As I mentioned in my last blog, we went to an adoption/ attachment seminar the other day put on by our church. It was presented by a doctor who is an expert in the field. The seminar was very informative, but I felt geared more toward those who have adopted older children or internationally. I’m sure all types of adoptions (even biological relationships for that matter) have some sort of attachment issues/attachment breaks, but I felt the attachment disorders we learned about more readily apply to older children and international adoptees.
That said, we learned a lot, and I’d like to pass along some interesting tidbits:
1. In the first year of life, a baby has no wants. The baby only has needs. If those needs are not immediately met (wet diaper, fed, tired), the child has a break in basic trust. If that basic trust is continually not met, the child begins to have an attachment break. (Again, this applies to bio/genetic children as well).
2. Beginning at about 4 months gestation, the baby desires and longs to look into her mother’s eyes, and smell her skin. For children who are adopted domestically or internationally, if they don’t experience those two things after birth, their body records an attachment break. Their mind may not recognize it, but their body keeps score. (I have trouble with this one, because I don’t like to think my son’s body is suffering from the fact he didn’t look into his bio mom’s eyes, or smell her skin). As the doctor said, “Even when victims forget, their bodies keep score.”
3. There are 27 criteria in determining whether an infant has appropriately attached to her parents or not. A sampling: a) resists comforting or nurturance; b) poor eye contact; c) exceedingly demanding; d) stiffens or becomes rigid when held; and e) when held chest to chest, faces away.
4. There is another list for children under the age of 5. Tygh and I filled it out for Brae. Of the 30 criteria, we listed 23 as him exhibiting none of the behaviors. We listed 7 as him exhibiting “moderately.” They included: a) angry or rageful when cries; b) exceedingly demanding; c) likes to be in control; d) cries or rages when held beyond his wishes; e) prefers Dad to Mom; f) get in and out of parents lap frequently; g) feeding problems.
5. In reference to the above, I have to ask myself — do any of those behaviors seem abnormal for a 2.5-year-old boy? Don’t most 2.5-year-old boys have temper tantrums? Demand things? Want to be in control? Don’t want to be held when throwing a temper tantrum? Prefer Daddy (as a boy)? Are antsy? Want to eat only what they want to eat? … This was the heart of my confusion with the seminar — how do I know if what I see in my son is normal behavior vs. an attachment disorder?
Toward the end of the seminar, I had a mixture of emotions. Was my son’s body suffering on a daily basis because he never looked into his bio mom’s eyes? Did he have some kind of attachment disorder and I’m being naive? Is my son forever “ruined” because he had an attachment break at infancy?
As gloomy as some of the presentation was, in the back of the material, I learned that only 3-6% of the overall population actually have an attachment disorder. What we were listening to was the MINORITY and WORST cases.
Yes, it was good to have the information and general knowledge. Yes, I know that Brae will have to deal with certain feelings associated with being adopted. Yes, Sienna may have similar feelings as well. Tygh and I feel prepared and are open, ready, and willing to discuss their adoption stories with them at the appropriate times.
But, no, I don’t think that either of my children are any more broken than so many of us who grew up with our biological/genetic parents. As the product of divorce, I’m sure I myself fall into some classification of an attachment break. I know that I can’t “love away” an attachment break, but I refuse (perhaps naively) to believe that my son is wounded by the break from his biological family. Nothing at ALL against his bio family (when you adopt a child, you adopt the extended family as well), but blood does not make family.