I only have one adoptive child, and no biological children. So, I’m no expert. But I’ve learned some important lessons on raising adoptive children from experts in this field. The most significant factor that contributed to the wonderful bond we have with our child is what we learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis of the TCU Institute of Child Development, the co-author of The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family. (This is a MUST read for adoptive families and foster families).
I had thought about how to tell my adoptive child about how he is adopted, why we look different etc… when he can understand, but I had not thought about how to parent him differently than one would parent a biological child. Our agency Bethany Christian Services had us go through training sessions and they had reading assignments for us. And that’s how we “met” this most compassionate, knowledgeable and effective Developmental Psychologist, with that soothing voice and tender eyes.
She uses the term “children from hard places” frequently.
“Our research and that of others has revealed that there are six primary risk factors that are predictors of “children from hard places.” These risk factors are: inadequate prenatal care or abnormal prenatal conditions; difficult or traumatic labor or birth; medical trauma early in life; abuse; neglect; and trauma. Based on this list, it is apparent that this term describes many more children than merely those who were institutionalized or adopted later in life. As we look at children from hard places, sadly we see some common characteristics, behaviors and challenges. We know that many of them have experienced changes in their brain chemistry due to their histories. We also know that many of them experience sensory processing issues as well as challenges in developing healthy and secure attachments. All of this can lead to various behavioral challenges as these children try to deal with their fears and try to adjust to their surroundings. But what we also know is that there is much hope for these children and their parents. In our work we have yet to see a child that cannot experience dramatic levels of healing in response to the right approach and interventions focused on helping the child and parents develop deep and lasting connections.”
So, before we knew we were welcoming a newborn home, I prepared myself to help the child heal and help their neurotransmitter connect so that they can have a healthy physiological and emotional development. What in the world are neurotransmitters you ask?
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that help our bodies think, feel and move. However, the levels of key neurotransitters in many children from hard places are often too high, too low and/or out of balance. Dr. Karyn Purvis explains the importance of neurotransmitters, both in terms of helping parents gain new insight and compassion for their children and also for understanding how they might begin to address this important issue.
I found out that we had been matched with a birth mother who is about 6 and half months pregnant. Parenting an older child with history would be difficult, or a baby from an orphanage is difficult, but a brand-new baby is a clean slate. That’s what a lot of us think. Not so.
“There is no adoption without loss,” she declared, “but sometimes adoptive parents tend to forget that.” – An adult Adoptee explains in a blog post by another of my favorite expert Michael Moore, an Empower to Connect Contributor and the leader of TAPESTRY Ministry.
No child becomes available for adoption or enters foster care unless something has gone wrong, terribly so. Those who gave life to this child, those who were supposed to take care of him, those who were supposed to be there to protect him, teach him, and support him either couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t. And so one of the most foundational and important of all earthly relationships – that of parent and child – was broken or severed.
My son comes from a happily married couple with several children. Except that the family was overwhelmed and over-burdened by their situation and decided what they thought was the best for the little life which was growing in the biological mother (“Tummy Mommy”)’s womb.
As soon as he was born, as soon as he was placed in my arms on that day in the OR (C-section baby), he experienced a loss. He will not remember exactly what is missing, but he will have the “sense of loss”. He will “miss” his birth mother’s smell, her voice, his birth father’s voice. The sound of his biological siblings’ voices…without knowing that’s what he is missing.
I was determined to discuss my loss and my baby’s loss face to face with this newborn baby, and to work together. And that’s exactly what I did. It didn’t matter that he would have NO IDEA what I was talking about. I needed to do this with him. I started as soon as I held him “skin-to-skin” for the first time, on that day he was born. (more on my attachment / neurotransmitter development exercises later.)
My baby and I have done a lot of skin-to-skin, and though I could not produce milk with induced lactation, I have been using SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) for mock-breast-feeding and I know for sure, this has contributed a lot to my baby’s well-being, who has been sleeping through the night from 5 weeks old, who gets “I’ve never seen a baby this happy all the time” comments.
Whether you are adopting a newborn, an older child, domestic or international, from foster, or a special needs child…learning about brain chemistry before welcoming a child or catch up after you welcome the child, will definitely help you and your family and can spare you from a lot of struggles and heartaches. We will discuss more resources another time.
Empowered to Connect Web Site
The Connected Child (Chapter 10 – Supporting Healthy Brain Chemistry)
Created To Connect Study Guide (Chapter 10 – Supporting Healthy Brain Chemistry)
The Neurochemistry of Fear DVD (available for purchase from the TCU Institute of Child Development)
Created To Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child Created To Connect is designed to help illuminate the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child. You can download (free of charge) a pdf file of the entire study guide or chapter-by-chapter.