Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Attachment Avenue: It's a Two-Way Street

Claudia has asked anyone who is willing to to write about their adoption attachment experience with their Ethiopian child or children.  She is going to very kindly link all the posts in one common place where we can all go to read each other's stories and get some community support.  Isn't that a great idea?  If you are interested, jump on in!  But you have to post and link it on her linky by March 7th.

Our attachment story is still a cause for wonder to me.  Like everyone, I read the books, watched the educational videos our agency required and prepared (as much as is possible- which, let's face it... isn't much) before we traveled to meet our daughter- just 2 weeks shy of a year ago now.  All of our agency reports about her had told us that she was VERY reserved and quite shy.  She is not smiling in ONE of the photos we saw of her before we travelled.  In fact, she had tears in her eyes in some of her referral photos.  We discussed with each other and with our boys how we were going to handle adopting a very reserved and possibly very scared and sad little girl.

one of her referral photos
Here is what I expected from her upon our first meeting:
*boys would break the ice and maybe make her feel a bit more comfortable

And that was what I expected at BEST.  What I expected at WORST was:
*sheer and utter terror
*desire to go back to the orphanage rather than stay w/ us at our guest house

Here is what I expected from her upon arrival in America:
*poor sleep
*need to "cocoon" - not go out or let anyone come over for several months
*looooooong adjustment time
*picking the boys up from school in the "circle drive" rather than on the playground (keep her in the car)
*lots of rocking and comforting
*food issues (either rejection of American food or hoarding or both)

Here is what ACTUALLY happened upon our first meeting:
*She backed into me immediately and let me hold her like that for the first couple of hours.
*She didn't cry at all.
*She didn't make much noise for the first 15-20 minutes or so, but after that became quite chatty.  (No idea what she was saying... but it didn't seem to be a cause for concern.)
*She laughed at the boys.
*She played.
*She let me carry her.
*She wasn't crazy about Mick at first, but was not rejecting him.  Just slow to warm to him.
*She was bossing the boys around in Amharic within a few hours.
*She called me "Mommy" from that first day.

First Day- on the way to our Embassy Appt.
I couldn't believe she was that easy.
But I thought things would change when we took her away from everything she has ever known and planted her in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar food and unfamiliar language and customs.

Here is what ACTUALLY happened upon her arrival in America:
*She ate a "Five Guys" hamburger in the airport.
*She ate pizza when we got to our house.
*She slept through the night the first night home... and every night since except for 2.
*She never hoarded food.
*She bonded with Mick.
*She played with the boys as if she had been doing it every day of her life.
*She followed me around- not in a fearful or needy way, just in a delightful little girl loving her mommy way.
*She went to church 10 days after arriving home. We didn't put her in the child care- kept her with us the whole time, but she did GREAT.  It was Easter and she stood in the middle of the hallway showing off her dress and tights and shoes to every one who would listen to her jabber on in Amharic about how cute she thought she was!  It was adorable.
*We started picking Jack and Ben up on the playground after about 2 or 3 weeks.  She wanted me nearby, but would play with other children and climb on the monkey bars or want to be pushed on the swings.

Easter Sunday 2010
ALL of that *could* have just been a coping mechanism learned as survival behavior. (we read all the books and watched all the videos, remember?)  We watched out for that.  But the fact is... it wasn't survival behavior.  It was just HER.  I really watched very closely for any signs of anxiety or struggle and the fact is... she just walked into this new life like she owned the place.  More on our initial attachment process and transition here.

Now, all of that is from HER perspective- at least, her perspective from OUR perspective.  Know what I mean?  Bottom line- she has done really well.  She is remarkable.

But it's a two way street, isn't it?

I would say that my boys attached to her as quickly as she attached to them.  It was great, but not perfect.  More on the struggles they have experienced here.

First Day of School '10-'11
I would say that Mick was very patient with her waiting for her to come to him.  And once she did they have been very strong.

at the park
As for me... I would say that she and I have attached very well... but in my heart there have been struggles.  I would be dishonest to say that bonding with her has been exactly like bonding with my biological sons.  It hasn't been the same, and I think that 's okay.  I mean- it is what it is and so it has to be okay.

At first it really worried me.  I knew that I really thought she was great, but I didn't feel that "heart in your throat" kind of thing that I felt for my boys.  I knew that was probably normal, but still it worried me.  But it came.  It really came.  One day I looked at her in my rearview window and my heart leapt and I thought, "OH!  There it is..."

But there have been and continue to be times when I know in my heart that I'm not responding to her the same way I would respond to my boys.  I guess really I felt less attached.  Not that I didn't love her and think she was wonderful.  Just that she could irritate me more quickly than I knew my boys would have at the same age and in similar circumstances.  (but truly... that may not just be a bio vs. adoption thing.  it's also probably a bit of a girl vs. boy thing.  they are SO different!)  There were definitely days when it felt like "going through the motions" more than "joyously spending time with my daughter."  But luckily those times were always accompanied by her delightful self- so full of laughter and silliness and fun... and LOVE.  She expressed love for US so clearly and consistently so early on.  So even when I wasn't "feeling" it for her, it was still easy to LIKE her and ENJOY her.

fun with photo booth
I still have those moments.  They have become fewer and farther between as this year has passed, but occasionally they are still there.  I'm not proud of that, but it's true.  I still sometimes feel like I'm faking it a little bit with her and it makes me feel terrible b/c I know that I never felt like that w/ my boys.  I sometimes wonder if it's possible for her to sense that I feel that way.  I pray she doesn't.

I think there is probably a broad spectrum of "normal" in attachment and bonding w/ your adopted child.  It's a two way street, that's for sure.  But it wasn't anything like I expected.  Because here is the truth:  overall... it's been really easy for us.  And the more time passes the deeper my love for her grows- and I believe the same is true for her

The truth is: it has NOTHING to do with Mick nor I nor our boys nor any of the books we read nor videos we watched.  It has EVERYTHING to do with Avé and who she is as a person.

THIS is who she is!
I think her first family gave her some great, strong, resilient DNA along with some heavy doses of L.O.V.E.  Of course she experienced trauma- every adopted child has.  She lost her first family!  That is a fact.  And she's wicked smart and knows more about who she is and what has happened in her short life than the average 4 year old.  (More on her grieving process here.)  But she came to us knowing how to be in a family.  She knows how to be not just loved but ADORED.  That is something you only learn one way: by being adored.  If her Mama Meselesh is able to look down from heaven I hope she can see that her baby girl is strong and safe and amazing and truly, madly, deeply loved.

We were getting all snuggly-buggly on the couch the other day and I said to her, "You know what?  I just think I love you more and more every day.  I'm so glad you are my girl!!!"  And she looked up with those amazing eyes of hers and said, "Mommy, me too."


Heart's Journey said...

Hi Gayla; A blog you may enjoy if not already following it is Check out a link in her December 9, 2009 post (Melissa Faye Greene's brutally honest take on the adoption of her son from Bulgaria). I think you will find it a very worthwhile read and may want to pass it on to be included in the "attachment" links you refer to in this post.

Karenkool said...

Oh Gayla, you made me cry again. This is such a beautiful post.

Its very interesting. We are hosting a 16-year-old daughter from Germany this whole year. Its been 6 months now, and I feel like I've experienced a lot of similar anxieties and emotions as you expressed so wonderfully here. I can't really blog openly about my struggles, because she would very likely read it and wouldn't understand. And of course, this is very different from your experience, being that its not a permanent situation for us, so I've been taking the safe road with my heart investment, knowing that I don't have to be in it for the long haul. I feel guilty about that, but God knows the deeper reasons why this is hard for me.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience and your life. The impact goes far beyond what you will ever know.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being so honest about your feelings. I really enjoyed your post, as a PAP.

Claudia said...

Gayla, thank you SO MUCH for writing and posting this! Your love for your daughter really shines through. And it's great to be reminded, from someone who HAS had a really smooth attachment process, just how much it all relies on what has gone before. For those of us who have more trouble, I think it's really easy to get trapped blaming it on what we have and haven't done... thanks so much for reminding me that it's not that simple!

Deena said...

BEAUTIFUL POST! I will be sending people your way to read it!!! We have experienced so many similar experiences with Grace. I agree 100% with you about the differences between the bio kids, etc. It is just DIFFERENT. I appreciat your honesty so much. It is so important to not sugar coat every single part of the adoption process. It CAN be hard at times. Thanks so much for sharing your heart again!

Ellen Enright said...

Wow Gayla, thank you for sharing. I know that is very brave and honest of you. I've gone through the exact same feelings. It's always nice to know you're not alone. Thanks again.

Sohailah said...

You made me cry, too. Thanks for this. It helps me with Halle, Cowboy's daughter. I want to love and like her - right now, it's just not there. I'd like to blog about it, but can't as it would break his heart. But - I keep hoping. This helps. I'm not proud of how I feel, but it's the truth.

p.s. I told him yesterday about the phone thing - he seemed fine with it. Thanks for the encouragement.

love you, Girl!

Julie said...

Lovely post Gayla.

Heidi said...

Oh, Gayla, I am so glad you have had such an easy road! I also think the love of a first family has much to do with our children's ability to love and attach to us. We've been lucky in that department too (after going through pretty much everything on your worse case scenario list, LOL!). Hugs to you and your beautiful family.

scooping it up said...

Thanks for sharing Gayla. I love reading everyone's attachment thoughts.

Selam! G'day! Hello!