Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Saviour or Seeking to be Saved?

As adoptive families of internationally born children, we see our world through the eyes of our unique perspective. We often fail to realize that others may see us differently. Are we seen as noble families that have provided a home to a needy child, or are we seen as members of a group that is taking advantage of the financial inequalities around the world to feed our own interests in raising a child we often can't obtain otherwise. In other words, are we seen as a Savior, or as needing to be saved.

The following essay, written by an adoptive parent of a Chinese daughter, addresses this question by drawing on the extreme example of Vanessa Beecroft. Her insight helps explain the looks we all receive from those around us, and may explain some of the questions we all receive.


The lines to adopt a child from developing countries, especially China, have lengthened beyond what anyone could have predicted. People are spending a lot of time, energy and money to become parents to a child from another country. Many outside the adoption community ponder what this lure could be about. As an adoptive parent, I understand many of the intentions behind the decision to adopt internationally. I have heard many different motives on why people have chosen to adopt trans-racially: some seem quite valid, and some are incomprehensible.

The issue of white privilege is one that many in the adoption community repeatedly refuse to accept. We just can’t see it in ourselves. And what is white privilege anyway? Could it be that we have lived a life free from exploitation and oppression and we fail to understand why it is that others reject our acts of goodwill? But we should accept the possibility that by trying to help another person, we can actually create even more harm than good.

I do feel this is often the case. People want to feel better about their own identity. They want to open up their hearts and welcome more love into their life. People are overwhelmed by images of starving, homeless and orphaned children and an inner feeling emerges -- a feeling that seems so well intentioned yet can cause people to act in the most impulsive and irrational ways.

Our society teaches us that we need to help others. We are taught to care for all people on earth and it is our duty to take care of those who are without. I do feel that there are times when people are torn between wanting to share and help, and also wanting a payoff in the end. It isn’t enough to just give anonymously. Many crave that recognition and use it to fill the void that is within.

There is a line that is crossed when a simple act of good nature turns into exploitation for personal gain.

Vanessa Beecroft is one person who has chosen to exploit children from Sudan for her financial and personal gains. Overcome by engorged breasts and her swollen ego, she spilled her white privileged breast milk into the mouths of two innocent children. As if this was not bad enough, she then decides to strip them of their clothing and stages them for a picture that sells for $50,000 per print.

Overcome by the lovely feeling that giving offers, Vanessa allowed her white privilege to go a bit further and rather than just breastfeeding these orphaned children and going home empty handed, she decides she will “save” them and bring them home with her. She spends months pursuing an adoption of the Sudanese twins without her husband’s knowledge, assuming he will feel the same urge to save as she has.

Her husband, Greg Durkin, is a social anthropologist and was horrified when he heard of her actions. He states: “Is adopting these two children from this village helping them? Saving them? Is that the best we can do as a family? I don’t know. I think that’s kind of almost like a short-cut, it’s almost too selfish. I can fill my needs by bringing them into my world because it’s far easier for me to deal with things in my world.”

Vanessa explained her feelings: “I want them, but do I deserve them? I’m afraid of the judgement of the people. The Bishop, the Dinkas, the world. ‘Ah here she is’ - not that I’m important – ‘another white woman wanting something exotic.’”

Vanessa returns home to New York, still trying to convince her husband that they should adopt these children. Greg’s position is clear: “Just because they don’t know the certain things we call luxuries it doesn’t mean that we’re better than them. I don’t see that dimension at all.”

This story is actually not all that unusual. Many couples do not agree on the issue of adoption and especially the issue of transracial adoption. In a developed country, many feel compelled or perhaps drawn towards offering help to those who they deem as less fortunate. Yet one must wonder whether those who are hungry or orphaned need us or is it our need to feel validated that drives us to want to adopt? Are there not better ways we can help others without having to get such a huge payback in the end?

Vanessa’s story actually paints an amazing picture of what international adoption may look like on many levels to many people. Is she the “white Madonna Saviour” or the desperate and depressed wife with a void to fill? Which are we? Or are we neither? And why did we adopt? Can any of us be honest about our motives and can we admit it if they were less than admirable?

When I see this picture, I can only see exploitation. It is hard to look at, yet equally as hard to look away. Does that make me a voyeur? Intrusive? I am not sure. One thing I am sure about is that Vanessa shows the side of international adoption that reinforces a dangerous stereotype. She evokes a feeling within not only the adoptive parents but also those who were adopted internationally. She represents so much about what is wrong in this system and the many reasons why we all need to look internally on why it is we chose to adopt and the consequence it may cause on our children.

Will Vanessa or others in the adoption community ever recognize that all of their well-meaning behaviours were actually self-driven to some extent? Driven to fulfill a personal desire for more -- More love, more life, more of whatever it is people crave. Sometimes it seems that the void is endless and can never be filled.

Or as Greg puts it “Just because they don’t know the certain things we call luxuries doesn’t mean that we’re better than them.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"She is Very Shy"

"She is very shy"...... those are the only words that were translated for me by our guide, spoken by the woman I've come to call "the disappearing nanny" because she seemed an expert at bringing the babies to Nanchang and slipping out quietly and quickly before anyone noticed.

"She is very shy" is what she said when Cami, terrified of her new squeaky shoes, tried to crawl into her arms. It's the only thing she told me. I didn't know anything about how my new baby lived her days, what she ate, or when she slept. And I didn't notice the shyness right away. I decided it was a cultural misunderstanding, something lost in translation.

Now we have been home 8 months. Cami is confident and sure of herself in her new home. She is a sturdy child with a great appetite and quick laugh. But her view of the world is forever altered by the life she must have lived as a shy child in the dog eat dog world of the orphanage.

Cami has an interesting regard for children. She doesn't seem to like them very much. If we are in a crowd, she chooses the empty corner for play. If a child approaches her, Cami will veer out of the way. If there is a line, she will give up her space time and again and go to the end of the line so that no one is standing at her back.

Cami is coordinated, but careful. She moves methodically while other children romp. She is alert and can sense a movement in her direction and she adjusts her choreography. She does not engage......nor does she practice parallel play. She is the sentinel, the guardian. A change in the direction of the wind or an approaching truck still blocks away will cause her to change her status to "all systems alert". She is watchful. She is protecting herself from whatever she fears, out in the big open spaces, in the primitive ways she learned early in her life.

Today we took a picnic to our neighborhood park for lunch. Cami sat on the picnic bench, swinging her legs and eating her sandwich in the sunshine. But when two more little girls approached the park to play with their moms, she stiffened. She began to stuff the rest of our lunch back in the lunch box, to hide our food from the predators. She stashed her cookie under her little leg.

We watched the children play, but Cami only wanted to sit with me and watch. She melted into me and I was her shield. The little girls were friends and I tried to imagine Cami playing with friends. I know the funny little girl inside her who likes to tell secrets and to take turns because, for now, Cami and I are best friends. And while I cherish this time, I worry about how deeply buried Cami- the- friend might be from the world's view.

I don't know the social structure of her orphanage, but my sense of it is that it was a society where meanness went unpunished and being unseen was sometimes the best that could be hoped for. I can't bear to imagine Cami being the victim of anyone's cruelty. My mind refuses to go to that possible place. And if I even get a whiff of it, I"m reduced the simplest place of existence, where my only purpose in life is to stand in the way of harm coming to her again.

"She is very shy"........ What does that mean for her? What did it mean for her in China? And what level of courage did it take for her to allow herself to be carried off, dry eyed and unflinching, by a band of strangers. In a single breath she lost her home, her language, and every shred of security she had carved out in her short life.

Now I want to unbuild the walls that protect her heart. I want to return her innocence. And I will do whatever I can to heal the wounds and remodel her childhood.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Post-Adoption Depression

This morning is typical. I awake and feel resistant to my day of child care. And then I feel guilty for feeling negative towards my kids. When there was one child I still had some freedom, now my daughter is home from China, I just feel anxious all the time. I spend much of my time caring for her and thinking of ways to shake the sweet ankle biter off.

We have worked through sleep issues, with the odd hiccup she goes to bed easily in her own crib. After much research and mental wrestling, we did the cry it out method. Of course we didn’t do it right away, after we were more firmly established at home for about two months we did it. It was not the horror that I imagined, she cried twenty minutes the first night and gradually less and less subsequent nights. I am thankful we tried this – against the adoption research, it worked for us.

Yes I love her, but I am overwhelmed and this sometimes eclipses my feelings of love for her. In my deepest darkest moments I wonder why I brought this on myself. Our bonding is going well but I feel suffocated from her daily need.

I have done research and discovered that over 50% of adoptive mothers, and especially the ones that adopt from overseas will experience Post Adoption Depression. What am I doing about it besides writing this post? Well, I fake it as much as I can. I have also started getting her used to other people caring for her so I can get a break. I exercise as often as I can. I get as much sleep nightly as I can too. I also spend time praying about it and I am not a religious person. My husband is very supportive, but this doesn’t change the fact that he works fulltime leaving me to dread those long days when it is just her and I all day, my other child in preschool.

The research says it will probably pass in about a month or two, so I am holding the research to their word and keeping the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, everything with children is a stage right? Why not this too? Some days are better than others, today not so much.

My purpose in sharing my story is for other women like myself to know they are not alone. It is very hard to complain about a child when you have likely been infertile and dreamed about her for years. It is hard to complain about feeling overwhelmed when you have felt jealous of other women’s pregnancies and cursed the universe for making you unable to conceive. It is hard to complain about a child when you know the suffering she has gone through in her young life, what is it compared to yours now?

Ya, you aren’t alone.

I will get through this.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

3000 U.S. dollars- Crisp, Clean and Unmarked

“3000 U.S. dollars- Crisp, clean and unmarked.” This was the email we received from our agency. They stressed that the money would be scrutinized and so we needed to be very particular. We placed the request to our bank and after weeks of waiting, it was all there. We went in, opened a safety deposit box and placed the small envelop in it for safe keeping until our trip to China.

It all seemed so very ‘business’ like. I had visions of how much 3000 dollars would look like and when we were handed the small neatly stacked pile, I was surprised at its minimal appearance.

It sat in our safety deposit box until the day before our travels. It would often be brought up amongst those waiting. Some were stressed because their bills had marks from a money counter it had went through, some stressed over how it should be carried to China. My husband and I chose to keep it in a money pouch wrapped in hard cardboard and then the pouch was pinned to my husband’s jeans to avoid any unforeseen accidents or heaven forbid “the pick pockets”.

Although the money was referred to as a donation, we were all very aware that it was much more than that. It was mandatory and part of the program. It seemed quite minor when compared with the costs of the social workers and agency fee’s, yet when weighed against the entire fee’s we did pay, this money became the heaviest burden.

As soon as we got to China, our money was collected. Our in-China facilitator went over each bill and made sure it met standards. Some people failed to bring the specified condition and thus relied on others to exchange extra money.

Finally our whole group succeeded in handing over our “perfect money”.

I had moved beyond this fee and actually began justifying it to many who were often curious on how much China made from us. I explained how it was a mere 3000 dollars and it was simply paying for my child’s care while in the orphanage.
I made sure that I told others that it was a “donation” because the word sounded softer. Usually this would be enough for others to give us their approval and I felt more secure after these conversations because in a strange way, it also convinced me that China was not making money and this was not about business to them.

I am not sure when I began to understand how much 3000 U.S. dollars is for the people in China. It seemed like a large sum for us to physically hold, yet in reality, it was minor on what we earn each year and on how much we spend.

The time had come.
The children and staff were lined up in the civil affairs office and each name was called as we received our long awaited children. I was overjoyed to finally have come this far. She was so beautiful. She slept through the entire transfer from the staffs’ arms into mine. She briefly awoke, checked me out and then went back into her slumber. Neither the orphanage staff nor the kids shed any tears, only us parents who waited for so long for this moment to come!

My child had been ill, very ill, and yet no medication was provided. We began her on a simple antibiotic immediately and her condition improved within days. Many kids had both Scabies and Giardia from this orphanage as well.

She had never been introduced to solid food and was used to the gravity fed method that the orphanage used. She could now hold her bottle and would suck the mucky mixture down within a minute.

Our daughter received minimal care in her orphanage. She was kept alive and for that I am so thankful. She was fed quality formula that was fully supplied by Love Without Boundaries. She was kept warm in multiple layers of old clothing and she did have a crib and was blessed with the company of another little child as her crib-mate.

From all the pictures I received back from my digital camera, no toys were seen. I had read that there were toys donated and I know all the parents in our group mailed toys, however none were seen in any of the pictures. It appeared to be an orphanage with the bare minimum for our children.

I began to question just how much of our money went to the children. $3000 x 150 children per year (at the minimum) = $450,000 U.S.
In China, this would be so much money. Surely it would supply the nutritional needs, the heat and possibly even air conditioning, at the very minimum simple medications that would heal those who were so ill. One would assume that the children could have their basic needs met through the multiple donations that came into this orphanage. Each child meant $3000, many travel groups offered additional donations and large gift items such as air-conditioners, washing machines, cameras, clothing, diapers, bottles etc.

The list seemed endless and yet so did the needs.

The staff was minimal at this orphanage and at the very most only 10 caregivers were employed. So the big question is, where did the money go? Even if the CCAA had taken their cut and some money went to the few special needs children who resided there, still there was a huge gap between what was being given and what the children received.

I have since read that donations are on the increase. I would have once justified this raise in price. Long ago, I would have defended it with the mindset that all things go up in price. Now I know that the kids are not seeing the benefits of this money. I am not sure where it does go and I would hate to even venture a guess, I just know where it does not go. It does not go to quality care for our children. I am so grateful to Half The Sky, A Childs Right, Love Without Boundaries and all the other organizations that have recognized the needs of the children and overlook many issues just to deliver the lifesaving care that the kids need.

$5000 dollars can become dangerous to hand over without question. It is an enormous amount of money to be handed over without a breakdown of where it will go. When you consider the many children who will flow through the doors at $5000 a child and the notion that the kids must keep flowing for this amount of money to continue as well as all of the extra donations. It creates an even larger market and the nature of business will only escalate as the fee’s do.

I really do hope that people feel more enabled to question and speak out against this increase. I hope people force this issue of where the money needs to go and demand proof that it is being spent where it needs to be spent.

The children are what matter most. Not our desire to parent, not another’s possible motive for more wealth. It is about the kids. It began that way and should continue as such. Don’t let them be lost in this issue, let them be the focus of it.

They deserve so much more than any of us can ever offer them. At the very least, we should be making sure they get what is rightfully theirs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Owning Our Own Infertility

First generation born in North America and I was living the dream my parents had for me. I had finished university, had started a very successful career and at the ripe old age of 29 found the man I hoped to spend the rest of my life with.

After just a few short years of marriage, we decided to try and conceive as we were not getting any younger. We wanted to have children to share our lives with. We had fun trying for about 2 years, but then we began to worry something was wrong because we had not conceived.

We visited doctor after doctor with no results. Of course they all quoted the figure that 20% of all couples that can not conceive are unexplained. Two different specialists asked if we knew how babies were made. I was shocked that they would ask such a stupid question. How could I NOT know? Give me a break…..I’ve had sex education for 8 years in elementary, junior high and then high school. Dogs, cats, and it seemed that every other high school teenager could conceive, but we couldn’t seem to accomplish something as natural as getting pregnant. What was wrong?

We decided to continue with fertility drug after fertility drug all with no positive results. We decided to try treatment after treatment again with no positive results. We decided to stop with all the drugs and treatments just prior to our first in vitro fertilization. Somehow society always made me feel that I was at fault. In my mind, the Doctors’ eyes month after month looked at me with pity. We decided that we wanted a family. It did not matter that any children that we would have would have our DNA.

After 7 years of attempting to conceive, the fun was gone. It was a job and we were doing a poor job. We investigated adoption: private, foster care, children’s aid, etc. In short, the cost was too high: approximately $40,000 for private adoption; with foster care, we’d have to give up children that we had grown to love; we may not be chosen by a birth mother for whatever reason; the wait was approximately 10 years for an infant, and that was too long at the age of 36.

We decided to investigate international adoption, but heard so many corruption stories that we were worried. On researching China adoptions, we believed that we had found the best system. The children were apparently healthy. The children were loved and appeared to be well cared for. Every indication was that there was little to no corruption. The cost did not seem too unreasonable meaning that it didn’t appear that we were “buying” a baby, but paying for services rendered.

For the very first time in our marriage when we talked about children or having a family, the answers or results were not negative. We had to jump through hoops. We had to answer very private questions from people who were not medical professionals. We had to have our lives inspected from the inside out with a microscope, BUT we did it with pleasure because each step successfully completed brought us closer to our goal of having our family. We were finally having positive results.

We contacted our Chinese adoption agency (facilitator) and got all the paperwork completed for China. Twelve months after our dossier was logged into the China Center of Adoption Affairs, we received the referral of our first daughter. She was everything we could have wished for and still is to this very day. She was ours! We had “earned” the right to finally parent this child. Nobody could take this miracle from us!

We were so happy with our first daughter and our experience as parents we decided to adopt again from China. This time the wait became much longer all of a sudden, and waiting adoptive parents were getting more and more frustrated and angry because there were no answers or explanations and the answers given did not seem to coincide with what we witnessed on our first trip to China. We were frustrated, but not like so many that would be first-time parents. I heard and read many angry words from these waiting parents.

One personal friend shared the following with me, "I was really wondering if we really needed to add to our family after our first adoption, because everything is so perfect now and I didn't know if a new child would ruin that. Now that I know there are more restrictions, that I wouldn't qualify any longer, and that the wait is artificially slowing down, I want my baby more than ever." I was shocked by the statement, by the attitude, and by the sense of entitlement.

One thing that I suddenly realized was that NO ONE owed us. We did not finally “earn” the right to be parents. It was no one’s responsibility to solve our infertility problems. We had taken the responsibility to take the fertility drugs and take the various treatments to solve our fertility issues. Our infertility was ours, and no one had to solve our infertility because we were the ones that owned it. We could take whatever other steps to solve our infertility, but we own every aspect of our infertility.

Wow! What a revelation to me! After so much disappointment in our attempts to have a family, I realized that I had no right to be mad, frustrated, angry, etc., because NO ONE owed us a child! We were blessed to share our lives with a child, if and when it happened.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Living with an Emotional Vampire

My husband and I are the parents of two children born in China. Our oldest daughter "Mandy" is now 7 years old. We adopted her in China when she was 12 months and one week old. Our younger daughter "Lilly" is now 5 years old and she came home from China when she was almost 14 months old. Both of our girls are from the same province, but their personalities and life experiences prior to coming to us are like night and day.

Mandy lived in very poor rural orphanage for her first year of life. We don’t know what her life was like, but from photos, things looked very stark and she came to us with the back of her head asymmetrically flattened. We assume she spent a lot of her time doing not very much in her crib, flat on her back. She was tiny and slightly developmentally delayed in her fine and gross motor skills. She was my first child and I didn’t realize she was delayed until much later. She was also serious, very verbal and cuddly. I was in love with her from the moment I held her in my arms.

Lilly was from a much larger orphanage where most of the children live with foster families. She lived with the same foster family for 13 months before coming to us. She was plump and healthy and advanced in her developmental skills. She even knew how to work a remote control. She was joyful, loved to laugh and eat. She is the poster child for the happily-ever-after China adoption. She is a joy to parent, easy to love and fun to be around.

I first began to feel like something was different about Mandy when she was about two and a half years old. She never slept very well and getting her to go to sleep had become a huge battle every night. My husband and I couldn’t agree and how to get her to sleep and where she should sleep. Getting her buckled into her car seat was a huge, physical battle every day. She needed to control everything she did and everything I did. My husband was working in a different town and gone 2-3 nights per week and didn’t see the difficulty that I was experiencing with Mandy. He didn’t see the morning that I missed an important meeting at work because I couldn’t get her buckled in her car seat for an hour because she physically fought me so strongly. He called it normal "terrible twos," but somehow I just knew that it was more. Only now I thought that something out of the normal was going on. No one else believed me. I began to doubt myself and my own judgment.

Soon we would be adding our second child from China to this crazy mix and I was worried and scared. I became depressed, but again, I didn’t realize that until much later.

Lilly came home when Mandy was 3 years old and things really began to get difficult then. Mandy hated her new sister and would hit her all the time. No amount of redirection and correction from me stopped this. She simply would not share me with Lilly and it was extremely stressful to me. Finally one morning I broke down and cried at breakfast and told my husband that I felt like I was parenting a vampire all alone and she was sucking the life out of me.

That began our journey to seek help for Mandy and our family. The first counselor we saw did not understand or believe that Mandy might have issues stemming from her early life. But she did understand that Mandy’s behavior was putting severe stress on our marriage. She helped us to get on the same page with our parenting choices and strategies. She also helped me to get on anti-depressants. I was no longer feeling that I was alone having the life sucked out of me. This was a critical step for our family – getting my husband and I working as a team again.

But Mandy’s behavior was escalating. By four years of age or so, she would hit her sister and attack me and my husband if she didn’t get her way about the simplest things. She would hit, kick and spit at us. She began to destroy things when she was angry at us. One day when I was taking a short break in my room and she wanted to be in there with me, she got a knife from the kitchen so she could cut her way through the bedroom door. She still needed to control everything and she was mean and rude to us. Everything things was a battle, getting dressed, taking baths, going to bed, eating, playing. She was a darling at daycare and at the grandparents’ house and they all thought she was the most charming, smart little girl on the planet. She would cry and tell us that she wanted to be with her mother in China and then rage and tell me that she hated me. Our relationship was very strained. I felt I had nothing left to give to this child.

We saw a child psychologist from our local FTC group who felt that Mandy had sensory integration issues. So we worked with an occupational therapist for 3 months. Many things got easier, but the rages and control issues continued to escalate.

We began to search for a therapist who had worked with adopted kids and finally found someone to work with. We saw him for about six months and his evaluation of our daughter was that she had anxiety and adoption issues, but not RAD. He did talk therapy with us and with her. We didn’t see much improvement and after six months, because of changes in his practice, he could no longer see us. He promised to help us transition to a new therapist. He sent us to a counselor was experienced with teens with oppositional behaviors, but not adopted children. She was totally charmed by Mandy and felt that the issues were mine. After a few sessions with her we stopped our treatment with her.

We could not find any other good therapists to work with in our town. Our daughter was now raging and talking about wanting to die and hating us and wanting to hurt us. I feared for our safety and the safety of our Lilly. I couldn’t imagine how she could be healthy growing up in such a terrible situation.

When I first began to realize that our daughter has some “issues”, but no one else believed me, I had read about a therapist who worked almost exclusively with children adopted from China with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). For a long time, I suspected this is what was really going on with Mandy, but no one seemed to agree with me. Our next step was to call this therapist who lived in a different state. He talked on the phone to us for an hour that day and for the first time, we felt we were talking to someone who understood what we were dealing with in our home. We decided to bring him to our home for an intensive weekend of therapy and parenting coaching. He worked with both of us and our 3 and 5 year old daughters. We learned that our daughter indeed has RAD and we learned out to parent her therapeutically. We began to see positive changes almost immediately.

For us, this type of parenting was not intuitive, we really had to work at it and we had to learn how to physically hold her to keep her and us safe during her rages. After parenting her this way for almost a year, we finally felt that we had made real progress with her. We had more good days than bad; she no longer had to attempt to control everything; I no longer felt scared of her and unable to handle her behavior; she acted lovingly towards us and would cuddle with us.

It is now 2 ½ years since we began therapeutic parenting for our RAD girl. Our children are 5 and 7 years old. Mandy is not completely healed, but she is making great progress and we have a happy family life. She is able to function normally and happily in our home. She and I have a good relationship at last. Just a few weeks ago, we went to Disneyland as a family and had a great time with no rages, not tantrums and no meltdowns. It felt magical.

I had read about RAD before we adopted for the first time, but I thought that it was uncommon in Chinese adoptees and if our child has issues, I felt that we were smart, capable parents and could love our way through it. I know now that love is not enough to heal these children and that not all adoptions are easy and blissful. I’m so glad that we finally found the help we needed to help our daughter heal. Very few people saw or understood what we went through to get to the point where we are today. How can we help future adoptive parents prepare to parent a RAD child when the existence of RAD in our children is rarely addressed honestly and openly in the adoptive community or by agencies? How to we get past blaming the adoptive parent? How can we help some families to know that they aren’t cut out for therapeutic parenting and perhaps shouldn’t even become parents by adoption because of that? These are questions I think about a great deal.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Notes for Those that Struggle

My name is Anne and my husband, son and I adopted Rose from a Chinese Social Welfare Institute in September 2007.

Rose was found the day she was born, no contact with family. She had an infection, was taken into hospital and then to the Institute.

From what I can gather, she had adequate care but nevertheless institutionalized and therefore multi-cared for.

My understanding of attachment was nil, not because people hadn’t tried to warn me, but because I simply didn’t have a clue about what anyone was talking about.

Rose was only 10 months old when she came home. Many adopters would believe that this is too young to develop attachment issues, but my belief is that increased cortisol levels in the brain can begin to overload almost immediately, so I suspect that she must have begun to shut down within weeks of being in the institute.

She was extremely docile, smiled at anyone and would be held by anyone except our male guide. She was serene, calm and ‘perfect’ in every way. I adored her, much more than I had adored my first birth child at that age. She was everything I had hoped for and more. She was beautiful. She was perfect.

Three weeks after our return to the UK, I was feeding her in my arms. She smiled, reached out her arm and pulled my nose as hard as was humanly possible for such a little thing. She really hurt me, it made me cry. She looked cruel and cold. That was the bit that hurt the most. She also began to bite me, to scratch and to arch her back when she was carried.

I felt devastated. Literally, my world and my beautiful relationship fell apart. I went numb and for a few days, lost the will to love her. I just cared for her in a cursory way and got on with it while I tried to process this information.

Having lost my mother 10 years ago, I was acquainted with grief, and I recognised that I needed to go through a grieving phase that she was not perfect and that she was not what I thought she was. I cried for a few days, wiped my eyes as it were and began to try to find out what was going on.

The first thing I did was to find out from fellow adopters where to go for help and that is where I found attach-china. I also found 4everfamilies and scoured both their sites to try and grasp what was happening to me.

The next thing I did was to order some books on the subject. I still have some reading to do but I started with the following:

1 Nancy Thomas – Taming The Tiger While It’s a Kitten – This is programme for young children to help with attachment.
2 Nancy Thomas – When Love is Not Enough – A great insight into dealing with older children, which actually helped me to see where I might end up and therefore flagged up problems for the future, which I could work on now.
3 Martha Welch – Holding Time – A guide to holding your child to enable attachment and well being in the child
4 Dan Hughes – Building the Bonds of Attachment – a very inspiring case study of an abused child, which again, gave me insight into the future and how I could avoid letting Rose get to that stage.
5 The Connected Child – As someone on Attach-China described, a bible, a day-to-day book, full of useful tips that can be read and re-read over again. Not crisis management like Nancy Thomas.

My diagnosis of Rose is that she wasn’t held enough, she wasn’t looked at enough and she wasn’t talked to enough. I felt I had to tackle all these issues in order to get through to her. Now I realized that all was not well, it became glaringly obvious that she didn’t look at us, she held us at arms length and her speech was underdeveloped. Of course, she came from China, so one would not expect speech, but she would not mimic us, but rather try and lead all the time. Her concentration was appalling. She would brush through a roomful of toys in a minute and then look at us as if to say, ‘what’s next’. I found myself organizing outings every day just to keep her occupied. She began to look at us coldly more and more, hurt me as much as she could, resisted cuddles. The other thing to mention is that I actually became frightened of her. She scared me. She was cold. She didn’t seem to care about us. I knew these were early days but nevertheless I was frightened. By now I had read enough to know that these behaviours might continue for years and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

My reading was beginning to help a little. I understand that in order for a little person to survive, several things happen to their brain. First, and most obvious, they need to take control. It is said that if they are not in control, they literally believe that they may die. So control becomes a matter of life and death. Second, I learned that they become addicted to the adrenalin that has washed over their brain in order to survive, so creating chaos is a ‘good’ state for them to be in for them. It actually makes them feel more comfortable. I also learned the natural levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in the body is increased enormously which has a very damaging effect upon linking up the electric circuits, leading to neurological damage and eventually to an autistic kind of state. I wonder how much of this I have to deal with in the future.

So I faced up to it, I had the facts, but how to deal with it.

The all-encompassing word for the method of dealing with children with attachment issues is called ‘therapeutic parenting’. It obviously has many sides to it but the basic premise is that we communicate to our child, ‘you are too sick/ill to take control of your life at the moment. I am going to take control for you until you are well, and then you can have the control back.’

So how does this manifest itself on a daily basis? Well, because Rose was so young, I chose to go on a programme put together by Nancy Thomas called ‘Taming the Tiger While it’s a Kitten’. Nancy sends you CDs to listen to, very welcome and a booklet and she has a yahoo group too which is helpful. The idea was that we would carry Rose for twelve weeks in a sling for six hours a day, beginning to drop it at the end down to less and less. I won’t lie to you. This is a huge commitment. Hubby took extra time off work and we worked at this day and night, we slept with her, we bathed with her, we stroked, touched, kissed, bottle fed and played until we dropped! And the truth is that we really didn’t know if it did the trick or not. We did it because we felt if we didn’t, we may turn round in two years time and say, ‘oh, if only we had done it when she was so small.’ We took all her toys away and sung to her, danced with her and talked to her the whole time. We canceled all but gentle outings with friends, stayed at home and got through it. No one else held her, family got disdainful and made us feel dreadful!

After a couple of weeks on this programme, something happened, I actually cannot describe what it was and nothing happened for the rest of the programme. She became more compliant. She stopped whining all the time and began to rest her head on our chests. Hoorah! Nothing much else really. Nothing dramatic, nothing else happened for the whole process. She just learned to lean on us a bit and that was it. She also became more wary of strangers and clung to me when newcomers came to the house. Good news for unattachers.

When we began to get Rose down from the sling, I felt that it would be unfair to do the suggested method that she stay close to me all the time since crawling and walking became her main occupation and I gather, develops the brain, linking up the damaged electric circuits. That was enough to persuade me not to do that. Instead, I followed the advice of a member of attach china, and I gated off a substantial part of the house. Hence Rose is able to ‘potter about’. I have removed anything that she is not allowed to touch, hence reducing the word ‘no’ to a minimum and only in crisis. We have spent the last two or three months like this as she has learned to crawl and now walk.

My day consists of being a stay at home mum; I will not be leaving her for a few years yet. I am in the process of interviewing a mandarin nanny who will come in for four hours a week but I will be at home too until I am entirely happy that she is OK. On a therapeutic note, I keep my voice very even towards her, not too many highs and lows; I sing every song that comes into my head. I think music has been a connection between us. I affirm a lot of her learning and exploratory actions to build up the ‘good girl’ bit of her rather than the ‘bad girl’. I intend to start on a behaviour ladder (on the files section) before too long. I think this is a wonderful tool. I walk with her in the buggy for one – two hours each day. I just go to the shops or out to a nice park. We look at ducks. Normal parenting stuff really. But it is very routine. I use key words to warn her of what will happen next. Bottle, nappy, night night etc. Actually I re-read this stuff and it’s just mostly normal parenting.

Our day now goes in cycles. She really only moves into chaos and aggression now when she is tired. I try to keep up regular naps, regular food and bottles fed wrapped up in her "blankie". We hold her to sleep for every nap and at bedtime, which means if she is chaotic, she can have a good scream and get it out of her system before sleep. I have kept her bottle teats slow flow so that she has had to use a lot of sucking to get her milk. I felt this could get out her frustration. I will be putting some more holes in her bottle as I feel she can take it.

Six months on, I feel that we are seeing a change. I am guessing that it will be a year before we are a team. I am guessing that issues will rise and fall in her life and I don’t know what techniques I will use in the future.

I am humbly aware that I have not gone through nearly as much as some people on attach china who struggle minute by minute with their children. However, this is my story and I think it might be more helpful to those of you with young babies and children. The great thing about everything I have learned is that if things begin to go wrong again, I will simply re-adjust my behaviour to take back control.