NliveN,LLC_3091When I reflect on the process of attunement—a parent’s highly instinctive state of emotional connection with their child—the example that comes to mind is when a parent knows exactly why his or her child is crying. Admittedly it took me a few days to know exactly what my infant Chinese daughter’s specific need was when she cried.

Compared to her brother, my oldest and biological son, she was incredibly quiet. I didn’t recognize my daughter’s mewling as crying that first night. She sounded more like a kitten. There seemed to be little urgency since her cry was so soft, so I prepared a very warm bottle as instructed by her ayi (caretaker). She refused it and instead soaked me in her urine. In that moment I was reminded that we were strangers.

Getting to know one another would take some time. I vowed to do a better job of “actively listen” to my adopted daughter, to be gently vigilant in observing her and open to what she was experiencing, with the goal of attuning and attaching. I followed these steps to create attunement with my daughter:

  • I was present in my presence.
  • I mirrored her verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • I constantly tried to put myself in her place. What was she experiencing from her grief, losses, confusion, and insecurity? What messages was she picking up from my verbal and nonverbal cues?
  • What messages was she giving me?
  • I was gentle and patient.
  • I let her lead; show me the way.

I spent a lot of time holding my baby girl in China. Other than when I showered, when she took her afternoon nap, or when we slept at night, my daughter spent her time next to me, held or in an infant carrier. Close proximity permitted her to feel my heartbeat and the vibrations of my voice and laughter. We became familiar with one another’s body movements, scents, and verbal and nonverbal cues. Familiarity allowed trust to germinate and take root. We played. I sang and read to her. The threads of connection surfaced and strengthened, creating a foundation for attunement. Within a few days I could easily discern what her cries meant and respond appropriately, and she began to ask for my attention, by yelling at me.

In the ensuing years attunement has helped me support my daughter and my other adopted children as they have navigated the emotions and issues that sometimes arise with being adopted.

For discussion: Attunement can be described as understanding and responding another person’s verbal and nonverbal cues. Sometimes there is a cultural mix-up. Sometimes kids do not want to be touched, held, or hugged due to their histories or temperaments. What is your experience with attuning to your child and his or her needs?

~ Photo credit: NliveN, LLC


I was invited to participate in a review and discussion of the memoir Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption with several other open adoption writers/bloggers by my friend and colleague Lori Holden. Each participant was asked to submit questions for the others to chose from and answer, as well as a submit a few for author Brandi Rarus. The questions I selected, along my answers, follow below.

Brandi Rarus became deaf at the age of six, after contracting spinal meningitis. Her story of how she grew to embrace her identity as a Deaf woman is painstakingly detailed in this memoir. She also provides a nice history of the Deaf culture, including an overview of how the Deaf have been perceived and treated, as well as the activism and advocacy to overcome these prejudices.

I was disturbed by Brandi’s disregard for the daughter she and her husband Tim adopted—Zoe. Brandi shares truckloads of details about her daughter’s story in Finding Zoe, among them: how Zoe was conceived, the history of Zoe’s birth parents, the blatant lack of concern for birth father BJ’s wishes, the questionable practices of agency representative Marlys, and the relinquishment of Zoe (then Celine) by her first placement.

Question: The heroes of this story (in my opinion) are the foster parents. They helped provide stability in Zoe’s early life. As you probably know, November was National Adoption Awareness Month. The original intent of this month was to bring awareness to the thousands of children in foster care who are in need of permanent homes. The dialogue has now expanded to include the voices of adult adoptees. Flash forward – what do you think Zoe will say of her early years?

I didn’t consider Finding Zoe as a hero versus villain story, and I am hard-pressed to add that label to anyone. However, I believe that people act as they are compelled to do, based on life experiences and belief systems.

Some actions may be viewed as less than, others as more than. How a person perceives an act/action is often filtered by their personal belief system. My belief system (shaped from knowledge as an adoption educator, parent coach, and adoptive parent) says that the adopted child’s story is sacred. In other words it is the child’s to share as they wish, when they have the tools to process their story and are able to respond to the questions and comments that that are addressed to them. The parents are the story keepers for their child. Parents should share their child’s story with their child in age-appropriate language, including all of the difficult truths, long before the onset of puberty when being adopted becomes far more complex.

I am thrilled that adult adoptees are speaking up and being heard in greater numbers. Their voices and experiences have long been discounted as not worthy of being listened to, which doesn’t make any sense; they are the children of the past. We have much to learn from them; our children are the adults of the future.

I am concerned about Zoe, about her story being available for anyone to read. I can’t speak for the Zoe of the future and what she will say or how she will process and feel about the intimate details of her story being shared, but I can state my kids would not appreciate their stories being shared.

Question: It seemed to me that the birth father was coerced into signing the adoption paperwork. Did anyone else interpret it this way?

I did. I was stunned by how BJ’s wishes were dismissed. I felt he was strong-armed by Marlys, and this made me ache. How will future Zoe react to this information?

Would you like to hear others’ opinions about Finding Zoe? Continue to the next leg of this book tour by visiting the main list or click on the links for the other stops:

Lori’s interviewed Brand Rarus. We had some tough questions for her, which she handled with grace.

For Discussion: What are your thoughts about the sharing the details of the adopted child’s story? Have you read or do you have any interest in reading Finding Zoe?


National Adoption Awareness Month: Editing and Balancing the Adoption Narrative

November 24, 2014

“Celebrating adoption may mean celebrating family separation, secrets, sealed birth records, lies.” ~ Jodi Haywood This month Laura Barcella bravely shares the difficult feelings she has experienced and continues to experience as an adopted person on the NY Times online blog, Motherlode. I encourage you to read Laura’s words and to read the linked articles […]

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Reunited Twin Sisters Grow Up Worlds Apart

October 19, 2014

“Even if I run and run I can’t stop thinking of her. My biggest wish is one day she’ll come here and see where I live. … I think about her every night because I miss her so much. I care about her a lot.” Alexandra, adopted daughter of Wenche and Sigmund Hauglum, Fresvik, Norway, […]

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An Exercise for Shifting Perspective on Adoption Loss

September 18, 2014

This post is shares one of the exercises that I and many other adoption educators, social workers, and parent coaches have used to facilitate easing parents into the “pay attention” mindset when preparing to adopt or parenting their adopted child. Adoption is seeded in loss. In other words adoption cannot happen unless there is loss. […]

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Know Yourself, Honestly

September 6, 2014

Welcome! This post is part of Apart at the Seams blog tour that began yesterday. I was invited to take part by my friend Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. Frankly, while reading Apart at the Seams late this summer I scratched my head through much of it. The main character […]

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