In my attempt to get it so right... I got it so wrong.
I was so bent on helping Abby grow up... catch up... progress developmentally... that I never considered she needed to step backwards.
After Abby spent three months in the hospital, she was taken to an orphanage. Her crib was the last one on the left side of the room, against the wall and by a window. The walls of this large room were lined with cribs. She was one of many. She would be here for one year before we got to her.
I have to add here... something amazing. In my infertility post, HERE, I mention stomping my foot and crying out to God why my pregnancy test was negative AGAIN. On that very day, Abby was in this orphanage... waiting for me. Waiting for us. As I think about God looking down at her, having His hand on her, and guiding us on our path to her... I am amazed and greatly humbled. I can see Him answering me gently, "Because she is waiting for you."
The caregivers at the orphanage held the children backwards. Their thought process was well intended. They thought that by denying the children attachment with them, they would more easily attach to their adoptive mommies and daddies since they wanted attachment so badly. Well intended... but oh, so wrong. It teaches them at a young age that attachment is not coming. They learn/adjust/adapt to not needing it. This actually makes attaching to parents even harder.
Abby had birth parent/s (caregivers) who abandoned her in a cafe in her car seat on top of a table. We have NO idea if that environment was healthy or not. But they/she left her. Everything she knew to be true was gone.
She was in the hospital for three months (caregivers #2). Physical contact and nurturing was likely minimal. She lay on her back in a baby bed all day... for three months. These caregivers "taught" her she was alone. They taught her that caregivers don't meet her needs.
She was then taken to the orphanage (caregivers #3) where she was still alone, yet one of many. Nurturing, movement and physical contact increased... but was still not healthy. These caregivers taught her not to attach (without intending to).
Enter in her hopeful... eager... and loving adoptive parents. She was 21 months old and we were caregivers #4. And we would be the very opposite of what she now knew to be true.
I will never, ever forget the moment Abby came around the corner and I saw her for the first time. The caregivers were telling her "mama... mama" and pointing to me. I was down on my knees on the ground with open arms. She bravely walked over... clutching a cookie in each of her hands with huge bow on top of her head... turned around (facing outward) and sat in my lap. That moment is so telling. Actually, many of those moments are now so telling.
I can still feel the weight of her sitting in my lap for the first time. I can feel the warmth of her little head as I leaned down and kissed it for the first time... the softness of her hair. I started talking to her... but she wouldn't look at me. On our video, I can hear myself saying, "She won't look at me."
If this picture was not so heartbreaking... it would be pretty funny. After holding her "outward" for a while... I had to embrace her. I had been praying for this child for over a year. She was now in my arms. My. child. was. now. in. my. arms! But this precious one had not been held like this in over a year. The fear and panic in her eyes stab me deep in the soul. Horror. I was there... representing love and hope and a forever mommy... and she was scared out of her mind.
She totally was afraid to look at my husband. One of my favorite pictures is of her in his lap... with her body and head tilted out... yet looking at him ever so slightly. (Boo, I can't find it right now!) She'd make a great big sigh and then quickly look away... with her little lip pouted out. Then she would look back... for just about two seconds... sigh again... and look away. Wanting to look... yet she just couldn't. Wanting to let us "in"... yet so afraid.
My precious baby girl... oh so trying to be brave with cookies clutched tightly...
The orphanage allowed us to visit her twice a day for two hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. This time was meant for bonding before we took her from the orphanage. I loved they had this policy. Instead of walking in... getting her... and walking out... she got to know us before she was taken by us from her "home."
Many of those moments were spent with her in my arms... crying the saddest cries.
She would hold onto me so tightly and just cry... for hours.
two weary girls...
She would stop... look at me for about six or seven seconds... and start crying again. She would not let me sit down or let her go. I would stand and walk and bounce and sing and coo and pray... and worry. My arms felt like jello. I would prop my leg up on a chair and "sit" her on my leg without her knowing she was "sitting". Knowing the inward battle she was having... the confusion... the pain... just killed me. And we didn't even speak the same language! I so wanted to fix it. My desire to "fix it" has lasted to this day.
The worst part was having to leave her each day. Even though I knew it was best... thought it was best... we kept leaving. Just. like. everyone. else. in. her. life. Finally, she realized we kept coming back and things started to turn. PRAISE GOD.
It took three days until she smiled. She was SO serious. Her face was void of expression unless she was crying. I remember leaving after the second day of visiting and crying in the car. I was thinking reactive attachment disorder. I had read about it in one of the many adoption books. And I was scared... heartbroken.
But on the third day, she fed me goldfish crackers (our biggest bonding tool!) and she smiled. Hope flooded through me like a rushing river! She smiled. Amazing. Beautiful. Precious.
The fourth day she laughed. We have it on video. How I wish I was all video techno-savvy and could download it here for you. It was one of the most precious sounds ever. But the picture will have to do. It is one of my favorites. I had her in my arms, leaned her out from me, buried my face in her chest and acted like I was eating her up. And she laughed. And of course, I did it 20 times... kissing and gobbling up her chest, face, and neck! And she laughed 20 times. And there is where one of my biggest false ideas would enter into my mind and stay. "She is fine." "My love will heal her and we'll all just be fine." I accepted that idea way too early. It was what I SO wanted to believe.
During our exit interview with the lawyer, who spent a lot of time at Abby's orphanage, I mentioned the beauty of Abby's first laugh. Her words still ring in my ears and her facial expression has never been forgotten. "I have never seen her laugh." She was in total disbelief. I found it odd. I asked her if she wanted to see this display of joy. She seriously answered, "Yes." I did "my thing" and Abby laughed. The lawyers face lit up like a light bulb and the sweetest smile came over her face. She laughed... looked at Abby... looked at me... and gave me a nod of approval.
One of the things Abby would do for years is act like a baby. She would crawl into the kitchen while I was cooking and say, "I'm a baby... feed me." It would make my skin crawl... irritate me... because she was eight... nine... 10... even 11 years old. My response would be, "No, you are not a baby. You are a big girl. You are eight years old. You are nine years old. You are 10 years old for crying out loud. You are 11! Get up off the floor and act like an 8 year old... 9 year old... 10 year old... 11 year old!"
Abby acted like a baby because certain milestones of development were not met while she was a baby. Go figure. Who knew? I had NO idea. "Parenting a Hurt Child," informed me of this and gave several examples of children wanting to "play baby"... even teenagers! But what this book did was offer a TOOL for parents with children who are not acting age appropriately and want to "play baby".
The answer... drum roll... PLAY BABY WITH THEM.
I was a skeptic. Really? How is letting my 11 year old play like she is a baby going to help her? Is it not reinforcing behavior that isn't age-appropriate? I kept reading. The book gives several examples of parents who used this technique with great success. One mother of a teenager turned her daughter's day bed around to make it a "baby bed-like" space. She climbed into the "baby bed" with her teenage daughter and played baby with her using baby toys she had bought at the store. This mother only had to do this on a few occasions before her daughter never wanted to play baby again. Whatever deep need had not been met before... had now been met... and she didn't "NEED" it anymore.
THIS seemed too good to be true. I read it at least three times. My mouth actually may have been hanging open as I thought about this concept... this technique... this therapy... this hope. I found myself actually looking forward to the next time Abby wanted to be a baby. And it came.
Abby had just been disciplined for misbehavior. It had been a BAD episode of defiance and control battles and disrespect. It was a bad one. After she/we cooled down, I went into her room to talk to her about it. We were both sitting on her floor. After just moments of talking... "I'm a baby," she said, and she crawled towards me. This was it. This was my moment to play baby with her. Filled with HOPE and eagerness, I replied, "Are you my baby... my sweet baby girl... my Abby?" To this she replied with a baby noise of "Uh huh," and put her hand up on my face.
"Do you want to lay in my lap little baby?" I asked. Another "Uh huh," and she was in my lap. As I stroked her face, I told her what a precious and beautiful baby she was. She soaked it up like a dry sponge dropped in an endless ocean. "I am so blessed to be your mommy. You are my precious baby and you are so cute and smart," I added.
Then I noticed. Even though she was soaking it up... she wasn't looking at me. Eye contact is another area of struggle with Abby. The book had also made suggestions about this and so I went for it. "Can I see your beautiful brown eyes, little baby?" She slowly gave me her eyes. "There they are, I love seeing those brown eyes... they are so beautiful," I cooed to her. As I gazed into her eyes cooing words of baby affirmation, she gazed back at me like never before. There she was... I could see her... the real Abby inside... deep inside... desiring and allowing love, nurturing, affirmation, and attachment!
In the past, I had demanded eye contact. "Look at me with your eyes," I would say. She felt threatened when I did that. And she would never look longer than two to three seconds before looking away again. Now, by asking her in a cooing voice and playing baby, she did not feel threatened... but nurtured.
After about 5 minutes of this interaction, she jumped up and asked if we could play a game. I was shocked and tried to roll with it. I asked if we could play beauty shop and she giggled with delight and put about 15 hair bows in my hair. I was almost in a daze.
I kid you not... I did this sort of thing with Abby three times and she has not "been a baby" since.
BLOWN AWAY. SMACKED. THANKFUL.
I would have NEVER played baby like that with an 8 year old... 9 year old... 10 year old... 11 year old... had I not read that book. Reading other examples of almost the exact behavior of my child and reading how playing baby worked with them is what convinced me to try. And it worked. I ACHE inside with the wish I had only known this earlier... when she was eight... when she was three!
I know Satan wants to steal my joy in what has happened now with that regret. But you know what? It has happened now... this year... and I am here... with you... and God will use it... someway...for at least ONE PERSON/ONE CHILD reading this NOW. If more than ONE is helped, encouraged, or given hope... THEN I DANCE ON MY ROOF TOP AND GIVE HIM ALL THE GLORY I CAN EXPRESS TODAY!
God's GRACE... to get us here... UNENDING & ABUNDANT! Her name is... Abigail (Her Father's Joy) Grace. Love that.
Now I have to follow this up with a warning. Be careful of what books you read! I read at least three to four books on adoption before we adopted Abby and one book, in particular, told me MAJOR BAD MOJO... advice that I followed with all good intention and it caused more damage. Mercy. Makes me want to sob just thinking about it.
But God is walking us through some healing now. And I get the bonus of getting to share it with you. What a gift! I am so glad you are here. Deeply glad.
Part three will be coming soon...