By Katy Hornsby, A Canadian Adoptive Parent
Small reminders of the instability and loss in our eldest son’s early life bubble up from time to time and reveal to us how deep his trauma runs—how desperately he needed more time to attach in his early life. Even though he was adopted at just over a year old, we were his fourth home. He had spent a few months in foster care, then a few months with his birth parents, and then another six months in a different foster home.
The first time, long after his adoption, that I brought our son to a hotel, we were making an unexpected stop, due to a freezing rain storm on our way home from a trip to Northern Ontario. He was almost three years old. We checked in, and I brought all our bags into the hotel room. I unpacked some toys and snacks for him. He sat there for a minute, staring at our bags and all his things. Then he looked up at me nervously, his big blue eyes wide, and solemnly said, “So, we live here now?”
I explained that we were just staying the night and we would take all our things back home the next day, when the weather was better. He breathed a big sigh of relief. My heart broke knowing that the sight of all our bags of stuff still triggered such feelings of insecurity.
A couple of years later, we began the adoption process for our second son. At this point, we were sure our oldest son was secure in knowing we were his forever family. We did everything we could to prepare him for being a big brother; we talked about the adoption process with him and answered all his questions patiently. Yet one day, on a car ride to the grocery store, he asked “When we get a new baby, who will I go to live with?”
We were shocked and heartbroken by this question, but we spoke calmly and asked him what he meant. He said that because we were adopting a new baby, he was wondering who he was going to get adopted by. He had been going through all of this preparation for Child Two, fully expecting that now he’d have to move on.
On a daily basis, going forward, we assured our son that we were going to be with him forever. However, months down the road, when it was almost time to bring baby brother home, as we dropped him off at daycare on day he started to seem more uneasy than usual. When we asked him if something was wrong, he said “I’m just so afraid that someone else’s mommy and daddy will take me home.”
About six months after we adopted our second son, my sister offered to have our eldest over for a sleepover and give him a bit of break from having to share everything with his baby brother. He immediately responded by asking if he would be going to live with her soon. This was over three years after his adoption. Even after all this time, he still associated overnight visits with being transitioned to live somewhere new. He still didn’t fully grasp the permanence of our family.
Our son is in elementary school now, and he still experiences severe separation anxiety. We are working hard with professionals to help him overcome this. But we often wonder if his current mental health would be improved, had we been able to take a longer leave from work, in the critical months after his adoption. We wish our child had had more time to feel secure in our bond.
The opinions expressed in blogs posted reflect their author and do not represent any official stance of Adopt4Life. We respect the diversity of opinions within the adoption, kinship and customary care community and hope that these blog posts will stimulate meaningful conversations.
We're ramping up our #timetoattach campaign until April 2019, for 15 more weeks of parental leave for adoptive parents and kin and customary caregivers. To really make an impact on our mission to Ottawa, we'd like to share your experiences of what it was like helping your child to settle in and bond. Find out how to share your story.