Attachment, bonding, cocooning, eye-contact, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, indiscriminate affection, neurological pathways…All of these things and many more have been filling our thoughts and conversations for these last couple of years as we have been preparing for Maya to become our daughter. Multiple meetings with our social workers guiding us, countless hours talking to other adoptive parents who have already been where we are going, online classes emphasizing the concepts and stacks of books explaining what to expect and how to cope.
As we anxiously await clearance from the Embassy, we are about to enter the stage where we put all of our preparation into action, bringing Maya home. This is when the real work starts. We understand that our family and circle of friends have not been reading piles of adoption books, so we want to give you the low-down on the next steps and our plans for Maya’s first months in our family.
Adoption was our plan A for creating our family, but it certainly is not the best way for a child to enter this world. Already in her little life, Maya has experienced more loss than many of us ever will. In a perfect world, she would have grown safety in her mother’s womb as her mother got all the prenatal care that was needed…nutrition, vitamins and rest. The woman’s voice who she had been hearing for nine months would be the same one singing to her as she nursed her every day. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world. Bad things happen. Families are broken before they even begin. Although our children look like your children, deep inside they have wounds from separations.
When we bring Maya home, once again her whole world will be changing. She has learned to love and trust the women who have been caring for her in the transition home. For the last 6 months, she has been in the same room nearly every day. Our home will smell different, sound different, the food will taste different and even in our little house there will be so much to see. The differences will be overwhelming for her. She needs to settle into a new normal, to learn that this place is her safe place, her home and that Chris and I are her parents.
The first part of Maya’s healing will be a process that people in the adoption world call cocooning. We are going to huddle in as our small family unit and begin to form attachments to each other. This means spending lots of time at home. For the first 6 weeks that we are home, we do not plan to take Maya anywhere except the doctor and visitors will be very, very limited. We are going to do the best we can to keep her environment calm, stable and comforting.
Chris and I will be her only caregivers. We will hold her, feed her, change her, bathe her and comfort her. As these small acts are repeated, Maya will learn to trust us and will learn what a family is. We are starting from the very beginning. Many of our actions will be similar to how you would care for a newborn. We will be doing a lot of baby-wearing. Keeping her close to us, so she can learn our smell, our voices and hear our heartbeats will bring her comfort and help form attachment. It is vital that she learns to create a bond with Chris and I so that she will be able to form bonds with other members of our family in the future. Bonding deeply with your parents at a young age creates neural pathways in your brain that allow you to develop healthy relationships in other areas of your life (friends, spouses and children). If these pathways are not formed when you are young, sometimes they never do. If you do not have a deep, strong relationship with one or two specific people when you are a child, you will not have the capacity to bond deeply as an adult. This could mean never having a deep connection with a best friend or having difficulty bonding with your husband. It is serious, serious stuff!
When Maya cries, we will go to her immediately. She is learning who we are and who will care for her. When she needs attention, it it very important for it to be given to her immediately to create trust. She will be given a bottle for longer than many of your children were as we use that special time to encourage eye contact, nurturing and bonding. For many months, she will be sleeping in our room and when she naps it will be close to us or while we wear her in a Moby wrap.
The cocooning stage will slowly change as we get to know her and form attachments, but will continue as much as possible for at least 3 months. Chris and I will both be greatly limiting our time out of the house. Anything that would take us away from our family and is not necessary for our businesses will not happen during this time.
We realize that some of this may sound strange to you. Over-protective and secluding. Please, please know that it is our dream too to see our daughter enjoying the company of our friends and family. We are making these choices at the advice of experts and those who have gone before us. Our priority has to be the total health of our daughter. It will be a happy, but difficult time for our family. I’m sure Chris and I will get a bit stir crazy, but we believe that this investment of time into our daughter will make a difference in her future. When we appeared before the judge in Ethiopia, we promised to do everything in our power to protect and nurture Maya and being intentional about her attachment is the beginning of our care for her.
What can you do? Support us. Encourage us through calls and emails. Pray for us. Bring meals. Wait to visit with our sweet girl until after we have had time to attach as a family. (If you want to do some laundry, I’m not gonna tell you no!) When you do meet Maya, it is important to set physical boundaries. If adults limit what is usually considered normal, physical contact, it will help us to continue to bond with her even when we are in public. For a while, we ask that you do not ask to hold her and refrain from excessive hugging and kissing. Because of their past situations, children from orphanages are vulnerable to attach too easily to anyone. Attaching to anyone other than Chris and I, will affect her relationship with us. Attachment is a process and it will be an ongoing on for many years.
We are praying that she will be home SOON, so as the holidays approach we will be able to begin to venture out with her for short times. My daydreams are filled with beautiful holiday gatherings with both of my children this year. Please keep praying for our family during this important and special time. Adoption is redemption, restoration, healing. It is work. It is parenting on the front lines of children who come from hard places. Thank you all for you support and love for our family.
-Chris and Jenn