The Shirt and Her Finger: Self-Soothing Comes Full Circle
I saw a detail I never noticed before. I think I have always stopped at her face. It says so much, too much for a little girl of 2 years old to understand. So much heartbreak, so much hurt, so much fear, so much trauma.
At the time this photo was taken, we were still awaiting our LOA for her adoption, and she was living out the most unimaginable over there. She had been in the hospital for weeks at this point, though we would not find that out until months after we came home. I have many more photos that I will not share, but one can piece together so much from them. Photos do tell stories.
You all are probably wondering what is the detail I noticed? It is jumping out at me now. Notice her little index finger on her left hand, tucked just inside her shirt.
I am filled with a mixture of deep and soul-aching sadness over this detail, because I now know what this action on her part means. I now know that it is a soothing technique for her. I now know that she does this still, except now she tucks her little index finger on her left hand inside my shirt. It used to be that she would tuck it just inside her blanket, but recently she started laying her head restfully on my shoulder and tucking her finger into my shirt.
The attachment process has been a journey these past 15 months with her home; it still is a journey that we don’t expect will ever quite reach a stopping point.
She has endured so much, so much I just can’t bear and do not ever care to share. She has endured more than most of us ever will in a lifetime: so much loss, so much pain, so much grief, so much fear, so much of this ALONE.
I can’t blame her for keeping her guard up for so long. Why would she not? I nearly cringe when I see other blogs of APs who come home to big parties and pass the child around just days after coming home. Or reading about how the child won’t sleep and how long should parents let them cry it out. Or reading about the child’s need to eat all the time, and how this is just not going to be allowed. Or wondering if they should disallow their child from sucking their thumb or using some other sort of self-soothing technique. We never even thought of discouraging our daughter from sucking on her 3 fingers on her right hand or from holding on so tightly to her own little shirt and blanket with that index finger. How could we have done that? It was all she had for so long.
It is no wonder she has taken this journey to allowing us all in, and one that continues to this day. It is no wonder she will take out one of her brothers if he playfully attempts to snag one of her gold*fish. It is no wonder that she wanted to soothe herself for so long.
What other choice did she have for 3 years? She had to fight off others for her food, she had to brave it out in the hospital for weeks on end with no Mommy or Daddy there to hold her hand as they inserted the adult-sized needles in yet another place on her tiny hands and feet. She had to longingly tug at her own shirt with her little index finger as she drifted off to sleep alone.
Yes, unwinding that defensive little solitary person inside and helping and encouraging her to be the little child God created her to be … helping her learn to trust and to love unconditionally and to accept unconditional love … it takes time … and understanding … and tears … and steps forward … and a patient heart when she needs to take a step back. And a soft place for her to lay her head and tuck in that little index finger … knowing that finally she’ll never have to face the storms of life alone again.
This post is really not one that is neatly finished and tied up with a pretty bow, because life sometimes just isn’t neat or pretty.