What I wanted to say is this: It's been a year. And it took some time, but I think the babies are securely attached to us now. And that much is true, and I am more thankful for it than I can say. They exhibit classic attachment behaviour - they crawl away and then look back to check in; they are forever handing me things; when they are poorly they want endless cuddles. From me. Aaaaaaaah. I know they expect me to provide for them - they think I can read their minds, and they get cranky when I don't do it fast enough. They clearly think I can do magic and be in two places at once. The rules of space and time do not apply to me, in their world, for I am The Mummy. I am omnipotent, apparently, so again with the cranky when I can't cuddle them AND put them down AND play on the floor AND give them dinner AND a cup of water, all at once. Both of them. When they were tiny, they didn't expect anything of me. Now they expect everything. It's utterly exhausting. It's endlessly frustrating. It's infinitely gratifying.
Yes, gratifying. I find myself thinking: I did that! I made you trust me, with my manipulative mothering ways! and then I want to do a little victory dance around the living room. And okay, sometimes I close the curtains and succumb. I'm not ashamed at all of feeling thrilled about this. No matter what your views on adoption, the best possible gift an adoptive parent can give their baby is to help them towards secure attachment, if possible*. It's not about making us feel like a real family, and it's not just about warm fuzzy feelings. It's about brain chemistry, and parental responsibilities don't get much bigger than keeping your child's neurochemistry somewhere within the normal range. A securely attached child sees the world as an essentially safe place, and starting life without that makes everything - everything- harder.
So far, so good. But I think what I really was hoping to mean, when I said they were securely attached was: They are okay. We are okay. It's all going to be okay. And as time goes on, I feel increasingly uneasy about being that certain. Partly, it's because I second-guess my own interpretation of their attachment behaviour. Okay, so she did this, and that was great, but I went away and came back and he screamed and screamed. And then she crawled straight up to that stranger and started playing with her earrings and never gave me a glance, even though I was right there. Maybe I should get my ears pierced. Then she would never play with anybody's ears but mine. Or maybe she would go to that other woman anyway. Maybe they only act attached to me because I'm the only one around, most of the time. They haven't said 'mama' yet. They don't know who I am. They aren't attached at all. Their little brains are a mess of toxic stress chemicals. I'm deluding myself. I've ruined their lives. And on and on into the spiral of crazy.
It's not often that I use this line, but I'm going to use it now. I find myself wanting to say to people: if you haven't adopted a child, do not tell me to lighten up because you do not know about this particular spiral of crazy. People with children they have birthed tell me that hey, all kids do things like that. And of course they do. But I guess it's like watching your child suddenly start to wheeze if both your parents died of asthma. Yeah, other kids wheeze, but you've got a good reason to be more concerned about it than other parents do. You do not need them to tell you not to worry, because your child has risks that they have not ever had to think about. So I'm afraid this is one area where I get twitchy, and want to press the shut-up button when people with straightforward families tell me I'm making mountains out of molehills. I want to gently remind them that they do not know what this feels like because my child is at high risk of attachment difficulties and their child is not. Which is fantastic for them. They should enjoy it. And keep advice on this topic on the inside of their mouths.
I get so tired of wondering. I just want to know. I want to know the answer. Are they 95% as attached to me as they would have been to their birthmother? 90%? Is that an acceptable level? How about 80%? No? 81%? Would their lives be ruined at 82%? Do they get bonus points for also being attached to each other?
I'm probably never going to know, am I? Because life is not a controlled experiment. I've begun to realise that people who announce that their child is definitely well attached probably don't know either. And I'm never going to know, and it wouldn't do me - us - any good if it did. How would I change my parenting style? It's not like I'm not already aware of the issues. Sure, some people ignore potential attachment difficulties, and need to monitor their child's behaviour more closely, but that is not the side on which I tend to err, at least when it comes to adoption issues. Sometimes I think the adoption stuff takes up so much of my brain that all the other parenting stuff is squeezed out. The need for regular baths? I can ignore that, no problem.
Even if I could know, what do I think is going to happen if their attachment really is 100% perfect? Does that mean we're just an ordinary family now? Do I get some kind of medal? Of course not. I know that's not how it works. But I guess I thought it would be like what happens with ducklings. If ducklings don't see their mother duck when they hatch, they can imprint on something else instead, and see that thing or person as their mother. And no, I didn't think it would be instantaneous like that, and I know it's a deeply flawed analogy because these babies came from another mother, not an egg, but I did think that it would be that clear cut. Hey, look at that farmer being followed around by those little ducklings! You don't get ducklings who are partially attached to a farmer, who follow him around for two thirds of the day but spend the remainder of the time following something else. No - it's permanent. I wanted to be that farmer. I wanted it to be totally unmistakeable. To me. To everyone.
But I'm beginning to wonder whether thinking about it that way is really the wrong way around. Wasn't it Aslan, in The Horse And His Boy, who said that you can't know anybody else's story, you can only know your own? And okay, Aslan may not be real, but he gives much better advice than most people who are so I'm going to take it. Meaning: I need to nurture their attachment. But I shouldn't be defined by it. Ultimately, I need to remember that it's not my story.
Earlier, I gave a list of reasons why I think they are attached to me. So in the interests of balance, here's why I think I am attached to them. There's only one reason, really - they just seem normal to me. They seem right. Other people's children look wrong, to me, now. Their faces are wrong. Their hair is wrong. They crawl funny. I can't explain it any other way. My babies have created a them-shaped space in my psyche, and that's that.
So maybe the conclusion of my thinking on attachment is this. I don't know if I am their farmer. I hope so. I think so. But no matter what happens, forever and always, I know this: they are my ducklings. And I think that's enough.
*Yes, I know APs need to do a lot more than that, especially as children grow up. But that's why I specifically used the word 'baby'.