We had our family photos last month. They were the first ones we’d had since our daughter’s adoption was finalized, and I went all out. We got some gorgeous shots.
But those photos do not show the moments before the shutter clicked. They don’t show that an hour before the photo shoot, she was bawling, rocking back and forth, her mind ravaged by memories conjured by the word "family."
We were having family photos, and many of the people that she still thinks of as family were not present for them.
Our daughter is haunted by these ghosts.
I did my best to console her, but I felt so helpless in that moment. I watched her sob on the bathroom floor, her tears streaking wet tracks through the pink blush I’d just swiped across her sweet apple cheeks. The makeup seemed foolish, and I recognized it for what it was: my attempt to manufacture cheer upon her face.
I wish I could say that these tears were an isolated incident, but they aren’t. She knew other people as family before she knew us, and they are no longer there for her. She has seven years of life that we will never be part of. She has memories and experiences that we can never fully understand.
Those things do not disappear with the bang of a judge’s gavel. They do not change when the ink upon an adoption decree finally dries.
I don’t know what to do with myself in those moments when she is haunted. Suddenly, I am no longer “mom.” I become the one who was not there in her earliest memories. I become the one who took her away. I become the imposter, the stand-in, the second choice.
It is hard to not be bitter after those moments, especially when I feel surrounded by “normal” families, ones with children who live with their biological parent(s), ones with children who are not haunted by such ghosts, who do not have to live with the nightmare of an attachment disorder.
That’s exactly what it is, too--an exhausting, soul-sucking nightmare.
Because of the neglect she suffered during her formative years, our daughter’s sense of trust was damaged, resulting in Reactive Attachment Disorder. We have worked so hard to develop the relationship we have with her, and for the most part, it is good. But it is not always reciprocal.
I would describe it instead as "haunted."
I am not without ghosts myself. I had dreams of a big family, a gaggle of rough-and-tumble children born from my own body, of little boys with my blue eyes and my husband’s strong chin, of little girls with my blond ringlets and his quick smile. These are my ghosts, these children who never came to be.
This is not to say that I do not love my daughter, and this is not to say that she does not love me in return. But our love is a haunted one. She is not what I imagined, and I am not what she imagined.
The ghosts of life past haunt her.
The ghosts of futures not fulfilled haunt me.