Sunday, August 19, 2012

Elvie, Grief, Attachment, Etc.

Sometimes I wonder how long it will take before I can look at the photos of Elvie from our first two weeks together and not feel incredibly mournful. She was so sick and small, and even having her on my lap with her cheeks chubby and her trademark full open mouth smile mine for the asking, I can't shake the feeling of grief for her. Four and a half months without a mother present. At least one and a half with a urinary tract infection which showed up on lab reports but that no one knew to look for or to treat, which might have been there most of her life. A parasite present from formula being mixed with tap water. Thrush. And every report coming back to us in the US saying that she was healthy aside from her birth defect.

I think of the doctor we saw the day that she threw up everything she'd eaten, and how he dismissed her visible ribs and the outline of her intestines as nothing. With a wave of his hand, even, as if he couldn't be bothered with our stupidity. "She's fine," he said. And she wasn't fine, obviously. And I just wish we could have been there from the beginning.

She started crying tonight and it turned out she didn't want anything other than to be held, to look me in the eyes until she fell asleep. She does that a lot; she wants full eye contact. It's like she wants to be sure of me, even while she is dozing off. She will be almost out, and open her eyes one last time just to check and make sure I'm still looking. So even if I have other things that need to get done, or I want to multitask and read my email at the same time, I sit with her, and I look into her eyes as long as she needs me to. And if I can, I hold her in my arms the whole time she is asleep.

I think we are entering a time in our attachment process that might get pretty intense. I think Elvie is figuring out the difference between the way things were before we came along and the way they are now, and she does not want to leave our attentions to chance. She can't understand, of course, that we are here to stay. That we love her beyond any measure, and we will love her that same way forever. We have to prove it to her. We want to prove it to her. But that will take a lot of work, a lot of baby holding work, which is the best kind, but doesn't allow me to get much done.

Mercifully, Zinashi seems to be taking a whole lot of what I tell her to heart, and together we are adjusting so she can get her needs met while I concentrate on Elvie's more pressing needs. She is doing beautifully at asking directly for what she wants, telling me what she needs so we can figure out a solution as opposed to her just trying to do what she thinks will get her need met the quickest and easiest. I can't believe it sometimes, that she does just what I've explained to her she should do. Pulling a chair up next to me at the desk when she wants to be close, but I can't have her in the chair with me. Volunteering to do things that I've told her will be very helpful and lower the chance of me being a crabapple of a mother. Oh, she's not perfect, in the exact same way I'm not perfect as a mother. But we are working together, and we are trying hard, and we are figuring it out.

My hope and prayer is that this time with Elvie will give her what she needs to be sure of us before she must enter the hospital again for what will be a huge deal of a surgery. It won't be long, just some months from now. I know that's a tall order when it comes to attachment, but we have seen so many miracles so far. What's one more?

eponine and elvie
This cat is terrified of babies and children normally. But she loves Elvie. I cannot explain it other than to say it is a small, baffling miracle.


  1. In a year, you can put the hard photos next to new photos and marvel at the difference. That helps me. But the hard part is always there, even when it no longer shows in hollow cheeks or visible ribs. I'm working on appreciating it, embracing it as part of son, accepting that I can't fix what happened in the first nine months. (I can't fix anything I screwed up after that either, alas.)

  2. There is simply no way that is the same baby from just a few short weeks ago! As well as the stunning physical transformation, it seems that she is undergoing an emotional one as well. She will emerge a healthy, happy, secure little girl because of the love of her family...just like her sister. Elvie is a visible testament of what love can do.

  3. I think the cat somehow senses just how much love Elvie needs! :)

  4. Animals have a sense for giving humans the things we don't know we need!!! What an incredible life you lead. You're an inspiration.

  5. Beautiful. Thank you for the love you are giving those precious children.

  6. Oh this post makes my heart ache. You are doing an amazing job with your beautiful girls. And I believe that the cat knows that Elvie needs her love too! Animals have such a strong sense of things! I just loved this post, truly. I'll be praying for you all.

  7. She is looking so much chunkier. And don't worry about what you don't get done (I know, easier said than done). The baby-holding eye-contact work is by far more important.

  8. I wonder if your cat senses that this child went mostly without contact for several months, and is trying to help make up for it. Kitty cuddles clearly make Elvie happy. It is heartwarming to see that ALL of your family are in on helping the baby heal. She is fortunate in you all!


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