A Baby Sister But Six Months Older: Adopting Out of Birth Order

March 3, 2016 adopting out of birth order, adoption realities, Attachment, Family Stories, first year home, March 2016 Feature - Special Circumstances, parent-to-child attachment, virtual twins 6 Comments

Adoption has always been on my heart. Always.

China? Not quite as long, but still in 2014 we found ourselves traveling around the world to meet and bring home our daughter from China. But before we talk about homecomings, siblings, bonding and all, let me back up a bit.

When we found that getting pregnant was taking a bit longer than we expected, I immediately turned to my lifelong dream of adoption. My husband had always known that adoption had been on my heart and he knew that it would be in our family’s story somewhere. He also didn’t mind starting the paperwork, because I assured him that we could stop whenever we found out we were pregnant – AND he hadn’t even turned 30 yet, so we couldn’t even send our dossier, even if everything was completed at lightning speed. I busied myself with the paperwork collection and dossier fun and before we knew it the dossier was ready to go. And then we had found out – literally the day before our dossier was done – that we were expecting!

After talking with our agency we decided that we would still send the dossier and get everything logged in. After we had a LID it could sit, with just yearly home study updates sent to keep our file current. We made it very clear to our agency that we wanted to wait until our son was at least two before bringing home our child and we really wanted to try to keep our family’s birth order (meaning our son would stay the oldest). Famous last words – right?

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we were gearing up for our first big holiday as a family of three. Our son was just about to turn seven months old. As usual, I took a quick glance at our agency’s Facebook page and saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. The sweet, round face looking back at me was beautiful. I even showed the picture to my husband, which I NEVER did – knowing he would deem me crazy to be looking at little ones with our son so little himself.

Later that night, I was surprised to see our agency’s number on my cellphone, but I answered and was soon talking about that face I had seen earlier that day. To be honest I am not sure why the agency even called, we had made it clear that we were waiting. But waiting or not, within two weeks we had PA from China.


Things started moving at lightning speed – which, unfortunately, for our circumstances would not prove to be ideal. While our agency said that it would be 10 – 12 months before she came home, we were on a plane just four short months later. We left our newly turned one year old son in the care of his grandparents. Although we are so very blessed to have this as an option, I am not going to lie – it was the hardest thing we had done up until that point.

Our two weeks in China passed and our daughter seemed to roll with everything, especially if food was involved. We found that she didn’t really want anything to do with dad – but at that point we just thought it was normal, so didn’t push anything. I handled almost 100% of her care.

But right before we left China I caught a virus and came home incredibly ill. The homecoming we envisioned was not to be. I had to stay away from the kids, and the kids had to stay away from each other. Super Daddy was there, but to say it was hard would be an understatement… there was our precious new daughter, who had made her initial bond to mom, and now mom couldn’t be with her. And this guy (her Daddy) was there. She did not think this was cool, not one bit.

I believe that these circumstances led to a lot of the struggles we have had. Over the last {almost} two years we have gone through a lot of growing pains. For some, adopting out of birth order is a positive experience but for us it was challenging.

First, as young parents it was hard for us to gauge what was normal and what was adoption related. In our circle of family and friends we did not have one other family who had adopted internationally. We can’t stress how important it is to bring people into your life who can understand what you are going through. I wish we had, at the very least, educated our close family and friends (and let’s be honest… ourselves) more. I also wish that I had sought out more opinions before we traveled. Gotten more informed on the good, the bad and the ugly. Not everything in adoption is pretty, and I think if we had been exposed to those things we would have been better equipped to handle some of the issues that arose.

Second, I think that a lot depends on the ages of the children and when they are brought together as siblings for the first time. Our children have grown to be best buddies, but it was rough for the first six to eight months. We arrived home with a 19 month old, but one who had never been in a family. She craved being the baby, she needed to be the baby.

And I would have loved to baby her all day, but I also had a 13 month old at home. When we came home our son was still taking a bottle and was not walking yet – this meant that I had to care for his basic needs… our daughter did not like that. She had been a baby for two weeks in China with us – I had given her everything she needed and she wasn’t a fan of having to share me. Our son – at just over a year – was not able to grasp the concept of a new big sister, and our daughter – at just over 18 months didn’t have a chance to be coddled to the extent that I think would have encouraged the best bonding.

We also looked at her and thought, “You are older. You should be doing more, or at the very least, doing what your little brother is doing.” And we thought she definitely shouldn’t have been doing the things we saw her doing: biting, scratching, meltdowns, panic attacks, screaming and crying fits. But, wait – she should be – she needed to and as her parents it was so hard, and sometimes still is, to realize that.

On her birth certificate she is six months older, but in many ways she is the baby sister.


Bonding for our family has also had its challenges, many of which I think stemmed from the timing of her adoption. I wish that we had received more education and practical tips for ways to encourage bonding. Since we had a 13 month old at home, part of us just figured what worked for him was sure to work for her – not the case (I am sure so many of you are thinking, “Well, duh!”).

My husband and I both have said over and over that we wish we could go back and do this all over – to fix our mistakes. Instead we feel that our two kids have had to wade through the mistakes with us and I think we both have some guilt over that. For our family, I think doing these things would have made the most difference when it came to bonding:

1. Educate yourself. Read books, talk to experienced adoptive parents, talk with a therapist trained in attachment and bonding before you travel. Although we started reading, we thought, “Oh, this is too negative, this won’t happen to us.” Not our smartest decision as parents!

2. Be a team. A social worker suggested that Mom be the first to facilitate bonding, since I would be the one home with her. For our daughter this was awful – she saw her new Dad as the bad guy and their relationship has definitely been the hardest. It also was so hard for me to watch – talk about guilt when you see your child lashing out at someone who is trying their hardest. Be a team, show your child that you are both there for them.

3. Seek help. It took us a while to reach out to a therapist and even longer to find the right therapist that would work with all three of us. A lot of times there are simple things you can do to help with bonding, but if you don’t know about them, they aren’t that simple!

4. Educate others. One thing that I wish we had been able to do more was have cocoon time. Due in part to the fact that I was so incredibly ill, we didn’t keep her world small for very long. She also seemed to be happier when we were out and about. That meant that she came into contact with a lot of our friends and family and I wish we had done more to prepare them. I wish we had asked for more (like meals)! One of the best things I have seen is that letter that a lot of you send out before you travel – brilliant, wish I had known!

5. Give grace. Give yourself grace, don’t be so hard on yourself. For us, parenting a newly adopted toddler is night and day from parenting a toddler who has been in the family since infancy. Their needs are just different. It took us some time to realize that and realize that just because we were doing things differently, we were still loving both of our children.


Our adoption story has been tough – definitely not what I imagined or planned since I was little – and to be honest it has been frightening to open up and share. It has been harder than anything we have done as a family. It has stretched us to our max, but she is home. She is with her forever family. A family that is dedicated to loving her and helping her to feel safe and secure. We are not sure how our family’s story will continue to unfold, but we can assure you one thing – we will be hand in hand with each of our children through it all.


6 responses to “A Baby Sister But Six Months Older: Adopting Out of Birth Order”

  1. LeeAnn says:

    This is really good, and honest. I’ve always heard, too, to let Mom do almost everything during bonding. What u said makes more sense!!! Why encourage Dad to be left out…. I fear getting sick when we go. Did your agency go light on their education training, or did they train train train, yet you still felt it missed the mark for your circumstances? Thanks. Your girl is irresistible. I can see why u were smitten.

  2. Nancy says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty. There is a tendency in the adoption world to paint everything rosy, but then parents are not fully prepared for crucial decision making and the journey that follows. And other struggling parents feel alone and ashamed. Your daughter really needed to experience babyhood, develop attachment, and heal the trauma she already experienced. That’s a tall order with another baby in the home. Glad you have resources on board- hang in there; it will get better.

  3. Holly says:

    I thought your post was so informative. Your kids are adorable! I remember treading at times as we added each of our children to our family. I think your post will make more people go in with “eyes wide open”. Our youngest daughter attached to my husband and would cry and push my neck to get away from me. I traveled with Nerd Candy and slowly won her over with lots of prayers and Nerds that I would hold up near my eyes and smile. Once she gave me eye contact I put a tiny candy in her mouth. She loved the little treat and started associating me with something good. We used them for a week and it worked well to start bonding in addition to sleeping with her and carrying her everywhere. Our kids are older now and have blossomed and are huge blessings! God Bless your family.

  4. Leah says:

    Ashley, this is so beautifully written and shows so much understanding of Ellie’s needs and Jack’s needs! While I’m sure things could have been different in some ways, you guys have given it your all and been the most loving parents!! I’m guessing that similar to becoming a parent for the first time, it’s impossible to know how big of a change it will be and its so unique to each situation! I’m so proud of you and Evan and to be your sister and Ellie and jacks aunt! I learn so much from you every day and this article is one more way I am inspired and hopeful!!

  5. Tammy says:

    This really resonated with me, but in an opposite way! Our son, who came home from Korea at 17 months bonded only with my husband at first…and the struggle was real, so to speak.

  6. Theresa says:

    Thank you for this insight! We have PA on a sweetie who will be 4 when she comes home and will have a 2yr old bio as well! I am planning on them basically being virtual twins for awhile. It’s comforting to hear your experiences and to know we are doing what we can to be prepared, thank you for sharing!

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