Friday, December 09, 2005

Does Adoption Hinder Bonding with a Newborn?

As I mentioned in my last entry, an email from Adoptive Families, one of my favorite magazines, prompted me to do some thinking and writing about adoption. Their email asked the following questions for subscribers who have previously adopted a newborn domestically: Before your adoption, were you concerned about bonding with your baby? After your newborn came home, what parenting techniques did you practice that enhanced attachment? What do you recommend to other new adoptive parents?

I found this topic to be a very interesting and was compelled to respond to them. I have had the experience of adopting a newborn and giving birth to a newborn. There are some distinct differences between adoption and having a baby biologically. You don’t necessarily have to have experience with either to list the most significant differences. Bonding with a newborn is not one of them. I would give all parents expecting a newborn – no matter how that newborn is coming into their family – the same advice.

Still, there are those who, for whatever reason, create or look for differences or issues where there are none. This is true of those who have adopted and those who have not. For example, Emma didn’t sleep through the night until she was 16 months old. Even still, getting her down for the night is a bigger challenge than I imagined it to be. When she was still an infant, I was talking this over with someone who had never adopted. This person responded: Do you think that she doesn’t sleep because she misses her birth mother? I could have really taken that comment to heart and worried about it. Thankfully, I approached it logically. My five-month old couldn’t yet grasp the concept of object permanence. She’s not staying up all night longing for someone she hasn’t seen since she was two days old. Adoption isn’t the cause of all problems that adopted children face. Am I saying that no adoptive parents ever have bonding issues with a domestic newborn? No. I just don’t believe that those issues stem from the adoption itself.

The following is my response to the magazine. To get to my point, I veered of the topic a great deal. I would appreciate your input.


My husband Danny and I adopted Emma as a newborn in October of 2002. While we were waiting to be selected by a birth family, I was not worried about bonding with my future child. My main concern was being good enough or worthy of being selected as an adoptive parent. This stemmed from lifelong insecurities about my weight and the belief, which I tried to squelch, that God didn’t find me to be parent material. Why else would I not be able to conceive?

Perhaps naively, I felt that bonding and parenting in general would “come naturally”. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about our first meeting or the moment of becoming a parent. Thankfully, for Emma and me, bonding came naturally. I distinctly remember holding her for the first time in the hospital room. Even though her birthmother and birth grandparents were in the room with us, it was as if the entire world disappeared. Only my beautiful baby girl and I were there. I fell madly and deeply in love with her in that very instant. I was hers and she was mine. I thought to myself, “How could this moment be any more magical if I gave birth to her from my own body?” We brought Emma home on our fifth anniversary. It was like riding on a high.

No one can prepare you for the demands of parenting until you are actually a parent yourself. I’d never been so happy and so thoroughly exhausted in my entire life. You try to find and settle to a routine as soon as possible. Nothing brought me more joy than caring for her – dirty diapers and all. While on maternity leave, I lost about 25 pounds. After I returned to work, I decided to join a weight loss program to keep the weight coming off. I wanted to be an active mother for Emma. I didn’t want to sit by the sidelines or cause her embarrassment. Over the next nine months, I lost 90 more pounds. In more ways than one, Emma had been the answer to my prayers.

Not long after I lost 90 pounds, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was thrilled and nervous at the same time. I had the same emotions that I did when we got the phone call about Emma. Erin, Emma’s birthmother had now given me the gift of motherhood twice. There would never have been a pregnancy without Emma. My due date happened to be nine days before Emma’s second birthday. I realized that two years prior - perhaps to the day - Erin was discovering that she was pregnant. I thought about how much she must have wished then and now that she could raise her baby. I cried for her and for me for a long time and felt an even deeper connection to her.

Unlike with Emma’s adoption, I did have definite ideas and opinions about the arrival and first moments with a biological baby. I would call the baby by name and hold him or her up to my chest. I would investigate the baby from head to toe. I would count and kiss all of the fingers and all of the toes. Danny and I would try to figure out who our new bundle of joy looked like. It would be more of the same magic I experienced with Emma, without the fear of seeing identifying information on hospital wrist bands or hurting anyone’s feelings. This moment was just going to be about the baby, Danny and me. [Okay, I’ll be honest. The first few moments were really about the baby and me. I was just going to let Danny watch.]

Things did not work out all as I had envisioned. My natural childbirth plan was thrown out the window when my labor did not progress. Although a week overdue, Allison was a tiny baby. She was trying to be born head and shoulders together. I ended up having a c-section after 12 and a half hours in labor. I was exhausted when they prepped me for surgery. I made Danny promise that he would wake me up if I was sleeping when the baby was born. Once the procedure began, I did stay awake. She was born just 24 minutes shy of Emma’s second birthday. I called Allison by name as they brought her to the warmer and told her that her mommy loved her. Danny was the first person to hold Allison. He held her close to my face so that I could see her. I’m not certain if I touched her or not. Danny promises me that I kissed her. I loved her then, but it wasn’t the same as my dramatic connection in those first moments with Emma.

The first time I held Allison was at 4am. I made a valiant attempt to make those first few moments with her all that I had planned, but it was all forced. I spent a majority of that hour fighting to keep my eyes open. Looking back, I wish that I had been able to put things into perspective. I had a beautiful new daughter who arrived in this world safely through the skilled and caring hands of my doctor. The hows and whys really aren’t that important. 100 years ago, one or both of us might not have survived to see the next day. Instead, my focus was on what I’d “lost”. As a result of that outlook, I didn’t have the sensation of falling in love with Allison until she was three months old. It’s amazing how unrealized and unrealistic expectations can leave you feeling like you’ve been robbed of all your wealth when you’ve really been given the world on a platter.

I would give expecting adoptive parents the same advice I’d give expecting biological parents: Do the planning that is required, but don’t place any expectations on yourself, the upcoming experiences, the baby or how it will all feel. Every child and every situation is unique. I have learned that love is not a feeling. It is a voluntary and complete giving of oneself to another person. It is for love that we maintain an open relationship with Emma’s maternal birth family even when there are times it feels like a burden to “share” her. It is for love that we rocked Allison for hours through her colicky months when caring for her felt like a burden and all I wanted to do was “share” her. Don’t worry if the emotions aren’t as you’d hoped in the very beginning. The change that a baby makes in your family is awesome and overwhelming. But make no mistake - the love and the bond are there whether you feel it or not.


Trista said...

LOVE IT! I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Jennifer Olle said...

WOW!! This is an awesome entry. I shivered when I read it. My birth experience was not at all what I had hoped for. In fact, to this day, I prefer not to recall any of the events that surrounded the birth of my son. But your entry hit home and you are SO right. I HAVE been given the world on a platter and I have been incredibly blessed with the gift of my son. I need to examine that day again (with your blog in mind) and think of the wonderful things that happened that day, that I am choosing to ignore. Awesome job and Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I was adopted I went through utter hell and terror. I cant believe that a woman who gives birth to a child feels resentfull at having to share her adopted daughter with her mother. I tell you what a crazy world. That annoying family is her family your just pretending to be her mother. Adoption is just a word it is not reality. Shame on all of you you will never know the utter hoplessness of realising
I was duped my whole life the as if born to myth of adoption is sick
I will never get over losing my family for 38 years you make me cringe all you adopters you burn my soul with your denial of my mother father and family birthmother is a word it is not reality a child has only one mother the mother who bore them !!!

Anonymous said...

kudos to you for posting my comment