The Shirt and Her Finger: Self-Soothing Comes Full Circle

January 28, 2010 Attachment, Wife of the Prez 13 Comments

I was scrolling back through the photos … photos I was given by someone, someone who cares about our daughter.

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.

13 responses to “The Shirt and Her Finger: Self-Soothing Comes Full Circle”

  1. Allison says:

    PTL she is with her forever family. Thank you for being so candid, it's great perspective for this PAP.

  2. Shirlee McCoy says:

    You're right. Life is not always neatly finished and tied up in pretty bows, but it is often filled with miracles. Your daughter is one of them.

  3. Tara Anderson says:

    Most of life isn't neat or pretty…thank you for being so transparent and sharing that. You've blessed me richly through this post.

  4. Stefanie says:

    Your sweet girl… she has endured SO much. Praise God she is now HOME and settling in comfortably with her forever family 🙂
    Thank you for reminding us of all these kids endure before coming into our lives. It's something we not only should consider, but MUST consider when deciding on how to best nurture and love them.
    HUGS to you and your beautiful girl 🙂

  5. Kim K. says:

    It's been such a journey for your family and I appreciate your honesty in the process. Your daughter's experience has touched and continues to touch so many lives.

    I remember all too well the night terrors, the constant screaming during our travels throughout China, and our hellish plane trip home. No big parties at the airport for us either. We were making plans to get her to a cariodologist instead. It wasn't at all what I expected, and I think it's important that families have that information as well. It gets better and I wouldn't change a thing, but it's definitely a process.

    Continued blessings to your family.

  6. Donna says:

    It's so true. All of it. I look back at the old photos and see details that I missed the first 100 times I looked at that particular photograph. I actually sobbed a bit when I read about your daughter now tucking her finger inside YOUR shirt. You are now part of how she comforts herself. What a wonderful blessing, huh.

    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  7. Carla says:

    Thanks for sharing something so personal and relevant for all of us who have adopted. When Charlotte first came home, she only drank and ate from a bottle and she was 17 months old. That once the one constant for her. When we had her first lip repair, I practically had to fight with the occupational therapist to allow her to keep using it. She was convinced that it would "hurt" her repair. She wanted me to feed her with a syringe-6 weeks after coming home and after this traumatizing surgery. I finally was able to get another therapist and nurse to understand that yes, I realized it was protocol to do this with infants in the US but Charlotte had a whole different set of circumstances. They let us go home-saying we would try but this momma gave her baby a bottle the moment we hit the door. Then the OT in the early intervention threatened that Charlotte would need a feeding tube if we did not get her to eat solid foods and soon. I tried for awhile and then finally said, she will eat when she is ready and it was not worth it. She was healthy and nourished and the Pediatrician was OK with it. She did not eat any soft/solid foods until she was 24 months old after her palate surgery and now at 3 1/2 she eats just like any other kid. You have to parent your children according to their needs and not the status quo! And you always have to be aware of their beginnings. Just this week Charlotte's fever spiked to 105-ahh!! I had to put her in a cool bath-she screamed with terror. I had no choice for her health, but all I could think of was how she had endured these horrible cold baths for 16 months and now I was doing the same thing. I kept singing to her and we got through it-but it reminded me that our attachment will always be an ongoing journey.

  8. Faith, Hope, and Love says:

    Thank you for sharing this very moving post. It rips ones heart into pieces to think about what these children must have endured. We will never know.

    Our Lauren's self soothing comfort spot was to lay on our bed with her finger and her bottle. We took a lot of criticism for allowing her to have a bottle until she turned 4…when most babies stop taking bottles at 12 months. It didn't matter what people thought or what the typcial "recommendation" was.

    Pictures DO tell stories and I find myself going back the over 200+ pics that we have of Mia Hope and trying to put pieces together and figure out why she does some of the things that she does.

    My wheels have been spinning about writing a post regarding the loss in Mia Hope's life the day we adopted her. Your post has inspired me to move foward to do just that.

    I hope that your post has helped a frustrated AP understand some of the small little habits or quirks their child may carry with them and perhaps help them to have a little more patience. I know it has caused me to pause and rethink some things. Thank you for the reminder!

    These little ones are my heros. They are the bravest little souls ever!!!


  9. Dita says:


    I just go to pieces when I see LM back then…before you. I remember when you were there with her at her hospital bed in China, without answers, and only those amazing eyes staring back at you.

    I truly consider myself blessed to have followed your journey from there to now and watch LM grow in her attachment and love with you, your husband and the boys. She is a true miracle and her beauty shone through from the very first moment I saw her face.

    Thank you for reminding us all that LM's journey started long before she arrived in your arms and that it was one that no one should have to walk.

  10. Denise says:

    Beautifully said Leslie~

  11. Goosegirl says:

    Oh I am crying after reading this. I am so glad that LM is relaxing and trusting you as her mama. I do not have any photographs from Ahnalin's time before she came to us, other than the three referral pictures. Yet, I see her facial expressions in them, and know she was terrified. Because those facial expressions, which I thought were so cute when I first saw them, I now know are anxious faces.
    I continue to pray for our girls, that the Lord would heal their scarred hearts. I am so glad we have them in our arms.

  12. James says:

    And everything you write about her and all the decisions you've made are exactly why God chose YOU to be her Mommy… and why He had her hang on until you could get there.


  13. cgmom says:

    So true. So true. That's why at 5 1/2 my girls are still sleeping on the floor next to our bed in sleeping bags every night. They go to sleep in their rooms and come in every night. They are so afraid their mommy & daddy just might disappear in the night. No one understands but us. We understand these fears in our kids. We understand why they have a cookie in their hand and want to know if they can have another before that one is gone. We can't know what they went through before us, but we sure can soothe the hurt and make sure it doesn't happen again. My M can suck her thumb until she no longer needs it. I'll gladly pay for the dental work. Her foster mom taught her how to soothe herself. My other daughter sucks her lower lip. Whatever it takes, right mommies?

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