Bonding and Adoptive Parenthood

by Michele Fried

Bonding is an intense attachment that develops between parents and their baby. It makes parents shower their baby with love and affection. Scientists are fascinated by bonding and know that bonding is essential for babies.

What is neat to learn is that an infant is ready to bond immediately. Parents, on the other hand, may have a mixture of feelings. Some new parents claim when they laid eyes on their baby that they fell in love “at first sight.” For others, whether they have given birth or adopted, the bonding process took a bit longer. I read some place that “bonding is a by-product of everyday care giving.” You may not even realize it, but bonding is happening with every care giving task, such as getting up at night to feed your baby, with every bath you give and every song you sing. Suddenly your baby giggles out loud and you’re filled with incredible joy and you just know you are in love. Sometimes the baby develops a fever and you are more fearful then you expected and inside you just know that this child is your world.

I was one of those parents who bonded immediately to our first child. But what I had to learn was that adoptive parenthood is like biological parenthood – there is no instinctive “how-to.” Days after placement, our very wonderful new baby was inconsolable one night and both my husband and I wondered if we didn’t have the skills to console him because we were adoptive parents. Dr. Spock’s Baby Care book helped us throw that myth away. Dr. Spock says sometimes a baby is crying because he is crying. It may sound silly, but often adoptive parents are harder on themselves because we think we should innately know what to do. Maybe your baby has colic or maybe he is over-stimulated, but just because you are an adoptive parent does not give you a lesser ability to be an excellent parent.

Our second child arrived by birth and I was surprised to find that I did not bond immediately as I did with our first who we adopted. I was disturbed by it at first, but then one day I looked at this pudgy beautiful child and knew I just loved him. For me it was the acts of every day mothering that helped with bonding and attachment. I learned as my family began to grown (by birth and adoption) that every adoptive placement and delivery is different and every baby has their own personality.

After years of watching families bond and attach I believe it is important to begin thinking about bonding and attachment even before you adopt. Analyze yourself and ask yourself how best you connect with children. What would help you develop a relationship with your new baby? For some women, they have always wanted to breastfeed. Well, an adoptive mother can breastfeed her adopted baby. Although it may be complicated to initiate, especially if you are not sure when a baby will be placed in your care – it can be accomplished. If you decide you want to consider adoptive breastfeeding, the agency provides books to introduce the idea and a lactation consultant can be helpful in getting you ready. Begin to think about how you will manage your time when a baby arrives, especially if both parents will work. How much time off will one or both parents have? How can the working parent have the time necessary to get to know the new baby and to develop a relationship? Think about the types of baby items you would want to purchase when your baby arrives, for example, using a baby sling or snuggly is highly recommended. This allows you to keep the baby close to you as you conduct your usual routines.

Have you researched infant massage? This is a wonderful way to connect with your baby and can be a wonderful health benefit for your baby. Also begin reading child care books and accept the fact that you can not spoil a baby. You can never hold a baby too much. Babies need and thrive from physical contact.

There are different types of adoptive families, some who are waiting for their first child and others who have given birth to their first child and are now seeking to adopt perhaps due to secondary infertility. Blended families, those with biological and adopted children, must enter adoption with their eyes wide open and not place too much emphasis on differences between their children, but rather embrace the uniqueness of every child. Blended families are often known to be more flexible and can see that not everything is an adoption issue. They realize that their biological children also have times when they struggle or act out. A very neat aspect of blended families is that sibling relationships between adopted and non-adopted children are as healthy and close and those in biological sibling relationships.

When you ask a mother of more than one child if she loves her children “the same,” you will often hear, “The basic parental love that causes us to offer daily care for our children is the same. The feeling that “this is my child’ is also the same. But as I would imagine what is true for any parents of more than one child is that we love them each individually.”

Whether you are adopting your first child or adopting a child after you have given birth, remembering to communicate your feelings is very important. If you have taken the series of Adoption STAR home study classes you know that the first class is called “Talking about Adoption” and it deals with communicating with your child, your significant other and those around you. Our children need to hear not only that we love them but that they are ours: Claiming. Believing you deserve to be a parent and that you are the child’s parent: Entitlement. These are two key ingredients. Being prepared for others’ questions is just as important. When onlookers want to know more, it’s okay to joyfully share your adoption experience. Perhaps you have two children, one may have been born to you and one may have been adopted by you, but they are most definitely your children. At the most basic level, if you are asked if those children are yours, you simply would answer, “Yes.”

For some prospective parents, the fantasy of a child has a specific vision in place and if the child does not fit the parent’s vision, bonding can be hampered until the parent becomes more familiar with the new baby and finds beauty in the child’s differences. I recall one adoptive parent who focused everything she had on adopting an Asian child. Even when other children became available she passed as she was already in love with the “idea” of an Asian daughter. It is also common that in a two parent family that one parent feels connected with the new arrival sooner then the other one – that is normal as we all have our own ways of “getting to know” others.

Sometimes there are unique circumstances that can delay bonding and this could occur when caring for a baby with special medical needs, or for a baby who is premature. I have also seen new parents not fare too well with the lack of sleep that often goes hand in hand with the typical newborn stage. I have also seen new adoptive parents, particularly adoptive moms who are mourning for the birth mother’s loss that they forget to allow themselves to experience the joy of becoming a mother. Other parents become so worried about a potential legal risk situation that they are afraid to let themselves attach. Though it is important to “think” about bonding and to “talk” about adoption, it should not worry you or consume you. Remember, everything in moderation.

If you feel you are not bonding to your child as you think you should be, it is important to share those feelings. You can speak to the adoption professionals you worked with and your child’s pediatrician. These specialists have a great deal of experience with bonding and attachment issues and can help you to develop a wonderful relationship with your child. Speaking to other adoptive parents can also be very helpful.

Bonding is a complex and personal experience. It can take time. Utilize that time to enjoy “getting to know” and “caring” for your baby.

Fast forward and by babies range from 13 years old to 25 plus years of age! I have learned that in addition to the importance of infant bonding, staying connected to our children becomes harder as they get older. Staying involved in your child’s lives yet somehow providing them with room to spread their wings and become their own person is a fine art… finding activities to share with each other especially when they got older, such as running a race together (training for the race!) caring for a pet, sharing in special occasions, even finding matching pj’s, are all just a few of the things we strive to do! As a large family we have also learned that humor is truly the best ingredient and realizing not to place too much emphasis on the big worries (like, how are they going to turn out because of this really big issue we are dealing with now? How is this going to affect the kids?) Because often it is the smallest things, things you don’t even notice that has the lasting impression on our children… so enjoy the little things… they end up being the big things!

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