Monday, 24 June 2013

Chapter 10 – Introducing Attachment and Loss – The Second Preparation Day Pt 1

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The second preparation day arrived and, after our early morning cross country rally, so did we... on time... just! The first Prep day had been pretty exhausting but, as this day was due to concentrate more deeply on the journey of the child in the run up to adoption we were ready to be put through the emotional wringer. We weren’t far wrong.

To begin with the trainers, Maureen and Doreen, helped us build up the bricks in the strong foundation which children need to develop securely. This was done both figuratively and literally as we sought out hankie boxes which had been covered, Blue Peter-style, in wrapping paper and carried words such as: affection, shelter, warmth, clothing, praise, love, nurture, comfort, food, security, safety... And then came the opportunity to have that wall come tumbling down.

The following sessions that morning looked at what happened when some or all of those basic building blocks were removed from a child’s life. We worked through a couple of case studies which were, we were assured, very closely based on some real life cases which had been dealt with in the county. As one might have expected, some of the circumstances were a little extreme and it was certainly tough going on an emotional level. However, there was a glimmer of hope for us all. Although the two cases which we were going to look through were tragic and harrowing to hear about in places these were both genuine success stories. Each of our subjects, one little boy and one little girl, had gone on to adoption and after working through various issues and problems had settled into a loving family life. There was a light at the end of the tunnel for all the darkness during the journey. After all the grim horror stories we’d heard at the Open Evening and Orientation Day that was a HUGE relief.

Being far too keen, over-achieving types we had been doing a bit of reading around the whole adoption topic before arriving at the Prep Days. This had been strongly recommended at the Orientation Day and samples of some of their most highly recommended and favoured books had been set out for us to browse. Unsurprisingly Dan Hughes, Caroline Archer and Margo Sutherland were conspicuous by the number of mentions. It was only a short Amazon click away and we were on the way to the beginnings of our own little adoption library. We decided onBig Steps for Little People: Parenting Your Adopted Child” by Celia Foley, “Facilitating Developmental Attachment: The Road to Emotional Recovery and Behavioral Change in Foster and Adopted Children” by Daniel A. Hughes and, just before we clicked through to the checkout, “New Families, Old Scripts: A Guide to the Language of Trauma and Attachment in Adoptive Families” by Alan Burnell, Caroline Archer and Christine Gordon. So we arrived at the Prep Days with some knowledge if not much insight!

However, it did mean that some of the concepts which were being espoused in the sessions on child development were already familiar to us. It was fascinating, nonetheless, to hear about how the physical and emotional environment in which a newborn baby finds itself can affect the very wiring of the brain’s neurons. There was discussion of the crying-comforting cycle which develops between the parent and child and how this forms the building blocks of a strong attachment – and what happens when that never develops through abuse or neglect.

It was at that point that someone piped up with, “Well, at least if all that horrible stuff happens really early on they won’t really remember it when they’re older, so that’s not such a problem for us as adopters, is it...?” I guess that Maureen and Doreen were waiting for that comment. Slowly but firmly that notion was put in its place. This was an opportunity for more discussions on the effects of trauma on the developing brain, background adrenalin levels, fight and flight modes, hyper-vigilance and detachment. By the time we were shown a video of some psychological experiments on infants with strong and poor attachment we all really felt like we had been put through the wringer. Painful but powerful stuff.

Over-achievers Anonymous
It was during this session that we learned another little lesson. As recommended at the previous sessions we’d started doing some background reading around adoption issues. Forewarned is forearmed and all that... It soon became clear that we were the only ones in the group who had. Unable to repress our own inner Lisa Simpson we mentioned a few of the things that had struck us from our reading during the discussion sessions. Mid-morning we were in the middle of one such (slightly fractious) discussion when my wife threw in a little comment based on one of the books which supported a point the trainers were making (much to the scepticism of the group). Doreen shot back with a terse comment, “Well, it will be very interesting to see how all this knowledge you’ve picked up from the books apply when you’ve actually got an adopted child.”

Whoa Trigger! Hang on a mo, reign back on the whole passive aggressive thing! I was given a pleading look of “Did I say something wrong?”. I did my best to reassure her that as far as I was concerned she’d not done anything wrong through the medium of wiggling eyebrows and shrugging shoulders. To her credit, the Maureen shot her colleague a look as if to say, “Now, now, they’re not the gobby ones in the group. Go easy on them. Take a deep breath...” Did I mention that our group was a little... erm... “feisty”?

Suitably chastened we both made a mental note to drop any further references to our extra-curricular reading activities. Instead we would express the same wide eyed amazement as the rest of the group as each new concept was introduced. It’s a principle which would develop as we went further through the adoption preparation process and home study. We were both determined to be open and honest all the way through. However, the fact is that this process is a process and as such it expects certain things at certain times. As prospective adopters part of our responsibility was to service the expectations and requirements of the process. If the process said “Jump” better for us to ask “How high?” than to argue that perhaps hopping or skipping would be better or more appropriate for us.

Still, time for some lunch...


Sarah Hill said...

Really great detailed account of prep group which will be very useful to those starting their adoption journey. I personally think it's great that you are doing lots of reading now and yes living it can be very different to the books, but it shows dedication and commitment to what you are doing. Plus sometimes in the middle of living it you don't always feel like picking up a book to read all about it as well, so getting ahead is good in my opinion.

Thanks for Linking to The weekly Adoption Shout Out.

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...

The post above refers to early brain development and the effects on attachement etc.

"...if all that horrible stuff happens really early on they won’t really remember it when they’re older, so that’s not such a problem..." If only that were the case!

Just read a great post today on this blog which talks about this in some more detail and is well, well worth reading.