Monday 28 February 2011

Ready When You Are

Mr Linky is now live! So If you're participating in 'Let's Talk About Attachment', here's how to do it:

  • Write your post (that's the hard part).
  • Publish it on your blog
  • Go back to the original post and look for the new widget at the bottom
  • Type in your name
  • Paste in the link to your post (not the link to your whole blog, ie we want to see rather than just
  • That's it!
A few extra points:
  • Post any time until Monday 7 March.
  • If you don't have time write something new, but you'd like to participate... pick your favourite previously-written attachment post and link to that.
  • If you don't want to post on your own blog, either comment in the original post or email me and I'll post it separately.
  • Do I need to say this? Everybody loves comments, so let's start some conversations. But remember to be nice. Obviously.
Thanks for joining in. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to reading these!

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!

Tuesday 22 February 2011

All Of This Is Also True

The Family That Takes Prozac Together, Stays Together

This has been a much, much better week. The babies have been easier and J has had a few days off and I feel like a human again. Tall buildings have lost their immediate appeal. I'm thankful. I'm also incredibly thankful to those of you who reached out either here or offline to say ME TOO or IT GETS BETTER or YOU'RE OVERREACTING BUT I LOVE YOU ANYWAY. Bottom of my heart kind of thankful. It makes all the difference.

The same day that I posted here last week, I also finally gave into my mother's nagging encouragement and posted a whole bunch of photos on the boring other blog I maintain just for family. And yes! I felt like a giant hypocrite because with one breath I'm saying 'oh, poor me I'm not coping' and then with the next I'm saying 'oh, look at my adorable children and my perfect life!'

they are adorable, aren't they?

if somewhat bent on destruction.

and of course the thing is - both are real. My children are adorable, this is the life I always wanted, and some days I don't cope at all. Hello, cognitive dissonance.

Because I'm running out of naptime, I'm going to directly paste what I posted there. There are one or two duplicates of pictures I had already posted on this blog - apologies. I hesitated, but then I remembered that all of this is also true. That post is the other half of what's going on here, and it was called:

Let's Pretend That It's September

which is pretty much the last time I posted photos, I think. Would you rather hear excuses, or would you rather see photos? Yeah, thought so. Here's one of my favourite pictures, for being so nice about the delay.
And now my next question: would you rather have captions and dates, or would you rather just guess, and see the pictures before NEXT September? Yeah, thought so again.

It's LIFT the flap, not LICK the flap, little man.
(Sorry, it's impossible NOT to caption that one)

It's been a YEAR! (Well, ummmmm, I mean it WAS a year when this photo was taken on Oct 27. Now it's been quite a bit longer. Moving swiftly on....)

sadly, not our house.

nor this.

whereas THIS.... okay, actually, still not our house.

Babies have not yet got the point of being on holiday.

Dolls, on the other hand.... they get that.
Also, twinkle twinkle little star is a concept that has found great favour.
as has banging on the piano
and the cat. Our little girl is having her first lesson in unrequited love.

Our little boy is not.
Unless you count his all-consuming love for The Light, which he would cuddle up to and carry around with him if he could.
Self-explanatory, really. And hang on, I wasn't supposed to be doing captions.
She discovers just how much fun stereotypical gender roles can be

(and speaking of stereotypical gender roles, here is a picture of Pink in her favourite coat. Just so that you know I'm not REALLY doing immense psychological damage with their new blog names. And no, this wasn't in the original post).

They love this toy so much that we have had to confiscate it. There was too much biting.

She's telling lies. I'm this angelic, ALL the time.

so many places to kiss, so little time

post-bath foot-wrinkle
I has a nose!
You are so embarrassing that I can't bear even to look at you.
sweet, sweet television! Where have you BEEN all my life?

Does the tutu go over the paunch, or under the paunch? 'Tis the eternal question.

Can you please speak up? The reception isn't very good.
Whaddya mean, gentle hands?

Okay, Kevin says time to stop blogging now.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Dispatches From The Middle Of The Ocean

If you're in a hurry, come back when you've got a cup of tea and a bit of time to spare, because this is l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng. And honestly? I feel a bit fragile about publishing this, but I think I'm just going to click the button and try not to think too hard about putting it out there.

I'm going to level with you and tell you that right now, I find it hard to read about people's happy family adoption stories. I find myself assuming that life really is like that all the time for everyone else. It's one endless round of creative playtime, where appropriately-developing children are watched over happily by an adoring mamma. This adoring mamma spends the children's naptimes crafting Ethiopia-themed toys for them, rather than sitting around in her dressing gown and wishing she could have a G&T. I read these stories and I know that that nobody is making a hash of things like me. Right now, I even find it hard reading about the bubbling excitement of people who are preparing to travel - forgive me, please - because I know, I just know that all of these people are going to be better, happier parents than me. They won't be feeling like this, fifteen months on. How could they? They're about to be given the greatest gift of all, a child. How could they ever feel anything other than grateful for that gift? Of course, there will be hard days, but they will always feel basically content and appreciative. They won't find their fantasies suddenly shifting from fluffy blankets and babies to how much they would like to find themselves stranded, alone, on a desert island. How could they? Only an awful person would have thoughts like that.

And actually, that awful person never used to be me. When we came home with our babies, we had a tough (tough!) transition into parenthood, like most normal human beings. But after a few weeks, things started to feel normal again, and then they even started to feel good. And I liked that. Finally, I got to be a mother to these two wonderful little human beings, and it was good. Hard, but good.

Mostly, I felt like I was walking along a road that I could manage. When the hard times came, it was like the road led straight into a lake, and I found myself swimming instead of walking. Swimming takes a lot more effort, and there is nowhere to rest. The early sleep deprivation felt like one of those lakes. The hunger strike of 2010 felt like one of those lakes. They were hard, and I was tired, but there was land all around me and I knew that eventually I would get across the lake and be back on dry ground. The lakes were not fun, but they were always finite, and they felt like just a small part of a life that I could mostly manage.

This is pretty much what I thought parenting was going to be like. Then overnight, someone came and took my sweet munchkin babies away and replaced them with toddlers. I've got to say - I'm not entirely sure that it was a good trade.

And now, it feels like the lakes have become bigger and bigger. There's the lake of 'who was I kidding when I thought I could manage working and parenting', which is adjacent to the lake of 'I really wish that my husband could occasionally get home before 9pm' and not far from Lake 'bye bye, morning naps, and therefore bye bye, morning housework' which was definitely not on my map for this part of the journey. But these are small bodies of water compared to the chain of lakes known as 'Toddler Behaviour'. Lake 'I would prefer to sit in this dirty, stinking nappy until my bottom rots off than let you change me' is much bigger than expected, and I've been swimming through that for months and months. Lake 'biting and scratching' is not beautiful, and nor is Lake 'I demand that you give me that sharp knife / burning liquid / electrical cord right now'. We've also been trying to swim our way through Lake 'Surprise! New attachment issues!' which will have its own post. Of all of these, Lake 'Extreme unpredictability' is probably my least favourite. It's alternative name is Lake 'This might be a wonderful day or an awful day and you have no way of knowing' . I do not like it. I do not think that it has a booming tourist trade.

And the thing is - I'm in the middle of all of this and then one day I look around me and I realise that the landscape has changed. The lakes have begun to run into each other until I'm really not in a lake anymore, I'm in an ocean. There are islands in the ocean, like the island of Pink finally learning to say 'duck' and the island of their unbearable, hilarious cuteness. Some of them are big islands - two weeks ago, we had a perfect weekend where they were cherubs throughout. I do get to spend time on dry ground. But now it's the land that feels finite. Even when I'm standing, I look around me and I'm surrounded by ocean. And when I'm back in the water, I don't know when it's going to end.

Maybe that's too metaphorical. And I was prepared that things would be hard. What surprises me is that sometimes, these days are as difficult to endure as the very hardest days of it just being the two of us. Three, if you count the cat. I still, regularly, have times when I cannot stop myself thinking I do not know how I am going to survive this day.

On these days, I find it hard to like my children, and I certainly don't like myself. On these days, it seems always to be nine thirty in the morning, or four thirty in the afternoon. Mostly I feel like I can get through, but one day in a hundred I just want to jump off the top of a very tall building. Okay, one in fifty. At the moment, maybe one in ten. And the worst part - on these days, I see so many sides of myself that I would prefer would stay hidden. Angry sides. Irritable sides. Lazy sides. I see impatient, bored, cranky sides until it seems that I have turned into nothing but a dodecahedron of maternal vices.

Once I was jealous of women who planned their babies around their summer holidays. Now, I'm jealous of women who have any form of domestic help, who have husbands who come home in time to help with bedtime, who have parents close enough to babysit, who have (again, forgive me) only one child, whose two-or-more children don't turn their living room into a scene from Lord of the Flies the moment their back is turned, or, most of all, women who don't have any of that yet somehow manage to retain their sense of humour and perspective.

I knew that the hard road I walked to motherhood would not stop me finding motherhood difficult once I got there. I knew that feeling sad about childlessness would not innoculate me against finding motherhood tough. I knew that. But I suppose that all the grief I felt, all the worry, all the sadness... I thought that would innoculate me against feeling ambivalent about motherhood. I knew it would be hard, but I thought that hard meant difficult. I thought it would mean I would get to the end of the day and think That was incredibly tough. I didn't think that I would get to the end of the day and think I'm not sure that I want to do this anymore.

You'd better believe I have a lot of adoption-related guilt about admitting that I feel ambivalent about mothering right now. My kids are wonderful, adorable, insanely delicious little bundles of humanity - you know I know that, right? I love them with all my heart. And yet so often, at the moment, I wake up in the morning and my first thought is "oh no". So yes. There is lots of guilt. I can't believe that anyone else in my shoes would feel like this.

I think that adoptive parents are often a bit quieter than others about the times when we find parenting really difficult, especially when we are together, whether online or in real life. I always assumed this was because we were more fundamentally grateful for what we'd got. And maybe that's true, but I'm beginning to wonder if it is also because we are just a bit guilty or ashamed of feeling this way about something that we wanted so much. Actually, I'll lose the non-specific plural and speak for myself: I think I don't want to admit just how hard I have been finding things lately because it makes me feel guilty and ashamed.

And even when we bare our souls, and talk about the hard parts, there's some kind of obligation to finish on an up-ending. I do it myself, all the time. Earlier today, I got really cranky at Blue because he was grabbing his bottom when it was covered in poo. Pink was grabbing my knees and shrieking and then Blue tried to wriggle away and nearly fell off the change table and the day's traumas all hit me at once and I thought 'I can't take this anymore!' and then I put my elbows on the change table and my head in my hands and I started to cry. But then he reached out and stroked my hair and made humming noises and I realised that it was all worth it. End of story, right? What I haven't mentioned is that he stroked my hair with the same hand he had used to touch his poopy butt, and within two minutes he was yelling about something else when I still hadn't recovered from the first thing. And although they can go from sunshine to storms and back again in the blink of an eye, I can't keep up. If one of them has a tantrum, they get over it immediately but I'm still reeling from it, heart pounding, ten minutes later. Spending the days with them is like trying to go ten rounds with a pair of weebles. The up-ending is never the end of the story, unless it happens as I'm shutting their door at bedtime. Sometimes the dominant emotion of the day really is ambivalence, and it's best friend, extreme adoptive guilt.

But I don't really like to admit it. In fact, my brain won't even really let me believe that I feel this way. Yesterday, I went to visit a friend. On the way back, we were walking along in the late winter sunshine. I would sing a pattern of notes, then Blue would echo it back, then I would sing another, and he would echo again. Pink was sometimes joining in, and sometimes turning around and grinning at me and I don't think that I've ever been happier in my life. And as we were walking, I was thinking about writing this, and some kind of cranial override function kicked in. Don't be ridiculous, Claudia, my brain told me. Why would you write that silly thing you've been thinking about? You don't feel ambivalent about being a mother! You love being a mother! See how much fun this is? And I argued back But ambivalent doesn't mean it's always bad, it just means I have mixed emotions. And it's not always like this. Yesterday it was awful. I remember. And then my brain said No, you don't! You're imagining it. It wasn't awful at all. Maybe it was difficult, but it wasn't awful. And I replied Hang on, I'm pretty sure it was actually awful, and I was feeling like I was going to scream until something shattered but the override function said Don't be silly, Claudia. You're so grateful to finally be a mother after waiting so long, how could you possibly have felt like that? You're imagining things. It was fine. You were fine. and by the end of the walk home, I pretty much had myself convinced that I was overreacting, that I had imagined how I felt that other time. I guess it's this sort of brain programming that convinces people that yes, they really would like another kid. *

I find myself just so very certain that I can't possibly be feeling anything substantial other than gratitude. Sometimes I act as if God and I had a one-time deal while I was waiting - God, if you can get me through this awful bit of my life then I promise, I promise I'll never bother you again. I'll never find anything else difficult, ever again, I promise. But God doesn't make deals, and if he did, he wouldn't make a deal like that. I need to learn, so many times, and in so many different ways that the God who helped me through childlessness has not changed and abandoned me now that I've got kids. I am allowed to admit - to Him, and to myself - just how much help I still need. He sets the lonely in families, but he also grants rest to the weary and right now I am reminded how much I need that rest because I feel very, very weary**.

If you're looking for an up-ending, here is the best I can come up with: there is one saving grace about this ocean that I find myself floundering it. This time in my life might be just as hard as childlessness, but it is nowhere near as isolating. Some days, I still feel profoundly miserable, but the difference is: I can say it out loud. I find it hard to admit to other adopters, as I've already said, and I do try to have a filter and not moan to childless people.*** But In my day-to-day life, it's ridiculously easy to find sympathy. I don't have to do that 'hmmm, she's older than me, been married for a while, doesn't have any kids, I wonder if maybe we might have this in common' reconnaissance that used to be necessary before sending out tentative conversational feelers. Instead, random strangers in cafes raise their eyebrows and say 'Twins!' and ask me how my day has been, and if I answer honestly, they say encouraging things in reply. In fact, the rest of the world is much kinder to me about this than I am to myself. While I'm thinking 'how can I be so ungrateful for such a wonderful gift?' other people are saying "oooh, that sounds terrible, you really deserve that coffee!" A few days ago someone asked me how old my kids were, and when I said eighteen months she shuddered and said 'oh, that's a dreadful age' and I nearly kissed her. Sometimes I think that what we want in life is not happiness so much as connection, and some days I think that the only reason I think I'll eventually get to the other side of this ocean is because of the solidarity that other people have offered me on the way.

It's the exact opposite of what I used to experience while we were waiting, when I felt like my suffering was real but the world ignored it. In fact, this parental solidarity was probably the hardest thing I faced, while we were waiting. The reason that I, in my childlessness, felt so isolated was that everyone else seemed to be complicit in the assumption that parenthood was the hardest thing ever, the only trial worth talking about. And now, I appreciate it so much on the other side and I can see why everyone is doing it, why we all feel like we need that validation.

In other words - all those ungrateful, whiny parents who were made me miserable while we were waiting? I get it. I finally, finally, finally get it. I got it intellectually at the time, but now I get it. I'm not saying that I think it was okay to complain like that to a childless person, because it wasn't. It was thoughtless and selfish and unkind. But I think that now I can see how easy it is to be thoughtless, and selfish, and unkind when life feels like nothing but seawater, all around. (I've probably displayed all three of those already today in some direction or other, which must make me eligible for some kind of award).

In fact, I'm going to be honest and tell you - if I hadn't been through what I've been through, right now I would talk about nothing else except for how tough this is. Ever. I would have no filter. I would accost people at parties (if I went to parties). I would bore people at work (oh hang on, I do bore people at work). If I met someone without any kids, I would probably say 'hey, are you SURE you want them? It's harder than you think, HA HA HA'. In fact, it is horribly, terrifyingly, chillingly possible that I would say something to them like if you want a kid, you can take one of mine!

Excuse me while I sit here for a moment in shame.

And I don't, of course, but the part of me that wants to is big enough for the rest of me to reel in horror and think how did I become this unforgiveable hypocrite? I feel like I've betrayed my old self. If I could talk to Claudia-from-the-past, I would beg her understanding and reassure her that I haven't forgotten what life used to feel like. I would also try to gently remind her that life is not the Pain Olympics. That pain was awful. It's over. I couldn't be more thankful. But that doesn't mean that I have to hang onto it forever, or this isn't real, or that there might not be new, different oceans ahead. (And then I would run away, quickly, because I'm really not sure she would agree and I'm pretty sure she could take me in a fight).

And so I continue to swim. I don't think I'll be here forever. A few people have said that two and a half is the magic age where things suddenly get better. Then, or later, or hopefully before, I'm hoping to see the shore again. But in the meantime, here I am. Anybody know where I can buy a boat?

* who knows. Maybe one day. But I think I would need a lot more cranial override action first.

**This is not a discussion of adoption theology. I have opinions on adoption theology (quelle surprise) but this is not the post where I'm writing about them.

***unless you're reading this blog, in which case I apologise. But I kind of wish I'd had some straight talk about this stuff from someone who had been on both sides of the fence before
I adopted, so maybe I'm not apologising that much. You can choose.