In Her Words
A bonding story
-Stacey Conner, anymommyoutthere.com
The overwhelming thing that I remember about the first year with my daughter is the screaming. Not a grief-stricken sob. Not a wail or a moan. For these things, for pain and grief, I was prepared. She had, however, a full-on “pissed off that I spent the first year of my life in an orphanage and it sucked” SCREAM.
Every time I put her down. Every time a meal ended. Every bedtime. Every time a toy frustrated her or I took a desired object away from her. Every time we left the playground. Every time we left anything. She screamed like the ghosts of 60 other toddlers still surrounded her on the orphanage nursery floor and she had to howl with the most volume, the most need, the most fury, just to be heard.
She screamed until I wanted to scream, for sleep, for peace, for a moment to collect myself, for time with my 1-year-old son. Until, I guiltily admit, I sometimes didn’t want to pick her up. Her screams felt so manipulative and unpleasant. Not a cry for help, but an angry, entitled demand. And, not a plea for me, her mother, to comfort her. She would let anyone hold her. Adults were interchangeable.
Often, when she screamed and thrashed at my feet in public over some offense taken, women approached her to comfort her. I felt invisible, removed. Oh no, I’m not her mother. I’m just standing here. I had to fight that lethargy constantly. Anger is not endearing; it is hard to love. (Wise words that had to be applied inward, to myself, if I sought a bond of love.) I had to fight the feeling that I was not entitled to be her mother. That she not only didn’t prefer me, but she didn’t like me. That the woman sitting next to me would do it better, would be worthy enough to earn her exclusive love.
Time passed. She learned slowly to trust me. To trust that I would be there when she woke up, that we would eat treats again, that we would return to the swing another day. We joined a cooperative toddler school that met twice a week. The parents met without the children in groups once a week, to give the kids practice separating.
My son, in his infinite, attached normalcy, screamed on cue when I left the room, just like all the other 2-year-olds. Perfectly age-appropriate separation anxiety. Not Saige. She happily played, climbing into anyone’s lap. For once, Saige wasn’t the screamer. Just when I most wanted her to scream. Any adult in a storm.
The year went by. The parent group was discussing aggression when the first sobbing screams drifted in. “Momma. Momma. Mooommmaaaa!” I didn’t move. It wasn’t my son. No one else jumped up. The sound continued, long, drawn-out, heartbroken.
She entered the room with her fists stuffed into her open mouth, tears flowing down her face.
“She just got sad,” the mom with her said.
“Momma,” she sobbed, “I sit with you.”
I picked her up and sat quietly with her on my lap while the conversation continued as if the earth hadn’t just moved. In my head, I screamed from the rooftops.
It’s OK. It’s going to be OK, baby. My baby. My daughter. My child. Finally, all mine.
Stacey Conner is a mom to three children ages 3 and under, through birth and adoption. She loves chai tea and bedtime, hates fingerpaints and play dough. She blogs about life, adoption, kids and related craziness at anymommyoutthere.com. Her fourth baby is due in July.