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.

1 comment:

Eva said...

Thank you for your comment. We had similar experience 9 years ago and no one talked about this. We were told a crying child was a good thing.