Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cocooning and Attachment: What I'm Learning

Bradley has been home almost six weeks now. {PRAISE HANDS!} For almost all of that time we have been in serious cocooning mode. In the adoption world, cocooning is the time period right after a child comes homes and the family really hunkers down in the house and focuses on bonding with their newest addition. Just this week, we have starting making some outings beyond the walls of our home. {MORE PRAISE HANDS!} Today, for example, B and I went on a walk with my friend Rachel and her son. The boys were in strollers, and I am fairly certain I totally dominated the conversation because I was JUST SO HAPPY to be talking to a grown up. Sorry, Rachel.

Still, most of our day is spent in the house, really sticking to a routine while Bradley adjusts to his family. This time of bonding and attachment is so critical to the healthy development of the child, and I wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about what our experience has been like and what I am learning.

1. It will be harder than you think. You know how when you get sick and are stuck at home for three days, you start to go a little stir crazy? Stretch that out to a month, add a little jet lag and a child who has no clue what just happened. Boom. Seriously though. Give yourself grace to be wholly and completely overwhelmed by what is happening. Our first week home... I mostly felt like I was drowning. The jet lag is insane, and your sweet baby has it, too. Not to mention all of the loss that accompanies him leaving his home country. I felt so over-prepared walking into this. Our agency does a FANTASTIC job educating its families, and I truly felt like I had all of the information. But having the information and putting into practice are two COMPLETELY different things. Cocooning is HARD. You are on all the time, and you are on in a very confined space. So much of attachment rests on immediately responding to your child's needs. It's like being a firefighter. The alarm goes off and you better move fast.

2. Hang in there because it is SO worth it. Yes, you will be exhausted beyond reason. Yes, you will likely feel like you are so far out of your depth. Yes, you will be tempted to give up and say that surely this attachment thing can't be that important. DON'T DO IT. Hang in there. When we we first met Bradley, he would go to anyone who would hold him. He showed no preference whatsoever. But now, after seven weeks (six here + one in Ethiopia) of intense attachment parenting and us meeting all his needs, he turns away from anyone who is not Adam or me. He knows that we are his safe people. Maybe it sounds awful, but the surge of satisfaction I got the first time someone reached for him and he pulled away?? Well, that made everything worth it. Because I know that he knows I am his mom. I am the safest person on the planet. I am the one who feeds him and rocks him to sleep. He did not come to us knowing that. We had to show him. And it took TIME and a lot of hard, hard work. Believe me, I cried a LOT during those first weeks, but I am so glad we stuck with it.

3. Food is a big deal. HUGE. We are now at the point where we are allowing family to interact with Bradley if he initiates it, but we are still the only ones to feed him. Our plan is to keep it this way for a long time. As in months. It will be the very last thing we let go of, and that is a long way off. My advice would be to not let anyone else feed your child anything at all. Food is a huge source of comfort, and that needs to come from mom and dad.

4. Ask for help from your spouse. If you are like me, then perhaps you sauntered into motherhood believing that you could do it all. I was in for a rude awakening. I have visions of myself being instantly awesome. Suffice it to say, that was not the case. Ha! Motherhood has kicked my behind! And I have been working on allowing myself to really lean on Adam. When B is awake all night, we take hour long shifts till he's back down. If Adam comes home from work and it has been a really rough day, I say, "Tag!" I am lucky enough to be married to a fellow who loves being a dad and all that accompanies it, and I do not know what I would do without him. Scratch that. I do know. I would hide in the shower and cry. So allow yourself to share the weight of it all.

5. Let your friends help. Our precious, precious friends set up a meal schedule for us when we got home with Bradley. I don't think I cooked dinner for a month. Seriously. It was one of the most wonderful things anyone could have done for us. I could throw myself at their feet for all of the deliciousness that paraded through this house for WEEKS after we got home. It was such an enormous relief to not have to think about juggling a very needy baby with cooking. And along these lines, please eat off of paper plates for a while so you don't have to fool with dishes. It took us about a week o make the change. It was revolutionary.

6. Celebrate the victories. There will be many. Some big and some teeny tiny. Acknowledge them all. Baby took a nap? Hooray! Baby ate lunch? Hooray! Baby only cried for two hours last night instead of three? Hooray! Baby is all of a sudden pulling to stand? HOORAY! Baby reaches for you when he's upset? Hooray! You get what I'm saying. Those first weeks home are tough, but you will watch your child change so fast right in front of you. He will put on weight, smile more, reach for you, start playing, catch up on milestones. All so quickly. Soak it up and know that he is making these strides because he is in a loving family. Your family.

7. Parent through Christ. This is by FAR the most important piece. All the trainings. All the books. All the online courses and seminars. All the conferences. Without the grace of Jesus Christ on a day by day and minute by minute basis, all of it would be for naught. There have been many days and countless moments when Jesus was the only thing that kept me on my feet. Trust that He called you to this, that He has a beautiful story for you and your precious babe. Press in and press on, and always lean (or if you're like me, throw yourself) on Him.

There is a lot more I could say on this, and I hope to have time soon for a Part II. But for now, the babe is asleep, so I am going to head that way, too.

With love,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Peaks and Valleys

Peaks and valleys.

That has been my answer to all of the wonderful people in my life asking how things are going with Bradley. And it is so true. There are days when I feel on top of the world, like I can totally do this mom thing. Then there are days when I feel like I just cannot get anything right, like I have NO business being a mom.

After LOTS of education and research over three years, Adam and I decided that we were committed to one month of really intense attachment parenting with our little man. Here's what that looked like: we were the only ones to hold him, feed him, touch him, change him, bathe him, comfort him. We were holding him all the time, lots of intense eye contact, almost always at least one hand on him, responding to cries immediately. In doing this, we had a very specific goal. We wanted Bradley to understand what it means to have parents, and we wanted him to fully recognize that WE are his parents, the safest and most loving people in his world.

This led to a lot of peaks and a lot of valleys.

As the days went by, we were getting more smiles and even some laughs. We were watching him start to reach for us and REALLY prefer to be held at all times (my arms muscles are getting ripped). We also got to watch him make HUGE strides in his development.

But there were a LOT of moments in that first month home that left me feeling like I would never, could never be the mom I wanted to be. Moms tell you that they know their children's different cries. I didn't. Some days, he was inconsolable, only wanting to be held while he cried. It was so hard.

So much of this is related to grief. Yes, Bradley joined our family forever when we walked out of the orphanage gates, but he also lost his home and the women who had loved him and cared for him. I cannot imagine how confused and hurt he must have been, wondering what happened to all of the familiar faces he had come to know. And to now have this woman who clearly doesn't know what she is doing.

Adoption is a beautiful, redemptive and impossibly hard thing.

Week four was particularly tough. It was Adam's first week back at work, and I was finally on my own. I was doing the very thing I had begged God to let me do, AND IT WAS SO MUCH HARDER THAN I EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE.

But there is God's grace again. Carrying me through and reminding me that I cannot be the mom I want to be without Him right at the center.

So whatever it is you're doing, know that God can be right there with you if you let him. I am learning each day what a weak vessel I am. A true jar of clay. But all of this points me right back to Jesus, reminding me of my deep and desperate need for Him.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

But Then You Get Home

For the last 3+ years, our life has been full of paperwork and classes and reading and forms and fingerprints and WAITING. And then it was full of travel and court and embassy and the longest day ever to get from Ethiopia to Birmingham. And it was all so hard...

But then you get home.

And there is a tiny person in your house. THE PERSON you have prayed over and begged God to bring to you. The one you have dreamed of for years. He lives in your house.

And in that moment, you realize that you have NO IDEA what you are doing! Ha!

Oh, the last three weeks have been wonderful. We have watched our son (you know, the one who lives in our house now) absolutely blossom. He is growing in all directions. He is making up his losses in leaps and bounds. In three weeks, he has gone from slow crawling to speed racing to pulling to stand to taking very shaky steps with our help. IN THREE WEEKS. He is laughing and smiling. He is playing. He loves his swimming pool and bath time. He is not too sure about his dog (although she really wants to be his best friend). He is gaining confidence. He is not scared anymore.

This brings me back to the whole I have no idea what I'm doing part.

I don't. I have never been a mom before. Everything I know about being a mother I am learning from my one year old completely on the fly. I haven't successfully raised a herd of children. I am just working on the one who's been with me since mid-July.

And that is my point. Bradley has made all of these gains with a mom who is a total novice. It does not take any expertise to love a child. And that is what adoption is. It is choosing to love the beautiful child God has placed into your family.

So you might feel like you don't have what it takes to adopt, like you wouldn't know what to do. Let me set your mind at ease. You don't and you won't. But Christ does, and maybe He is nudging you, asking you to step out in faith and say yes to adopting a child. It is an awesome and radical thing. And I still cannot believe that God asked us to do this. Surely we are among the least qualified, but He is greater.

Yes, there have been moments that have seemed impossibly difficult. Moments when I felt sure that Bradley deserved a better mom than I could ever be. But God brought us together. He brought this child into our family in the most incredible way, and I love him. So I can and will, through God's strength, fight through those moments. And if the Lord is tugging at your life and asking you to adopt, then He will do the same for you.

With love,

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