I hope it doesn’t shock you when I tell you the early days of adoption are full of awful moments. Moments when you think bonding might never happen. Moments when you fear that the child you have brought home is simply not capable of attaching. When you wonder if you have made a big mistake. These thoughts flash through your mind and you dismiss them just as quickly. Because who can go on throwing their whole heart at a child they do not have great hopes for, a child they do not believe in? So we choose to believe. We dismiss the fears, the worries, and the deep concerns. We throw ourselves forward day after day. We give love away like there’s no tomorrow and we ignore anything that doesn’t look like love coming back. We choose to forget, moment by moment, that we simply haven’t seen ANYTHING that looks like love yet.
After all, who could expect this child, who has lived alone in the world so long, to know what love is? That’s our job – to show him. To give him love in abundance. And whether or not he ever chooses to respond in kind; well, that’s not up to us.
It’s one of the ultimate’s in letting go. Letting go of the desire to be loved back by your child. If all I am to you is another caregiver; I choose to be okay with that. Because I chose you. Forevermore, you are my child and I will love you always, no matter how much you break my heart.
But then, after a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, if you’re lucky, if you’re really blessed, the bonding begins to happen. Slowly by slowly. Surely by surely. It comes in the tiny, almost unseen moment when he creeps out of his bed late at night and surprises you, preparing for bed. His husky voice murmurs “mama?” and that very first time he has spoken this most important name aloud to you, hits your heart with such pain and such joy, and you scoop him up warm and you can’t believe that you are this lucky. That you get to be his mama always.
It comes when, after weeks of double and triple locking any door he changes or showers behind, after weeks of hiding his body from you, suddenly he allows you to change his clothes. To pull on his fresh clean underwear as you dress him for the day, babying him because every child should have a chance to be dressed by a mama even if they’re all of ten years old before it ever happens. And, as you dress him, you carefully pretend that this moment, this intimate vulnerability he is allowing you into, means nothing much. You carefully pretend that he doesn’t even have boy parts. Because he isn’t ready for that much intimacy yet. But your heart, oh your heart. Because a mother feels she should somehow have known and seen her child’s body in order to truly mother it. A mother who does not yet know if her child is even circumcised, feels distanced from his essential person hood in a way that is so hard to describe until you have experience it. Thank you, son, for having the courage to let me in, before age and development made it too difficult for you, too inappropriate.
Bonding starts when he tells you he that is tired and when he trusts you to help him sleep. Bonding comes when he asks for food and trusts that you will give it to him. Bonding comes when he learns that you are every bit as strong willed and courageous as he is, but that you love far more than he has ever loved anything. That you will insist on rules, structures, boundaries; but that you will do it in a way that feels safe and held, not scary or restrictive. Bonding comes when you take his side when his brother teases him. Bonding comes when you help him find his lost wallet and don’t laugh when he counts and re-counts his American money.
And for every awful early moment, the prize of attachment grows that much more valuable. For a child that you have no right to insist should love you, their love is that much more precious. Moment by moment, your heart stretches even bigger and makes room for all the new pain and joy that this precious child requires.
Day by day, we bond. First like an autumn drizzle, soon, like a hurricane.