Loving and Bonding with Your Adopted Baby
Will we love our adopted child as much as we would have loved a biological child? This is often the "unasked" question. Maybe it seems an embarrassing and politically incorrect question but so often our prospective adopting parents ARE deeply concerned. Worries about bonding are almost universal among adoptive parents before they have their child and almost equally irrelevant afterward.
But what is this bonding process anyway? In reality, the bond between baby and parent is not biological but mental. Contrary to the common myths about bonding, the process does not always happen instantaneously for either biological or adoptive parents. More often, bonding occurs over a long period. Some bonding may happen at birth but, for many parents, their profound bond to their child—a bond like no other—develops through a variety of experiences from seeing their child's first smile to watching their son or daughter graduate from high school or college.
Part of this bonding process is simply constant contact between the newborn baby and their new parents, whether they are related biologically or by adoption. Most adopting parents have a hard time worrying about the abstract question of whether they are the real parents, when they have to change diapers ten to twelve times a day, fill baby bottles, and constantly call the doctor with questions about their child. They watch their baby grow, smile, and then laugh for the first time. They feel the infants vulnerability and dependence on them. Their concern about whether they are entitled to be a parent is overwhelmed by the day to day, concrete and immediate experience of being a mother or father.
Newly adopted babies have an extraordinary way of reassuring their adoptive moms and dads that they are their parents. To put it another way, they convince them that they are, indeed, their children.
I wondered when I would feel like the real mother instead of thinking that her biological mother was the real one. One morning, when I had changed Jackie's 400th diaper, had my fifteenth night in a row of getting woken up, and Jackie looked up at me with her first smile—directed at me and me alone, not at her birthmother or birthfather—I knew I was the real mother.
Whether the bonds are instant or grow over time, the ties between adopting parents and adopted children are as strong as any between biological child and biological parent.
There we (the adopting parents) were at the birth. Marti's (the birthmother) sister and I hanging on to each other watching the head of our son-to-be come out. I mean wow, is instantaneous fast enough for the bond to develop?
Our birthmother had him for the first day at the hospital. She had rooming in and I thought, gosh, that is my time to bond. But it didn't matter at all. I mean you get him and you hold him and you feed him and you stare at him. You stare at him for days. You say, oh it is five o'clock, how did the whole day go by just looking at my baby! But that is what we did, we just stared at him and stared at him. There was never any doubt that he was ours.
I can't imagine how I would make her different if I could design her from scratch. A long time ago, I thought that I might find fault with her because she is not my natural child. This was before I saw her. Now I can't see how I could love a child any more than I do Jeanette. The fact of birth or adoption disappears pretty fast once you realize that she is dependent on us to bring her up. I probably have even more care for Jeanette knowing that I must honor her birthmother's trust in me.
For both of us, having our own child seemed terribly important. But then I started noticing that what made my friends so excited about being parents had little to do with biology. They were thrilled when their baby smiled at them for the first time or said their first word or called them Mommy and Daddy or showered them with that love that only a baby can give. At those amazing moments, the issue of where the baby came from seemed so totally and completely irrelevant that it was almost funny that I was worried about that.
Sure pregnancy and birth stuff—conception, sperm, eggs, fallopian tubes, Lamaze, and on and on—had been nice for them, and I was sorry I would miss that. But that was way behind them now as parents. That rarely entered their minds anymore. They were too busy with their love affair with their babies. Biology: who cared anymore?
I met an old friend I had not seen for years. She was thrilled to find out that I had a child—now six years old. When she found out that my daughter, Meagan, was adopted, though, she asked me if I ever regretted that I could not have a baby on my own. I started to answer "yes, of course," when a surge of terror swept over me. I realized that if those infertility treatments had really worked back then, I would not have Meagan—I would have a different baby, not Meagan! I felt almost faint. I adored Meagan. I could not even imagine my life without her. I did not want any other child but my child, Meagan.
Did I bond with my adopted baby? Are you asking me how did I feel when I watched her birth and when her birthmother said "you hold her, Dad" and I awkwardly took that precious little thing in my arms? What do you think? And I suppose I will keep bonding over and over, when she says her first words, when she goes to her first class, writes her first story, has her first boyfriend. I used to be so sure bonding had to do with biology. Now that seems like such a funny idea.
Through adoption women and men alike come to understand that parenting is not about conception or biological origins but about the profound relationship between a mother or father and their child. For many people, the turning point comes when they finally realize that if they hold out for everything—experience of a pregnancy and childbirth and having a family—they may end up with nothing. They are ready to mourn the loss of the pregnancy and childbirth, but yet move on to the most important goal: the joy of being a mother or father. They realize that whether that baby comes biologically or through adoption is just not important.