Thursday, July 26, 2007

On Attachment or Personality or A Bit of Both

The thing is Olivia is attached to me, the Muffin Man too. She adores him, really adores him. She trusts me, I know she does. When she sits on my hip she feels like she truly belongs there and I feel her relax. When she cries we pick her up and she stops. It seems like a normal progression of the attachment cycle where baby has need, need is met by one who loves her, baby is soothed. She never rejected us the way Ava initially rejected my love and attention. (Looking back Ava was bonded to someone at her orpahange, she had to have been. It was a smaller facility and her early behavior truly spoke volumes for some broken but loving relationship with someone we will probably never know.) Secure attachment is something we have worked pretty hard at the last several months. We did not stray too far from home the first six months because she would shake and seem withdrawn after a big outing in those early months after returning home from China. Now she is much better and seems to enjoy outings where even large groups of people congregate. She is engaging and laughs when she is surrounded by other children. Our friends are even beginning to comment on her "coming out of her shell" and "isn't she so much more outgoing than she first appeared to be?"

But there is this one little issue that is nagging at me a bit. Olivia has a serious distaste for grown women other than myself. She likes little women, meaning girl children, and she tolerates teenage women especially if they act like little women and get on the floor and play. This is all fine and I'm happy she shows some wary behavior around strangers or almost strangers. That seems completely normal to me for a 20 month old. The part that makes me tip my head a little bit is that she knows no stranger when it comes to men. She will approach strange men and hold her arms up to be picked up just like she's known them forever. She will even go out of her way to approach strange men in public places, often straying further from me than her usual 12 feet radius. She will act coy and stare at them, then slowly approach them but always moving in for their attention. Luckily all of the men she has approached would not touch a baby they did not know with a ten foot pole without express written consent. I sometimes wonder why she seems to have a much lower tolerance for grown women than men. Why does she not feel that inate stranger fear that she feels with women?

It think it is easy to make light of this situation and simply joke "Oh, she'll be one to watch at 16," completely downplaying the behavior as nothing to worry about. On the other hand it is also pretty easy to go down the slippery slope making this an adoption issue related to the fact that she probably did not experience a true loving and nurturing relationship with a female figure in her life until she was 9 1/2 months old. She obviously lost her birthmother quickly. Her nannies at the institution kept her very clean and fed enough that she was not malnourished but after seeing numerous pictures of the room and hearing how many children to nanny would surprise me if any secure bond between small child and caretaker were truly to take place. This is not to say that no child does not form a secure attachment at Yangxi SWI, I would not presume to make that assumption. We have all heard those stories of 50 children in a room and a nanny breaking down in tears to see that one child go home to forever parents. I'm just saying in my daughter's case, I saw no evidence of that. It's a harsh reality, but a reality of her situation nonetheless.

I share this information publically with some trepidation, I do not want to share my daughter's personal information too easily. On the other hand I also believe there is no shame or anything to be hid or to shy away from in the post instutionalized adoptive community when it comes to behaviors which may or may not be related to our children's precarious beginnings.

Ultimately I am resigned to watching her with the sharp and critical eye of a mama who loves this little kid without abandon. If she continues to show more and more signs of normal attachment, leaving behind some of the stranger behavior...we count our blessings and move on bowing to her strong resolve to heal and her strength of human spirit. If things go further awry, there is always outside help.

Wait, watch and learn.


rjnux said...

Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I just past our 14th month since LID and reading your blog helps me. Your honesty does get me thinking. I think your perspective and genrousity in sharing is awesome. Thanks again.

Beverly said...

Do you think or know of any men in the or around the orphanage? Maybe they were more friendly or fun than the women who did their duty to just take care of the babies? It may also diminsh some as she gets older. I would not make light of it because it could be serious down the road. Thank goodness for men who at least know not to touch another child.


Kristin said...

Seriously, I wouldn't worry and this isn't me trying to make light of your concerns... I understand why they give you pause, but as Liv grows up and starts understanding boundaries and strangers and the like, she'll create her own limits...

Like you suggested, she may just be very suspicious of women, or, and I really thought this might be the case with Eva, worried that another woman would replace you... you know, nanny to Mama in a hot minute.

BTW - Eva hates everybody and forces them to WORK for her affection... it is so bad that sometimes I am just forced to say, "Listen, it's not you, it's everyone..."

J said...

Our daughter is also from Yangxi. Her behaviours which potentially concern me are different from Olivia's, but like you, not panicking but keeping a close eye. We do see an attachment therapist every 6 months just to check in... I don't want to be one of those parents who blames everything on institutionalization, but I also don't want to be one of those parents who ignore it altogether - it's a fine line!

Perrin said...

Thank you to those of you who commented and sent us personal emails regarding this post. It is very appreciated, and it appears that we may not be the only family facing this issue.

We have our last visit with our social worker tomorrow and I plan to run it by her to get her opinion.