Attachment and parenting go hand in hand. Right?
When we consider parents and their children, we assume there is an attachment. In reality, attachment looks and develops differently for all. And attachment in adoption can be an entirely different notion.
I have three biological children and I would be lying if I told you I thought much about attachment with them. They were born; we fell in love. End of story! Though I am entirely conscious that attachment and bonding challenges in biological families exist, we were not of that statistic. I never reflected much about attaching to my children until we made the decision to adopt.
Suddenly I became acutely mindful of attachment and how easy it was for me with my three children thus far. I read. I researched. I followed blogs and read personal stories. I spoke with our agency and attended trainings. But still, I knew nothing of what to expect.
During the waiting process, though, I had time to attach, in some ways, to our “Baby China”, the name our family lovingly called the son/brother we had yet to know. We dreamed of him. We made plans for him. We bought gifts for him and we created a space in our home just for him. We were beginning our attachment with this boy we had never laid eyes on because we were waiting for him to enter our lives, our family.
But he was not. He was entirely unaware. In fact, our son was so young, that developmentally he would not be able to comprehend what would be changing in his world so very soon.
When we saw the first photo of our son, August MinXian, in February 2017, he was a mere 7 months old. And when August joined our family, he was only 10 months. August was an infant, joining his forever family quite young in the world of adoption.
We knew that adopting at such a young age could possibly make attachment easier. We knew that attachment might also be just as challenging as we expected. We continued to learn and connected with our agency using the resources they offered to educate ourselves about what to expect and how best to bond. We tried to be prepared, though it would be naïve to think one can truly enter adoption prepared.
Then it was time to meet August. I was already in love with a boy’s photo. But would I immediately attach to this boy? What an unnerving feeling to sit with. As I sat in the unfamiliar room in China, waiting for my son, I tried to not consider what would happen next.
And then a young woman walked in carrying a boy, a young boy. A very limp and unresponsive looking young boy.
And, though I have not admitted this easily, I remember the first thought in my mind was, “Please let that very ill looking boy not be my son.” I will always remember my first thought. And my first thought was not the same as my first thought when my biological children were born.
But then she handed this boy to me. And yes, he was limp. Yes, he was skinnier than I could have ever imagined. But he moved his eyes in my direction. He made eye contact. And he smiled at me. That, my friends, is when I truly began to attach to August MinXian!
But what about August? I was a perfect stranger. Yes, we had sent the suggested “family book” filled with photos of our family and home. But I was well aware, that even if he was shown this book, he likely was too young to do more than begin to recognize a face.
So at that moment in the unfamiliar room, we embarked on the road to attachment.
Our trip to China consisted of my husband, our oldest daughter and myself. It would be untruthful if I said that we saw immediate challenges in our attachment. August took to us well, easily and quickly. He was quite motor delayed, malnourished and dehydrated. But he was socially engaged immediately. After less than a week of rocking (rather thrashing) himself to sleep in his crib, he found his voice and began to cry for us to hold him and rock him to sleep. August began to seek out social games such as peek-a-boo and began laughing and vocalizing during this playtime. August enjoyed being held, he liked being worn in the infant carrier and preferred to be near us.
August accepted both me and Mike equally and even enjoyed bonding and playtime with his big sister. Once home, he was fascinated with his two other siblings as well. We did not experience rejection of one parent, as is so commonly seen in adoption.
We know how fortunate we are. August joined our family and August fit in easily. Was this because of his young age? One will never know. But we do not for one moment take this for granted.
Although we began bonding and attaching well from the start, there are many things along the past 14 months that have reminded us of what August missed in his imperative first 10 months. And there are many things that have brought us to tears as they remind us how amazing our bond has become and how blessed we are to have been given the chance to offer all we have to our precious boy.
We know nothing about August’s first months, other than the very basics from his medical chart. We know he was hospitalized several times. We could assume that he did not get adequate social interaction, touch and emotional connection, so very important in a child’s development. Research shows us that bonding begins at birth. Babies can smell their mother and recognize familiar voices from the start. Skin to skin bonding has shown to have many benefits. Early social interaction and touch is critical.
Though August was comfortable with us quickly, we had to remember that there was much he still needed. August quickly got accustomed to our rocking him to sleep. And sleep was a challenge, a BIG challenge until only very recently (something I am very grateful for as is anyone who detected my overtired crankiness on a day to day basis!). August slept in a crib in our room for months. The crib went from across the room to right next to the bed.
When August moved to his room, he still somehow ended up in our bed nightly. I was cranky. I love sleep and I do not love to share my bed. I love my husband to pieces, but there are even nights I think he takes up too much room in the king sized bed. So this was a challenge for me. But it was essential for August. And so we trekked through.
And once we knew it was the right time (about 12 months home) we began working hard on his sleep patterns and have made amazing progress. He puts himself to sleep after a nightly routine. He sleeps all night on many nights and easily goes back to sleep if he does wake. It took time, but he was ready.
We see other subtle but rewarding signs of his attachment as well. He seeks us out for his needs. He says MAMA and signs DADDY. August has a significant speech delay, though is making progress every day. With this, comes a lot of frustration and tantrums. The days we can help him calm, the days when we can understand what he needs in a way no one else can, the days when he comes to us to save him from intense frustration…these are the days we are reminded how well he has attached.
Just days ago, August was snuggling with me, something he excels at, he said “MA-ME”, more specific than his typical “MAMA”, he took his hand on my face and turned my face towards his. Then he kissed me. This… this is a true reward of the efforts we make to attach and to help our children attach to us.
I sit here well aware that we are not the norm, that we are blessed with how well August attached. But I also sit here knowing how important it is to view attachment in its entirety. For attachment is more than a 10 month old baby enjoying time in an infant carrier and playing peek-a-boo. Attachment is so much more.