There is a process of attachment when you have children, no matter how they come into your life. A lot of people assume that it's a natural process when you've given birth to that child, but there's a lot of talk about attachment with a child by adoption. Recently I was told that there's just something special about the ability to give birth to a child that isn't there with adoption, and I've got to challenge that one.
I've talked before about how tough it was for me as a mother when Melkamu first came home. I never doubted that I would love my children and I expected there to be a process of attachment. But that first month, and several that followed it, were hard, much more so than I'd expected. We did our best and tried to be the best parents for Melkamu that we could be, and we kept going through it. One night, when Melkamu no longer needed us to sit by his bed when he was falling asleep (this was probably 4 or 5 months after he came home), I gave him a kiss and hug, put him in his crib, and said "Good night Sweet Pea, I love you." I say it to both my kids in some variation every night. That night, though, I stopped short right outside of his room because it was the first time I hadn't had to think about saying it to him. It just came out...and I meant every single word with every bit of my being.
The bonding process with Patrick was easy. The bonding process with Melkamu was hard-won, and I often cherish it in a way that I don't think parents through biology only can often appreciate.
By a year old, he'd lost both of his parents. In pictures of him with his firstmom, he is joyous, laughing, smiling--a child who was loved and knew it. And then suddenly, he had lost all of that. He was deeply scared and confused and grief-stricken. But over the next 4 months, he started to love again--to attach to his nannies, the kids in his toddler room.
Then all of a sudden, this strange white couple and their little boy show up. The lady kneels down in front of him to meet him, trying to keep herself in check, but when the nannies indicate that it's OK to pick him up, she bursts into tears against his little shoulder as she hugs him tight. He doesn't know her. He doesn't know what she's doing or why she's doing it. She holds him and cries and says words in a strange language. She introduces him to the little boy, who seems pretty nice and gives him a toy. Then the man picks him up and smiles at him. He knows something is going on but it's too much to take in, so he falls asleep. The people leave but they come back to see him each day. It's really scary. He thinks they're nice, but he's thought that about people before. They've left him.
Just a few days later, they take him away from his nannies. They take him away from his friends. They take him on a big, loud plane for a really long time, then to a strange house. There are scary animals there, although he soon realizes they're like living toys. Maybe it's not too bad. But then the lady takes him to a place with a lot of kids...and leaves him there. And doesn't come back for hours. He's terrified. He thinks he's been left again. She does it a couple of times a week. When he sees her, he's both grateful that she's back and furious that she's done that to him. He clings as tightly as possible out of desperate fear and the tiniest shred of hope that if he holds on tightly enough, she won't go away again.
Eventually he learns that she really will come back, every single time. And the man hugs him and plays with him, and sits by his bed and rubs his back while he's trying to sleep. And the other little boy, the one who shares his bedroom, is really cool and fun. And he starts to know them as Mama and Daddy and big brother Patrick.
He has nightmares for years--but Mama and Daddy always come get him and hug him until he feels better. It takes a long time before seeing Mama or Daddy at daycare in the afternoon is just a happy thing, not a happy/relieved thing. While he never forgets that he's been hurt in the past, he loves these people as much as they love him.
When I think about how much Melkamu has been through to get to this point, I value our connection more than I can ever express. He usually wakes up shortly before our alarm goes off in the morning and it means the world to me that he comes into our room, knowing he'll be welcomed with a big hug and kiss and cuddle before getting dressed. I think it would be impossible for someone not to fall in love with him. His personality is one of the most open and loving and happy that I've ever known. He feels things deeply and has a desire to be right in the middle of anything that's happening.
The fact that he has lost so much in his life and yet has been able to love and trust again just staggers me. It's not something I can ever take forgranted. Every giggle, every kiss, every hug, every "Mama, I love you"...they are the most precious things in the world.
The connection between parents and the children they've adopted may come about differently than it does with biology but I think it's all the more special for how much it takes to get there for both sides. It may be impossible to understand that if you've never had a child by adoption before, but trust me when I say that it it is as strong as any bond could ever be.