This post was originally published on Role/Reboot Role/Reboot and has been republished with full permission.
by TINA TRASTER
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt make it look easy. They adopt kids from all corners of the world and the media broadcasts images of perfect Kodak moments. They’d have you believing families bond and blend instantaneously.
They don’t. Not always. Not in my experience, or in the experience of many others. Sometimes the road to loving your adopted daughter is long and twisted and scary. You know something is wrong—but is it her? Is it you? You drown in shame and confusion, hiding your feelings from the world. It can’t possibly be that you’ve gone to the other end of the world to get this baby and you’re not bonded after a month, six months, two years.
I knew something wasn’t right early on. We adopted Julia from a Siberian orphanage in February 2003. She didn’t clutch to me or gaze in my eye. She never rested her head on my shoulder or relaxed into a warm embrace. She didn’t respond if I sang or read to her. It was like she was there, but wasn’t.
For a while, weeks, maybe months, I sank deeper and deeper into depression, thinking I’d made a terrible mistake. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mother?
Julia was a little more responsive with my husband, but only somewhat. For the first 10 months, I suffered guilt, shame, and sadness. After traveling 10,000 miles, twice, to bring home this child, I was unwilling to let anyone know how I really felt. Then the revelations began.
I hired a day-time nanny in early 2004. Anna was 21, experienced and energetic. She’d come with a glowing review from the mother of her last charges. When she mentioned Julia was having trouble warming up to her, a ding went off in my head. Why? Why isn’t Julia connecting to this lovely young lady who took her daily to the park, to playdates, to “mommy-and-me” classes. I thought for sure that Anna might be able to give her what I couldn’t.
A year later, I enrolled Julia in pre-school, and saw more of the same: A child who was not bonding with teachers or other children. She was as much an enigma to others as she was to us. Everyone agreed she was gregarious, vivacious, friendly, and outgoing. Yet at the same time, she was aloof, hard to figure out. When I picked her up at the end of the day, she was always by herself, sometimes sitting under a desk. Worried, I mentioned her odd behavior to her pediatrician.
That was the first time I’d heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The doctor, who worked with foreign adoptees, explained RAD was common among institutionalized children. The early break from birth mothers causes trauma that makes it difficult for the child to trust or attach to another adult. This, he explained, is why Julia recoils when she is held. Why she doesn’t have a favorite teddy. Why she won’t make eye contact.