Attachment in the Trenches

April 25, 2012 Attachment, attachment activities, baby-wearing, China trip, co-sleeping, cocooning, first weeks home, first year home, Nancy, Newly Home, parent-to-child attachment, travel tips 4 Comments

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 young daughter 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 matter what form it takes, still made my heart sad right along with hers.

So rather than worry about 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 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 that “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 time when we were in the hotel too.

Establish a primary caregiver. 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 caregiver, 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 caregiver in the beginning is harder than it sounds. Our sweetie 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 knew 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.

Prioritize outings. 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 do 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 you’re traveling and when you first get home.

Yes to games and finger-play songs. Games and 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 her bath and at bedtime. It calms her down, and she genuinely loves it. And 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 big kiddos is just the thing to break the ice after a tough day.
Although I don’t think I’ll be carrying around my teenagers in the Ergo anytime soon.

4 responses to “Attachment in the Trenches”

  1. Aus says:

    Glad that got cross posted Nancy – all the things you list in here are of value – and you can’t start soon enough! And from a guys perspective – on our last adoption trip – Chase was a tad ‘larger’ than we expected. We also traveled with our two adopted girls, the oldest of whom got to meet her foster mom during a stop in Korea. Marie still used the ergo with him – but because he was larger – we took and empty backpack and put a few water bottles in it as a counter balance. Walking around GZ Marie would have Chase in the ergo, a backpack on, and becasue the girls didn’t want to feel “left out” one of them on each hand. I’d walk around with a camera…

    Americans that would see us would look with an expression of ‘what’? But the locals would look at us, comment to each other and smile. One guy even came up and shook my hand without saying anything. Our guide told us that the locals were saying things like “at least this american knows how to treat his family”! Kind of a laugh as far as we were concerned – I really am something of a ‘hands on’ dad!

    Great stuff – but street food? You are brave!!!

    aus and co.

  2. Leslie says:

    Great stuff Nancy. I do want to add that if you try the carrier and your baby SCREAMS until she is blue in the face (which our S was), then you might consider placing on your back. While I agree the eye-to-eye is best, our S was only ever carried on her foster Momma’s back and she LOVES it. If she gets cranky, I wear her in the carrier on my back and she calms down. I only wish I had tried her on my back in China. B/c of her heart, we couldn’t push the front carrying issue so we gave up. I also allowed our 13 and 12YO sons to help with her b/c she wouldn’t let Daddy near her and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all.

    I think our trips were very similar! I like that: “the crying baby.” Yeah that would be us too! It honestly got old, but I agree that it meant attachment was already hard at work.

    Thanks for these great thoughts. If only I could get my article done. Sigh.

  3. Jessica says:

    Wonderful Info! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences Nancy! 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    Thanks so much for this much-needed reminder. I will be linking to this from my own blog.

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