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Friday, February 10, 2012

A Long, Rambling Post In Which I Talk About Attachment

I have three friends in real life struggling majorly with attachment issues in adoption.  One friend, Jamey, is a blogger who's pretty open about her struggles.  The other two mommas don't blog, and I'm not sure if one of them even reads blogs.  I haven't spoken about them before this because they don't know about Our Little Tongginator, and I don't wish to cross any lines that they don't even know exist.

And yet I think I need to share something about what I've learned through them recently.

Some background... Jamey's been home the longest with her daughter at just over 18 months.  We met through church.  Momma A was part of our travel group when we adopted Squirt this past June.  She adopted an older baby through the special needs program, but - despite her daughter's young age at adoption - said little girl is reacting to her adoption in much the same way as the Tongginator.  In other words, it's pretty darn difficult.  To make things more challenging, Momma A also has two young biological children.  And then there is Momma B, who lives locally.  I met her through my best friend Canuck K.  Momma B has adopted once before, and both of her children joined their family as preschoolers.  Her first daughter adjusted easily, but her second daughter - now home just over two months - is struggling with major, major attachment issues.

Talking with these mommas - reliving some of my own experiences from seven years ago, with my  new perspective parenting Squirt - well, I'm coming to a place of acceptance about my early years as a mom.  Y'all, the Tongginator experienced major, major attachment issues; some might even label her past challenges as RAD.  I realize many of y'all may think I'm a nitwit for not acknowledging that until now, but I guess I just wasn't ready to go there before.  Yes, I knew we struggled with significant attachment issues.  Yes, I knew it was hard (I mean, hello, I lived it.)  But no, I didn't want to accept that it was as bad as all that.

Only it was.

I've just blocked out a ton of it.

Listening to these mommas struggle through their own family attachment journeys, and talking with my best friend Canuck K about it all, I've come to understand why so many people thought I wasn't a good mom during my early years parenting the Tongginator.  If all you've ever experienced is a child like Squirt - needy, so very needy, but craving your love and attention - then of course you don't understand a mom going through the horrors of major attachment issues.

When Squirt goes into whine mode, I pop her in my Ergo and carry her around for 20 minutes.  She melts into me, and when I take her out of the Ergo, she copes better for the rest of the day.  When she struggles at night, we co-sleep and all is (mostly) well.  But the Tongginator?  The Tongginator never went into whine mode - she went from "performing so you think I'm cute" mode to meltdown mode at the drop of the hat.  And if I popped her in my carrier for a time?  She never melted into me; in fact, more often than not she'd actively punch, hit, bite or scream at me.  As for sleep issues?  Co-sleeping did not magically make them disappear.  (I laugh at the understatement of that.)

Y'all, I seriously can't provide the sum total of these differences.

Except, listening to Momma B talk these past few weeks, I figured something out.  Momma B's first experience with adoption mimicked our experiences with Squirt.  Her oldest was needy, so needy, but she wanted to join their family.  And Momma B thought, "I can do this a second time.  My love will be enough, even if my next child struggles more."  Only she didn't factor in how HARD it is to love a child who is so! very! traumatized!, it feels like she hates you.

"Fake it til you make it" sounds so incredibly easy... until you're living it.

If you don't understand what I mean... if you don't get it when I say "it took me a year to fall in love with my child, and about three years to enjoy being her momma on a daily basis..." then you have not experienced moderate to severe attachment issues in adoption.  Because, y'all, it truly IS that hard to deal with.  Triangulation, raging, performing in public, physical assault, oppositional defiance, attack of the bodily fluids... oh my lands, y'all, you cannot understand until you've lived it, or - barring that - loved someone dearly and walked alongside them as they lived it.

Canuck K told me on Friday that she bit her tongue and said nothing those many years ago when I told her, "you understand what I mean."  Because she didn't understand.  She didn't understand at all.  Her experiences mimicked our experiences with Squirt, only the sleep issues lasted longer, and everything was times two.  (She has twin daughters.)  But she also knew I felt so very alone, and that I needed to think at least one other person was experiencing similar challenges.

She was an amazing friend to me.

She continues to be an amazing friend to me.

I don't know why I'm sharing all of this except to say... I wish others hadn't judged me so harshly my first few years parenting the Tongginator.  Adoptive moms especially didn't know what to make of me.  Now that I've experienced this journey with Squirt, I get it.  They looked at my journey through the lens that was their own journeys, and they didn't understand.  They thought I should just do more, do the right things.  They didn't believe me when I said that I was doing it all.

They didn't believe me.

Please, please, y'all, believe those mommas who are struggling now.

And if you are a mom parenting a child with moderate to severe attachment issues, you are not a bad parent.  You're probably overwhelmed; you probably make bad decisions at times; you might even feel tremendous guilt for actively disliking your child.  BUT YOU ARE NOT A BAD PARENT.  "Fake it til you make it" doesn't mean you are supposed to magically grow love for your child.  "Fake it til you make it" doesn't mean happy adoption rainbows will shoot out of every orifice as you sing Kumbayah with every other adoptive parent you know.  "Fake it til you make it" doesn't mean that prayer will immediately make a difference.

It just doesn't.

"Fake it til you make it" means you need to reach out to something bigger than yourself, asking for help and daily guidance.  For me that means Jesus Christ; for you it might mean something different.  "Fake it til you make it" means reminding yourself - over and over, and over again - that your child is worthy of love, and that love is an action rather than a feeling.  "Fake it til you make it" means that one day... I promise that if you stick with it... one day you will love your child as fiercely as I love my Tongginator.

I took very different roads with the Tongginator and Squirt, but I ended up in the exact same place.

I love them both.



Debby said...

I know about three people struggling with this right now. The one mom I nanny for. It is so hard and so many "don't" get it. I tried to reach out to a blog mom and tried to comfort her.......she must have been offended as I never heard any more from her.
I think it is good you posted this.

Stefanie said...

So very glad you decided to share about your attachment struggles... you have an amazing way with words, and I know that this will bring encouragement and HOPE to many mommas out there :)

supergrrl7 said...

Our L was similar to the Tongginator. It was just so very difficult. I knew she was demonstrating serious attachment issues, but when I look back now I can see they were worse than I suspected at the time. We also didn't realize we were dealing with so much trauma on top of the attachment issues until we were about a year in.

I always thought we would end up with three kids, but to be honest, I have PTSD about my last journey through babyhood. I just can't do it again. I am glad we made it through the to the other side, but damn, was that hard.

LBC said...

I don't know what I'd do without the internet and adoptive mommas willing to share! Your blog (and Jamey's and Stefanie's and so many more) have been a lifeline to me. So many of us don't have anybody in real life who have gone before.

Kerrie (and Jason) said...

Take a bow - you've said so much in this post that needed to be said.

Casa Bicicleta said...

I guess that's why I tried to share stories so openly while I was going through it with my DD. I didn't see any stories like mine out there but knew I couldn't be the only one.

Unfortunately, my girl is growing up and I can't leave her stories out there just waiting for her friends to find them so I have to close down the blog. But I hope that for a while, while they were out there, that maybe someone read them and was helped.

I know it helped me just to share.

It's hard to give love to a child and get rage back at you, but in the end, with the help of parenting books and advice from friends (like you TM) it all is coming together.

Keep sharing. People are being helped.

Carla said...

SOOO glad you posted this. Thank you so much....you don't even know, or perhaps you do.

Sherry said...

I can't say, because I wasn't adopted so I really don't have a right to comment. I'm an adoptive Mama. It seems to me though, that maybe the kids will read this and think, "wow, I can't believe how MUCH my parents loved me." And maybe that's just the rainbow shooting out of my orifices talking. But I can say that the (bio) girls love hearing that it took 27 hours (for one) and 4 days (for the other) to birth them. They can't wait to tell their brother that it took 16 months of labor for him. It's a story the girls cherish.

Cedar said...

Thanks for sharing! I really hope I don't need this post, but even if adjustment isn't bad, bad, I think the light at the end of the tunnel and the knowledge that others have done it and survived will be something to cling to (in addition to Jesus Christ.)

Molly said...

attachment is a fickle fickle beast! Posts like this are exactly why i'm becoming a psychologist... and one who hopes to work with kids with attachment issues (and do it WELL)

Sharie said...

You always say it well - and you're right. People who think others who are struggling aren't doing it right or aren't trying hard enough haven't been there...but that isn't just attachment. That can be said for so many other behavioral issues...even with bio kids.

3cmum said...

We had a squirt who still 4 1/2 years later melts into me when upset.

My friend's daughter is like your Tongginator and she has been through hell as it has been aggravated by severe eczema that appears to be stress related. She has had no support from her local community that think she has been a bad mother and has been through the ringer. They are coming out the other side and things will be well as you know. But the getting there has been horrendous to watch. I don't think yet she has the perspective you have. Thank you for being honest as the more just others even in the adoption community are aware, the more help they can give - even if only a shoulder to lean on.

Kelley said...

Beautiful!!!! It's just so true that everyone's journey with parenting is as unique as each individual child. We all need to be more compassionate and less judgmental. I'm sorry, TM, that you felt like some folks thought you were not being a good mother...I've always thought you are quite brilliant (and I'd be happy to reference MANY blog posts through the years that have led me to that conclusion). Just as you say that love is a verb, so is "parent." And it's a process. A process of growth, learning, understanding, reflection...and not an easy one.

I assumed that parenting my little one would be similar to her big sister...but it's been as different as can be, and that in and of itself threw me for a gigantic loop. But I'm learning and growing with my skills and understanding, too, and am just oh so grateful to be on the journey!

autumnesf said...

You know I have a family member that remarried and he had four or five adopted kids. The oldest is from Russia and I swear he is RAD. The child is an older teen now and totally imploding. It heartbreaking because now its just too late. And they are clueless. Its very hard to watch.

Shonni said...

Living life with my newly adopted 11 year old has made me raw and tired. Thank you for sharing this!!! It is so helpful to me.

thewonderfulhappens said...

Thank you for this. 2 years in, I am still mostly faking it. I needed to be reminded of who I should be reaching out to.

Mahmee said...

Hey you...my 'friend' of the past few years...you have been a great resource for me and a great support over the years with Sparkly and her issues. Girl, if you didn't know what you were doing....well, you sure were good at 'faking it'. Your frankness was just what I needed to help understand my girl and her issues. It hasn't been an easy ride but I feel so much more enlightened by you and other Moms who blog about issues. As Daddylicious and I embark on this new adventure with our 2nd adopted child, I can only hope that we have such good resources at our disposal.

Claudia said...

This is such an interesting post.

I think that when it comes to only seeing how bad things were when we look back, there's a really powerful block operating in our brains, especially for those of us who adopted our first child without having bios first (especially if it was after a long wait and heartache).... we just do. not. want. to. admit. that we aren't having the same experience as all of our friends who formed their families the 'normal' way.

I remember reaching out to some adoptive mothers when I was struggling with attachment with Blue, asking them if any of them had experienced similar things, and got a TOTAL brush-off. STatistically, some of them probably were struggling, but nobody wanted to admit it. With some distance, I think I can see why they did it, but it sucked for me at the time.

Anyway. I'm glad you get the easier ride with attachment second time around! I hope that this time, all your friends can see clearly what a great job you are doing!

Claudia said...

ps I wonder if you would consider linking this to the big link-up I did on attachment a while ago? You linked a piece already, but would love to have this too. People are still reading that, and it would be great to have a perspective from someone who has been there twice over! I can send you the link if you need - otherwise it's pretty easy to find from the front page of my blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. We all want attachment to be smooth and simple, but more often than not it is challening. When families are struggling through the hard work of building attachment, it is really important to know that they are not alone, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Aus said...


You hit this one spot on! I'm a firm believer in "fake it til you make it" - but it's NOT a catchy phrase - it's a LIFE DECISION!

And sometimes I wonder if it's ME that is slow to attach - but that's another comment!

You DO get it - and now you've lived it - and you see it more clearly - but...


But now you also understand those thoughts I post from time to time here and on other blogs - as long as your decisions protect the safety and welfare of your children I will defend YOUR decisions about how to deal with YOUR child with my last breath!! You are the only one that can know your child well enough to make those decisions!

hugs - you DO get it - and dang you are well spoken (and pretty cool too!)

aus and co.

Love is all you need said...

Thanks for sharing this. I haven't experienced this yet, but we are adopting baby number 2 soon and I am so glad I found your blog!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is one of my favorites. Thanks for your words on adoption and attachment. As we begin our journey with a China SN adoption (we just picked an agency, so it's really early!) your blog has been a source of wisdom for us. Thank you for sharing in a way that blesses parents now and blesses parents with what is to come. Your honesty is really, really helpful.

Paige said...

beautifully said!! I have one such daughter, whom I love fiercely! No other word for it, she is very hard to love at times, yet so am I as I try to deal with the behavior appropriately. We am about to adopt a 2nd time and kinda hope it is a little different:) haha

Jamey... said...

We love you too!

Vivian M said...

Thank you for this post.

Erica said...

My son appeared very much like Squirt--eager and needy, but 18 months following his adoption the bottom fell out. I think I was lulled into a false sense of security because he attached so well (or I thought so), but one big stressor threw everything out the window.

The Byrd's Nest said...

All true and so sad because I have felt that way so many times....alone and struggling. Lottie was easy to attach but we have discovered 6 years later that she has anxious attachment. She just asked some pretty hard questions last week (finally!) and I think she is on the road to healing, although I am aware that is a very long road:)

Emma? Well, I still pray for both of us....ALOT!

Pix said...

Thank you so much! Love your honesty and understanding and so glad there are APs out there who are willing to share their stories honestly.

Catherine said...

Thank you! My experience is more like your Squirt experience. Thank you for helping me understand even a glimpse of what you endured with Tongginator so that in turn I can be a better friend and supporter of others who face greater attachment issues.

Red Sand said...

Thank you.

Mia's Mommy said...

Too many AP's start this journey with delusions of all sunshine and rainbows. So thank you for telling the truth.

delucchi family treasures said...

Wonderfully written!!
Love Jules

Kim said...

I really appreciate you taking the time to write such an insightful, honest, and personal post. We are adopting four children from Ethiopia, and I bookmarked this post to refer to later on!

Suzy said...

Amen! Thank you for posting. I just found your blog through No Hands But Ours and I know it is God. We are in our second year of therapy with our child. She suffers from severe PTSD. I have lost friends, been told that every child acts this way to some extent, and even told how to parent from people trying to "help out". Our therapist keeps saying that we are the norm, but I honestly had trouble finding anyone, even blogs who were honest enough to say it. I try to post on my blog, but the one I post on is mainly for family and not for the public. The other blogs share a little but not a great deal. It has been so very difficult, and I have been faking it for a while now. It did take me a year to truly love her, and now another year to even begin to have fun with her. Thanks again. I am now going to follow your blog. I am very thankful that there is someone willing to share.

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

Just found you via a link on Twitter and you have NO idea how much I needed to read this tonight.

Much love.

Patty O. said...

Wow, this is an amazing post! SO amazingly authentic and courageous. I appreciate you writing this. I have never adopted a child, and my sister who did, didn't have attachment struggles (lots of others with her adoption, but not really attachment issues) so I can't really understand those things. I do understand the terrible feeling of guilt when you do not like your child, though, and when you feel like he/she hates you. There were times when Danny's autism created some situations that have some similarities, and I really appreciate you being so open about things.

You're right. We shouldn't judge each other--we have no idea what others are dealing with, and our judgement is sure not going to help! Thank you for posting this--it makes me feel less guilty for my struggles and I'm sure many people feel less alone by reading this.

Janet said...

Three years is how long until things were fairly normal. And it's not perfect yet. That first year was THE hardest year of my entire life. Not kidding. But three years later and I think we are attached. Meaning that they are attached to me and that I am attached to them. :-)

Heather said...

Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com