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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Attachment in the trenches

When we were in China, we traveled with several other families.  In our travel group, I don't think I'm exaggerating by saying that we had "the crier."  Unlike the other happy, giggly children in the group who were quick to return their parent's smile, our sweetie was unhappy much of the time.  Despite our efforts, she rarely smiled and often cried.  I even had the younger child of another family come to me and say on more than one occasion, "Your baby cries a lot.  What's wrong with her?  Our baby is happy."
Rationally, I knew that her grieving meant that the attachment process was in full swing.  And that is a really good thing.  That made everything else totally bearable.  But grieving, no mater what form it takes, still makes my heart sad right along with hers.

So rather than concentrate on my daughter's sadness, I concentrated on capitalizing on her attachment process and doing all I could to reap every ounce of bonding that I could.  It was just a change in my mindset.  Being proactive helps me get through tough times.

Now that we have a solid 7 weeks under our belt, things are much easier, and our journey continues to get easier every day.  It's so good that I often forget that this process of attachment is still in full swing.  Lest I entirely forget, a meltdown surely happens, and I resort back to my China-travel attachment bag-o-tricks.

The following are notes I wrote down while in China and while we were completely in the trenches of attachment.  I can't tell you how happy I was to stumble across this list a couple weeks ago.  When push comes to shove and I have a screeching toddler at my ankles while I'm trying to get dinner on the table, or when things just seem off, it's hard for me to remember specifically what to do.  It's all too easy for me to get wrapped up in the moment and frustrated and forget practical techniques.
My linear mind loves resorting to list at times like these.

So here it goes.  Maybe it will help someone else out there too.

---The Ergo is my best friend.  My Ergo allows eye-to-eye contact and physical closeness, on the front, not the back.  It correctly aligns the baby's spine, unlike other carriers that suspend baby leaving their legs dangling downward.  I'm sure there are other good carriers too, but I'm most familiar with Ergo.  Just avoid carriers "hang" a baby by their crotch.  A baby carrier also makes it so no well-meaning person (waitress, Grandma, random Chinese granny...) can take your child from you. If you have a Velcro baby, it makes it easier to get any sleep on the plane, (no fear of dropping baby if you doze off) get the essentials done, and enables me to use bathroom and not set her down.  TMI I know, but still wanted to pass it along.
My father and I waiting our turn for some street food in Guangzhou.
My Ergo always held her securely against with me when we went out...
as well as much of the much when we were in the hotel too.  
---In the beginning, we stick to only one person to meet all her needs.  All her food, drink, toilet, diapers, bathing, nose wiping... everything.  We added another care giver, Papa, later, a few weeks later when we felt like her attachment with me was solid.  Then others as time went by.  This one person care giver in the beginning is harder than it sounds.  Our sweetie has took a liking to her 13 year old brother within days.  And he instantly ADORED her as well and wanted nothing more than to feed her and offered to give her a bath and more.  I was often tuckered out which meant I would have LOVED to say yes when he offered help.  But I know that I needed to be the only provider of her needs.  So in the beginning, I tried (emphasize the word try, sometimes I have to snag a break) to do everything for my new daughter.

---In China, we often skipped the side trips and tours.  I had a very hard time with this one.  I think it's important to get to know the culture of my daughter.  I wanted to be able to know China and appreciate it so much that I can tell her all about her land of birth.  But, in the end, attachment comes first.  So I found that often we skipped the excursions and gave my new daughter 100% of my time, if I felt I needed to that day.

---We did it together.   We co-slept.  I'm a very light sleeper and need my sleep to act like a human being the rest of the day, but co-sleeping, or some version of it, ensures that our new daughter knew we weren't going to leave when she dozed off.  Nap together.  Eat together.  We let this also include co-bathing too.  In the bath or shower, which ever works.  She evidently doesn't mind baths, and I think she found them relaxing.  Much to my dismay, she is however scared to death of the shower.  Both Jude and Tess showered with us for months while we held them and relaxed as the water drizzled on them.  They also liked to play at my feet with toys in the shower as I washed my hair.

---Not too much too soon.  Put away the crazy loud toys and things that over stimulate. Our two favorite toys that we took on our China trip were stacking cups and a small rain stick.  These two toys are amazing.  They are ENOUGH for the whole trip along with the toys she finds in the room (peek-a-boo with a blanket, empty water bottle with a coin in it...)  I try to carry this over to accessories too.  As much as I'd like to stick a hair bow in her hair, she's just not ready for it, so I'm trying to resist the temptation accessorize my sweetie.  She's made it clear she didn't want anything in her hair, so I'm giving them up for now.  I have some really cute ones though.

---Forget training up the way of a child... for now.   Spoil her.  Let her have candy.  As I learned on this trip, let her sleep however and whenever she wants, as long as she sleeps.  Skip the highchair if your child resists it and let her eat on your lap.  Or skip your lap and let them eat in a highchair if your child isn't ready for you yet.  Scoop up a crying, falling, toppled little one even if you know she's not really hurt.  Let it all be about attachment and being there for her every little need while your traveling and when you first get home.

---Games and finger-play songs that promote eye contact are now some of her very favorite things to do.  Her favorites include peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake,  horsey horsey carry me, round and round the garden, this little piggie, itsy-bitsy spider...  I seat her on my lap, facing me, and we sing and do the hand movements together.  The giggles are the icing on the cake!

---Massage is a very good thing.  I purchased a lotion in a scent I loved before we traveled.  At least once per day, I massage her, usually her feet and legs.  Massage is a favorite after bath and at bedtime.  It calms her down and she genuinely loves it.  The skin contact between us is invaluable.

Truth be told, with some adaptations for the age of the child, these things work for all my children.  Sometimes my 9-year-old just needs to sleep with his mama.  And sometime playing a game with the teenagers is just the thing to break the ice after a tough tough day.
Although I don't think I'll be carrying around my teenagers in the Ergo anytime soon.  .

I'd love to continue this list in the comments!  Do you know of some more practical ways to reinforce attachment and bonding, whether you be in China or at home?  These are just the ones that came to me while I was knee deep in it all.
Please add your suggestions!


  1. A - B - C - D - E - F - G!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (get it?!) I couldn't agree more with the keep it simple in the toy department suggestion.

    And the Ergo. Oh how I miss walking around Nanchang and Guangzhou with you and our babies strapped on snug and content. Did you fix the broken buckle?

  2. I don't have anything to add to your list because we haven't been there yet. We are leaving in 2 weeks. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your list! I printed it out and it will be added to my "essential paperwork" file in my carry-on.

    Your blog is among my favorites. The photography is beautiful and your honesty is refreshing. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  3. C-
    Patch came up to me yesterday and started singing "that song" and I jumped out of my skin! Funny boy knows just how to push his mama's buttons.
    I miss you! Might need to move to Chicago. Or at least visit.
    No the buckle is still broken. It's on my never-ending list of things to do.

  4. As we leave in one week to pick up our four year old son from China, I needed this... this is our third adoption and we did these things with the other two... but a four year old, active boy... we will see! I am not a mother who likes to sit a play, but these first few months I think this is so important, to take the time to PLAY with them. I also used suckers (preferably ring pops) so they would sit on my lap and we would talk and sing and make eye contact while they suck.

  5. Paige-Oh yes the lollipops! I forgot about those. I'd like to think I'm a mom that doesn't do candy. There's enough candy that comes to them that I don't need to add more. But I did buy a bag of Dumb Dumbs just for the trip. Whipped one out when things got bad... which happened often. Spoiling them, even with candy, is a very good good thing in the beginning.
    Thanks for the suggestion! Congrats on being there almost to get your new son! 4 years old boys are AMAZINGLY fun!

  6. Thank you for these ideas! We leave in two weeks for our (slightly older) little one in China so I know this post will be useful for us. We also just went to the Empowered to Connect conference, led by Karen Purvis who wrote The Connected Child- it was FANTASTIC- and if you ever have a chance to make it to one of these- I highly recommend taking the time. Best conference I've ever been to- and I'm picky. It's interesting that you say "forget training up the way of a child for now" as she specifically stated that what you are describing here IS THE way to train up a child- especially kiddos with hard backgrounds. It's not about them conforming to rules and being obedient, it's about us connecting with them, lowering the fear in their brains and teaching them to give and accept care. Even after they've been home for a long time. Good behavior and obedience will follow- but only after deep connection. It was all powerful stuff.
    Anyway- thanks for the helpful post!

  7. What a great list! Attachment is so important and even with the wait of 5+ years for NSN families I'm saddened by those who don't read up on attachment of if they do, still decide that 'love will conquer all' and they don't need to implement attachment ideas. My heart aches for them!

    One other little thing I did was feed my DD by hand as much as I could when she was younger.

    I'm so thankful our kiddos know how to tell us in their own way that they need some Mommy time. My DD is 3yo (adopted at 8 months) and still enjoys time in the Ergo, especially when she's 'off' by even a little bit.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Thanks for the list, it makes the upcoming trip not so scary. By chance has any body here adopted a cleft lip and palate kid that has not had it fixed by the time of adoption? We are hoping to pick our 18 month old twin girls up in two months from China and everyone says to bring candy and suckers. Can you feed candy to kids who don't have a top mouth? I am really struggling on finding info on that. Everything out there is on babies.

  9. tochinaandbackagain-Hopeing someone will be able to pass on info re CLCP. Until then let me recommend NHBO site. there is a listing of most of the special needs WITH link to families that have adopted that special need. I am SURE that they will be more than happy to answer questions related to CLCP.
    And look into Yahoo groups for CLCP. I think they are pretty active and it's a great place to ask questions for that specific SN.
    Hope that helps a bit.

  10. Hey Nancy, I have looked on NHBO's website. I was looking at the pictures to try and see which ones were fixed before and after adoption. One of the writers had hers after she adopted so I tried to contact her and all of her info was wrong. I think I just got discouraged. I have asked a few local doctors (I come from a very small town) and they have never dealt with a toddler who has not had it fixed. My husband and I need to choose our doctor who is going to do the surgery and start working with them. I am guessing they would have suggestions for us. I really do love your blog. Thank you for writing so honestly about your emotions.

  11. Michele and tochinaandbackagain---
    Ok, try this, my bloggie friend Nicole. She contributes to NHBO too.
    This is her blog address. She is AWESOME and I know has helped other CLCP APs with questions and concerns! And adopted her daughter before the repair.
    Thanks in advance, Nicole!
    hope that helps,

  12. Lots of fantastic ideas! Can't wait to try them out! (I do plan to blog...and post a picture of my sweetie...but that will depend on sleep and internet :))

    I cannot believe it is finally here!

  13. Our baby has a repaired cl/cp but his palate is still open somewhat. He eats everything! Suckers are ok as far as we know. They will amaze you. Aside from sucking through a straw or sippy cup, they can eat and drink. you are welcome to email us! Nancy, LOVE the list. I must remind myself attachment and love more so than discipline for now!

  14. Thanks Nancy, That was the person I was trying to contact but all of the links listed on the website said they no longer worked. I read one post from Nicole about putting her girl through surgery and how she was excited she didn't have to do it again for 5 more months. I really wanted to contact her and get more info from her of just what we are going to be going through for both our twins in a couple of months.

  15. Michele-
    If you'd like, email me ( and I'll give you Nicole's personal email address. I don't have your contact info to give it to you.

  16. GREAT list! Just wanted to reinforce your comment about toys... We had a few different toys & a Pooh blankie with us when we met the Pipsqueak. The ONLY toy she liked playing with was a set of oversized, brightly colored "keys" on a plastic ring; she didn't seem to even know what the others were & would push them away, and the Pooh blankie (with a smallish 3D pooh head in the middle actually seemed to frighten her. (Fast-forward almost 2 years, and the blankie has been named "Kiki" and is one of several must-haves at bedtime.) On the other hand, she loved loved loved holding & playing with crinkly plastic cups & bottles (even better if transparent).

    Stick to what's simple, keep the total number of choices small, look for & use "found" playthings, and concentrate on playing games that encourage personal interaction... and things will be on track.

    (And thanks for continuing to share!)

  17. Thanks so much for this post. Great things to remember as we prepare to bring home our little guy soon (come on LOA!)!! Glad you are doing well. Love your China pictures. Some of the BJ ones I look at and say "I know right were that is!"

  18. Jenna at has adopted 2 girls with clefts. Before and after repair. I am sure she would be happy to answer questions.


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