Archive | November, 2015

Cocooning

25 Nov

This post is long over-due.  I intended to share this information with everyone before Theo came home but with two weeks in Ethiopia, then barely two weeks home before Theo arrived, time slipped away from me.  The dynamics of cocooning and attachment are incredibly important in adoption so I’d like to take some time to explain how this pertains to our family and what things will look like for us in the coming weeks, months and even years.

After over 4 1/2 years in the adoption process, and a year of knowing his name and face — Theodore Samuel Roba is finally HOME.  If you are reading this letter you have, in some way, supported, loved and prayed for us. You are our village and we are so grateful to you!  Because we know your care for Theo and our family, we want to be honest and open about what our life looks like right now and some boundaries we need to set up to help Theo cultivate a strong, healthy and lasting attachment to us.

Cocooning is an adoption term that refers to the period of time after a child comes home that the family hunkers down and focuses on intense bonding and attachment.  It is quite intense at first as we attempt to make Theo’s world very “small” by not leaving our home (except for his doctors appointments) and not allowing people to come over and meet him, even close family members.  Be doing this we can create a predictable, stable environment where Theo can learn who his family is, what parents are, learn to trust us and begin to attach.

Adoption is a beautiful, miraculous thing.  But before this beautiful thing can happen to a child and family, extreme loss is experienced by the child.  Theo has already experienced more loss and trauma than every member of our family combined.  For nearly 5 years we have researched bonding and attachment in adopted children, especially those coming from a traumatic background including living in an institutional orphanage setting, exposure to malnourishment, starvation and neglect, loss of biological family, and much more.

Although we know Theo has been raised in less than ideal circumstances, to him the orphanage in Ethiopia was home. The children and nannies were his family and all that he has ever known. Coming home to us meant leaving everything that was familiar to him:
~ language
~ climate
~ familiar faces (and skin color)
~ food
~ culture
~ routine (even if it’s a lack of one)
~ environment (his room, his friends, his bed, his clothes)
~smells and sights
~familiar caregivers

Everything around him is new and he has learn not just about his new environment, but also about love and family. Culture shock is real, and it deeply affects internationally adopted children of ALL ages!  Theo has not experienced God’s design for a family in an orphanage setting.  It is all quite overwhelming for anyone to take in, especially a little guy!

Attachment is a critical concept in parenting any child successfully. But attachment is THE critical concept in successfully parenting an adopted child. Attachment is TRUST building.  In a healthy biological family, secure attachment and trust forms when parents consistently meet the child’s physical, mental, emotional and social needs. Baby cries, his needs are met and he learns trust through this cycle. Over time as this expression of need by the child and nurturing response from the parent are repeated, attachment and trust are formed. Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process as well as other traumas. The loss of a biological mother at an early age can be a major trauma on their little hearts.  In response to these traumas/neglect/abandonment/hunger/etc, their brain has developed in a way that causes them to see the world around them as a dangerous place.  They have actually been “wired” to operate their daily life in the brain stem, or “fight or flight” mode.  The science behind it is very fascinating, albeit devastating to read about.  The best way for us to form a parent/child bond is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed Theo-basically to meet all his needs. As this repeats between us, he will eventually be able to accept our love and return it, and learn that parents are to trust. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Theo starts to establish this important bond with us, he will then be able to branch out to other healthy relationships.

Theo is coming to us after two years of life experience and multiple losses. This is a pattern that he will likely expect to repeat itself. Building attachment with an adopted child is slow, hard work.  It takes years but we are confident that God’s Spirit will be working in and through us to bring healing to Theo and knit our hearts with his.

Children who have lost or never experienced the love of a parent can often have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met. The part of the brain that is attacked by early childhood trauma is the same area of the brain that is responsible for attachment in human relationships.  That means we literally need to retrain Theo’s brain toward healthy attachment. We’ll need to help him relearn the real role of a mom and a dad. Parents provide food and shelter. Parents provide comfort and security. Parents don’t leave you (and if they do leave for a short time, they will always come back). He needs to learn that Josh and I are the ONLY ones who will meet his needs, and that he doesn’t need to look to other strangers or even other family members because we will never leave him or let him down in that area.  We get it, but for a former orphan, the concept is hard to fathom.  Even if he was old enough to have a decent conversation with, these are not things you can simply explain to a former orphan or traumatized child.  The brain literally has to be rewired through the hard, monotonous and faithful work of connected attachment parenting.

He’ll need time to develop a connection to our family and to trust that we are safe. He’ll need extra patience and love as the Lord heals the wounds of his past.

So what does cocooning look like for the Timmer family?

In these first weeks home, we’ll stay home with Theo as much as possible, attempting to create an environment that is calm, predictable, and comforting. I do not know exactly how long this will last.  Adoption experts suggest one month of cocooning for every year the child spends in an orphanage.  So that would be 2 months in our situation.  We plan to be pretty strict in our cocooning practices for the first 2-3 weeks, then to slowly widen Theo’s world by introducing close family and friends in small groups at a time and venturing out of the house for errands, shopping, church, etc.

Cocooning looks like this…

  • We’ll avoid parties and large gatherings.
  • When we do return to church, we won’t put Theo in the nursery for quite some time.
  • We’ll introduce new people in moderation and only when he is comfortable with us. When we introduce new people, we’ll do so in small groups of one or two.
  • Only Josh and I will pick up, hold, hug, or kiss Theo. In the beginning, these displays of affection are reserved for Josh and I.  This will last for much longer than 2 months.  Possibly the first year?  I plan to re-evaluate every few months.
  • Only Josh or I should give things to Theo, ESPECIALLY FOOD. This will also last for MONTHS.
  • Only Josh or I should meet Theo’s needs (baths, putting him to bed, change diapers, etc). And again, this will continue long after we return to “life as normal”.

This all might sound over-protective or paranoid, but please understand that we’re following the advice of adoption professionals, experts and medical doctors. We want nothing more than for you to be able to hug and love on Theo the way we have your own kids, and the way you love on Giselle.  We just need to give time for this most important relationship – the one he has with Josh and I – to form a solid foundation.

We are incredibly blessed to have such a supportive and loving family and community around us.  If you have any questions about the attachment process or this season of cocooning, please don’t hesitate to ask! And continue to lift us all up in your prayers.  We love you all so much!  

 

 

Getting Theo Home

9 Nov

As of 4:30am this morning, we have officially cleared Embassy!!  This means we can make our VISA interview appointment and book tickets to bring Theo home.  HUGE PRAISE to our awesome God!

Our original plan was to fly back to Ethiopia and bring Theo home.  I was going to bring my sister and Josh planned to stay home with Giselle.  We thought it would be less disruptive for her if only one parent was gone for the 2nd trip and better for all of us if both Josh and I weren’t jetlagged after arriving home with Theo.  Well, our plans have changed a little (ok, a LOT) and God has woven together a truly unexpected and beautiful story to bring Theo home.

Our dear friend, Marcy Connett, will be flying Theo from Addis Ababa to Washington DC on Friday.  I will fly to DC, meet them at the airport and fly home with Theo to Seattle.  Marcy and her husband, along with their two teenage children, are missionaries in Addis.  They have been in Ethiopia for about 15 months.  I spent a lot of time with Marcy while I was in Ethiopia and talked with her almost every day while I was there.  She was a great support and encouragement to me while I was there.

Having Theo escorted to the USA was NOT my original plan or something I ever considered before last week.  To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea and had many mixed feelings at first.  It was something our agency suggested because of the unique circumstances of our case — a very long first trip to Ethiopia, a very short amount of time between the two trips, and a young, needy bio child at home who can’t possibly understand what is going on and why her mommy keeps leaving her.  Giselle stayed with my parents for two weeks while we were in Ethiopia and, for the most part, did wonderfully.  During that time we did not communicate directly with Giselle at all.  I talked with my mom almost daily and Giselle got to see pictures of Josh and I with Theo, but we all felt it would be too confusing and disruptive for Giselle if we tried to talk with her while we were away.  In addition, my parents don’t have reliable internet and neither did I, so using Skype or facetime while in country would have been difficult.

Although Giselle did pretty great while I was gone, she has REALLY struggled since I got back.  She’s been incredibly needy, clingy and whiny.  I know that if I left again after such a short time being home (and I’d be gone for almost 1 week), she would be legitimately traumatized.  Add to that my stress level, being jetlagged, and the addition of a scared, needy and sick newly adopted son —> an already difficult adjustment period would be compounded 10 fold.  Theo is going to need a lot of extra attention and care when he comes home and I need Giselle to be as secure and well-adjusted as possible.

It was hard for me to let go of the things I would miss out on by not taking the second trip — visiting Ethiopia one more time, saying a final goodbye to the nannies at Theo’s transition home, seeing our agencies staff once again. I got to spend a lot of time in that beautiful country and that makes me both want to go back there, and also not want to travel that far from home again any time soon. I also want to be a part of EVERY SINGLE PIECE of this process because it is our son’s story, including another grueling trip there and back to bring him home, while at the same time I know our case is unique and I need to make a decision that is going to be the best for our family as a whole in the long run (fully rest mommy vs. jet-lagged/stressed out/emotionally drained mommy, well-adjusted bio toddler ready to welcome baby brother home vs. super freaked out bio toddler because her mommy keeps leaving her and can’t understand why, etc, etc).  I’ve spoken with many other adoptive parents and asked them for advice on this decision.  The feedback has been unanimous — Having a close friend escort Theo to DC is a fantastic option and a huge blessing for our family!  Many of these moms have also told me that no real and beneficial attachment/bonding happened on the 2nd trip because it is such a stressful time for everyone involved.  This feedback has really helped to calm my heart!

All things considered, God has given us the most PERFECT escort situation.  As soon as Marcy heard that my agency suggested an escort to fly Theo home, she enthusiastically volunteered herself.  She has also been able to visit Theo at his transition home a few times so he will be familiar with her for the flight home.  Such a blessing!!! Her mom left yesterday to visit Marcy’s family in Ethiopia and drove right past my house on her way to the airport.  I was able to give her a box of things for Theo and Marcy’s trip home (clothes, toys, snacks and other travel essentials).  The timing of everything has worked out perfectly — all evidence of God’s handiwork.

We are looking at flights right now!  We’ve requested a Thursday VISA appointment at the Embassy and are hoping for Marcy and Theo to leave Ethiopia on Friday, Nov 13th.  Depending on what time their flight arrives in DC, I might have to spend one night there with Theo before flying to Seattle.  Regardless, he should be home by Sunday, Nov 15th.  I’ll post the exact time we fly into SeaTac when we have our itinerary.  All our friends and family are invited to meet us at the airport and welcome us home!!!