The Jonathon Letters

Reviewed Publisher: 
Champaign, IL: The Infant-Parent Institute. 192 pp. ISBN 0-9761546-0-9. Available at http://www.infant-parent.com.
Reviewed Title: 
The Jonathon Letters (2005)
Reviewed Author: 

When "birthing" comes to mind, scenarios range from a home birth with midwives, a doula, supportive husband/mate and friends-and even a water tub for laboring/birthing ... to ... hospitals with labor & delivery rooms, ob's, nurses-and possibly a midwife, doula and husband/mate present, optional birthing room and, if lucky, a tub of water for laboring/birthing.

Michael Trout and Lori Thomas offer us a different "birthing" process/journey in their book, The Jonathan Letters. Michael Trout is the "doula" who provides long distance email support from half-way across the country to Lori Thomas and her husband, Paul, through their almost year-long saga of "birthing" a severely reactiveattachment and post-traumatically stress-disordered 4-year-old boy, Jonathon, into bonding and attaching to them and their family.

The introduction provides a graphic and easily understandable summary of the diagnosis, "Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood" (DSM IV 313.89), the research on the role of brain and neurological development in bonding and attachment, and an historical perspective of attachment theory. It also acknowledges the lack of agreement regarding effective treatment interventions with those having this diagnosis. Interwoven throughout the emails is the role and influence the pre- and perinatal experience plays in contributing to attachment trauma and disorders.

Via the emails, the Thomases describe Jonathon's behaviors and responses to them and their children. They share a detailed description of the daily/weekly saga of their own growth and commitment in this journey to parent him. They also share with us their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts during this saga, as does Michael Trout in his responses, support and informative feedback. The reader is invited into their home and hearts as they share their struggle and challenges, insights and understandings, as they "figure out how to minimize the toll on the [existing] family, while still working effectively with Jonathon." (p. 29)

Locally, they worked with an attachment therapist (their "midwife") to address Jonathon's trauma, and they read many books on attachment and interventions. The "critical mass flip" for bringing about a successful outcome happens when they realize that parenting Jonathon is NOT the same as parenting a child without attachment trauma and disorder. As Lori Thomas realized: "I have to parent differently ... . The 'good parenting' that I have done with my other [5] children will not work for Jonathon. But now I really understand I need to radically change the way I do things ... . Every day is a 24-hour therapy opportunity, and I must take advantage of that." (p. 29)

The Jonathon Letters is a must-read for professionals (mental health, medical, educational, adoption, child welfare/protective services workers), extended family members, and friends. This book offers valuable insight and understanding in supporting and working with people (children and their parent/s, as well as adults) with attachment trauma and disorder, as well as principles for therapeutic interventions and assessing appropriate adoptive placement for children. For parents, it offers hope, encouragement and key principles that are important in parenting.

Both authors are candid in stating that parenting a child with attachment trauma and disorder is NOT for all adults who want to be parents, and that it takes a specific type of temperament, commitment, and couple relationship to be able to do such parenting. They also address the reality, that many with attachment trauma and disorder may have limitations in their functioning throughout life, even when they are able to bond and attach to their family and are achieving mastery in learning how to be "respectful, responsible, and fun to be with."

Through the reading of this saga-via-email, we are offered an opportunity to intimately share in the "birthing" process of Jonathon as it unfolds, eloquently and candidly, in the communications between the authors: the struggles ... the doubts ... the questioning ... the joys and satisfaction ... the insights and understandings gained about how an attachment disordered person sees him/er self, others and the world and therefore needs to be parented if s/he is going to heal.

The Jonathan Letters is presented in a fluid, informative and heartfelt way. The reader is privileged to share in and also celebrate the synchronized dance (described by Klaus and Kennell) of this "birthing" process and successful outcome.

PS: For an additional perquisite while reading this book, the authors designed a unique cover that also works as a bookmark ... should anyone be able to put it down once they start reading it!!

Publication Date: 
05/2005