Friday 21 December 2012


It used to be that I couldn't hold other people's babies; I didn't know how to do it. Babies were floppy and wriggly and fragile and a little bit frightening. My sister was good at babies (she still is)-  I would hand them to her and that suited everybody, baby included.

Then it used to be that I still couldn't hold other people's babies; I didn't know how to do it without crying. I wanted one of my own, so much - if I held someone else's, I was worried that I would dissolve with want and longing. Or maybe just run away and steal it.

Then it used to be that I didn't want to hold other people's babies. They made me too angry, these small defenceless beings, all fluffy and warm and fed and doted upon, these tiny little barnacles sleeping contentedly, unaware of how lucky they were. It made me angry to see them grabbing onto their mothers' fingers with their little tiny fists, when I knew my baby was out there somewhere and grabbing at nothing, nothing at all.

Then it was that I couldn't hold other people's babies because my arms were too full of my own. My own! Two! Babies! I couldn't believe it.
Neither could they, by the looks on their faces.
Lucky me. I know. I knew.

Then it was that I couldn't hold other people's babies because I was too exhausted. Two toddlers running around constantly? There isn't enough coffee in the world to deal with that. 

But now my two are bigger, and somewhere in the last three and a half years, something has happened and I've realised that I could happily hold someone else's baby. I find this to be little short of miraculous - I didn't think that I would ever actually want to hold someone else's crinkly newborn, I thought that knowing my babies spent those days alone would always make it too hard. It's funny, though - I feel like I've finally reached a point where I know that those babies are not my babies, that those babies have nothing to do with my babies, that I can separate these privileged babies from my own experiences, my children's experiences. I know that I might feel differently again if we dive back into another adoption process, but for now I'm enjoying this feeling- I'm enjoying it a lot. A friend of mine recently had a newborn and I grabbed him the first moment I could. He's so squidgy and light and sleepy and I enjoyed it but I didn't wish he was mine. If I've ever held your baby and you're reading this, you're probably freaking out right now when you realise I'm only just getting to this point in my life. Sorry about that. 

So anyway, I was having a nice moment and enjoying myself, patting the baby and reflecting on my sudden acquisition of emotional maturity. However! It seems that I still can't hold other people's babies. My son saw me with this child in my arms and lost it. I mean, he LOST IT. 

I have to admit that in the moment, I didn't deal with it very well. Honestly, I didn't want to think about his problems. I was having my own little emotional epiphany and was not in the mood to have that interrupted by a three year old boy. Go to your father, Blue. That didn't work. Jay came and got him and took him into another room where he wailed and freaked out and I held grimly onto the baby (who I'm going to call Buzz, because wouldn't it be fun if he really was called Buzz?) for another minute or so. 

I should have known better. It's been a year since I last held a baby - who I'll call baby Squeak - and he saw that too and now he regularly wants to 'play baby Squeak'. Playing baby Squeak means lying down in my lap - all three and a half years old of him - and making throaty baby noises like I imagine baby vampires would make and demanding pretend milk, all while telling me that my name is baby Squeak's mother's name. IT'S PRETTY FREAKING WEIRD. And it's not like he doesn't see babies - he sees plenty of babies - but that is the last time he saw me cuddle one.

Recently - this is related, I promise - we made the decision not to send the twins to preschool. It just seems that Blue isn't secure enough to be spending days away from us. Actually, not so much away from us as being cared for by someone else. He gets ... confused. Nothing exceptional, just your average, run-of-the-mill insecure attachment stuff. A bit of mummy shopping, particularly. A bit of clinginess (to me). A bit of overenthusiastic affection with people he doesn't know very well. And if you think it's contradictory to have a child who is simultaneously clingy and then running off to snuggle with strangers well, welcome to the club.

This is not to say he isn't generally well attached - I really think he is. It's us that he wants. He may be confused about this relationship, but at least he knows this is the relationship to be confused about. Every night before he goes to bed, and several times during each day, he checks in and says 'you look after me tomorrow, mummy?' and I say yes, if it's me tomorrow, and if it's Jay's turn I say 'Tomorrow Daddy will look after you!' and as far as he's concerned, both of these answers are good answers. He says 'okay, and then after Daddy, you look after me again' and I say 'yes, Blue, then I will look after you again'. 
And sometimes, if I'm honest, I get a little frustrated. Little Dude, it is alwaysalwaysalways me or Daddy. We always look after you. You know how we used to have full-time jobs and now we both work part time? Well, that is so that we can always look after you. It's pretty much always me or Daddy. It Really Is Not Complicated. 

But clearly it is complicated for him. 

A few weeks before we made the decision about preschool, one of our friends had spent the day looking after the two of them and it pretty much flipped Blue on his head. We spent a few weeks leading up to it - and then, Veronica will look after you! and he loooves Veronica (he's a really social kid, by the way - with both kids and adults) and he was really looking forward to it. And he had a great time - so did Pink - and Blue was pretty much shoving us out the door when it was time to leave.  It's really sweet to see him making friends, but this was something more, it was not hooray, I have a new friend who loves me behaviour, it was I am so freaking confused behaviour. Totally related, I'm sure - the next few days he was awful. I mean really, really terrible. Totally dysregulated and miserable and all over the place. 

Back to babies.

Blue was hugely upset by the Baby Buzz incident. It took him a long time to calm down, and then he kept referring to it. We talked it through again and again, but clearly he had a lot to process. And one of the strange / wonderful / terrifying things about his developing language is that suddenly, he can talk about these things. He's got big feelings and suddenly he can actually share them. (A few days ago, when he wasn't very well, I asked him what was wrong and he looked at me sadly and sad Mummy, I've got FEELINGS! Indeed, little man). 

So he brought it up a few times, and then a few days ago, in the middle of something totally unrelated, he said:
You hold Baby Buzz and I feel very, very sad. 
Clearly it was still worrying him - it was still right at the surface. And I had a thought and I asked him:
When I was holding Baby Buzz, did you think that meant I was his mummy? and he said Yes. And his little lip quivered. (He does not like the thought that I might be someone else's Mummy - we've been here before, with both of them. I know this isn't atypical, or just an adoption thing, and I have to admit I rather like Pink's direct and aggressive way of dealing with this issue - sometimes, totally unprovoked, she marches up to children (strangers or friends), squares off at them, narrows her eyes, then points to me and says THAT NOT YOUR MUMMY! THAT MY MUMMY! and then marches off again. Okay, Pink. Just as long as we're clear).

So anyway. His little lip was quivering, and then suddenly I had a moment of all-these-issues-are-interconnected-type-clarity and I asked him When Veronica looked after you, did that mean that she was your Mummy? and he said yes, Veronica is my Mummy in a totally matter-of-fact way. And I just wanted to bury my head in my hands and howl. He's been home three years - three years - and he still gets confused about who his mother is. It breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, but in a way it doesn't really surprise me. I look at all these happy secure newborn babies, the ones I so recently want to cuddle, and think about how the first three months of life sometimes get called the Fourth Trimester because of the intense closeness and intimacy between mother and infant. The very idea of separating one of these squishy ones from their mother, of putting them instead in a place where they are unloved and undernourished is ... unthinkable. It's too horrible to think about, except for the fact that it does happen, except for the fact that it did happen, and maybe the question really is not so much why does he still struggle with attachment at this point? as why does it seem that his sister does not? Sidebar: one thing for sure about adopting twins is that it makes me hyper-aware of how different children, even in the same circumstances, cope so differently. I think that once I would have thought that one set of people were exaggerating about adoption issues and another set were in denial. Now I think that people who say their kids are really struggling are probably absolutely right and people who say their kids are untroubled are probably telling the truth, too.

So after taking a day or so to think, recently Blue and I have started playing the Mummy or Friend? game. This started with me saying that I didn't cuddle baby Buzz because I was his Mummy, I just wanted to cuddle him because he was my friend. And we went through more children that he knows. Am I their Mummy, or just their friend? And then we started going through the list of adult females he admires - it's a long one - and saying how about Mary? Do you cuddle her because she is your mummy, or because she is your friend?' and it was interesting (if a bit terrifying) to hear him stumble about the answers a few times until we reached a point where he knew that every other lady he cuddles is not his mummy, than only I am his mummy, and that when I cuddle other children, I am not their Mummy! Oh no! I am only Pink and Blue's Mummy! I am only Buzz / Squeak / etc's friend!

Now he always gets it right - so much so that he does the dramatic pauses before the answers. Mary.... is.... my....FRIEND! And sometimes he gives the wrong answer on purpose then he laughs and tips his head sideways, looks at me through his giraffe-like lashes and says that's a little bit funny.  Which it would be, except it's still sort of not. We've progressed to level two now - aunts and uncles - and he's really getting solid on that too. She not my Mummy! She my aunty! I'm sure this is good for him, this articulating of these relationships. I want this to be something he doesn't have to think about. I would prefer he knew it by instinct, but the next best thing is to know it by rote. Or maybe a better way to say it - I want him to know this by heart.

But sometimes I have flashes of thinking shouldn't we be learning the alphabet or something? What are other people talking about in their cars while I'm teaching my three-and-a-half-year-old son who his mother is? And I have moments of fear, too, that he won't be ready to go to school when it's time to go to school and I really, really, really don't think I'd be a good homeschooler (and I don't think Pink would be either, but I couldn't separate them, and what is more important, her need for a classroom environment or his need to have regular care from parents for a few more years?) And I know that some people think that this stuff happens because he has full-time parental care and I really really really don't agree and how dare they judge me for my choices, choices made for my children and whose business is it anyway if my children don't go to preschool? They will be just as ready as any other child for whatever is ahead. Except that they still can't count, or paint, and frankly their glitter skills leave a lot to be desired. I'm failing them. I'M FAILING THEM!

(I think I've mentioned the attachment spiral of crazy once before.  Ahem. I really should know better by now).

And so it continues. How crazy, that I used to think attachment was just something to think about during the first year home. How crazy, that I used to think that attachment issues meant that the family was doomed to fail (whatever fail means). How difficult this all continues to be, sometimes. I think what's changed in the last three years - for me - is that I love my kids so much more than I used to. I would fight to the death for my little guy, for my little girl, whatever attachment challenges lie before us.

Last night, I had a terrible headache and I'd told the children I wasn't feeling very well. After a spectacularly unsuccessful dinner , I had them upstairs to get ready for bed. I sat down on the stairs and winced with pain and put my hand up to my forehead. Blue came over to me and said You still got a sore head? And I said yes. And he said I give you a pat, Mummy and then he stroked my hair and then he said and now I give you a kiss, and that will make you all better. 

If only I could do the same for him. 


  1. Oh my... I have so much to say about this post--how I agree, how I understand, how we were asked to leave preschool after EIGHT days because the twins weren't ready, how angry I was about that at first but now I get it, how I constantly wonder-are they clingy because I spend too much or not enough time w them, how I wonder daily if we screwed up by not co-sleeping when they came home, how every single behavior makes me wonder-is that 3 yr old or adoption related.... On and on. Too much for a comment, perhaps ill email you. I will say this--after the debacle of preschool we started seeing a therapist who specializes in intrnl adoption and an occupational therapist. Both of which have done wonders! ill be glad to fill you in if your interested. Neither kids have horrible issues but both could be bad enough to make them the 'problem' kids at preschool if we don't figure it out now. I think you did the right thing waiting till next year for school. They will learn to count in time. No rush. And personally I hate glitter so am glad we missing it!

  2. Love this.

    I especially liked the part where you point out that by having twins you have seen that two children having the same background can react TOTALLY differently and BOTH reactions are true and valid reflections of their feelings and not based on your parenting. I wish all adoptive parents would read that and stop making assumptions about other AP's parenting skills. Not that I am speaking out of frustration, mind you.

    BG has been home 7 years and she cannot bear the sight of me touching another child. She cannot abide me giving affection to my two sons. I am not allowed to give compliments to anyone -- because in her mind if I think Sally is cute that means BG is not.

    I am with you heart and soul in your last sentence.

  3. Oh, this is all so familiar, especially the breastfeeding part! Because we got into parenting by fostering, we made a big distinction with Mara (who arrived as she turned 3) between the "mom jobs" and the biological connection between kids and their moms. She understands that we were doing the mom jobs because her mom couldn't do what she needed to do to keep Mara safe, and once we got to the point of adoption she did understand we were her parents forever, but it's still really difficult for her to understand that the cousins who live with her siblings in her aunt's care aren't also her siblings because it's her aunt doing the mom jobs but her mom is their mom too and it really does get complicated fast, especially for children who hold that sadness and uncertainty close to the surface as well as close to their hearts. For Mara, the hardest touch seems to have been seeing me do Nia's hair now that she lives with us. It took a long time for that to stop making her uncomfortable.

    He is learning and he is growing, which means you're not failing them. You're just working on giving him what he needs. School is about that too, but he can't manage school until he's able to learn to connect with people in a way that feels safe for him. It's amazing how much insight and empathy he has, though! In my experience, that's setting the groundwork for great outcomes.

  4. Three was HUGE for my son - lots and lots of hard focused work on attachment and talking about feelings. I know so well the feeling of wanting to just sob because more than three years home, we're still working on something I thought would happen in the first year if, ya know, I were a good enough mother. (Failing! Failing! Yep. Know that feeling too.)

    Thank you so much for this post. I'm going to start playing that game with Yosi. I feel only slightly terrified of what it might reveal. He has this thing - he insists that I do what he sees other mothers doing. Gestures. Postures. If his friend's mom is on the child's left, I must be on his left. It disturbs me greatly.

  5. Academics are overrated. The attachment and emotional work you do with Blue is far more important now, in my opinion, and I've observed that when a child is working hard on attachment and big feelings, they need more of their brain space and self control to devote to that. It sounds like you made the right choice for Blue, and he and Pink will both have many years to catch up on counting, the alphabet, quantum physics, etc. Sometimes I know that people judge academic pursuits or lack thereof, but other times I think it's just that it's the only thing they know to ask about, and they don't know what to say to kids if the kids are not in school. Preschool, schmeeschool. This work you are doing is essential.

  6. "...a child who is simultaneously clingy and then running off to snuggle with strangers" - oh, yes, that is very familiar. And that is why mine is not in preschool either.

  7. From a frequent lurker. Amazing post. Three was so huge in our house. Ben's attachment issues really took form when he turned three. His words had much to do with that. His fear was that we would be "lost". He turned 7 a few days ago and still worries about it. He still sleeps with a hand or foot on one of us. I have triumphed and failed over many issues many times.

  8. I get this. Thanks for writing this so clearly (as always). We are in our first year with G and he is older but we are doing the same things, establishing who is mommy and who is friend. He has been going to preschool because he needs the social interaction with other kids and we've worked very hard again to have him differentiate between his teachers and mommy. mommy-shopping. oi. yes I know. it's getting better but we back-slide a lot which is always soul-crushing. thanks again for this great post.

  9. Thank you for sharing this (and all that you share). I feel like there isn't a whole lot out there about attachment and emotions of kids adopted as babies, and/or these issues that can come up a bit down the road. Having just brought home a 9-month-old, I find it fascinating and educational. It sounds to me like you came up with a great way to help Blue understand the difference between a Mummy and a friend or aunt, and I love the game you played.

  10. So many thoughts swirling around in my head. First, aw, Blue. I was so sad reading about his reaction to you holding babies. I often think of this as well, how so many of these kids never received the bonding and love in that "4th trimester," and what an incredible loss that is. On top of all their other losses. I see Blue's anxiety in Eli also. Every day Eli asks, usually several times, who he is going to see the next day, where's he's going to be. Eli has a much more complicated schedule because Brad and I work full-time, but it's interesting to see the need for reassurance might be the same if his schedule was less complicated. We put a whiteboard/magnetic weekly calendar on the wall of his room, with pictures of the people he sees each day, but it hasn't stopped his questioning. Maybe because the source of his questioning isn't really cognitive, but emotional.

    Oh, and Blue, welcome to wonderfully painful and delightful world of FEELINGS! :)

    Next, to those who may judge, psshht. Whatever. Don't get me wrong, I've fallen down that attachment spiral of crazy before, too (am I still there? maybe), so I know how other people's opinions (even if they're just in my own head) overwhelm my thoughts. But nobody knows your kids like you and Jay do, so pretty much nobody else's opinion matters. And I think criticism from other parents often comes from a place of insecurity in them anyway.

    The mommy/friend game is brilliant. I love how you're able to dissect and address the very root of issues, I learn so much from you.

    Thanks as always for simultaneously amusing and educating me.

  11. OK. So I read this post and thought WOW, so much so much so much to process. But in my heart of hearts I immediately thought "Well, he's got Claudia, the most in touch Mom on the planet and so he will be fine." And I do NOT say that to minimize any of this (puhleeze!), I say that because so many parents are so out of touch with so many things (adoption-related or not) and just sort of gloss over things in the busy-ness of life. But not you. You will fight fiercely and get to the root and keep on fighting the same fight over and over and over if that's what it takes. And while I know you cannot just kiss him and make it all better you are doing a damn fine job of helping him through it all.

  12. Can we first time moms...with twins...from Ethiopia get together and compare notes or something?!

    Seriously, thanks for the post. There really is something soul-nourishing about sharing these parts life.

  13. sigh... feelings. M is getting to where he is announcing his feelings. And frequently it is "I'm just sad." Or "I'm just angry and frustrated." And he can't place a reason behind the emotion.

    And the snuggling with strangers? Yes. I understand.

    Wishing you the merriest Christmas, and praying for your family.

  14. Oh my. I started reading this thinking how funny...we feel the same way about holding other babies (our arms are still quite full with our two adopted babies, been home 7 months now).

    And then as you started talking about Blue and his "mummy confusion," three years (this is agonizing) after being home...I'm not sure quite what I feel. We've had some quirky little attachment things lately with our daughter. I think "how can she be confused about this? She was so young when we got her...we've been exclusively caring for her for so long..." I've blogged a little bit about her "friendliness." ( The Fourth Trimester concept juxtaposed next to international adoption is really something. Hmm.

    It's so nice to hear another family talk about Attachment being a process past the first few months. I'll now be reading your blog beginning to end (or end to beginning) with an eye for anything attachment-related. And then maybe I'll send you an email with a gazillion questions, ha. :)

    Thank you so much for sharing - this is exactly what the adoptive community so desperately needs!

  15. I really had no idea these things could rear their heads later. I just assumed (!) that when they're so young they don't know any differet.

    How wrong I was and so, big hugs to you all.

    you are an awesome mother and this will all pan out in the grand scheme of things but it's the right now that's always so hard!

  16. I oh so needed to read this. I read your blog faithfully and always comment nice long comments in my head;) but alas, never write them as I have to go chase after our boy-girl twins born in Ethiopia. We have only been home 10 months (they are almost 2) but oh the anxiety..."attachment crazy spiral"...yup ..we just had our first weekend away from home with people who completely disregarded our wishes ("oh I know I shouldn't pick them up but who can resist??) and our twins were wild! Rejecting us, crazy (totall got your description of Blue at your friends confused!) and throwing themselves into others arms only to nestle in....sigh. Of course everyone thot it was all so adorable while our heads screamed at them all....I was so so discouraged (after almost a year of being so intentiOnal etc...)anyway in a way yOur post encourages me...that it is ok and it's even to be expected because of all they experienced...and we didn't just screw up their little lives....
    Hoping you are feeling better. Ha...the only reason I have a chance to read and comment today is 24 hour puking so that's my silver lining:). And on a previous post you talked about having mOre kids....just let me say as a mom of five that the hardest two things were goin from being a couple to having one child...turned our whole lives upside down....the next two were relatively easy but bringing home twins and piling on all the attachment stuff.!!!! Crazy crazy crazy. I totally think you are an amazing mom and bringin home two kids at once is wild for anyone...make that first time parents and wow!! I'm in awe;)....and then attachment and wanting so much to d it right....
    Honestly I think if you brought home one child now it would be easy and you would almost forget hey were there ;)
    Thanks for writing:) darci

  17. Sorry for the typos:)...on my phone

  18. I loved this post so much. Sooooo much. Wow.

  19. wow. amazing post. thank you.

  20. First time here, and you have got my attenion. Lovely post!


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