Monday, March 10, 2008

Empty Eyes

Her eyes were so vacant, void of emotion. I had no idea what that meant, no idea why she showed no reaction to her surroundings. Was it her way of shutting out the pain and loss she may have endured? Was it a reaction to the neglect and deprivation she had experienced? Was it the months of crying with no response or was it something much deeper that had caused her lack of reaction to life?

Each day she would suck her fingers, flick her other hand and just stare. She was only 9 months when we adopted her. We were told that we were lucky and that she would have no affect from her life in the orphanage. We expected crying, possible rejection, anxiety. We were not prepared for a daughter who had no response to us, no reaction to the many new experiences she would have and did not cry to let her needs be known.

She was in a world far from where we were and one, which we would later learn, would take an enormous effort to pull her from.

Once home, we brought her to the doctor. He had no experience with any children who were adopted internationally and had little concept of post-institutionalized issues. He suggested that we give her time and that she would be just like all the other kids adopted from China “beautiful and smart”.

Frustrated, we sought a second opinion. We were told she had no muscle tone and had developmental and gross-motor delays and would most likely have some lifelong issues, however, he too said there was not much more we could do.

Life went on as best as it could. We continued to seek therapy for her and did everything we could think of that would help. Slowly she opened up and began to show another side of herself. She began to cry for what she wanted and I would respond. She woke nightly screaming and making sure I was close by. Once she had me, she would not let me go. Each night for many hours, she would scream in terror. Screams that I was not familiar with and nor could I relate to. I would hold her, rock her and once asleep I would place her back in her crib. Instantly she would awake and scream and the cycle would repeat.

Finally we began to sleep with her. She would wake nightly, crying and searching for us. She would crawl up onto me and sleep to make sure I was still there. This made her feel safe and I allowed her to feel as much security as I could give her.

Each day she healed a little more. Transforming into a new little spirit! She began to sit up, then crawl, then walk. She began to sleep through the night with us, waking with only a few nightmares. She gave up her daytime bottles and found joy in trying new foods and best of all she began to trust and understand what it felt like to be loved.

Her eyes began to reflect this newfound trust. Deprivation had robbed her of all the basic rights children are born with, the right to feel safe, to be comforted and most importantly, her right to be loved and feel loved.

She is not fully healed after almost 2 years of being home and we are not sure if she ever will be. She has been forever changed from the many months of neglect and lack of stimulation. She does not feel sensations in the way that we feel them. Her brain has failed to internalize life as most children know it and therefore she still needs extra sensory input to feel and process sensations.

Through this experience, she has been our biggest source of learning. We have learned to listen and watch for what she needs. We have learned to let go of everything we thought we knew and open to all things we did not understand. We now appreciate just how crucial love and security is. We no longer take this all for granted. We know now what lasting impact our behaviors have on others.

Her eyes are now usually lit with curiosity and laughter and a cute little naughty smirk. However once in a while that familiar glaze reappears and she retreats back into her safe world within. A protection from whatever it is she feels may be her threat. It is in those moments that we remember just how long and hard this journey must have been for her and still how far we have to travel as a family.

She has lost so much in her little life - Her birth family, her culture, and her homeland. I was prepared for these losses to be a part of our daily lives. I never expected her to lose trust in people and lose her ability to process properly due to lack of sensory input and neglect. These losses are ones we struggle to understand and find impossible to justify.

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