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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

Attachment and Adoption

I don’t like other people’s children. Let me soften that a bit: I enjoy the company of children who aren’t mine for brief periods. But I am not, and never have been, one of those women who charms babies in grocery stores, and although I almost visibly swell with pride when it happens to my children, I have never, to my knowledge, stopped a passing stroller on the street to comment upon the beauty of the baby therein.

When my first daughter, Josi, was born, it took me longer than it’s comfortable to admit to bond with her. I attended to her gently and with immense care; I took darned good care of her. But if I’m being honest, I’d say it took around four or five months before I felt that staggering love that comes with being a parent. With our younger daughter, Lilah, I still had some reservations and worries, but from the moment I saw her dark eyes and smushed nose, I was hooked.

The book on my nightstand that’s getting the most action this week is Patty Cogen’s Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years. Although Cogen doesn’t like the term "attachment" (because, she says, a failure to attach implies that the child is at fault), her text is very much about that very thing, whatever you call it. Cogen's book is an encyclopedia of adoption trauma and healing. Parenting is a page-turner. It's riveting and hits close to home, and I'm finding it impossible to put down at night.  

Attachment—and for clarity’s sake I’ll continue to use the word, despite Cogen’s compelling argument against it—is a thing I think about a lot. I’ve read many adoptive mothers' accounts of feeling like a babysitter until that show-stopping love took over. Since I've felt similarly with a biological child, I know that if I am slow to bond with an adoptive child, it won't be the end of the world. I know that attachment will happen in its own time and that we may be able to help it along with a few well-timed tricks of the trade and a lot of patience and love. For once, I’m not worried about myself.

Dylan, though, is another story. Our beautiful son will come home from Seoul around his first birthday. To him, I worry I’ll feel like a babysitter but one who has taken him away from the people he loves and isn’t returning him. Those circumstances have got to be scary to anyone at any age, but at 1, it must be beyond horrible. For all its words of wisdom, Cogen’s book is my nightly reminder that Dylan has survived immense trauma and will go through it again with his next transition into our family.

Please, if you will, share an attachment story of your own, because if you have one, it means that you've gone through (and continue to go through) this, too. As we wait to create our own stories, I’d love to read yours.

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I do not have an attachment story but wanted to comment on the fact that as an adoptee(domestic)  it is refreshing to see a mother who identifies that this may be an issue.  I see many who ignore this as a possibility and do nothing to address it and feel the child will just “get over it.”

You are leaps ahead of many others.  Keep reading and researching and looking for support and I think you will be fine.  Congratulations on your expanded family.

By the way I write a blog to transracial parents @

By Kevin8967 on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm.

Meghan, I agree with Kevin. You are leaps ahead in understanding. I think “attachment” or whatever you call it is often underestimated by parents. Myself included until I learned more about it—mostly the hard way! (You’ve read my early attachment stories.) Maybe because you have a biological child, you understand even more that your son will be different. I do NOT mean you will love him differently—I have a child through birth and adoption and could not love either more. What I mean is you realize his experience is distinct from a child you birth and care for from day one. He has had a year of life without you and must “adjust” to his new surroundings and new family, while leaving people behind in Korea. I don’t believe he will “just get over it,” but with the kind of informed and thoughtful parenting you seem to be bringing, I think you will find, in whatever time it takes, you and your son are beautifully “attached.”

By Stacy Clark on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm.

Attachment is one of those things that most everyone stresses about, many people discuss in generic terms, but few people really talk about their own experience with it. Whether you adopt or give birth, it is difficult for any mother to admit that something may not be perfect. Especially because everyone else usually looks so with it and together, you know?

We adopted our children from birth and, I have to admit, when we left the hospital with our son it felt so bizarre. We could not believe they were actually letting us leave with a baby! I thought it was due to the adoption, but a friend of mine who gave birth about the same time that we adopted said she felt the same way.

Since I have not given birth, it is impossible for me to say what the difference in experience may have been, but I do know that I felt love immediately. However, it took a few weeks before I started to feel like a mother and at least 6 months before I was able to relax. Again, I thought that was due to the adoption (finalized at 6 months post-placement), but again I’ve talked to other mothers who gave birth and they started to relax at about the same time.

When our daughter was placed with us a year later, it went much faster. But by then I was an experienced mother and no longer convinced that I would do the wrong thing and “break” her.

By Global Librarian on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm.

I can totally relate to not being comfortable with the first few months of my biological daughter’s infancy. I had been a preschool teacher for seven years. I didn’t know what to do with a baby. When we adopted my six year old from China I was OK with this one who could walk and giggle right away ! Now they are thirteen and fifteen and I see those attachment disorders displayed. Maybe they were there before and I was blind to them. Time to do some reading Mom !!

By Icecream on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm.

I too have a son adopted from S. Korea at age 1.  However, I am not his first adoptive mother.  You see, my son was adopted by another family and lived with them for 3 years.  At age 4, they decided that they simply couldn’t parent him.  There was no “attachment” and his behavior was more then they could handle.  They spent 3 years seeing every specialist they could…trying diagnosis after diagnosis and medication after medication, but nothing seemed to help.  Ultimately they heard about my family (large family with many special needs children adopted out of foster care) and asked us to adopt him.

My son has been with us for 6 months now.  He is medication free, has no significant behavioral issues and is VERY much attached to our family.  People ask my secret all the time, and to be honest, it is not much of a secret.  Accept (also called love) your child.  As a society we have a “hollywood” view of love, but really if we think about it, what love really is, is sitting with somebody when they are scared and hurt, laughing when they laugh.  Experiencing new things together.  Finding the little things that make that person smile…and finding times to do those little things.  IGNORE the behaviors…at least until you have identified WHY the behavior is happening…then try to address the “why.”  Once you have eliminated the why, chances are the behavior will go away.

Your child may very well scream and cry constantly after he first arrives.  Ignore the crying, but not the child.  Hold him.  Comfort him…find things that will be familiar to him, sights, sounds, smells, tastes.  Remember, he is crying because he doesn’t recognize ANYTHING and is scared. I know I would be…even as an adult…if I suddenly woke up and didn’t know anybody, didn’t recognize anything, and couldn’t speak/understand the language around me…and had never tasted food like what was being served to me…I would be terrified.

You are wise to read up on topic, but try not to worry about it too much either.  Your child doesn’t need you to be perfect, they just need you to accept them.

By momkissez on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm.

Thtaylor845, thank you for sharing your “secret.”  From time to time, I think we all need a reminder of how to love and accept unconditionally.  I’ve copied/pasted your words and will tape them to my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder.  grin

By Lara on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm.

I also had biological children before welcoming a new child into my home. I found that because I didn’t have the intense biological connections fostering our attachment (pregnancy hormones, breastfeeding), I had to use my brainpower to take steps to foster our bond. For me, close contact has been key. I carry him in a sling or wrap, hold him a lot (avoiding plastic seats as much as possible except in the car), I stay home with him, we nap together. There are many people in our family who love him, but I think it was especially important in his early weeks with us that I was his primary caregiver and we tried to limit the passing around from grandma to grandma. He already had so much to get used to.

With my biological children, whenever they cried my body had an intense and maybe primal need to go to them and pick them up. I haven’t had that with our little guy, so I’ve had to intellectually decide that his fussing deserves my immediate attention. I hope it has helped him to trust me. We respond to his needs.

With my bio children, I literally felt as if my heart was walking around outside my body. I didn’t feel that with our son at first, and I had to remind myself that attachment was going to take time.

If relactation is an option to breastfeed an adopted child, that’s one way to stimulate a loving connection. Even if a bottle or some other method is used for feeding, a baby’s primary caregiver can still mimic a nursing relationship by holding the baby close, feeding her yourself, never propping a bottle and walking away, etc. I figure food is critical for a young child, and the person who provides it can become critical to the child, too.

Because our little guy came to us through foster care, I felt I had some roadblocks getting in the way of attachment. When I picked him up from parenting time (visits with his birthmother), he smelled either of her perfume or of smoke and I noticed that I felt a little ambivalent about our relationship for a few hours afterward. I’ve noticed since then that washing his hair with a shampoo that smells pleasant to me made him feel more “mine.” I think our brains take in all sorts of attachment-promoting cues that we don’t often think about, with smell being one of them. I wonder how adoptive parents can use smell to help children attach to them?

Of course I love our baby every single moment, but I’ve noticed that my feelings for him seem even more intense when I put him in an outfit that I really like. A fuzzy outfit makes him seem more huggable to me, and a certain color brings out his gorgeous eyes.

Now that we’ve had a year together, the tincture of time coupled with some specific steps has helped us to bond.

By sueb on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm.

These are all reasons why I created The Adoption Coach.  I did not want anyone going through this journey alone.  I believe that we can get through this with education and support.

By Darla on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 2:08 am.

Hi Megan,

I love a Mom who is so bloody honest, because I am too. I also love Patty Cogin’s book, and wish I had one like it.  I’m the mother of three young adult children from Korea.  I have twin boys who are 23, and a daughter who is 21.

I also like the word “connection” better than attachment as well, but sometimes the drama of the word attachment is more correct.

My children all came when they were five months old.  I can say without a doubt that I attached to my son Jaik, right at the airport.  He and I made direct eye contact, and we said to both of ourselves, I know you and love you, let’s make a family.

His fraternal twin Brandon, put his head down at the airport and cried.  It felt like he cried for months, but it was probably weeks.  He and I did not make that connection we needed to make until he was in high school.  That does not mean that he wasn’t fully integrated into our family, or that I suffered a series of crisis with him, I did not.  It was when he was in high school, that things began to unravel and he was suicidal.

I was working with a very talented therapist, I read everything I could about attachment, and in the four months that he was deeply depressed, I finally learned how to reach him.  Long story short, he would come home every day from school, and he and I would talk, or more correctly, I would talk.

The therapist had taught me that he gave me the gift of trust when he said he didn’t want to live anymore, and I also learned how to talk, even though he never responded back.

Because all of the books on attachment talk about the importance of touch, I decided to do something that will sound somewhat strange.  One day when he came home, instead of just talking, I put him on my lap and rocked and talked, and rocked and talked.  At the end of four months he was able to tell me the changes he wanted to make in his life to make him happier.  We made those changes, and the depression has never returned. The major decision was to pull him out of high school and homeschool him. Brandon and and my connection continued to deepen, and those with the happiest three years my life.

I too am blogging about all of this, and would love to hear from you.  You can find my site at http://www.mysecondmama

By JaneBallback on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 8:26 pm.

I am in serious awe of those of you who shared sweet, touching, difficult stories and am humbled by your faith in me. This attachment/connection stuff is a really big deal and it feels a little less daunting to hear from you.

(I’ve also loved checking out some new bloggers. And, in response, here’s a new little blog I’m working on: You’re all welcome to join me there, too.)

By Meghan on Friday, March 04, 2011 at 4:42 am.
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