I am surprised that bonding with an adopted baby has been such a trial. When we endured all the education requirements to qualify for our adoption home study we were informed about bonding. I sat there smug as a mother who has raised four children. I honestly couldn’t imagine we would have any problem whatsoever quickly establishing a loving bond and a firm boundary of parental protection and authority. I waved my hand and dismissed all the warnings about bonding. I have lived through the difficult years of terrible two tantrums, and teenage traumas and we have had our methods reinforced by admissions from our own children that what we did was what they needed. We also learned one size parenting doesn’t fit all so we were sure we’d approach baby girl with a wide open perspective and custom fit our parenting to her needs all under God’s umbrella of instruction in the bible.
So here we are designing the custom fit and my oh my are we surprised that it’s nothing at all like what we’ve seen before in our parenting experiences. There have been moments of pause in our process of bonding with Kira where we stand still, gape at one another and scratch our heads. We have sat still and waited for God to answer our questions. We have felt confused, frustrated and had our feelings hurt. Sometimes we label the issue “a girl thing”, others it’s “an adoption challenge”, and there are times when we admit, “we are getting old for this”. Those are the times when we’ve exhausted our ideas and she’s still face down on the floor flailing her legs, arching her back and waking the dog five houses down with her shrill scream.
The truth is we have no idea what she is feeling that makes her so frustrated. When I watched her reunite with Emily I learned that she went through a wordless, deep, significant loss when Emily went home to North Carolina. I had no idea she was grieving a great loss when we picked up our new daily life alone, just her and I, while the brothers skipped off to school and daddy spent the days at work. I was the one who was committed to her every waking need, and yet I was the one she pushed away. Ouch. I wondered how in the world the working mothers who adopt accomplish bonding if I was there every moment and she was rejecting me as her primary source of love, protection and boundaries. She was sad. She missed Emily and I didn’t understand. I may never know what’s going on in Kira’s mind but I do know there’s a lot happening there and it finds its way out in behavior.
When I think back to the baby home and the way the children there respond to new people I am beginning to understand. When I watched a new person appear, after I was one they were accustomed to, I could see an interesting dynamic among the children. They have a real competition among each other to get attention from the new adult. They use all the cute phrases that have worked over and over, “how are youuuuuu”, they hug, hold hands, and climb straight into arms and lock themselves in for a while. There are babies who play hard to get and thus get even more attention. (never underestimate a two year old) There are “koala” babies who would cling into a set of arms and refuse to be separated. This is heart breaking for the adult when it is time to go. The babies in the home learn they can get love from every new person. But now that Kira has her family, she needs to learn that she gets her love from us. When that is established firmly, then she can enjoy meeting new people. I will be relieved when she doesn’t trust a new person. When she rejects someone reaching for her, I’ll know we have made progress. I have to laugh because it is so counter intuitive.
Now that I look back over the several months I can see patterns of mistakes I made. What they say about hindsight can be useful for me as I look forward. I was so happy to share her with everyone who ever cared about our adoption journey. It gave me so much joy to put this gorgeous baby into the arms of those who have prayed for her. Over and over again as I passed her around she opened her arms to new people with a big smile and leaned heavily into their arms. Truthfully, she reached out to strangers in the grocery store who spoke sweetly to her. She wanted to sit in her doctor’s lap the first time they met. It was as much fun for me to see the surprise and elation in those who held her as it was for them to receive Kira’s favor. I knew I wasn’t following the “adoption guidelines” by passing her around. I indulged in the joy. I didn’t protect our bonding process by passing her around. I see this now.
I don’t actually regret sharing her. However, by now she should be more attached to me than I believe she is, so I am facing the consequences of my choices. It is the mama sense I am reading, that feeling only I can examine and know for sure. I am saying, it’s not there yet. And it’s time I get it set on solid ground and take a small time out from all the parties and help her learn Craig and I and her brothers are the only ones who are going to hold her and give her the love she is craving.
One of my kooky neighbors called me at eight in the morning and said, “Tonya, I am coming to get the baby.” I said, “what do you mean?” She then explained she was going to come babysit so I could get some things I want to do accomplished. I stammered out a list of excuses why we weren’t available that morning, or all week long by reason of the boys being home for spring break. She said, “you mean I have to wait until next week?” I thought, you’re going to have to wait longer than that.
The main thing I want to accomplish is bonding with Kira. She’s my priority. I have a whole whirlwind of life fun that is swirling around me and yet none of it is more important than she and I knowing for sure that I am mama, and she is daughter to me. Everything else can either wait, or be delegated.
Craig recently gave me a big big big gift. Not only are the gardeners doing more of the grunt work, and my cleaning help is visiting me weekly now, but I also hired Whitney to come help me part time. This is an absolute God send to me. So now I can delegate much of my computer work, errands, filing and organizing and research so that I can spend time with Kira, and my mind can rest because all the other stuff is also getting done. I haven’t breathed this easily in a long time.
The hardest part of establishing the initial roles and responsibilities with Whitney was explaining the one thing she won’t be asked to do is take care of Kira. In fact, in an awkward way I had to ask she not pay much attention to her or even pick her up. The ironic thing about this is that most people assume what I need is babysitting so I can finish all the projects on my plate each day. No, just the opposite is true. I need someone to help with the projects so I can be with Kira more and more.
When Kira met Whitney I was not surprised that her arms shot straight up to her with a clear unspoken request, “I want you to hold me.” Whitney is gorgeous. I mean drop dead gorgeous. It is a good thing she comes while the boys are in school or they would be too distracted to do their home work. Of course Kira sees the beauty immediately and wants to be close to that. I am convinced it is why she likes Coco more than Lucy, because Coco is pretty and Lucy has a face only a mother can love. It was so interesting when Whitney was comfortable being cordial and polite with Kira but unresponsive. Kira then reached for me.
We don’t have any house company until the end of April. Until then I will keep her to myself and see if we can’t help her get it straight that I am the mama, and she comes to me to get the love she needs. I think it is going to be fine. And to all my sweet wonderful friends who adore Kira I assure you this won’t take too long. I thank you for understanding and for your patience. And to Aunt Carol, when you come in April, she’ll be all yours. I promise. I’m just taking this stretch of time between family visits to solidify the bond. It’s all good.
I know what Craig is thinking with a smirk, “if you would have let the original teaching about adoption tell you what to do you wouldn’t have had as many problems.” He is right. I am still not sure I can learn without doing it the hard way. He knows that too. And he still loves me. I am so blessed that he is never trying to change me, he just has a good laugh while he loves me the way I am.