I have recently been asked how I found attachment and bonding with my son. It’s such a loaded question. And in my naivety, during the adoption assessment process I didn’t really think about it. Is that bad? I should have. I guess I was so focused on becoming a dad and finding my little boy that in my head of course we’d bond and attach and life would be all rosy and wonderful.
Attachment and bonding with adopted children is massive. I can’t quite get across how important it is. In many cases these children are three years old and over. They have memories. They have experiences. Some unpleasant. It can be truly heart-breaking. Building that trust, love, feeling of safety and security is the most important job you’ll do as a parent. It’s bloody terrifying. A term that probably puts the fear of God into adopters during the process is 'adoption disruption'. This may be obvious, but it's where the adoption breaks down and doesn't work.
Between 1 April 2000 and 1 July 2012, 565 children were known to have had an adoption disruption (source: adoptionUK) . It may not sound like a lot of cases within twelve years. But it is a reality. Being prepared for what you are taking on is so important.
As you may know if you’ve read my previous blogs on the adoption journey, my husband and I adopted our son when he was 14 months old. He is, I would say, one of the lucky ones. He was born six weeks premature and after a short stint in hospital, went straight to his loving foster home where he stayed for just over a year, no moving around which can be common within foster care. But even so, i have read so many interesting articles on the experiences we carry through our lives from time in utero, which really got me thinking. Whilst in foster care he was surrounded by a family, children and ultimately love. What a blessing and what a lucky little boy he was. To him, that was life. It was all he knew of the world. Yet we were coming in to swoop him off to something more permanent. His new family, his new home… forever. We had so much to do at home and get everything ready for his arrival. I never really thought or gave much time to the enormity of it all until I saw his face poke round the door as he came crawling to us. And then it hit me. He needs to fall in love with us. We already loved him from just a few photos and videos. But he had no idea who we were.
What every adopter does, regardless of the child’s age, is to create a book with photos in. From being approved at approval panel to meeting the child/children is usually a week, so this book gets dropped to them straight after panel. There is an awesome book made by Tomy which is perfect! It can record voices and hold your photos. But could we find one in stock anywhere?! No. So we had to get creative. My husband is a pretty dab hand anything crafty, so he made a book out of felt which would hold photos of us, our cat, his new bedroom and the wider family. It was perfect because he could have it in his cot with him or around the house as it was soft. The foster carer also asked for pictures of us and when we visited the house we saw she had them printed in A4 and dotted all around the house. It was lovely. She would tell him- “Look, there’s your daddies!” This way we weren’t complete strangers that first time we met. We also made some videos of us doing the most hilarious/ridiculous things… peekaboo, nursery rhymes… I like to think it all helped. In fact i know it did.
The week of ‘introductions' was nuts. (I have written about it before here). But once that was over, it was home to our house for good. And the work continued… We just knew we had to be there for him and give nothing but love, touch, cuddles, smiles. It’s all he needed. To be safe and know these two guys that have just taken him from all that he knows are good men who love him. Being a dad almost came natural i feel. Nothing else existed or mattered. I had to serve this little boy 100% and let him know we are here for everything. For me, a huge hurdle was sleep. If he felt happy and comfortable enough with us and his new house and bedroom, he’d sleep. And he did. We couldn’t quite believe our luck.
The days and weeks passed by all in a blur just like it does for all new parents. We were in this most beautiful bubble of love, fear, scared of messing up… but we got through it all together. There was never an alternative in my eyes. I had forgotten the term 'adoption disruption' from the training. Of course this would work. We hadn’t found him, fell in love with him for it to go any other way. I truly believe the power of your mind is such an important player in this journey. If you go into it with doubt, you could fall apart. And these kids need us more than anything. That is what keeps you going and motivates you in the morning when you're being woken at 5am.
I thought we had it nailed from the start. And yes, we were all doing well at this whole family thing. But it wasn’t til about 6 months in that I realised that yes the start was good, but it wasn’t all 100%. The bond had grown massively since we first met. The trust was there which I wasn’t sure if it was before. He was too young to communicate. He went along with everything, but there was a difference after a few months. More affection was being shown, more trust and he started clinging on. THAT for me was a biggy. He needed me. He didn’t want me to leave. Clinging on might be annoying to some parents, but to me, that was the ultimate achievement. We had bonded and he wanted me to stay sat with him or for me not to go to work. At the risk of sounding needy, I don’t know a more powerful pull than your child depending on you. In that moment I realised I am his world. He loved me.
Maybe he loved me before that, i don't know. We were feeding him, bathing him, laughing our tits off with tickle fights, doing bedtime successfully together… but it was the moments that he’d call for me when he was scared or when he woke in the middle of the night and I could successfully comfort him that I considered a huge win. We were attached. We were more than attached, I felt as though he came from me. Adoption or not, we are part of each other.
Any prospective adopters reading this or struggling with building the bond, all I can say is give them love. They have been without you for months, maybe years, of their lives. They have to get to know and trust you.
We're two years in now and I have to remind myself that we adopted. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work sometimes but we made this choice, this is our world we're living in now and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Children, no matter how much you wanted them and love them, will often really test your patience too. But find your own patience. It will come. I'm still learning and often have bad days. But the good far outweigh any bad ones. And no-one can truly say what tomorrow will bring. But i know my heart feels so full when i know he is happy, laughing, fed... (and asleep).
If you’re holding onto that hope of creating your family through adoption, or through any different means, at the moment then hold on tighter and ride the wave. It is all so beautiful once you make it through.