When we learned about attachment in our adoption-preparation course, I realized we had a bumpy road ahead of us. A looooooong bumpy road.
But, like everything in parenting, nothing could really prepare us for what we had coming.
I won’t elaborate on how we didn’t know how to cope with the Panther‘s pull&push attachment struggles. Crying to be picked up. Five seconds later, crying even more hysterically to be put down.
What I want to point out, is how little was ever said about the attachment of parents towards their adopted child. When I went through the numerous adoption blogs and fora, all I read were instant sparks of love and pink fluffy clouds. The first year after we brought our daughter home, I damned those blogs and stories. More than once.
Some adoptive mothers wrote how offended they were when people asked them whether they loved their adopted child right away. Or whether they loved her really as much as their ‘own’, biological child.
I agree this is an inappropriate question. But I don’t agree the answer should be “Of course I do!”.
I didn’t. I wanted to. I tried to. But I didn’t.
For a part, I blame the uncertainty that went with the long waiting period. When we met her for the first time, there were paperwork issues. The judge couldn’t declare us her parents, but still we were obliged to meet her. And travel home without her. I think I started pulling up defensive walls at that very moment. I forced myself not to become too attached. I wouldn’t have been able to cope with losing her if I did. For her, it must have been even more confusing.
But the defensive walls didn’t go down when she was finally home. Sometimes, there would be a peeking window, to show me how wonderful she really was. We laughed. We cuddled a little. We took charming pictures. But the walls grew higher and stronger. I often couldn’t recall the feeling that went with those pictures. I couldn’t relocate the windows.
Needless to say, I felt like the crappiest mother on earth. I was becoming one of those hated mothers who loved their ‘own’ child better than their adopted one. I resented myself.
It didn’t help that it was not spoken off. There were too many self righteous parents out there, proclaiming how awful it is to not love your adopted child with all your heart. It is your duty, your obligation towards the child and her biological parents. No, the taboo didn’t help one bit. The guilt didn’t either.
It was also difficult to explain how it felt to be so detached from the daughter I had so intensely longed for. It felt like we didn’t match. Like she was a piece of a different puzzle. Frustrations were piling up, while I desperately wanted to finish the puzzle. I am grateful nobody ever asked whether I wanted to return the piece.
I have been lucky. During the waiting years, I had developed a social safety net, made out of real, down to earth adoptive parents. No pink clouds there. They convinced me I was allowed some time to attach to my daughter as well. And more importantly, some of them knew exactly what I was going through. Recognition might have been the one thing that has kept me from a post-adoptal-depression.
One of those adoptive mothers phrased brilliantly how it felt to remain detached from your child.
Picture a child, falling violently. My daughter would fall an awful lot, being not used to wearing shoes, and growing so fast and out of proportion, she had to adjust continuously to a changing body balance.
Now, when our Penguin fell, it would hurt me.
When our Panther fell, it would only hurt her.
I still gives me chills when I think about it. If she fell, I would pick her up. I would comfort her. Because that is what you are supposed to do. Not because it pained me to see her hurt.
The wounds healed with time. The real ones faster than the detached ones, for sure.
After a while, I discovered I was blocking her hurt and grief because I just couldn’t cope with it all at once. It was all too familiar. My own past haunted me. Pulling up those walls was just my instinct to survive and keep going.
Once I allowed myself some time, we started to grow towards each other. I comforted her as if I were comforting a mini me. She healed me. I never could have imagined I needed her just as much as she needed me. We finally developed not only a bond of mother and child, but also one of shared struggle.
Still, I have relapses. There are times her strong will and rebellion drive me towards detachment. Not just during a burst of anger. It can last for several days, in which I try hard to ‘pretend’.
That’s another thing nobody ever told me. Or perhaps I don’t remember it because it sounded stupid at the time.
Attachment is no super glue. It seems to be more complicated than the gradual process I had in mind. It scares me that it can still be undone.
But, we progress. Detachment only happens once every few weeks, and it lasts shorter. The last one, the one that made me write this piece, only lasted for a few hours. I think that might even be normal, in a world of real parents.
We are getting there. The best proof is in my children. They needed to be on equal foot of motherly love to overcome their continuous competition for attention. They are really getting along now, most of the days. Of course they still fight. They are brother and sister after all. I am proud they are.
We are about to finish the puzzle after all. It’s just another one than we had in mind.