Adopters' stories

An adoptive grandmother and babywearing consultant
A babywearing consultant, foster carer and adoptive mother based in the US

P came to our family on February 2011 when she was nearly 18 months old. She had been with her foster parents since she was a few weeks old - they were caring as were their grown up children who loved her dearly. They had given her a great start but were always aware that they were filling a gap and so this obviously affected their parenting choices . She also had contact visits with her birth family, was monitored by the health service quite closely and so was used to a lot of different adults being part of her world. She was a happy child but was cautious- so we knew it was going to be a big adjustment for her leaving the familiar world she had occupied since birth. She wasn't a walker or even a crawler but had mastered bottom shuffling when she wanted to get something but she liked staying close to her family and wasn't adventurous.

I discussed carrying with my daughter before they went to meet her and before we knew about her character in detail. We decided a pouch/ ring sling used as a hip carry would be the best start in helping build a secure transition. It would enable her to be constantly at a level with her parents - get to know them, their facial expressions and read all those important care givers' signals. We discounted a back carry because we wanted her to always be able to see our faces. We also felt a soft fabric carrier would be better than a ssc for her- we didn't want her to feel constricted and felt she would feel more in control as she could more easily turn away when she wanted to. We felt trust and understanding needed to be developed before the intimacy of a front carry......... plus at 18 months we also wanted her to be able to look out and see her new world from the comfort of a parents' arms.

In the end we chose a pouch to use. The idea was for it to be used from the first visit- initially indoors and then for a walk to the park using it whilst pushing an empty buggy so that she was able to choose which she wanted to use...... or for a trip to the supermarket etc. The idea was to give her he option of what she wanted to use to be held or to have her own space. The sling was left at the house each day- it would be a link to show mummy and daddy would be returning each day and also a tangible thing for when the foster carers discussed the day with her at bedtime.

When she came home, the carrier was part of everyday life ......... it was always tucked in the changing bag and she was carried frequently. We believe it really helped her to make leaps and bounds in her development and enable her to develop a secure attachment. She enjoyed playing with mummy's hair, snuggling down and absorbing the smells which became gradually familiar and comforting. It enabled her to develop an amazing sense of place, she quickly learnt to identify landmarks and know when she was on route home.

Walking didn't kick in for several months and she was a reluctant walker even then so the carrier enabled beach trips , farm visits and all the other business of entertaining a toddler to happen easily. It also gave her the push to being a walker as we could do regular ups and downs- I think if she had had a pushchair to use all the time she wouldn't have wanted to walk at all!!! After the early months we had moved on to back carries as we needed something that enabled longer up times........ we felt the need was less important for the face to face contact.

For P I believe carrying helped smooth the transition from foster home to forever home, it helped her to absorb her new world, it enabled her to develop good communication skills [ verbal and non verbal]. It empowered them as a family to continue doing all the things they loved to do.....but most of all it helped with attachment......... she is now nearly 6 and has developed a strong bond with her parents and extended family but she also knows when she needs a reassuring parent cuddle.'

'I knew nothing about babywearing until 3 years ago. That is when I was placed with my sweet little L. She had been neglected to the point of near death (her heart actually stopped on the way to the hospital and was restarted by the doctors). In the US once a child is placed in foster care they send out a rapid response team to evaluate the child to see what services they may need ( mental health, physical therapy etc) The Psychologist said that L had an attachment disorder and would need therapy but that wouldn't start until 6-8 months and that I should research attachment parenting to help her in the meantime because she was in really bad shape. She couldn't bare to be touched, wouldn't make eye contact, and never cried.
There are strict rules about how to care for foster children so I couldn't sleep with her in my bed, and for obvious reasons I couldn't breast feed. Babywearing was the best option and not being one to do things half way I wore her most of the day every day. She made huge progress! After only 2 years though she was able to express her needs to strangers and she was able to touch and be touched! Her therapist called her recovery remarkable and credited the vast improvement to babywearing.
I was impressed with how well it worked for her and I had another child placed with me on the opposite end of the attachment spectrum. L attached to no one. T was 3 years old attached superficially to all. He was also diagnosed with PTSD. He was prone to night terrors, sleep walking, food hoarding. He would have massive tantrums where he would hurt himself and others. I decided to wear him. I bought a toddler carrier and put him on my back to begin with (he wasn't comfortable with a front carry yet.)
I noticed if I wore him before and after visits with his biological family negative behaviours went down. I also noticed if I wore him when he started to tantrum it would end the fit almost instantly! It was a way that he could get the physical touch his body craved without him feeling pressured to connect. But he did connect! Eventually he asked to be carried in the front and we made more meaningful eye contact. We began to really bond!
I had such luck with my two that other foster parents started to ask questions about how and why. I started showing them my carriers and then loaning them out so they could try. They also saw improvements in their children's behaviours. Now I teach large classes at licensing agencies. I have more than 30 carriers and I still wear my foster children.'

Examples of therapeutic carrying from adoption texts

Vera Fahlberg (1991) writes that 'body contact between parent and child also contributes to the attachment between them. In most societies infants are in more frequent body contact with their mothers than they are in western industrialised countries. The rhythmic movements that the child experienced before birth are likely to provide comfort and a sense of security. The rhythmic movement encourages growth of premature infants. Cradles and rocking chairs have long been used to help soothe irritable babies. In recent years an increasing number of parents have been using sling-like supports to permit closeness with their babies as they go about their daily housework and out on excursions. Some unsettled babies respond positively to this swaddling effect'. ​She goes on to describe a case study of a 10 and a half month old boy, 'Jane and Donna decided that additional attempts at relationship building would focus on expanding the areas of interaction that Martin tolerated best. Donna carried him in a baby sling several hours a day as she worked around the house. When Danita came home from school, she would dance to her music with Martin on her back in the carrier. 
Brabender and Fallon (2013) describes how carrying supported adopters to establish symbiosis, an important early stage of attachment formation, 'Lily was adopted from China at 13 months, not yet walking, but raring to go and able to express her opinions, needs, and desires without words. She appeared to attach immediately when her parents removed her from her orphanage. She clung to them during the long trip home and showed anxiety and fear on separating at bedtime. During the first 6 weeks with her parents, because she was not yet walking, they were able to create the closeness necessary for attachment to begin. She slept in a crib in their room and they carried her about in a cloth baby sling. The sling eventually became Lily's 'transitional object' and her parents encouraged her to use it when they were not able to be with her, or when she was distressed.'