There never has been an emotion so disturbing to me as a mother, as feeling no compassion toward my own children. Before adopting our two Ethiopian children I had read of families who struggled to attach and much ado is made of attaching and bonding in adopted children. I have even had a friend or two who struggled with attaching to their biological children for several months after giving birth. But the substance of non-attachment was one I could not grasp. I had no frame of reference. No emotions to give it shape. Like being told to make a paper-mache doll with only a form and no physical materials, nor instructions for applying these missing materials and actually create something— this is what I held in regards to attachment; an idea I saw straight through with no meaning.
Once home, it didn’t take long for all that substance to surface. And surface it did—like a wounded soldier pouring his blood over the battlefield, frantically ripping clothes to stop the bleeding. The materials of non-attachment were overwhelming me—anger, resentment, regret, loss, physical discomfort and lack of compassion. No compassion. Still, my chest is tightens as I write it. Horrified that I could experience such ugly sentiments towards children, let alone children I had chosen to mother.
His crying didn’t move me. Her protruding belly from malnutrition only frustrated me. Their mood swings and ugliness towards my three biological boys angered me. The clinging to my husband, the laughing in my face taunting, “No love Mommy. Only love Daddy!” Running to any other parent for attention, affection and acceptance. The outlandish tales of a rosy existence in Ethiopia. The refusal to eat—or the hoarding at every meal. Touching them, holding them and comforting them made me desperately uncomfortable. I could have been hugging one of my mother-in-law’s cactus plants with more ease.
Oh, what a horrible mirror it is which reveals a shallow love!
Of course, that is not true. Such a mirror is the best kind, but at the moment of revealing, it may as well be shattered glass broken over one’s head. All those years of loving my children, I took for granted. I assumed I knew what love was. I assumed I had a heart of sacrifice. I remember looking into each one of my son’s eyes the day in which they were born, knowing that if I had to die in that moment so they might live…. I would plunge the knife myself.
The first time I looked into the eyes of my Ethiopian children…they were empty. Empty, pathetic eyes which looked right through me. But by the power of God Almighty, the many witnesses and my signature on the dotted line…I could have driven away and never come back.
For a time, I held it in, terrified to confess my horrible secret. Finally when I did reveal my ugly truth, not many knew what to do with it. “I think you show great compassion by not letting them continue to live in their woundedness,” one friend encouraged, after an exhausting day of feeling like all I did was discipline them. Others just listened—sometimes crying with me, sometimes admitting this is why they would never adopt themselves.
Maybe it was the last statement which sparked just enough indignant emotion to dare believe compassion would come. Who am I to deny these two a full, loving home, opportunity to truly live and experience all God has for them, all because of my insecurities? Is God not big enough to change me? Did He not know me and all my below-the-surface shallowness before we ever walked through adoption’s door? Wasn’t He the one who gave me a compassion for the widow and the orphan in the first place—a compassion which bled enough to act? Though it was still struggling for position with fear and guilt, compassion began pulling forward. I started praying for compassion to take hold.
Somehow I believed that I would wake up one day and just “feel” deep, overwhelming compassion and once I did, it would stay. I would always “feel” like their mom, and there would be no more of this shallow love nonsense. Apparently the mirror still shatters easily over my head. Compassion is in constant competition with residual guilt and fear. But it knows its proper ground and the battle is well fought.
I recently read a passage from Psalms 103:
Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I have not traveled the roads of post-adoption very well. But after 19 months, I am encouraged. I see that I am “crowned with love and compassion”. I didn’t crown me, God Almighty did. He forgives my insecurities, He heals my shallowness of heart. He redeems my life and I wear a most glittering crown of precious jewels. I am satisfied with His goodness and thankful for the bleeding time, which has brought forth compassion-- whether I feel it always resting on my head or not.
….Now, if only the frown line on my forehead would be erased as my youthful energy is being renewed like the eagle’s. Oh well, that’s what bangs are for, right?