It was one of the big questions before we adopted, back when we were still wondering whether adoption was ‘for us’, whether we could be the ones who took in one of those children smiling plaintively from the Local Authority posters.
Would I be able to love them?
Would adopting be ‘real parenting’?
Well, it was always a foolish question. I love my children, of course I do! And I am a very real mummy.
But, two years ago I suddenly found out whether I loved my adopted children like a birth child, because I had a baby boy.
The easy bit first. I do love them all equally. I was terrified that I wouldn’t (and I don’t think I would ever have admitted it to anyone, had it gone like that). But in the event it was fine. The baby came and I realised that the love I have for him is no stronger than the love I have for the big boys. I love all my boys just the same amount. Phew!
When I was first feeding the baby I found (as I am told many mothers do) that I leaked milk whenever he cried. Apparently it’s a hormonal thing. But I also found that I leaked milk when my big boys had tantrums! My hormones didn’t distinguish at all between a hungry baby and a tantruming school boy. Mildly inconvenient, of course, but also kind of reassuring. On every level, I love all my boys exactly the same amount.
But, the harder part is: do I love them the same?
And I don’t think that I do.
There’s an ease in my relationship with Baby. Firstly there’s the incredible ease of intimacy. When I first met my older boys they were four and three years old. I remember feeling incredibly awkward about taking them to the toilet. The first time I bathed them, I felt a bit weird. The first time they saw me undress (I was taking them swimming – even now I feel the need to excuse this) was frankly rather unsettling. I was terrified that someone was going to accuse me of some kind of abuse. They weren’t really mine yet and that level of intimacy seemed wrong.
When I first met my baby, however, it was completely different. He grew inside me, he was born out of me. My blood and his blood were all mixed up and I hugged him to me: bare skin on bare skin. Incredible. It has never felt strange to hold any part of my baby. Washing him, breastfeeding him, even having him climb in the bath with me, they all feel perfectly natural.
When the boys first came home, we had to grow closer and get used to each other. As they get older, I try to balance this need to bond with their need to grow up and away from me. With Baby, it is so much simpler. At first he was part of me, then he was almost constantly attached to me, as he gets older, he only has to grow in one direction: away.
Then there’s the cheerfulness of the baby. From a ridiculously young age, Baby has been happy to play by himself. If something doesn’t go his way, Baby needs a bit of a cuddle, maybe a distraction, and he’s fine. Baby simply doesn’t have the same panics and terrors that haunt his brothers. I just don’t worry about Baby in the same way. I don’t protect him in the same way.
On the other hand, lots of things are just the same. They all surprise me sometimes. They all challenge me sometimes. They are all just like me in some ways (examples: Eldest reads ALL the time, Middly makes up endless little songs, Baby will do anything for chocolate). They are all completely foreign to me in other ways (examples: Eldest has an amazing sense of direction, Middly can draw remarkably well, Baby has an innate sense of rhythm). They are all utterly gorgeous and smell wonderful!
I think I had kind of assumed that a birth child would be more like me, than adopted children would be. But the day to day reality is more complicated. All my children are a combination of genes and environment. My big boys have brought elements of their birth family into our house, Baby has brought in old genes from ancient and distant relatives. Sometimes I can guess where bits of them might have ‘come from’, most of the time it doesn’t matter at all. Most of all, my boys are simply themselves, unique individuals.
While I am confident in my closeness with the baby, and merrily (well, ok, sometimes sadly) watching him grow up and away from me. I am always watching the older boys, carefully trying to draw them closer with one hand whilst guiding them towards independence with the other.
I love them all. I want to cuddle them all. But, the older two need something extra from me.
I have finally decided that I don’t love them all the same. And I don’t want to.