Monday, February 6, 2012

The Invisible Special Need - A Broken Heart

There is one special need you won’t find in a waiting child’s file, and this is the one that often requires the most patience, the most nurturing and the most special handling: a broken heart. Our three youngest children came to us with this invisible special need, and walking through the healing process with them was one of the greater privileges we’ve been given.

Our Musician had said goodbye to two beloved foster mothers before he came home to us, and he was not, at first, willing to take a chance on another mother. After his initial rejection of my attempts to mother him as a little 21-month old new arrival, I began to take charge of all his feeding (big sister had to wait), wore him in a sling (goodness he was heavy!) and we kept him close to us at night.

          There were several weeks of days and nights when his rejection stung badly – I had longed for and prayed for this child for so many months – and on those nights I curled up with my now dog-eared copy of TheWeaver’s Craft and was reminded how normal this was.

Finally, there was little sweeter than the night I lay next to him trying to get him settled, and he turned to me, stretched out his pudgy hand to stroke my cheek, and said, “Mommy.” Somehow, that made it easier to withstand the year of intense separation anxiety that followed for him, with him never wanting to be out of my sight, and crying to the point of vomiting when I had to go to the market (or the bathroom, for that matter).  He was happy during the day, but had night terrors frequently those first months, and wanted his arms clutched around my neck through much of the night. I had attachment parented my biological babies (and put in many long nights then!), and it seemed that this was a new baby-hood for this little person, where he needed the same chance to attach.

     We were pretty attached at the hip until shortly after his third birthday, when the Wrestler arrived home and they become best buddies, instant “twins”. Somehow, unexpectedly, the arrival of his new brother seemed to help him trust that he was staying, and our Musician became more peaceful and settled. Even then, for years there was a sleeping bag tucked under the foot of my bed, so that he could creep in quietly after bad dreams and sleep nearby. Was it hard? Yes, sometimes. Was it worth it? So very, very worth it.

An Easy Adjustment?

             The Wrestler, on the other hand, truly catapulted into life in our family, learning where everything went, our routines and habits, and before long it was as if he’d always been there. He continued to hold a bit of himself back, though, and through the years had several instances of unexplained, uncontrolled and uncharacteristic crying, during which he could never articulate the reason for his sadness. It was only within the past few years that he was able to put words to it, after an unrelated incident triggered an emotional episode. With patience, holding and prayerful discussion, he shared that the thing he remembered about being transferred to the orphanage – from the home of a foster mother who loved him dearly – was “scared.”
That had been evident in the pictures we’d been given, but we’d never seen a trace of it since he’d come home. That tiny, two-year-old boy had lost an “Omma” who showed him total acceptance and love, and for years, not only had he grieved her loss, but he had thought she really didn’t love him. I was thankful to be able to turn to the beautiful album she’d made, which we’d looked at often through the years, and show him again the letters she’d written expressing her love for him. We’d read them many times, but this time, as we both read through tears, he was able to understand that he was loved, and that it had not been her choice to transfer him to the orphanage. Thankfully, I watched as a bit of healing took place.

Time to be Somebody's Baby

When Littlest arrived at almost three, his broken heart was evident; his frequent moves and changes of caregivers, even good ones, had left him confused, afraid, and withdrawn. For six months, he was quiet and “good.” He watched us carefully to see what we wanted from him, waited anxiously to see if we approved, and disassociated if he thought he’d displeased us. After six months, when perhaps he felt safe, he stopped disassociating – which was great – but he started raging, which was actually also great; he was expressing his feelings.

I realized one day, as I held my wailing, screaming preschooler, that he had never, ever felt like anyone’s baby. When he was born, there were no balloons and flowers and visitors to the nursery; no welcome home party, no-one delighted with his every move. For three years my little boy had moved from place to place (we were the seventh), and it was time for him to understand what it meant to be home, and to be someone’s baby. Ours. We stepped up the therapuetic parenting and special quiet times together: several times a day of holding and bottles and singing, with eye contact, soft touches and sweet words. We kept our little man close, kept his environment predictable, and loved him up. After a few months, the rages stopped, and after a year or so, he was a different boy; one with a light in his eyes - one who knew he was someone’s baby.

When our first child was born 21 years ago, he’d had terrible colic, and we’d weathered that together over the course of many long nights; I later likened this to what we walked through with our children who joined us through adoption – they needed that time to be our babies as well. So when you look at a file of even a “healthy” baby, please know, adoption is exciting and wonderful, but it also involves goodbyes, usually too many for the children involved. Some become frightened, some try to be extra good, some become angry, and some, surprisingly, slip into family life easily, seemingly unaffected by the changes they’ve seen.

 We’ve seen a little of each of these responses, and we’ve researched and prayed and attachment parented each small person through the months of confusion and settling. And now? Our children are home. They are loved, and we are forever grateful for the privilege of being the ones who got to help them feel safe, to help them heal, and who get to tuck them in each night. We are not worthy of that honor, and we give thanks.

Trusting in Him,




  1. Wow...really, really good. I've seen a lot of this as well. Still working through some of it. A lot, sometimes.

  2. I think hurts this deep are are hard to let go of...I pray for God to cover what we can't, and I'll pray for you and yours, too.

  3. Wonderful post...shared it on Facebook. I hope others read it and get more understanding of some of the losses our kids experience and the various ways they process those losses.

  4. Aimee, hi! I think I've posted a comment to you before, love your posts and thoughts on adoption. We are in the process of our 2nd adoption, an older child he will be 5 when we bring him home. Our first was a baby when he came home, so we know this one will be so different. I would love to chat with you some time. I would also like to link this latest post to my (new, not eloquently written...:) ) blog. Would that be ok?
    Blessings, Cindy

  5. Cindy, thank you, it's good to hear from you and I'm glad if anything's been helpful here. I'd love to chat and to hear about your new little guy - my email's in my profile, do please write (and please let me know if that doesn't work - don't know if anyone's tried it yet). And yes, please feel free to link.