First we have Domintas – my little scared puppy dog boy. Let me start by giving a bit of background on him. I call him my scared puppy dog boy because of the way he behaved when I first started working at the Baby House. He would keep to himself most of the time, entertaining himself by mumbling baby talk (random syllables) as he wandered aimlessly around the room. His face always held a sad, wide-eyed expression. Often times I would see him hiding in a toy cubbyhole, under the nurse’s desk, or in a corner underneath a chair. One of his favorite places to be was in the corner where a mirror is mounted low on the wall. He would stare at himself in the mirror, seemingly unaware that he was seeing himself in the reflection. He never wanted to play with me and wouldn’t even return a smile. If I came too close, he would whimper and cry. At the beginning of last week, I saw the first signs of progress. While sitting at a table with two other boys, he observed me shake hands with Karolis, the little troublemaker of the group. When I let go of Karolis’s hand, Domintas reached out to me. But, when I moved my hand near his, he quickly withdrew it before I could shake it. He did this three or four times. A little while later, he was standing on the opposite side of the room from me and, again, stretched his hand out in my direction, making eye contact with me. I walked toward him with my hand out, but when I got about three feet way, he quickly put his hand down, lowered his head, backed away, and began whimpering. It gave me the mental image of a puppy dog with his tail between his legs, crouching down in fear. I moved away and let him continue on his own. This exchange also occurred more than once. Near the end of my time that same day, I was sitting on the floor playing with a few other children. Domintas approached me from behind and ran his hand down my braided hair. I turned my head just enough to see him out of the corner of my eye and smile at him, but did not make any attempt to return contact. He backed away again and looked at the ground. This happened two times in a row. I left that day with a smile on my face, knowing that he was immerging from his shell of seclusion. We still had a long way to go before I could say that he had successfully formed a normal attachment, but after the way he acknowledged me on this day, I knew it could happen.
What I did not expect was that it could happen so soon. Yesterday was Domintas’s breakthrough day. While I was holding Andrukis (the smallest one) and walking slowly around the room, Domintas approached me, reached his hand up, and touched my leg, looking at me expectantly. I lowered my hand to him. Without hesitation, he took hold of my pinky finger and began walking with Andrukis and me around the room. This was a huge step for him! He held on for quite a while until an interesting toy averted his attention and he let go to play with it. However, after a few minutes with the toy, he returned to me and eagerly took my hand to continue walking with us. He was specific about making sure he held only my pinky finger. At one point I had to giggle because he actually reached up with his other hand to separate all my other fingers, one by one, so he could easily grasp only my pinky. Domintas and I completed many laps around the room last night, often times with a toy turtle – dragged by a string – in tow behind him, as I held Andrukis or one of the other younger children. However, his progress did not stop there. Domintas let me hold him…more than once! During one of the brief moments when another baby was not currently in my arms, he stood in front of me and reached his little hands up to me as if to say, “Yes! It’s my turn!” I swooped him up and into the air before bringing him down on my hip, and he looked at me with an open-mouthed smile of joy. As I held him, we bounced up and down, he “flew” in the air, I turned him upside down and “rescued” him many times, and he giggled and smiled. I was so proud of my little man. By his own initiative, we accomplished hand-to-hand touch, return of expressions, feelings of security with me, a desire to be held, and contentedness while being held all in the same day! When I returned today, we did all of these same things again. I think it’s safe to say that an attachment has been made.
While Andrukis is making progress in leaps and bounds, I have also come to a sad realization. Many of the children have a few facial similarities that stand out to me. It has come to my mind more than once that it would be possible for these children to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but I hadn’t thought much more about it until tonight. As I made closer observations of Andrukis’s sweet face, I became almost 100% sure that he is an FAS baby. He has nearly every facial feature caused by FAS. Then I looked closer at the other children and determined that several of them have FAS characteristics. It made my heart sad to admit that these little ones are victims of their mothers’ carelessness. No, I do not know any of their mothers, and it would be wrong of me to pass judgment on them, but I am being honest about my feelings. FAS occurs in different severities, so it is difficult to determine at this point how much it will affect each child, but it is a compounding factor in our attempts to overcome the delays caused by Failure to Thrive and attachment disorder. It is my goal to research all three conditions so I can sort out which behaviors and developmental delays are caused by FAS and which are caused by lack of attachments. With the help of our Creator, we will conquer as many of these struggles as we can, no matter what caused them!
With each day that goes by, I think more and more about how each one of these little orphans is a beautiful child of God, dearly loved, with hope and a future. It breaks my heart to see their struggles, but I know they are in the hands of an incredible, loving God. I pray that He provides godly mentors for each of them to help them grow and live up to their potential.
PS: I know some of you were hoping for pictures from the orphanage. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, but I am not allowed to take pictures of the children.