Saturday 26 March 2011

Here Comes The Sun

On behalf of SAD suffers all over the Northern Hemisphere. And I don't care if you are at work, you've really got to play the music.

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun,

and I say it's all right

Little darling

it's been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling

it feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun

here comes the sun

and I say it's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it's all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, it's alright

here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it's all right

It's all right

Tuesday 15 March 2011

In Which I Ask You All A Question

I always expected to have at least three kids. So did J. (He always said four, minimum). And then we actually acquired some children, and suddenly two began to feel like a WHOLE LOT OF KID. For a year or so, the idea of having any more never really crossed my mind. But suddenly, it is starting to. When people ask the question any more planned? I've stopped laughing in their faces and started saying hmmmmm, we don't quite know.

Because honestly, we don't. We don't feel like this is the right time for #3 (or, who knows, #3 and #4) but it is starting to feel like the right time to start thinking about it. Know what I mean? And we really haven't thought about it yet. We've talked about it for probably less than ten minutes, all together, over the course of about three short conversations. So right now, I have no opinions and no prejudices and that's why I'm asking for your opinions.

Because we have one important complicating factor. Four years ago, we decided that because of my messed-up DNA, pregnancy wasn't the right choice for us. But in the meantime, IVF techniques have been developed that could be game-changers. (we have ethical reservations about some of the IVF techniques that could have helped in the past - these newer techniques address those concerns. Not going to say any more about that because my total ignorance of all matters reproductive would VERY quickly become apparent).

The weird thing (for me) is just how totally neutral I feel about pregnancy at the moment. While we were waiting to adopt Pink and Blue, I grieved and grieved and grieved about all that I felt like we were missing out on. I grieved the specific losses we faced, but I also grieved the lost opportunity to be normal, to have a family that nobody would feel the need to comment on. And I guess that is one of the big differences from this perspective - no matter how we form our family from here on in, we're already on an unusual path. No number of pregnancies would ever get us our Normal back. Another big difference, of course, is that I'm pretty dang pleased with how our first go at being not-normal has worked out.

And that brings me to my biggest fear about pregnancy, if IVF was successful. It's not the thoroughly unpleasant side effects (the women in my family tend to have horrible pregnancies) and it's not the bit at the end, with all the screaming. No, what I fear most is that if we announced a pregnancy people would burst into tears and hug me tightly and say 'oh, I'm just so, so, so happy for you!' and tell me that they have been praying that this would happen.

This might sound stupid (what? You'd be annoyed because people would be happy for you?) if you haven't become a parent for the first time by adoption. But those of us who have probably all have our own stories about the people who take us aside and tell us their stories about how you never know what will happen! and how they knew someone who adopted, and then after they adopted, they finally had one of their own! I've had one person tell me, with a straight face, that this is definitely going to happen to me, because that is what always happens. I came within a micron of saying to that woman wow, even though I'm on the Pill? That really WOULD be a miracle!

Even J, who turns not-taking-things-personally into an Olympic sport, has noticed this attitude and finds it utterly creepy. There's a thinly veiled not even slightly veiled message from some people that a bio baby would be the right and proper happy ending to our story. Nevermind that they really have no clue what the start of our story was. If we said guess what, we're adopting again! to people, many would be pleased, but I fear that for some, a pregnancy would be the reason to get out the champagne. If people said oh, how INCREDIBLE! I think I would hear finally, the real thing! and its corollory, those twins of yours were just practice babies, a means to an end.

(You are not a means to an end for me, babies).
And then I fear that I would punch one of those people in the mouth and get arrested and then I would have to spend my entire pregnancy in jail. So yeah, that is my biggest pregnancy fear.

Okay, srsly. I guess I had thought that if we had any more kids, it would be via adoption. But suddenly I'm starting to think hmmmmm, it doesn't HAVE to be, necessarily. I absolutely know that IVF doesn't guarantee pregnancy, but it's an option that was never on the table before.

And bringing this option to the table makes me ask all kinds of questions. I always assumed that all of our kids would be adopted, and that they would probably all be brown. What would it mean to Pink and Blue if we gave them a white, non-adopted brother or sister? Ummmm, adopted adults, what do you think? Opinions, parents with mixed families? I've really got no clue because I always assumed all of that stuff would never apply to our family. Adoption is what I'm used to. It feels normal to me, and I don't like change. Adopting again would in some ways be our easiest plan. But adoption is such a complicated issue - three separate people have flagged up this report over the last few days and what can I say? It's eye-watering stuff. (Start at p41 - thanks to Tafel for that pointer). I'm much, much more aware than I was a few years ago of the risks in international adoption, and I'm not talking about developmental delays from institutional care. I don't think it's a cut-and-dried 'no, we shouldn't', but I certainly don't think it's a cut-and-dried 'yes' either. There are no easy answers here. It's not simple.

If we do adopt from Ethiopia again, there's the question of infant or slightly older child. If we did want to adopt, say, a preschooler, we would probably have to get cracking because we would need to start again with being assessed, which would probably take about a year, and I wouldn't want too small an age gap between that child and Pink and Blue. (2009 is already quite crowded enough as a birth year in our family). And if we adopted another infant, I wouldn't want the gap to get too big. Would I? I don't know, that's why I'm asking. What should I be thinking about? School me.

And how about foster-adopt? I found out from our social services department that they ask people to promise that if they start a family by adoption, they won't have any birth children. What's THAT all about? It sounded to me (because the conversation was a bit longer than the one line I've given) like they are saying that it's not possible to love an adopted child as much a a birth child, so you can't have a bio kid after an adopted kid because you'll reject the adopted kid once you find out what REAL love feels like. Ummmmm... do I want to get involved with a social services department who think like that?

IVF (one or two rounds) would be cheaper than adoption.
J thinks that pregnancy is a bit gross.
I feel like some kind of traitor for even thinking about the possibility of pregnancy.
I know that's ridiculous.
I'm confused.

And so I ask this question to all of you - what would YOU do, if you were in our shoes? What should we be thinking about, rather than worrying about prison uniforms? As you can tell, I've got no idea. You won't offend me by blowing my favourite idea out of the water, because I don't have a favourite idea. You can go anonymous on this one if you have strong opinions and don't want me getting cranky at you. If you've decided to adopt after bio kids, or had bio kids after adopting, or just had more than one kid - how did YOU decide? On the other hand, how did you decide not to have any more? Extreeeeeemely curious, here.

Just one more tiny thing - I've had a new rule imposed (by J) that I'm only allowed to blog (or comment) after I've written drafts of new chapters for this supposed book. I have agreed to this. I have not told him how short the chapters are. But it will definitely slow me down - I'm expecting my blogging speed to go from 'tortoise' to 'sloth'.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Bite Sized

I have about ten minutes to write this. Let's see how fast I can type, shall we?
  • Does anybody else think that teething is like PMS for toddlers? It's totally unprovable, some people suffer much more from it than others, and it's a fabulous catch-all for all kinds of unbearable behaviour. I notice this today because three people in my family are currently suffering from one of those ailments. You can probably guess who has got what. All I want to do is go back to bed with a hot water bottle and a bag of M&Ms. I have no idea what they want; if I did I guess this whole thing would be a lot easier.

  • For a balanced and very thoughtful response to the recent changes in Ethiopian adoption, I recommend that you read this post. For what it's worth, here's my solution: Not a slowdown - fines. Money is the problem, right? So let's make the solution about the money. If agencies faced fines, I think they would waste a lot less of MOWA's time with poorly prepared applications, and (much more importantly) be much more intimidated about misrepresenting (okay lying) about children's circumstances. If an agency sends incomplete paperwork to court: they get a fine. If they send incorrect paperwork to court: they get a great big fine. If they send falsified paperwork to court, they get a HUGE, ENORMOUS, totally financially crushing, see-you-later-don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out-sized fine. And the person who tips off the authorities that agencies are falsifying information should get to keep half the money. I'm not kidding. I think this would work.

  • I don't know what to say about the incredible series of posts that you have all written about attachment. For once in my life, I have nothing to say. Words fail me. It's been amazing. The best I can do is: Thank you. And you, and and you, and you.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Attachment Triage

In trauma response, Triage (pronounced /ˈtriːɑːʒ/) is the process of determining the priority of patients' treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select. (Thank you Wikipedia)

I think I mentioned once that my children used to slow-crawl-chase each other around the house. It was adorable. I loved it; I thought they were learning to play together. But now I know what was really going on: Pink was trying to hunt Blue down and kill him.

If Pink could be granted one wish, I think that it would be this: to be an only child. She sits on my lap and when Blue comes close, she uses her new, shiny boots to aim a kick at his head. He tries to join in reading with her and she bites him on the hand, hard. He sits next to her on the floor and she scratches his face. He makes any kind of move into her personal space and she sets up such a shrieking that I start to worry about what the neighbours must think. (She does get into trouble about this, by the way, but this is about attachment rather than discipline so I'm going to leave that topic alone).

And I think - Pink, what's going on? You shared a
womb with this boy. I look back at the time when we got our referral, and almost want to laugh. Oh babies, my babies I would say to their photo. You have already lost a mother, and now are going to be torn away from everything you have ever known. I can't imagine the pain you will feel. Then I would weep a little bit and, choked with emotion, say but babies! You will always have each other. And I would stroke their pixellated little faces and smile a teary smile.

For children who had lost so much, it seemed like such an astonishing blessing for them to have not just a sibling, but a womb-mate. Their other half, their other self, the other one who was right there at their own beginning. I assumed that being twins would mean they would have a head-start, attachment-wise. I thought that even if they didn't like us, they would have solace in the deep familiarity of a twin. I always assumed that their two-ness would be a source of instinctive comfort to them, but right now, it seems that the reverse is true.

Because it's not just Pink's dislike of Blue that makes things complicated. When two become three, it's possible that uneven attachment within the family unit will result in triangulation. But what about when two become four? There are so many new dyads going on when two children are adopted at once, and it all begins to feel not just difficult but frankly, pretty mathematically complex. So what's the word for what happens at our house? Square-ation? Diagonalisation? I think the technical term is probably hot mess.

I drew an attachment-o-gram for the people in our house, sometime in December. This is what it looked like:
Mummy loves everybody. Daddy loves everybody. Pink loves everybody except for Blue. Blue loves everybody except for Mummy.

Yeah, Blue loves everybody except Mummy. I am not saying that lightly. I wanted, more than anything, to be able to feel like everything was either fine or travelling towards fine. But as time went on and Pink became more and more secure (clingy, at times, but a normal kind of clingy, not an 'I'm terrified you're going to leave me' kind of clingy), I could see an increasing contrast between the two of them and by the time I sat down to draw this diagram, I knew that the arrow between the two of us mostly only went in one direction.

I don't think I appreciated, before we adopted, just what a spectrum there is in attachment. I knew about RAD, but I guess I thought that if we didn't face RAD then everything would be pretty much fine. And our babies were so young when we adopted them. Three months! And some children suffer much more neglect than they did, for much longer, and form new attachments easily. But because Blue was only three months old when he came to us, because he was held to be fed, because his sister seemed to attach so well, it can be very easy to minimise just how awful his early experiences were. It can be very easy to forget how totally logical, how totally understandable it would be if they continue to affect him. And I was aware that all children are different - some cling, some run. I didn't want to turn into the sort of mother who would drag my toddler off to the psychotherapist or the hypnotherapist or the aromatherapist for imaginary emotional problems, problems created in my own fevered imagination, problems invented to feed my own need for drama.

And for a while I hoped that this was only one of those imaginary problems. It never used to seem like a pattern, just an agglomeration of bad luck. He's sick. He's tired. He doesn't dislike me, he just prefers his Daddy. When he wasn't very cuddly, or didn't want me if he hurt himself then okay, that might just be personality. But when he rejected me and snuggled deeply into the lap of a stranger one week at the library - and then someone else, the next week, and then another again, and started doing the same at church - then, I was worried. Not calling-the-adoption-agency-for-emergency-suport worried, but worried enough. He would show a lot of signs of security - checking in, chatting, really good eye contact - and then lots of signs of insecurity - inappropriate stranger behaviour, ignoring me, a rigid body when he was being held by me - all in the same day. I watched him, and I found out some things that I wish I had never needed to know.

I found out that it is easy to project feelings of love onto any reasonably contented infant, but that a child who can move suddenly shows where their heart really lies. I found out that I really had expected my children would prefer mother over father, even if I had never said it out loud.I found out that keeping a child mostly at home might be wise for a hundred different reasons, but that it can give a false sense of security that comes crashing down once the child actually spends time in a situation where stranger interaction is inevitable. I found out that when Blue picks strangers to snuggle up to, he prefers brunettes. I found out that nothing throws insecure attachment into sharp relief like a sibling whose attachment seems to be fine. I found out that a child can show a lot of signs of secure attachment and then a lot of signs of horrifyingly insecure attachment within the same day, the same hour. I found out that nobody in my 'real life' has any idea what this means. I found out that attachment issues aren't necessarily two-sided. In fact, I felt like a teenager again as I remembered just how painful it was to fiercely love someone who didn't seem to love me back.

And I found out that each time I tried to draw him in, to get closer, I had Pink screeching and pushing him away.

I cannot possibly explain just how big an issue this was. Because of course - she needs me too. If she wants to cling, I want to let her cling. And which child do you think is more likely to be picked up - the child who is grabbing my legs, saying 'mu-mmy! mu-mmy!' (yes, that's FINALLY happening) or the child who is running as fast as he can in the opposite direction, covered in his sister's bite marks? Yeah, you guessed right.

I wasn't deciding to prioritise her over him, it was just sort of happening. Hour by hour, day by day, she was getting the lion's share of the attention. The number one Big Thing I have learned, parenting two children, is this: It's not possible to put two people's needs first at the same time. Not possible. Sometimes their needs coincide, but often they don't and that means that a lot of my day is spent making split second decisions that essentially reduce to: right, which one of you is going to lose this time? This is fairly trivial when they are both thirsty and want a drink, or hot and need their jackets taking off. But when they both need therapeutic parenting my brain feels like it is going to just give in and finally explode.

Call me stupid, but I did not realise how difficult this would be when we decided to adopt two at once. Overall, I think we had excellent adoption preparation. Our homestudy involved months and months of weekly visits from the social worker, so you'd hope so, right? We covered the usual adoption topics in considerable depth, and I feel like we went into this as well prepared as was possible. We discussed attachment. We discussed race. We discussed discipline. We discussed food. We discussed our own childhoods. We discussed pretty much everything, I thought - but we never discussed the realities of adopting two un-attached children at the same time. We were asked one question about multiples during our assessment, and I improvised wildly and said something like we would treat twins like any other siblings, siblings who happen to be the same age. And our social worker said Yes! Absolutely! and ticked a box, and that was that. I think that they were just wanting to check I didn't want twins to be a pair of dolls to dress up in matching outfits, and my answer reassured them. (As if I would do that!
What do they think I am?Some kind of monster?) And so we were approved for twins. But we were never asked the question how are you going to do all the one-on-one attachment activites you've waxed lyrical about if you get more than one? Where do you plan to put baby #2 when you are babywearing #1? How do you propose to do all of those slow sweet silly games with your child that rely on focused, individualised attention if your other child is clinging to your leg and biting her brother's foot? Do you plan to keep one of your children in a stasis booth for part of the day while you do attachment stuff with the other one, and then swap? Because frankly, lady, that's the only way your plans are going to work.

The truth is, I had no idea at all just what it would mean to be working on attachment with two kids at the same time. I'm going to insert all the usual disclaimers about our twin referral here - very lucky, extremely grateful, yes indeed, no question. But seriously, no idea.

With twin-life in general, when people say 'oh, twins, how DO you cope?' my most frequent answer is: Triage. And I say it like I'm joking, but I'm sort of not. Sound extreme? You're welcome around here on a rainy afternoon, just after naps, anytime. The irony is, I make jokes about how having twins is all about triage, but I never noticed how I was utterly failing to properly triage the attachment situation that was staring me right in the face. The whole idea of triage is that you don't just care for the patient who is screaming the loudest, you care for the patient who needs intervention the most. On a battlefield, the person shouting the loudest is probably going to be okay, and I think that it's probably the same with children. The child who is wrapped around my knees, showing me she wants me and needs me, isn't going to get forgotten. The child who is quietly ignoring me probably needs connection much, much more. I was being an idiot, and letting the important get crowded out by the urgent.

And I'm pretty slow about these things, but eventually something clicked and I got it. I started to shove Pink off my lap and plonk Blue down there instead. Actually, I was pretty mean about it, sometimes. I would read Shades of People with him, and she adores Shades of People. So if she wanted to read along so that she could point at the giant infant on p14 and say 'bay-bee', she was going to have to suck it up and get deal with being close to him. And if she didn't want to, that was fine, but she was not going to shove him off my lap and sit there herself because Mummy has two babies, Pink-my-sweetie, Mummy has two babies, and Mummy loves you like crazy but Mummy loves Blue, too, because Blue is Mummy's baby just like YOU are my baby! And Mummy is having a cuddle with Blue right now, and it would be lovely if Pink wanted a cuddle too - we can all cudddle together! - but if she doesn't want to cuddle with Blue then she needs to play with a toy because Mummy is cuddling with Blue now, sweetie. And some of you are thinking no wonder your children are having trouble with speech and language if you use sentences that long to talk to them! but mostly I was just talking and talking to cover the sound of her screaming at me in protest.

But she got used to it. And more importantly, so did he. He started to relax with me much more. I spent a lot of time on the floor with him, crawling around, and letting him feed me stale cheerios that he found under the high chairs. And for a while, whenever someone asked me 'what do you do?' I would tell them about my job, but I would silently think I'm working on attachment with my son, that's what I do. I've always worked hard on attachment with them - always. But it's always been with them. It's only recently that I realised just how much he needed it to be with him.

And now suddenly, the last four weeks or so - it's like a switch has been flipped. He's always known I was The Mummy, but it seems that pretty much overnight he finally decided to stop shopping for a replacement. He will still go to other people for cuddles, but after a while he wants to crawl out of their laps and into mine. And then last week, he climbed out of his father's lap and into mine, and wouldn't budge. We went to the library again today and he snuggled with me all through the song time. He cast flirtatious glances over my shoulder at the other ladies, of course - otherwise he wouldn't be my Blue - but he wanted to stay with me. And when I come home from work he runs up to me and squeaks and wants a hug, most days, which sounds like a small thing but feels far from small to me.

And so here we are, for now. We haven't got there yet, wherever 'there' is, but I feel like the spiderweb of connections that we have is getting more and more tangled and dense and holding us together more tightly every day. I feel like I have learned a lot about attachment over the last few months, but the biggest thing has been - we couldn't have addressed this unless we had admitted it. Critically considering our attachment has not been easy, but I am profoundly thankful that I knew enough to realise that needing to work on our attachment did not mean that our family was failing. I'm convinced that we are more likely to fail our kids when can't imagine that attachment might ever be an issue for us, when we try to sweep these issues under the carpet. I try not to be strident (no, honestly, I do) but the more I see, the more I read, the more I learn, the more strongly I feel about this. Without turning into aromatherapy-panic-mothers, I think we owe it to our kids to be real about this when it's real in our lives, even if it does make us feel uncomfortable, even if it does remind us that our families are different when we would rather forget. I know that a lot of you feel the same - and if I had ever doubted that, this week would have shown me how wrong I was.

I'm sorry to report that we have seen less progress on the Blue-Pink dyad. They are starting to enjoy tickling each other, but unfortunately when Pink hits Blue, Blue has now started to hit back. So things aren't static there either - but that's probably a story for another day.