What in the world do I mean? Well, I'll still hug you! But there's some guidelines that the adoption attachment experts REALLY strongly suggest we follow...
FIRST, the philosophy behind it. Katie is in a normal state of confusion and transition... EVERYTHING she has ever known and EVERYONE she has ever known are now gone and she is attempting to re-write her story and understanding of everything from eating utensils (chopsticks to spoons), to toilets (split pants and bucket to Western toilet-- but for now, diapers again), to family (people who cuddle her and give her loads of attention and nurture her). At this delicate time, our family is choosing to focus on her healthy attachment and bonding to us. Most newly adopted children are very behind developmentally, and if you watched my orphanage videos, you would see why. As well-intentioned as an orphanage is, especially when they are low-staffed, they simply cannot meet the social, emotional, and developmental needs of each child. An orphanage can never replace a family. I am so grateful that Katie got to be in a foster family for awhile but the damage of 2 1/2 years in an institution with metal bars being her surrounding for the majority of the day has taken it's toll on our baby. In addition to that, there's a huge piece of it that she is deaf and was never given ANY language. This dramatically reduced her social development as well as her understanding of the value of eye contact and social relationships.
This said, SHE IS IMPROVING dramatically, in leaps and bounds, everyday. On the first two days, she gave little to no eye contact. I don't think she ever perceived a reward for eye contact, and no one attempted to communicate anything to her besides food, potty, and punishment. In the past week, she is really, really improving and will lock eyes with us, look at us when we sign "Mommy, Daddy, Cara, eat, banana, potty, bath, poop, shoes, no, funny, brush teeth, rice, water, please, I love you, again, more, book." Those are the signs we currently use regularly that she even notices.... (I have about a 700 word ASL vocab right now, so it's not for lack of knowledge, it's just difficult to get her attention, and we don't want to overwhelm her.) She HAS signed Daddy 4 times, has voiced Ma-ma to me twice, and definitely, definitely understands and responds to the sign "no", and "eat". She reaches for us, wants to be held, lights up when we scoop her up, cuddles with us, holds our hands, prefers us over strangers, comes to us to be comforted, and really all those things mentioned are things that some adopted children take a year or more to accomplish within a family. They are all considered aspects of "attachment".
We have a long road, but face it with faith and joy knowing the Lord has great plans for her and since we see such an improvement in 9 days, we know in 9 months she'll be a different person altogether. She's blossoming, by God's grace and we know she has a wonderful future ahead of her!
Because of her developmental deficits, we are following the advice of adoption experts and the practice of all international adoptive families we know, and we are "going backwards" WITH Katie, before we push her forward. She never had a mama to rub her back and cuddle her, she never had the true baby stage. She wants to suck her thumb, she wants to sleep next to us, she wants to be held a lot. We totally allow her. Developmentally, there are many ways that she is like a non-verbal 18 month old baby. We let her be. We aren't about to tell her, "You're 4 1/2 year old child! Sit up straight!" Nope. Not going to happen. Those around us may judge us, but that's ok. We DO sign "no" to her, lol, probably 75 times a day, because like a tiny toddler, she is into EVERYTHING. We have to watch her constantly, she's super curious and mischievous, we have to keep all chokeable objects away from her, electronics: Doug found her jumping on his Mac laptop! lol.
We never did co-sleeping with Cara, with Katie, we will. We tried to not let Cara suck her thumb, and she only got a pacifier until she was 3 months, with Katie, we will not force her to stop, that was her only comfort for years. With Cara, we let other people from church, and friends, hold her and hug her, and even kiss her chubby cheeks. At our church, Cara is everyone's baby. Not with Katie...
It's extremely important that Katie learns who her family is, and who provides for her, who is Mommy and Daddy and her protectors, and who she should be affectionate with. For an undetermined amount of time after we are home, at least a couple months, maybe SEVERAL months, we ask a couple things from our friends, church, and community: All of these things were taught to us in adoption training, by adoption attachment experts, and by friends with adopted children:
1. Please do not scoop up Katie, even if she's standing with us and reaches her arms out to you. You can let us know that she looks like she wants to be held. If you meet her, please don't rush up to her and shake her hand. (Imagine so many strangers rushing up to you and grabbing at you, even with smiles, it would be scary.)
2. Please don't hug her or kiss her or tickle her, she really needs to learn appropriate affection boundaries and what should be kept for family.
3. Please do not feed her anything, or hand a present directly to her. (This was hard for me to understand at first, but apparently a newly adopted child is very confused when everyone else feeds her and offers toys and gifts. Any toys or gifts should be given to us, and we will hand it to her... I know, it seems odd, and it's hard for me to ask). BUT, especially FOOD!, Katie will eat until she throws up, literally. Children in orphanages are often fed too little and not often enough, and feel powerless with food, so when they have access to an unlimited supply, they overeat and they can even hide it in their pockets, etc. When we feed her, know that we've figured out what a good amount is, and we are not trying to deprive her but help her find appropriate food boundaries.
4. We need a bit of physical space. So many friends have said, so kindly, that they want to meet Katie. Hear me out: I LOVE THAT YOU LOVE OUR BABY! I love that you cheer for us and for her. I love that you say that you just can't wait to meet her.
FOR HER SAKE, though, in the first days, those that drop off meals are really "dropping them off", in our stairwell, not upstairs in our home... we have to introduce her to our home, and remind her that our home means our family only for now. We will have Grandma over and we will go to visit our other family in the first few days, but we aren't doing playdates for awhile or probably not church the first week (Doug will preach this Sunday). We may pick the most deserted playgrounds when we are getting the wiggle worms. We are her parents and are trying to do what we have been advised is best for her, and it is subject to change. We look forward to introducing her to our family, and slowly to our friends, and eventually to our community.
Please remember that we do love you so much, we appreciate your prayers and support more than we can say, but we have to prioritize meeting the needs of a child who never had all her needs met. We are making social sacrifices and making decisions for Katie's sake, because we love her and want to see her feel secure, protected, and loved. She deserves it!
Thank you SO much for making it through this blogpost! Thank you in advance for your compassionate understanding! Family and friends: we love you! :), Jamie & Doug Becker