The day I met my adopted children, it was damp and chilly. That morning's rain had left the Ethiopian sky looking cloudless, but still somehow gray. We parents were dressed in layers and laden with gifts for our children. Cameras were ready and the order of meetings determined.
My husband and I went somewhere in the middle. The families before us all adopted babies. I reminisced about birthing my three boys: screaming baby, tears of joy, and lots of photos snapped to immortalize the moment. As our turn neared, my heart began pounding and my vision turned somewhat tunnel. I had this grin plastered on my face, but really I felt like an actor on a four-sided stage—lights glaring, audience surrounding me. Time seemed frozen. My children—one boy and one girl—walked through the crowd of nannies, holding hands. She wore a Clone Wars undershirt, with four or five little hair clips and a headband in her hair. He was wearing a gold-colored football T-shirt that seemed to reach his knees. Both children looked tense and when I scooped them into my arms, their backs stiffened and their arms wrapped limply around my neck in feigned affection. I kissed each one's cheek, told them I was their mommy and I loved them. They stared at me with vacant eyes, and I wondered if they could see the vacancy in me as well.
For all the months of planning, education, and prayer I put into bringing my adopted children home, I was wholly unprepared for the sudden vast emptiness I felt upon meeting them. I was equally unprepared for the ensuing months of wrenching pain within, as I struggled daily to parent them well, despite feeling no attachment, no connection, and no compassion every time I looked into their eyes.
One might think that of all children, my compassionate-mother strings would have tugged fiercely for them, just knowing the history of their marginal lives before coming home. Both were malnourished, one of them to the point of passing as a two-year-old when really, she was almost five. They wore the scars of hard living somewhat on their bodies, but mostly in their faces and—as evident in their behaviors—throughout their souls. My lack of feelings left me guilt-ridden and ashamed.
I also felt incredibly betrayed. In all the adoption reading I'd done (a lot) how had I missed the part about the process of attaching applying to parents as much as children? Where, in all my blog stalking, were the post-adoption confessions of other mothers struggling to love their little ones? Was I the only adoptive mother in the world to feel so compassionless towards her children?
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