight and explain our situation!  I think she was embarrassed, but I understood!  It was eye-opening to me about how much we assume when it comes to holding other people's children!  I'm guilty, too!)  But those small inconveniences were nothing in the grand scheme of things.  I am so glad we did what we did.  I would do it all over again.

Because attachment is always on my brain, I am constantly looking for and rewarding the positive steps Faith has made in our bonding.  If she reaches for me, I try to always pick her up because I want to reinforce that Mommy is who will meet her needs.  A few weeks ago, we were at a restaurant for the Husband's grandma's 90th birthday party.  My mother-in-law was holding Faith and Faith spotted me across the room.  She immediately broke into a grin and started flapping her arms up and down and leaning in my direction.  My heart flew.  I was so encouraged by her response.  It was working!  She knows me and can pick me out of a crowd as her favorite!

That might seem so silly or small to you, but it is a BIG DEAL.  You might think, "Of course you're her favorite!  You're her mom!" but that's just it!  If the attachment piece doesn't sink in, a child may never know he or she is supposed to have a favorite person!  In fact, a sign in children who have attachment problems is that they will "parent shop," meaning they will charm other adults because in their mind that adult might be their next parent. Their brain hasn't been trained to believe and understand that parents are permanent, consistent, trustworthy.  So an adopted child who spent time in an orphanage, for example, may just go to anyone willingly - not showing any partiality to one person or another.  She might seem well-adjusted and secure to the world, but her adoptive mommy's heart is probably aching because she knows that the behavior indicates that they have a long way to go.

I hope that makes sense!  I want to be clear that attachment is not something that breaks and cannot be fixed.  There is always hope and it is a journey of ups and downs, wins and losses.  It is often a hard road, but it is worth it!  The child deserves it.  By the way, if you are interested in learning more, one of my favorite blogs is Finding Magnolia.  Mary does an AMAZING job of speaking about her daughter's journey and explaining therapeutic parenting for kids with big, deep wounds.  I have learned so much from her and am in awe of her grace and patience and sacrifice.  I have emailed with her a few times asking questions and opinions as we make decisions for Faith and our future Ethiopia baby.  I hope to be half the parent she is!  Check her blog out and you will love it!

As much thought and time and intentionality as I've put into bonding and attachment with Faith, it is ironic to me that I have never once thought about whether Lila is attached to me.  I know she is!  And that's what makes it hard to understand for those who don't have a lot of exposure to adoption.  In an ideal world, attachment just happens because moms and dads naturally meet their kids' needs.  You don't have to think about it - God created the needs of babies and the instinct of moms and dads to allow for the perfect environment in which attachment and bonding is fostered!  He's brilliant!  And I am so grateful that we were given the knowledge and tools we needed to foster a healthy attachment with Faith.  Every day we teach her that her world is safe and predictable.  Every day I teach her that I am her mommy and will be her mommy.  Every day I do intentional things to drill this reality into her.  She needs to not have to worry about whether someone new is going to come take her away every 6 months.  She needs to know that we are her family forever.

And that is why I was nervous to see her First Mama again.  I was nervous that somewhere in her little baby brain a memory would be triggered and she would be confused or anxious.  But as I watched her being held by her Baba and Mama, I felt that sense that she was secure in her place in our family.  And that security told me it was safe to be generous with her - to let her First Parents hold her and kiss her and touch her and love her.  To let those kisses and hugs and coos be a salve on their wounded hearts.  I prayed that with each touch, the arms that have ached to hold their baby would sense the healing of having her there in that moment.  I could step back and give it to them.  She would be okay and I didn't need to steal away any piece of that healing moment.  And for that I have been praying prayers of thanksgiving and praise since Tuesday morning.

I have so much more to share, but this post is already so long!  Thanks for sticking with me!  Check back in tomorrow for more!

1 comment:

Sarah B said...

i loved this post- so much beauty and love. I am praising Him for bonds and connections and cocoons. thank you again for being a wise woman ahead of me on the path...there is so much to learn and I found this post to be super encouraging! cant wait to read more! xo