“In the orphanage, baby Donnie has the crib farthest from the nursery door. He lies in soiled diapers for hours at a time and is the last baby fed by the attendant. Left untouched and underfed, he does little but stare at the sterile walls and ceiling. The back of his head has become flattened from remaining in that position so long.” — (The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Karyn B. Puris, David R. Cross, & Wendy Sunshine.)
For the remainder of this series, all content taken from “The Connected Child” will be italicized. Please refer to the above link to purchase, or to find more information about this book.
“An infant lying in a crib in a sterile institution may compete with forty other babies for the attention of a scarce caregiver. During the first weeks, the institutionalized baby will cry, but when no one responds, eventually the crying stops. Orphanage nurseries tend to be eerily quiet because babies there quickly discover no one comes when they cry. For these tiny ones, their earliest communications are effectively silenced.
Instead of receiving reassuring and nurturing embraces from a mother, the institutionalized baby experiences the world as a cold and impoverished place. There is no affectionate sensory bath, there are few sounds, and whitewashed walls reduce visual stimulus. An institutionalized child misses out on a great deal, and is at great risk.”
This is one of the most heartbreaking and troubling aspects of childhood trauma for me to wrap my mind around. Probably, because it’s so easy to avoid and the consequences of neglect in the early stages of childhood development can cripple a child, well into their adult life. In some cases, the lack of human contact has even lead to an infant’s life functions failing, resulting in death.
A baby who is well attended to, will spend the very first moments of life wrapped in the arms of a nurturing mother. Feeling her warmth, listening to her coos and she strokes his or her cheek. Early cries are met with comfort and feelings of security as his needs for nourishment are met. Already, the baby has learned to trust adults and begins to form attachments with them. When a baby is born premature, and spends its first few days — sometimes even weeks or months — in an incubator, Doctors have discovered that the mere act of someone reaching in and stroking the baby’s cheek a few times a day can result in the baby gaining weight twice as fast as one who does not receive this very basic human interaction.
As children grow, they form bonds with people based on the neurological pathways that are formed during these early stages of life, even before they can consciously articulate their need for affection; yet, their ability to make connections with others dictates the quality and depth of all the other relationships they will experience as they move through life.
I wish I could spend a few hours every afternoon visiting orphanages and holding babies for a few minutes a day, making eye contact with them, interacting with them, and quieting their discomforts. It would be such a small thing that could easily improve their entire developmental process. Consequently, it is for reasons such as these that the United Sates has moved away from orphanages in favor of the Foster Care System. Sadly, by the time some of these children experience their first loving interaction, it may be with a stranger, or, worse, from someone looking to victimize this child by taking advantage of this need to satisfy their own perverse desires. Some of the children in Foster Care have experienced both of these before finding a safe and nurturing environment, only to discover that they don’t trust their new family, and are unable to connect with them. Many Foster Families have become frustrated because their placement doesn’t seem to connect with them. They make minimal attempts, only to send them away in hopes of finding a new, less damaged child to love.
This is tragic on every level, when you consider how much of it can be avoided by the simple act of holding a baby close enough to hear your heartbeat and feel your warmth. To willingly deny a child this basic early need is, in many ways, the most hateful thing a person can do, short of physically hurting, starving, or otherwise abusing their infant child. But, furthermore, as a Foster parent, knowing that you have, in many cases, missed that early window for forging a bond with your child, patience and understanding are key. Almost no child is going to remember that early neglect, nor will they be able to understand or articulate their need for closeness. In most cases, they will have defenses in place to protect themselves from what has become a foreign and uncomfortable experience, and it may take months, or even years, before a child has become comfortable enough to trust you and begin to form a lasting attachment. Sadly, not all of them will be given enough time with their Foster Family to see such improvements, before being reunified with their birth parent(s) or before “blow-out” occurs in their current placement for failure to connect.
It is for this reason that I chose to borrow content from the above mentioned book, and share with you the need for understanding the various types of early trauma many of these children have been exposed to. It’s never to late to love a child or provide one with a safe place to sleep, where meals are readily available, where they can begin to learn and grow and trust again. But it will take patience and you will be stretched to the limit, time after time, for the possibility of helping a child work through their early stage neglect or childhood trauma. And, that possibility, alone, is worth the effort. That, alone, is worth the pain. That, alone, is worth the sacrifice.
This is the first of several posts dealing with childhood trauma. The content of each is unpleasant to say the absolute least. But, in trying to understand it myself, I am forced to think about these things and learn techniques to help a child work through them. As a result, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster ride where, at the highest points, I’m filled with tremendous joy, looking forward to this exciting challenge, to the lowest points, where I find my mind going to dark places, where I have a hard time not imagining police finding the bodies of some of these horrible people in shallow, unmarked graves, inside a world where abortion has been replaced with sterilization.
Just being honest.
To me, there is nothing worst than a human being who can willingly hurt a child or rob one of their innocence. And, I apologize for dragging you down this troubling path with me, but writing to you is my therapy. You are my coping mechanism. And together, I hope we can tackle these issues, one child at a time.
Until next time…