I won't lie. This has been a Really. Hard. Week.
As much of a roller coaster ride as the process was before LM came home, it's been even more so since he's been home. We went from the super highs of last week's steps forward, to some behavior this week that makes we wonder if we are any closer than the day we met.
It's such a let down. And of course, I'm even more upset by my fear that we won't be able to get the closeness that we've dreamed of for our family.
Instead of that sweet little guy who was imitating us, beaming, and giving an occasional hug, we are now dealing with a grumpy, tiny person who seems to despise us at times. I'm attributing this to hard-core grieving. I wasn't exactly sure if that's what it was or not at first. I mean, it could be teething, grumpy toddler, etc. I just don't know enough about his personality to understand what I'm looking at.
He screams and nothing will comfort him. He wants up. He wants down. He pushes away and then cries to be carried. He doesn't want a bottle. He screams if you change him. He's just pissed at the world. I put him in his carrier and he raises his hands over his head, arches his back, and screams bloody murder. He'll put his face on my chest and push away. And a few times, he's bitten me. And then I scream. (But only inside my head...)
As much as I have read about grieving and attachment, it still caught me off-guard. I expected him grieve when we left his foster mom. Or during the first night at the hotel. Or during the first few weeks home. I guess I didn't expect it to happen in the middle of the night, seven weeks later. So when it started this week, I just didn't think grieving. This week, it's been going on about 3:30 a.m. and lasting until 5 a.m. or so. And sometimes he'll have outbursts during the day too. In general, we have days where he's just out of sorts.
But OK. I know these things take a while, so the grieving I understand. But I've been carrying this nagging feeling around that we just aren't attaching. And that's a whole other can of worms. I mentioned my concerns to our social worker, some friends, The Man. They reminded me that it hasn't been that long and all seemed to think things were going well and I was over-reacting. Which is all likely true. But I couldn't shake the feeling.
Here's the things that bug me: it doesn't feel like LM makes much eye contact with me (how much is enough anyway?), he's not one for affection (I can give him a few hugs, but not many and it's rare he hugs back), and he is still pinching and scratching a lot, and he doesn't let us comfort him when he gets hurt. Maybe all this is normal??
But an incident at an indoor play area this week really sparked my fears. There were three other adults in the area, and wouldn't you know, he makes a beeline for those people, smiling and charming, and climbed right into their personal space without a second thought. He reached out and grabbed onto one of the lady's fingers for support as he climbed. He stood at the knee of the other, holding her leg. He never looked back. He never sought me out in the whole 30 minutes we were there.
This was just too much for me to handle. For most adoptive parents, attachment is THE KEY THING we are all worried about when our kids come home. Can we create a bond with our child? Will we be able to break through that deep sense of loss they have and get them to trust us? And don't even bring up the dreaded three letters...RAD (reactive attachment disorder) which sends shivers down the spines of even the most prepared.
As we were at that play area, I felt myself getting more and more bummed. I tried to interact with him. I called his name and scooped him up. I made faces at him. But he still didn't give me the time of day.
Haven't I been the one who has comforted (or tried to), changed, clothed, played and loved on him? Does he even know who I am? I'm not sure if he even recognized me. So, I did what any mom would do.
I gathered our things, went home, put him down for a nap, and cried my eyes out.
How do I know where we "should" be? What's "normal" behavior and what isn't? It's been 7-weeks, which seems like forever, but really, it's not that long. Is he really grieving, or is he just being a typical toddler? Maybe I'm so terrified of not connecting that it makes things seem much worse than they really are. Are all these things really something to be concerned about?
So I called several adoptive friends to try and get some perspective. A few, whose sons have been home for 7-8 months, both shared that their sons behaved similarly at this stage. They stepped up their attachment games and felt their children were now attaching well. Another friend, who I trust and value her ability to calmly assess a situation, and who has also been through this process three times, acknowledged that if she saw some of this behavior in her children, she would have been concerned. Finally, some validation for my feelings!
As always with this process, I find myself doing a lot of floundering and soul searching, and then jumping into action. Of course, I've been reading every attachment-related thing I can get my hands on. And, like most things that have to do with child-rearing, the authors have completely different viewpoints on what the "right" things to do are.
According to some of these books, we've already screwed up. One book recommends NEVER putting your child down for the first 3-4 days you are home. They say you need 1 week of very intensive bonding for each month of age you child is before they came home. That would be 10 weeks of holding LM. I don't think my arms could take it.
There were a variety of suggestions, but like all things on this journey so far, I am just learning to try and listen to my heart and gut when it comes to doing what's right for us. A challenge since I'm typically a person that is very in my head about things.
So, we've stepped up our attachment activities the past few days. He's still seemed a bit quiet and even sad but he hasn't seemed as angry. And yesterday we had a pretty nice day!
Perhaps the roller coaster is starting up the other side.
Here's some sites that we have found particularly helpful in learning some new ways to connect with LM. They are great bonding exercises for any parent/child!
Attach China: Activities to Promote Attachment (this is an amazing list!)
A4everFamily: Attachment Activities
titushome: Bonding Games
A4everFamily: Holding Time
Home Theraplay Activities for Young Children
Quacken Baby: Attachment Therapy Activities