Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Attachment and Going Back to (Volunteer) Work

With apologies for the length, here are my thoughts on attachment and schedules at this point in our adoption/parenting adventure. I tried to spice it up with some links for those of you who may, say, be considering Ethiopian adoption but be too shy to email me yet (ahem).

Because of various conversations and our post-placement review, I have been thinking a lot over the last week about attachment, attachment parenting, when to leave Anna in others’ care, and what that means for all the things I am/used to be involved in outside the house.

Attachment is not our warm-fuzzy feeling of being “bonded” to our child but our child’s trusting relationship to her parents. As one article puts it, attachment is “the quality of the relationship a child feels toward a particular person (parent, grandparent, caregiver, etc.).” Strong attachment is formed through building, over time, the child’s sense of security and comfort that their caregiver will respond to their needs—physical and emotional.

Children who are securely attached are more confident in learning and exploring, interact more positively with other kids, are more emotionally stable and able to manage feelings, and are more able to handle stress and help others handle stress. Children who do not have strong attachment, well, they are more likely to lack confidence, have difficultly with social interactions, express and manage feelings, and act out in unhealthy ways. The extreme is the dreaded Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Most people don’t know this name but it’s what they mean when they warn you that if you adopt, your child might be “messed up” and hate you as a teenager. I can actually see signs of abandonment/attachment issues in some of the teenagers we know--not adopted--and it's not pretty.

Helping Anna form strong attachment to us is absolutely the most important thing we can do for her and our family. It’s number one. This is why we’ve been careful to be Anna’s only true caregivers—the only ones to change her diaper, feed her a bottle, put her to sleep, comfort her when she cries. (Even my mother didn’t get to do these things when she visited, and kudos to her for not trying, because you know she was just dying to get her hands on that baby for so long.) It’s why we lean more toward “attachment parenting”—responding to baby’s cries, having her sleep near us, carrying her in a sling rather than always parking her in a stroller or seat. And it’s why we haven’t left her with anyone else, despite myriad babysitting offers.

Sure, kids usually easily come to trust their parents to take care of them. But for an adopted child, it’s not so simple. We are Anna’s fifth set of caregivers. In her first six months of life, four times she thought the person caring for her would always be there. Can we really expect her to be one hundred percent confident that we the fifth will be different? She is now 8 ½ months yet our relationship is only 2 months old. Emotionally, with us, she’s 2 months old, not 8 ½. Sometimes it seems like she’s been here a long time, but two months really isn’t very long. One guideline for attachment is to expect it to take as long as the child is old when they come to you. Anna was six months when we met, so plan to focus on attachment for at least six months.

This brings us to the present predicament of everything that revolves around the school year starting up and I, well, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to fit in. In the past I would run the PowerPoint at church and serve on a committee. We have a small group at our house and sometimes I make food. And most of all I’ve been sort of a (left-handed) right-hand-woman for Aaron in church youth group, I’ve given rides and hung out with kids, and I’ve helped plan and prepare for and lead Young Life Club.

  • Category 1 is done. No more church worship stuff.
  • Category 2 is fine for now. We meet at our house and Anna is fairly content to hang out with us.
  • Category 3 . . . may have to go. Or be altered so as to be nearly unrecognizable. I’m not sure. I just know a lot of these activities aren’t conducive to hauling a baby along. (I also have to stay home and work sometimes, because man do I suck at getting work done during the day now.)

What about leaving her with someone? I think both of us realized last week in talking that we’re not ready—and/or we don’t think Anna is ready. Sure, she seems to love everyone and is getting to know some people she sees consistently. Maybe she’d be fine. Or maybe she’d seem fine but the hesitation to attach would be stirred. Or maybe she’d regress—remember the football game incident? And the week of not napping? She seemed to regress that week. I say this because when she first came home, she would scream bloody murder for her bottle. I mean zero to shaking with violent sobs in sixty seconds. After a few weeks it got better; putting a bib on her no longer meant you were trying to torture her but might actually mean you would indeed feed her soon. But that week after the overstimulation meltdown and frustrated mommy putting her in a new playpen and leaving her crying longer than ever—she went back to the violent sobs sometimes. It was like she was saying, “I don’t trust you anymore. You stopped being responsive to me so I’d better make my demands completely clear” (and really loud).

I don’t want to see that again. And certainly not continuing for long.

I'm sure plenty of people might think we're paranoid. That we need to be away from her (both at the same time). That we'll spoil her by responding too much. That because she's a baby she'll just naturally be fine. I find it ironic that it seems the same people who would warn about "messed-up adopted kids" (attachment disorders) would turn around and minimize efforts to prevent that. But I digress. The point is, it's too important not to err on the side of caution. With all she's been through already, she deserves our all in parenting, especially at this completely dependent stage.

Our solution for now is to bring her along when I can and sit some things out for now. She has warmed up to sporting events and had a rockin’ good (though exhausting) time at Wildhorse Canyon for Young Life leadership camp. She did okay at youth group as long as she could suck on a grape, so I will probably try to be there most weeks and maybe ease into letting someone else watch her in the nursery nearby after a while or something. But Young Life Club? At any given moment it might involve yelling, loud music, strobe lights, inflatable or food-based projectiles, and people setting a very bad example as to what foods/nonfoods should be eaten together (see: lettuce/live goldfish), all in one room with nowhere to escape to.

And so it was that as we headed to leadership camp to talk about how we will serve kids together, I harbored the knowledge that there is no “me” in “we” right now, at least when it comes to doing Club. I’m still helping with planning and still can do “contact work” which in theory is the most important part of Young Life . . . but it’s strange to think I won’t be at Club with the kids and leaders.

I’ll feel a little left out two Mondays from now, I think, but I also think it’s the right thing for right now. You can’t all do all of the stuff all of the time, and our little girl needs me more than those bigger girls and guys right now. I have to trust our team, and I have to trust our family, and I have to trust our God.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cutest PJs Girl Ever

We are headed out of town for the weekend, and since I didn't get a longer post I started finished, here are some photos to tide you over.

Sweet PJs Girl

Sweet Feet

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Visitors and Future Arrivals

September 9 was a momentous day, seeing as it was not only opening day of football season but also the day we were graced with a visit from an old friend (and our new friend her new fiance)! Yep, 500 bonus points to Amber "Klumpie" for being the first Michigan friend (non-relative) to come out and meet Anna! She her studly ice-carver (is there a cooler job title anywhere?) man were forced to watch football at our house while Anna napped before we went out and played on the coast. Starfish were elusive, but I daresay a good time was had by all. Anna was rockin' it in her sunglasses and my new better-fitting sling and all of us enjoyed the extra warm weather.

Klumpie (Rhymes with Bumpy) is one awesome young woman, and not just because she still addresses me at all times by my little-known full and legal name WendyWetzelRhymesWithPretzel, she loves pink even more than Anna, I can't eat broccoli without hearing her say in my mind what it does to you, and now that she's all grown up and volunteering in youth ministry herself she recently uttered the sweet words, "We [girls who used to be in your small group] got together and we all agreed that we pretty much treated you like crap." Ah, if only we could convince a local restaurant that they need ice carvings so we could keep these two here instead of in Bend.

But wait, there's more excitement!

Later in the week came the news so shocking my mother wasn't sure she dared believe it: my Too-Smart Brother Guru and Brilliant Sister-in-Law Piscis are expecting a baby! In March I will finally get to be an aunt. It's just not right on some level that I became a mom first, but it is nice to know I have last bats at revenge if Guru starts giving Anna all the obnoxiously noisy toys he's threated. Be aware, my brother, and choose wisely. They will be great parents and Anna is excited to have a cousin with whom to share the spoiling and her grown-out-of stuff (yes, yes you are, Anna).

This week we have our post-placement review visit with our agency's social worker. Considering how overblown the preparations for the actual home study proved to be, I was considering not even bothering to sweep the kitchen, until I realized he might think the flying hairballs are additional pets. Since Anna keep scootching onto the wood, I may just wrap her in double-sided tape. Baby Lint Brush, patent pending.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy New Millennium!

Welcome to the new millennium--in Ethiopia! According to the unique Ethiopian calendar, yesterday was the last day of 1999. They partied accordingly, with decorations and concerts and a marathon run taking place over the next few weeks. You can read some articles and see photos at Google News. Preparations were evident when we were in Addis: billboards, flags, souvenirs, runners training in Meskel square. Here we are standing in front of it.

Here it is at party time. Looks like fun, but I can't imagine being there with all those people. I think the Addis traffic was crazy enough on a normal day, thank you.

Anna has been napping well again, thanks to an improved earlier and more consistent schedule. Now all we have to do is stop staying up late after she's in bed catching up on episodes of Heroes, our new addiction. I thought it would be good; I didn't know it would be so scary sometimes. You just can't stop at one episode with Peter Petrelli left in that position, that's all I'm saying.

We went to the school volleyball games last night and Anna apparently prefers girls' sports. After she warmed up to the echoey gym noises, she was having a good ol' time hanging out on my lap and sucking on things. She's definitely teething, but the crankiness has been manageable so far.

Coming soon: photos from a visit from an old friend and big news from relatives!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Baby Breakdowns and Mommy Meltdowns

Last Friday we were excited to take Anna to her first football game, here at our very own Smallport High School. We love football season, and it was a perfect still-summer evening for small town sports.

Total disaster.

Complete baby breakdown.

Walking in, she was fascinated. Sitting down, she was fine. Meeting a new teacher friend, okay...nope, crying. Being back with us helped some, but the sun was in her eyes and what's that sudden clapping noise and is that the voice of an angry duck god crackling down upon us?! I took her for a walk in the sling and she calmed down. I eased back into the stands gradually so she could get more used to the noise and lights. For a bit she was fine on my lap and looking at friends around us. But then she got upset again and I took her out again, and this time she wasn't going to let me even think about taking her back in there. Soon she was reaching total overstimulation meltdown and we had to bail out. She shrieked as if under pain of death all the way home--thankfully only a mile--and cried all the way through being changed into pjs until we gave her a bottle.

I sat there watching Aaron hold her and wanted to cry myself. What have I done? There goes all the attachment, all the efforts and goodwill and trust undone by the betrayal of a mommy who made her stay in that horrible place until after halftime.

She had been so upset before her bottle, she threw it up all over Aaron and herself. Bad, like Frankfurt-airport bad. (That story coming soon.) He hit the shower and I gave her a bath.

Voila! She was all smiles and giggles. Oh, life is so grand and Mommy and Daddy are so funny! That is, when they're not trying to kill me via the cruel and unusual torture of watching your team lose by 40 points.

This would be the happy ending to the story except that it marked the beginning of a long week of baby breakdowns and mommy meltdowns triggered by a sudden onset of Refusal to Nap Syndrome. RNS is common in homes where one parent works at home during the day, usually intensifying dramatically as the parent's tight nonnegotiable deadline approaches.

I'd gotten a slow start on my work project--trying to get my brain re-engaged and familiar with style rules and all--and desperately needed some nice chunks of quiet concentration time. Ehhhnt, sorry, Dream Baby's not here right now; she's been replaced by Nap Nightmare Baby, who likes to be paid attention to all day and might fake falling asleep after 20 minutes of holding but will cry immediately upon contact with any form of bedding.

Mommy Meltdown #1 came Tuesday afternoon. I was going insane because I couldn't concentrate to work, I couldn't make noise doing anything around the house, I couldn't even take a much-needed nap myself. And as deadline panic approached I didn't have the time/patience to hold her all day or listen to her fuss or monkey around with letting her cry, checking in at increasing intervals, and all that--plus I'm not willing to let my new child bawl her eyes out in a playpen alone anyway, for attachment reasons. Especially after Friday night's debacle.

Tuesday Aaron came home early to save me and got her conked out downstairs somehow. Maybe there was liquor involved; I don't want to know. Wednesday was just as bad--she napped 30 minutes total, until just before our Bible study, which is not really the optimal time. Of course she was an angel for the audience. Thursday I got an hour nap out of her and just let her be awake near me. At least then she was quiet.

Now, happy ending time: With a little sleep-deprivation of my own, I got my work done on time. Today she took two naps again. Tonight she was content in my sling until well into the second quarter. And she even smiled, because we were only down by 8.