I’ve written about this topic before, but I wanted to touch on it again. We have been working so hard with Ruby in so many areas. Bonding hasn’t come up as a topic lately, but it’s been on my mind. It’s such an important part of relationship building and it’s typically seen as the easiest part- all kids just need love, right?
Since Ruby came home, there have been so many changes in our lives and hers. First I was home for the summer and maternity leave, then Barry was home looking for a job, then we were both gone…now that I am staying home, we have seen many benefits to the stability in our home for all our children.
Looking back, I feel that there have been many factors that broke down our bonding experience in the early days.
Our OT has her pegged- Ruby was experiencing some extreme stomach/health issues that covered up sensory and behavioral problems. As the stomach issues cleared up, we began to have a more difficult time explaining other behaviors (as in we couldn’t blame her screaming on an upset stomach anymore) but just couldn’t see it for what it was. Now that we have her health under control and her world is more predictable, I feel like we have seen some great gains for her. We are proud of how far she has come. I wish I would have had more time, patients and knowledge about how to attack her tummy troubles from the beginning- it would have eliminated a lot of stress and helped us to see the underlying issues sooner. But it has taught me a lot- she’s grown so much and so have I.
Many adopted children will experience these issues and more, dependent upon the family environment they come from. Even though Ruby was a newborn when she joined our family, there are still outside factors to consider. Do not assume that an adopted newborn joins your family with a clean slate.
It’s important to try to meet your child where they are, no matter their age and get as much help as you can. Having family and friends to talk to or help out is a huge part of adding any child to your family. Ours helped to put it into perspective and shine a light on the positives (which we needed to hear when we were in our worry-filled new parent again moments).
Here are some things reflections over this last year…
Adding a child to our family felt like a very natural progression. We were ready, we had already had a child so we thought we knew what that was like, newborns are “easy” and we would get to experience “typical”. Boy were we wrong.
Ruby is different from Eli in every way. Not just because she is a girl or because Eli has Down syndrome. She’s her own person and while we loved her before we had ever met her, we still had to get to know her and learn who she is.
We also didn’t anticipate having the health issues we did with Ruby, so her extreme pain and tummy problems caught us off guard. We had to adjust our expectations to meet Ruby’s needs.
Her painful troubles created a stressful environment. We were always trying to prevent crying, end crying or rest between crying. Crying and screaming became the only way she knew how to communicate. I kept waiting and waiting for it to get better…3 months…5 months…she just never seemed to be content. We relied on the swaddle, paci, and swing to provide her the comfort that we didn’t seem to be able to give. It’s defeating as a parent and difficult to watch your child go through such a struggle and feel helpless. But we did all we knew how to do at the time to comfort her. It feels good to be past that stage. (It also doesn’t feel like any of these statements do justice to what we went through and what she went through- can we PTSD?). But that’s why I say that even newborns don’t come with a clean slate.
She’s so affectionate now, and we continue to build a bond based on love and trust. But at 16 months old, I feel like our foundation was built on uneven ground. Changing our expectations to meet Ruby’s needs left us bent and frazzled. It was harder than we thought it would be but she is very much a Newman- the heart of our family. Through ECI, we have been able to peel back her layers to see what was going on.
Seeing the more happy and loving girl we have today makes all of it worth it.
Because of Ruby’s health issues, it was difficult to initially see her possible neurological and sensory issues. A few things that have helped us:
-Making a predictable schedule.
-Offering appropriate comfort while allowing her to work out her problems too.
-Exposing her to new sensory experiences.
All of these have helped make our expectations more appropriate and help Ruby predict what we expect.
We have been working on eye contact, snuggles, comfort (she likes her blanket way more than I thought so blanket goes everywhere now lol), and signing for communication (though her speech is starting to explode!).
http://www.rainbowkids.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=536 <—attachment disorder help
(Many children come home and bond and do wonderfully with very few attachment issues. This is just one example of how a family comes together during an adoption. We all react differently and come together with our own baggage.)
I have been working on myself to not be so stubborn in my expectations while still offering love and support for Ruby. I have a lot to learn about being a parent- each one of my children is teaching me through their unique needs.
Some other thoughts…
I'm not someone who believes that birth order defines us. I think that we are shaped by many things. There is some truth to birth order and I think it is part of who Ruby is but ultimately our family dynamic shapes her.
She's technically a first born but she's assuming a second born role- and doing so beautifully.
While I believe Ruby and Wyatt will be more like "little big siblings" to Eli, they will fit in how our family functions. Ruby has many qualities listed as a first born and second born. Ruby has inherited qualities as well as qualities that she will learn through being part of our family- but ultimately Ruby is just Ruby. 🙂 she's finding her place beautifully- loving on her siblings, playing and thriving.
Nature vs Nurture…
While biology will definitely play a role, the way Ruby is parented combined with her different life experiences will play a large role in the person she becomes as well. I really believe that there is so much we can learn about who Ruby is by knowing her biological family. But she will also have our family attributes too. I really hate to say one is more important than another. They will both be parts of who our daughter is. Some of it is built into her, some of it is instilled through Barry and I.
I feel like I have been charged with a new way to look at all of this.
At one point, I was so stressed about being viewed as her mother, being seen as connected with her, and being on top of everything that it was affecting our family.
I feel like at the end of the day, my heart is being called to pray for her biological parents and love them through this journey. An "open adoption" definitely adds another layer to our family and I have had to face some of my own issues. Raising kids is serious business 😉
The first year of life is always a huge challenge, but adoption obviously adds a new dynamic to a family.
I feel like there is so much more that I want to say, but I have three small children that have dried out my brain and my thoughts 😉
Ruby's therapies have been therapy for our family too- we are working together and navigating our unique family…and pretending to have some grace.
7 months ago we were so worried about Ruby and her development. I was struggling with my role as her mother and we were exploring therapies with ECI. Today, we have a different little girl- thriving and happier than ever. I hope to continue to build trust and respect as we continue our parenting journey.
I'm hoping to talk more about open adoption and what that means to our family, but it's taken me 3 months to gather these thoughts and they still feel jumbled.