Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bethany’s Hope: A Journey in Helping Our Daughter Heal and Find Love Again

This blog story is just a snippet of our time and journey of healing. We continue to peel back the layers of our daughter's wounds in order to facilitate healing, but we are sure much farther along than when we first realized what was going on. We aren’t naïve anymore in believing that a few short years will undo all the neglect, loss and possible abuse she endured, but we do have faith that God will complete a good work in her.

When we realized what was going on with our precious girl we had to re-learn how to parent a wounded child. Much of it was not only different it was foreign to us. Remember we had already parented a birth daughter for seven years. We weren’t “green” in the parenting department, but Bethany’s issues quickly showed us that all traditional parenting was an absolute failure in helping her. Some quick examples are that we immediately quit all time-outs and did time-ins. For months she was literally linked to me by a jump rope so as to always be connected to me. We did bottle time daily for well over a year. We played baby with her and re-parented her through many of the moments she missed when living in the orphanage.

We played a game where she would climb under one of my husband’s big shirts, his silk pajamas from China to be exact, and I would pretend I was pregnant with her. I would pat her head and sing songs to her, as I did to my birth daughter, and when she was ready out she would pop through the shirt, and we would move to the rocker where I would rock her, sing to her and bottle feed her t. I know it sounds weird and believe me there were times I would think how bizarre this whole thing was, but she absolutely loved it and needed it. It was one of the big things that ended her severe jealousy toward her sister being born to us, and her not being my birth child.

Thinking back, there is so much that we did to nourish her healthy attachment to us that goes against traditional American beliefs of teaching early independence. One day she fell down and hurt herself. We made a big deal of scooping her up and kissing her “owies.” She would never come to us for comfort so we always had to go to her, but when going to her she would scream, “Don’t touch me. I don’t want your help!” One day she screamed this at me and started running away from me. I calmly looked at her and said, “You must be remembering a time back in the orphanage where you felt that no one cared about you. You might have fallen down and no one came to comfort you. You might have been sick and no one came to hold you and care for you, but you don’t live in an orphanage now. You live in a family where people care for each other and love on each other when they are hurt or sick. So what are you going to do?” She stopped midway up the stairs, thought a few seconds, and turned around and ran into my open arms. That was the beginning of her truly allowing us to comfort her, and now she comes to us if she hurt or sick.

We used jelly beans, Skittles and Starbursts to reward her when she willingly came to us. We practiced spilling water on many occasions everywhere we went because one of her trauma triggers was spilling. I am still not sure what might have happened to her, but each time she would spill she would scream in sheer terror. So, in order for her to learn that spilling was normal, we all practiced spilling (we made it seem like a true accident). We did “baby bird feeding,” which is feeding candies or sugary treats ONLY if she is making good eye contact. We would call her to us, look in her beautiful eyes and say some loving remark, and quickly pop a candy in. We kissed each and every sweet and sugary treat to show that mommies love had filled it before we offered it to her. We did not allow her to self-feed candy or any other sugary treat. It all came from mom or dad to begin with.

I send this information because I passionately believe in equipping adoptive parents, and supporting those who are struggling. During the last two years we have seen four disruptions of adopted children within the families we know. None of the disruptions are children adopted from China, but it breaks my heart just the same because when there is a disruption everyone loses. Honestly, I can’t judge or even criticize any of the families who chose to disrupt. It was a gut-wrenching and hideous decision to have to make and each family made it only after exhausting every avenue and every chance of helping their children heal. In the end, they simply had to re-home the child to give them all a chance to heal and progress. It has been so sad.

Anyway, I thank you for the blog and I hope many parents will find information, support and even a wake-up call if need be from the information found within. Thanks again!

Here is Neurogistics webpage: http://www.balanceyourchildsbrain.com/


When our daughter was handed to us on October 15, 2002, she was very sick. Unlike all the other children who were awake and looking around, our daughter was out cold. She hung limply off her nanny's shoulder.

When she was handed to me I realized how hot she was and I knew we were in big trouble. I was not a first-time mom so I knew fevers weren't necessarily anything to worry about, but my little one was really burning up.

When we got back to our hotel room and I took her temperature I finally tossed the thermometer aside when it got to 105. We had taken many medications with us so we started her on Advil and Tylenol piggybacks. We also had to strip her, something I had not wanted to do immediately, and put her in a tepid bath.

While she was in the bath tub, she gave me a small smile -- a smile which would hold us through the next few days of our nightmare into the world of third-world medical care.

To fast forward, we spent two days going back and forth between the Nanning hospital for IV fluids, and fighting to get us out of Nanning and into Guangzhou, which had the western SOS medical clinic. We had taken our older daughter to China with us, and we were deeply worried about our new daughter being sick with Rotovirus.

The second day our daughter Bethany was with us she started vomiting every bottle we tried to feed her, as well as having severe diarrhea.

She was so dehydrated from the vomiting and diarrhea that we simply could not keep up with getting enough fluids into her. The three bottles of IV fluids given at the hospital, and lots of prayer saved her life.

Our agency did get us out of Nanning early, but not until after they recommended we reconsider adopting our daughter. We thought about that recommendation for a split second and then emphatically said no. She was our girl, sick or not, and we were bringing her home with us. We arrived in Guangzhou just days after meeting our daughter. We spent the duration of our trip hunkering down with a sick child at the White Swan, and checking in with the SOS clinic daily.

By this time, our girl's diarrhea had become bloody with severe intestinal cramping. She had the worst diaper rash I have ever witnessed, which neither of the two different creams we took with us would alleviate. Thankfully, the SOS clinic gave us something that worked. She also had a double ear infection, throat infection, and fever blisters all over her little mouth. She was one sick little girl.

Although the SOS clinic was far better than the hospital in Nanning, we didn't find out what was creating her illness until we reached home.

After reaching our home city, we immediately drove our older daughter home to her waiting grandmother, and headed to our local hospital for testing, again not something I would have chosen to do so soon.

Within a day it was discovered that Bethany had Shigella (which is like E Coli).
It wasn't just normal Shigella or the broad spectrum antibiotic we took would have killed it, but it was Super Shigella. The only antibiotic that it was susceptible to was Cipro, which was not being used with children. Of course we didn't have any choice but to use it, so we did. She was well within a week's time, and we settled in to become a family of four. But, it was not to be so easy.

What I now know is that our girl was displaying many early RAD signs. She was clingy (who can blame her after what she had been through), demanding (again good survival skills in an orphanage), and generally moody and melancholy. I didn't expect her to immediately be a happy smiley baby. I knew enough about post institutionalization to know it would take time for her to trust us, but I didn't know enough about early signs of attachment and trauma to see that her behaviors were indicating a real serious problem that hugs, kisses and reassurance would not heal.

I had already started attachment parenting. We started the family bed, which was a miserable failure due to her inability to sleep. I carried her virtually everywhere, which she insisted upon through screaming if I put her down at all. She did not go into any other childcare situation. I bottle fed her with eye contact. I rocked her nightly to the same lullaby music she still listens to at night. I bathed with her. I rubbed the same lotion on her that I wore. She was with me virtually 24/7, but it wasn't enough. Looking back now we needed the help of professional intervention, and I needed a whole lot more support to keep doing this work, even when I didn't see results.

Fast forward three years. Right before her fourth birthday, Bethany turned and looked at her big sister, Kendall, and said: "I hate myself." All the years of struggling with her very controlling and fake people-pleasing behaviors came to mind and I knew that our daughter was not securely attached. It was my greatest fear and yet it was what the Lord had called into my life. I would be lying though if I didn't admit that I was terrified.

I had read about the Romanian orphans. I had watched the "Dateline" specials. Heck, my brother worked as a social worker in a residential care facility that was filled with Russian adoptees who had RAD. I wasn't uneducated in this area. The problem was that the symptom lists I had learned about were for older kids. Our daughter was only three, and she didn't display those symptoms. Yet.

I called my husband and told him that we needed to find help for our daughter. He agreed and we made an appointment to see an attachment therapist who was local. We saw him for six months and realized that we were not getting anywhere, except that he was making her PTSD worse due to her incredible fear of men. On the homefront we
were busy learning all we could about post-institutional issues to help our daughter heal.

It was also during this time we started an adoption ministry at our church. It was focused more on the "We're home, now what?" premise. We wanted to explore adoption parenting from a Biblical perspective. We had been through too much confusion and faulty parenting advice to not follow God's calling in starting this ministry. We saw too many parents bring home struggling children and try to apply traditional parenting practices, which were failing everyone involved. We wanted to seek wisdom, apply what the Lord taught us and grow in the area of Biblically parenting the adopted child.

While researching RAD for another parent I came across the web page "Attach-China". I read the parent testimonies and every single question I had ever had about anything our daughter was struggling with was answered. Our daughter's inability to sleep through the night and her ever-present night terrors were all classic signs of the PTSD she suffered from. Her controlling behaviors such as hoarding food in her mouth, needing to be in charge all the time, and her extreme jealousy of any of my time being directed off her, were all symptoms of her insecure attachment. There were other red flags, but it would take a long time to list them all right now, but each
one of those symptoms was listed within "Attach-China"'s webpage. I cried as I read these testimonies because on one level I was scared for our family and our girl, but on another level I knew I wasn't crazy. We weren't alone! There were other families and other Chinese girls with these same issues.

I started pouring through information about attachment and PTSD. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I started calling every place I knew to get the help we needed. We paid special attention to adoptive families who had traveled this path ahead of us, and we learned from their victories and mistakes.

We realized that our daughter would need interventions that were not typical. From other adoptive families we learned of a neurodevelopment program in Oregon that was treating adopted children with RAD, as well as other conditions. We made an appointment to fly over and have her evaluated. Even though she had shown no major developmental delays maybe we had missed something. We also learned of a Christian attachment/trauma therapist who worked in Portland, Oregon. I looked at my husband and said, "I don't know what the checkbook says you make the decision." He replied, "You're going." We made an appointment to see the therapist, Dr. Kali Miller.

Our daughter was diagnosed with moderate anxious attachment (insecure) and severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). She also has some sensory processing issues, which showed at her neurodevelopment evaluation.

We came home from Dr. Miller's office and started bottle feeding her again during a daily snuggle time. Instead of milk we gave cooled hot chocolate. We also started co-sleeping with her again, which we had tried when we first came home. We pulled back into our family and really limited our outings and our visitors. She just couldn't handle any extra stress in her life, and we needed to learn out how to therapeutically parent her. When we re-introduced the bottle, with eye contact, she would take a few swallows and erupt in rage. She had made great eye contact when
we first came home, but I remembered that it was mostly on her terms. Now, I was asking her to make eye contact on my terms and she didn't want that. I had to hold her while she kicked, screamed, spit and fought through the rage that she was feeling. The first few times it was well over an hour before she stopped raging and started crying. It was exhausting work, but each time she would cry she would say to
me: "Mommy why did she leave me? Mommy I must have cried too much." So many times I cried right along with her as she entered into the pain within her heart. I didn't want to see my daughter hurt like she did, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. The only thing I could do was show her that this time she would not be alone. I
would walk this path with her no matter what.

I was homeschooling my oldest daughter, Kendall, at the time, and one day I had a homeschool mom's Bible study meeting. Our discussion was about grace that night, and the leader asked if anyone had shown their child grace recently. I raised my hand to speak and calmly told my story. That same day during our daily snuggle/bottle time, while I had been telling my daughter how much I loved her, she had matter-of-factly looked up at me and said, "I don't love you. I hate you!" Her hatred was very real and very true, and it was expressed during a time of intimacy. Although I was taken aback I felt the Lord tell me, "It's okay, I've got her," and only through His strength I was able to look her in the eyes and say, with love and acceptance in my eyes, "That's okay sweetie, I have enough love for both of us." After I sent her out of my room I went into my closet and sobbed. It was the moment when the magnitude of what we were dealing with first hit me, and I felt my heart rip into pieces.

To facilitate bonding our daughter was kept very close to me. She slept with us on my side of the bed. For the first six weeks she fought to get away from me in her sleep. It was so strange to have a sleeping child kick and moan in her sleep, while trying to scoot as far away as she could get from me. I didn't get much sleep during those first six weeks, but after the initial difficulties she learned to snuggle in to me. In fact, she would sleep with one leg over me at all times, as if she was afraid I would get away otherwise. She slept like that for over a year. It was only this Christmas that we moved her to a mattress beside our bed, which is where she still sleeps today.

For approximately six months I heard my daughter scream over and over again that she hated me, and each time her outbursts ended with me holding her while she raged. Each episode ended with more of her pain coming to the surface. She cried, "I hate my birthmother, she hurt me and when I hurt I want to hurt other people." My heart ached for her, but each time my only job was to stay with her and allow the Lord's love to flow through me to her. It was hard work, and even though I knew I was never alone myself I felt so isolated and scared.

After about six months, instead of screaming she hated me she began screaming, "I don't want you to love me; love hurts." Again, these snuggle times ended in more rages and more holdings where the pain she was holding onto came flooding out. The holdings no longer lasted over an hour. They lasted around 30-40 minutes.

Outside of snuggle time she was starting to have some really good days. They weren't the good days of old where you never knew if she was being real or not, but these were genuine. We started to see real smiles and hear real laughter from her. They didn't come often, but they were wonderful to see just the same, and we cherished every one of them.

The whole time my daughter and I had been flying back and forth, every two weeks, between Idaho and Oregon to see our daughter’s attachment therapist. A year into this, Bethany started coming into snuggle time saying, "I want mommy's love." She was also making great eye contact, and she was draining her hot chocolate bottle. In fact, there were many times when I would look into her eyes and see the baby that I knew wanted nothing more than to be loved. Her eyes were soft and trusting like a small baby’s would be in a mother's arms. It was very different from the dark rage filled eyes I had seen looking up at me six months ago.

The journey through attachment has been long and hard. We have learned so much about how neglect affects children. Without having a sensory rich and nurturing environment while living at Pingnan, our daughter’s ability to process sensory stimuli has been compromised. Without had any one caregiver to bond with she has learned not to trust those around her, and with the introduction of the severe neglect she suffered her brain development has suffered. She reads everything as a potential threat and reacts accordingly.

These behaviors are not just a choice for her, and they aren’t just emotions she is feeling. They are hardwired into her brain and cells through pre-verbal cellular memories and neurological impairments stemming from the neglect so prevalent in so many orphanages worldwide.

Because of all the challenges she faces we intervened in ways which are not typical. She started a neurodevelopmental program two years ago. At her evaluation we discovered anomalies in her tummy crawling, her hands and knees creeping, and so many other developmental areas that we were never informed about. To this day she has creeped and crawled over 120 miles, and through what appears to be silly interventions of fetal patterns and other infant patterns, we have seen wonderful improvements. She no longer rejects the love I pour into her, but runs to me for comfort and hugs.

We also had her neurotransmitters tested last year via a urine test, and that her brain chemistry was way off. It was described to me that her brain chemistry showed as if she had consumed 40 cups of coffee with nothing to eat. In fact, the practitioner we work with said Bethany’s brain was never chemically ready to attach. It is no wonder she had explosions. We started her on targeted amino acid therapy and we saw immediate improvements.

The biggest area we saw her improve was in the area of sleep. She was so hypervigilant that she had not been able to sleep well since she had come home from China, which was over four and half years ago. During her third year she had so many night terrors I could count the number of times she didn’t wake screaming on one hand. Sadly, nobody knew how to help us because nobody knew what was going on. Once we started her on the supplements for the amino acid therapy she started going to sleep in five minutes, but what was even more encouraging was that she stayed asleep through the whole night.

We continue to peel back the layers of her wounds from her early beginnings. We continue to fly back and forth between Idaho and Oregon for bi-weekly therapy. We hope one day soon to be able to drop down to once a month. Bethany is almost finished with her neurodevelopment program, and she will be beginning neurofeedback to target the anxiety she still struggles with. We do therapeutic parenting in our home, and we try to educate as many people as will listen that parenting adopted children is very different than parenting birth children, whose beginnings don’t include trauma. We know because we have done both in parenting our girls. Bethany’s struggles stem from living in inadequate orphanage conditions, and those challenges take an entirely different approach.

Our daughter has made tremendous strides in healing. She no longer tells me she hates me. She will say, “I can’t push mommies love away,.” During nightly prayers she thanks God for sending her a mommy who will always love her. She is beginning to make connections with others in our family. She is not fully healed, but I have faith that He who began a good work in her will not finish it until it is completed. I am sure she will always have trauma as a part of her history and she will always have rejection and loss to work through. But, I see how far God has brought her through the interventions and the help of the powerful team of professionals He put together. I know He has a plan for her just as He had a plan for Helen Keller.

She was recently the “Star of the Week” in her kindergarten class, and for the question what do you want to be when you grow up, she put “I want to be a Dr. Kali and help children who hurt.” I couldn’t ask for anything more.

MeDenne Jones

For more information about attachment disorders or Post Trauma disorders in Chinese
children see attach-china or a4everfamily.org.

1 comment:

Eva said...

Thank you for your post. We had similar experience 9 years ago.