“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
We had more than half of the celebration cake leftover so I strapped Kira onto my chest and hiked up the winding hill to the baby home so we could share the sweets with the Aunties who have loved her long before me. They were happy to receive a rare treat of cake, but not as happy as they were to see Kira. Of course, they still call her “cherish”, but she no longer responds to it. She only answers to Kira now. I think that is a remarkable switch considering it’s only been two weeks. I admit I was annoyed they didn’t use her name when we gave it to them back in March. We were told they would be using the name we gave her. But like most communications here Ugandans do not carry the same specific meaning with their English verbs that we do and so we are often left guessing at applications. The baby home continues to use all the babies’ names given them when they are found unless the parents insist on using the new name. When I arrived I was disappointed to have to say Cherish to get her to look at me. But now, the Aunties have to say “Kira” to get her to look at them. How quickly these tables turned. The wiser ones smiled with this development, the younger ones were sad.
I unstrapped her and passed her to Sara, my favorite Auntie. She’s so wise and devoted to these children. She loves them so much, and she was actually elated to see that Kira could barely recognize her. The other aunties were sad that Kira pushed away from them. I was conflicted. I celebrate because she was searching the room for me while she was in the laps of these aunties, I felt their heartache as they were rejected, but mostly I was concerned for the stress it caused Kira. She retreated into her worry place with uncertain eyes, and her finger in her mouth. I kept our visit very short. Walking down the hill I sorted my feelings. I felt satisfaction and a measure of success that we have bonded so readily. I also felt the weight on her little person of the transition she had to go through. She must have been just as worried the moments we first held her. It’s been a magnificent shift in her little life. I am relieved because she seems secure with us. We continue to work on building a trust so she can know that no matter what happens I am available to help her through it, protect her from it, or celebrate it with her. What a pleasure it is to assist a little child of God into becoming all she has been created to be. I am so honored, so humbled, so grateful to call her daughter.
Someone asked me, “do you really love her like you do your other children?” Yes I do. I understand from speaking to many couples, hearing confessions, reading accounts and observing myself that my success with bonding to Kira is not the norm. Perhaps because I’ve raised four children already I had a head start. Maybe because I am older and I see clearly that caring for a child is more important than all the other ambitions I might have once had for my life. I don’t know why for sue, but I do know I love her as deeply as I do Donny, Jordan, Kevin and Jack. It’s a supernatural love that is poured into me by God and out of me into the children. I simply don’t have the right stuff in my own flesh, it is God who has the right love for all of us to thrive. For many parents it takes much longer for the bond to blossom, and I am quite sure it’s more difficult to foster the older the child is, and that should be ok, no one is in a race here.
I would like to urge anyone who is about to meet their adoptive child for the first time to avoid romanticizing adoption so much that you are shocked when you realize how hard it is to push through the transition from baby home to mom. The warm fuzzy days of thinking how wonderful it will be to rescue an orphan and give the child a forever home must become background thinking. This is long suffering hard work, be prepared for that reality. When we meet our child for the first time is when the child must be seen as an individual person with unique personality traits and unusual methods of communicating, all for our discovery. We are a stranger even though we feel we know them through all our months of waiting to hold them.
The best advice I’ve heard is to treat any aged adopted child like a newborn for a little while until the bond develops. When I have a newborn baby I belong one hundred percent to the cries of the child. I can’t change anything about the schedule or the time commitment involved. It is exhausting around the clock care, up all night if necessary. For a fussy baby there are hours of walking and rocking to soothe. For a content child there are endless moments of staring at every inch of baby flesh, memorizing all that she is. The bonding with an infant doesn’t happen in the first day. It happens over weeks of devoted and patient care until there is that moment when you arrive to soothe the babies cries and only your presence is necessary to calm the baby. I know it has happened when she physically relaxes entirely into my body. I can feel her calm ooze from every inch of flesh when she is leaning against me in my lap. I know it when we look into eachother’s eyes as she locks on mine searching to hold onto the comfort and care she can find there. I know it when she reaches for me when someone else is holding her.
I sincerely believe these first few weeks of bonding with an adoptive child should be around the clock care with the primary goal of the child discovering she can trust you. No one person has ever been the care giver of Kira. She’s been greatly loved and it’s astounding that she has learned she can get love from all the adults around her, but that’s not the same thing as having a mother. I have to let her discover what a mother really is. Because she is younger it is easier to bond as she doesn’t have her personality set nor has she learned behavior that helps her cope with the social network of an orphanage. But for adoptive parents welcoming a two year old into their family I promise you it will take longer to bond. It will require a patience that comes from God alone, a love that is poured through you into the child, and a faith like rock during the tantrums. But don’t give up, don’t enforce too many rules, and don’t despair. Persevere with love.
I think about it from Kira’s perspective sometimes. All the sights, sounds, and people she knows have vanished. This will cause insecurity in her automatically. She doesn’t know who I am or what I feel and I can’t tell her either. She has to learn I love her over time as I don’t lose my patience with her, as I appear when she cries, as I predict her needs before she has to have a fit to communicate them, as I make her laugh, as I hold her for every feeding, as I marvel while she plays in her bath water, as I stay with her at her crib while she settles down for sleep, as I celebrate wildly when she accomplishes a milestone, as I gently distract her or remove her wordlessly from an undesirable behavior (like throwing her bottle at someone).
The time to establish all the boundaries we imagine a good parent would enforce is not during this transition period of being in her country. This is definitely not the time to assert the role as absolute authority over the child. I suspect it will not be when we first arrive home to another new place for the child. She will have to make another adjustment when we move her. But once she has adjusted to her new home, then slowly, patiently, one issue at a time taught in love and underlined with patience boundaries can be set, and authority established. Because the child has developed trust and instinctively knows the parent is looking out for their best interests, she will learn to comply.
Parenting is the most selfless act a person can do. What I’m doing for Kira isn’t about my comfort or my ability to feel in control. It is about her and her feelings, her understanding, her ability to learn from me so we can keep her safe and show her the way to become all God has created her to be. I get to have a lot of fun along the way, but ultimately parenting is knowing I am being used by God to assist one of His children into independence. Our children belong to Him, not us.
These first weeks of bonding with baby are a time of many uncertainties, some self-doubts, and countless concerns. Don’t be distracted away from the true source of strength, wisdom, love, patience, joy and comfort. Stay in the teaching of the bible during these times as it is vital to remain connected with the word that feeds our soul and satisfies our cries. This is not the time to be too busy for that discipline, it is time to increase time spent alone with God. I pray for all the parents who will be meeting their child for the first time that they are blessed with the wisdom of God to proceed gingerly into the marvelous connection with their child and that they will persevere towards creating a strong trust and bond with the child before leaving for home.