My hands hover over the computer keyboard. They are trembling. I hold down the shift key and type the words with intention, saying each letter aloud: “R-e-a-c-t-i-v-e A-t-t-a-c-h-m-e-n-t D-i-s-o-r-d-e-r.” The words “reactive attachment disorder” are memory beads I gather into a pile and attempt to string along on a necklace.
I think back to when Judith, my neighbor who is a psychiatrist, offhandedly threw out the term the first time she met Julia. We were talking about babies who start their lives in orphanages, and she mentioned the disorder. She wasn't suggesting that my daughter Julia showed any signs, but she’d said it was a well-known problem with children who’d been adopted from Romanian orphanages in the '80s and '90s. I remember nodding my head and thinking, Shut up, Judith. We got Julia young. It shouldn't be an issue.
Then, when I raised concerns with Dr. Traister about Julia’s elusive but controlling behavior when she was a toddler, he also mentioned reactive attachment disorder. Did I want a referral to a therapist, he wanted to know.
No, I wanted to be like the other mothers sitting in his waiting room, worrying about a sniffle.
Now I remember something he said: The signs of reactive attachment disorder usually reveal themselves fully when a child reaches five- or six-years-old and they start having trouble in school settings. But when is it too late for a relationship to establish or to reestablish? My daughter was cut off at birth from nurturing and love. There was no one there to soothe her. Just because I want to love her doesn’t mean she’ll let me—or let anyone.