Saturday, April 3, 2010

bonding in adoption

I'm in an online group for families who have open adoptions, and adopted their sweeties at birth.  A couple days ago Nicole, a prospective adoptive Mama, posted a question to the group.  She and her husband have one child by birth, and now they are considering adopting.  But she is afraid that she will not love her adopted child as much as her birth child.  This is a common fear!  I responded to her question, and Anna, an adoptive Mama who has started a blog to share the ins and outs of domestic adoption and provide a forum for discussions about domestic adoption, asked if she could re-post my email here.  Since then, I've been encouraged to talk more about adoption on our family blog.  After all, for most people adoption is a big deal, but for us it is just normal life. :)

Here is what I emailed to Nicole, on the open adoption group: 
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Hi Nicole,

I'm so glad you felt comfortable enough to ask that question.  Many parents who are considering growing their family through birth and adoption worry a little about whether they will love their children the same.  It's an important question to ask, and one that my husband and I are asked about fairly regularly (not in front of the children, thankfully).  We have 3 children already, plus one on the way.  Our son by birth is 7, daughter by adoption is 5, son by adoption is 3, and I'm pg with our 4th, another daughter.

Before we adopted, I worried at least a little about this myself.  Now my husband and I speak at our adoption agency about our experiences with open adoption, transracial adoption, etc. during their required education classes.  The way I explain that part of our journey to people is that the end result -- the deep, intimate, protective love for our child -- is the same for each child.  But the journey there is a little different.  For instance, when a Mama is pregnant, that love usually grows, slowly but deeply, during the pregnancy.  And when you meet your child, it's kind of like that love is solidified and then continues to grow in new ways as your child grows and you get to know each other more.

In adoption, you look forward to, care about, wait for, and plan for this child, but until he or she is in your arms, the experience is not real enough for that incredibly deep "I would kill a bear, would lift a car, would die for this child" protective love to start growing.  For some that deep love may come pretty quickly after baby is in their arms, and for others it takes time, and that is perfectly okay.  We had fairly last-minute matches, and although I instantly cared very deeply for each of our children from the time they were in my arms, I found that the deeper, settled-in love grew over time.

For instance, I remember a distinct moment with my daughter when she was a couple months old and I realized I *really* felt like I was her mom.  (I didn't feel like I wasn't her mom before this, but this showed me that feeling must have still been growing.)  We were at a big park, and our toddler son was playing in a splash pad.  My sister was with us, and she offered to push baby around in the stroller to help her go to sleep.  I said sure, and my sister said she'd be back in 15 minutes or so.  Well, 20 - 25 minutes went by and I realized she wasn't back.  In my heart, I started to panic!  I was really worried something had happened to them.  (A couple minutes later, she was back in sight – my sister had just gone further than she meant to.)  I remember that at that moment it struck me how fiercely protective I felt, and that I was ready to run all over that park to find them!  My love for my daughter had grown deeper, without me even realizing it. :)

I think the main thing is that in adoption it's important to realize that the actual bonding journey is different than with a child you gave birth to, and that's normal and doesn't reflect your long-term love and commitment to your child.  You will probably not feel the same toward your adopted child at 2 days old as you did toward your bio child at 2 days old.  But as time goes on, your love grows in leaps and bounds.  Before long you will probably feel very little difference.

In fact, for at least the first half of this pregnancy, I worried I wouldn't love this little girl as much as my other kiddos.  I *adore* my kiddos, and it drives me crazy that people think our family will be more complete now that we're expecting again.  Some have outright assumed I will love this child more, or more easily, but in reality I was worried -- just like I was with each of my kiddos before the next one joined our family -- that I wouldn't love her as much as the children already in our home.  I think it is a very normal Mama fear.  I have also worried about whether she'll be cute or not, will fit in, etc. LOL  Now that I'm nearing the end of the pregnancy, I don’t worry about that at all, and I cannot wait for her to arrive!

That’s not to say that some things won’t be a little different about raising both biological and adopted children, but it's not a love thing.  For instance, when my oldest son behaves a certain way, I can sometimes look at his behavior and say, "Ugh -- I know about that. He is acting just like I did – or my little brother did – at that stage", or "I remember having a passion for that exact same thing!"  But with my daughter, who is very strong-willed, feisty, verbal, etc. (and I know her birthmom well enough to know she gets ALL of that from her, LOL) I don't feel that same familiarity with her behaviors.  She has an outgoing confidence that I, my husband, and our bio son did not have at 3 - 5 yrs. old.  (We were all shy.)  And I love it!  We adore that about her, and it is now a great part of our family make-up, but it does not feel like a familiar family trait.  I hope that makes sense.  It's something that I've heard a few moms of bio and adopted kiddos talk about, so I thought I'd throw it out there also. :)

Okay, enough of my rambling.  Please feel free to keep asking questions!  And I'd love to hear from other moms about this, too.  I’m curious whether others' experiences match my own.

Kiara
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If you have considered growing your family by birth and adoption, have you had these concerns?

If you have children by birth and adoption, does this match your experience?  How is it the same, and how have you felt differently? 

If you have biological children and then adopted another child at an older age, is the bonding process dramatically different than what I described here? 

I'd love to hear from you. :)

12 comments:

MotherGoose518 said...

Awesome!

And those differences you spoke of in the second to last paragraph are SO TRUE!

In our situation (and I'm saying this for your readers since I know you already know) we are a "blended family". But unlike most blended families, all of our children only have 1 mom and 1 dad, there is simply a difference in biology.


I have a tolerance for behaviors in my biological children that my husband doesn't have, because they are familiar to me and also because I have known them from birth. The same with my husband and his biological children. But the balance is perect and harmonious! Our children NEED both the tolerance (grace) and the intolerance (accountability). If we were still 2 single parent households our children would be missing out on having the love of both a mother and a father, and the accountability that comes with a complete family.

And yes, I do love all of my children the same. My bonds with EACH of them is different, for no 2 relationships can ever be the same. But even though J and L were 8 and 9 years old when I became their mama I have the same "I would go to hell and back for this child" kind of love and protectiveness of them that I do of my biological children... maybe moreso because of the fact that we often have to place ourselves between them and their bio mom for their protection. They are now both teenagers, and I am just as much their mama as if I had birthed them myself. I have invested myself in them 100%, and you can't do that with a child without falling in love with them!

Denise said...

Such a great email, Kiara! I don't have any living birth children so I can't compare, but I have had people ask me if I love our children as much as I would if I'd given birth to them. I can honestly answer YES to that question! I love to talk adoption in order to encourage and help others and to celebrate it with my children, but honestly, if it weren't for those things, I don't think I'd even think about adoption. I love my kids so fully and so completely that I don't even think about the fact that I didn't give birth to them!

One thing I would add about loving in the beginning is that, for me, I held back a little bit at first. I loved and cared for my babies but I just wasn't able to open my heart fully until the adoptions were finalized. We had several failed adoptions and were concerned that our first adoption would fall through after our son had been with us for a year, so I guarded my heart. Once the judge banged that gavel, though, the floodgates opened!! :)

Stephani said...

Kiara,
Lovely post. Although I do not have bio kiddies, there is just one part I'd like to mention. I think during the paper pregnancy, bonding begins to happen, definitely. The love grows while preparing in your heart to accomodate a new member of your family. When we decided to adopt, I remember beginning a silent conversation as I began to feel what my house would be like(and look like) with children, how I would feel the fatigue from service to their every need, and how a single life of extraversion would change to a nurturing space to plant a family. As the conversation grew, it was the oddest thing, I found these children growing nearer to me, or rather us growing toward each other, ever so slightly, as we were fulfilling one another's desires; to be a couple with children and for them children with parents. This was such a profound process that by the time I actually met them, we knew one another and the actual face to face meeting felt like the last gesture in a long preparatory phase. Looking back I think this is why our transition was for the most part an easy one(with the typical struggles, mind you). So I think my bonding began with the decision to adopt and with my desire to begin my relationship with them right away, and during those inevitable labor pains, early on, Kiara, you know all about these, those conversations with them brought them home much earlier than when they actually arrived. Every journey is different and it is so important to follow one's own, yet this process answered for me; will this love feel differently because I haven't birthed them? And WOW was it even deeper and more moving than anything I could have conceived of as parenthood.
Journey well all, and thank you Kiara for sharing these important thoughts...keep well.
Stephani

Andy and Kiara said...

Melodie -
You make a good point. It's true - the depth of our love is the same for each child, but the actual relationship is unique with each child. :)

And I like how you describe the balance in your family between the grace and accountability that you and your husband both bring to the table for each of your children. What a blessing....

Andy and Kiara said...

Denise -
That is so true! The love is so deep we can even forget we didn't give birth to them. Except we don't want to forget, because we celebrate their individual journeys to our family. But I will admit that I regularly slip up and say, "When I was pg with Keandre.....I mean, Lucas...." LOL

And I know you are not alone in holding a piece of your heart back until you knew the adoption was a sure thing. We had a little bit of that in each of our adoptions, but pretty quickly knew that all was going smoothly. But I know families who agreed to 'legal risk' adoptions and did not know for months if the child they hoped to adopt would be theirs. That is a whole other ballgame, and not for the faint of heart!

Andy and Kiara said...

Stephani -
You are so right! The bonding absolutely begins long before your baby or child comes home. That is why the moment we meet our child is so amazing -- we don't feel like we are meeting a stranger!

And it's also why failed adoptions are so painful. We prepare our hearts and our homes for these children in advance, and begin to love them long before we meet them. We had a failed adoption where we were only matched for 2 days before the baby was born. We never met him, and the day he was born, his grandpa talked his birthmom into parenting him instead of planning the adoption. It was a sad situation, and oh, how I wept over the loss of that baby. I loved him already, although I never saw or held him. We had even named him, and I doubt we'll use that name for another child. I wonder if only those who adopt can truly understand that side of the journey.... We now know God was preparing the way for Keandre to come to us, but I will forever think of this little guy and pray for him and his family, hoping he is ok. He would be about 3 1/2 now.

Thanks for pointing out this important part of the bonding journey with our sweeties -- the journey that starts before they are in our arms. I think it is a common bond that all adoptive families share, no matter where we adopt from, or how old our children are when they come home. :)

Karen said...

Kiara,

I did worry that I might not love my adopted son as much as my bio son. And like you said the bonding did take longer. But at some point I realized that I felt just as strong a love for my adopted son as I do for my biological son.

There's one thing I haven't seen mentioned here and it may be that this is just me. But I tend to have more patience with my adopted son's bad behavior than I do with my biological son. Not that I tolerate bad behavior from either one of them, but I tend to take my biological son's bad behavior more personally. Especially if it's something I recognize as coming from me. It's almost like I feel somehow responsible for it. Whereas with my adopted son I don't feel as personally responsible because he gets his behavior tendencies from someone else. Does that make sense?

One thing I do worry a lot about is that my adopted son will think that I love my biological son more just because I gave birth to him. I think this is one of the best things about open adoption because he will grow up knowing his biological mother loves him.

My adopted son is also much more outgoing than any of us are. We all tend to be shy and he's not shy at all.

Thanks for sharing your blog.

Karen

Anonymous said...

It is great to read all of your posts. My husband and I have struggled for years to have children. Briefly I considered adoption, but always worry that I will not love an adopted child as my very own. I don't doubt that I would love them, but the question for me is whether I would feel they were my own.

How were you able to go through the process with that question or fear in the back of your mind? The adoption process that is? I am not able to get past that to even consider adoption anymore.

It is nice to read that others do have that same question but are able to form the bonds and love.

Theresa

Andy and Kiara said...

Hi Karen,
I hadn't thought about the behavior that way, but it makes sense! I'll have to think on that more.... :)
Kiara

Andy and Kiara said...

Hi Theresa,
I think it's great that you are dealing with this question up front and thinking it through. Although I have not struggled with infertility, I have learned that for most, adoption does not cure the pain of infertility. It is a journey in it's own right, and I'm sure the journey is different for everyone. But I can honestly say I don't know any adoptive parents who don't feel that their child (by adoption) is fully theirs, even if it takes time to form that bond. (Although I suspect it takes a little longer to form that bond with an older child than it does for a baby, but can't speak from experience since our kiddos joined our family as newborns.) As you celebrate every milestone with your child, as you live the 24/7 parenting life, it becomes so personal you quickly realize that no one in the world -- not even your child's birth family -- knows your child as well as you do. That time, and that bond, makes them your own. In fact, most adoptive parents I know feel so secure in their bond with their child that they love embracing their child's other culture, homeland, or birthfamily, and don't feel threatened by those other connections.

Do you know any other adoptive families? I wonder if it would help to be able to spend time with others who have traveled the road through infertility and then adoption -- especially if they are willing to share candidly with you about how it all felt to them.

I will be praying for you, that God would give you a peace about adoption if that is the way you choose to grow your family. :)

Kiara

LM said...

WOW! That issomething that we were soooo very amazed at when we adopted after 2 bio kids! There is absolutely no difference in how we feel about our adopted child than our bio kids...and that was something i wondered about too! If anything, there is something extra special about her...she is such a gift that we do not deserve. She is biologically related and people think that is why we feel that way, but the circumstances surrounding the reasons for her adoption are not very pleasant and make me mad, so I do not dwell on that...she is just ours! We have been so very blessed to have this wonderful parenting experience.

____________________ said...

Kiara,
I love your beautiful post! I come from a unique perspective - I have a number of adopted siblings myself (and some disrupted adoption siblings as well!) and I'm now 4 months into having our daughter home after birthing 4 bio kids previous to adopting her. My story is WAY too long to post on a comment so I'll just summarize here that a) I had some HARSH experiences with adoption growing up and b) God has healed me SOOOO much and redeemed a lot from my past. It took a writing on the wall experience for me to be willing to adopt - God obliged us by audibly telling my husband and me to adopt....that was AWESOME. Then we expected to adopt an "as young as possible" child - our homestudy only approved for an up to 12 month old. But our agency referred us to a child who ended up being 22 months exactly when I brought her home. At first I just balked - NO! Bonding is harder with older children! She could have RAD! on and on....but the Lord chose our daughter for us and vice versa and I am AMAZED at how bonded we are now at just the 4 month mark. She definitely has her own little personality which is VERY creative, intelligent and rebellious but I LOVE her and fiercely protect her already (like you related in your sister-playground story) and I KNOW this is bondingness because at the same time we clash everyday over any number of things! But, having had bio kids previous to our daughter, I can agree that bonding is different....it's just like you said, more gradual and natural with a bio kid whereas I've felt the leaps forward in spurts with Coley.

But let me tell you, I am a BIG oxytocin gal - just smelling hospital soap brings back the memory of all my sons' births and I get teary. But just the other day I was recollecting the first 5 days I had alone with Coley in Kazakhstan before I brought her home to the rest of our family. I was retracing all our steps together - the little and big things JUST like I do when I remember my boys' births. And I was tearing up and getting all excited and nostalgic JUST like when I think about our boys' births! No difference at all...which really is amazing because there are very few memories in my life that get me THIS emotional, so I know it's for real.

So don't know if any of this all makes sense, but one final comment for those who fear....don't let my situation with my siblings scare you off. My mom is a single parent who was handed special needs, older kids and was completely unprepared to parent them. Then she adopted MORE kids. The system was nothing like it is today - social workers abandoned you, agencies had no follow-up, etc. Get a good agency and rely on the Lord and let Him lead you and you will feel His presense and know just how to care for your child the right way and will LOVE him/her strongly and fiercely.
Shan in CO

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