By Erin P.
His face drained of colour, alabaster against his Spiderman sleeper. His chubby fists clutched a fuzzy giraffe, soggy with tears. It was 2006 and my son had just been placed in his adoptive home. We were delighted, over-joyed and so very eager to begin our journey. He was not. Our 10-month-old boy had been apprehended from his birth mother; then, after bonding to his foster parents, he was put into our arms. Strangers. Not to be trusted. And that’s how we began our life together.
As the weeks bled into months, his trust for Papa grew. You see, Papa looked a lot like Foster Dad: big, bearded and boisterous. As a federal government employee, my husband took the 9-month parental leave because he received most of his pay. I, however, worked for a not-for-profit organization and consequently, earned less income and benefits. I could not afford to take any of the parental leave, further compounding an already growing issue.
Somehow my son knew that I was neither Foster Mom nor Birth Mom. When he fell down and I attempted to console him, he screamed, kicked and bit. Feeling hated by this beautiful wee boy, I sunk into depression. I knew it wasn’t personal, that he was suffering, that he was grieving his severed attachments. My heart ached as I longed to simply hold him, to wipe his tears, to love him.
Over the ensuing four years, we adopted three more children: a son in 2008, a daughter in 2010 and another daughter three months later. Given that my husband was already on parental leave in 2010, he received only 6 months off for our final adoption.
All of my children still struggle with an attachment disorder, resulting in a parade of professionals entering our lives including psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. Amongst the unknowns, we do know this: each of my children expresses their attachment disorder differently. My eldest son endures a hug but turns away and stiffens. My youngest son cannot tolerate being alone – ever. My eldest daughter, now 7, hugs everyone. Although seemingly charming, my wee girl does not differentiate between family and strangers. In grade 1, my youngest has difficulty developing and maintaining relationships. Trust comes slowly, if at all.
As I reflect on years past, I know how critical that first year was for attachment, for healing those severed ties so early in my children’s lives. Would extended parental leave have changed anything? YES. I believe and research supports that having more time to engage in those simple yet vitally important care-giving tasks during the workday would have impacted attachment. That is why I strongly urge the federal government to consider extending parental leave to 12 months for all parents. For adopted children who have already suffered so much, we need to send a clear message:
Regardless of birth history, adoptive families deserve equal time to bond with your family.