Saturday, February 11, 2017

On the Inside

Johanna's emotions have been the most difficult thing to deal with so far in our adoption journey. Medically, we kind of knew what we were getting into with her (not much, thankfully), but we had a hunch that the emotional aspect of things could be quite different with adopting a four-year-old versus a two-year-old, especially one who was quite attached to her foster mother and has a quieter and more hesitant personality. That has definitely been the case.

Thankfully, the nighttime grieving sessions have seemingly disappeared. Johanna whimpers sometimes as we get ready for bed or naptime, but as long as I stay with her until she falls asleep, she does okay. She no longer calls out for Nainai or has extended crying times in the evenings. Those times were hard to watch, as she was obviously so sad, so I'm glad we've moved beyond those.

She was super excited about her new outfit
and shoes. She shouted "Johanna!"
happily when she saw them!
Johanna can be quite whiny, which is frustrating. We're trying to break of her that habit while still meeting her needs by showing her other ways she can get what she wants. Having more words has helped her a bit. She also absolutely despises being told no. We try to fill her "yes bucket" as much as possible, but sometimes we have to tell her some form of no (like if she takes a toy from Jonas or something), and she does not handle it well at all. She gives us a death stare, goes to the opposite side of the room and flops down, cries, and sometimes has an all-out tantrum. Not fun.

And then there are the meltdowns. They seem to happen if we push her too far too fast, like the one that happened after a hike last weekend. We thought getting outside in the beautiful weather would be good for her, and that it wouldn't involve dealing with other people or an overstimulating environment. The start of it was great, but we probably expected her to walk too far for too long. Even though we carried her for a lot of the hike, by the end of it, she had definitely had enough. She passed out on the ride home, and when we got out of the car and brought her inside, she lost her mind...writhing on the floor, screaming, crying, kicking the ground, hitting herself, stuffing her socks in her mouth, etc. Zack and I basically sat on the floor next to her and tried to stop her from hurting herself until she finally let us hold her about thirty minutes into the meltdown.

These types of meltdowns are not uncommon for adopted children, especially ones who were adopted at an older age like Johanna. It's part of the grieving process, combined with her body becoming dysregulated from overstimulation. She probably also has some sensory issues from lack of exposure. Throw in fear and frustration from communication difficulties, and you have a recipe for disaster that could strike at any moment! She can look like she's doing just fine in the moment, but we end up "paying for it" later, sometimes not until she gets home from an activity.

This is her silly side!
We've witnessed other meltdowns after bringing her to Jonas's gymnastics class and taking her to the recreation center in case she wanted to go swimming (she was loving baths and wanted to put her swimsuit on when Jonas did). In each of these situations, things started out well. She watched curiously and seemed to be doing okay, but by the end, she was in complete meltdown mode...inconsolably crying and screaming. Another one happened the other day when she thought Jonas had taken her jean jacket and then I asked her to put her coat on. She threw a tantrum which lasted the entire way to gymnastics class. You just never know what will set her off, but staying at home as much as possible and keeping her close if we do have to be out and about seems to help.

The term for this time period in the adoption world is "cocooning," which is exactly what it sounds like. It's the idea that it's best for your newly adopted child to stay home and limit interactions with others as much as possible for a few weeks or months. It's all about keeping things simple and not overstimulating her, while she gets more comfortable and learns who her family members are and that they are her "inner circle." Like a caterpillar in its cocoon, the hope is that when she is ready, she can go out into the world like a beautiful butterfly, confident and secure in her attachments and ready to embrace new experiences and meet new people.

She is starting to get comfortable with a few of our outings. Johanna knows that bringing Jonas to school and picking him up afterward is part of our daily routine. He likes to play with his friends out front afterward, and Johanna just stands next to me or wants to be held. But the minute all the other kids leave, she's perfectly willing to run around with Jonas! Johanna handled this week's gymnastics class okay, though she still wanted nothing to do with participating. We also went to an art class that I had signed her up for months ago, and I told the teacher and other adults in the class to basically ignore her (like avoid interacting with her). Thankfully, they were understanding and obliged. Ah, the weird requests we adoptive parents have to make! She wanted to sit in my lap (which was fine) and didn't say a word, but she seemed to have fun making the clay owl project with me. She also did okay sitting next to me watching a movie on the iPad with her headphones on at my MOPS meeting this week. We've had a few others errands that needed done this week, and since Zack was back at work, she had to come with me. She did okay, as long as I kept her close and kept others away!

This was taken within an hour of that dreadful blood draw.
It'll definitely be awhile before we go on playdates or invite others into our home or visit somewhere like the Children's Museum. It would just be way too much for her. I might attempt the zoo or Botanic Gardens with her while Jonas is in school, just because we could keep it pretty low-key and just stay for a short while. But while I know she would love things like dance class or swimming, I think we'll hold off on those things for now. It's hard to be so anti-social and homebound in the short run, but I know in the long run it's better for her attachment-wise and for making her feel comfortable and secure.

Another interesting emotional aspect to Johanna is her reaction to pain. The other day, Johanna got nine vials of blood drawn at the pediatrician's office. It was for various things like a lead test, seeing which immunizations she still needs or needs again, etc. Her veins are super small, so it took a few pokes to find one that worked. Johanna had a few tears in her eyes, but that was it. No screaming, no crying, nothing. The nurses were amazed. They kept remarking that she was the best behaved four-year-old they had ever seen, and they couldn't believe that she didn't cry. Little did they know that this was not a good thing.

Loving her headband and the
Valentine's Day painting craft!
It's often said that if you visit a room full of babies in an orphanage, it will be eerily silent, with no crying to be heard. The reason why is heartbreaking. Those babies have learned that no one will react to their cries; nobody will come soothe them or feed them or change them or whatever they are crying about. Those things are done on a schedule, not when one certain child needs it. So the babies learn not to cry, because that form of "communication" yields no results. Nobody comes for them. When that happens over and over, a child learns not to cry when she feels discomfort. So even though nurses were digging in her arms with needles and then drawing blood for several minutes, Johanna didn't even flinch, much less wail out in pain like any other child would in this circumstance. So sad.

We've actually had to "teach" Johanna that it's okay to react to pain and call out for help. She's learned the word "owie," and we shower her with hugs and kisses after she gets hurt. While she still doesn't necessarily cry real tears in these instances, she at least comes to us now and tells us where her owie is and likes the attention we give as a result. She also comes and tells us if Jonas gets an owie!

This lack of emotion in response to pain might seem in direct opposition to her extreme meltdowns I described earlier. However, they are two totally separate things. One is a learned response from years of neglect and institutionalization, even if her caretakers were doing the best they could. The other is a primal reaction to being taken away from everything she knows and loves and placed in a new world where things are overstimulating and frightening. Her body doesn't know how to react, so it just goes into meltdown mode. She almost becomes a different person at that point, unrecognizable from the usually sweet and silly girl we've come to know. It's very hard to witness, and there's nothing we can do except be there for her when she's ready to come out of it.

The good news is that things can get better. Just tonight before bed, Johanna started deteriorating into meltdown mode after I put some apple cider vinegar on the molluscum spots on her face, which kind of stings a little. I held her for just a minute, and she was able to pull herself back together and join Zack and Jonas for storytime and go to bed like normal. And I'm sure we'll go back to the doctor for shots in the future, and she'll scream out in pain like any other kid! In the meanwhile, please know that there's a lot going on inside that little body of hers, and though she may be smiling, she's also carrying a lot of baggage that you may not witness in public (or on my Instagram feed!). We're just going to keep loving on this girl and trying to make up for four years of her not getting what she needed and deserved!

1 comment:

  1. As difficult as it may be, can you imagine the trials you would be going through if you different have any insight into what was going on in Johanna's mind. The Native American expression about walking a mile in the moccasin of another applies also to raising children. You and Zack are responding amazingly well to a situation intrinsically difficult--although I am sure there are moments of utter frustration as you try to figure out what to do next. It is most primarily important to take the time to keep the communication and love going between each other.