Once an Orphan: The Journey to Secure Attachment [Part 1]

Part1

Today begins a four part series of guest posts from Sarah. When I published my post, Have We Made Attachment an Idol, she wrote a comment so insightful and beautiful that I asked her to develop it into a guest post. That post was so rich that I asked her to expand it, and before we knew it, we had a four part series. I am very honored that she is entrusting her story to me – it is tender, raw, and hopeful.

The school bell rang and I skipped home alone under the warm September sun. Our apartment was dim and quiet when I arrived and I found my mom lying in bed, her grown niece, Caroline at her side. They looked as if they had been crying. They told me that we were moving to Caroline’s house that night.

My cheeks flushed a deep crimson. This was my fault.

I had recently spent an evening playing in the park near our apartment – the sun had dipped low, throwing dusky shadows around a deep navy sky. The streetlights flickered on and instead of heading home to my mom I slid quietly into a circle of older kids. They were smoking and swearing and I knew I was out of my league but I stayed on – determined to worry my mom. A mom whose once strong arms held me safe – I knew she was now lying like a hostage on our couch – constant pain and nausea held her captive. She was too sick to rescue me from the trouble I was about to get into. As navy faded into soft black the toughest girl took issue with my 7-year old self and reached over and ripped open the buttons on the shoulder of my sailboat T-shirt humbling my little girl rebellion and sending me home to my mom.

I must have balked at the idea, told them we couldn’t just up and move. That I had just started Grade 2, that my new running shoes, my painting, my gym bag were all still in my classroom. A few minutes later I was emptying my cubby and telling my new Grade 2 teacher that I wouldn’t be back.

Mom and I moved in with Caroline, her husband Will, and their two sons. Our familiar inner-city life uprooted to a 2-car, 3-bedroom pretty suburban surrounding. A few weeks passed and life changed again. An ambulance was parked in the driveway and my mom was being wheeled out on a stretcher. Her sad brown eyes caught my gaze and she weakly raised her right hand in a gentle goodbye. In our old life our goodbyes were made of tight hugs and warm kisses. Now I was standing back, away from her, the space between us growing larger. I don’t remember saying anything. Perhaps I just stood there frozen.

My mom never came home. She died alone in the hospital just days after my 8th birthday. My aunties later told me that she had stubbornly refused palliative care, that she forced the doctors to continue to administer chemotherapy right until the end. That she could not bear to leave me orphaned in the world.

Will and Caroline tried to transition me into the fabric of their family, for a while suggesting that I begin to call Caroline ‘mom’ or ‘mom-2’. That word got stuck in my throat. It was years before I could use it with any ease. My best friend and closest ally became my neighbor’s stacked bookshelf and the local library. I piled the books onto my bedside table and spent every waking minute escaping into a new world. When I had to be with others I shielded myself from their sympathy and their questions, I was determined to be ‘fine’.

At night when the house was quiet I swallowed ‘fine’ and let the storms of tears and sobs soak my pillowcase. I also filled every peaceful silence with incessant questions, perhaps in an effort not to be as invisible, as untethered as I felt. I kept up an awkward dance with my new family – occasionally letting them in and attempting to belong but most of the time keeping them at arm’s length – crying alone, fighting violently with my new brothers, hot-headedly refusing to wear the dresses my new mom wished upon her new daughter.

I was not the only one who was suffering. My new family suffered in my presence. They did not know how to help me cope with the death of my mom – the sudden and forever loss of all that was precious to me. They did know how to put a shelter around me, a warm meal in front of me, a family by my side. They also knew how to make me look like every other suburban 8-year old girl – they bought me a fancy new bike and signed me up for figure skating lessons and Brownies.

From the outside it looked as though we were all adjusting quite nicely – we were a good suburban family of five. My new parents were hard working, stable, and responsible. I was getting good grades, earning Brownie badges and learning how to do a camel spin.

In reality I was normal and typical and fine. But I was also a little girl carrying around some pretty significant grief, trauma and loss baggage, who (thanks to my dear friend, denial) took years to realize and even longer to begin to unpack.

Please leave comments of encouragement for Sarah – as you can imagine, this is coming from a deep place in her soul. The glimpse she is giving us into her experience of being orphaned is invaluable.

[Don’t miss Part 2Part 3, and Part 4]

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

24 Comments

  1. prayingintruth
    November 18, 2014

    Oh wow…this is beautiful. Raw and so precious.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for your kind comment.

      Reply
  2. DFNY
    November 18, 2014

    Sarah, thank you for sharing your story. How hard to lose your mom…to lose everything you previously knew. My heart goes out to your 7 yr old self and beyond…

    Blessings,
    Damaris

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for reading my story and sending along your kind words.

      Reply
  3. Maggie
    November 18, 2014

    As an adoptive mom- I am very much looking forward to hearing the rest of your story so that I can imagine how my kids feel by putting myself into your 8 yr old shoes. Thank you so much for sharing your story – it really means so much to us who are doing are very best for our kids but still often times feel inadequate.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for your comment Maggie – doing your best is never inadequate. Best wishes to you and yours.

      Reply
  4. Alex
    November 18, 2014

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for being willing to share your story so honestly. You express your feelings so clearly! Many things you mention are patterns I've seen in one of my children. I'm looking forward to learning more from you and hoping I will use the opportunity to grow as a mother and seize the opportunities to grieve with my son as he needs me to.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for your kind words Alex. Sharing grief with a child can bring great comfort. Best wishes to you.

      Reply
  5. Cindy
    November 18, 2014

    Thank you so much for your willingness to be transparent and to share with us. I can't wait to read more of your story. I already know this is going to be so helpful for many of us who have obediently opened our homes and wait expectantly for hope and redemption to win.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for reading my story – I hope it is indeed a helpful one in spite of the hard parts. Hope is a great thing to hold close!

      Reply
  6. Lisa
    November 18, 2014

    Sarah – thank you for opening your heart and writing this series. We recently adopted two children and what you write is going to be SO valuable to me in understanding some of what they are going through and how to best help them. I am sorry you have been through so much pain, and I admire you for deciding to use it for good and to bless others by sharing your story. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for your compassion and kind words Lisa. If my story can bring some encouragement that would be a great thing.

      Reply
  7. Emily P
    November 18, 2014

    Sarah, you have a true gift with words. Thank you for sharing yours with us here.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thank you Emily!

      Reply
  8. kristabaughn
    November 18, 2014

    Oh goodness, thank you. I have a new 12 year old son home 4 months who I am sure is holding lots of grief over the loss of his mother at age 8 as well as the recent death of his father. Thank you for sharing! I am holding on to your words and finding my boy's heart in your story.

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thank you for your comment Krista. My best wishes to you and your son as you navigate his grief together.

      Reply
  9. Mary Ostyn
    November 18, 2014

    Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your story. I look forward to reading more, and see some of my own children in some of your words…

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks for your comment Mary.

      Reply
  10. Erika
    November 18, 2014

    Aloha Sarah! Thank you so much for openly sharing your perspective & heart. I cannot tell you how important is was for me to read this… I look forward to reading the rest of your story. God Bless! ~Erika

    Reply
    1. Sarah
      November 20, 2014

      Thanks Erika. I hope what I share is helpful to other adoptive mama's navigating the hard bits of life with their children.

      Reply
  11. Alisa
    November 18, 2014

    One of my darling daughters came to us at age seven. Even though your stories are not necessarily the same I love hearing your heart and perspective. I am looking forward to hearing more and learning…thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  12. Sarah
    November 20, 2014

    Thanks for your kind comment Alisa. Every adoption story is so very unique, as is the way one walks through it or who they become because of it.

    Reply
  13. Joanna
    November 25, 2014

    I read you story Sarah and I thank God that there are people like you who are able to put into words what Millions of us orphans cannot because we feel we are not eloquent enough. Though I lost my mother at 17 , the feelings you describe are so close to home though i was older than when you lost yours. I am married and have a 6 months old daughter and that has opened my heart in a whole different way. Looking at everything from my mom , your mom's point of view. How it would break my heart to know that i would leave her and totally understand what your mom did in doing all that she could to be there with her little girl .. Thank you for sharing

    Reply
  14. Mel
    December 10, 2014

    Beautiful, eloquent and heart wrenching. Losing my mom at 12 and my dad remarrying months later, this stirs up many familiar emotions. Thank you for going to those deep places to share. It certainly isn't easy, but it brings so much healing!

    Reply

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