Saturday, April 9, 2011

What's Next?

As we complete this final leg of our journey to bring our precious daughter Zahra home. Not only has this journey been long and rigorous for us but it has been a labor of love that many others have walked right along with us. In order to best explain to our excited family and friends, we wanted to write a letter to those closest to us explaining a little bit of what our first few months at home will look like. We're posting it here as well.

Dear Family & Friends,
After a year of praying, paper chasing, waiting, longing, dreaming and hoping our sweet little Zahra is almost home! We are humbled and overjoyed at God's grace in our lives, but we also know this will be a season of adjustment not only for Zahra but for our whole family. We know that each of you receiving this letter has in some way supported, loved and prayed for us. Because we know you care for Zahra and our family, we want to share with you some information that we hope will best equip everyone around her to assist us in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation as she adjusts emotionally, physically and spiritually.

In many ways, little Zahra will be like the children who entered our family through birth; we will seek to bring all of them up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. Having been through the adoption and adjustment process before with Silas for many of you this will not be new information. We shared much of this same information when we brought Silas home. 

While the information is the same the way we implement the same ideas may be different based on how very different our two precious adopted children are. Silas is an extrovert, friends with everyone and easily adapted to everything. While our initial thoughts are that Zahra will adapt easily as well she is about as opposite her brother as a child can be. She's quiet and calm, gentle and a bit shy at times. How we approach parenting little Z could look quite different then how we parented Silas, every one of our children is different.

We are confident of this: God’s design is PERFECT! His plan for parents and children is a beautiful and meaningful picture of His love for us. Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need. The primary caretaker meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a parent and child over and over to create trust within the child for that parent; the baby is hungry, cries in distress, mom nurses & calms the baby – which teaches her that this person is safe and can be trusted. By God’s very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect their learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. The security provided by parents will, ultimately, give children a trust for and empathy towards others.

Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and father at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts. Zahra will experience the loss of familiar and comforting caretakers as well as the sights, smells, and language of her birth country. When Zahra comes home, she will be overwhelmed. Everything around her will be new and she will need to learn not just about her new environment, but also about love and family. She has not experienced God’s design for a family in an orphanage setting. Her world will turn upside down. She will struggle with feeling safe and secure and she may lack the ability to trust that we will meet her needs. The good news is that we can now, as Zahra's parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help her heal from these emotional wounds.

The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the only ones to hold, cuddle, instruct, soothe and feed her. As this repeats between us, she will be able to learn that parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Zahra begins to establish this important bond, she will then be able to branch out to other, healthy relationships.  

Zahra will have, what may seem like, a lot of structure, boundaries and close proximity to us. Although it may appear that we are spoiling her at times, we have been advised that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, we are prepared to help her through it and prove that we are her forever family. You may also notice us tighten our circle a bit, stay close to home, and we may seem a little less available socially, at least Erica and Zahra, for a while. 

Please know that these decisions are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based on our personal experience, research and instruction from trusted adoption mentors. We will be doing what we believe is best to help her heal from those interruptions in attachment as effectively as possible.

While some of this may seem like overkill or even sound a little bit crazy we pray that you will understand and trust that we are doing this to give Zahra the absolute best shot at being a secure, well adjusted, and confident adult. We can't give an exact time line on what this will look like or at what point we'll say that Zahra is "attached" to us. This takes time and every child is different. We do know what a secure attachment looks like and we'll be looking for that progress in the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead.

Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an incredible and vital role in helping little Zahra settle in, heal, and lay a foundation for the future. There are a few areas in which you can help us:

The first is to set physical boundaries. It will help us immensely if adults around her limit what is typically considered normal, physical contact with a young child who you are around frequently. This will (for a while) include things like holding, excessive hugging and kissing. Children from orphanage settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone – which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcomed! Zahra should know that the people with whom she interacts are our trusted friends.

Another area (probably the biggest as we'll be keeping little Z close to us for the first few months) is redirecting Zahra's desire to have her physical and emotional needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having us meet them. Orphans often have so many caretakers that they, as a survival mechanism, become overly charming toward all adults. A child struggling to learn to attach may exhibit indiscriminate affection with people outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but this is actually quite dangerous for the child. To share this is difficult for us because you have openly loved on our other children and we have loved on yours as well, and treasure that connection. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Zahra hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. But until she has a firm understanding of family and primary attachments, we would be so grateful if you direct her to us if you see that she is seeking out food, affection or comfort from anyone but us.

Also, please feel free to ask us any questions at any time. This will be an adjustment for our family as we get back into this routine and help Zahra learn about family/parents/and appropriate behaviors. We are so grateful that you are seeking with us to help Zahra feel loved, safe, and secure. We are incredibly blessed to have so many loved ones around us. We couldn’t ask for a better extended family & circle of friends for our precious little Z. Thank you so much for your love and support over the past thirteen months.

Much Love,
David and Erica

PS~ For those of you meeting us at the airport this does not mean you can't love and hug on our daughter. With all the excitement of coming home we don't wan to rob the joy of what those first few moments will mean. The airport homecoming is still within the "grace period" time of adjustment and while we will be watching Zahra for signs of being uncomfortable we are excited to share our daughter with you. As long as she's doing well emotionally we will welcome hugs and I'm sure she will too.

Excerpts of this letter were taken from several sources. A big Thank You to Andrea at Babe Of My Heart, and Rachel Walser at Love With Abandon for their beautiful letters of which I used parts for this letter.


Meyerdrk said...

Well said, my friend...the original as well as the borrowed parts! ;-)

To God be the Glory! said...

Love you guys, love your children - Nichol, Skyler, Olivia, Silas and now Zahra!!

I may need some reminding <3 Thank you for this blog which helps me so.

Rachel said...

So thankful for the airport disclaimer! I almost started to panic. Need some hugs from that girl!!! : ) Get ready cause I'm gonna hug you tons too!!!! : )

Bex said...

This is good. So good. Well done. I posted part of it on my blog as well as an example of excellent communication for this significant season of transition. So glad you are home with your girl and other kids. It was great to meet you in Ethiopia. Blessings!

shellandjim said...

thanks so much for your well written words! We found your blog by way of Bex Mann and her posting parts of your letter on her blog. We are adopting a baby girl who just turned 2 from Haiti and I would love to adapt some of your words for our family and friends as we prepare to bring out daughter home. We would appreciate that so much~Thanks again, Shelly

Rachel said...

This is good to know. I wondered how all the attachment stuff works out, and this is really helpful. Looking forward to seeing you guys. Plane tickets are in hand (mine at least). So excited!