May 24, 2010

Are You Babysitting?

I've been thinking about this post for a while. I probably won't do the topic justice, but here's my attempt.

In our house, it has never been a given that I would be able to attach to our children no matter how they came into this house. I have run the gamut on attachment, which is something I am not very proud of. When my Sadie was born, I loved her instantly. We bonded and she was mine from the first minute. My pregnancy was easy, labor was easy, and she was the most delightful baby. We had no issues what-so-ever.

But then Noah was born and it wasn't so easy. When Noah was born, I am pretty sure that I had undiagnosed post partum depression. When he was born, I essentially felt nothing. He cried all the time and I couldn't sooth him. He had an array of sensory issues and he couldn't be held or comforted. For the first 18 months of Noah's life, we were in pure survival mode. Let me tell you, love does not blossom very well when you are in survival mode. We struggled just to get through the day to day. For a year and a half, I wondered how in the hell our lives would ever be normal again. After being home with a screaming baby all day, I would take all my frustration out on my husband and that was a big strain. I felt guilty and like a bad mother. After all, mothers are supposed to be just ga-ga over their little babies, right? I had thought of what would happen if I just got in the car and drove away from all of it. I finally had to make the conscious decision that I was going to have to put on a smile and deal with my life. I thought I could "fake it until I make it." I pretended like Noah was awesome. I pretended like I was insanely in love with him. I made a choice to like him. And then, it finally started to click. It is not that we didn't love Noah before. We did. But it was hard. In fact, Kamron and I have both completely blocked out those first 18 months as a family of four. Part of that makes me sad, but mostly I think it was essential to being able to move on and move in to a place where we had genuine love for our family of four. Because eventually, it did happen and we did get to that place. We, thankfully, didn't stay in no man's land forever.

So when we started getting close to bringing Miles home from Congo, I was nervous. I would never have admitted to anyone that I was scared that I wouldn't love him. I was so relieved when I first laid eyes on him and I felt overwhelming love for him. Looking back, I think that it is hard to not love an orphan. For me, at least. I saw Miles, so tiny and malnourished and sick and my hero complex kicked in and it was hard not to love him because he needed me so desperately. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered how I would feel about that little baby when he wasn't so sick, or tiny, or orphaned. Would I still love him? I was kind of surprised when we got home and that love did not diminish. But the truth is, even though I loved him like crazy, Miles did not feel like my child.

I was talking to my social worker the other day who has also recently just adopted 2 children. When she asked how we adjusted in the very beginning, I told her that I couldn't lie- I felt for a long time like I was just babysitting Miles. She said, "Thank you for saying that! I felt the same way!" Hmmm... I'm not the only one- only no body talks about it. Because it makes you feel like a bad mom. Just as with Noah, I had to fake it for a while. I was afraid to tell Kamron how I felt because this child was the one that I wanted so badly! So why didn't he feel like my child?

I think that for the first several weeks, we got so many weird comments in public because I feel like my eyes and my body language just begged for people to ask me about our family. I think that I needed to hear myself say out loud that Miles was my son. I thought that if I said it enough, I would start to believe it. In so many ways, he felt like a stranger. I didn't know how he liked to eat, to be comforted, to be held and what made him happy. All those things that mothers are supposed to know about their kids, I was totally in the dark about. That first month of adjustment was hard. When Miles cried, I had no idea what to do. When he walked around screaming, I couldn't make him stop. But after a month or so, we got into a routine. We got to know each other. And the relationship bloomed from there. And now we ALL feel like a family. But it is not always instant- no matter how your children come into your family.

One thing I learned from this experience, is that you can't put too much pressure on yourself to attach. We don't expect our children to be able to attach right away, and we can't expect the same thing from ourselves. Sometimes, that right away, angels singing love happens immediately, but I think that (even though most people won't admit it) it is more the exception than the rule. Don't be afraid to take it slow and cut yourself some slack. Just as you can't expect to be best friends with the stranger you just met in the grocery store, you can't expect to instantly feel like "mom" to the little stranger who is now in your care. And that is okay! You are not a bad person! These things take time. Don't be afraid to give yourself that time. Rome wasn't built in a day.

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