Tuesday, December 6

Attachment

On November 27th 2010 we finalized Aleksa's adoption in Ukraine. On December 2nd 2010 we finalized Wesley's.  It's been a YEAR since they first became Cornishes!!

We are so blessed to have them both, and in just a few weeks we will celebrate a year since we all came home! (December 29th!).

Since I just was gone for 9 days, we're revisiting some of the attachment issues that we've battled with Aleksa since day one.  Here's a little info and history...

Attachment is something that most babies naturally form.  They learn their mother's and father's voices in the womb and they learn very quickly that those significant people will provide for their needs, answer their cries, and hold and love on them.  Babies look in to their parents' eyes and will maintain eye contact, which is a 'language' of love...

Several of our children (those born in Ukraine) were institutionalized and put in to orphanages at birth.  They didn't have that connection with any caretaker.  They had a constant influx of workers, daytime, night time, weekend, and other shift workers that came through.  They spent their time in their beds, not in their parents' arms.  They had no one to make eye contact with.  One of the reasons their eyesight didn't likely develop correctly for some of them is because they didn't even have anything to even focus on as a baby.

As a toddler, Emma was still confined to her bed, isolated from other people, and without human contact for the most part.  She had no one that talked to her, no one that interacted with her aside from meeting some of her basic needs.  I admit I wonder every so often what Emma would be like if she'd been able to join our family earlier, or get her heart fixed (she then had strokes as a toddler because of her unrepaired heart)... We love Emma exactly how she is, and are BLESSED to have her as our daughter.  In almost 4 years in our home, Emma has so dramatically changed!!  She went from not wanting to be touched or held, unable to be comforted, to greeting familiar adults with a hug and a smile...

Aleksa had a totally different upbringing which physically was much better than Emma's.  She stayed in a crib for quite some time, I'm sure, however once she was up and mobile, she was in a group with other children, both those with special needs and typically developing children.  She lived in that environment until she was 5 years old.  There she played, went outside, had caretakers that, though they may not 'like' her, they took care of her.  We were told she wasn't one of the favorites at the orphanage... which meant that she was dealt with sternly, wasn't loved on or hugged on, and was often 'set aside'.

After Aleksa left the orphanage at 5 years old, she went to a mental institution.  This facility housed girls and women from 5 years old to 35 years old.  At the time that we adopted Aleksa, there were 83 girls there.  Though the sleeping quarters were separated into three levels, the 19-35 year olds on the top floor and the younger girls on the other two, the rest of the time we saw the girls all together in a large group.  They have a playground, however it was obvious when we took Aleksa out to play on it that she rarely played there.  She couldn't sit independently on a swing, couldn't climb a ladder to go down the slide, couldn't get on the see saws, and tended to stand by the small fence surrounding it and watch... even though we were the only ones out there.  Then, she would turn and run away as often as possible.

When the girls were all out there, they lined the benches under an overhang and had tables pushed up against them.  They sat and moaned and rocked, screaming, throwing their arms around, and in general just living in their own little worlds...

That is what Aleksa's reality was, 365 days a year, for three long years.

Aleksa didn't learn to love.  She didn't learn to accept affection.  She didn't ever make eye contact with people.  She never received or gave hugs.

Instead she screamed.  She ran.  She pulled hair.  She spit.  She used urination as a control factor.  She stole.

She did all sorts of things that are 100% survival, and that are 100% normal for an orphan.

But now she has a family.  One that loves her.  One that has expectations of her.  One that shows affection to her.  One that wants to teach her.  Wants to help her.  Wants to be a part of her life.  A family that wants to be there forever for her, and wants her to let us in.

During my trip to Bulgaria, Aleksa was with familiar people.  People that may give her a hug, tell her hello, smile at her, and both guide her and discipline her.

When I came home, Mommy came back.  Not just a familiar person or a family member, but... Mom.  Someone that wants to hug her, love on her, sit with her, cuddle her, and someone that she wants to keep as far away as possible.

WHY???

Well, because then she's safe.  She's safe to be with people that love her, but aren't promising to love her forever.  She's safe when she keeps people at a distance and does things on her own terms.  YES, her Daddy was here.  However kids with attachment issues generally distance themselves from the primary caretaker, which is usually Mom.

When I came home, she was great the first morning.  It was Sunday she sat snuggled against me through church, dancing during the worship songs, holding my hands, and following along when I signed some of the songs with her during worship.  She was SO GOOD, so much of a 'nnatural' interaction with me, ad so very well behaved.

Then... she pulled her hair down while we were driving home and when she was told no as she got out of the car (sternly) and had her hair put back up, she then peed in the driveway.  Yikes.  Back to the control issues...

Sunday the rest of the day we spent with a battle of the wills.  She messed with her hair, she went to time out, she took the other kids' toys, she went to time out.  She picked on others, she got a time out.  She eventually was given a "safe spot" to play (on the couch with some toys, but not allowed off of it) so that she could go for more than 10 minutes before being returned to time out.

Monday she went to school.  She had an on and off day at school.  Lots of red faces for different activities on her daily sheet, though lots of green ones too.  A "good" day we'll have all greens, or maybe one or two reds. This wasn't a good day.  Then on our way home we stopped at the church, which is just a mile from the school, to pick my computer up from Michael.  When we stopped, she'd already pulled her hair down.  In case you didn't notice, her hair is her "control switch."  It is what she uses to determine that she's going to do as she pleases.  If her hair is left down all day she looks like a rag doll orphan then she may not use it for control.  That's not an option most days.  So it goes up, at least most of the time.  Then, she determines that she'll start by messing with her hair, then by taking off and mangling her glasses, by taking things from the other kids, hitting and pushing, and becoming quite a mess.  It's a process for her, starting with her HAIR.  Therefore, we stay on her to keep her hands out of her hair and to keep it up.

I wet to the back of the van to reiterate that she's not to take her hair down in the car (this is now twice, out of four times we've been in the car since I got home, that she's taken it down).  She peed in her car seat right then.  Oh My Goodness.  CONTROL.

We went home, she showered, got PJ type clothes on, after all it was bath night and why repeat the process if we're already doing it all?  She put on a pull up (since that's what she wears to bed) and went to time out after cleaning up.  Three hours later... (and two more trips to the bathroom...) she peed herself again, without discipline, without reason, without anything.  It's not "because" she had on a pull up, because she is almost always dry at night now and it's more for the off occasion that she does wet at night that we continue to put her in the pull ups.  And she was upset, when she went to the bathroom the next time, and took all her pants/pull up off... so she wasn't trying to hide it AND she knew she would be in trouble.

It appears that our attachment issues that we've struggled a LOT with over the last 11 months are still going strong.  After all, she had 8 years to develop the life, personality, and defense mechanisms that she has now... it's not going to be easy to 'undo' them.

Aleksa sat on my lap last night and we had a little heart to heart.  I have no idea how much she really understood, but I guarantee she got the gist of the conversation.  The parts about her not peeing herself, not taking her hair down, not messing with her glasses, that she is a big girl, has to make choices, and needs to make GOOD decisions or she was going to continue having consequences.  She made eye contact for 1/20th of a second on several occasions, but couldn't easily avoid at least looking toward me since I was sitting in an empty hallway with her on my lap facing me as we talked.

It was a good talk.  A helpful talk.  We ended with big hugs and kisses and sitting and snuggling for a bit.  Then she walked in to her room and was nasty again.

She's scared of loving.  Scared of getting close.  Scared of being rejected and loss.

And she doesn't even know it or understand it.  It just is what it is.

And so, it continues.  One year and counting since her court date.  Almost a year since she came in to my custody.  And the battles are different now, the understanding greater on both of our parts.  But the struggle is still very much alive in her little heart.  It hurts me to see her struggle so much to obey very simple and basic rules simply because she's trying to protect herself from loving.

But love we will.  Carry on we will.  One day, that 1/20th of a second of eye contact will grow exponentially... and she may learn, one day, to love.

12 comments:

  1. Because Nina had such a strong attachment to one of the workers, we had and extremely difficult beginning. Now, I am so thankful for that woman.

    And you are absolutely right, attachment takes years. Someone said to me (I think you know who) that for every year their son was in an orphanage or institution, that would be how many years it would take to get to know each other and bond. I often think about that, because as a mom, it gives me hope. Now, once we get to 4 years post adoption, if we still have issues, well then....we will cross that bridge when we get there.
    (And do you realize I figured out how to follow your blog?)

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  2. Praying for her guarded heart!

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  3. Oh, Meredith, I do not have words...It is so heavy.Really I do not know what to say...One I know, I will continue to pray for you all.
    Love and prayers,Alla

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  4. Meredith,
    Thanks for this post. I REALLY needed to read it. Jacob is home for 2 years, from Serbia, where he spent 6 years in an institution. We adopted him at age 10. We never got to see the institution, as they had transferred him back to an orphanage where we adopted him from, but the news reports of his institution were enough to keep Serbia out of the EU. I assume it was like you described.
    We struggled mightily with attachment. And pretty severe aggression and self abuse. Jim and I went to a conference over the past weekend, and that was hard on Jacob. THen Jim left today to pick up Deyan and Christopher in Bulgaria. I stayed here---because Jacob did so poorly when we did our first trip to Serbia.
    He beat the "H" "E" "Double hockey sticks" out of me today. I have had him in CPI holds MOST of the afternoon/evening to protect both of us, but by the time he went to bed and to sleep, he managed to completely tear open the side of his face. And when I read your blog post, I JUST KNOW the reason he is doing this is that he is lost and unable to trust us to love, always, completely, without end.
    Thanks for your honesty in your post.
    Mary

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  5. Praying !
    I know love will prevail.
    She is a lucky little girl.

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  6. Wow, thanks so much for sharing, Meredith. It just makes me so sad/angry at what happens to these precious children when living in those horrid institutions. I'm so sorry you are having to go through all of this. Praying that she does one day learn to love.

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  7. HI! I have been following your blog for a little bit. My name is Erica! I have adopted two little ones. We didn't get Jessie until she was two and have struggled with attatchment and control issues. It is refreshing to read from another mother going through something similar. We go through cycles of doing really great to then the opposite! AH!
    THanks for this post:)

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  8. Hugs Meredith, for you...and for my little buddy Aleska. I wish I had the magic potion to give you to have her accept your love. Because your love is genuine and it will heal her broken heart. Hugs my dear friend. Please give all my little friends in your house a big hug and kiss from me and my family. Make sure you let my little doll Emma know I enjoyed her hugs.

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  9. Always love your honesty and your heart Meredith. You are an awesome mom. Keep up the good fight! Hope you feel better. - Linda

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  10. Thanks for sharing this. We just adopted a two year old and though we hope things will be "easier" since he wasn't in an orphanage for longer, it certainly has had some very obvious affects on him. He tests and tests and tests over and over all day long. It's encouraging when another family posts about their struggles and the patience they are showing and love to their adopted child. It's encouraging to me and encourages me that I can do this. I can show this little one every day (over and over) that it is not okay to hit and bite but that we still love him even as he continues to test and learn basic rules.

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  11. Hi Meredith,

    What a refreshing post for me but of course more difficult things going on for you all. What an angel you are and have the time to post these things to help others. Baby steps with her, in one year she has come far, but still has so far to go. I hear you about the daily struggles and pray that you continue to have the strength and patience to address the issues in a positive way! So hard!
    Nina

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  12. Thanks for this post. I adopted my daughter through foster care at age 6 and she is about to be 9 and we are still having some attachment issues. Some days are great but other times are really rough. It is hard for children who have suffered to ever accept trust and love in others. I know things will continue to improve over the years for all of us. It is great to know others understand and we are all working on this day by day together. Blessings, Gina

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