Sunday, August 26, 2012

Attachment Reality Check

I've worried about my attachment to Oak, and his to us.  We've seen good progress this month, thought it's clearly going to be an ongoing thing.  I've worried about Linden's attachment to the Winemaker, as well as the grief it brings him when she pulls away or refuses to respond to his greetings, as well as what it implies about her previous experiences with men.  But I haven't worried about the connection between Linden and me.  It felt like mutual adoration from the start.

When we walked into the group's room at the orphanage that first day, she latched hold of my leg and gazed up at me as I shuffled around greeting our son, responding to questions from our facilitator, trying to think of questions for the caretakers.  Several hours later, having brought the children to our rented apartment and eaten lunch, we went across the street to a playground.  When we left, she asked to be picked up.  I happily obliged, and instead of just sitting on my hip, she threw her arms around my neck, wrapped her legs around me and crossed ankles, then pressed her cheek into mine.  As we walked down the street, I realized she was murmuring, "Mama, Mama, Mama" dreamily to herself. 

It's pretty much been Mama Mama Mama all the time since then.  She wants to be near me or on me as much as possible.  She wants me to tickle her, to hold her, to bathe her, to wipe her bottom, to dress her, to spoonfeed her, to push her on the swing, to watch her on the slide, to sit right next to her while she colors.  When we're out, she wants to be in my arms, or at least holding my hand.  At night she sleeps next to me, usually flinging an arm or leg over me.  Sometimes she just crawls right on top of me and falls asleep sprawled over me, her head nestled under my chin. 

So when our therapist said, "Oh, they aren't attached to you yet, it's too soon.  It would be weird for them to love you after two months," I bristled a little.  I tried not to show how offended I was, because God forbid I let our therapist know how I really feel, right?  I said something like, "Well, I feel pretty solid with Linden, because she loves to be near me," and I described some of the above.  Maybe not all of it, because again, I wouldn't want the therapist to suspect how much I treasure this closeness.  She listened closely and said, "Yes, and it's all on her terms, right?"  I thought of all the times I'd wound up carrying Linden when I would have preferred free arms, the times I've been hugging my husband and she's pushed between us, the times I'm doing ANYTHING without her and she suddenly feels a need for my complete attention.  The therapist must have read my expression, damn her, and she added, "Will she let you kiss her?  Can you stroke her face and the palms of her hand?  What about eye contact?"  She leaned over and took my hand between hers, gently stroking it while gazing into my eyes.  I'm a pretty touchy-feely person, so it didn't freak me out, but I got her point.  It was quite intimate.  I nodded and tried to arrange an "I see what you mean," expression on my face, but I was still skeptical.  Just because I hadn't tried one particular gesture of intimacy didn't mean we weren't connected.

Turns out my therapist is smarter about attachment than I am, which is probably a good thing, considering how much she charges.  That afternoon, as Linden rested against me, I kissed her soft little cheek.  She immediately rubbed it off.  I tried again on the other cheek, making sure I wasn't being sloppy, because anyone will rub off a wet kiss, right?  She scrubbed even more fiecely, and pulled away.  I touched her cheek gently, she jerked back.  I said her name, and she looked at my mouth, my forehead, over my shoulder--but not into my eyes.  I told her to look at me, and she did--for a brief second.  At this point, I was both shattered and fascinated.  How did I not know this before?  How come these particular gestures were so hard for her?  I dump her on her back and tickle her, I sit her on my lap and feed her, I rock her in my arms and sing to her--weren't those intimate situations as well?  For a final test, I sat down and put her on my lap.  I picked up her little hand, and like our therapist had done, gently stroked the palm.  I had let this woman, whom I've paid to talk to me for an hour once a week for eight weeks, do this without flinching.  My daughter, whom I've spent 22 hours a day with for the same eight weeks plus the three before, yanked her hand away.

I tried some of the same things the next day, with the same results.  This time I said, "Interesting!" in her language.  She wanted to know what, of course, so I said, "You like to be with me, but you don't want me to do mother-daughter things."  She may have been as surprised as I'd been, because I think that in her six year old way, she also thinks we have a pretty great connection.  I added, "And it's okay honey, because we've only been together two months.  We can get better at it."  She bravely said, "Let's practice."  I had her look into my eyes for a bit longer, and I stroked her cheek.  I kissed her cheek and picked up her hand, and after a few distracted seconds, she blurted, "Now can I rub it off?" 

I told her she could, and I carefully kept any hurt feelings off my face.  I set her down and we went on with her day.  Our time together continues as before, but I am slightly more likely to make her wait for my attention, and to share me with her brother.  Now I know what to look for, and I have something to look forward to.  That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Next time I'm looking for a stupid therapist. 


  1. Or she's just not a tactile kid. It might not be attachment related.

    (I had a happy, non-traumatic childhood and I loathed it when my parents and grandparents attempted to kiss or snuggle me... and can think of few things ickier than having to look in my mum's eyes while having her stroke my palms. And I'd have hit any therapist who tried to do that to me).

    You sound like an awesome mom and your new kiddos are settling in nicely. I'd be a bit wary of so-called "trauma mamas" and "attachment therapists" that insist they know better than actual, licensed healthcare providers and feel the need to recommend APs do all kinds of nutty things (read: bryan post, Ronald Federici and the ghastly parenting videos of Christine of

    1. One challenge of jumping in the deep end, so to speak, is that I really don't always know what is just the kids, what is "orphanage" skills, or even what is worth worrying about versus letting it slide. I am following my sister's advice--seek out expert opinion, then trust your gut about whether to follow it. Thanks for the perspective.