Thursday, 03 December 2020
It's a Game of Skill and Chance Print
by Ansley Bernatz

As I reflect back, I’ve come to compare my son’s attachment journey to a game of poker. It seems to me we always knew which game we were playing. We knew the hand we had been dealt, but we had no idea what cards our son would play. There were four suits- stress, trauma, grief and attachment. Would he have a full house, or four of a kind?

In the months leading up to his adoption, I was obsessed with the psychological aspect of adoption. I read all I could find about trauma and grief in adopted children, and infant neurological development. Since I was going to be a first time mother, I devoted lots of time to my new ‘hobby’. I even joined a local attachment support group. The women there mentored me, answered my questions, and gave me hope that if I played my cards right, I could help my child form a healthy attachment. I could help to heal his grief. The best pro poker players find a coach, and those women coached me well!

When we traveled to bring our son home, he was just four months old. I remember having all of the normal first-time mom fears. But those fears paled in comparison to the fear my son would not form a healthy attachment with me. I had done my research and I knew trauma had stacked the cards against us. Luckily, my own mom worked in adolescent mental health. She was the first to talk to me about attachment disorders. In addition, my adoption agency encouraged me to research attachment, and gave some good suggestions of books I could read. I learned of the 4everfamily website from an internet forum for adoptive families and I read every word published there. In other words, I anted up.

On the first day we met our son, I realized the stakes were just as high as I had imagined- Thank God I had prepared. My son was noticeably grief stricken from the moment we met him. He KNEW his world was about to turn upside down. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. He cried for hours as though the world would end, and I’m sure in his mind the world was ending. Where was the woman he thought to be his mother? Who were these other people? They didn’t look right, sound right or smell right. I can only describe his transition as violent. The game was on, and we were ready.

I employed all of the attachment parenting methods I read about during my research period. I ignored people who questioned my ideals and my sanity. It was hard. People told me he was going to be spoiled, and that I was being unfair- after all, they had waited for him, too. Few understand why my husband and I were the only people to care for our baby. Friends and family members begged to hold him and feed him. We stuck to our guns. We looked for our baby’s ‘tells’. We watched and waited before we placed our bets.

I distinctly remember crying with my mom, telling her I wish she could jump right in and fill the grandmother role she wanted so badly. It just wasn’t going to happen. Nothing about parenting an adopted, traumatized child is the same as parenting biological children. You’re dealt a different hand from the beginning, and you have to play the cards in front of you.

After a year of wearing my baby whenever I could, limiting visitors, having only one, infrequent babysitter (grandma), responding to every cry, implementing holding time, and doing lots of other attachment promoting activities, my son is well on his way to a healthy attachment. I did a lot of good work to help my baby feel secure. I also know things could still go the other way. The trauma he experienced as a result of his adoptive placement will affect him his entire life. If our attachment process stagnates, I have cards up my sleeve. I know who the premier attachment therapist is in my area. I know where to find traditional and alternative therapies to help him. I have relationships with experienced “been there, done that” moms who will help support me. I’ve got the ‘nuts’- the best hand possible.

I urge you, if you are an adoptive parent, please do not be intimidated by your fear of attachment difficulties. Some children attach well, despite less than ideal circumstances. Some don’t. Learn all you can about your baby’s neurological development and how it relates to the trauma he will inevitably experience. Watch for ‘tells’; keep a vigilant eye on your child. As his mother, you can positively influence him to the greatest degree. Don’t listen to the well-meaning, but amateur, advice-givers in your life. Become an attachment expert and listen to your ‘mommy voice’. Instinct counts, and sometimes you just have to bluff your opponent.

I am so thankful I listened to my inner voice even though I was a first time mom and plenty of people wanted to disregard the ‘rules’. After all, I am the best advocate my little one has. Whether you have a long and difficult road to healthy attachment ahead of you, or an easier one- your child can heal from his painful beginnings. (a. 4mo, FC)

Thank you to Ansley Bernatz for submitting this piece from her blog, Noble Seoul.

Written by Chery on 2008-03-08 14:30:14
That is beautifully written and very informative. Great job!

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