LWB Community Blog

Trauma’s Lasting Effects

We began our adoption journey nine years ago when we brought home a child who was 18 months old. Since that time, we’ve adopted three more children from China, progressively older each time (ages seven, ten, and twelve at time of adoption). While some of our older children have had significant adjustment issues, our child who was adopted at the youngest age has many, many issues related to her first 18 months of life. She was born with a cleft lip and palate which was unrepaired when we adopted her. She weighed just 16 pounds at 18 months, was developmentally delayed (more like a nine-month-old), poor muscle tone, no pincer grasp, couldn’t bring food to her mouth, walk or sit up straight…you get the picture. She was from a “very nice” orphanage – or so we thought. The building was so modern and clean, but of course a building doesn’t equal human touch and attention inside.

Our daughter is the sweetest thing and loves us to death, but still is very “skittish” around strangers and anyone who says anything in the least bit negative to her. She rarely cries.  In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times she’s actually cried. Even through multiple surgeries. If she finds herself beginning to tear up, she immediately wipes her eyes and claims they are just watering. She has never liked to be around babies because they cry. She went to daycare one day a week, and she “hated” the babies there because they cried.

The more I learn about trauma, the more sure I am that the reason she is like this is because no one ever answered her cries in the orphanage – or at least in a timely manner. When we brought her home, she would never cry out when she woke up. She would play for hours in her crib without fussing. What a “good baby” I thought – wrong!

Recently in church, some beloved members of our congregation were leaving and as a result there were quite a few people in the pews crying. When we left church and got into the car, my other children were singing a song in Chinese. I suddenly heard my daughter say behind me, “There should be a law about no speaking Chinese and no crying.” Hmmm….

When I got to a place I could stop the car, I turned around and put my hand in her hand. I asked her, “Do you think the reason you think there should be no Chinese spoken and no tears has anything to do with the fact that when you were a baby and cried, and other babies cried, the people around you spoke Chinese – but they didn’t come and hold you?” She was very quiet for a moment, then nodded her head once. Then her eyes welled up – and of course her hand swiped her tears away.

I am so profoundly sad for her, and all the children like her, whose earliest cries were not answered. Ten years ago I would have told you it wasn’t possible for a baby to remember such things and that her only special need was a cleft lip and palate – easily repaired through surgery. I now know that isn’t true. I also know that she is healing because she is now able to communicate those things and becoming more aware. However, I believe it will always be a part of who she is.

Why am I writing this to you? For one because I know you’ll understand my deep sadness. But also because I want to tell you all to keep on keeping on. To thank you for the many hours you put in on behalf of children just like my daughter – and your children. I know it is impossible to change an entire institutional system or to reach all the children in need, but for those that we do reach, we can change their futures in a very real and impactful way.

~An LWB Supporter

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  • Tammia says:

    Thank you for sharing such an honest, touching story. Awareness is so important and what better way to learn than by sharing real experiences.

  • Mary says:

    My dd adopted at age 3 would not call out for me at night or get up to go potty for years. The ayis put the fear in her. She was very potty trained, but if she ever had an accident, she went to pieces. There are scars on her legs & bottom. Did they tie her to potty seat? Or tie diapers on her? It kills me to see those scars & know what she suffered.

  • Peg Helminski says:

    Our son was six when we adopted him but wore 18 months size clothes and weighed 26 lbs. He was so profoundly malnourished he could no longer digest protein. He could barely walk. And like your kids, he’d wake up and never think to leave his bed. We taught him to cry so that we would know something was wrong. A door closed on his foot and lifted the nail off the bed and he never cried. Never shed a tear. Two days later with a very swollen toe, we were in the emergency room having the nail removed. I think he not only learned that crying was a waste of time but got punished for making noise. He would cower in a corner if he forgot and made a noise such as shouting or crying–very much a post traumatic stress reaction.

  • Claudia says:

    Thank you for sharing so a truly and precius relate.

  • Anonymous says:

    I still remember when my son came home and everyone said what a “good kid” he was because he never cried. He could be running across concrete and fall straight on his face – and absolutely no tears. He would just get up and run his hand across his eyes and keep going. It took several months for me to realize that it wasn’t that he was so tough. It was just that he had learned that no one cared if he cried in his orphanage. And so he had just learned that tears were a waste of time. It still breaks my heart today to think of how quietly he would lie in his crib when he woke up – as he had stopped making noise since no one would come.