Friday, 25 February 2011

Let's Talk About Attachment

Here's an idea I'm kicking around:

I've been thinking a lot about attachment lately - my perspective on attachment has been changing since our babies came home, and has changed even since I wrote this. I want to write about some of the recent attachment issues we've been thinking about, but I'm not finding it easy. It's not all easy stuff, and in some ways I don't really like thinking about it. My kids were three months old when we adopted them, they must be totally fine, right? I don't need to think about it. We are just an ordinary family. They'll be fine.

And then things happen that let me know that actually, I do need to think about it. As my children have hit new developmental milestones, new attachment issues have popped up. A few weeks ago, I tentatively mentioned on an Ethiopian adoption forum that I didn't think we had 100% secure attachment going on in our house. I then said that I no longer saw that as a huge admission of parenting failure, and wondered whether actually it might not be fairly normal. I had hoped that others would say 'yeah, me too' but all I got was crickets. Of course, then I started to panic. Maybe everyone else really has made it. (And I bet they're all doing Ethiopia-themed craft during naptime, too, bah!) And then I remembered: Attachment theory wasn't developed to describe adopted kids, it was developed to describe relationships between members of ordinary bio families. (I know that classical attachment theory isn't the last word in how to talk about relationships between parents and children. Personally, I like Patty Cogan's term 'connections', partly because of the way it implies something that grows, rather than a place you get to and then stop. But when I find myself talking about this stuff, I end up using the word 'attachment', and all the other words that go along with that. Feel free to butt in and suggest better words and definitions if you have them!) It's more complicated with adopted kids, but not all bio kids are securely connected to their parents - it would be a bit freaky if all the adopted Ethiopian kids were magically doing A-OK.

So why is it so hard to talk about it? I think that the China adoptive community is better at talking about attachment than the Ethiopian adoptive community. This might be because there are just so many more complete adoptions from China - it makes sense that there is more dialogue about pretty much everything. It might also be because the program has been going for much longer - a lot of the adorable babies / toddlers are now at school, and behaviour that can be dismissed in a tiny kid suddenly pulls into sharp focus and parents are forced to start thinking hard. It might be because babies from China are often older than many of the infants adopted from Ethiopia, and attachment problems really are more widespread. But it might also be because there is a persistent view in Ethiopian adoptive circles that says attachment isn't as much of an issue for our families. When we were thinking about where to adopt from, we got lots of positive information about just how well Ethiopian kids attach. Ethiopian people love children! They are so well cared for! and so on. And this may well be true - the people who worked in the children's home where my babies lived were extremely kind. But they were also utterly overworked, and it was work to them - they weren't mothers to these children. My children spent three months flat on their backs on a mattress staring at a ceiling, and I'm not sure how much difference it made that the mattress where this took place was in a country where children are loved and valued.

And of course I'm not saying that nobody is talking about it. The other people on this forum may not be avoiding the issue - they may well have been busy making dinner, or washing, or you know, actually DOING attachment stuff with their kids rather than talking about it. Some people do blog about it. But if race is the elephant in the room in our adoptions, then I think that attachment is the horse. Or at least the medium-sized dog.

Many of us don't have any other kids. My adopted kids are our first try at parenting, and so how would I know what 'normal' attachment behaviour is like, outside of a book? How do we deal with having no clue about whether what is going on in our house is normal? (Or is that just me?) So. Who wants to talk about it? The idea I'm kicking around is that I beg you suggest that people (anyone who wants to) writes something on their blog about their experiences of attachment in their family and I'll link to all of them here*. Not just Ethiopia families - anyone.

You could write about the hardest thing you've faced with attachment. You could write about something you thought would be hard, but that turned out to be really easy. It can be happy or sad, long or short, whatever is happening or has happened in your house. Here are some starter suggestions:

For PAPs:
How are you planning to decide who gets to hold the baby (or teenager!) when you get home (and how are you going to tell the people who don't make the list?) Have you read a book that really shaped the way you think about attachment? If you have kids already, how does this affect your plans to work on attachment and connection with your new child? Do you think 'attachment' is just a big hoo-ha [again with the technical terms] over nothing?

For APs:
How has attachment with your adopted child been different to what you expected? How has it been exactly the same? Has it been a really big deal in your house, or not at all? What have you found easier - personally bonding to your kid, or helping your kid to bond to you? If you have an other half, does your child have a favourite parent? If it's not you, what do you do about it? How have siblings affected your family attachment dynamics?

Or, of course, something TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

Post anytime between now and Monday 7 March. I'll sort out a Mr Linky before that date, and I'm going to write something so it won't be completely empty. So, who's in?


*If your mother reads your blog and you would rather not use this opportunity for her to find out that you're not going to let her hold her new grandchild, (or you have some other reason for wanting to write, but not on your own blog) just let me know and I'll post what you write anonymously here. Or you can leave it as a comment if you'd rather!




75 comments:

  1. Great idea! My daughter came to our home from Ethiopia at 10 months old. We had no one hold her,change her, or feed her besides us for about 1 month. Attachment in our home, I suppose, is like yours. We have our ups and our downs. There are times where she will randomly go up to a woman and asked to be held. This makes me nervous. Makes me feel like she has no idea who her mother is. Makes me sad. And for some reason, embarrassed. However, there are times that she will not go to other woman and clings to me. This makes me feel secure. Furthermore, before I took on the night shift at work, I worked 3 long days. On 2 of those days, my sister watched her for about 9 hours.
    Can you guess who she is attached to now? She is obsessed with my sister. She talks about her all the time. As soon as she sees her, she wants no one else to hold her expect for her. My husband feels as though it's just an "auntie thing". And others agree and don't think that this is a big deal. I'm not so sure. So I guess you can say my daughter is attached to 3 people. And I'm trying to figure out how to kick my sister out of this triad (as nicely as I can). Mendee loves the baby carrier and if I have it out, she will bring it to me and wants me to "wear her". In that way I guess it is her way of bonding to me? But I usually try to personally bond to/with her. Lots of eye contact, singing, holding, rocking. I will pick her up as soon as she cries. She is our only child so there are no siblings (other than my sister :)) that affect our attachment dynamics. I'm the worrier. I worry about her attachment and bonding ALL THE TIME and my husband just thinks I am crazy. I don't know if he is ignoring it or just not seeing it as I do. I don't think I expected anything before she came home. I tried not to. Of course, I would have loved it if she attached to me (and my husband) and never let go, but I figured that probably wouldn't be the case. I knew it was going to be a work in progress. And it truly is.

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  2. I'll be in. have had a post about attachment (or lack thereof) in draft since we were in Ethiopia.

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  4. I'm totally in. It won't be a gigantic insightful post, but I've been throwing it around a bit as well.

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  5. I recently wrote the "best friends" post about Ariam's attachment to her daddy. I'll be in and write another post.

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  6. A, your post was what got me thinking about how hard it is to write about this stuff!

    Annie, do you want to post this to your blog or keep it here? I don't have your blog address because it's not linked to your profile so I can't check if you've posted it there! I'll link across to you if you give me the url :)

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  7. I'm in too! We are waiting for our Visa to bring our 4 year old son home but we have an 8 year old bio son. Our bio son is brilliant (what else would I say?) and has a sensory integration 'issue' that if he were adopted I might have really worried about his 'adoption issues.' We're blessed that our bio son has these issues. I think they might have prepared us a bit.

    For Annie: It's probably an Auntie thing which is very very close to a Grandma thing. Hang in there.

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  8. I have actually posted about attachment a fair bit - but I am one of the super-lucky ones that has had minimum problems.
    I do have a small draft in my head about attachment anyway - I was going to put it in the "Fun-Size" post I was about to work on - but I can probably be redundant enough to make it a full post. No matter what, my attachment advice is always the same, move across the country to where you don't know a single soul the same week you pick your kid up from Ethiopia... no confusion about who the primary caretakers' are that way. Worked for us.
    Oh, and if you are linking, just link to Jamey at Zehlahlum, she writes about attachment all the time.

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  9. Claudia, I think the China adoption community might be ahead of the Ethiopian community in discussing attachment just like the Korean adoption community is ahead of the China community in discussing transracial issues. They had to deal with it before we did. We have been dealing with it for longer than you have--that is, our program has been running longer than yours. China adoptions have been going full force since 1994, yours have only gotten started recently in the last few years.

    Also, most of our kids come from institutional settings. In the last few years there has been a change to foster care in China, but before it was mainly Orphanages. Institutional care creates attachment issues. Unfortunately, we have had to become pros at attachment issues.


    I've written about attachment for hmmmmm a couple of years now, but I think I might be good for one more. Because as you properly stated, it's an on going thing.

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  10. @ Annie I think it may really be an Auntie thing, my (bio)kids do the exact same thing.

    Sometimes I (from the child's perspective) think maybe what matters most is that parents feel attached/connected to their child, not the other way around. If a parent is truly attached, the child knows they will be loved and respected NO MATTER WHAT, that is what counts. We are here to give to our kids, there is no guarantee that our children bio or otherwise will ever attach to us. In my mind that is somewhat irrelevant.

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  11. I'll try to do one too, although I'm not so great at committing these days.

    With the lovely weather we've had the last couple of weeks I can feel my winter depression starting to lift and the ability to commit returning!

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  12. I think that is a great idea, Claudia. Way to see a need and fill it!!!

    I'll do a post- how do we let you know when we've done it? Comment again? ...maybe you answered that in the post... I'll go back and re-read.

    Look forward to reading what everyone says!!!

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  13. Great idea but I note with sadness that you haven't requested any views or ideas from adult adoptees.If anyone knows about attachment or loss of attachment from the inside I think we're qualified!

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  14. Hi, my blog is pretty much a sanitized baby book, so I'd prefer to keep my comments on your blog instead. We brought home our daughter from Korea 9 months ago, she was one year old at the time.

    One of the hardest things about attachment for me was getting over the expecation of what "normal" emotional development is. I have a biological child who I raised from birth and who barely had any stranger anxiety and who was naturally SUPER adaptable. Sooo, when A came to live with us after living with her foster family, she understandably regressed emotionally in a lot of ways that are normal and healthy for attachment...very clingy, sleep issues, and just quirks - like going up to strangers in the grocery store and asking to be held. I had read about and prepared for this, but it just threw me off to have to live it, have to parent so completely different from one child to the next. I have to admit that I came to resent her inability to be independent, "act her age," and felt like she was intentionally trying to suck the life out of me be requiring that I completely baby and constantly hold an 18 month old...and her behavior was actually a good indication that attachment is occurring!!! Here I thought that having some parenting experience under my belt would give me a leg up; it just made it harder in some ways.

    Thanks for posting about this. I'm so curious to read what others have to say. And I like and agree with what you said about attachment being an ongoing process, and that ALL children do it, and all children can have issues with making connections. I do consider myself lucky that out adoptive community is keen to this stuff, but I still have to figure out what is at play with my family.

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  15. I've been mulling this over quite a lot, so count me in. My biggest issue lately is figuring out if it's an attachment issue, if she's just friendly, or if it's really hard for her to understand the concept of strangers after having lived in a group care setting and then coming home quite close to the holidays, during which we walked into a lot of places where we knew everyone. Are we living in Zinashi's own private stranger-less universe? I will explore these topics in my post.

    Now I just have to A) remember to write the post, and B) collect my thoughts enough to make it worth reading.

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  16. I' in. It's serendipitous because I came online just now to start a draft for my blog about our recent/ongoing/never ending attachment situation. I'll let you know when I'm done.
    *good idea BTW. I agree about attachment being a really taboo topic*

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  17. I really appreciate Sunday's comment because I have always thought about that issue and never really could put it into words. Maybe I will be able to in my post. Great idea, Claudia.

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  18. I am in too. Attachment and moving half way around the world has proven......ugly.

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  19. I'll be tentatively in - it's been hard for me to commit to anything right now, but maybe a deadline and a topic will give me some extra motivation!

    I will say that attachment has been more of an ongoing process than I thought it would be. I didn't realize that it would be something we'd be dealing with over and over again, and I also didn't realize that working on attachment with my child would bring up all sorts of attachment issues of my own!

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  20. To those have said it is an auntie thing, you may be right, but I neglected to say that she has 5 other Aunties and this one is the only one she does this with! So I don't know, but thanks! Haha, I guess you didn't mean for me to write all that out in your comments, huh Claudia? Sorry! My blog address is http://seichters.blogspot.com/ It is private but you or anyone else that wants to read it can just send me an email at meuslex958 (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  21. oh, SO many things I want to respond to already! Can't wait to read all these posts!

    @Sunday: incredibly insightful point from you saying If a parent is truly attached, the child knows they will be loved and respected NO MATTER WHAT, that is what counts.

    Great point! I've been going over this kind of stuff in my head a lot, and one thing I'm wondering about is: what about when the parent really is attached, but the child doesn't KNOW (deep in the core of their being, no matter how much they know in their head) that they can totally trust that relationship? This seems to be a big issue in some families - that mum and dad really will do anything for their child (bio or adopted) but the child isn't able to trust that. I totally agree that the lovely FEELINGS of attachment are not at all why we do any of this - that it is kind of irrelevant. But what do we do when there's that disconnect between the attachment the parent has and the child's perception of that attachment? This is a tough one for me. Insights sought!

    @Von - personal experiences of attachment from ANYONE would be great, wherever they sit in the triad (or outside of it). (That's why I said - not just Ethiopia families, anyone!) My questions for PAPs and APs are there because that's the stuff that I have had some personal experience of. I'll be putting up a Mr Linky - open to everyone.

    @Annie - I would be totally freaked out too. The 'hang on, WHO is my mother again?' has been a BIG source of stress around here. For me, I mean!

    Right, I have to go and eat my dinner so have to stop here but one more thing - once i figure out how to use the gadget, I'll put a Mr Linky up, so when you've written your post you can paste your link and everyone will be able to find it. At least, that's how I *think* those things work... this will be my first try. Ummm... probably should have checked it was a free gadget first!

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  22. I'm in! This is something I think and worry about all the time. Thanks so much for your thoughts as usual.

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  23. I've been "writing" an attachment post in my head for quite a while. I will get it on my blog soon. Thanks for the topic encouragement!

    beka

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  24. As a PAP, I definitely do not think attachment is a big hoo ha (to borrow your words :) ). Frankly, attachment scares me more than anything because it's the foundation...and I want nothing more than for our babies to have a secure attachment from which to spring forward into their lives. I already love them so much but I know they don't know me, I'm no different from any other person who has been providing care for them in their short lives. I know they are going to be separated from all that is known to them and that terrifies me, for them and for us. It's not a perfect solution, but I will try my very best follow the advice of the 'experts' as well as trust some of my instincts (!) to help start the attachment process...Looking forward to reading all the compiled posts.

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  25. Wonderful to see this happening...I am SOOOO in! Thank you. I think about this so very often and have expressed it just as often to those around me (hubby, parents, friends), but they just don't quite get it. I am glad to have others available to help make sense of our connections (btw....love that term) with our 19 month old (now home almost a year).

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  26. And just to share now....here is a link to my "attachment" posts

    http://lifeoftherikkers.blogspot.com/search/label/attachment

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  27. I'm in as well! Thanks for the challenge!

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  28. Oh Anne, and Claudia, I cannot tell you how upset I get everytime Tsega hugs one of his Grandmas. It makes me want to throw up. He is allowed to love her, and her him. But because *I* am not sure of our attachment is going all the time.

    Will try to formulate a post. But I might have to also just email it to you. Ya know. Because of family reading it. :(

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  29. I write about this from time to time. I'm in! If Melese naps this week. :)

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  30. OK...Im done and posted it just now on my blog. Thanks for the motivation- I think I'll keep blogging because I realized I have a lot to say (even if it's a bunch of hokum half the time). So thanks for that. :)

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  31. Done! I had to be speedy. Likely leaving tomorrow for Addis, will find out for sure today! Eeekk.

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  32. done and done. I hope Mr. Linky works.

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  33. I can't get the url thing to work. Here's my blog: karensadoptionjourney.blogspot.com I've been posting a lot, not so much about attachment as about developmental trauma. I think the two get confused, or maybe go hand in hand. I don't know, as I admit in one of my postings!

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  34. Ok, I linked to an old post because my brain is fried. If the post I linked to doesn't make sense to anyone just go to the post right before it to get the story of what happened immediately previous, there's not alot of backstory, but you really don't need the it. I think it stands by itself.

    I don't have alot of insight to offer. I always feel like I am stumbling through this half blind and late to the game.

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  35. Karen, I think the problem might be that you're linking to your whole blog rather than one post? If switching that up doesn't work, let me know and I'll do it for you manually :)

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  36. Ok- I tried. Can't wait to read others!

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  37. I linked to an old post because it pretty much sums up our first five years in attachment. Hope that's okay.

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  38. Okay, mine is up on our Finding Magnolia blog. There are probably a lot of typos, but there's also a photo of my daughter wearing a hat at the beach, so I feel like it balances things out.

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  39. @Claudia “But what do we do when there's that disconnect between the attachment the parent has and the child's perception of that attachment?” -I don’t have all of the answers, but what I do know is that parents of children with autism deal with exactly that and while it may not be the vision of a parent/child they had in mind it is their reality and they must learn to adjust their expectations to meet the abilities and limitations of their children. I propose that as parents that is our job to learn to parent or children as they are not who we wish they were.

    “I would be totally freaked out too. The 'hang on, WHO is my mother again?' has been a BIG source of stress around here. For me, I mean!” – I want to start with that I have a very attachment style of parenting. We co-sleep I carry my kids on my hip or in a sling long after I get the dirty looks. I work the evenings so that one of us could be home with our children. When my husband had to take work out of town I decided to keep my (almost) 5 year old out of kindergarten and cut my work down to two days a week so that my kids would feel safe and secure. That being said and maybe it is my own insecurity or a result of the trauma of my childhood I have always gone out of my way to make sure that my children also have strong attachments to close family/friends. I feel that knowing that you have adults you can depend on outside of your parents is part of feeling safe. Especially for those of us who have experience with impermanence. The abrupt change to yet another situation; another set of care givers who are strangers (and only one or two at that) must be terrifying.

    @Annie my kids have lots of aunts and uncles also, but I did not say that to discount your feelings in away, I was meant as reassurance that sometimes kids like some people better than others. Especially the ones who dote on them and don’t make them do pesky little things that moms do. (again that is my experience)

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  40. Gosh, I really want to do this but will be out of town and cannot get it by the deadline.
    Here is a super brief summary on your topic.
    I wish I had known that attachment is not a given and the child may need to be convinced that it is a good idea. While I knew I would have to work at it and work hard, I did not know that my usual, successful way of relating to a child that I worked with in a therapy program, was not going to work with the one in my house.
    Love the post and the idea!

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  41. I added ours. What a nerve wracking thing to write....

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  42. Okay I stink with the linky. The second one is the right one. Can you delete the first one? Sorry :(

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  43. I'm going to play along too! I don't know if I'll write a new one or use an old one. I'll try to sort it out tonight. Great idea. Maybe I should just link up my ENTIRE blog since this is all I write about...our screwed up family... :)

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  44. Blogged, published, linked!

    Thanks again, Claudia! This is going to help a lot of people.

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  45. I am so late to the party, but I'm in if I can find some time this weekend. Terrific idea, Claudia.

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  46. Your most recent post was incredible. I am in awe of your evolving but ever present intuition. Will join in once I can pull my jumping and jumbled attachment thoughts together because yes more needs to be said and shared about this topic.

    Theresa (eastiopians.word press.com)

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  47. Oh Jamey, I already suggested to Claudia that she just links this to your entire blog.
    My two cents are now linked.

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  48. My thoughts as a future adoptive mommy are linked! THANKS for doing this-- so glad we are talking about this issue!

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  49. I Love this idea! Thanks for doing it. My thoughts have been posted on my blog as well. Love being in this community. Love, love.

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  50. Just posted! Thanks for the challenge!

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  51. I wrote a different post and linked it. Some of you have access but others don't. If you want it, please email me at meuslex958(at)yahoo(dot)com.

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  52. EEEEK! Mine is on the linky thing twice because the first time I accidentally linked directly to my blog- then I tried to fix it by linking just to that post (like you told us to do) and now I'm on the Linky twice and look like an ego maniac. ha ha!
    Can you delete the first one of mine? I can't do it on my end.

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  53. Done. Now I need to find the time to read everyone else's posts! Thanks again, Claudia. What a great idea on a topic that I for one can always use more support and perspective on.

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  54. Thanks for this. (I clicked over from Tonggu Mama's blog) Sometimes I feel like I'm always writing about attachment. I linked up with a post up that discussed attachment and healing from both my son's and my point of view. Here is another post I wrote about my attachment and the difficult road I had falling in love with my son.
    http://thewonderfulhappens.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/when/

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  55. Just posted my two cents. Thanks for sparking these attachment posts. It's been so informative reading about everyone's experiences.

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  57. I'm in. I'm going to post right now.

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  58. Thank you for doing this. I have read each and every post and learned so much. So much.

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  59. Claudia, I posted one from my perspective on attachment as a former foster child. I hope you don’t mind.

    Now, I have to finish the second half of the posts.

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  61. Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this! We are PAPs and I am SO TORN about who gets to hold the baby and when - it's unbelievable. Thanks for sharing your own experience and providing a forum for others to share their's. You rock, Claudia!

    http://rebob.blogspot.com

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  62. my crappy, unpolished, four minutes late post is up. thank you everyone else, i am enjoying them very much.

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  63. I never blog but wanted to add in my thoughts on this because you all are the people that speak to my heart right now like no one else. What you are saying is familiar, comforting, validating. I don't want anyone to feel alone in this. We are brave, we are strong, we are
    a force of love in this world.
    Galantemo.

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  64. love so much response!!!
    if you are talking about a post you did on a place I would have seen. I didn't or would have responded. :)
    Sorry didn't post before Monday but should have a JUMBLED one up tomorrow!
    Wish I had the gift of writing! You do it so well!!!
    I have the gift of gab!
    Really meant what I said- would love for you guys to come around!!!

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  65. Late, but posted. This is a brilliant idea - thanks for doing it.

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  66. Hey Claudia...I'm past the cut off point for this link up...but I love the idea. Heidi Newcombe pointed your blog out to me and suggested I add my link. Just yesterday I blogged about this (not knowing you had a challenge going on)

    I think I may add a part two to my post, to think deeper through your questions. Yesterday's post was just a response to an event in our week that really through my girl for a loop, and revealed a good check point for me about where we're at.

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  67. Thanks, Claudia! Nice to meet you, too.

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  68. What a great idea! We are waiting for our soon-to-be son to come home and have been somewhat obsessively trying to figure out the best techniques to facilitate positive and secure attachment for our family.

    I've learned so much from reading through these responses!!!

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  69. Several months too late, but. . . thanks for doing this.

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  70. Great idea! Sorry I came upon this so late. I did post and link to your blog. Thank you.

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  71. Way too late to post here, but I am planning an attachment post of my own one day and I hope it's as good as this one.

    Meanwhile I'm going to link this to my own blog where I'm collecting blog posts about attachment.

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Over to you!