Today we’re here to answer some questions about bonding. This is one of the topics I get the most private questions about and they can be deeply personal.
A: How do you reconcile the lost time when adopting a toddler?
Q: To be honest, I don’t. I let myself feel the loss. Missing two and a half years of our daughters life wasn’t a deal breaker for us, but it definitely hurts in certain moments. In adoption there are painful feelings and loss for everyone involved- I think it’s healthy to accept these feelings for what they are. I think it’s important to let it be complicated.
Q: How long did it take you to feel like you were really Nova’s mom?
A: If the question is when I “felt it” in my heart- I felt a deep and permanent bond with Nova before we even met.
If the question is when did I feel like Nova and I had a mutual bond, I’d say it was one to two months before I felt like things were progressing more effortlessly. I will say- in hindsight, it was the most difficult time in my life, but in the moment I was telling Jeremy every day that it was the happiest time in my life. Within the first month or two after we returned from China we began to establish routines, build trust and bond. It was a long and gradual process, not a light switch that turned on one day.
Q: What were the biggest challenges of adopting a toddler?
A: Grief. Even though we knew in our brains that taking Nova from her orphanage was a good and necessary thing for her, it felt so brutal in the moment. Watching it all play out through her two year old eyes was very painful. She lost everything she knew and every comfort she had all in one day. At her age it was so ambiguous to us what she was understanding and how we could comfort her at first. It was really challenging not to be able to fix things for her, but we all lived through it together.
I always want to share the painful parts of adoption because it would be wrong and weird not to share the whole story but I also feel like sometimes people get really hung up on these stories and I never want to derail someone from considering adoption. Yes, it’s super difficult in certain moments, but being a parent is always super difficult in certain moments. It’s worth it a thousand times over.
Q: Did you worry your child wouldn’t bond with you or would suffer from permanent emotional damage?
A: This is for sure the most asked question and I want to be very careful with how I answer it because, yes- these concerns come from real stories. Adoption comes with a huge amount of risk (as does all parenting).
For better or for worse we decided to treat Nova “normal” from day one. We have always parented her as we would have parented a biological child- so there is no special strategy in our parenting that is adoption specific. We always know in the back of our minds that we can modify our plan with things we have learned in our adoption training or with therapy, and we will when and if we need to.
But no, we weren’t “worried” because we choose to expect the best case scenario even though we are prepared for the worst.
It breaks my heart how many people don’t consider adoption because of this fear. I think it’s really important to make these big decisions in our lives from a place of love and not fear. Please don’t let one negative story keep you from considering adoption. There are so many beautiful stories!
Q: Did you do “cocooning” after you came home from China?
A: We spent the first three months with just us and Nova (no babysitters or childcare and no guests staying at our home). We weren’t super strict about not letting people hug Nova or anything like that- we played it by ear (some adoptive families are strict about that stuff because they’re concerned it will confuse the child as they learn the idea of a parent). We went in public a ton during those months (honestly- we just needed to get out of the house). Those months were very special to us and I do think it’s good to get into a routine as quickly as possible when adopting a toddler.
Q: I want to adopt, but I’m worried my family won’t an adopted child as much as a biological child…. Did you deal with this?
A: This is pretty heavy. We get this question a lot- too much.
I’ll give you my advice super honest as I would say it to a friend. Most people who send us stories like this are getting pushback from their parents or their grandparents. Remember that many people still haven’t seen a normal/positive adoption story first hand. Remember that in past generations adoption had a lot of stigma and secrecy that just isn’t as typical in our generation. Remember that many of these people are coming from a place of fear, not experience.
In our experience, any worries were erased once our family had a chance to see Nova’s photos and then meet her in person. We never doubt that she is loved equally as much as our sibling’s biological children.
My advice is to follow your path and don’t let fear derail you, especially someone else’s fear. Try to patiently educate your family and friends about the positive aspects of adoption that they may not have been exposed to and have faith that their hearts will catch up and their fears will be erased as they get to know your adopted child.
Considering adoption? Our agency, Holt International, is happy to talk you through different options for adoption (it’s free and there is zero commitment). Holt has adoption programs for China, Korea, Vietnam, Colombia, Thailand, the Philippines, Haiti and India. You can get in touch with them by clicking here.