Monday, March 07, 2011

The BIG One: Attachment

I've been mulling this one over for months.  No...years, really--it's in all of the adoption books and I started reading those quite a few years ago.  It's complicated and messy and unclear.  It's hard to understand and even harder for me to put into words. :) 

But, I want to share the basics, as I understand them, of what exactly attachment is and what our plans are.  My understanding is novice at best and in no way will be able to encapsulate the intricacies or depth of this process.  But, it's important, so I'll do my best. ;)

In reading this, please know..
-this is a lifelong process.
-we will most definitely make mistakes.
-as I share my emotions in writing this and my experiences as we live this out in real life, know that with firm confidence I know that God is so much bigger than attachment issues and so much bigger than our mistakes.  And I know that in it all, He will work it out for the good.

Okay, so the basics.
Attachment is essentially the relationship that is built in our infancy as permanent caregivers continually respond to our most rudimentary needs.  And from that relationship a scope of critical brain functions are established.  The abilities to trust, to understand our own identity and to form moral beliefs (empathy, compassion) are all established because of attachment.

For most of us, this is something we never even think about--it's just a natural, given way of life.  But for some, particularly in international adoption, that is not the case.  Neglect, inconsistent care-giving, loss of one or both parents and life in orphanages doesn't afford orphans the ability to form healthy attachments  (a reality that honestly breaks my heart).

What does this all mean?
It means that because of adoption, we get the opportunity to help a child learn all of the things that she's missed because of her life circumstances.  And that is a great privilege.  It is also hard.  And time-consuming.  And it will require large doses of unselfishness.

For us, we know some pertinent personal information that gives us some insight into how this may effect Little Girl.  We know that when Little Girl was very tiny she had a huge loss in her life and that she lived in at least two other orphanages before coming to Hannah's Hope when she was 5-months-old.  We also saw how much she seems to light up with her special mother's at HH.  And how she cries when she's with unfamiliar people. That's great news because it means that she's attaching to the people in her life.  From that attachment all of those healthy brain functions are being formed.

We also know that when she comes home, she will experience grief over the loss of everything that she has grown attached to in the last several months.

In trying to wrap my mind around this, it's helpful for me to be able to scaffold to something familiar.  While I get that all children are completely different, I try to imagine what that would be like for M and T.

At 8-9 months old, M was on the verge of walking.  She was determined and serious.  She had her favorite toys (Barbara the pink rubber duck), our usual hang-outs (Panera's+Chicken Noodle Soup=Some pretty sweet memories), and favorite little buddies to play with.  I held her for one of her naps every day (an indulgence that I knew would be next to impossible with more than one child).  

And every day we waited at the front door for Daddy to come home from work.

At that same age, T loved his people.  He was undeniably interested in big trucks, but not so much a fan of their loud engines.  He liked to hang out with all of the BIG guys in his life.  He smiled easily and laughed with us (or maybe at us ;) a ton.  He had a lot of favorite foods (including, for some unknown reason, green bean baby food).  And he was an awesome snuggler.

M was his best bud (they're watching the first snow of the year together).

Even from the moment they were born they were each a huge, priceless part of our family.  We had fun little songs that we sang together.  Our own mostly predictable routines.  Favorite stuffed animals.  Little things that we said just to each other like, "You're my girl."  or "I love you more than this (with arms spread wide)." 

When Little Girl comes here, all that she has experienced, all the words she knows, all of the familiar sights and smells, and all of the people that she loves, will be gone... 

I can hardly fathom that for M and T.  What would it have been like for them if J and I were suddenly gone.  If they were taken away to another country all together.  Can. Not. Imagine. (And, quite frankly, really don't want to--it hurts too much.)

That is what will happen for Little Girl.  Ugh...  She's too little to understand our words of comfort and explanation (even if she understood English).  Too little to clearly express her loss, her depth of emotions and understanding. 

This is not sounding so good.  So now what? :)
It is not hopeless. :)  There are things that we can do to help her with her grief and to help her establish new healthy, attached relationships.

(This is where I am so thankful for all of the available resources--books, online resources, blogs and friendships with those who have walked this road ahead of us.  They are a wealth of helpful information.)

When we very first come home, we will be very intentionally working on showing Little Girl that we are her Mommy and Daddy.  She doesn't know what that means yet (can you imagine?--again, totally breaks my heart).  We need to teach her that there is something special about us that makes us different from all of the other people in her life.

What does that look like?   
In a way, it's kind-of like treating her like a newborn--but way more carefully than I ever did with M and T and taking into account that she is living through a great loss.  We need to help her build trust in our relationship.  Very practically that means that J and I will be the ones who feed her, change her diaper, comfort her when she cries, snuggle her and be within arms reach.  Ideally, for a little while, we'll be the only two people who do those things.

Some things are pretty similar to what we've done in the past.  But there are a few things that will be different.  To promote closeness and bonding, we'll be carrying her in a sling a lot during the day.  And for the same reason,we'll be giving her a "bottle" for at least a year after she comes home (making up for all of the lost special bonding time in her early life.)  We'll be together a lot.  :)

In those first few days and weeks we'll probably be staying home more than usual.  We'll be catching up on sleep from that lovely jet-lag and also because of late-night feedings. :)  And then we'll be working on getting into a daily rhythm (this always took me like a month or two with M and T).

As Little Girl is learning more about who we are in her life and adjusting to her whole new world, we'll continually be looking for signs of healthy attachment (crying when we leave a room, following us with her eyes, good eye contact, shyness with strangers, looking to us for comfort, etc.).  Over time, we won't have to be quite as careful (though, this is a life-long process).  Over time her little heart will be mending...    

Our note to you.
We want to say how incredibly grateful we are for our special family and friends.  You have all been so supportive in this process.  We really feel so blessed by that--more than you probably know.  And we are incredibly excited for you all to meet her!

We already love her so much and can hardly believe that this moment is finally here--on Sunday she'll be in our arms forever!  Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Our Little Girl waiting for her family...


  1. Great post, Gini!!! Praying for you as you begin the attachment journey with your precious Little Girl! So excited she will be home so soon!!

  2. So excited for you and your family Gini! I pray that your attachment and bonding is quick and STRONG!! Congratulations on a precious baby girl!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this!! So excited for you all, and will be praying for a miraculous transition to mommy, daddy, family.
    Safe travels!

  4. Extremely well written Gini!!! Just might steal some of your words of wisdom when our time comes! Good Luck!!!