Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some thoughts on Attachment

Let me preface this post by saying that I have read several adoption attachment books cover-to-cover and some parts of those books many times over. I have also read non-adoption related books on attachment, parenting books, toddler behavior books, etc. and the bottom line is…you have to read your child, not a book. 

I’m not saying the books didn’t help (sometimes they did) but they also made me doubt my instincts, try to fit my child(ren) into a box she was not designed to fit into and led to many sleepless nights up worrying if I was doing the “right” thing by them.

What is interesting to me is how they all focus on the child attaching to you, not you attaching to the child. I guess it’s assumed that the child will be the problem. In our case, it was both of us having trouble. I cannot speak for Lucy but I can give you some insight into what I was going through.

Lucy is so totally the opposite of Kate in every way that I was having trouble bonding with her. I did not like her behavior nearly the entire first month we had her. Looking back (with much more sleep and perspective) I know she was in emotional overload. She was de-toxing from her daily ration of sugar water and candy, dealing with new EVERYTHING, and waking up every day not sure what would happen to her next. Kate was a terror that first month as well, adjusting to sharing everything in her once insular world.

I was no better off. In addition to the sheer exhaustion of not sleeping much, I underestimated just how hard two kids are.

(And not just two kids, but 2 two-year olds who were not raised together for the first 2 years of their lives. Anyone who thinks that two toddlers will be easier (they will entertain each other, it’s only one more kid to dress/feed/change/bond with/RAISE, etc.) is delusional. It is unbelievably more than double the work and I didn’t understand that fully until several months into this deal. Most days I am still knocked flat by 4pm by the vast amount of mental, physical and emotional energy it takes to keep everyone not only alive, but thriving.)

I thought, “Have I ruined our fairly charmed, easy life with just one kid? Have I ruined Kate’s life by bringing in a sister? What if I never love this child as much as I love Kate?” Along with those lines of thought came the inevitable guilt; I am her mother after all, I asked for this, doggedly pursued it for years for god’s sake. How could I be regretting that decision?! And who in the world can I tell this to without looking like a monster?

Even though Len went back to work and my mom went back home, leaving me alone with her all day, I was still having trouble feeling anything for Lucy other than resentment. My days were spent with 2 unhappy toddlers and by the time Len got home I was a frazzled wreck. Neither Kate nor Lucy slept well at all that first month and I asked Len to deal with Lucy every night as I just could not muster the empathy needed to soothe her back down.

Intellectually I knew she was a product of her environment up to this point but emotionally, I was looking at a toddler who acted like an infant but had the independence and strong will of a child older than her years. All of my reading and knowledge seemed to fly out the window. Trying to remember that she was really only one month old IN OUR FAMILY and to treat her as such seemed impossible. How to juggle that while holding the line on Kate’s behavior? How to treat two children who are chronologically the same age in such a way that I am not coddling one or expecting too much of the other?  She would not let me hold her to give her a bottle, she would not cuddle with me, and she avoided eye contact unless she wanted food or a toy.

I was in a dark place. I kept thinking, is this post-adoption depression? Or something worse? I talked to a few close friends and was given a lot of support and advice. One piece of advice was from a very dear, old friend:

One day in 1997 my husband came home from work, walked in the bedroom and found M all snuggled up asleep and me crying...not dainty, ladylike crying, heaving, snotty nosed, hiccuping, UGLY real crying....."what was the tragedy" you may be asking....well, I was pregnant. I know, after infertility for 6 years before my beloved M you would think that this should have been the best news ever. All I could see was that this "other" baby was going to come in and rob my precious M of her Mommy, her Daddy, her happy life and everything good in the world. Life to that point was pretty perfect. M was a beautiful little angel...well behaved, fun, smart. I had a job I loved 2 days a week, my parents kept her those 2 days...life was GOOD. I struggled with this even after G was born and believe me she was every bit as sweet and beautiful as M but she WASN'T M and my whole life for about 18 months revolved around M. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that for several weeks, maybe even months I resented the fact that someone else had come in and intruded on our happy home. I realize now that some of it was hormonal but some was not and I really felt that M was getting the shaft and that guilt was horrible on its own but couple that with the guilt you feel for kinda being a little bit annoyed at a precious baby for wanting to be fed RIGHT AT THE time you were getting to M’s favorite part in her Aristocats book...yeah, I was very often in a dark place. The good news is that it gets better....what used to be your family is different and I think we don't always give the fact that yesterday your family was THIS and tomorrow it is THAT the importance that it deserves. For some people it is easy, for me it was a little harder. The nice thing is, while I would say I didn't bond with G at birth, she and I are inseparable now, M is a daddy’s girl and I have G’s. Also, the bond with my 2 girls is a beautiful thing to see, they could exist without me but I don't think they could without each other. Anyhow, all of this rambling to say that I think its ok to sometimes mourn your old life...just know that this will get easier and you will reap the rewards of all your hard work.

So what did I do? I sought professional counseling. I kept talking to Len and my close friends instead of withdrawing into a mute, pissed-off shell. I spent an hour, sans appointment, talking with my pediatrician (thank you Dr. Fred Ettner from the bottom of my heart--you are a saint). I took an anti-depressant for the first time in my life. I blogged so that I would have a record of *hopefully* how far we had come when I looked back. And I tossed the books aside and relied on what I had done with Kate when she was born, when I had followed my instincts on how to bond with her.

I started with sleep. I did not allow her to get up and play or sleep with us at night but I did start taking turns with Len to soothe her back down into her own bed. She didn’t like having me come to her at all but I remained steadfast and she finally would snuffle herself back down. Once I learned her sleep/wake patterns and figured out that 5:30am was a pretty consistent “I’m up for the day” time (and it’s not for anyone else in our family), I would bring her into bed with me, lay her on my chest, and cuddle or massage her. I had taken an infant massage class so I put that knowledge to use and rubbed her head, shoulders, and back. She would hum and purr and finally I got a smile and soon after that I got my first kiss.

Touch is a powerful tool. It not only helped her bond to me but it helped me feel like I was caring for her, that I could meet her needs. It is such an intimate time, that time between sleep and full wakefulness, and I knew that it was some of the time I relished most when Kate was nursing. And I’m happy to say that I actually miss those days when Lucy wakes a bit later and we don't have time for our morning snuggle session. I need it just as much as she does.

Another area where I thought attachment was crucial was at our playgroup. Normally our tots eat during playgroup and we all feed whatever kid is closest to us at the time, whether it’s your kid or not. We also will help out a child who is crying or otherwise in distress if their mama can’t get to them in time (or is taking advantage of some time alone in the bathroom). I did not want Lucy going to anyone else for food or comfort so I had to be sure to fill my friends in on how to handle this and why it was necessary.

I have still not left Lucy in the care of anyone other than Len, me or my mom. We have had various sitters come in to watch Kate the past few months while I shuttle Lucy to doctors. There have been a few times when I’ve asked a sitter to stay for a bit and play with both girls but I am always at home and within eyesight of Lucy. I am hoping, now that our attachment is much stronger, to start leaving both girls with Jessica for short periods but I imagine it will be a couple more weeks before I can do that. Although Kate has warmed up to Jessica this week, Lucy still panics when Jessica picks her up which is a great sign of attachment for me but, frankly, is unsustainable, both for my health and sanity but also for her ability to trust others.

We have come a long way. Lucy leads me by the hand now when she wants me to see something or play with her. Yesterday morning she said, “Hi Mama” for the first time. She looks to me for reassurance when she is scared or tired or for permission to try something. She seeks me out for a cuddle or hug at various times during the day.

Kate has helped her feel secure and part of a family. I can feel her relax when I tell her “Kate and Lucy and Mama and Daddy are a family. You are home. Kate is your sister. I am your Mama.” Mirroring back to her what she is feeling has been the biggest breakthrough for her. I tell her that I understand she had to fight for food/toys/attention at the orphanage (and that that has made her a strong little girl) but that she doesn't have to do that anymore. She can just be a kid. I will worry about all that stuff for her. She seems to get it when I take the time to look in her eyes and say those words.

And me? Well, I still have my good and bad days, days when I don’t really cut her the slack I should. I tend to hold her to too high of a standard sometimes for her emotional maturity level. We are a work in progress. And when I do fail her, I tell her what I'm sure no one has ever said to her: "I'm sorry. I will do better." And then I wake up the next day and try again.

I have realized that what I was feeling, all those doubts about whether or not we had made the right decision to adopt after all, have disappeared. I do not question Lucy's place in our family. She is my daughter and I love her. The love I have for her grows each day, as it has done with Kate. I am starting to appreciate the different energy that she brings to our family.  Lucy's sheer force-of-will used to vex me until I truly understood that it enabled her to survive the first 2 years of her life.

Whether I will appreciate her forceful will when she's a teenager is another post entirely...


Suzy said...

Thank you for your post. We adopted our little girl 2 years ago. At that time she was almost 4. I worked, and had two other kids. It took us a year to finally realize I needed to stop working. She suffers from a lot of trauma, and we go to counseling 1 a week together as a mother and daughter. For some, the transition is easy. For others, it is hard. I have learned much from this journey. On my blog, I try and be honest about what the whole process has been like for us. It has shaken our family to the core, but in a good way. It does get easier, but at the same time is difficult. She is just now bonding with me after two years, and even then it is spotty. But like you, we have to get up and make a choice every day. Some days the choice is easy, some days not. It is nice to read another blog in which you are honest with your feelings. Thank you for sharing and know that I feel the same. If you ever want to talk, please let me know. I can give you my email.

Karla said...

I am so glad you posted this. Our transition has been relatively smooth with Jacob, but he also had to go through sugar withdrawals. It is important to journal and see how far you've come. It has been important for me too.

Elizabeth said...

Oh Lisa, I am reading this with tears in my eyes. I so appreciate your honesty and openness with all of us. There are very few people with your courage and that would put all of their experiences on-line. You were in my thoughts so much Oct., Nov., Dec. I was checking your blog all the time! I sensed a bit of a change in the new year and started wondering what you are up to with the girls and what they have learned. I can't speak from experience, but can from the heart, and know that you and Lucy will continue to develop a beautiful attaachment and that you will all grow as a family. There will come a point in time when you won't be able to remember what life was like without Lucy. As a prospective parent, I truly appreciate your posts and blog. The blogs that are all peaches and cream aren't the way I think things will unfold. I am not a pessimistic person, but realize adopting a toddler as a single parent will present its own challenges. Take care of yourself, wish I were there to give you a big hug!!!! As I have said before, Lucy is truly blessed to have found such a wonderful, forever family. My challenge is to get my dossier submitted so I can reclaim my life and be prepared to the best degree I can to recieve my child. I am so tired of jumping the hoops and chasing my tail! Remember you have many followers that although can't help you physically are with you in thought andn prayer from all over the world!

PinkDevora said...

Lisa, thank you so much for sharing. This is so important for expectant and new adoptive parents to read. We've been home for less than two months and some of these thoughts are running thru my head. And I'm just exhausted with one...I don't know how you do it with two. I feel terrible having to go back to work. Sigh.

mama of 5 said...

Thank you Lisa for sharing!! I have been watching and waiting for this post. I know it had to be a difficult one to write, one: just because it takes alot of time and peace and quiet to be able to put thoughts together and reflect on things(peace and quiet you do not have much of) and two:it is hard to be vunerable and throw your heart out there for the world to see.
I really appreciate it. Because of the difficulty of this long journey to bring home our daughter, it is hard not to dream of a fairy tale world when she comes home. It is a fight to keep my feet on the ground and not look through rose colored glasses.
I read those first posts you wrote in China and when you got home and honestly didn't know how you were keeping sane. As a mother of 4 bio boys (when 3rd was born I had a 21 month and 4 year old) I remember the dark days. The emotions that came because of lack of sleep and out of control hormones just caused me at times to act in ways that now when I look back it makes me say who was that person. I have asked myself many times if things are out of control difficult when our daughter comes home, how can I share it? I have spent 4 years pursuing this with a passion. Won't people look at me and question "you knew going into this what you were signing up for?" Thanks so much for your honesty.
I have gleaned many things while reading you blog. I feel that your honesty and random blog posts of life happenings of practical things you are doing is helping me be prepared as best I can for the day(and it will be soon!) we will meet our daughter for the first time. I have deep respect for you. I hope we can meet in person this summer.

Smitha Mathew said...

After two years, looking back at our experience (which was as easy as it gets for international adoption), and looking at our friends experiences, adoption (probably like giving birth- don't know that), changes each person involved in so many levels. For me it was physical exhaustion. But my friends had emotional exhaustion, spiritual exhaustion and everything in between and together.

Looking back (as I commented in the last post) for me, it was like falling in love through an arranged marriage :-) (though my marriage was not arranged). But you see that in Bollywood movies. Both parties (mother and daughter) will earn it at the end. Pulling from a very different context, following is a Hindi/Punjabi movie song that gives me a chuckle (now) when I think of our adoption. What do you think? Life will be so different in six more months.

It was not at all easy while going through it!! If someone had told me few months into adoption that I would chuckle and even post this song I would not have believed it.

Meanwhile my O is obsessed about Lucy and Kate and in the last week has been practicing lining up her dolls (she could really benefit from that).

Following is the translation.

Haule Haule Se Hawa Lagti Hai
(just As) A Breeze Wafts Slowly

Haule Haule Se Dava Lagti Hai
(just As) Medicines Work Slowly

Haule Haule Se Dua Lagti Hai
(just As) Prayers Are Answered Slowly

Haule Haule Chanda Badhta Hai
(just As) The Moon Rises Slowly

Haule Haule Ghoonghat Uthata Hai
(just As) A Veil Lifts Slowly

Haule Haule Se Nasha Chadhta Hai
(just As) Intoxication Hits You Slowly

Tu Sabar To Kar Mere Yaar
Have A Little Patience My Friend

Zara Saans To Le Dildaar
Take A Deep Breath My Dear

Chal Fikr Nu Goli Maar Yaar
Don't Worry So Much

Hain Din Jindri De Chaar
Life Is Too Short For That

Haule Haule Ho Jayega Pyar Chaliya
Slowly Slowly You Will Fall In Love My Dear

Haule Haule Ho Jayega Pyar
Slowly Slowly You Will Fall In Love

Ishkedi Galiyan Tang Hain
The Path Of Love Is Arduous

Sharm O Sharmee Mein Band Hai
It's Bound By Shyness

Khud Se Khud Ki Kaisi Yeh Jung Hai
Its A Strange War Within
Pal Pal Yeh Dil Ghabraye
This Heart Worries All The Time

Pal Pal Yeh Dil Sharmaye
It Feels Shy All The Time

Kuchh Kehta Hai Aur Kuch Kar Jaaye
It Says Something And Does Something Else

Kaisi Yeh Paheli, Mua Dil Marjana
Its A Difficult Puzzle, But This Silly Heart

Ishq Mein Jaldi, Bada Jurmana
(does Not Understand That) Haste In Love Is A Big Crime

Tu Sabar To Kar Mere Yaar
Have A Little Patience My Friend

Zara Saans To Le Dildaar
Take A Deep Breath My Dear

Chal Fikr Nu Goli Maar Yaar
Don't Worry So Much

Hain Din Jindri De Chaar
Life Is Too Short For That

Haule Haule Ho Jayega Pyar Chaliya
Slowly Slowly You Will Fall In Love My Dear

Haule Haule Ho Jayega Pyar
Slowly Slowly You Will Fall In Love

Rabdaavi Sab Koi Hona
Everything Happens By God’s Grace

Kare Koi Yun Jaadu-tona
So I Hope He Casts A Spell

Man Chaahe Maan Jaaye Haaye Mera Sona
So That My Sweetheart Accepts Me

Rab De Sahare Chalde
God Will Guide Your Steps

Na Hain Kinare Chalde
So What If You Don’t See The Shore, Keep On Going

Doli Hai Na Kahare Chalde
So What If There’s No Palanquin, Keep On Going
Kya Kehke Gaya Tha Shayar Woh Sayana
Which Poet Was It Who Said…

Aag Ka Dariya Doob Ke Jaana
It's An Ocean Of Fire, You Have To Drown To Swim Across

Tu Sabar Toh Kar Mere Yaar
Have Patience My Friend

Zara Saans Toh Le Dildaar
Take A Deep Breath My Dear

Chal Fikr Nu Goli Maar Yaar
Don’t Worry So Much

Hain Din Jindri De Chaar
Life Is Too Short For That

Haule Haule Ho Jaye Ga Pyar Chaleya
Slowly You’ll Fall In Love

Haule Haule Ho Jaye Ga Pyar
Slowly You’ll Fall In Love

Lisa said...

Wow. Just. Wow. I am so touched that so many of you are helped by our experiences. Writing, for me, is cathartic and even when I am dead-tired and want to go to bed, I have to write, just to empty my head. It's my form of exercise (although it would be great if I could lose a few pounds from all my mental energy expenditures!). I do so appreciate the time you take to write about your thoughts and feelings about my posts and I love reading your stories as well. Thank you for writing!

Jodie said...

It warms my heart in such a way I don't know that I could fully explain it.....to see how many lives you have touched with your raw emotions and total honesty. I'm so blessed to be able to call you friend. And your girls are even MORE blessed to be able to call you MOM! ((hugs))


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