As a dad, one of the hardest things about the first few weeks (sometimes months) after coming home with your newborn baby is that you so desperately want to be able to comfort and console your child but often the experience for dads falls short of what we imagine it to be. If your experience was like mine, my little baby would cry, I’d pick him or her up and they’d keep on crying, sometimes working themselves up into a full out fit because you aren’t giving them what they want… the lady with the boobs and the soft voice. She’s warm and familiar, but not you. She had nine months of physically bonding with this little miracle and now you’re new territory. You sound familiar, but what’s that smell, and why are you so rough and scratchy? And why don’t you have boobs like the other one? I don’t like you. It was hard for me, those first few months. I cried sometimes. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, turned off the lights, and cried. I was afraid I’d never be able to comfort my child.
While we were going through the adoption process early on, there was some required reading and testing that we did. I remember riding on a train back from Philly one night and listening to these lessons and stories from other families about this idea of attachment in adoption. The first few months are critical, especially for a young child. They gave all kinds of techniques to aide with attachment. Many of which we did with our other kids already, so these weren’t new ideas. The unknown factor for us though, is the reality that neither of us have been able to bond with her for the first two years of her life. When she had open heart surgery, we weren’t there to give her comfort, to tell it was gonna be okay. To hold her when she was scared because someone was taking her into a big, loud city, with people in masks taking her to a back room somewhere. When she got a cold, neither of us were there to suck the snot out of her nose and rock her to sleep. Two years went by. These are critical years in the process of trust building for any child. We missed those. So it’s important that we begin the bonding process immediately. Probably one of the more common fears of adoptive parents is, “Will this child bond with me?” Because we all know that how well they attach (and how quickly, in some cases) determines a large part in the quality of life this little person will enjoy down the road. These moments are critical.
Who knows what life back in the States is gonna look like once I return back to work and we get back into a routine with life. But we realized something tonight. Some things have been hard, for sure. Some things we’re facing now are hard. But for months we’ve prayed and we’ve asked you to pray that somehow, Aila would know in her heart who we are and that God has preserved her in our hearts forever and that while we were away, we were always near. We asked that our love be conveyed through the hands of her caregivers. And as you may have read, it was only a minute or two at that first meeting that she reached for Kelley and tucked her head into her chest. Only minutes before she whispered, “baba.”
When we walk out of the room without her she gets angry and one of us goes to her. She knows that we are the ones she can trust for care and love and nurture. She knows that we are her people. She knows that if she cries, we will pick her up. She is so aware of it at this point that she now has a game. If we sit her down, she will fuss and cry (it’s a very fake cry, but her facial expressions really sell it — drama queen). And then when we pick her up she laughs and smiles the biggest smile you’ve ever seen in your life. She knows we are hers because we’re consistent and our response to her needs is consistent. She laughs because what she hoped for came true. She wanted to be held and that’s what she got. She smiles because she knows she can do it again with the same results. She is growing more and more confident in the ebb and flow of this relationship.
Her development is increasing by leaps and bounds already as well. She had not crawled before in the orphanage. Two days in and she crawls across the hotel room floor for her bottle. She is also pulling up and scooting along the edge of the bed. Walking may not be far behind. She makes noises that sound like words but nothing more than Mama and Baba at this point but she knows who Mama and Baba are. She gets the kids to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Bringing Home A Baby Bumblebee” and she will mimic the hand motions with them. Yesterday, the kids held their hands to their heads like moose antlers and blew raspberries with their tongues and she did exactly what they did. She remembers games we play together, like pattycake and peek-a-boo, and will grab your hands and make you do them with her. She’s incredibly smart. It really catches us by surprise sometimes because all we’ve seen are a few pictures and a couple videos from the orphanage and none of them indicate anything like this.
She’s a two year old toddler but not really. Developmentally, she is delayed. In stature, she’s like a one year old. Some mentors of ours at church have raised a beautiful you teenage girl with Down syndrome. Some of the best encouragement they offered us early in the process was that their daughter made them slow down and have fun. It’s hard to know what to expect but for now she keeps blowing our minds and making us laugh.