Monday, February 11, 2013

Strategies for Navigating the Journey to Attach with Your Ukrainian AdoptedChild

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Confessions of a Mom with Attachment

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That's right, I have attachment disorder, not my

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February 01,2013 / Dawn Choate

Maybe I should have left my name off this one. Perhaps I
could have been one of the anonymous writers who change
their name to protect their identity. I will probably
open my inbox to find I've been booted off a Yahoo
adoption group or two after this confession. I'm sure I
won't be invited to the next LifeBook creation group or
called up by the Discovery Channel to cover my next
adoption. But, I'm not really confessing this to win any
popularity contests anyway. The truth is, I am quite
certain that what I am about to confess is a dark, deeply
held secret of other adoptive parents out there and I am
just the one with the big enough mouth to say it. Okay,
here I go.

I have attachment

Yes, me. Not my daughter (our second adoption), although
she has her own set of attachment issues, too. But I am
talking about me. After a year and a half, my heart still
struggles to latch on firmly, to feel free and open with
her, to feel the wonderful bonded feeling of being
completely attached in heart and spirit to another
person. I still catch myself looking blankly at her,
wondering if I even know her yet. I am still more easily
frustrated by her, less patient, slower to forgive and
recover after she misbehaves. I still have to fight
feelings of wanting to pay more attention to the children
with whom it is easier to feel close. And sometimes I am
the one who can go without contact with her and not feel
like I even miss her absence.

Before you lynch me, before you throw me to the Yahoo
group trash bin, before you black list my name to every
agency on planet earth and turn me in to Dr. Phil and his
evil message boards.

Let me leave you with some thoughts just in case this
strange phenomenon ever lurks its way into your adoption
fantasy and threatens to turn it into a nightmare.

Why Adoptive Parents Face Difficulties in

There are many reasons an adoptive parent may experience
difficulty in bonding with their new child. Post-adoption
depression is actually a term used now by many therapists
and experts in the field. Below are some possible reasons
a parent might struggle with bonding:

  • Unresolved grief over a previous child-related issue
    (such as miscarriages, inability to conceive, previous
    adoptions that fell through or previous difficulties with
    an adoption)

  • Previous experiences with attachment issues with an
    adopted child

  • Adopting an older child who no longer exhibits the
    natural baby/toddler development stages that promote
    bonding with a parent

  • Adopting out of birth order (this can make navigating
    the baby of the family developmental stage tricky)

  • Attachment issues in the child that cause the parent
    to feel rejected

  • Inability to communicate adequately with the child
    (language difficulties, speech issues, special needs

This is, of course, only a partial list of the myriad of
possible reasons a parent may feel that block that
prevents the free-flow of emotion from parent to child.
It is a list that we could mark off multiple items that
relate to our experience. When we adopted our daughter,
she was 3.5 years old. While she still had much of the
baby look to her rounded cheeks and pixie face, her
behaviors were not in any way like a baby. When I tried
to follow the advice of re-parenting her (treating the
new child like a baby in certain ways), it only became a
source of frustration for us both. She would bite the
bottles or pacifiers until she chewed them off, she would
regress and wet her pants since she thought that was what
I wanted her to do (behave like her little sister), and
all the effort didn't produce any real feelings of change
in either one of us because she seemed to grasp that she
was really not a baby and didn't particularly
want to be treated like one.

Another issue we faced was that it was an
out-of-birth-order adoption. Although there are many
successful cases of this type of adoption and we do not
regret having done it ourselves, it certainly presented
us with challenges. Our younger daughter still needed to
be babied in some ways, and it was tough to make sure
that our new daughter was receiving the amount of
attention she needed. In addition, you really can't trick
your mind into seeing a child who is not the baby as a
baby. We were learning firsthand how those critical baby
years form that soft foundation of bonding before you
have to face the more difficult toddler years with a
child. Yet we had missed all of that with her and were
thrown head-first into the tougher toddler years.

Communication was also a great hurdle for us as our
daughter came to us not only as an older child who had
learned over 3 years of Mandarin, but as a child with
cleft lip and palate that severely impaired her ability
to speak at all. Once again, I was startled to realize
something we take for granted in parenting other children
that is such a vital key to successful bonding was
missing in our relationship with her. Even now, if you
ask her why she is crying, she can rarely answer you. All
you get is,'m crying! Language and
communication are the cornerstones of relationships and
it is very tough to find alternate ways of communicating
with a child who is impaired in a way that truly brings
understanding and the ability to form bonds and

Perhaps the most critical key to understanding my
struggle to bond to my daughter, however, is to
understand the struggle we had to get our first daughter
to attach to us and how that struggle impacted
and scarred my parental psyche. Over time, I have learned
and recognized that the awesome weight I bore in the
journey to help our first daughter through her struggles
left me far more emotionally exhausted and wounded than I
had realized at the time we completed our second
adoption. After all, Hannah was doing great by the time
we adopted again and was getting better everyday. The
battle was over (for the most part) and now our new
daughter was quiet, gentle and much easier to care for
than Hannah had been. How could I not be okay and bond
instantly with her?

Yet when the first crying jags started, even though they
were not nearly as wild and uncontrollable as had been
Hannah's, I found myself holding my new daughter up by
her shoulders as she wailed and shrieked, looking her
straight in the eyes, and pleading with her, I'M NOT
flags should go off at that point. Someone with a
megaphone might as well have been screaming at me,
idea what that even was at the time. It took a few late
nights of internet searching before I recognized it
several months after it began to surface. My heart had
been greatly wounded before, and now my emotions and
spirit were struggling to bear up under another child's
journey through grief.

Strategies for Navigating the Journey to Attach
with Your Child

After months of agonizing over the lack of attachment I
felt towards my daughter, we slowly began to piece
together some strategies that we hoped would eventually
build the necessary bonds between us. Over time, we
noticed small changes that eventually led to even more
significant changes. Though the process is slow, the
effort and energy we have expended has always eventually
paid off. Here are some of the strategies we used that
have contributed to the growing bonds between us:

  1. If your child is out of birth order, separate
    time out specifically for that child away from the
    children who are younger.
    Find an activity
    that suits the new child's age and personality and make
    it a special event between you. For example, my
    daughter is very domestic (unlike her wild,
    Harley-riding sister). So, when I bake an apple pie
    (okay, this is a rare activity), I bring her alongside
    of me to help instead of Hannah (distracting Hannah by
    telling her she can go swing from the trees with her
    brothers, an activity she would prefer anyway).

  2. Do not feel like you have to follow all of the
    tips of re-parenting if you adopt an older
    When we tried many of the suggestions
    (giving a bottle, pacifier, etc.), we found it just
    frustrated us and did not build any connections with
    her. Those methods may work well with some children,
    but our daughter did not respond to them, so we had to
    move on and treat her like the age that she is instead
    of trying to regress her. She was happier when we did
    and we found connections with her easier when we did
    not try to treat her like something she wasn't.

  3. Work hard to find skills, personality traits,
    and talents unique to your new child
    . We tried
    many things until we discovered what a great swimmer
    our new daughter was. So we spent extra time developing
    that in her, praising her for that skill, and used the
    time in the water as a way to attach to her. Some of my
    best interactions with her and most affectionate times
    are in the water.

  4. Give yourself permission to not have
    to feel all gushy about your new child.
    It is
    okay if it is not a fairytale. It does not make you a
    bad parent or evil. It is what it is. Many days I told
    myself that I was just going to be a good babysitter
    that day and gave myself permission to not have to
    force myself to feel anything else.

  5. Work through any unresolved emotional issues
    you may have that are blocking your ability to
    If you have issues of grief, resentment
    of previous failed adoptions or attempts to bond, or
    secondary post-traumatic issues, it can really impede
    your ability to connect with a new child. Get help if

  6. Find at least one person other than your spouse
    that you can be completely honest with about your
    . You might need to air some
    feelings that can cause some to judge you. But if you
    don't have at least one safe, outside place to vent,
    the pressure can build and cause further damage to your
    relationship with your child.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, no matter how you
feel, no matter what your emotions tell you, after all is
said and done and you have done everything you can to
change your feelings.just keep moving forward anyway.
This may sound simple, trite or ignorant of your needs. I
certainly stress the need for you to have time away, time
for yourself and time to vent to others. But in the midst
of all that, there are many days you have to just realize
that you made a choice to bring this child in and
whatever you do or do not feel towards that child, love
is a choice.

Choosing to love your child mentally even when you do not
feel it emotionally is a powerful step in the journey to
bonding with your child. The rewards for that choice may
not surface immediately. The process may be very slow and
lacking in immediate gratification. But every day that my
daughter laughs a full belly laugh instead of a weak
giggle, every time she spontaneously comes to me with
arms open for a kiss and says, I love you, Mommy, every
time she comes running to see me when I return home with
a giant yell, MOMMY'S HOOOOME!!!, I realize that though
the journey is long, we will get there. Though I have
doubted at times, I know it is true. What you reap, you
will sow and one day I know there will be a bountiful
harvest in my relationship with my daughter.

This is not an adoption that was microwavable. I could
not create insta-attachment for her or for me. No, this
is a relationship that is in a long, long simmer. Every
once in awhile I get a whiff of what it will eventually
be. I cannot wait to taste it fully, but until then, I
will keep kissing her good-night, brushing her long,
beautiful hair, biting my tongue when I'm frustrated, and
hugging her just as fully as I do my other children.
She's worth the wait. I hope she thinks I am, too.

P.S. I intentionally left my daughter's name out of
this article. It may sound silly as I'm sure I've used
her name in other articles. But I felt I at least owed
her a little privacy in this particular article
considering the candor with which I am expressing our

Dawn G. Choate and her
husband are the parents of 5 children, including 2 born
in China and 1 in Guatemala . A writer, speaker and
advocate for adoption-related issues, Dawn is the founder
of Healing Hannah
Please visit "">
to view the Healing Hannah videos. Dawn is a frequent
contributor to "">Voices
of Adoption


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Free Presentation: International Adoption From

Tuesday, February 12, 6:00-9:00 PM

Bernardsville Public Library, 1 Anderson Hill Road,
Bernardsville, NJ 07924

The Ukrainian Adoption Process: Free Informational

Thursday, March 14, 6:00-8:00 PM

Location: Wellness Rocks: 133 Rupell Road, Clinton, New Jersey

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