PTSD…it was like a quiet gentle whisper in my heart – an answer to the strange behavior that LittleM began exhibiting shortly after her divine healing in September of 2012. LittleM suddenly became ultra clingy and seemed to regress in her developmental desires (for lack of a better description). All of a sudden the “big girl” who wanted to dress herself, feed herself, and do big-girl independent things suddenly didn’t want to do anything on her own. Meal time and potty time were the worst. At first we fought with her. We thought the right thing to do was to make our 4 year old ACT like a 4 year old. We fought with her for about an hour every night to get her to eat her dinner on her own – she wanted to be fed – but we thought it was RIGHT to make her feed herself. Honestly we thought a lot of what was going on was about that typical next-step-control stuff that preschoolers go through.
Thankfully we realized we were wrong.
That whisper – PTSD – was both the beginning of our realizing our major error and a peaceful sigh of relief. Around the same time, my sister-in-law and I had a conversation about attachment. I shared with her that I was suspecting some sort of attachment issues. She began talking about the impact of feeding a baby/toddler on attachment. We were driving home from an hour long trip to the “faraway grocery store” all the kid’s were asleep in the back of the van, and I felt like a huge light bulb just exploded above my head. She shared what she and my brother had learned in the adoption process about the impact of feeding an adopted child to aid in creating a secure attachment. I had remembered when my nephew came home from the hospital and them telling me that it was very important that they be the only ones to feed him – the only ones to meet his needs – “containing” him – helping him to bond and attach to them.
As the days wore on after this I felt sick to my stomach. I realized that every time LittleM had asked me to feed her she was really asking me to meet her need for a more secure attachment. The fact that we were fighting with her day after day…missing the need entirely…and thus not meeting it…it made me sick. Thankfully, I have an amazing mom who works professionally in a field that faces these issues with foster-care kids on a regular basis. Thankfully she is also always my biggest fan! She listened to me, reassured me that this was going to be ok, and helped me to brainstorm for a plan.
It took a little longer to realize that LittleR was struggling with the same issues since he was displaying them in behavioral issues with some sensory “features” more so than the more obvious emotional pathologies of a female! Nevertheless, we have come to realize that his “stuff” may be even more pressing than hers.
Do you know how a child will get hurt at school or a friend’s house and hold in the tears, but as soon as he sees his mom he just busts out crying? I feel like that is what we are dealing with. PTSD is really the BEST way to describe it. It is as though the twins were holding it all together while they were sick. While they were so different than all the other kids, not able to eat, not able to use finger paints, go near new carpets – basically knowing that anything in the WORLD might give them a reaction. They were surviving knowing that it was almost a guarantee that they would be in the doctor’s office just about every week. They were surviving knowing that soon they would have another painful immunotherapy shot, more testing, or other traumatic procedure. They were surviving knowing that we had to move in with grandma and grandpa because the only home they had ever known - the “mold house” - was not safe for them. THEY WERE SURVIVING! And then, all of a sudden…THEY WERE HEALED. After a while…that sigh of relief…something began to happen. PTSD…it was a quiet whisper.
With the realization came an understanding that allowed us to immediately change our own behaviors as parents. We have since allowed them to “revert backward” as far as they wish (all while trying to keep some sort of balance to not allow them to be damaged in some other way from having no boundaries). This is certainly not easy. It has its’ own kind of exhaustion. There are times though, when I realize that we are being given back lost time. When I can just let go of the way things are "supposed to look" I realize that the simple act of feeding my precious little ones is a gift.
I know this WILL all be ok. We are going to walk through this and on the other side I know my little ones will be whole!
I just feel impressed upon my heart to share what I wish I knew – what I wish some other FPIES parent or doctor had told ME:
Make sure you feed the twins. This is a developmental milestone that they cannot afford to miss. Even though they don't have any safe foods - you can still feed them. It may seem silly or like a waste of time, but I promise - it will be worth it. You can feed them water, breast milk, or formula FROM A SPOON – at least sometimes. If they are are old enough to feed themselves once they do have a safe food, don't let them - at least not all the time. It is so important for their attachment - for every relationship in their entire lifetime - that they experience YOU meeting this basic need. You are faced with such a significant disturbance in the natural bonding process of a mother feeding her child. Take heart, there are other things you can do to build a more secure attachment with them too. You could try co-sleeping, baby wearing...there are other ideas too. I know it may seem like a lot of work and a big commitment. I wouldn't worry about what the books might say about letting them be independent or letting them "cry it out" and sleep theories. It is of the utmost importance for you - in your situation - to make greater efforts and opportunities for them to bond and attach to you. The simple truth is, you will be giving them an amazing gift.
Someone who has been there
At this point, we are believing Jesus for complete emotional restoration and healing for the twins. We will begin walking through doors trusting the Lord to open and close the right ones. We are currently looking into play therapy and filial therapy with a focus on trauma and attachment.
Thank you Jesus for revelation, wisdom, and healing.
As a side note for parents of multiples:
I believe our unique situation with FPIES exacerbated and made more obvious the need to have the eye contact while feeding that is natural for a baby at the breast (even if it is a bottle). Since we had twins this was not often the case. They were both fed at the same time and often with each of them lying on a Boppy pillow on each side of me. They could see me and I would talk to them, but they didn’t necessarily have that consistent eye contact while having their need (hunger) met (this is the philosophy of containment – and is the essence/foundation of attachment).