What to Expect #5: Post Adoption-Love at First Sight?

Our International Adoption Coordinator Megan Montgomerymeganmontgomery discusses the post adoption period and the challenges of the initial period of bonding.

Sometimes it is, but often time it’s not.

Today, increasing numbers of older children are being adopted internationally, as well as more and more children with special needs. These factors can add additional hurdles to the post adoption period.

No matter the age, placement of your child in your arms is such a victory. Finally, the wait time is over, finally you can get back to your life and living the “happily ever after” you dreamed of, with a cherished seed that you will watch blossom into a beautiful (or handsome) flower.

But, it’s really ok if that warm fuzzy feeling isn’t there right away.

Prior to bringing a child home through international adoption, hopefully somebody suggested that you seek out a therapist or social worker experienced in adoption that you could call on when the need arises. While you may never need to pick up the phone and make that call, you will appreciate the security of knowing the number if you need it.

The first days or weeks might seem blurry as you are thrust into each others’ lives, left to muddle through each other’s idiosyncrasies, in essence to figure each other out. There are different ways your child may behave during this transition. Some children present as withdrawn, others seem happy and active, and others are emotionally turbulent and cry often. The way that your child initially presents may not be an accurate depiction of who they truly are– and while you may see their true personality shining through at times, your child is sorting through too much information to relax and be themselves.

Many children will experience a “honeymoon period”, which might begin on day one or often just after the initial shock wears off. During this time, the child seems happy and is obedient and easy-going. This honeymoon period can easily deceive the most experienced parent into thinking that their child is adjusting quickly and already fitting in to their family. The reality is that the child just hasn’t gotten comfortable yet, they are just going through the motions and expressing very little of what they are feeling. It is a gradual process, getting to know one another, letting your guard down, feeling safe. There are ups and downs, but that is a normal part of the journey.

You will probably need to teach your child things you were not expecting, maybe how to properly toilet independently, or how to dress themselves or use utensils. Your child might also be surprised to find that you do not speak the same language as they do or smell familiar in any way.

There will be discovery and probably discouragement too, as you sort through what textures your child can tolerate, what foods are OK for them to carry in their pocket all day for an emergency snack, and manage survival behaviors. Choose your battles and always try to look at the scenario through your child’s eyes. When you meet your child where they are at, with a realistic understanding of where they have come from, you will be better able to parent in a way that reinforces trust from your child’s perspective, which will start to strengthen the relationship you have waited so long to build.

While your support system is likely to play a role in your adjustment to this new life, limiting visitors post adoption is important as you begin to build the foundation of your relationship with your child as their primary caregiver.Take this time to implement some activities that promote connections (link to attachment post). From day one you will start helping your child’s brain to build new connections that tell him that you are safe and can be trusted. By waiting to introduce many others into your child’s life you are making this process easier and less confusing for them.

It can be scary sometimes to talk about the post-adoption struggles. These struggles are very real though, and being honest about them is the best way to get through them.

Be ready to reach out to your agency and connect with other post-adoptive parents or make that call to the therapist whose number you tucked away, way back when. Remember by taking care of yourself, you will be better able to take care of your child.

While the “happily ever after” you fantasized may or may not come easy or quick, try to accept the present moment it as if you had chosen it and find the happiness within it.

A helpful handout for the first days with your newly adopted child can be found at http://www.pattycogenparenting.info/articles/expect.html

(This series was inspired by a series of blog posts written by Amy Eldridge, Director of Love Without Boundaries on their blog: http://www.lwbcommunity.org/)

Read the entire What to Expect Series:

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