This very honest account of a couple's adoption decisions is heart-breaking as well as inspiring. Rapid City (Iowa) Journal editor Mike LeFort and his wife adopted two children from a Russian orphanage, and LeFort doesn't pull any punches when he describes how they chose between two little girls.
The LeForts had planned to adopt a two-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy, and he describes the odd duality of being intelectually prepared for adoption, and then having to make the physical and emotional connection.
Surreal wouldn’t describe that Tuesday morning in a Siberian baby home,
the morning in which two Russian caregivers brought out two little
strangers and walked them over to us and said, pointing at my wife and
They bonded easily with the little boy, but not with the girl.
She kept us at a distance in our visits thus far, preferring to play on
the other side of the room or sit on a rocking horse and stare forward.
She was apprehensive, didn’t want to be touched, and we weren’t so sure
she was ready for us ... or needed us.
We knew that it was
unfair to judge a 2-year-old on just a couple visits; the children are
put into a very unfamiliar environment. Their surrogate parents — the
group caregivers — leave them with two total strangers who speak an
unknown language and are examining their every move, photographing,
No, it’s not fair to the child to expect them to
“perform” to our liking, but parents are expected to make a decision in
a matter of hours, and it’s a lifelong decision, and it must feel right.
The LeForts decided not to adopt her. The agency located another little girl who was at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, but who was also "a delightful, intelligent, engaged strawberry blonde-haired bundle of curiosity." This little girl became their new daughter and the boy's new sister.
LeFort is clear that these decisions had to be made with too little information, and he knows that either or both of these children may be at risk for reactive attachment disorder or other problems.
Putting this in the frame of the oxytocin response and brain development, if, as is likely, either of these children did not receive cuddling, gazing and mirroring behavior as they nursed, their brains may not release the oxytocin pulses that normally occur when we're physically close to another person. Without these oxytocin pulses, people don't feel bonded to another, they don't feel trust, they don't feel safe.
LeFort's moving story also shows how the way we respond to our earliest experiences can determine the course of our lives.
Of course, that first little girl, aloof and apprehensive, needed them. But the way she had dealt with not having a mother was to try to not need one. She needed them desperately.
The way these orphanage visits are handled is similar to the "strange situation" test that psychologists use to determine a child's attachment style, that is, what she's learned to expect from other people. This little girl became what they call "avoidant." She learned that other people would hurt her, either actively or by rejecting her.
I don't blame the LeForts. Parenting is above all an emotional task. They were right to make the choice they did, and he was brave to write so openly about the experience.
They could only adopt two kids -- and there will always be a withdrawn and desperate child left alone in the corner.