Part of the November series “30 Things I Know About Adoption.”
Guest post by Tiffany Castleberry
Whether you adopt a child straight from the hospital or from the other side of the world, there is a certain measure of uncertainty. One thing you know, however, is that you are going to love that child with everything in you. Your love will overcome any obstacle. (cue the violins)
After months (years) of waiting, you finally bring your little one home and for a while the excitement overshadows any doubt. But the newness fades, the honeymoon phase is over, and reality sets in. You realize one day with a panic that you don’t see happy butterflies and puffy hearts when you look at your child. In fact, though you would never, ever, EVER, admit this to anyone, you’re not even sure you like your kid. And you suspect he doesn’t like you either.
What kind of a mother feels that way?
A perfectly normal mother. You are in such good company, my friend, you cannot even imagine. But don’t lose heart. You will love your child, but it may take time.
In a perfect world, loving your child would be as natural as breathing.
We are designed for attachment. When a woman is pregnant, her brain starts producing more and more of the so-called “love” chemical, oxytocin. In utero, the baby can hear his mother’s voice and sense her emotional state. In a healthy environment, the baby feels secure and loved. After a woman gives birth, she and the baby receive a burst of oxytocin and dopamine, another “reward” chemical, when they are together doing normal new-baby stuff—feeding, holding, rocking, etc. God created our bodies to literally pump love through our veins when we have a child.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
30% of new moms don’t feel this way (source). I suspect that number would be higher if we were honest. A complicated or unwanted pregnancy, difficult birth process, exhaustion, or disappointment can diminish the effects of oxytocin and dopamine on the mother and the child.
As adoptive parents, even if a child enters the family at birth we already have two strikes against us.
1. We don’t have the benefit of nine months of oxytocin. Because, you know, we weren’t pregnant.
2. Our child may not have the benefit of nine months of oxytocin either. They could have a chemical deficiency that makes it harder for them to attach (harder, not impossible).
The challenges multiply in older child adoption. We have to form attachment with someone who already has an established personality and might be resistant to our efforts. It’s disheartening, but remember that God puts the lonely in families. It’s His will and He won’t leave you alone to flounder.
The birth of my oldest biological child was difficult and scary. When they brought him to me hours later, I was one of those 30% who didn’t experience that love-at-first-sight feeling. I just wanted sleep. Within a few weeks, however, the oxytocin and dopamine finally broke through my exhausted, inexperienced new-mom fog and I understood what other moms were gushing about.
Maybe the perfect baby you’ve dreamed of for so long actually has a history of in-utero drug exposure and cries All. The. Time.
Or the toddler you flew to flippin’ Africa for pushes you away and throws an average of 6 1/2 tantrums every day.
Your love hormones are trying to flow, but they may take a little while to get going. This is the time you must choose to love your child, even if the feelings don’t come naturally.
That experience with my firstborn taught me that even if love isn’t immediate, it will come. When our youngest came home from Ethiopia at 4 years old he wasn’t sure about us. In fact, he was terrified! Similarly, we had a few WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!? moments. But over time he grew to love us and we grew to love him too. All we had to do was relax and wait.
That same can happen for you.
It may take time. It may take a long time. But it will be worth it. You’ll start to appreciate the little things, those tiny attachment victories that you would take for granted in a child who wasn’t adopted. Those victories will give you hope and keep you moving forward.
Hang in there, friend. You’re normal. You’re doing a great job. Keep doing what loving parents do and the feelings will follow.
It’s what you were designed for.
Tiffany lives near Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her high-school-sweetheart husband and five fantastic kids, four by birth and one from Ethiopia. Her passions include Bible history, adoption, homeschooling, and gourmet cupcakes (eating them, not baking them). When she isn’t doing laundry or driving to her children’s activities, you can find her blogging at Stuff and Things.