I was home with the girls for about a month when a friend asked, “So, do you feel like their mom yet?” It was an interesting question, and up until that point, I hadn’t thought about it; I was just living in the moment, trying to survive as a new mom of two traumatized four-year-olds who couldn’t speak English. Becoming a mom – feeling like one — can take time no matter what, but especially when you’ve adopted a child who isn’t a baby.
I’ve read a lot of adoption stories, and the experiences run the gamut: Some women start feeling attached the moment they see their child’s face in the referral photo; for others, it takes many months (or even years) after the child has come home. One mom I know who adopted a four-year-old told me she and her husband felt like babysitters for about six months after their son came home — and this was a family who had a very smooth transition.
Becoming a parent by adoption simply doesn’t afford the same bonding experiences. When you’re pregnant, your child’s life could not be more intertwined with your own — and you’ve got the physical changes and cravings to prove it. You’re nurturing that child from the get-go, providing him or her all the necessities. While it doesn’t happen for every woman, bonding usually starts long before giving birth. And if things go well, when that little one enters the world, you stare into each others’ eyes and the attachment dance begins, with hundreds of little reciprocal gestures every day. (Let me say again that I know this is not a given when you give birth, and I personally know women who struggled to attach to their babies.)
When you’re pregnant on paper only, there’s no way to attach, because there’s no one to attach to. Then, one day, you get a phone call and see a poor-quality photo, and shortly thereafter you may be meeting your child (or children) face to face. If he’s not a newborn (which, in an international adoption, they never are), you’re often looking at a little person who already has a history, memories, and a personality. The child probably doesn’t look like you, doesn’t smell like you, and may not share your culture. Yet here you are, a family — on paper, anyway.
I will never forget the moment I met my girls. It was powerful — but I didn’t feel like their mom. I just felt a strong compassion and a desire to care for them and take away their fear and pain. Our girls were very receptive to our love and attention from the moment we met (which isn’t always the case), and this has made it easier to attach to them. Even so — and even as a maternal woman who grew up the oldest of a big clan – attachment has been a process. But I can say that, after four-plus months home, I do feel like S’s & H’s mom, and not just a babysitter. And I know this will continue to grow and deepen. Hard not to, when one of them throws her arms around my neck and exclaims with gusto, “This is my mommy!!” Heart melt.
If you’re a parent — whether by birth or adoption — did attaching to your child come easy for you? When did you feel like a mom (or dad)?
Image: B snapped this of me, after a looonnng day, while playing “donkey” with S.