Monday, January 26, 2009

Third Anniversary

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the day Haley first arrived on our doorstep. And though I'm so proud of all Haley's beauty and growth and blossoming, today really reminded me of all that's not yet right with my relationship with her.

Haley was sick with a little stomach flu she got from Logan. The poor thing made several unpleasant trips to the bathroom in the night and by morning couldn't hold down even a mouthful of water. Even so, she begged for breakfast when the other kids were served and was genuinely offended when I told her she shouldn't eat. I explained and explained how first she must hold down a sip of water and then she could be upgraded to toast and that this is how we teach our bellies not to throw up. Nevertheless, she looked at me like a traitor all morning. And by afternoon, when I did serve her that coveted piece of toast, she wouldn't eat it.

I've noticed that no one likes it when I talk about the residual effects of Haley's troubled start in life. It's true that she is normal, or better than normal, in almost every way. And yet, all the things you do for your babies and infants, all the love and consistency, all the times you respond to their needs and do what you say you will--you do those things because you believe they'll have an effect, right? And a baby who didn't get those things--whose mother dropped her off at auntie's and didn't come home for days, who fed her either not at all or until her teeth rotted out, whose own life was so unhealthy she couldn't give baby what she needed--well those have an effect, too. Pretending that those issues don't exist does no favors for me or Haley as we work to grow her into a brave, strong woman.

Attachment theorists talk about "attunement" and "the secure base." When Haley arrived, she didn't have those with her birth mother, and today she doesn't sufficiently have them with me. Yesterday Haley didn't trust that I was giving her loving, well-intentioned care. The care I offered, she didn't receive. And my care for her wasn't as natural and effortless as it should be. I've been hoping that our relationship would naturally deepen and mellow over time, and to some extent it has. But not enough. This year I need to figure out some strategies to build a more secure base for Haley. It’s time.

10 comments:

  1. I think sometimes it's hard for outsiders to really see the little problems we have with our kids. All they see is an overall happy child, and miss important details. I think you have done a great job of making Haley a part of your family, as well as the Ashurst family. We are sure glad she's one of us now!

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  2. This is not intended to say that your feelings are not valid, but I do want to point out an alternative POV that you may consider. Obviously you are very concerned with her well-being and progress, and obviously she is a special case, but on the other hand, you may want to consider a few things:
    1. Kids don't respond well to reason - especially reason that prevents them from fulfilling their immediate desires
    2. Sick kids even more so

    We have situations that I see as very similar with our Ginger. An example is the other day she jumped off the bumper of my truck into Granpas arms. Unfrotunately, nobody informed grandpa of the jump and he was in the process of walking away by the time she fully implemented it - she ended up swan diving to the ground. Her feelings were hurt and she refused to even look at or listen to grandpas voice for some time. There was no reasoning with her that he wasn't familiar with her propensity to fling herself from objects with 100% trust in any nearby relative - the key here though, is that she eventually got over it.
    I guess all I am saying is that you certainly want to be sensitive to Haley's experiences in the past, but she may also just be having a somewhat normal reaction to not getting what she wants. Don't be too hard on yourself.

    On the other hand, it sounds like the goal you have set to strengthen your relationship is a great idea. Certainly no harm can come of that.

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  3. Yeah, whenever I say something about what I think is related to Haley's past, people always say it's just girls, or just how she is, or whatever. I'm not sure why people are so opposed to me recognizing some effects of Haley's past.

    I'm not talking about an isolated incident--I'm talking about one example of an ongoing issue. Mark knows what I'm talking about. And I think our mothers, who have spent more time around our family over the years and who are maybe a bit more observant of our family dynamics, know what I'm talking about.

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  4. I cannot find it, but there was a post by Leisha over at ourfamilygardenwherewildthingsgrow.blogspot.com
    a while ago about how she mimicked infant bonding with her 2-year-old (who she is adopting from foster care) with some success. I think she read an article in readers digest. It suggested doing things like lots of eye contact, expressions of love, and keeping the child very close and attending to every little need and serving the child intensely. It sounded like it was very successful. I wish I could find that post, or the RD article.

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  5. Well, you're right that my instinct is to brush this off as "just Haley". But I know you're right that those infant bonding moments ARE pivital. I guess all I can say is that Haley is a very lucky girl to have someone who notices and takes action.

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  6. Jen, I did a lot of that type of thing when we first got Haley when she was 2. For example, I'd rock her and sing to her at naptime baby-style to kind of start the attachment process from the bottom up. The first few weeks we have a new foster child I try to keep them with me at all times and not even send them to the nursery at church to teach them that they can count on me to be reliable and present. Looking back, I do wish we had done even more of that type of thing with Haley.

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  7. I think is strange that people want to discount her early life experience. How could it not be a part of her at this point. Roko learns so fast. If we break a pattern one time his expectation is irrevocably altered. One weekend at Grammas changed a boy that always slept through the night to a boy that several times a week needs to be rocked back to sleep. How could repeated episodes of hunger and neglect be something she could "get over" in this amount of time. I'm glad you are her mommy. She needs you. Your love can close her wounds.

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  8. I understand! With Gigi, I'm sometimes at my wits end trying to understand the way she thinks. Today she told me she didn't want to be born in a "china mom's tummy." I constantly tell her how much her nannies loved her--and I think they did, but the ramifications of being motherless must be deep rooted. So, here's to a lifetime of weeding!

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  9. All children, whether adoptive or birth, come with their own individual personalities. We have two adoptive children who spent only a day or two with their somewhat rebellious, troubled birth mother, and they each behave in ways our other children would not. Is this a result of their time with their birth mom or of the genes they inherited from their parents? Or of the home they live in now? Nature vs. nuture. Heredity vs. environment.

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  10. Haley is just lucky to have a mom who loves her so much that she actually cares about Things like this. Angela you are an amazing mom!

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