Attachment and bonding are both serious issues regardless of whether your child is biologically yours or adopted. There are so many varying opinions about how to raise your children…co-sleeping, baby-wearing, kangaroo care, extended breastfeeding, room sharing, cry-it-out…the list is seriously endless.
When Eli was born, there was a very immediate and quick bond. Our pregnancy was such a miracle, and the 35 weeks I carried was a roller coaster of emotions (threatened miscarriage, prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis…). As most would imagine, we felt close to Eli. I worked on attachment parenting techniques immediately, and our relationship has been strong every since.
When Ruby arrived, again it felt instant. We had been very involved with the pregnancy and had been preparing for nearly 18 or so weeks. From the moment we agreed to the adoption, we knew she was ours. Yet, once we settled in at home and she began to experience so many tummy troubles, doubt set it. We began to question everything.
I feel comfortable saying that now, because Ruby has transformed info this loving, happy and eager for our attention baby. But in the moment, when nothing we did comforted her, we felt concerned that we had not bonded with her, or even rejected by her.
These feelings are normal. Depending on the age of the child you adopt, where they came from and their emotional state, bonding and attachment are not always instant.
Obviously, now we know she was having extreme tummy troubles, and we were adjusting to life with two small children. It was hard, but it forced us to examine how we worked on our relationship with our children.
Bonding and attachment often are used interchangeably, but they are different. Bonding, which occurs when you meet your new child’s needs consistently and in a timely manner, can begin immediately. Attachment, which is the relationship that grows between you and your child, occurs over time and as a result of many factors, including trust, feelings of affection and met needs. You might hear a new adoptive parent exclaim that her child attached right away, but it is more likely that child bonded quickly and is still in the process of attaching.
So what kinds of things can you do to encourage bonding and attachment?
•Use skin-to-skin therapy. Physical interaction is huge for forging a connection. Kangaroo care, otherwise known as skin-to-skin therapy, is often used to promote bonding when babies are secluded in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The same principles can be applied when you bring your adopted child home. Try “wearing” your infant in a sling to maximize skin-to-skin contact, and allow her to explore touching your face and maximize after-bath snuggle time for added contact. (Do not be fooled into thinking a clingy child is an attached child!)
•Look into adoptive breastfeeding. While it was not possible for us, due to our surprise pregnancy, the first 24 hours of nursing her was AMAZING.
•Establish a routine and establish yourself as mom. Baby massage with warmed lotion makes for a perfect pre-bed ritual, soothing your little one and strengthening your bond. Rocking and singing to your baby is another way to offer physical closeness and share a favorite lullabye, since we often associate songs with memories. By creating these rituals and traditions with your new baby, you create positive memories together to help create a stronger attachment.
•Restrict visitors. Keep life with your newly adopted child simple. Avoid overstimulation and too many people. You probably have friends, neighbors and family members who are dying to meet your newest addition, but it’s a good idea to wait before inviting over the welcoming party. While the actual amount of time varies from child to child, check your feelings toward your baby to dictate how you feel about having visitors—you should feel completely comfortable, peaceful, and protective when it comes to your little one. Inviting people over too soon could disrupt the fragile connection that you’ve created over the first few days of bringing your new baby home—a phenomenon known as indiscriminate attachment. If your family’s intent on helping, have them help wash dishes, make bottles, do laundry or make dinner as you work on building a relationship with your baby.
•Consider co-sleeping. While the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against sleeping with your baby in your bed (citing a SIDS risk), you can definitely use a co-sleeping bed attachment to sleep with your little on in your room. Sleeping in the same room with your adopted infant can help you become more attune to her wants and needs, offering her quick comfort and reassurance that you’re there for her and helping to reinforce the parenting instincts that usually come naturally to biological parents.
•Offer face time. Your baby’s naturally interested in human faces, so make sure your new baby has plenty of time to gaze into your eyes. Sit in a comfortable chair with your knees bent and prop your little one up against your thighs so you can spend time face-to-face. Stimulate her by making silly faces, smiling and talking in a soothing voice so she gets used to you, your sound and your smell. All the while, you’re taking in all of her sounds, faces and smells too—seriously, is there anything better than new-baby smell?
•Take care of yourself. You might have heard about postpartum depression and imagined that you’re off the handle. But another mental issue, postadoption depression, can affect you in similar ways. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that about 15 percent of mothers experienced depression in the first six weeks after adopting a baby, which could result in negative feelings that prohibit proper attachment. Brooke Randolph, licensed mental health counselor and the Director of Adoption Preparation & Support Services for MLJ Adoptions, Inc, urges that you seek help ASAP. “If sleep-deprivation or post adoption depression or something else is straining a parent, it is essential to seek out support so that you can respond as quickly and compassionately as possible to [your child] at all times.”
Seems simple enough, but all of these techniques helped us with our relationship with Eli…why wouldn’t they work with Ruby? They did! But it took some time. It took earning trust. It took consistency, love and hard work.
Today, Ruby and Eli are thriving. They trust us and each other. It’s quite amazing to even see the way the two of them look at each other- they have so much love to give!
Now I’m not claiming this is an all inclusive list, or a substitute for training, classes and research. But it is a beginning. It is encouragement. Because it is possible.
For more resources on adoption bonding/attachment, check out these links!
Have some other resources that worked for you? Let me know!