This is a tale of two stubborn wills – one refusing to accept new and unfamiliar love, and the other refusing to stop giving it.
In May of 2013 my lifelong dream of adopting a child with Down syndrome finally came true. I was 110% sure that this was the right thing to do. My husband was not so sure. Whenever he expressed any uncertainty, I would come along and fill his pits of doubt with promises of blind and undying affection and easygoing jovial temperaments. Isn’t that the picture that most of us have of persons with Down syndrome?
The first few days with our new daughter were better than expected. She slept all night, never cried, and seemed to think we were pretty okqy. I considered us the lucky ones.
She arrived ‘home’ confused with a far off look in her eyes. Her smiles were becoming less frequent, and she was starting to refuse close contact. In fact, much of the day she preferred to either be sitting by herself in the corner of the living room, or watching the other kids play while her hands were firmly folded behind her back. (That actually is the prominent image I have in my mind of her from those early weeks.)
I was an adoption rookie. I had no idea what I was doing. But I kept an adoption attachment book close at hand for some much needed comfort. Over the coming weeks I would flip to the checklists at the end of each chapter and mentally click off the boxes of goals she was meeting. According to the textbook, she was progressing normally, but deep in my heart I knew that things were taking a turn for the worse.
One of our first real battles was over her bib. Every mealtime, as I approached her highchair with a bib in hand, she would jam her hands behind her back and refuse to cooperate. I understood this was an attempt to control the situation, and so I ignored it as best I could and waited patiently for her to surrender her limbs.
Soon the control spread through the entire day. Diaper changes, dressing, teeth brushing, and book reading… even walking. If I suggested we play with a certain toy together, she had to control the toy or show me exactly how to play with it. She refused comfort for “owies”; she stopped laughing and hated being tickled. She didn’t cry until mid-November 2013 – six long months after she became ours.
I was making errors during this time as well. And I was taking her behaviors personally (let’s be honest, it’s really hard not to). In retrospect, I believe I prevented our attachment as much as she did. I believe I was confusing her – reacting calmly 80% of the time and like a lunatic the other 20% of the time. It’s no wonder she wasn’t learning to trust me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this girl something fierce. The deep and nurturing feelings that she created in me were like none I had ever felt for any of my other children. I never once considered giving up on her. In a dual of stubborn wills I am not sure who would win.
As she learned our language, yelling No! and Stop it! became a regular part of her days.
“Would you like some juice?” “STOP IT!”
“Do you want to go outside?” “NO!”
All. Day. Long.
This was not the “easygoing and jovial” child we had imagined, and my husband kept reminding me of that. I began to feel really guilty that I had promised everyone one thing whereas our reality was the complete opposite.
After about a year home, her behavior resembled a roller coaster. The positive days of good attitude and general happiness were always followed by a deep plunge back into negativity. The cycle became predictable, but we were so thankful for the good days, and the small glimpses of joy.
She was still very controlling and did not accept comfort easily. She continued to push my husband away. Because of her continual rejection, the older kids had stopped trying to play with her as much. It was hard to watch the hurt she left in her wake most days.
We did not seek professional help. I think we both thought that things were going to get better. We were living overseas in a very small isolated country. In retrospect… we should have made a different decision.
We are nearing the third anniversary of her adoption. Things are not perfect, but they have improved mightily. She has more good days than bad. Her refusal to accept love has lessened… she welcomes comfort more frequently and is open to correction (most days). My refusal to never stop giving her the love she needs has certainly been rewarding….for both of us. I truly feel like she loves me.
I am using Karyn Purvis’ techniques for parenting children from hard places.
Things that have helped:
1. Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI) techniques
2. Karyn Purvis’ TBRI methods
3. A trampoline (only thing that made her smile her first year home)
6. A rocking chair
7. And in the words of Michael Bolton – Time, Love, and Tenderness
When we first brought home our daughter – two and half years ago – someone once said that our daughter would probably have more to teach me about myself than I would have to teach her about herself. Boy, was that wise woman right.
I still am 110% sure that adopting our daughter was the right thing to do – but now, my reasons for believing that are different.
“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.” – Karen Blixin, Out of Africa
= guest post by Carin