I first came across the Adoption Council of Ontario when a friend, who volunteers with the organization, could see we were struggling with our daughter’s deep feelings of loss and grief. Adopted from China as a baby, our girl always felt that there was something missing in her life. She would say, ‘Mummy, I love you and Daddy very much, but I feel like there’s a hole in my heart.”
We had always been open with our daughter about her birth story, and were honest with her about what we did and didn’t know. We tried to listen and comfort her when she was sad or scared, but it didn’t seem to make a difference in the long run. She would sob at night, clinging onto me, and talking about what her birth family might be doing and if they were OK. We so badly wanted to help her, but were hitting a wall, not knowing where to turn next for help.
This is when my friend stepped in. She encouraged me to attend the ACO’s course Pathways to Permanence: Parenting Children Who Have Experienced Trauma and Loss. It was totally illuminating! I learned about therapeutic parenting, how the way we were parented impacted our own style of parenting, and where in the circle of loss our child might be stuck. Until then, I hadn’t understood how neglect could affect a baby in such a primal, biological way, and how permanently-raised cortisol levels could lead to anxiety, hyper-vigilance and sleep issues.
After the course, we were so determined to fill our daughter’s different ‘buckets of need’: emotional, physical, social, among others - and I thought we were doing so well! Until her sleep issues returned (she had had night terrors from the age of around two to nine, but they had stopped for a couple of years). A few months after a family medical emergency, she started having screaming nightmares and tried hard to avoid sleep because she was scared of what might ‘get’ her in her dreams. Just before the emergency - on our daughter’s request - we had been planning a homeland trip to China, and my ever-resourceful friend suggested it might be a good idea to talk to someone at ACO’s counselling service as a way to manage our daughter’s expectations of the trip.
So I made an appointment with an ACO social worker for my husband and I to talk through the issues facing us. She questioned us gently and rather astutely observed that our daughter seemed to be a deep thinker with very strong feelings about her China roots. She encouraged us to bring her in to meet her, so she could see if she had any advice for her.
When we sat down, the therapist asked our daughter a few general questions to make her feel comfortable. In no time, our girl started talking about her fear of sleeping, her anxieties and worries. She listened and encouraged her to articulate her thoughts and feelings. She gave her some strategies and ideas, and asked her to read a relevant book on Chinese adoption and report back, which she did.
My daughter has seen the therapist twice so far and, when I asked her how she felt after each session, she said she really liked being able to talk openly with someone who has a lot of experience and advice. She said she trusts the cousellor with her feelings. So do I. There has never been any judgment of our situation or our parenting skills - just support and advice in a kind, safe space.
Author: Adoptive Mom