A NOTE TO THE READER: This is one post in a series of posts that will share the story of how I came to know and grew to love my daughters who were adopted at fourteen years old, mere days before they aged out of the adoption system. It does not reflect my feelings now. If you are joining me in the midst of the series, you can access the whole story by clicking on The Silent Months on the top menu bar of my blog. I choose to share my story to address a topic that is taboo in the adoption community. I share it to normalize the feelings that so many feel and yet are too ashamed to share. I share it to provide support to those who feel alone because there’s a big white elephant in the room, and no one can talk about it. I share it in support of adoption, in support of every single precious child waiting for a family, every one of which deserves to be loved and is lovable, every single one. Why can’t we talk about it? The feelings are real. The process of attachment can be easy and it can be painful, and the more we support parents who experience the painful side of adoption, the more we help the children. There are far too many disruptions, especially of older children, and if we as a community can come to see the feelings and the process as normal, perhaps we can provide support to those families and in doing so, help the children. Adoption is rooted in pain and loss, and often the process is painful. AND it’s okay. Before you offer your criticism, please read, Eliza Today, A Preface, and God’s Heart and Workers for His Harvest Field .
The first two months we were home, Eliza barely tolerated me. Her face would light up when she saw Mark, and she followed him around like a puppy dog. She adored him. When she would hear his car drive in the garage, she’d run to meet him.
The rest of the time she withdrew from all of us, especially from me. There was nothing I could engage her in. She didn’t play, she wouldn’t do school work, she made no relationships with anyone in the home other than Mark, and that was not a healthy one. She hung her head and pouted all the time. She was up at night and would wander through the house and go in the other children’s rooms. She was obstinate and difficult when it was time to get ready for church or anywhere really. She didn’t want to leave the home.
The deep sadness was pervasive. It affected everything we did. We tried to be happy and jovial and include her, but life in our large family also had to go on, and often she sat in a chair as far away from us as we would allow her to, with her head hung in a deep pout, while we tried to maintain some sense of normalcy in our home.
I chose to be very intentional about loving Eliza with my actions and my words, even when I didn’t feel it. I’ve always loved children, all children, and acting out my choice to love her wasn’t really what I had difficulty with. I had difficulty with the feelings.
Of course, in the midst of Eliza’s difficult adjustment, Evangeline was sick and had five long hospital stays the first year we were home. This was very hard on Eliza and my ability to bond with her. It also eventually created a jealously between Eliza and Evangeline as they grew more comfortable in our home and vied for my attention.
Within a couple of months, both girls were in love with me, so desperate was their love and need for me that there was not one moment when they were not either calling my name, interrupting the other children, standing beside me, following me around the house, hugging me, hovering over me when I sat down for a moment, or fighting with our little children in an attempt to get my attention.
There is no question in my mind now, that no matter what age child one adopts, attachment begins at infancy. That was so true for our girls. The difference is they were no longer infants who needed a lot of sleep and who could be put down for a nap a few times a day.
I did learn to schedule hugs, and put my hand out and say, “I can’t hug you now, I’m eating, but I’ll hold you,” at such and such a time or what ever time we had scheduled. I tried hard to teach them not to interrupt their brothers and sisters, but these were children who were so adept and getting attention that it really was a difficult thing to conquer as well as balance the true and deep need for love and touch and time with me.
The girls presence in our home affected everything. When we travelled to China, our homeschool was structured. Even our evenings were structured. Mark would come home from work at 7pm, have something to drink or a snack and immediately sit down and begin family devotions. He would then read allowed to the children whatever we were reading for homeschool, or other things, like the entire series of The Lord of The Rings.
The girls completely made that impossible. They couldn’t sit still for any period of time at all, even with blocks, coloring books, Legos, Lincoln logs, bracelet sets, etc. They would sit and watch me make those things for about three minutes, but they could not occupy themselves quietly in the room with us in the evenings.
Instead, they acted out, caused fights between the littles, giggled and tried to interrupt in any way they could. I didn’t want to put them to bed early, or put them in any way away from us, so eventually the reading in the evenings stopped, be it right or wrong or just out of necessity. The reality was, we could not make it work.
Likewise our homeschool was difficult. In the beginning, the girls constantly called me. Then I set it up so that the girls had a child helper who they had to ask for help. They were not allowed to ask me for help, but I would make my rounds through the children and check on each one periodically. That worked wonders, and they suddenly began to understand much more than I thought they knew. And during the long hospital stays, our older children maintained our homeschool, for a while. But then, eventually it began to fall apart. They just needed their mom, and I was in the hospital.
I have experience in psychology, and I understood all that was happening. Yet it drained me. It was just really hard.
During Evangeline’s first hospital stay, which was merely three weeks home from China, Eliza was so sad and withdrawn when Mark would bring her to the hospital that I felt I could not be her mother. I was convinced that I wasn’t the person who could be what she needed. I wasn’t home, and Evangeline’s needs looked bigger around every corner. I was at the hospital, so I felt very bad for Eliza that I couldn’t be there. I felt she needed a mom who could be more present. And remember too, I didn’t know about any of Eliza’s cognitive differences before we traveled.
Emotionally, I really felt that I could not mother her. I was beginning to see the severity of Evangeline’s medical needs, and I was growing more and more aware of some significant cognitive needs that were presenting themselves with Eliza. I felt I couldn’t do both, and I didn’t feel it with Eliza. Not only did I not feel it, I was beginning to resent the constant shadow her dark mood casted over every activity our family shared.
I was so broken during that first hospital stay that I actually talked to our agency about looking for another family for her. It wasn’t what I wanted deep in my heart, but I felt so over my head with all the needs, and Eliza didn’t seem happy with us.
But look at her now. She no longer hangs her head, but holds it high, confident, loved.
Of course we never moved on that or she wouldn’t be here today. But I share that I considered it because the questioning and feelings of inadequacy are all a part of the bonding process. If we, as a body, can come to recognize the normal feelings of the process of attachment to an adopted child, then we can be at peace with our feelings, and know they are normal and will most likely pass.
I knew in my heart that the road would be difficult. In fact, I expected it to be, and that was okay with me. God had awakened a desire in our hearts to fulfill a need, and we acted on it. But Ohmygoodness! There were so many days I just threw myself at Jesus feet and laid my heavy load in His arms. I could never have done this in my own strength.
And the bottom line is, no matter how hard it is to love these broken children, we are called to love them. And once we do, the most beautiful things happen. The children blossom in the love of a family, and the stories they tell, once they have the words, would stagger the strongest among us.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? ~ Proverbs 24:12
And I need to say again, there is no need to feel shame. Shame is for those who see and do not act, not for those of us who try and falter.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9