There are so many thoughts, feelings, theories and truths regarding attachment, and navigating them as an adoptive parent is no easy task. Attachment has been one of the most difficult parts of our adoption journey, however not in the way that most people discuss or assume.
As parents preparing for adoption we read books, attend webinars, talk to other adoptive parents, scour blogs and come up with strategies for our how to attach to our new children. We learn that our children may prefer one parent over the other for a while, may struggle to attach even to the appoint of developing reactive attachment disorders. We learn about certain types of play therapy and counseling that are effective as well as bonding techniques. We learn to expect nothing from our children in return. They are grieving, traumatized and owe us nothing in regards to love and and attachment.
Going into adoption I felt prepared (and scared) for the attachment journey. What if he hates us? I wondered. What if he won’t let us hug or touch him? What if he is aggressive towards us or my other children? What if never believes we love him?
While I have experienced all of those things to some degree in the past year and half since we have been home with our 4 year old son, there was another element of attachment I was not prepared for. It left me feeling completely alone, isolated, guilty and ultimately depressed.
I was the one struggling to attach to my adoptive son.
Maybe I missed something in my training and pre-adoption research, or maybe I am a rare breed when it comes to this, but at the risk of comforting just one person and making them feel less isolated I confess that it has taken every bit of this last year and a half for me to be able to say that I love my son. And I am still on the journey. I know that in some cases people experience this emotion for much longer. I feel blessed that I am now experiencing some attachment to him. I am also saddened that most of this journey I travelled alone. Feeling like a failure as a parent, and adoptive mother and a human being in general.
Because who cannot love an orphan? My whole life, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to adopt. When I saw the movie Annie as a little girl I wanted to save every child from the Miss Hannigans of the world and I spent a lot of time rescuing my baby dolls from imaginary orphanages. I was blessed to marry a man who also had a heart for adoption and even worked for the agency we used to adopt our son. I felt called, I felt sure, I felt excited and knew that while I could never be fully prepared, I had help up my end of the bargain in terms of my research and training.
I was theoretically ready for a child that hated me and needed extensive counseling. However I was not prepared to feel like I had make a mistake, had no connection to this little boy living in my house, and when being my most honest wanted to end the adoption and go back to my old life. He was not the only grieving person in the household. Despite medicine and counseling I was so depressed I could barely see through my constant tears. I tried to find books and articles on Post Adoption Depression but struggled to make any any meaningful connections.
I did find quite a few articles on NHBO that brought me strength and encouraged me to keep pushing through. I also found a Post Adoption Depression Group on Facebook that has been helpful and encouraging in reminding me that I am not alone.
But the battle in my head was the hardest to fight.
Acquaintances watching from the outside thought our son was the most lovable precious child imaginable and would ask me questions like, “don’t you love him so much?”. I would nod and fake a smile and then immediately go sob in my car because no. I did not love him. He felt like a stranger who I was babysitting, he was mean to my biological children, physically aggressive with my husband, and wouldn’t let me put him down our out of his sight for months.
Six months in I almost put him in full time daycare because I couldn’t handle being with him all day. This child I had longed for, prayed for, asked God for, was now causing me so much pain and I wanted my old life back. I wanted to spend time with my other three children, I wanted to go out for dessert with friends and not have to go to bed at 7 with my son enduring two hours of him screaming and crying before falling asleep. I wanted to share a room with my husband again and not an unhappy toddler who remained hyper-vigilant all night. I wanted a break from crying and whining and meltdowns 24 hours a day. I wanted run away and never come back. It felt like a dream turned terrible nightmare.
Honestly when looking back I don’t know exactly what got me through. Counseling, medication and friends that stood by me were important. Grandparents that would step in even if just to distract and give him attention for a couple hours were a lifesaver. I eventually had to take some breaks from him in order to improve my attachment. I needed some space to miss him, some time to grieve, and a break from his constant demands.
Hearing my counselor tell me that my attachment to him would also be a process was revolutionary. I don’t know why but despite all my fears that he wouldn’t attach to me I never considered that I wouldn’t attach to him or how that may feel. I began to realize that there wasn’t something inherently wrong with me because I didn’t love him instantly, even though I was convinced that every other adoptive parent fell immediately in love with their child and would be horrified to hear these thoughts.
I began to accept that my attachment to him was just as much of a process as him attaching to me. It is slow, hard and still ongoing. But I am thankful that we are further along than we were this time last year. I hope this time next year we will be even closer and he will feel even more like my son than he does right now.
Every day is another day that we are together as a family, that he sees that we love him and are not going to leave him. It’s another day that I see despite his behavioral challenges he is also incredibly tenacious, loving, determined, spirited, kind hearted and a precious child that has endured so much trauma in such a short span of life. My compassion and empathy for him is growing along with my love.
Things aren’t perfect and I don’t think they ever will be. But for the mom who is barely hanging on, you are not alone. You are not the only one to feel this way. You are not a bad person for missing your life before adoption, you are not doing it all wrong. You are doing right because you are choosing to love even when the feelings haven’t come. You are choosing to do the next right thing, to keep taking steps forward even when you want to stop. You are believing and trusting that it will get better.
It takes time and hard work but things can change. Like me, you are choosing to believe that God will somehow prove himself faithful during this difficult journey that is adoption.