Motherhood is a gift

1386612_mom_and_kidEditor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) hopes every mom enjoyed her Mother’s Day on May 10 and every dad is looking forward to Father’s Day on June 21. This week, in honor of all mothers, API gives you a special “Inspired Mothers” celebration. We hope these posts inspire you in your parenting journey.

The road to forming your family through adoption, and thus becoming a mother, can be long.

Various interviews, paperwork, letters of reference and physician referrals that are required before you are considered eligible can make the process of becoming a parent seem tedious. As you wait and yearn to care for a child, it can become difficult to see other couples and families receive referrals or become matched. At times, the wait may seem unbearable.

Yet, you still need to prepare physically and emotionally and be ready for your little one to arrive. So, like any parents anxious to build their family, you turn to blogs, books, anything that will give you a glimpse of what a family formed through adoption looks and feels like. You decide upon things like cosleeping or nursery, bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, open or closed adoption.

While waiting to grow our family, my husband and I researched it all. Yet, no matter how many books we read or blogs we followed, nothing could have prepared us for that moment: sitting across from this woman, seeing both the pain and joy in her eyes, watching her hold our son.

Up until this moment, preparing to meet our son, I had been focusing on how to care for a baby, not how to emotionally connect with my son and the woman who gave him life and love — his birth mother.

As I watched her and heard the palpable mix of loss and love in her voice, I learned more than a blog or book could ever teach me. My husband and I left this conversation with our son’s birth mother with a seemingly conflicting sense of sadness and loss but also joy. We renewed our determination to provide both of our sons with greater security, tangible love and a concrete sense of confidence in themselves, knowing they are loved beyond measure. I learned the love of a birth mother and how that love would transform our sons’ lives and ultimately encourage me to be a better mother myself.

The love of a birth mother is at times sacrificial and gives life and possibility, not only to the precious life brought into this world but also to the adopting mother and family. This love allowed me to experience motherhood, to see my children’s first smiles and hear their first laughs, to hold my boys close and dry away tears, and to receive unconditional love from two wonderful beings. It encourages me to seek everyday moments of connection through activities, such as light saber battles and family football games, strengthening the bonds that I have with my sons.

The knowledge of this first love sparks honest and empathetic conversation within our family. When my older son asks, “Where did my baby brother come from?” I am able to openly tell him a story of a woman who loved his baby brother and carried him in her belly, ultimately allowing us to grow our family, just like his own birth mother did before he was born. Responding sensitively with empathy and love as we talk about their birth mothers, or first families, allows me to build trust with my sons, sharing in their developing emotions.

On this year’s Mother’s Day, I celebrated more than being a mom myself and being blessed with a compassionate mother and caring grandmothers. I’m celebrating the courageous women — the other mothers — who granted me the amazing gift of becoming a mom.

Nurturing touch restores security in adoptive families

sarah kucSome of my favorite parts of the day are when my husband and I get down on the floor with our sons to wrestle and play, hearing them belly laugh. Or when I lie down for sleep with two tired, little boys snuggled tight under my arms.

Since we started our adoption journey four years ago, we have received so much joy and love from our sons and their birth mothers. However, it’s bittersweet…for although it’s true that there are countless joys and benefits from building families through adoption, there’s also inherent sorrow and loss resulting from separation from their birth mothers — they who had comforted them in the womb and held them during those first wakeful moments.

For some adopted children, this loss of a birth mother can have profound effects on their sense of personal security and ability to trust others. Undertones of anxiety and apathy may affect their relationships with loved ones. Furthermore, children who have experienced prenatal and perinatal trauma and loss may display even stronger, more vivid emotions of fear or anger when exposed  to stress in the future. Adoptive parents, being aware of these potential challenges and facing them head-on, is one key to the child’s successful bonding, growth and development. 

When we brought our sons home from the hospital, we couldn’t verbally make them understand that both we and their birth mothers love them immensely. However, we could — and did — use nonverbal communication to express our love and commitment to them.

We did skin-to-skin contact, laying them on our skin and allowing us to connect without words. We also chose to respond quickly to their cries by holding them close and reassuring them that we will always come when they need us.

Babywearing became an essential aspect of early bonding, especially with our second son. Life became noticeably busier with two young children. Both need love and special attention, and babywearing allows me to keep my little one close while still freely interacting with my older son. I can provide simultaneous security to both of my children.

These forms of physical contact are categorized as nurturing touch by Attachment Parenting International (API). When words are difficult, as is the case with newborns and young children, nurturing touch transcends language while still communicating security and love. It involves everything from massage to physical play and can be as simple as putting your arm around your child while on the couch together.

As our sons continue to grow, we are finding other ways to deepen this connection. Our 3 year old loves to wrestle and pillow fight. Each night, we happily indulge him to meet his need for physical contact, helping him to build trust and confidence in us and himself. Later, at bedtime, I lay next to him and rub his back through stories and prayers. He craves this connecting, nurturing touch and the security of knowing that we love him immensely.

Parents can never undo the loss that some adopted children experience, but hiding or not acknowledging it can be detrimental to them. Being aware of these challenges and meeting them with
persistent affection and honesty can allow healing to take place.

My husband and I are so blessed to have two happy, spirited and loving sons. Looking back, I am confident that much of our boys’ smiles, laughter and love are due to our decision to follow API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. There is so much unique joy experienced in adoption, and connections formed through nurturing touch foster this joy — allowing our children to feel secure and build necessary, lasting trust in us.

Our story of adoption and Attachment Parenting

sarah kuc“I love you.”

Three little words that I whisper into their small ears throughout the day. I look into their eyes and say, “You are special and strong.”

A few years ago, my husband and I met our first son in a crowded, busy hospital lobby. He was just 3 days old. His dark eyes peaked out from under his hospital cap and mesmerized us. It was a long ride home, but once we were there, we held him close and rarely let him go.

After a few years, we were ready to grow our family again and were overjoyed to meet our second son, 2 days old, several states away.

It is difficult to imagine our lives without these boys or the connections we have with their birth mothers and first families.

Families formed through adoption sometimes face challenges in understanding, communicating and connecting with one another. Prenatal stressors, trauma of separation and hardships endured in first families can affect our children and how they respond to us and the world around them.

My husband and I realized fairly soon after adopting our first son that we needed to parent differently than a lot of friends and acquaintances around us. For example, nighttime cry-it-out methods, unfamiliar babysitters for parents’ night out and even the use of timeout for perceived misbehavior were not going to work for us.

We were navigating the adoption realm and still trying to figure out what was right for us as parents and for our children. As I read and studied about parenting approaches, I learned about Attachment Parenting and discovered that this model seemed to support our parenting goals by encouraging connection with our children while communicating love, safety and respect.

Forming a strong attachment with our sons became our goal, and before long, we were busy savoring skin-to-skin moments among other elements of Attachment Parenting.

When our first son was about 6 months old, we found our cosleeping groove and ability to connect throughout the night. We have been bedsharing ever since and now have both of our sons with us overnight. Cosleeping helps foster a bond between my sons and I that wasn’t necessarily formed in the womb but can be made strong now as it allows us to relax, sense and trust one another.

As our boys get older, we are constantly learning and looking for resources that will foster our parenting skills and allow us to maintain connection while trying to understand how our children are feeling.

So now when my 3 year old cries, throws himself on the ground and refuses to comply with whatever I have just asked of him, I have tools beyond threatening words or actions that will let him know that he is safe, his feelings are valid and heard, and I am going to work with him to find resolution.

Along the way we have had to make lifestyle changes that affect our personal social lives. Not everyone understands why we parent this way, and that is okay. We parent in the best way we can for our boys.

For us, that means striving for a connected family. Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting support us in raising confident children…purposefully connected and loved within our family.

An Adopted Daughter Reflects on Her Birth Mother’s Decision

By Juliette Oase, retired API Leader from Portland, Oregon, USA

brokenheartMy adoptive dad spent years regretting that they had me call them “Mom” and “Dad.” He always said they should have just stayed “Uncle” and “Aunt.” He felt it would have made it easier.

I recently explained to my dad that I feel that was something that saved me. I always felt complete having a mom and a dad. I didn’t grow up feeling like an orphan, but like someone being raised by family. I had a mom and a dad. That was priceless for me.

When my birth mother died, she died. Memories of her are vague, but they stay in my heart. I still cry when I think of her, and I am crying as I write this.

I can’t imagine her last thoughts as she died, concerned for me. No doubt. She is gone, and I had to go on with my life. I was 2 years old.

I needed a mommy, and so my birth mother — with no other choice — chose my aunt to be my mom. It may be hard to swallow, as a mom yourself, reading that and thinking about your own child. But what is best for the child? Do we ever really know?

My mom never, ever took away from my birth mother. She always kept pictures of my birth mother around, and we always talked about her.

I know for years my mom may have felt she lived in my birth mother’s shadow, never living up to a memory.

My mom was only 25 when she took me in. A brave lady, who just desperately wanted to be a mom and knew she would never conceive. I don’t know if she would have done things differently. But as an adult going back to that brave lady at 25, I would ask her not to change a thing.

An Adoptive Father’s Epiphany

Editor’s note: Today’s post is by John Brooks of Marin County, California, USA, author of The Girl Behind the Door, a memoir of his parenting journey with an adopted daughter whose attachment wounds went unnoticed by the professional community until it was too late. Prior to his daughter’s death, John was a senior financial executive in the broadcast and media industry. Now he devotes his time to advocating for adoptive families, mental health activism and working with teenagers. Learn more at his blog, Parenting and Attachment.

john brooksI’m an adoptive father. I knew my life experience was different from my daughter, Casey’s, adopted from Poland more than 20 years ago, but I had no idea how profoundly different we were until I was compelled by tragedy to take a brutally hard look at the world of the adopted child.

My journey began more than six years ago. Casey was preparing for college. We’d had a big fight one weekend. Parents argue with their teenagers. But the next morning I woke to a note: “The car is parked at the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m sorry.” Casey jumped and disappeared into San Francisco Bay along with my life and dreams.

Drowning in grief, I wrote, searching for answers. Why did she do it? What did everyone miss? What could we have done differently? It became a published book. I learned about the traumatic, lifelong effects of the separation of mother and child, a primal wound that we stepped into like all adoptive parents.

Some say that a birth mother giving up a child is like an amputation. As much love and attention as we showered on Casey, could it ever make up for that loss? It’s a void that for so many adopted children is ignored and misunderstood; some may not see it themselves. Oftentimes loving them enough isn’t enough. Babies are not blank slates who simply adapt as many believe.

Birth trauma can be deeply damaging. How could it not be? It takes parenting that acknowledges the child’s loss and the effect on her behavior. Reacting to rages with punitive discipline can backfire. Adoptive families need qualified specialists who know what questions to ask and how to ask them. And adoptive parents need to know that some day their child may need to search and reunite with her birth parents, even if it’s painful.

The bargain we make as adoptive parents – one we learned too late – is that once we go down this road, we take on a job that is harder than we’d ever imagined. It requires us to parent in a way that we may not be comfortable with, to give without receiving much in return. It can leave us exhausted and isolated from other parents. But make no mistake, I remember the great times – they were many – and despite Casey’s loss, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been her dad.

Attachment, a Surprising Love Story

I called my friend, Javaughn in a panic on my way home from work (I started a part-time job as a teacher recently).  “I have a post due for APtly Said tomorrow and I have not written anything. What should I write about?”

Then she began talking about her own experience with co-sleeping and how it has made a positive impact on her family’s nighttime parenting routine. Javaughn Renee’s beautiful essay (she is such a gifted writer and artist) illustrates that Attachment Parenting can be adapted to meet individual families’ needs. Take what you like and leave the rest. There is not a checklist, only a core belief that connection and love works to build stronger relationships with children and their parents.

Without further ado — here is Javaughn Renee. She has three beautiful adopted daughters and a multi-racial family.

***

I let off a ‘holier than thou,’ sigh when I got off the phone with a tired friend  practicing Attachment Parenting principles.

“That’s crazy, “ I judged, and promptly placed my three year old in her crib and shut the door.  Two years and two more adopted children later, I hear myself saying, “…hold on Meg, I have to put the girls to bed, I’ll call you back.”

This time, “put to bed,” means co-sleep.  Co-sleeping became a solution to predictable, yet unpreventable, nighttime screaming matches. I got the idea not from a parent but from the last of a stream of behavior and adoption experts and my own desire to be a peaceful parent.

I never wanted screaming matches, sarcasm, or baths of tears to be part of my parental script. I wanted organic babies, who ate organic food and breastmilk, while I decorated their rooms with leaves, pinecones and non-violent paraphernalia. What I was blessed with, was three super strong-willed, attention-seeking, trauma survivors. These include a five-year-old who will eat a shoe if she believes it is made of sugar, a three-year-old who will sacrifice her body to concrete before she uses her words and a 15-year-old who will silently suffer an ingrown toenail for two weeks but cry buckets if she does not receive an Easter egg with the same amount of candy as her younger siblings.

And me? My locks evolved into a very chicken like hair-do, my natural deodorant left me smelling like an ape and instead of counting my (three) blessings, I fell asleep nightly wondering what did I do wrong.  Then I heard about oxytocin, the miracle hormone for my badass kids. A hormone their pre-adoption circumstances deprived them of and a substance I was not nurturing.  Though, I discovered, I could.

“When they [children with difficult behaviors] receive attuned and attentive care, children can begin to have a healthy oxytocin response and engage in healthy social and emotional relationships,” says author B. Byron Post.

The book applies what I recognized as (some) Attachment Parenting principles to adoptive parents who’ve turned into screaming zealots. Although, the book does not spell out API principles, Post’s (and others’) parental paradigm suggests that love, not fear will reduce stress and help children and parents regulate their emotions and behaviors.

So, “to hell with it,” I thought. “I’ll try  this love, thing. ” Every other expert trick or response was out and sleeping with my kids was in.

It was weird. Then it worked. So far, we’ve generally had months of nighttime peace. Even nights of, even-though-we’re-mad-we’re-still-sleeping-here kind of peace. Soon after, I was homeschooling the Sugarmonster and we became oddly calmer and happily closer. We snuggle for stories and even for discipline. Our three-year-old is trying to talk up a storm and we read devotionals and give kisses to our teen rugby player.

I can’t lie to the readers of this site and have you all believe I never resort to consequences or power struggles– because it happens. Yet, API and other new parenting paradigms will remain a part of my skill set as a parent.    All three of my children have to play catch up when it comes to love, nurture, and bonding, and Attachment Parenting will now play a part.

Javaughn Renee is a 43 year old writer and artist currently living in South Bend, Indiana but missing sunny California.  She is a nature loving, yoga teaching, parent, striving to live simply and with love.
In 2010, she completed a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on images of African Americans and nature and their effects on stereotypes. She has written for regional and national publications and blogs for other unique families at Mezclados.wordpress.com.   Javaughn continues to write, practice yoga and parent while watching her daughters grow to be sensitive and strong.

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting Blog Carnival – 2010

Welcome to the first of the 2010 Attachment Parenting International Blog Carnivals. Today’s carnival focuses on the 1st Principle of Parenting – Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.

Here is an excerpt from the 1st Principle:

The remarkable journey of new life is a positive, transformative experience. Pregnancy offers expectant parents an opportunity to prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally for parenthood. Making informed decisions about childbirth, newborn care, and parenting practices is a critical investment in the attachment relationship between parent and child. Education is a key component of preparation for the difficult decisions required of parents and is an ongoing process as each stage of growth and development brings new joys and challenges.

We received several submissions for our first carnival. Below is an excerpt from each contributor as well as a link to read the post in its entirety. If you didn’t get a chance to participate this month, join us next month as we celebrate API’s 2nd Principle of Parenting – Feed with Love and Respect. The submission deadline is March 12. Click to find out more about participating in on of API’s monthly parenting blog carnivals.

Without further ado, here’s how other attachment parenting families have Prepared for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. Please note that these links will open in a new window.
Continue reading “Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting Blog Carnival – 2010”

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