bonding. revisited.

As the time draws near for us to travel to China, I'm trying to remind myself of some of the realities we faced in Micah's adoption. Time to put my game face on, so to speak.

The adoption journey--for the most part, and for most people--is a very gratifying experience. You're surrounded by cheerleaders. People are praying for your adoption, they are supporting your fundraisers, you even have a blog fan club (well, I never achieved that status)...you're in constant contact with other adoptive families, who are sending Bible verses, and packing lists your way. It's great...thrilling!!

Yes. There are major headaches along the way with paperwork, social workers, finances--and yet, somehow, the headaches almost fuel the gratification. Because every hurtle that is over-come becomes a victory celebration with your cheerleaders!

And then comes the adrenaline-high of traveling to your child(red)...holding them so close and so tight for the first time! Soaking in the feel of their skin, the smell of their hair...their breath on your neck, their heart pounding against yours. One of the most beautiful experiences in all of life.

You're soaking-in their birth country. And making new, best friends with your travel buddies...and then...

You come home.
You're jet-lagged.
Your son/daughter(s) is jet-lagged.
They don't understand what you're saying because you cannot speak their native tongue.
There's no one/nothing in their lives that's familiar.
They're afraid.
They're confused.

You see, as you're spending months/years preparing for son/daughter(s), what's happening in their lives is very different. If they're older, they're are likely grieving great loss -- if they're younger, they're likely attaching/bonding with a nanny/foster parent. Either way, they're in survival mode.

And they probably don't have many cheerleaders.

So. With all that said, I will leave you with a blog post that I wrote last year about what we experienced the first several weeks home with Micah. This is what I am preparing for...


surprising difficulties of international adoption, #4

The final surprise (at least, that I'm sharing in this series) that we experienced with Micah happened during our first several weeks with him.

Again, the best comparison I can make is to that of an engagement. Over the years, Vince and I have had the privilege of counseling engaged couples as they prepare for marriage. And the reality is for most couples, their unfolding marriage is not what they were expecting...sometimes it's better, easier than expected...but, most often it's much more difficult. Difficult doesn't equal bad. Difficult simply reflects the fact that humans are physically, emotionally and spiritually-complex beings -- therefore, marriage is a complex institution. Multi-dimensional.

The same goes for bringing a child into your family through adoption. (NOTE: even though we do not have biological children, families who do have bio children have also experienced this scenario that I am about to describe with their adopted children.)

Prior to meeting your child/ren, you've bonded with their photos...and you've bonded with the child that your imagination has created. It is impossible to predict personality and temperament from pictures, so your mind connects a personality and temperament to the child/ren according to how you brain reads the limited data captured on film.

The real child is much different than the two-dimensional, glossy child. Much more complex.

You've been full-steam ahead...focused intensely on meeting your sweet child. Um, well, your imagined child, that is. But when you're united, the imagined child crashes into the real child -- and you immediately enter what is best described as a fog.

Once you're back to the familiarity of your own home, you do emerge from the fog. But not really as mommy, more like baby-sitter -- because you do not know this child.

I think I read about this phenomenon in adoptive-parenting books. But like the dreamy-eyed lover, I must have ignored all that I read because this stage caught me off-guard. I truly felt like Micah's baby-sitter. Jet-lag and Micah's anxiety about his new surroundings didn't help matters either. I grieved and experienced intense guilt because of what I was feeling: was there something wrong with me because I did not have an instantaneous and deep emotional bond with him??

The answer is: NO!!!

What I was experiencing was completely normal. Social workers affirmed that it was normal. Other adoptive families who were united with their children after us also experienced the very same thing. Now, I know some of you who are reading this are thinking: Nope! Won't be me. I'll just read more books, pray harder. I will instantly bond with my children. None of this "baby-sitter" nonsense for me. All I can say is, keep me posted. Let me know if you do by-pass the baby-sitter season. Well, never mind -- don't bother. I probably won't believe you. I'll probably just attribute your victory to a "referral euphoria" relapse.

I don't share this (or surprises #1-3) to scare you, or deter you. It's just the way it is. You will over-come each surprise that you experience in your adoption...some later than sooner. But you will be stronger, more informed because of each surprise you encounter. So don't dread them, or even worse, deny them...embrace them. You are human -- your child/ren is human. All human relationships develop in a linear fashion -- and include the linear elements of time and experience. And this will hold true for your adoption...it will hold true for you, and your child. So give yourself, and your child, time and space to grow.

That's what adoption is: the process of fulfilling a life-long commitment. Through your obedience to your commitment, life-long blessing will follow.

Indescribable blessing.


La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life said...

So well stated. We are just home from China one week ago. I was informed about the challenge of bonding, but still am surprised by the emotions I am feeling. I too had my "game face" on, but am not sure that I could have been prepared.

We are taking things one day, one step at a time and trying to embrace today.

Thanks for being vulnerable!

I am going to add myself as a follower!

Hope you get TA soon!

La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life said...

Oops! I was already a follower! :)

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I felt the same thing with Ben when we got home. Adoption is real life and not initially the fairy tale that everyone thinks. But...it can turn into the fairy tale for sure!

Joe & Sarah McDaniel said...

Alisa - while I realize this is a year after you originally posted this ;o) I just want to say that you are so right!! I had 4 biological children before adopting, and I experienced the same sequence of emotions that you described - including the intense guilt. I think I truly underestimated the bonding that takes place when you carry a baby and those first few to several months (years)with that child. But, we're learning, we're growing, and pray I will be better equipped if (I really think WHEN) God leads us to adopt again!

La Dolce Vita said...

Linking to your post, hope that is OK. Let me know if it isn't...

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