Mean Mom

I have two daughters who were born just over a year apart. They are both smart, funny and beautiful. They love clothes and doing hair and shopping. One is dramatic and fiery and active. The other is practical and sensitive and still. One I have known her entire life. The other, I met in June of 2009.

Both my girls are creative and artistic. Both love dance and music and self expression. One of them dreams of flowers and meadows and princess dances.

The other dreams of Mean Mom.

Mean Mom looks like me. She talks like me. Her eyes and hair and body are mine. But Mean Mom is not me. My daughter always makes this very clear when she tells me about the dream.

In the dream, Mean Mom does one of three things: She leaves my daughter at the store or at church or in the park, she refuses to feed her when she is hungry, she laughs when my daughter cries.

Mean Mom is mean. Pure and simple.

For months after the first Mean Mom dream, my daughter eyed me with wary consternation. “How do I know, Mommy, if I am dreaming or awake?” she’d ask, and I’d feel my heart shiver just a little.

“What do you mean?” I’d respond.

“How do I know you are Nice Mommy and not Mean Mom?” She’d persist, and I’d tell her, once again, that dreams are never real, and that Mean Mom doesn’t exist. Then I’d renew my efforts to bond with her. I’d take her to the park and church and the store, and I’d always bring her home. When she was hurt, I’d cuddle her close and give her band aids and kisses. When she was hungry, I would bring her to the kitchen and let her help me fix a snack.

There were times when I doubted the effectiveness of my laid-back approach to my daughter’s dream. It was such a weird and bizarre thing, this manifestation, this haunting evil twin of mine. I had thoughts of doctors and therapies and years of working to loosen Mean Mom’s hold, but instinct told me love and persistence would win the day. So, I kept on the way I was going, reassuring my daughter until the dream faded and Mean Mom was nothing but a memory.

I have two daughters. One has suffered loss and trauma and betrayal. Cheeky’s past is so full of all those things that it seems the dream reflects her fears, her losses and all that she is afraid of losing again.

Yet, the dream is not Cheeky’s.

It is Sassy’s.

From the time Sassy was three until she was nearly five, Mean Mom was almost as real to her as I was. When we began the adoption process, I read books on bonding and attachment, and it occurred to me that Sassy exhibited many of the signs of a traumatized child. She did have a difficult birth experience. As I lay bleeding out, she was whisked to the NICU where she was poked and prodded. It was twelve hours before I was stable enough to see her and touch her and speak her name. Sometimes, I wonder if those hours cemented a thought in her brain, a chemical memory, perhaps, of betrayal. One way or another, I have always felt that I had to work harder to connect with my fiery girl. She loves passionately, but she has such a hard time being vulnerable.

Does that hark back to being ‘abandoned’ at birth, or is it simply a product of her personality and temperament?

I will never know, but the juxtaposition of my daughters’ dreams is interesting to me. Cheeky was abandoned by the world’s standards. It would seem that she should be the one dreaming of a mean mother who leaves her behind and laughs when she cries. Instead, she dreams of dancing and flowers and all things light and wonderful. Sassy, who was simply whisked away to be cared for by competent and caring hospital staff, is the one who suffered through months of thinking an evil mom lurked somewhere in the shadows waiting to snatch her away.

Why is that?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself often lately.

But the more I ask it, the more I realize that it doesn’t matter.

Mean Mom was here, and now she is gone – a blip on the radar, an odd chapter in my daughter’s life.

A battle we fought together and won.

And, I guess that is what parenting is really all about. Whether we adopt our children or birth them, we must be committed to fighting for them and with them, no matter the struggles, no matter the reasons for those struggles. There should be no thought that what our child brings to us is a product of who she once was or how she once lived and that her troubles are, therefore, not our responsibility. There must simply be acceptance and the understanding that her past is our past whether we lived it together or not. Only in embracing that truth can we discover the miracle of love – that it isn’t built on one defining moment, but on millions of mundane ones piled one upon the other until we are left breathless from the sheer wonder of it.

Happy Mother’s Day, friends. May you find joy in the good times and peace in the trials, and may every mundane moment with your children be a miracle.

Comments

  1. Wife of the Pres. says:

    Shirlee, Same here. Not a birth trauma to link it to and yet when I started reading all of the *adoption* books, particularly The Connected Child, it was like an ah-ha moment.

    I think mine is more related to my own post-partum blues and the fact that he spent time away from me early on, like spending the night with my Mom when he was six weeks old. DUH! But I was so clueless back then. He also exhibits sensory sensitivities to touch and blue jeans and host of other things!

    Anyway, I can relate to in a big way. I think EVERY SINGLE PARENT TO BE should read the attachment parenting books and literature APs (or at least educated APs) read before their children are born. I in fact don't give much advice to parents-to-be except don't have too many expectations, relax, and READ these books!

    Thanks for bringing up a topic that many of us would be too fearful to put into words in a public place. {{{HUGS}}}

    P.S. I need to email you. May is feeling more and more like a POSSIBILITY. :)))

  2. Stefanie says:

    Shirlee, once again your words manage to capture something so familiar to many of us, but that eludes us when we try to put those feelings into words ourselves.
    Thank you! I'm so blessed by your gift of writing and your beautiful perspective.
    And just seeing pictures of your adorable kids never fails to put a smile on my face… what a wonderful way to start my week :)

  3. Shirlee McCoy says:

    I figured I wasn't alone in this. My experience with Sassy is the reason why I worry so much about the language of adoption. These things (for lack of a better word)…attachment and bonding and trust, they aren't just adoption things. They are everybody things. We all struggle, and we all have the right and the desperate need to be seen as individuals and treated the same. The past matters, but what matters more is the moment. As we strive to meet our children's needs, we prove over and over again that they can trust in what we offer.

    Thanks for sharing your stories. I've always wondered if traumatic birth could bring on bonding issues. It seems that maybe it can. Sassy does fine now. She is nine, and she is still fiery and tough as nails. We have a deep bond, though. Mean Mom is gone, but Sassy does remember the dreams.

  4. Love for Lilly Yin says:

    WOW! The same thing here! Not exact ally but Lauren had a traumatic birth too, and it is as if somewhere in side of her she has never fully trusted me. We always work on that, and have for 18 years. It has got better. I think the brain remembers so much. My daughter still can not walk in a hospital with out feeling sick. I think somehow her brain remembers her time in the NICU. Lauren also has always shown signs of attachment problems. I just have to make sure her love tank is filled up, and trust me it has a big ole hole in her tank, as soon as you fill it, it runs out. Have you read The love languages of children? It helped me understand her much better, and we did do therapy for a few months that helped some. I will email you. Just wanted you to know we are in the same boat, baby! Now Lauren is 18, and she does so well. She is going off to college in the Fall, and she is most responsible child, it gets better.

  5. Coleman's A to Z says:

    I always love your blog posts! I have a daughter, a biological daughter who struggles with some what I see as attachment/anxiety issues. She too, had a traumatic birth with her twin brother who was very much in trouble in utero. I was knocked out at their birth and she was whisked away by competent hospital staff as well but only for a matter of hours. I really thinkg this was much less traumatic than what her brother endured which was being whisked away to another hospital, in another city where I didn't see him for 3 days. Yet he is the one the loves and trusts, she guards her heart. She is the one that used to ask me to tell her, "I hate you, just say it Mommy!" (for a year!) Yet I of course never did. She was my observant infant, taking in the world. Did she see my post partum depression, did she soak in my dark days even though I was treated swiftly and surrounded by a wonderful family and church who carried us through those days. Is that why she feels the need to push the boundaries to find out if my love ends?

    As you, I'll never know, but I wonder. I love and I try to connect where she needs me to. We have done counseling which she loves. Like you we move through this together and I pray for healing and wisdom to love my girl as she needs to be loved.

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