Complicated connections can make even the most needed adoptions feel like an even bigger challenge.

This doesn’t mean the whole placement is wrong. It just means adoption can be, well– complicated sometimes.

When folks think of a “complicated adoption,” they generally think of an older child adoption. This is one in which a child cannot attach or will not bond, despite the adoptive parents’ best efforts. Many Abrazo couples expect connecting with a younger child will be easier than bonding with an older child in a sibling adoption. It’s true that an older child is more capable of expressing their grief over having “lost” a parent. Sometimes, though, the older child is more able to comprehend why placement was necessary, whereas a younger child lacks the ability to reason.

This is only one scenario in which connections can be complicated. In reality, even infant placements can entail attachment issues. (According to at least one expert, one of the leading issues in baby/parent bonding is actually parental smart phone distraction.)

Bonding and attachment are learned skills, for children and for parents of any age. The bad news is that some human beings learn more easily than others. The good news is that anything that can be taught can also be learned. Think of adoption connections as being a learning process. And think of family attachment as a journey, not a starting point.

Bonding in Baby Adoptions

Rick & Sophie went through years of fertility treatment, with no success. Upon matching with Val, who was expecting, they were delighted that she wanted them to attend the birth. Having had other children, Val wanted them to feel like the baby’s parents from the start. That’s all well and good. Still, Rick, Sophie and Val need to remember that there is a fourth person whose needs must come first in the hospital, and that is the baby.

For a baby, the biological mother is truly the mother ship. It is she with whom the baby is most familiar, so contact with her is essential for that new baby to feel secure. She feels familiar. And she sounds familiar. A baby must have a secure bond with his/her birthmother, in order to be able to attach with anyone else in time.

This can be a hard truth for excited adoptive parents to embrace. They are understandably eager to embrace and care for that baby they’ve awaited for so long. And moms planning to place are often fearful of bonding with a baby they won’t be taking home themselves.

The Best Possible Baby Beginning

Still, it is vitally important that the baby spend as much time being held and loved by the biological mother as possible in the first few days and weeks after birth. Even if placement is done 48 hours after birth, as allowed in Texas, a newborn still needs ample physical contact with his/her birthmother in order to feel secure.

Babies who do not get this time with their birthmother may go through a period of withdrawal or grief. They may be difficult to console. Often, they struggle with eating or sleeping. They may stiffen or find it hard to mold with a new caretaker who sounds, smells or feels unfamiliar.

Some clinicians advocate for adopting parents asking for a tshirt the biomom has slept in to keep in the newborn’s crib, or replicating other conditions of her home, to help a transitioning baby feel secure. Adopting parents need assurance that they will grow into the role of being the baby’s primary parents in time. First parents need to be there for the baby first, so the adoptive parents can be there forever.

Attaching A New Set of Parents

One of the complications in adoption is helping new parents bond with the new child/ren so that the child/ren can become bonded with them. Adopting parents don’t automatically fall in love with their new child/ren, and it’s unfair to expect this. The healthiest relationships all grow over time.

For kids who have been in the care of another parent or others for awhile, bonding is not instantaneous either (nor should it be.) They too need time to get to know a new relative, to build trust and to learn to love long-term.

Some children who fear rejection or abandonment will test their new family right from the start, to cut their losses. Others take the honeymoon approach, trying extra-hard to fit in and not “rock the boat” until they feel more secure. Either way, the new parents must allow the child/ren to grieve the loss of the birthfamily, and to express their feelings in a safe space. Counseling is an essential component in building healthy new attachments over time.

It’s hard for adopting parents to feel connected to kids who do not seem to reciprocate affection. Having a support network is essential. So is doing your homework, so you have realistic expectations right from the start.

Constancy as a Complicated Connections Cure

Dane and Christi took placement of a sibling group who had bounced between relatives whenever their birthparents were incarcerated. “It took a long time to convince them we weren’t going anywhere,” Christi recalls. “In the beginning, we were extra careful to stay home as much as possible. We had to make sure they understood we were their new normal. Even simple things like using the church nursery had to be explained in advance so they knew we were coming back for them.”

Dane found that giving his new son something of his to “hold onto” helped him have concrete evidence of the promise to return. For Christi, getting used to the children’s clinginess was somewhat difficult. She used the “kissing hand” story to help their youngest new child feel more secure about temporary separations.

When adopting children of any age, establish consistent routines. Treasure and safeguard any items sent for the children by the birthfamily. Insulate your family unit, and limit household visitors. Anticipate regressive behaviors in older children, and “baby as needed.”

Whether you are thinking of placing or adopting, learn all you can about open adoption and about adoption resources.

And if you find yourself dealing with complicated connections, don’t throw in the towel. Be patient with yourself and your new child/ren. Keep the proverbial oyster and the pearl in mind, and remember that complicated connections in adoption truly can lead to hidden treasures.

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