Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Understanding Attachment~Part I~How it May Start

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I can honestly say I understand so much more about attachment, even since the twins came home a year and a half ago. I have a long way to go though. Sometimes it's overwhelming to think about. Every once in a while a twinge of fear settles into my stomach. Jael is coming home quickly. How do I remember everything I've learned?

This fear is nothing compared to what our daughter's fear will be though.

Some of the following posts will have a familiar ring. Much hasn't changed...the fear, anger, not understanding, the trauma our daughter may have faced...has faced. There WILL be changes to previous posts though. So much is different and I wish we had learned it earlier, but for now....

Three and a half years ago....maybe in a small house, in the dirt, in a rural unknown village...maybe in the inner city on hard concrete or a mattress on the floor...a little one came into this world. Her birth brought a surprise in a country where having one child is the only acceptable option. She was a sweet little girl, not a boy to help support the family, covered with the signs of birth. Her little legs curled under her. Locked in way that wasn't expected, possibly from malnutrition...possibly. The mother MAY have looked at her with love. The mother MAY have known her country, her neighbors would not be kind to a beauty that was different than their own. Her father may have wondered what kind of life she could have or may have even felt a pang at the lack of the male heir in a culture that values the strength of masculine offspring.

Was it a cold morning as a grandfather took the child and made the trek into the city? Maybe there was a spark of warmth as they left this newborn on the steps of a welfare institute, hoping she would be found before the weather grew too sweltering or the baby became hungry. Did they have long talks before this point? Did they debate what to do? Was there any discussion at all? They would be heavily taxed if they kept her.

As this little one is processed through the system of a major orphanage or "welfare institute" the diagnoses of "leg deformity" is given. Little kissable legs are often seen as undesirable if they are different. She may not have been held much, but then often the cribs were filled with children with much more significant health issues. The ratio of caregiver to child...was not anything close to what it should be. The numbers were too numerous. Too many children were being left. She learned to either treasure every touch or fear it because it was so unusual and so scary.

Yet life became familiar.

Yes, sometimes she was hungry, but then even that was familiar.
Sometimes she was scared, but she learned that there were many in line before her with cries and needs greater. She wasn't heard.
Often she was cold.
She learned how to comfort herself. She could rock herself in comfort, something that may stick with her for the rest of her life.
When she looked around, she knew the faces around her. Life took on a pattern. She felt safe...safe in a way that what she experienced everyday is considered normal to her, though upsetting to the rest of the world.

She wasn't safe though...not in the way we think. There wasn't enough caregivers, no matter how hard they tried, to protect all the children...even from each others.

For three and a half years she learned what to expect, whether hunger or touch, whether pain or comfort...her days became patterned into the drum of every day life.

*She doesn't know that God has a family across the seas that have been waiting and praying for her. She doesn't know God has plans for her, a family filled with love.*

She knows her familiar routine and may feel a form of content at the habitual nature of her days.

One day, after three and a half YEARS, she may be dressed with a little more care than usual. She is carried outside and maybe a caregiver hugs her with a tear in her eyes. She is placed in a car with a few familiar faces. She doesn't remember being in one of these before and her tummy is most likely upset. She's crying or even screaming, knowing things are changing. She clings to the one holding her, digging her nails in...or seems almost comatose.

*Often a child will have sensory issues because they've never been in a car, or moved a lot. They may never have been rocked, swung around, or touched much. Touch may be painful, their skin so sensitive that it elicits pain. Their head may be full of so many unfamiliar noises that they will be on sensory over load and bite, fight, or kick. Many of the experts are seeing how sensory issues and attachment need to be dealt with hand in hand. Touching may be painful, thus bonding extremely difficult. Sounds may bring screaming, so whispering of love may be impossible. Hand in hand.....
After a long car trip they pull up to a towering hotel...towering in her eyes anyway OR they pull up to a long government building. As she clings to the one familiar person she knows, they enter an unfamiliar room with people looking only at her. These people move toward her. They say funny words. Are they crazy? One is crying. The others are smiling and showing her pretty toys in a special back pack. Her caregiver pries her clinging fingers and urges her toward these strangers. The caregiver backs away...

"NO NO NO NO NO!!!" she may scream and try to run back to the one familiar person there. Her caregiver kisses her, tells her this is her family, and offers a few words of comfort. Finally, often after only minutes, her caregivers hand her to these crazy people that she doesn't know. The toys may be interesting, but this IS NOT going to happen. Then she starts to scream...or she may cry silently. She may be still, wondering what is next. She may....

They whisper a few words of comfort, but only a few words make any kind of sense.

Where is the "familiar" that she knew? Where are those she is used to? Where are the smells she knows?

She may be screaming and railing as the family tries to coax her to eat. They bring her to another room (a hotel is another unknown element to her) , that also smells unfamiliar, with beds and a bath. She may try to find distraction...may.

****This is where the story has many ways it could go, here are just a couple.****

What MAY happen....
She doesn't cry and she does love the attention getting. She is being held and fed. They smell different, but good. The big ones don't ever want to put her down, actually none of them do.

Very quickly she starts wrapping her finger up in mommy's hair and raising her hands up to be held. Any attention may feel like good attention. She may fear anyone holding her but her new family or she may seek anyone holding her because it's attention. Her little heart is in constant fear. She may wonder when they are going to take her back to her old "familiar" place.

This fear can last the plane ride to a new land. This fear can last months...years...after all it was 3 1/2 years at an orphanage and she was still given away. She can't just "get over it" or "realize eventually that this is her forever family". This is ingrained in her core. She doesn't trust enough to let her heart completely go to her family. She needs time. She needs time to trust that her family will be around and take care of her. When she gets handed to others (not in her forever family) she may cry and scream, sigh, or just accept it. She may be resigned that she may not see those she is learning to love again. She is not fully attached yet and may not be for a long time. She doesn't trust yet. It may be a long road...a war for this little one's spirit who may or may not try everything to push away the love she needs so desperately...because love isn't safe. People she loves leave or hurt her. Yet she may want to love....

Others may be offended that this little girl is not handed over. They may feel that the child will eventually just understand and they should be treated as a child that does not have a history of trauma. If the attachment is not WORKED at, this little girl may view all as her caregivers. After all, many took care of her. She doesn't know what the concept of family is. It is not automatic.

Another scenario....
She makes her heart distant and cries when held...rigid and pushing away, resisting touch. She doesn't want the care or love and she never learned to trust. When someone else is around that is not family, she may reach out her hands. These people seem to care too much and she won't let herself get hurt again. She WILL NOT trust them. She will choose not to, since she has nothing else to control in a time that seems so out of control. She will choose not to attach to her family.

The plane ride is miserable. She wants everyone but her family and she cries (and screams) at the slightest touch and for the ENTIRE time. She wants her familiar bed at an orphanage that is NOT home. She wants to be left alone. Others are offended that the parents don't let them help.

She, once home, refuses to attach. She continues to "shop" for her new caregivers, exerting the little control she has. She does not WANT to love the family God has planned for her. People again may offended when the parents don't go out or to their normal places the first few months or so. They may be offended that this family is circling the wagons...even with experts saying they should do exactly that. They may be offended when this expected blessing is not handed over for them to immediately hold. She is so friendly to them and they may think of her as a child that has not suffered through trauma. She is not attached.

There are many ways our children may react to their new family. We don't know. We have heard of the most natural transitions and of some of the toughest. We've come to understand much of this is a spiritual battle...satan does not want to lose these children. Adoption is something satan detests.

This whole story is a giant guess about the way things might have been and might be. It's all based on pieces of a puzzle with many pieces missing.

It's not easy to think of the fear in our children, but we have to realized through our joy, our children have faced trauma. The only way to become an orphan is trauma. Yes, God has blessed us with these children....knows them as our children, yet we need to recognize the pain and hurt that brought them to our families. We need to realize they had a life before us.

God has led us to our children, and we are bringing them home. God knows our little girl is part of us and we are part of her. Attachment is just part of the road of adoption. Sometime it is beautiful and smooth and sometimes the pits seem so big they are hard to get out of.

It's all worth it though...always.

"God sets the lonely in families..." Psalms 68:6a

Attachment Rescource #1:
"The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis"

Other post in this series..."Understanding Attachment~Part II~How Our Children May Feel and Moving Forward"
"Understanding Attachment~Part III~Helping Others Understand"
"Understanding Attachment~Part IV~Misunderstanding/Our Stories"
"Understanding Attachment~Part V~When Parents Find a Hard Time Attaching/Choosing Love"
"Understanding Attachment~Part VI~Putting the Pieces Together"
"Understanding Attachment~Part VII~To Those Who Will Be There"
"Understanding Attachment~Part VIII~Spiritual Warfare"


  1. I wish my family had known about attachment 30 years ago when my little sister came home from India. I know now that so many of the problems she had growing up were very much related to the fact that she was taken from the only family she'd ever known. And so many well-meaning friends trying to make her the token adopted child.
    So, circle those wagons! You and your family do what you must do to help little Jael adjust and attach. Some people will finally "get it" and some never will.
    Praying God will give Jael comfort and peace and a transition into your family that brings glory to Him.
    God bless you. Praying for your family to be all together by the end of 2011. :)

  2. Oh Kat! What an incredible (though heart-rending) post. I am praying for your sweet little girl through this transition!!!!!


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