Friday, December 24, 2010

Adopting an Infant

The first 12 weeks of a human being's life is a time of transition from the womb to the outer world. For an adopted infant it is also a transition from Birth mother to adoptive parent. The physical body of the baby is still adjusting from leaving the warm massaging waters of the womb and the noises of the womb to being in the air and noise filled environment of the outer world. The first 18 months is the optimum time to bond and attach and learn about safety and security with their new parents. It is useful to find a baby carrier that allows you, to 'wear' your baby so that she can experience the body warmth of the parent and the simulated containment of the womb. It has been shown in research that wearing a baby can significantly increase the development of a secure attachment. It is also useful, if you are able, to have at least some time off work after the adoption, 3 months is optimum. for the 'getting to know eachother' and the bonding process.

I have found from experience that the best carriers to use for a baby 0- 10 weeks is a sling. Many of the parents with whom I have worked have also found the Moby wrap very useful in carrying a small infant. The Moby wrap is a wonderful product once you take the time to read the instructions! It can double as a sling and up-right baby carrier, as the baby becomes older. For more information about this product go to

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adoptees and Identity ( part two)

The work of integration for your foster/adopt child involves the integration of past, present and future into a cohesive timeline narrative, with an integration of what I call, 'the good', 'the bad' and 'the ugly' of the past events before they were adopted or placed in fostercare.

This is not to say that all adoptees have the same paths to developing into healthy adults or the same intensity of traumatic events in their past to process. Some adoptees can move fairly fluidly around the present time boulders in the stream of life, if they have established a secure attachment with their adoptive parent/parents. In my experience of working with adoptees over the years I have heard and witnessed many different life journeys.

However, all adoptees have the same irreplaceable loss to try to understand and negotiate. The loss of Birth mother and Birth father and possibly siblings and possibly Birth family ancestory. Along with this loss comes the question "why was I adopted? No matter how much an adoptive parent rationalizes,or denies, or sugar-coats or simplifies or tells the truth each time it is asked - this question does not go away, nor does the loss for an adoptee. Embracing all of your adopted child, the good , the bad , and the ugly- the joys and the saddness- will not answer the question or take away the loss; but it will give a secure foundation from which your child can find her own answers over the life span. That is the best we can do as adoptive parents.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Adoptees and identity( part one)

I have been reading all sorts of blogs recently, specifically those by adult adoptees. The feelings and opinions are extremely intense for these adoptees and it is important to recognize that their experiences and stories are very subjective and specific to each one of them. Under their anger and righteous words is a profound sense of saddness. Their writing is clearly, an important mouthpiece for them to vocalize and organize their own integration of Self and assert who they have become. However, each of these adult adoptees emphasize in different ways, how essential it is to have knowledge and contact with their past and their Birth families and their Birth culture to be able to feel more whole and integrated. Some of them returned to live in their Birth culture when adults, while others sought out their birth family for a one time visit; others have had brief contact during the years to maintain contact no matter how infrequent. These are the voices of adoptees who have become adults.

Recently, I have been talking about how important it is for a child adoptee to have some kind of gradual integration of past,present and future to have a cohesive sense of Self going forward into life. And, how important it is for the adopt/foster parent to be aware of and sensitive to this integration. Behaviorally, this can look like a pushing away or a strong criticism of the foster/adopt parent or a denial of the birth parent/family. In the face of such behavior , the most important stance for the foster/adopt parent is to stay confident in your job as a parent and guardian of this child and clear in your love and compassion. Not so easy to do at times, but when the boat is rocking you need to take the wheel, to maintain a steady course during the storms.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cultural identity for adopted children

I work with many adopted children who are growing up in families with parents who have a different cultural, background than the one of their birth family. The Birth culture of your child is definitely part of your child and the question for parents is often how much of this culture do you retain and expose your child to while growing up in America?

Is it beneficial for adopted children from China to learn Chinese when the adoptive parents do not speak Chinese? Should your child go to a Chinese/American school? Should you celebrate all the Chinese holidays? I have found that all adoptive parents, if they are asking themselves these important questions in the service of helping their child have a bi-cultural or tri-cultural identity then there are no right or wrong answers. You do the best you can with the resources you have and keep the cultures alive in a real way as much as possible, to help your child integrate the past , present and future. Not easy, if you are a parent who has have never lived in China. Not so easy if you are adopted and have no memory of your birth culture and are living in America with a psuedo-Chinese cultural experience.

My perspective on cultural identity was opened up one day in a discussion with a Chinese friend. From an insiders point of view as a Chinese person seeing the adopted Chinese babies dressed up in 'Chinese embroidered silk suits' , she says that it is a strange phenomenon, as Chinese people do not dress their children like this!! It made me realize that we can not make our daughters more Chinese than they are. I realized that the best person to teach my daughter about Chinese culture and what it is like to be Chinese is my Chinese friend.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adoption and sense of Identity

Who am I? Why am I here? These are deep psychological and spiritual questions about identity for any human being to answer. Often there are no answers, but every so often it is useful to pause and ask the question and see what answer arises this time. Who we are as individuals (which involves an integration of our past, present and future) and how we fit into the greater community is very important to a secure sense of belonging and a secure sense of Self.

For many adoptees these questions are basic and at times disturbing, irritating at best, due to the unintegrated and unsettled quality of a past present and future. This is particularly apparent when a child is settling into a new family/placement/ environment and when their is some developmental change or a transition for the family such as moving houses or schools. For many of my adoptee clients these questions are on-going in some form or other, and the parents are often required to come up with an answer that is truthful and provides a sense of security in the midst of often confusing uncertainty and strong feelings.

The good news is that the questions are asked. For instance the comment of a school age boy saying:"I have no friends, how do I make friends?" or "am I going to stay here forever?" for some children, can come from deep seated feelings of shame about thinking he is different or not wanted. ie. His internal voice may be saying: " I am different to my friends because I am adopted and I look different and they all ask me if that woman who does not look like me and picks me up after school is my nanny and my birth parents did not want me so are you going to do the same, and reject me when I do something you don't like?" These are difficult feelings and beliefs to listen to as a parent. Even more difficult to deal with are the negative behaviors that are fueled by this skewed sense of self.

By acknowledging the feelings but setting limits on the behaviors and acknowledging the differences is the first step. Followed by the fact that he is loved by you and reassuring him that you are not intending to leave him any time soon. Sometimes acknowledging that their are not always clear answers is also important. Problem solving together about all the ways there are silmilarities between him and his peers/ and you the parent can be a way to bridge the disconnect. And it is an on-going process of questioning and integration.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating holidays

One of the delights of childhood for me and for my daughter is celebrating the religious and cultural holidays. I grew up in England and I have very pleasant memories of Christmas. Our family had very specific rituals and traditions even though my family was not very religious. These rituals and traditions I have passed on to my daughter , we have kept a lot of them, thrown out others and created some of our own. We eat Christmas Cake, well maybe just the icing (I am one of the few adults in Northern California that loves fruit cake!!) decorate a Christmas Tree; buy a new ornament each year; attend a performance of the Christmas Carol ; watch the Nutcracker; open presents on Christmas morning; sing the Hallelujah chorus and take a hike before dinner with friends. Since being in America I also love to make bread each year. I often make Challah and take a loaf to share at the Chanuka celebration of our Jewish friends.

At this time of year , we celebrate Chinese New Year, by going to our favourite Chinese restaurant. We eat the same favorite dishes and watch the Lion dancers weave around the tables and chairs.

Both of us have adopted Thanksgiving and it has become our favorite holiday. Why? Because holidays and traditions for us are about celebrating with family and friends - being in community. My daughter is learning that an important part of gift giving at holidays is sharing food and laughter and conversation in a community of friends, who are very much part of our extended family. What traditions do you pass on? What traditions have you created together as family?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your child as a US citizen

I was looking at articles on the Families with Children from China website and read one by a lawyer talking about how our children get official documentation as proof of citizenship if they are children adopted from a foreign country. (for additional information see article at ) In the year 2000 , one of the last policies/acts Clinton signed into being was the child citizen act of 2000, which decreed that all children adopted from abroad and now residing in the US will automatically become citizens. When I adopted my daughter 6 months after this act came into being my daughter automatically became a US citizen. I had waited one year before my citizenship paperwork was finalized and I attended my ceremony of being sworn in as a citizen in San Francisco.

The problem is , I received a certificate documenting that I am a citizen, my daughter never did get one due to there not being official paperwork during this time period. The fee to obtain this documentation has now increased to $520 and can be obtained whenever the parent or adoptee feels it is important to do so. This only applies to those children adopted from abroad between 2000- 2004. As an adult immigrant myself, I recommend that if this is your situation you do obtain this documentation and/or obtain a passport.

As an adult immigrant myself, I have run into situations where I have to prove my citizenship, job applications, social security number etc and I find it is becoming more and more necessary in more and more situations, during our present times.

Proof of citizenship is also a passport. I have a passport for my daughter. A passport is renewed every 5 years. The renewal process entails: an in person appearance with the application paperwork and be prepared to give up the original documents for proof of adoption + her state adoption certificate + the old passport while the application is processed.

Living in America is wonderful and for all immmigrants, at times it is challenging if you do not have the right piece of paper on hand when you need it most to prove citizenship.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Help baby calm himself

How does your child sooth himself when he is emotionally upset? This is a good thing to know about your child. Is your child able to sooth himself? how long does it take for him to calm down? Even more important , how do you maintain your calm and sometimes your sanity during these times? How do you reconnect with eachother after such an energetic disconnect?

We come into the world with all the potential ingredients to learn to calm and sooth ourselves. In the ideal world, our nervous systems learn quickly with the guidance of an attentive parent. In the first month of life the baby is encouraged to suck on a finger or thumb or little fist or pacifier for comfort; to be held close and rocked; to look up into the eyes of an engaged parent etc. This is the ideal and it is something very few older adopted children got to experience. Their ways of managing or calling attention to their 'upset' are often very skewed and can be extremely damaging to themselves and to their close relationships. So what to do?

I am not encouraging parents to treat their older children like babies. However, it is useful to feel into this deficit to understand more about your child and what might be needed during these times. Give a quick reassuring hug or hold your child; sit quietly together, or apart in the same room or if necessary apart in different rooms for a short period of time; talk to you child about what is happening to her; reassure your child that you know this is not all she is.
Responding to the body cues and facial expressions of a teenager and maintaining your own cool, can help a lot more than being lost in an intensely emotional maze of words and decoy of cognitive debating that can go on for hours.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Parent classes for Adoptive parents

I went to a child and infant CPR class on Tuesday night. The class was packed with parents and child-care educators. I am so glad that I had a refresher class as the last time I took this class was pre 2006 at my daughter's nursery school and the recommended techniques have changed.

Adoptive parents often do not think of going to these basic infant care and safety classes while they are in the busy- ness and all consuming experience of the adoption process. So here are the must take classes I would recommend to put on your list of things still to do while preparing your daughter's bedroom and safety proofing the house and getting finger printed for the 3rd time!:

1) CPR and first aid class for children and infants(2-3 hour class)

2) A basic infant care class with hands on practice with dolls, if you are adopting an infant. It is a great way to gain information about vaccinations;sleeping safety;swaddling etc;ways to hold and comfort a baby; early childhood development etc (all day 5-6 hour class usually).
The medical centers where I have taught classes UCSF and CPMC in San Francisco have classes. My 'welcome home' classes will cover some of this infomation also post adoption and are geared specifically towards adopted infants whereas the classes at the hospitals are specifically geared to pre-birth biological parents to be.

3) Car seat safety. Do this before the child gets in the car. ie. pre-adoption. Go to Highway patrol or fire station or AAA (you do not have to be a member) You do need to make an appointment and learn how to fit your child's car seat securely in your car. (I thought I had the seat secured safely and sturdily until I got the highway patrol treatment test. (It only takes about 10 mins to get it right.)

4) Obtain your' local emergency medical services' phone number for your area and program it into your cell phone. I found out in the CPR class that if you call from a cell phone with 911 you will be put on hold for many minutes, and you may not have that kind of time in a medical emergency. Call you local police station or fire department to get that number.(Takes a few minutes)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Adoption is viewed as a single event........and yes , 'gottcha day' or the day that you adopted your child is a time to celebrate and honour each year. However, adoption is an on-going event that is part of the fabric of each day for both child, siblings and parents. In small and indisriminate ways and in large obvious ways, not necessarily a good or bad thing, it just is.

Such as looking at your parent's face in the morning; remembering her birth parents on her Birthday each year - or when you discover your child has been hoarding food in his bedroom, and you are trying to understand the meaning of this behavior so he will just finally stop doing it. Differentiating between what is an adoption issue and what is a 'kid issue' is not always easy for parents. However, as parents, our own capacity and practice at managing the good, the bad and the ugly in life can be part of the way to guide our children through these more tumultous times. We are the anchor through the calm and the storms.

Losing and loving is part of life for all of us and it takes practice and a life time to manage both well. So it should be of no surprise that many adopted children who often experience loss early on without the cognitive ability to understand its meaning act out when subsequent losses occur in their lives. As consequence, they develop a sensitivity to transitions and separations and changes in structure or routine. Loss - small or large - can cause temporary disorientation or it may cause internal distress that is acted out in disruptive behavior. At these times , your child needs the guidance of a patient parent well versed in managing loss and love, ready to listen and willing to understand.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Touch stimulation and socio-emotional development

When I began working with infants and their caregivers in the fostercare system just 6 years ago I was often met with skepticism and questions from other mental health professionals like: " you know this client is an infant?! Why does an infant need a therapist?" I believe they had pictures in their heads of me sitting behind a couch , notebook in hand, with a baby lying on it pondering a mobile?!!!! Times have changed thanks to brain research and the evidence that early childhood intervention is beneficial due to the plasticity of the brain during the first 18months (particularly as regards attachment) and then first 5 years of life.

If your baby has been in an orphanage or foster-care (this is especially true of internationally adopted children) prior to joining your family you know that their basic needs have been taken care of : feeding, clothing, sheltering, medical attention. However there is often not the time, or the motivation for that caregiver, to encourage the socio-emotional development by holding, hugging, touching, playing, laughing with the baby.

Now your baby is home, the best toy is you the parent and the best stimulation for the brain and nervous system are all these fun interactions.
Infant massage allows focused time for all these interactive experiences. It is duirng these times with the adoptive parent that the baby understands that he/she is special and precious in the eyes of his/her own parent.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The power of a story

We all love a good story to take us away from reality into some fantastical world or a reality that can reflect what we know. One of my favourite past times at present is to read children's books. My daughter and I go to the Mill Valley library , take out 2 copies of the same book and then we have a race to the finish. We got through the whole series of 'Harry Potter', the 'Crispin' series and the 'Thief Lord' this way and now we are embarking on the 'Golden Compass' after finishing 'The City of Ember'!!!

I realized today while reading, that their is a common thread to all these modern day children classics. They are all about orphans or about children who have lost their parents ; are adopted by relatives or living with caregivers who are barely around. In this fantasy world, this absence of adult supervision, allows the protagonist to grow up in a blink of an eye and accomplish amazing feats. The heroes and heroines end up solving mysteries, saving cities and conquering the dark dangerous forces of the world. They often become leaders.

So I was just thinking and it is just a question and I do not know the answer - Where does the fantasy end and reality begin for some adopted children when reading these books? Or even watching a Disney movie? Those children who have encountered the true reality of the dark hurtful forces of the world or survived multiple losses, can these stories be healing for them or are they a painful reminder of their past? Or is it both? I do know that some of my clients have benefited greatly from identifying with sports figures and actors who are celebraties, who they know have been adopted or been in the fostercare system. Our stories can be so powerful for us, both in the telling and in the reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Resources for newly adopting parents

I have taught newborn parenting classes and infant massage classes at two hospitals in San Francisco for 9 years to biological parents to be. For adopting parents the resources in the Bay area are limited although the infant massage class I teach is certainly open to adoptive parents. There is a great emphasis on the adoption piece and safety proofing the home, of course, when our families are being created and not so much on the basic parent piece.

I have found that newly adopting parents can benefit greatly in taking some classes in basic infant care/infant massage ( if adopting infants) infant/child CPR/ basic parenting classes. Also, understanding basic child development can help a lot in coming to understand your child and their needs. Here are some resources that you may find useful: has wonderful parenting classes and specializes in mixed racial/cultural adoption. is a CPR class taught in Marin county by a colleague Georgia Montgomery.
My 'welcome home classes' located in Mill Valley are an attempt to fill this gap in support for newly adopting parents. is a fabulous and informative web site about child development.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Answering questions about adoption

November is National awareness adoption month. One of the most informative and wonderful sites about adoption on the web is , as it covers the whole vast spectrum of adoption and topics about adoption. This morning I was reading an article about "Questions come with the territory" by Leigh Schindler Powell.

As an adoptive parent , born in England and living in America whom adopted my daughter from China, I get many opportunites to educate and inform strangers and friends and relatives on a daily basis about adoption - if I choose to. I say choose to, as one thing I taught my daughter right off the bat , was that we always have a choice about whether to answer a question when asked, depending on how the question is asked and who is asking. These are also opportunites to advocate for my child's positive sense of self as these are times when she feels that she is different and our family is different.

I am reminded of the times in the local Mill Valley park when children would innnocently come up to me and ask if I was the nanny and I would proudly say "no I am her mother". Then there was the time when an adult stranger ,who out of the blue, asked me 'how much did she cost?' Initially, I felt surprised and angry at her insensitive question but then I replied that my daughter is priceless and moved on. However, my daughter, who was about 5 , and I had a very juicy and interesting conversation later on at home as her wonderful bright ,curious and observant Nature, had been really chewing on this comment and wanted more information. It was one of those times when the adoption photos came out and I told her story again, in a new way.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our stories of celebration and resiliency

We each have our own poignant story to share and understand. Here is mine, told and retold many times in many different ways. When we arrived home from China and the front door to our home finally closed , leaving my daughter and I - baby and mother - to begin our lives together, I was both scared and excited. Those of you who have been through this know what I mean.

Becoming an instant parent without 9 months of going in the same direction in the same body can be a shock to the system! Then think on those parents who adopt older children , school age and teenagers - when adoptive parent and child finally decide to live together it is a colliding of worlds and histories and rhythms and cultures and sometimes fully formed personalities. Adoption is certainly not for the feint hearted and it is definitely the right thing to be doing for a lot of people. It can be very rewarding to both parent and child given time and patience and love.
As an adoptive parent in 2001, there were no post-adoption professionals to help support my journey as an adoptive parent. The adoption agency had been supportive on the road to adoption and now except for the final check up visit from the social worker, that was it. In the beginning I had begun reading many books about adoption, most of which I stopped reading as they scared me with worst case scenarios. The books that were most important for me to read, and are still important were the books about Chinese history and culture.

I did not have someone to give me reassurance when I had questions or fears about my baby’s development or the possible impact of her first months of life in the orphanage. I had friends who had also adopted children, that was helpful. The best advice I was given by one of these friends ,was to follow the lead of my daughter and not impose on her whom I think or want her to be. Another perspective that helped me was to see myself as Guardian of this precious child.

So I decide to just begin, by closely following the non-verbal cues of my daughter and responding the best way I knew how to become her parent. She taught me to slow down; deal with my anxiety and to trust my instincts. We got to know other adoptive families and we joined a nursery school co-op. Professionally, I became an advocate and therapeutic support for adopted children and their families.

A book to give guidance during stressful times

Here is a book that I have found very helpful. Rick Hanson , a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, wrote the book "Buddha's Brain" with Richard Mendius, MD. Do not be put off by the title. You do not have to be Buddhist to understand the information and get support by applying the simple exercises in this book.

It is a paperback book, reasonably priced, that I keep near by, to consult every so often when times become disheartening or stressful for me. It is a powerful reminder to me at these times that I have all I need physiologically to recalibrate my nervous system from flight or fight into relaxation. Whether I am caught up in worry and anxiety or intense excitement I am reminded that I am only human and by breathing in and out 5 times in a focused way I can be kind and compassionate to myself. It just takes redirecting my attention and focus. Chapter 5, titled "cooling Fires" gives many effective exercises you can follow and he then gives an explaination of how these exercises impact your nervous sytem and brain chemistry. I was given this book by a dear friend , and I in turn have given this book to other dear friends!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What soothes you?

What soothes you? What nutures you ? I often ask my adoptive parents this question and encourage them to seek out relaxing time alone and time with other people. What helps you to stay regulated emotionally and physically ? On Sunday, I taught a class for therapists on the topic of Traumatic Stress.

When other people - as with clients, my child and other loved ones, rely on my clarity of thinking and calm grounded presence to help guide them through times of inner chaos and distress, it is important to really know what keeps my nervous system and brain in balance in order to respond and not react. And it is not always easy to do! However, building up a tool box of 'abilities to relax' and applying them on a daily bases helps us through the most challenging times. When I first adopted my daughter we also made a list of fun things we like to do together and put it on the wall. The days we still loved eachother but did not particularly like eachother we referred to this list!!!

As I drove home in the wind and rain from the workshop I noticed I was relaxed - and I began to think. You know how they say 5 cups of fruit and vegetables a day keep you healthy? Well the lesson for me was learning how essential, it is for my nervous system to have 5 cups of kindness and compassion each day - like 5 moments of breathing in and out in a focused way;a daily meditation; time to exercise; moments for rest or cat naps; eating lunch and just that; playing and connecting with my daughter each day in a meaningful way; laughing together, making dinner some nights and getting a take out on others; to write and create and work near to home; commute less and sing and play music more. Yes I know we have all heard these lists before. So I encourage you to make your own list as a reminder on a daily basis to be kind to yourself and give a dose of relaxation! What sooths and nurtures you? Life is too short and precious to not create your own prescription for relaxation and then follow it as best you can.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Infant massage and soothing digestive problems

Your baby's physical and emotional well being can benefit greatly from receiving Infant Massage (and then the growing child massage) regularly. Many of the parents in my classes have given me the feed back that some of the most useful techniques they learned were those for helping to relieve gas and constipation - the belly massage techniques. Every baby experiences gas and digestive discomfort during their infant and toddler life, as they develop and grow into their new environment. It is upsetting to all babies to have digestive pain and it can also be distressing to the parent to not know how to relieve that pain.

Adopted infants and children when they arrive home are adapting to big changes in their life as well as negotiating new foods and formula and water etc. Such a big transition can cause constipation (it is not unusual for some babies to go without a bowel movement for a few days at first), or diarrhea, gas and other discomfort. If the pediatrician agrees that the digestive complaints are due to the transition, then the application of these techniques can be most relieving to the baby. It is also most beneficial to you , the parent, to be able to feel that you can be effective in relieving your child's discomfort.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making sense of common senses

Today , in the early morning, I took a long walk, on Mount Tamalpais in Marin. The rain had stopped. The world glistened with the wetness of the rain fall and babbled with the sound of gushing streams; I savoured the smell of sage brush , eucalyptus and bay trees, and the warmth of the sunshine. My body felt relaxed and energized by the movement of walking. What a delight! What a Blessing To have my senses bathed in such pleasant sensations!

And then I thought of my daughter. I wondered what it had been like for her to be wrenched away from all that was familiar in her secure sensory world when I adopted her.
I thought of her aptitude to be curious and her resilience to adapt to so much that was strange and unfamiliar. New smells, new sights, new tastes in food, new sounds, new language and new caucasian 'amma"! (she called me amma (caretaker) for 3 months until she learned what 'mother' meant). No wonder she had difficulty sleeping at first!

I remember how I would comfort and sooth her by massaging her face and head and back and lie her on my chest and whisper a few phrases I had learned in Chinese like 'go to sleep' ;'you are safe'; ' you are OK', and I would sing to her. I remember feeling grateful to have learned those few phrases and the massage techniques when she finally fell asleep at 12.00 at night! She is still a night owl and loves massage and I am a lark who particularly likes early morning walks to sooth my mind and body.

Helping our children Acknowledge and understand losses in their life

My daughter was 16 months when I adopted her. When we first met she crawled up on to my lap and took in the world around her with an immense attention and curiosity. Then, within 15 mins of meeting she fell deeply asleep in my arms. Some of this was her way of coping with the stress of the adoption and part of it was a leap of faith on her part of feeling at home and safe in my arms. When we arrived back home in California, she was able to take naps during the day, but falling asleep was not easy for her at night.

At 16 months it is normal development to not want to lose the exciting world of day time activity and companionship of a parent, to the world of sleep. For my daughter the loss went deeper. Going to sleep tapped into all the losses she had already experienced in her first 16 months before the adoption – relationships and familiar environments - birth parents/siblings/other children in the orphanage/ the caregivers at the orphanage/ the schedule of the orphanage/the sights and sounds and smells. Loss for adoptive children is multi-layered and something all adoptive children experience at an early age. Part of being an adoptive parent is being able to acknowledge and make sense of these losses for our children, so they can heal and thrive and the loss does not become an obstacle later in life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Infant massage and developmental delays

When I worked at the foster/adopt clinic as a mental health clinician and trainer I worked with many infants and toddlers with physical and socio-emotional developmental delays. Delays often occur due to early neglect and trauma. Human beings need other human beings to develop. Our physical and emotional development can not occur in isolation I found that teaching the foster/adopt parent, infant massage was a very beneficial intervention both for the baby and the parent/caregiver.

Firstly, it provides a parent a significant tool on a daily basis, to give nurturance and engage in a positve playful way with the infant. It often instills confidence in a foster/adopt parent/or caregiver during times when he or she may feel uncertain about their skills to parent this particular child. It can also help some babies to get back on track with their physical and socio-emotional developmental milestones. For instance , after a thorough assessment, a 12 month old I began working with could not sit up by himself and was not showing signs of crawling or creeping. (which is the pre-crawling period in physical development). By showing the parent some bi-lateral playful stretches to do each day the infant was soon no longer scooting on his back but was exploring how to creep forward on hands and knees. The process took about 3 months to get his nervous system, muscles and joints trained to have him catch up to sit up and crawl. The extra movement and encouraging him and praising him to use his body to explore rather than just sit in a bouncer was also a key to activating his curiosity about the world.

When trauma or neglect has occured in a baby's life, curiosity about the world and exploration is quickly shut down for lack of safety and survival mode takes over. Foster/adopt Parents need to feel and see and sense a positive response to their efforts to engage and be a good caregiver just as much as the baby needs a parent to respond to their cues for interaction and protection.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My child is driving me crazy when he..............!

There are times, as a parent with an older adopted child, that your child's behavior drives you absolutely crazy! (Strangely enough, the same behavior may not effect your partner in the same way) Time to calm down! This is the time to take a 'time in'. Firstly, notice the 'huge' reaction in response to the behavior of your child. This signifies a 'trigger' reaction to your child's behavior. The more we learn what these are the better to guide our children from negative patterns of behavior. Give yourself some space and time away, to be compassionate with yourself. I sometimes go and sit on my meditation cushion during these times and sit for 5 minutes (informing my daughter that I need to do this and will be back soon!). Notice the enormity of the feeling and how it is impacting your body, heart beat, pulse, breath , and the negative thinking about yourself and your child. There is a lot going on! Give yourself at least 5 in and out breaths , allowing more time on the exhalation. (as this calms the nervous system) Once calm, it is easier to think about and respond with appropriate consequences and responses to the child's behavior.

How can Infant Massage benefit me and my new baby?

Why is Infant massage a good way to enjoy and spend time with my new baby? The wonderful research of Colwyn Trevarthen a neurobioligist and pyschologist in Edinborough recognizes the importance of what he calls" the musicality of attachment" between a baby and her parent. Infant massage communication involves all the components of this 'musicality' through touch and movement and rhythm; vocalizing ; eye contact and facial expression. It is a lovely way for an adopted infant and parent to get in tune with eachother and be able to create together a mutually receptive world of meaning - to slow down to listen and respond and learn from eachother. Trevarthen calls this having a"conversation stripped of words"

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Our life is shorter than flowers
Then, shall we mourn?
No, we shall dance
Plant gardens
Dress in colours
And teach our children
To make the world more beautiful
Because our life
Is shorter than flowers
- from the Toltec culture