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Bonding with your child

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I've been reading the "maternal instinct" thread in the parenting issues forum, and all the discussion of birth experiences and breastfeeding and their impact on bonding got me thinking about my own experience as an adoptive mom. I was curious how bonding/attachment/"whatever-want-to-call-it" went for other adoptive moms. I know some of us received our children as newborns and for others, your children have been older, but I'm still interested in all kinds of experiences.

My son was placed with us when he was 2 days old. I did not experience "love at first sight". His placement lasted five hours. He was placed in my arms by his birthmother about 4 hours and 45 mintutes into that placement at 11:30 pm. We were all exhausted, both physically and emotionally. She was having a very difficult time, and I know that played into my own feelings. To have a burst of dramatic joy would have seemed inappropriate in the face of her grief. It was very emotional, and I shed a lot of tears, but they were for her, not for this new baby. I did experience a quietness, reverence, awe and disbelief that this baby was really going home with us. But he did seem rather like a stranger. I didn't feel disappointed about my lack of elation, though. I still think that everything about his placement was beautiful and perfect for us in its own way, even though it didn't happen the way I thought it would. I wouldn't have it be any different.

So, there wasn't an instant bond, but attachment proceeded very naturally. We were definitely caught up in the demands of caring for a newborn, and it's impossible not to fall in love when you're serving so selflessly 24 hours a day. I always felt a "maternal instinct", and loving him was very easy. He responded very well to me too. Things just went very smoothly even though ds is not what would be called an "easy" baby.

I was able to bf him for about six months, through lots of problems that finally were not going away. When it comes to attachment, I see bf as a tool, but one of *many* tools that a parent has at her disposal. I feel like bf did help enhance our bond, but if we hadn't had that, there would have been something else. Make sense? I'm glad I had the experience, because it was something I think I needed during those first weeks, when I was trying to feel like his mother. It was especially helpful after not falling in love instantly.

I had an experience when ds was about 2 months old and bf was going *really* badly and I was afraid I was going to have to quit. I don't want to share too much of it, because it's too personal, but basically it was like ds and I were communicating soul to soul, without words, and he was telling me that he would always be my boy, and that it was not bf that made us mother and son. It was very deep and something I'll always treasure. I was able to continue bf'ing for about 4 more months after that, but with a different perspective.

Anyway, I don't think there is anything particularly unusual about my experience bonding with my son, but it just got me thinking about other adoptive moms. I do believe that all the hormonal changes surrounding birth and the post partum period and bf'ing can be catalysts and can enhance bonding between mother and child. But I think that many other things can too. I think the whole infertility experience and the longing for a child that few others can really fathom definitely sets you up to connect!

Well, I'm rambling, and I know I'm not touching on the experiences of those who've adopted older babies or children, so I would love to hear from many different points of view.
post #2 of 13
Laurel I'm glad you posted this question. I'd been reading that other thread with interest but found myself flinching a bit at a comment about breastfeeding being imperative for connection. We adopted our now 3 1/2 year old ds at birth - we were right outside the delivery room and he was handed to us when he was about 10 minutes old. We'd had very little notice that he'd be entering our lives and I didn't have time to do any preparation that might have enabled me to breastfeed, and even though I've had to forgive myself for not being able to provide that for him, it's still a tender subject. How wonderful that you were able to do this for as long as you did; your story about that moment between you and your ds is very moving.

I don't actually remember when I bonded with my ds. It wasn't at first sight, although my husband did. He had this incredible look of awe on his face, while I was looking at the baby thinking "gee, his head's so long - is that normal?" Of course I hadn't had any baby prep classes and had spent so many years avoiding the whole issue during my difficult years of infertility. So I had no clue what to expect! But as with Laurel I got so caught up in caring for this tiny creature's needs that I couldn't help but feel attached to him, and as he and I worked out our relationship together I became more and more aware of how connected we were to each other.

Coming to parenthood late and unprepared, I just planned to do the normal things all my friends and siblings did. I thought co-sleeping was weird and we never considered anything but circumcision - not that we ever gave it any thought. But our birthfather requested we not circ and we decided to respect this - thank goodness he was far more thoughtful than we were at this point. We are so grateful to him for that, as well as for his role in making us parents. And our ds quickly demonstrated why the hotel crib we had in our room was useless. He couldn't sleep unless he was on my chest. And since sleep was very important to both of us (always thought the whole sleep-deprived thing was over-rated until I experienced it myself!) that's where his bed was. On Mommy. Even today he (and I) get comfort from hugging and cuddling, and I'm convinced the physical closeless he craved and I provided contributed to our attachment. My husband also loved to hold him and would walk around for hours with him in a snugli. It was only after I started reading all the baby books I'd avoided that I learned about AP and found Mothering.com.

My sister used to try to convince me to consider adoption (I was very hesitant, which I think was just part of my grieving the loss of my dream of a child made with my husband) by telling me she felt no connection to her daughter because she came out of her body - it was because of the relationship between the two of them that was ongoing. I have friends with both bio and adopted children who firmly state there are no differences in their love for their children, and in some cases they are closer to the children through adoption than birth. I can't imagine loving a biological child more than I do my ds, though it's not an assumption I'll ever have to test. Judging from my own experience and that of others, the contributors to bonding are many-faceted, and no one factor can determine it. So although as adoptive moms we didn't have the experience of carrying a child inside us and caring for it in that way, surely we can do many things to bond once the child is in our arms.
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by Larklinnet
I was looking at the baby thinking "gee, his head's so long - is that normal?"
My overriding thought was, "I wish I could go back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep and become a mother in the morning!" It was definitely time to hit the ground running. We left the placement at midnight, had an hour's drive back to the hotel, and were up most of the night. But it was so awe-some to sit in the quiet darkness at 3:00 am with my little boy and just bask in it. It was worth it.

I had been thinking about AP for quite awhile before he came, and had even been here at MDC for about six months. I wasn't entirely sure about co-sleeping, but lo and behold, the hotel we stayed in didn't have cribs (if you can believe that!). I think it was meant to be. Dh was the one who initiated co-sleeping, and it has been one of my favorite parts of parenthood. (One of the hardest, too--we're still not getting much sleep.)

We all thought ds was going to be a girl, so circumcision wasn't even in our minds. When we found out he was a boy, and had an 11-hour drive to get him, I stewed the whole trip about it. Dh wanted him circ'd, and we hadn't even discussed it--it was so huge to be talking about at the last minute. But it turned out that ds's birthmom made the decision without us and had it done by the time we got there.

I think I've had different levels of bonding. It only took a few days (or probably even less) to fall in love with him. I can't remember a single moment, though--it happened gradually. But I still didn't entirely feel like he was "mine". It was when he was about 3 weeks old and my mom came to visit, and noted how he followed me everywhere with his eyes, that I realized that I was certainly "his"! He had no doubts about who I was, so why should I? I think that helped my bonding to him so much to realize that he was bonding to me. It was still about six months or so before I could say that I knew for sure that I couldn't possibly have loved him more if I'd birthed him. There was still part of me that always wondered a little bit, but somehow the knowledge that it doesn't get better than this just descends upon you--you don't even realize it's happening until one day you wake up and realize, "Hey, this is IT! It doesn't get better than this!" So I think our journey was perfect. It happened the way it was supposed to, even w/o hormones.

But even with all of this, the maternal instinct was always there--from the first minute my whole focus was on this beautiful baby and his every need.
post #4 of 13
I think the idea that any one specific behavior is imperative to establish bonding is hogwash. If that were true, probably 80% of the people born in my generation would never have bonded with their mothers. If bf is a requirement for bonding, how could babies bond with their fathers? I also think a lot depends on the personalities of the individuals involved. I know too many people who have had both bio and adopted kids (adopted past infancy), who bonded every bit as well to the adopted kids to think that you need to do X in order to bond.

I've adopted twice. The bonding experience was totally different each time. My oldest was adopted at 11 months. She hated us on sight and didn't stop screaming for five of the longest days and nights in history. Her bonding took time, and didn't really happen until she was adjusted to a new environment and until she started getting some sleep. It evolved over a million little interactions. She initially preferred my husband, and it took longer for her to bond with me. That hurt me a lot, but I loved her from before I ever met her, and I knew in my heart I just had to be patient and persistant. She is totally bonded to both of us.

My younger couldn't have been more different. She was 14 months old. She took one look, smiled, cooed with happiness and never looked back. She knew a good deal when she saw one, I guess. So did we. She has a very sweet, happy outlook about everything, where her sister is more analytical.

We did specific things (not necessarily "AP" things) to promote attachment. We played a ton of peek-a-boo type games to make the babies look at our faces a lot. We made sure we were gazing at each other when we fed them. We did and still do a ton of lap time.

We also did the infertility stuff before adoption, but for me it was very easy to move on. I hated, hated, hated the IF treatments, and had a vile doctor (and didn't have much choice due to insurance and geography). I was petrified of the drugs. I found the whole thing plain icky. I did think a little about the loss of carrying a bio child and bf, but for me it was not anything I felt all that strongly about. While lots of people do go through a ton of grieving over the IF, I did not--I just wanted to parent, the biological aspect wasn't important. I had no doubts about our ability to bond with a child through whatever means.
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by EFmom
I think the idea that any one specific behavior is imperative to establish bonding is hogwash.
Can I just say, "Amen!!!!" to this?
post #6 of 13
for me, everything happened so fast... we had less than 24 hrs. notice that we'd been chosen by the bmom...so, when we got to the hospital and they handed dd to me, my first thought and words were, "she's so beautiful!". she really was - i wasn't expecting a beautiful babe! i think dh and i did have a love at first sight experience - but it was sooooooo surreal! being in the hosp. on such short notice, meeting the bmom, dealing w/the hosp. staff (very nice, but full of proceedures)... i just wanted to bundle her up and go home! i also had the thought after we got home "my god, what have we done!!??!!"! sudden parenthood is so intense! when we were in the hosp. i put dd to my breast to see if she'd nurse and she latched right on - so we tried to figure the lact-aid thing out once we were home. and we've co-slept since day 1... but i think intention is so much a part of it. if you really want to bond and are dedicated to the needs of the child, you'll bond! they just want love/nurturing! i've mourned plenty about not being able to have a bio child, and have all those hormones to help out, but in the end, it's all about the quality of the relationship, not the bio-processes - imho...
post #7 of 13
Yes, LOVE LOVE LOVE this thread, makes me feel a little more involved in all this "attachment" stuff.

I'm a foster/adoptive parent. I've had 13 children and 3 (so far) who will be my forever children. The oldest is now 5 1/2 and I got him at 3 1/2. He had attachment disorder and was very, very, very difficult behaviorally. Incredibly oppositional and defiant. It took about 5 months for us to start bonding and we've just grown closer and closer over these past years.

My next one is 26 months old and I got him at 7 months. For some reason he and I just didn't click for quite awhile. He had a very severe case of attachment disorder and I thought it might even be possible that he was lost mentally by the time I got him, but he wasn't at all. I worked with him every day making eye contact, singing songs, doing finger play things. He would stay in the sling some, but didn't cuddle up to me or anything. He wouldn't go to sleep and he wouldn't let me hold him and rock him to sleep. He never, ever would sleep with me. After months and months he allowed me to hold him and hug him and sing him to sleep. I fell in love with him after about 12 months and now (it's been 18 months) I'm so madly in love with him I can hardly stand it.

My third is now 16 months and I got him from the hospital at 6 days old, premature, but healthy. He was a wrinkly little thing and I don't remember when I bonded, but it was very quick. I do remember when he was 2 weeks old he smiled at me and I broke down crying beucase I was so in love. He slept on my chest until he was too big and then next to me until he didn't need to eat at night (around 9 months).

Sometimes I feel like I can't breathe because I love my children so much. I can spend every minute of every day with them and still dont' feel like it's nearly enough. I've been looking forward to the "terrible twos" for the toddlers since I was hoping that they'd try to push away from me some, but it hasn't helped much. I am still so intensely connected to them.

This is all without any of the "normal" AP things. Breastfeeding is not allowed for foster parents. None of them had "natural" child births and probably all had alcohol or cocaine in their system soon before birth. I'm a big believer that the main attachment necessity is understanding and responding to children's (or adults) needs. BF and carrying and so forth responds to needs that children have. I responded to my children's needs at the time and continue to and that's why we're so close.
post #8 of 13
Hi everyone,

I am the bio mom of a 3.5 y.o. and am in the homestudy process for #2.

Just want to reiterate that "bonding" with a bio child is not instantaneous for most moms. It certainly wasn't for me. Yeah, all those hormones are setting you up for bonding and nurturing, but it's a package deal -- it also sets up some women for PPD (which thankfully I never got). After 28.5 hours of labor, when I finally saw my beautiful boy, all I could think of was this: "Oh. My. G*d. That thing is huge." I did instantly feel responsible and maternal, but he was like a cute (if rather cone-headed), helpless little stranger. I would look at him and think, "Hmmm. Who is this little person? Oh, yeah, he's my son. Hmmm."

I've read that it takes the average bio mom 2 weeks to feel that bond, and I believe that's true.

I have no worries about being able to bond and to love a child that is not my bio child. I do have some worries about attachment problems with older kids, but that's a whole other deal. I also don't believe that b'fing is essential to bonding/attachment. Yes, of course, b'fing is a wonderful tool (heck, my 3.5 year old is still nursing some!), offers incredible nutritional benefits, etc. etc. But if I cannot nurse an adopted child for whatever reason, I know there are many, many other ways to give a child the nurturing and closeness that they need.

Bless you all for the fine mothering you're providing your children!
post #9 of 13
Thank you so much for starting this thread! My husband and I are waiting for the call letting us know we can fly to Korea to be united with our son. Spike just turned four months old on the 5th, and we're both so anxious to be with him.

That said, we're also very anxious about the first few days and weeks of being together. We're first-time parents and haven't been around children since our own younger sisters were babies -- and that was a little more than 20 years ago. The idea of learning to care for an infant while making sure we're getting acquainted and attached -- it's overwhelming at times. Would I be awful to say I'm sometimes scared I'm going to do something wrong?

We're hoping to "replicate" his life at his foster family's house once he's home. I'm guessing if his foster mom is a traditional Korean mom, Spike's co-sleeping and probably being worn a lot. We've got the sling ready and are trying to figure out how to put the two of us, an infant and two cats who love to sleep on our legs all into our full-sized bed. But obviously we can't do too good a job of replicating his previous homelife since we look different, smell different, sound different . . .

To try to help introduce him to us, our smell, our voices, our faces, we sent a care package that included a receiving blanket we'd been sleeping with and washing with our stuff; a video tape on which we talked to him and read him stories; and a baby photo album with pictures of us. I don't know if it'll help, but we wanted to try to make his transition easier.

I'm also scared of how putting him in daycare will affect our bonding. We're going to try to take a reasonable amount of time off from work (gotta burn up vacation and sick leave to do it) to be with him, but we both have to work. The daycare we've found is really wonderful, and we really like the people there. I'm hoping Spike will like it too.

Ugh! This turned into a dump-fest. My apologies. But do any of you out there have any suggestions for "maximizing" the time we do get to devote solely/soully to Spike once we're home?

Thanks again!

post #10 of 13

I'm thrilled for you! Here's to your speedy travel approval!

Our two girls were from China, so I understand your apprehension about the transition. It was stressful, especially with our older daughter as she was our first child also. It's perfectly normal to feel a little scared about the whole thing.

If you can, try to learn a few of the very basic words in Korean. Buy some CDs of Korean lullabyes if you can. We did similar things for our adoptions, and it did help a little bit.

It sounds to me like you are doing all the standard things. Just be prepared to take your cues from your child. Our oldest had been in foster care with a Chinese family, so we expected that she would want to cosleep. She had other ideas and absolutely refused to go to sleep in the same room with us.

Be ready to be patient, flexible and possibly sleep deprived! As I described, our transitions for the two kids couldn't have been more different, so it's hard to know what to expect. You just have to figure out what the baby needs, and it might not be what you'd expect.

As for daycare, we used daycare (a small, home-based daycare) for both of our children within two months of their arrival home. They both took to it very easily and enjoyed the time with other kids. Neither of them had any confusion whatever as to who was mom and dad.

Some SWs will tell you to not allow anyone to visit you for several weeks and not to let the baby meet any of your family for awhile. Personally, that's advice I wouldn't give. I was feeling very overwhelmed the first time with a non-sleeping child who hated me, and the sheer 24/7ness of it all, so I was glad for a little break, any help and a little company, and the babies had no trouble sorting it out either. I also personally feel that it was valuable to make our families part of the whole thing early on. Of course, you don't want to overwhelm the child with visitors or outings either--I just don't think you need to become a hermit.

Find a local support group of people who've adopted from Korea. I got the best information by far from other adoptive parents. If you can't find one pm me and maybe I can help.
post #11 of 13
Thanks for the advice! It's nice to hear the "no visitors" stuff is hogwash.

Our social worker . . . ugh, don't even get me started on what a pain in the rump dealing with her has been. I'm dreading trying to arrange our post-placement visits around her tennis schedule. Of course, we'll only be able to arrange those visits if she ever decides to return a phone call.

Our agency, while out of state, has been really helpful. The head of the Korea program encourages the new parents to be the primary caregivers during the first few days and weeks, but it doesn't encourage hermitdom! Thank goodness, too, because my mom's coming down to help out with her first grandchild -- although I'm sure she'd be happy to sit back and critique my performance as she watched. Love my mom and am really looking forward to her being here, but . . . well, y'know.
post #12 of 13
(Warning: This is long.)

I'd like to break the pattern and speak about bonding with my *15 year old* because what he is teaching me is that bonding doesn't depend on age or the way our children come to us. Our 15 year old came to us this year, actually starting this January, and it has been an adventure. One of my sisters and I had a pathetic conversation several years ago in which she declared that there is something between bio moms and their children that is hormonal and biological that can never happen between non-bio moms and their children or dads and their children. Ultimately she was trying to tell me that my wife is like a dad in her relationship with our children.

Anyway, our 15 year old son came to us very unexpectedly. We were not even into the process of getting licensed as foster parents when we got a call from the agency we were working with telling us about a teen they thought would be a great match who was "legally free" and needed a permanent placement. When I got that call, I was thrilled. . .then totally uncertain, all in the course of half a day. There is nothing like that phone call you get. I guess it's the first step in bonding, kinda like a positive pregnancy test. . .and the reality always sets in right after.

We were given one evening to meet him and make a decision (due to some special circumstances around his placement). When we walked in the door of the agency and first saw him, nothing was at all like we had imagined. And there was certainly not love at first sight. He barely said hello to us, so we were desperately searching for something to give us some small inkling of a connection. He kept his distance, and I admit that we did too. He was also a very energy-sapping kid to be with, and had many behavioral challenges, and after he left, we just breathed a sigh of relief. The next day, as decision-time rolled around, we asked tons and tons and tons of questions. We were terrified, and we decided that we just couldn't do it, not with so little time to really think about it.

But somehow the agency bought us an extra week to think about it, and during that week, we met with him again. During the second meeting, we still didn't stumble upon any grand connection, but at the end of the night, while he was singing and dancing and acting in our living room, something in our hearts clicked. We again asked tons and tons of questions, and finally decided yes.

Telling him that we were to be his family, his final placement (after him having endured 10 years in the system), was something like a kind of birth. It was terrifying and euphoric and painful and beautiful all at the same time, and I am sure I had hormones run wild inside my body. And finally he heard the news and he looked at us, and all I could think was, "I want to tell him something and then end with, 'son'." But it didn't feel real yet, so I didn't call him "son." (By the way, I think for several days afterward he continued to wear his coat-- as he had since the begining-- during the entire time he was with us...clearly a protective measure.) But we hugged him hard after we shared the news, and then we left because we weren't licensed so he couldn't be at our home for over 24 hours at a time.

So we shared "custody" with another foster family. That was a really trying time, especially as the honeymoon period ended. He would get into a fight with us or be having a hard time with something, and we'd hardly get into it, and he'd have to go back to his other house because it had been too many hours. And having to co-parent with another couple was very difficult, especially since we were all of the sudden his "real" parents. Then he moved to another foster family, and it was one more co-parenting adventure.

Then something unexpected occurred at his other foster family's house, and something was worked out so he could come home with us, and within 18 hours, we had our son home with us. It was pretty anti-climatic. My wife was at work (a necessity), and a case manager pulled up with him and most of his stuff, and a case manager assistant followed behind with the rest of his stuff. I had some flowers for him in his room and a "welcome home banner" in the living room, something he had hoped for. That night we had a special celebration dinner together as a family, but it wasn't otherwise much different from any other day with him.

And that really started the adventures. He is just now coming out of that period where he was (hopefully this is a past tense thing) trying to test us to see if we are "for real" and trying to figure out where the boundaries are. There have been times during this period when we have felt totally unattached to him. Times when it seemed like we were barely hanging on by a thread to any sort of commitment to him. Times when we felt there was no way we could parent him.

Then we went through this totally blissful week or two where he was still his challenging self, but something mellowed and we could actually bond with him. We had some amazing conversations with him during that time. The mutual process of opening up to one another really was what that time period was about, and that is really where the bonding came from. But of course, a tidal wave of testing and trouble came back and we began to struggle again to maintain any kind of connection with him as he pushed us away in whatever way he could think of.

And now things have slowed down a bit, and all of the sudden I can look back and really see how bonded we've become. I truly do all of the sudden feel bonded. I know for sure there is not a single moment when it just happened, but it seems "sudden" because as he pushed us away, it was hard to see that it was happening. But it was happening the whole time. I'm not sure what really defines a "bond," but whatever it is, I feel it. We are so totally connected, and I am so totally in love with my son. Even as he sits right now in his room totally p**sed off at me, the connection is stronger than ever.

Quality time together as a family has been huge (we don't have a t.v., and we're very family focused during family time rather than being task-focused). Routines have helped a lot (we have a whole bedtime ritual that includes reading to him every night, and for that has become a time of true attachment-development, along with being a time when the whole family can connect). I know my son really connects with others when there is consistency (giving him a safe environment where he knows what to expect and is protected by limits). Sharing affection as a family has helped us connect (luckily he is a very affectionate child). We have bonded quite a bit over a good coversation. These come in bits and peices, as my son often skims the surface of life and his emotions, and I'm not one who is inclined to draw all that out myself. Being honest and trying to seem open to him helps. We also really connect when we are laughing together as a family (our son has an adorable sense of humor).

But bonding (now for the cheezy, cliche part) is like a dance between human beings. And the only coreographers are the dancers. And no two pairs can ever do the dance exactly the same because it comes from the essence of who we are as individuals and the way that moves with who others are as individuals. I know for sure that it is a lot more complicated than hormones.

The awesome thing I am discovering is the human capacity to attach, to bond, to love, in face of some of the worst possible, most destructive possibilities that stare us in the face. Children will attach to their caregivers, to their parents. That is tragic in some ways. But I watched my son today, after visiting the town he lived in with his bio-parents, totally grieving the loss of the biological family he always wanted (the family he still thinks is out there). Here were these memories of these people who had done these awful things, and yet his attachment from his first five years of life is still incredible, a thing to be grieved in its loss. And that gives me hope. Because in spite of everything terrible, somewhere along the way, my son learned to love. Is he confused about what love is? Sure. But he can do things that shows he loves and can be loved, even if in the smallest ways, and that gives him the opportunity to bond with others. Without that, he could not survive.

Sorry for the tangent. I've been thinking about this a lot the past few days.

post #13 of 13
What a great thread! I was at dd's birth and was the first to hold her, was able to prevent most procedures from disturbing her and we were skin-to-skin almost immediately. I also spread some of the birth juices on my breasts so I'd smell familiar. The hospital knew I'd be breastfeeding and had all the supplies ready for me, since dd was early and we didn't have things sterilized (we had grabbed a bag of breastmilk from the freezer on the way out the door). Even with all that, I just felt wary, afraid that this sweet bundle would be taken from me at some point, that there would be some reason that I couldn't be a Mama after all. It was about two weeks later before I felt more secure and let myself swim in the wonderful Mama feelings and truly bond with dd. At two weeks, dd's birthmom was at our house for a visit and was so happy we were dd's parents. She said she worried we'd be different after the birth and was glad we were still the same folks as before.

When I was experiencing those first weeks, I talked with a friend whose dd is a year older (bio) and she said she had similar feelings, even with a lovely homebirth! It really helped me to know I wasn't alone and maybe this thread will help someone else I know I'll be more prepared for number two, maybe soon??
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