I Have a Problem…
They say that admitting the problem is the first step to finding a solution. This one really crept up on me. Like a leaky faucet, it was nagging at me, but only when I was trying to sleep. I started to notice it when I tensed up whenever James entered the room. But I knew it was a problem when I struggled to look him in the eye when he spoke to me. It took me quite a while to realize what the problem was. One evening, I decided to pick up my Kindle and browse through the multiple free and cheap books that I had loaded hoarded on the topic of adoption. And there it was….a single book dangling in the list, the oddball. It was the one book that I own that first clued me in to the fact that early on, I had a bad case of post-adoption depression.
I opened it and started reading it from the beginning. There on the front pages were the words I saw in every single piece of literature on adoption:
Attachment is your biggest issue in adoption.
You must help your child attach to the family.
Attachment, attachment, attachment…
Except this time, I read it with a new perspective. This time I read those words like this…
Attachment is YOUR biggest issue in adoption.
You must attach to your child.
Attachment, attachment, attachment…
And then, it dawned on me. I had spent so many months trying to help him attach, trying to help him resolve some issues, trying to survive through this adoptive parenting journey, that my own quest to attachment had somehow grown stale. I had missed the biggest issue in adoption…my attachment to him.
I’ve said this before I know, but as tough as the newborn/baby years were, that’s where the work of bonding is done. Not only does this baby depend on you, but it’s a time when you feel needed. You are the center of that child’s world. Your kisses and cuddles are what makes the world go round in the eyes of your baby. Their first word is, of course, “Dada,” and “Mama,” if you’re fairly lucky, will be the fourth or fifth word just after “cookie” and “dog”. What could be better? And I missed all of that with James. It wasn’t him who had the problem attaching, it was me.
You get two years into this adoption thing and realize that you’ve never really and truly attached to your child, and it’s a real palm-to-face moment. So like so many times before, I spent a few sleepless nights, asking God what to do. How do you attach to a child that you never rocked, a child who probably said, “Mama” early on, but wasn’t referring to you?
After a day or two, I got part of my answer. It was time to go through the box. Oh yes, the orange shoe box that was so tenderly handed to me by James’s foster mom. The box that contained the only pieces of his past that we will ever know. And I looked at those baby pictures. I poured over the small bits of information written on the backs of the pictures and put them in order. I figured out what we were doing when he was one day old, three months old, three years old….I noticed that he used the same type of paci as Isaac and Hannah, and I imagined the million kisses I would have given those chubby cheeks. And then I wrote it all down for him. I say it was for him, but I think it was probably more for me. I needed to have the thoughts, and to record the thoughts. So I spent several days carefully placing pictures into a scrapbook and putting my own notes beside the pictures. Some notes told what was happening to us during that stage of his life. Some were just random comments that I would have made about him.
“Look at those cheeks! I could smother them with kisses!”
“Look at you in your snazzy onesie!”
And with every picture, I felt more connected, more in tune to his story. Now, we can do something that we both yearn for…we can talk about a few precious moments of his infancy, and share those moments together.
I’m not so naïve to think that this is the magical potion to attachment, but it’s a good start. The more I look at those baby pictures, the more I find myself attaching to him. Adopting is hard work. I’ve said for years now that if you want God to reveal all your selfishness and ugly places of your heart, you should homeschool your children. And then, I said that if you want God to reveal all your selfishness and ugly places of your heart, you should adopt. Honestly, I’m kind of ready for a break on dealing with my selfishness and ugly places. But it’s worth it. It’s worth all the painful self-examination in the world. I love my family. Every member of it.
The other day, the Wal-Mart greeter stopped us and said, “Every single one of your children look just like you!” I snuck a glance over at James and he was beaming, and I couldn’t see my face, but I’m pretty sure I was too. Looking at him that day I was sure that he is firmly attached. Our family table is his family table, our family Christmas card is his family Christmas card, and our family resemblance is his family resemblance.
I pray that I can continue to nourish and grow this attachment as he has. I pray that I can recognize his small cues for love and attention that he so needs for his development. I know that he has not gotten to where he is overnight but I can draw encouragement from the little bit of hope that comes from a simple comment from a Wal-Mart greeter.