ATN Angel: Dr. Lark Eshleman

In celebration of ATN’s 2016 Angels in Adoption award, we’re profiling ATN members who have helped ATN win the award — and who have themselves been Angels to families and children.

By:  Jane Samuel

My youngest child was getting to me. The daily tantrums. The inability to sit still for just one minute. The continual lack of sleep for her and I since she had joined our family at the age of twelve months. I loved her deeply and knew that I had to do right by her, but I was worn out and didn’t know how best to help her.

At age five, she had recently been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and while occupational therapy seemed to be helping her sensory seeking some it had also unleashed a torrent of suppressed emotional pain that holed up in her small being for the last four years.  To add insult to injury, the year before we had moved our entire family to Asia for my husband’s job. I was now a world away with little access to proper treatment in a country that still saw adoption as something taboo. What had I gotten myself into? I wanted to cry. I did cry. On an almost daily basis.

Then our adoption support group leader – a breath of fresh air in a culture afraid to disclose to their adopted children even the fact of their adoption – invited my husband and I to a symposium for parents and adoption staff. Along with a handful of other parents from our adoption play group, I sat in a large conference room in a sea of government and agency staff waiting for some nugget of information to help me understand what the heck was going on with my child and how best to reach her.

Lark EshlemanWell, that day ten years ago I got more than a nugget. I got a crash course – probably the course I should have had before we adopted – on the effects of early life neglect, the role of attachment between mother and child and how best to create it – as well as what would not create it. I learned about regulation and the intersection of things like sensory processing disorder and developmental delay. I learned how to build a true bond of attachment – not the thin tenuous one we had with her which left her dysregulated, anxious, socially inappropriate and depressed (yes at age five).

I also learned that there were angels in the world of adoption. I was staring right at one, hanging on her every word, eager to learn everything I could before she rode off into the sunset – actually boarded a plane back to the United States –  to her next training or therapy appointment.

The woman that walked into our family’s life that day – a world away from where most of us sit reading this – was Lark Eshleman. Dr. Eshleman had been invited to Singapore to educate Singapore’s adoption community about attachment, trauma and other issues adoptive families sometimes face. She was a pre-eminent attachment and trauma therapist, international trainer and acclaimed author. And unbeknownst to me at the time, she was also a member of the Attachment Trauma Network team, a group I would later – on our move back to the U.S. – come to love and cherish as we found our way in life parenting our child from a hard place.

To this day what strikes me most about Dr. Eshelman, is the fact that she was able to not only run a successful therapy practice in the U.S. for children with attachment and trauma issues, AND publish a book on building attachment with your adoptive child, AND study the effects of early life trauma on children in orphanages in Eastern Europe, AND help a parent run organization like Attachment Trauma Network in their quest to support families, BUT she also was willing to travel half a world away to bring support and education to Asian societies who were still perhaps a bit antiquated in their approach to adoption and adoptive parenting. What an amazing woman. What passion. What a willingness to reach out and help both in American and elsewhere. That to me is what makes her my Adoption Angel.

Can you think of someone who has been an ATN Angel? Join the celebration by sending us your nomination here:

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