Thursday, April 10, 2014

When Christy Comes Home

Since I have not completed our adoption and have not really been super close to a family who has adopted (you know, close enough to see what the parents deal with daily as far as attachment issues goes), I really have no idea what we have in store for us when Christy comes home.

 We plan to work carefully to develop healthy attachment for her, which will start with our time in Bulgaria when it is just her and us.  Once we get home, we plan to take things slowly - only Daryl and I will feed her and take care of her basic needs.  I plan to hold her a lot and make good use of slings/carriers.

 I have read a couple of books and many articles/blog posts about attachment, but I know there is so much more to learn!  Children with Down Syndrome have a different psycho/emotional makeup, so attachment disorders can look different than those of a typically developing child, but again, every child is different.

When we visited Christy in October, she seemed to enjoy being with us, cuddling and playing.  For this to be real bonding would be ignorant...she just loved the attention and was happy to get it from any source.  We don't even expect her to remember us when we come to pick her up (but we did leave some books with our family members photos in them, so she might remember us, but we can not expect that).

From what I've seen in other families who have adopted children with Down Syndrome (and no, I do not know of any families in real life, but I interact with lots of families through Facebook and follow several blogs), these children struggle with appropriate affection - they are just as content to get hugs and kisses from complete strangers as they are getting them from their adoptive parents/siblings.  This can be a very long term problem.

So we are going to be working very hard in the first 6 months (and beyond) to create healthy bonding with Christy.  I plan to treat her as I would a newborn - and that is what I have read over and over again - no matter how old the adopted child, you need to start as though they are a newborn.  Think about how you cared for a newborn and do the same thing...you keep them near you/in your arms most of the time, you feed them yourself with close physical proximity (if not still in your arms), you snuggle with them and kiss them and show them love constantly.  And you limit other people's interaction with your baby.  You stay at home and concentrate on getting to know this new life.  I have even read that it is a good idea to go back to bottle feeding, wrapping/swaddling and such.  I plan to try this too (I've packed several types of bottles to try as she has swallowing issues and has problems with aspiration too).  Christy was never swaddled, never held while given a bottle, never rocked to sleep, never held during the long nights.  But she needs that, even though she is 3 1/2 years old!  Developmentally she is about 8 - 9 months, so in many ways she is still a baby, and that will make this easier (as in it would be weird/difficult to bottle feed/swaddle a 10 year old, but many families have found this to be helpful even with older children).

This means that we won't be allowing anyone outside out immediate family to hold her or show her physical affection until we see that she is learning to bond with us, and then it will be a purposeful expansion of her "close enough for affection" relationships.  From here I see it progressing from just Daryl and I, so adding our children, and then to others who regularly see her.  I know this makes if hard for close family who have prayed for us to bring her home and have loved her already.  But if you do not regularly see her, then it will be a long time before we will allow Christy to interact with you in a friendly/affectionate way.  We do not want to be mean or to offend anyone, but we need to do this for Christy's sake and for her safety, or she will go through life allowing anyone who shows her attention/affection to do just that, and reciprocating this behavior, and I'm sure you can see where that leads.

Also, just for your information, not all children who are adopted deal with attachment issues, but most do.  When you are talking exclusively about children with Down Syndrome and attachment disorders, the percentage of those children with attachment issues is far lower, but it does happen. Children with DS have a different makeup, especially in the phsycological and sociological realm.  This can lessen the impact of living without a family during their early years.

I hosted a poll on the Reece's Rainbow Facebook group (there's a lot of families there who have already adopted children with DS so it's a great place to get  this kind of information!

Here's what I polled about:

"If you have adopted a child with Down Syndrome have you had to deal with attachment disorder?"
The options were:
Not at all
We have dealt with indiscriminate affection
It has taken a long time, but we are making good progress
My child has RAD for sure
I have lost hope of ever developing healthy attachment in my chid
    Our child has not bonded well with us at all

    What you can't see here is that there were 10 who picked the first choice!  For some reason I can't get those poll answers to show up!  I guess you'll just have to take my word on it!  So children with DS can have attachment issues, but the majority are either minor or non-existent!  Plus, children who have DS and were never abandoned and have remained with their birth parents can have issues with indiscriminate affection - these children are just so much more affectionate most of the time - I have had hugs from complete strangers who have DS and were never adopted.  Their parents apologize, but I don't mind at all.  I think these kids/adults just have a better perception when it comes to others need for reassurance and affection!  There was a lot of discussion with that poll, and there seemed to be some agreement that their children from orphanages had fewer attachment problems than those who came out of a foster system - I found this very interesting!

    One amazing woman I have met through the adoption groups is Amanda U.  She has adopted 20 children - 12 from foster care here in the US, and now 8 from Bulgaria, making a total of 21 children.  She is doing an amazing job with these children and they are blossoming in her care!  She had this to say:

    " I adopted 6 children with Down Syndrome. 5 were from Bulgaria and 1 from US foster care. They were varying ages. NONE of them have RAD. There is some orphanage stuff with some of the kids at first, but that is called "smart enough to survive". . . if they didn't learn to get the attention of adults then they wouldn't have survived. Every one of them showed preference to us as their parents very quickly. Every one of them have attached. Every one of them knew that we were their "safe" people very quickly. Children with Down Syndrome are often outgoing and extra friendly. . . I think people tend to blame that on "attachment" when their children are adopted. My children are firmly attached. Anita is our only one that can be somewhat manipulative, but I think that is her personality and how orphanage life affected her. I think when kids come home, then you "cocoon". You work to get past any learned orphanage behaviors and try to remember what caused the behaviors. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think how you would act if you had lived through the same things they have. . . . Most of the time you realize you wouldn't do nearly as well as they do. Our little ones with DS are VERY resilient and such amazing kids"

    Pray for us, pray for her, that this bonding process will to quickly and that she will develop healthy. appropriate bonding.  Pray for her health.  Pray for my preparations for the trip so I will have packed all the right things/be able to find what we need in country.  Pray for my other children as this bonding process will be hard on them - they will all want to shower attention on her from the second they meet her!

    For further reading on this subject, please check out the following, especially if you are part of my life and will be a part of Christy's life (or a part of the life of any adoptive family!).

    Upside Down, Attachment  From an Adoptive Mother