I have made many new friends while blogging, and most of them are moms who are also in the midst of adopting. This is a network of encouragement and support that is so important for us all. One of my new friends wrote to share she will soon get her court date to go to Uganda. This is news that makes all of us who have been through it feel the jitters for her. She is concerned about bonding and asked if I had any advice. I might. I can describe my personal experiences and that might shed some light. Remember though, all babies are different. But I think I have something even more I can hope to offer her. I have all of you who read and are either going through adoption or have adopted many times. I urge you today to leave a comment and share some ideas that helped or hindered your bonding after adoption. If you know someone who adopted share what you observed. We can all help one another.
My approach to bonding with Kira was a subject I refused to consider until we met. I relied on the belief that I would love her because the source of love flows from God, and I’m connected to that source. I had no doubt. Anticipating the trials can be overwhelming and the fear it produces isn’t healthy. I admit I was a little smug because I have raised four children and so I believed I knew about babies, and there would be nothing she could do that would surprise me. I was wrong about that. She did surprise me. But I think I was right to begin thinking about the bonding as I held her rather than dwell on it prior.
When I met her we had this super romance at first as we enjoyed being together. Then I brought her home to the house to sleep with us and the rosy light began to grow dark. It was like we were clinging to that old greasy rope and we could feel ourselves slip all the way to the end of it with crocodile snapping below like a scene from Peter Pan. I refused to dangle there with a forceful set of fears that we might fall. With God I can cast my fears on Him, and I can be filled with His strength to climb. And that’s what I did. But it took ALL the faith I had, and then some.
Pause. So, right there it is ok to assume it’s going to be slippery and tedious at times. Go ahead and expect it to be a trial. (Then remember what James says in the first chapter about trials.) When I was performing on stage and I knew it was the most strenuous performance I ever had to give, I made sure I was warmed up, stretched out, hydrated, and well nourished. I was prepared to take it on, and I had a positive attitude that I’d dance not just well, but my best. That’s a great approach for what is ahead in “learning to dance” with an adopted baby. In practical terms I would say that includes, clearing all projects, eliminating any external expectations of you by well meaning people, preparing to not do the things you normally do (email), living with more of an undone house than you might be used to, and making your sleep a higher priority than the mess and undone things around you. You can decide all of that now and it will make it easier when it becomes a reality. I say this because when I was frustrated about these problems and tired it increased the tension between me and the baby. That was something I could control.Have an attitude of tenacity: endurance + expectation. Bonding IS going to happen. It just won’t happen when you want it to. I assumed she’d fall in love with me easily and naturally, but she made me jump through months of hoops first. I think just now after three months together she is finally relaxing into me rather than holding me at arm’s length. During the weeks of waiting for her to bond with me I had to battle my doubts, fight disappointment and turn my back on depression. This was a spiritual battle. So bottle time became bible time. I had verses to encourage me stuck around the house. I hung onto the promises of God in the bible. I did not doubt myself or my mothering abilities. I played soothing classical music to calm both of us.
Many times I told Craig, “thank goodness I have mothered before because if this was the first experience taking care of a baby I’d believe I was a failure.” Don’t believe that! The instincts of mothering are reliable, good advice is helpful, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do the baby is going to have a tantrum. Those little human beings are capable of enormous emotion. They feel scared and cannot express it, hence, explosive, unmerited behavior towards us. These were some of the most humbling times of my life. I am thankful for those lessons because I was drawn closer to God in the struggle. I was reminded I am always taller when I am on my knees. I am stronger when I am surrendered.
So, when the thought, “I am a lousy mother” crosses your mind. Flush it in the toilet. Don’t believe it for a second. It is a lie and it is not from God. Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled.” Turn that into a positive: Anything noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of will be fulfilled. Approach every day like it is the performance, game, match, or race of your life. Have a winning attitude. Clinging to God will pull you out of the quicksand of self doubt.
It also helped me to resist the temptation to over think the problems. I forced myself to be strictly in the moment with her. When she rejected me, I waited and returned. When she threw a fantastic tantrum I gave her a bear hug time out. I would hold her with her belly to my chest, one of her arms locked down, and my other arm between her kicking legs. I held her strong no matter what she did to arch her back or struggle free. I needed to show her that I was stronger than she is. This is at a base level most reassuring to a child. They are as afraid of the emotional outburst as we are astounded with it. Eventually with the lockdown she would whimper herself into a calm. The “specialist” said don’t give eye contact during that time out. I disagree. In the bonding stage they are learning to trust, and learning to receive love even when they are the most unlovely. I hoped she would get her first taste of the truth, love is unconditional. So I kept calm eyes on her during a tantrum and prayed over and over that she would know I love her. Our eyes speak a language the soul understands.
Some say don’t allow anyone else to do the care giving for your baby. I rejected this advice. I believed the more people she could receive love from the better it was for her. Craig and I were the only ones willing to love her through the rough spots, and set limits for her, and this is where she learned she was secure. But that is up to you. Even when we were in Uganda and she obviously enjoyed Phiona more than me, often pushing me away when Phiona was holding her, I let it be. The real work of bonding didn’t begin until we made the second adjustment at home. It was good for Kira to enjoy Phiona. It was good for Phiona to feel Kira’s love. Interfering would have hurt them both, and I’m glad I did not. I fell in love with Phiona because she was so loving with Kira. And Phiona and I have a special friendship now that I treasure. Also what I have now is a social baby who enjoys meeting and being held by many people. And she finally knows I am her mama.
One last piece of advice: be careful with the word NO. She had many behaviors I would not accept, and she did many things that were dangerous for her. I had to refrain (not always successful) from telling her no. I used a lot of distraction. When she couldn’t have what she wanted she threw a tantrum, and so be it. Her accepting me as an authority is an important part of bonding, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her with it. I chose one issue to practice teaching her no. It was not allowing her to reach for her spoon when I fed her. It was easy because she wanted the bite so she got the food when her hands went down. It was simple positive reinforcement. (Jack often said, “it sounds like you are training Lucy. Same thing.) After she understood the procedure I introduced the word no to accompany the behavior I didn’t want. Since she already knew how to respond it didn’t give her a reason to be angry. I waited a long time before transferring that word, no, to other behaviors….such as playing with cords, or pruning my plants, or spitting food in my face. The self control on my part, and the diffusing my own frustrations were the biggest obstacles. It takes an eagle eye, consistency, and practice but it works.
I make myself available to anyone with specific questions about this issue. If you ask me a question in the comment box, I will reply to all. I hope this discussion is helpful. I am willing to help anyway I can. And I urge all of you with experience and wisdom to offer further insights, bible verses of encouragement, experiences and stories. Finally, remember to ask for specific prayer from people about what you are really going through, don’t sugar coat the trial. Nothing is accomplished without prayer.