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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pandas and Attachment

Heidi asked last week if I might share my laundry list of things I wish I had known before the Husband and I adopted the Tongginator. I spent some time on my walk last Thursday morning considering her request because I'd seriously never thought about it. With each mile... okay, 30 feet... that I walked, I wondered, 'what should I include on my list?'

Speaking of my walk, I'm sure y'all are just dying to know how it's going, but - unlike me - you are too polite (or at least too Southern... or too Canadian) to ask me about it. I'll try to satisfy your curiosity by simply saying that my glutes are no longer talking to me. I believe they feel Immensely Resentful that I've (ahem) taken these new steps. They are giving me The Silent Treatment. I'll continue to fill y'all in periodically on my progress; however, I suspect it will be a lumpy bumpy ride.

But I digress.

As I said earlier, Heidi asked me if I'd consider sharing some of the things I wish I knew BEFORE becoming an adoptive momma. This is a bit of a stretch for me. I'm certain you realize by now that I'm not the most insightful among this community. I'd often rather talk about my Olympic delusions as well as the Tongginator's booty calls, wedgies and her unique sense of style.

Plus, if you haven't already figured it out, I need to come clean and confess that I wasn't the world's most educated a-parent. Our wait to adopt the Tongginator (less than six months) flew by so quickly, I didn't know much of anything when we traveled to China.

But look! I can Be Trendy! I said a-parent! Just don't hate me because of it.

I've experienced a rather bumpy road as an adoptive momma. I don't have all of the answers now and I sure as certain didn't have them a few years ago. Still, perhaps that makes me an ideal candidate to share my list, since most mommas don't make nearly as many mistakes as I did. Parenthood definitely humbles us... some (me) more than others.

I am now sufficiently humbled enough to admit that The Number One Mistake I made as a momma adopting from China was... well, it's not pretty y'all... (and I'm ashamed to even admit to this)... but my worst-ever mistake was that I seriously bought way too many pandas. During my years obsessing about China adoption, I developed an unhealthy attachment to the animals. Even my friends now gift us with these little black-and-white fur balls. (Thanks, Kookaburra!)

a panda trashcan... yes, Kookaburra realizes I
am THAT obsessed... cuz she know me well, y'all

In truth, I've made more than my fair share of actual and serious parenting mistakes... beyond the pandas. It's so difficult to know what is "right" and what will Absolutely And Completely Ruin Your Child For Life. Plus, adoption adds another layer to the mist of confusion that trails along after parents.

Not to put any pressure on us or anything.

I mean, it's not like the homestudy and criminal checks weren't stressful enough. And lets not even TALK about the dreaded autobiographies.

But I digress.

One of the hundreds of things I'd wish I'd known before adopting the Tongginator was that attachment takes time, not just for the child, but for the parents as well. I didn't instantly bond to the Tongginator's referral photos. I didn't even quickly bond to her cute, adorable, wiggling little self when we first met her in China. In fact, I basically froze with fear, terrified of becoming a first-time momma so far away from MY momma. I did fall a little bit in love with the Tongginator during our trip, but that head-over-heels feeling took lots of time.

Those first few months home felt very, very difficult. I wish I knew then about the book post-adoption blues by Karen J. Foli. I wish I knew enough to reach out to other adoptive mommas, trusting them with my heartfelt confessions. I'd spent so much of those previous two years romanticizing motherhood... convincing professionals that I'd make the Ideal Mother... reading cutesy adoption blogs that made everything seem like ladybugs and red threads... I'd basically set myself up to fail.

Thank goodness for Canuck K.

Truthfully, it's not all ladybugs and red threads. Our children typically come to us hurting, having experienced Great Loss. They aren't happy about this change in their lives. And many of them let us know that fact in no uncertain terms. Plus, there are always attachment, sensory and/or developmental delays to deal with. Within most communities, there exists a decided lack of support for mommas who adopt older babies or toddlers. It's a recipe for trouble.

I think most adoptive parents know all of these facts.

What I think they DON'T realize is that those facts will and do effect how you bond to your child. Attachment is slow going if your child screams every single time you touch her. Attachment is slow going if your child refuses to interact with you. Attachment is slow going if you expected your child to experience mild to moderate delays, but the reality is much more extreme than the paperwork and others' experiences led you to expect. Attachment is often just plain slow going.

Just ask me. Just ask Janet.

I should have cut myself some slack. I should have educated myself more. I should have been more transparent with family and those who'd adopted before me. I should have read and re-read Foli's book.

That's what I should have done. How did y'all fare during your attachment journey?


Carolina Mama said...

Awesome that you address this topic that is real in the adoption communithy. I know God is blessing your challenges.

Bless you! Ours hearts are open to adopt (we'd love sisters or twins ;) if the Lord leads and opens doors.

Oh, but I am here also because YOU ARE A WINNER!!!

You just won the Getty Music CD! ANd you and Tongginator will L.O.V.E IT! ;) Congrts and thanks for playing! God Bless!

Aunt LoLo said...

I think becoming a Mama is always scary. I had a little longer than you to prepare (9 months) but...the attachment is always dicey. I think, for us...I went through the pregnancy just prepared to take care of the baby. The attachment came...I know it was at least a few days after she was born. The morning she was born, I hadn't slept in several days, although I tried very hard to fall asleep while I was delivering her! When she was born, all I wanted was for my Daddy to come to the hospital and hold her so I could sleep. The next day or so were just about me getting feeling back in my lower extremities, and then healing, and making sure she ate often enough...and trying not to kill the nurses who would wake her up to take her temperature JUST after I had gotten her to sleep.

I don't remember exactly when it happened, but..it was probably "while she was sleeping." (Name that movie.) She slept a lot as an infant, so I had a lot of time to gaze lovingly, plan our future together, get all mushy...

Those feelings of goodwill all flew out the window when the little leech tried to suck the life force out of me. Nobody ever mentioned how MUCH. IT. WOULD. HURT.

Oh well. With callouses came the mushy feelings 24/7. And a gradual realization that my hips (and waist!) would never. ever. ever. be the same.

Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, TG Momma! This is so helpful. I feel we all have bonded to a certain extent, but Hadassah shows signs of resentment towards me. Not so much with Dad. She is somewhat antagonistic at times. Yeah, a 16 month old antagonistic, go figure.

We do not want to give her a victim mentality in any way so we try to treat her the same way we treat Sarah (who is 12 months). But sometimes it just isn't appropriate.

Thanks for sharing this. I needed to hear that this takes time and it is NORMAL.

McEwens said...

What a great post TM! I learned a lot, thank you for being honest!!

Glad your behind isnt talking to you! WAY to go!!! I decided I better get going in that area too!

Peanut said...

I can't speak to an adoption experience, but with both my kids, my attachment wasn't as instant as I'd expected. And when my #2 was born, I was surprised to resent my #1 for not allowing me privacy to bond with #2. That surprised me and I hadn't expected to feel such a NEED to be alone with him. All I'd prepared myself for was how perfect I was going to make the transition for #1.

I really appreciate your writings about your adoption experience. It really is helpful to see it from an inside viewpoint. I think most people aren't intentionally ignorant, just haven't had the opportunity to see it from the inside. I've only been reading blogs for about 6 months, but the common theme I keep getting is that this mommy thing is hard for all of us, no matter how we ended up here.

discombobulated said...

I wish you hadn't felt so alone during that time. Seeing you and Tonggu now, one would never know you had such an abrupt and diificult beginning.

Lisa and Tate said...

These are the things I worry about so much. Not knowing right now who Tate is and the age, etc, just adds to my sleepless nights. I watch other a-parents (look at ME being trendy here!) and wonder how I will handle all these issues.... will Tate bond to me first or my sweet momma and SIL who will be traveling with me. I just wantALL THE unknowns over. I want to be DONE with the worry of the China experience and start living my life with Tate.

Briana's Mom said...

Wow - I can soooo relate to this post. It definitely took a while for Briana and me to really bond. I think she attached pretty quickly and she liked me ok, but it took a while for the LOVE to happen. You have to get to know each other - and that takes time. I got so sick when I first got home, I was just trying to get through the days without dying. It was so hard. I am glad all that is behind me now. I am so in love with Briana now it is crazy!

Michelle said...

Great post, TM. For us, we were just plain naive and unprepared for the total life transformation that would take place in caring for a nearly 3-year old child as first-time parents. I wouldn't have changed it for anything, but she sure kept us on our toes and we learned on the go. Literally.

Kerry said...

I love your honesty and how much fun you seem to have with your blog. So great to read what many of us are only thinking about.

Both of my kiddos had an easy time of attachment, although I consider us to be a work still in progress. My first was love at first sight and my second took a bit of getting to know her. Both children are seemed to attach quickly and fully. But I prepared for much worse.

Ladybug hugs

redmaryjanes said...

I'm in the learning phase of it all. I am glad to have such good points of reference. I know that if I didn't read the different blogs and books that I do, that I would be very shocked by the reality of what lies ahead.
It is very easy to paint a picture of yourself of your child pining away and hoping you will hurry up and bring them home. When in reality, the world they live in now is all they now and they are oftentimes shocked and distressed by your arrival and the changes you bring.

Cheri H said...

I totally hear you on every level! I felt the same way in just about every instance. Sometimes I think it takes living it before you actually know FULLY what it means when they talk about attachment. I read everything and knew what to expect but it didn't make me feel any better.

Cheri H said...

Oh, I forgot to add that I gave you a blog award! :)

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

I have been trying to educate myself to prepare for the bonding and attachment issues that we could face.....up until a couple of months ago, I would say I was very naive about these things....I have the world of blogger to thank...I have learned a lot from people like you who are willing to share their stories with us.

Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes....I have made my fair share with both of the kids...as they say, hindsight is 20/20

Thanks for another wonderful post...you are on a roll!


Ronda said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog-I am loving getting to know other bloggers. I loved this post-this is the reason that I am so grateful for all the china adoption moms who put it all out there. Its like cyberspace therapy! And I love it that you do it with a sense of humor =).

Carla said...

HELLO?! My daughter would not even let me in her sight without getting upset until we'd been home roughly a week. I could not hold her with out her just sobbing (ask Cheri). 100% rejection of ME, and I knew it was possible. I still had a very very dark 24 hour period (and THANK GOODNESS Cheri let me tag along with them in Kunming...leaving poor Dh to tend Katie alone...but hey Katie would smile and play with him).

We've been home 9 months, and while Katie does like me now...we're finally just now starting to see the full attachment. She is starting to go to friends now, but is very wary about anyone holding her. It was very much a "go at Katie's pace" thing, and it was ever so much more painful than I ever thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with what you wrote about attachment... And, I would add that it is different with each child. Each child that has come into our family has attached uniquely...each child has their own speed and their own progression. And, like you said, attachment isn't only a process (sometimes even a SLOW process) for the child, but ALSO for the PARENT.

It is a process.

With our child who was already six years old when he came home to us, it has been a painfully slow process. We have stumbled our way through it for four years now. Looking back, I can see the progress we have made...but, my heart knows how far we have to go yet--both of us.

Mamatini said...

Okay, first off, I guess I have to admit I'm weird: I loved the autobiography part! I enjoyed the opportunity for self-reflection and I loved reading hubby's. Some key quirks of his personality fell into "ah-ha!" place when I read it. But that's just me...

Attachement with Isa, while not difficult per se, was slow-going. With Ina, bonding was remarkably instantaneous. Yet, I would say that Isa and I are more in synch, and Ina and I butt heads more. Goodness, kids are all so wonderfully different, no?

I guess what I like best about adoption is that you just have to say, "Ok, kid, teach me who you are."

Janet said...

NO KIDDING! I am finally feeling like I'm attaching to THEM! It is slow, and having other parents tell you IT'S OKAY to have it go slowly is soooo comforting. It makes you feel like you're not the worst mom in the world. Because that's what you feel like. You've hoped and waited for this child for all this time, then you can't attach? You feel such guilt. But the more time that passes, the better it is becoming. I am so thankful for that!

Kohana said...

I'm new to your blog. Found you through Production, Not Reproduction. So, hello.

I'm glad you wrote about this because I think it is a common hurtle many adoptive parents face. We brought our son home at four days old. By "home", I mean a series of four different hotels over the course of one week while we waited for inter-state stuff to be worked out. Because it was peak season, and we didn't know when we could leave, we could only book one or two nights at a time...and then they wouldn't have any more rooms and we've move...and move...and move.

It was horrible. I think the hardest thing for me is that my son just screamed that painful newborn scream that will rip any mother's heart to shreds! I'm not good with extended infant crying (is anyone?), and my husband was the one who calmed him down time and again. I just felt certain that he was crying because he wanted his mother, which he very likely did. Emotionally, knowing he was having a hard time, and his mother was probably crying as much as he was, I just felt horrible.

To be in that kind of emotional state in a series of hotel rooms with no help or support, trying to care for a newborn in a hotel room... I'd try to do that a lot differently.

becky said...

I stumbled across your blog somehow and I am so thankful I did.

From someone who is planning to adopt, thank you.

You seem genuine and honest and I'm going to be coming back here again and again! Get ready to be bookmarked... =)

Anonymous said...

I am just catching up on your blog. What a wonderful post. I can relate when I became a Momma to a Tongginator. It took time for both if us. This is a topic that every parentto be should educate themselves on.

Shellie said...

I was the opposite, I had toooo long to study up, so I expected it to be super awfully hard to bond and all that. And my experience was exactly the opposite because my boy is so unusually loving and huggy and friendly. Bizarrely so, especially being institutionalized and all that. SO, it was hard NOT to bond immediately. It hasn't been a smooth ride though, of course, he has many challenges.