Sunday, June 16, 2013

Attachment for the Orphan

Whole scholarly articles have been written on the topic of attachment. Studies have been done to see how important attachment is in a child's life. In the thirteenth century Emperor Fredrick II did an experiment to see what language fifty children would begin using if they were never cuddled or talked to. His experiment failed because every single one of the fifty children died.

In general, forming bonds of attachment is almost an impossible thing for the orphan living in an institution. The nannies and orphanage staff try hard to provide each of the 8-20 children in their care with their daily needs, keeping them clean and warm and fed. After that they can spend their free time talking to and cuddling with the babies. Would you have any free time if you were caring for even eight special needs infats?

It's a hard, back-breaking sort of job for caregivers. Here at New Day our ratio is one nanny for every three children. In our Critical Care unit the ratio is 1:2. And guess what we get to see on a regular basis?


It's harder for some children than for others. Sometimes they've been through so much in the months and years before they came to us that attaching is a long and hard process. But we've set it up so that the children have the best opportunity they can  to form some bonds. Our shifts are set up so that each bedroom of three children has their very own two "mamas" who work alternating days. This is the mama who feeds them, dresses them, changes their diapers and gives them a bath. Every other day the mamas switch places, but every other day they come right back to care for "their" children. Some of the older children here know the shifts pretty well, and so if Tuesday's mama works on Wednesday too, they'll ask "what's my other mama doing today?"

When children are attached, they are bound to go through what is called a "stranger-anxiety phase." This is the phase in a child's life where they will have absolutely nothing to do with anyone but their mama or close caregiver. Stranger anxiety is healthy, it's a good thing.

We have some children who have been going through some phases of their own recently. It can get tricky when you have a whole team of caregivers, medical staff, managers, therapists and volunteers who all want to cuddle, but it's a really, really good thing.

Annabel has gone through a phase where she would have nothing to do with anyone but the four mamas who rotate in and out of the CCU. She knows love and she knows that her mama gives the best lovin' there is.

Alea is still in the midst of her "phase." And her favorite nanny is Cora. If Cora's working, Alea will have nothing to do with anyone. Cora is her mama to wipe her nose and cuddle her when she's not feeling well.


It's into Cora's arms that she falls into when she's being especially silly, because Alea knows that she's safe with her mama.

For the past few months Hudson would burst into tears whenever he saw anyone who wasn't his foster mama. The poor guy had a rough time at therapy every day, but recently he seems to have come out of his shell and he's a new little boy. He has a ready smile for everyone and happily waves "bye-bye" and blows kisses. Dare we say that he has "attached"?

Of course, there are ramifications with attachment for these children. They are not attaching with their forever mamas. Alea is matched with a family and will hopefully be leaving this summer. What will happen when she has to leave the woman whom she thinks is "her" mama and go with a stranger? What about Hudson, after he's finally discovered that it's okay to leave his foster mama's arms for therapy because he knows that she will always come back for him?

There's a lot of information out there about attachment. I'm sure that there are many differing opinions. For us personally, we have seen the positive results for children who were able to attach to someone special while they were still here in China. The transition on adoption day was harder and more tear-full, but in the end, the children are more emotionally stable and healthy. These children know how to attach to someone. They know how to trust and this is the best gift that we could ever give them.

As an adoptive parent, how has the attachment period gone? How much do you think the child's situation pre-gotcha day has effected their emotional health today?


  1. After 4 China adoptions, we have a little experience. Our first 2 were the NSN AYAP adoptions. The girls were 9 months at adoption, but both had been in a traditional orphanage setting. They had the delays from that experience, but being so very young attachment came fairly easy. Ten y.o. boys who came from a not-so-good foster situation and suddenly removed to an orphanage for 2 years before coming to us...are a bit more difficult, BUT we do see the effects of a single foster home for 6 years. Our youngest came to us from a foster home in which she was placed at birth (or close to it) she came to me at 30 months...I was worried...adoption week was tough, but each day got better...the best thing is that she knows what a mom is supposed to do! A piece of hair in her mouth...mama. tou-fa...a package she couldn't open...mama open..falls down....mama! There was a ba-ba in her life too and he must have been the fun loving kind...she knew what ba-ba's were for too! Please thank your foster parents they have a hard job! Keep doing what you are doing!!!

  2. I can say without a DOUBT that ND's care of Brooke was so instrumental in the quick attachment that we experienced with her! Her bonding process was seamless and we couldn't be more thankful for the love from the Mamas at ND they provide these special babies with the care they need!

  3. Our son was left to be found at a company hospital at 3 days old. Moved to the orphanage. At ll months surgery, at 12-14 months moved to a foster home. Then at 4 he came to us. So there was a lot to over come. A lot of trust to earn. Through out his early life he had a crib mate that was with him from the day he was in the orphanage. He was attached to him. Then when the transition to the foster family came he was distraught until they brought his crib mate to the foster family. Our son bonded well with us, I think and truly believe it is because of the foster family experience. What he has been diagnosed with is an adjustment disorder. Therapy and lots of love and patience are what is working for us. Lots of work but so worth seeing him come to life. We are 6 years bringing him home and we are finally getting break through after break through.

  4. We adopted a four year old in 2012. She had been in the same foster home for three years. From day one she completely rejected me. She bonded right away with my husband. We have been home now for six months and it is slowly changing but it has been one of the most painful things I have ever experienced! I was totally unprepared. Amy

  5. Ah...Hannah, remember me? :-). CJ terrified me when we came to get him and Landon! I wanted to run back to the Beijing airport! He had attached so well to his nannies that we terrified him. But here we are, a little over a year later, and CJ and I are BONDED, big time! We have 3 from China, different backgrounds, but like Meredith, I can say (without a doubt) that the love, care, preparation that New Day gives each cild makes ALL the difference in the world!
    Love all u guys and pray for you!