Three years ago this week a tiny 21 month old ran into my life. It was love at first sight. I could not believe how lucky I was to have been blessed with such a gorgeous little boy and spent most of our first meeting just staring at him in disbelief. I am not sure why there was this instant connection between the two of us, but I am pretty sure the feeling was mutual. Two days into introductions I put him down for his nap and then went home as required by the schedule. When he woke he scoured the FC’s house room by room looking for me inconsolable and calling out, ‘Ummy? Ummy?’. May be it was because he never really connected with his foster carers (his SW apologised about how negative his FC had been about him after I met with her for the first time) or because of the way they dealt with his attachment difficulties (“don’t pick him up or cuddle him, you can give him a cuddle before bed at night, but don’t cuddle him or pick him up if he cries at any other time, you’ll make a rod for your own back – he’ll never want you to put him down”), may be he was crying out for a bit of love and physical affection and I was desperate to shower it on a child of my own. Or may be it was because it had been explained to him, he knew a new Mummy was coming and was expectant…even if he didn’t fully understand what that meant.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I went on training to adopt again that I found out this sort of instant love and connection is highly unusual… Not realising that I did have this kind of experience, we were told that adopters who do say they feel like that are either lying or very strange. I realised that this time around things may be rather different, that my relationship with my new child could be very different but I never once doubted that I wouldn’t feel the same kind of love and affection for my new child…I felt it last time, I would feel it again.
But of course I didn’t. Who knows why. May be this time it was because you can’t explain to a baby what is going on. May be it was because he wasn’t ready to be removed from the first people who had briefly been able to provide him with the care and attention he needed and had missed out on in the months before. May be it was because I saw the love written on his face as he gazed up at his foster carer and couldn’t believe he would ever look at me the same way. May be it was because having already met him on a kind ‘try before you buy’ meeting, the first day of introductions were no where near as emotionally charged. May be it was because due to every thing I had been through in the two prior sort-of-matches that did not work out I did not have the cast iron belief that my SWs knew what they were doing as compared with the total faith I had in my SW the first time around. (By a mysterious total fluke during the first week the baby was home, we went to an attraction in the local area and came face to face with the little girl I had been considered but rejected for & it really didn’t help with this line of thinking at all!). May be it was because I was being asked so often, ‘so how do you feel?’, ‘how’s the bonding going?’ or constantly being told by his foster carers how gorgeous they thought he was, that in turn it made me feel terrible for not ‘feeling it’ as I felt I should have been. May be the extended visits after placement with the Foster carers that I did not have to have first time around affected his ability to settle properly or/and my confidence that I was doing things ‘right’. May be because I already had another child’s needs to consider my brain couldn’t just give way to a tidal wave of emotion. Who knows? I definitely thought he was cute, I liked the fact he was so smiley and giggly but honestly I felt little or no connection.
My new son has been at home with us just over a month. He is quite delayed in many areas of his development, but in these weeks he has made significant physical progress. Five weeks ago he was a baby who could only lay on his back and turn over to his front (not back again). He did not do much at all. He could just lift his head up off the floor for short periods, he certainly could not sit up, if you held him up for him to take is own weight on his legs then they would just crumple under him. He did not make many sounds or babble much. And he was not being weaned.
Now he eats everything and anything – we are currently on to chunkier purees and some finger foods. He can lift his head and shoulders off the floor whilst simultaneously bouncing his legs behind him, he can sit unaided for at least ten minutes before getting bored, he can push his legs down on the floor and use a bouncy hanging seat and actually bounce! He can roll the length of the living room in any direction he chooses (including to try to bite the IROs shoes during the LAC review!!!), and he tries to ‘talk’ to me, chuntering, babbling and sometimes a sort of singing. He is still behind but it undeniable that he has progressed significantly. When I tell people how much development he has made, generally the retort is ‘its amazing what a bit of love can do’ and I have felt a fraud. Because it was not love that helped as I wasn’t really feeling it – time, structure, routine, predictability, equipment, toys, space, opportunity…I think all these things helped but not the emotion and bond of love. And besides if love was enough to help him develop then he would never have been removed from his birth mother in the first place.
However, over the last week or so something has shifted in both of us. Up until now he has been a very quiet baby. He honestly never seemed to cry. Smile, laugh, giggle…yes. Cry, barely ever. And if I’m entirely honest a quiet ‘happy’ baby is quite easy to not fully engage with as its easy to presume they are fine as they are…but although he’d been promoted as ‘an easy baby’ and ‘so chilled’ and ‘he’s quite happy just sitting in his bouncy chair watching the world go by’, I had a nagging doubt that this quietness was actually as ok as everyone was making out.
However this has started to change. First he somehow managed to roll over in his cot and twist his sleeping bag around – without his legs free he couldn’t work out how to get back on to his back and so face down on the mattress, for the first time in desperation he cried out for some help. I was so shocked to hear him cry that I have never moved up the stairs so quickly! Once I came to his aid he quickly settled again. Then a few days later he choked himself on a sticker that I somehow had not seen and failed to remove on an item of new clothing. The shock, horror and relief when it was all over was just overwhelming for both of us. And again he cried. Well, actually this time he properly screamed…but he let me comfort, soothe and calm him. Then he started teething…and crying…and would only stop when I picked him up to cuddle and try to soothe him. This sudden clinginess took me by surprise. But it appears that he has realised crying brings comfort which means he seems to be crying more – so over the last few days he has also now started to cry to let me know he has woken up (before he would just lay in his cot and play with his taggies until I came through to see if he was awake and get him up, or I heard movement or noises on the monitor), he cries to let me know he is hungry (along with a weird high pitched ‘dee-dee dee-dee’ noise too) or not feeding him quickly enough, he cries to show his displeasure if I remove something from him that he wants. Yesterday one of the dogs pulled a baking tray off the side and onto our stone floor – the resultant clang was very noisy and made us both jump, again he cried until I picked him up and cuddled him. Today the HV weighed him on her scales, to begin with he looked confused, then looked at me and his face just crumpled. Two seconds after I picked him up he was fine. And of course, the more he wants me to comfort him and allows me to do so, the more I feel a bond between us growing. Before I could take care of him physically as best as I could, but I didn’t feel attuned to him emotionally, I realise now partly because he was unaware, due to his previous lack of care, how to let me know what it was he needed. And he has now discovered he rather enjoys comfort and has become quite cuddly. He snuggles his little head into my neck when I pick him up. He also grabs our heads and pulls them to touch his head and closes his eyes and smiles. He didn’t do this a week ago.
When the HV said to me today it was so lovely to see the connection between us I didn’t feel like such a fraud.