Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Attachment and Bonding


Attachment and Bonding - these are two huge words in the adoption world. They are words that we parents take to heart. We spend time researching and learning about. We learn the best ways to bond with our new children. We read up on signs of attachment. Signs of attachment disorders. We can tell you what we expect. We almost all say things like "we know there will be an adjustment period." "we know it takes time." "we are prepared for our new child to grieve the life they knew." And we are somewhat prepared, up until that moment our new child is placed in our arms.

When I picked Little Sister up she was so tiny and frail. Her head was about three times the weight of the rest of her. She could barely hold her head up. The number one thing I was concerned about with her was her health. I forgot all of the attachment things I was supposed to be doing and threw myself into getting her healthy. I am sure it played a part in my failing to nurse her. I would have fed her anything she would eat at that moment. I knew she needed food, I knew she needed caring for. I was extremely scared for her. And I was alone. With the other two kids with me too. I put Little Sister is the moby and tried the best I could to balance the three kids.

I had every intention of allowing her to sleep with me - well, with us since there was only one bed and we were all in it. But she did not sleep that way and the wonderful woman who owns the Yeka Guesthouse gave us a crib to help. So, Little Sister went in the crib. Now that is the second thing in my "bag of tricks" to facilitate attachment that I have failed to do. *sigh* But she is sleeping well and within just a few days I can already tell she is gaining weight. This is good.

After just a few more days I start to realize that I need to push her towards doing more than being a lump. This means I must put her down. I must get her some floor time. So, I get all the kids on the floor and I start working on getting Little Sister to sit up. And she DOES!! After just a few tries she gets it. She starts to sit there and happily watch Big Brother and Big Sister play. They, of course, are running around with the mini hockey sticks we managed to get in our bag and a piece of balled up paper. They all seem to be having fun.

I sit back and I watch. And I start thinking about all the reading I did on attachment and how I am doing everything wrong. Breastfeeding fosters attachment but that is not working, Co-sleeping fosters attachment but that does not seem to work, carrying her fosters attachment and okay I am carrying her plenty but I am also encouraging her to spend time playing independently. Each and every one of these decisions feels right individually but when I put them all together I wonder - am I hurting her ability to attach to us?

Time goes on, we come home and I'm still wrestling with these things. I am so torn. I do not know when to concern myself with her overall health and well being and when to concentrate on bonding and attachment. Once we are home Big Sister seems to realize that this fun new baby is here to stay and starts having days where all she wants is me. I have to try to balance the two. I am so lost. It starts to be especially bad when we are out. The minute I pick up Little Sister Big Sister starts to throw herself around and need me to pick her up. It is exhausting.

We have some wonderful friends who are more than willing to take Little Sister and snuggle her and give her some attention and love while I try to calm Big Sister down. I start to notice how frequently Little Sister is being held by someone else. She does not mind. She is happy that way. She likes people. She is super friendly. But does that hurt bonding? Will she not attach to us if I keep letting other people hold her? I try to draw the line. I try to not give into Big Sister as much. It seems to backfire. Big Sister gets harder to handle. She gets more clingy. And this forces me to rethink the whole thing.

I mean I can see Little Sister attaching to us. I can see the bonding. I see the way she now claps her hands when Hubby walks in after work. I see the way she reaches for us. I see the way her sweet face lights up when I smile at her. She did not smile for the first month or so of being with us. This picture is not the first time she smiled at us but it is the first picture I have of her really smiling - and it was taken almost two months after I picked her up. I do not let anyone else feed her. Or bathe her. Or changing her. Or make her feel better when she is upset. Or do any of the most basic care things for her. Those are some of the big things that I have retained from my bonding and attachment reading.

But mostly I have calmed down. All of a sudden one day I remembered something someone said to me when I was concerned about Big Sister. When I thought she would never walk because she was always in the moby someone told me to calm down that we never see kids who are not walking at three because their moms are holding them. So, I decided to translate that to this situataion and cut myself some slack. I mean really if we fast forward two years (which is about the time that most books say it takes to foster a strong and permanent bond and attachment) do I actualy believe she will not be bonded to us because I have allowed other people to hold her? Would that be true if I had given birth to her? Of course not!! And so she will be my friendliest child. She will be the one that is happy to stay with a friend while I take Big Sister to the bathroom or run an errand. And that's okay - it does not mean she loves us any less. The fact that she does not cling to me like crazy and refuse to let anyone else hold her does not mean she is not bonding - it only means that she is friendly.

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