|For me, love and attachment grow as I get to know each of my kids and invest in their lives.|
But attachment is a two-way street. What about the mom who struggles to attach to her new child? Who is writing books for her? How can she promote attachment in her own heart?
I'm not a big believer in love at first sight parenting -- at least not across the board. Maybe that happens with some people, but it's never happened for me, not even with my biological kids.
Each time I gave birth, I loved my babies right away, but it was more of an act of the will kind of love. I didn't really know them yet. And my emotions -- well, they were all over the place. When I saw each of my biological kids for the first time in the birthing room I felt exhausted, spent, tired, proud, happy, scared, uncertain, protective, nervous . . . the list goes on and on. Yes, I loved them. . . but not the same way I'd love them in the days to come.
A few weeks later, looking back at that first meeting, I would've sworn that I had hardly loved them at all. Those feelings during my first moments as a mom couldn't even compare to the fierce, protective love I now felt for my baby. In every interaction, my tone of voice, my touch, my eye contact now revealed a deep emotional attachment to my child.
What caused me to attach during those first weeks? Postpartum hormones? Maybe. Breastfeeding? Definitely helpful, but I think there's something more.
It's just a guess, but I believe the biggest thing that bound my heart to my children was the simple act of taking care of them. As I willingly invested my time and energy into caring for my new babies -- every single exhausting sleep-deprived day -- my heart for them grew.
I say willingly because the willing part is important. Resenting the neediness of a newborn child is an attachment killer. Same for placing an overemphasis on schedules and sleeping through the night. Lastly, feeling unsuccessful as a mom can also build a wall. Whether it's a hard-to-soothe baby or difficulty with breastfeeding, it's challenging to attach to someone who makes you feel like a failure at every turn.
And then, what happens when adoption is part of the mix? And what if the adopted child isn't a baby anymore?
While a mother's attachment process in an older child adoption may look different than the attachment process with her biological infant, I'm guessing it really works in much the same way.
One rainy morning in September 2010, someone shoved Wenxin into the reception room of the Beijing Children's Welfare Institute with instructions to greet us with the words, "Mama. . . Baba."
At that point, I loved the idea of him. I'd fallen in love with his photo a year before. And I was committed to love him as an act of my will. But in all honesty, he was a little seven-year-old stranger who didn't speak my language. I didn't know him yet. And my emotions -- you guessed it. They were all over the place. I was in a new culture, jet-lagged and rain-soaked and elated and more than a tad scared -- all at the same time. I had a long way to go in attaching to my new son.
Then there was Wenxin. He was wild and unpredictable. And while he seemed to like Mike, he didn't particularly care for me.
So I did what I'd learned to do with all my other babies over the years. I took care of him. Every day I piled his plate high with yummy food from the hotel buffet. I prepared bathtubs that towered with mountains of bubbles. I rubbed sweet smelling lavender lotion into his skin each night before bed.
And in the weeks to come, when I felt like a failure -- when he fell to the floor and raged, or was blatantly disobedient, or looked me in the eye and said, "You're not my real mother" -- I turned to other adoptive moms who viewed his behavior with compassion and encouraged me to keep moving toward him instead of retreating into self protection.
Somewhere along the way, love grew. Not just the act of my will kind of love. An intense, deep, fiercely protective, mama bear kind of love. As I invested my heart into parenting him and advocating for him, attachment happened. Not just in his heart, but in my heart as well.
Attachment. It's a parent thing, too.
Melissa Faye Greene has written a touching story of her attachment process with one of her adopted sons called, "Do I Love Him Yet?"
Have you ever thought about your own attachment process as a mom -- adoptive or bio? What things were attachment builders for you?
Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up, Imperfect Prose, and WFMW.