some thoughts on attachment

As i prepare to bring Mikisa home (hopefully next weekend), i wanted to write a letter to best explain a little bit of what our first few months at home will look like.

*much of this is directly quoted from Erica Shubin, another adoptive mother who has inspired me tremendously.  follow her family’s story here: http://thisshubinclan.blogspot.com  

dear friends,

after six months of praying, paper chasing, waiting, longing, dreaming and hoping it is time to bring sweet Mikisa Mae home to Charlotte!  i am going to the embassy tomorrow and hope to have her visa by Wednesday.  if that happens, we will be leaving Uganda on Thursday!  i am humbled and overjoyed by God’s grace and provision through this adoption journey, and i am so grateful for everyone’s prayers. because i know that so many of you care about Mikisa and want the best for our little family, i want to share some information that i hope will equip everyone in our lives to assist me in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation as she adjusts emotionally, physically and spiritually.

attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. the primary caretaker meets the need and soothes the child. this repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses and calms the baby – which teaches her that this person is safe and can be trusted. by God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. the security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.

children who become part of a family through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. Mikisa has gone through significant trauma in her short life.  she has never had a healthy attachment to an adult, and she has suffered greatly because of this emotional and physical abandonment.  Mikisa will experience more loss when she moves home to the US.  she will lose the familiarity of Uganda: the sights, smells, language, people, and culture. she will be overwhelmed. everything around her will be new and she will have to adapt to her new environment.  she is just now starting out on the long road to healing, and it will take time.  there will be many setbacks and obstacles to overcome, but she is learning about love and about family.  in the past few months, her world has been turned upside down. she still struggles to feel safe and secure and she lacks the ability to trust that i will meet her needs. the good news is that i can, as Mikisa’s mom, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds.

the best way for us to form a mother/child bond is for me to be the primary person to hold, cuddle, instruct, soothe and feed her. as this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that i am safe to trust and to love deeply. we are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. once Mikisa begins to establish this important bond, she will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships. Mikisa will have what may seem like a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to me. i will be doing what i believe is best to help her heal from any interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible. due to the nature of my developing relationship with Troy, he will obviously be included as Mikisa’s other primary caregiver. we are pursuing marriage, and she will need to begin to identify him as her dad.

while some of this may seem like overkill or even sound a little bit crazy i pray that you will understand and trust that i am doing this to give Mikisa the absolute best shot at being a secure, well adjusted, and confident adult. i can’t give an exact time line on what this will look like or at what point i’ll say that Mikisa is “attached” to me. research shows that it can take years. in Mikisa’s case, it will likely only be a few months. because i have had the privilege of living with her here in uganda for the past six months, we have already made significant progress with her attachment.

why am i telling you all of this? because you all will actually play a vital role in helping little Mikisa settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. there are a few areas in which you can help:

the first is to set physical boundaries. it will help us greatly if adults around her limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with a young child who you are around frequently. children who have been abandoned are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. recently, a friend of ours (who has adopted children of his own) was playing with Mikisa and after just minutes of meeting him, she scooted into his lap, hugged and kissed him, and called him daddy. many former street children, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. a child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. it may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. you can help by showing Mikisa attention at a distance (smiling at her, holding her hand, talking to her), but bringing her to me (or Troy) if she gets overly affectionate.

another way that you can help Mikisa to learn about attachment is by redirecting her desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us, as her parents, meet them.  at this point in her life, she thinks that any adult is a viable option for her mom and dad and if she thinks you will give her what she wants faster or more willingly that myself or Troy, she will simply “choose” you. since she lived on the streets and had to care for herself for so long, she still thinks of this as her responsibility. by directing her to us for food, affection, and attention, you can help her learn to be a child again, secure in the fact that we will never stop caring for her.

to share all of this is difficult. i do not want anyone thinking that i do not want you to love on Mikisa or that i am being overly-concerned or controlling of her relationships and environment. please understand that i want nothing more than to have Mikisa hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. i believe that spending a few months giving her a secure attachment to very few people will enable her to form trusting relationships with many more people much sooner. feel free to ask me any questions at any time. this move back to charlotte will be a huge adjustment for me personally as i get back into a routine that includes my daughter, and i am so grateful for all the love and support from all of you. your prayers and encouragement mean the world to me!  i am incredibly blessed.

much love,

christina

ps. for those of you meeting us at the airport or stopping by sometime during our first week back this does not mean you can’t hug and love on my daughter. with all the excitement of coming home i don’t want to rob the joy of my dear friends meeting Mikisa. the first week home will still be within the “grace period” time of adjustment and while i will be watching Mikisa for signs of being uncomfortable, i am excited to share her with you.

if you want to read more on reactive attachment disorder, you can go to this link: http://www.attachment.org/pages_parents_recommended_reading.php

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9 responses to “some thoughts on attachment

  1. Christina,
    You make perfect sense and I am so proud of you for sending this email to your family and friends. You are doing exactly what is best for your daughter. I think of you and Mikisa often. Although I am not in Charlotte, please know that you have a friend in Cincinnati that will help you out in any way she can. Lots of love! Oh and congrats on finding love in both departments (daughter and future hubby!). God is so good!

  2. As usual, you step up to hard situations with grace and clarity….good for you. Praying for you….love you.

  3. Christina, you know I LOVE this! Mikisa is so blessed to have a mama who understands this stuff and is willing to enforce it even though it won’t be popular. I love you and wish you weren’t leaving so soon. 🙂

  4. That all makes perfect sense. It is, after all, what we do with newborn and tiny infants when they are first introduced into our families. 😀 Yes, other people can kiss them and cuddle them, but they need to spend most of their time with their parents, and their parents are the ones, normally, who meet the major needs and the majority of needs.

    I am sure there will be culture shock and some difficulties adjusting. But I know you’ll come through it just fine. Can’t wait to watch your family being knit together and see Mikisa grow.

    And if you are ever in PA, you must, must, must come see us. 😀

  5. So glad you addresses this before coming home. This can be difficult for people who do not understand what you are doing and the importance of it. Way to be on top of things! Congratulations and have a safe and wonderful trip home!!!!

  6. It’s wonderful to see that you really “get it.” So much more than I did! I allowed everyone to play “pass the baby” because that’s what “L” and everyone else wanted. I wasn’t strong enough to maintain the boundaries that were needed, but YOU are!

  7. Looking forward to seeing and meeting this new family. Glad you arrived safely. Our family will be praying for your needs and adjustment back to US life.

    Missy Smith

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