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Bonding with Adopted Baby: Parents, Siblings and Other Family.
Each family has their own beginning, be it through pregnancy or adoption or foster care etc. Each adoption story is unique. Each story is special. Each family knows what’s best for their core unit.
In speaking on adoption I come from a place only based on my own personal experience. We have three biological children and went through the process of domestic adoption to add our son to our family in December of 2017.
Our story and our bonding experiences won’t look like every other family’s. So much of the adoption process and the bonding experience has to do with when the baby was placed with the adoptive family and what those circumstances looked like.
Obviously bonding with an older adopted child who was raised with their birth family and then placed with an adoptive family will have a much harder bonding experience than a family adopting a newborn baby from birth. Bonding with an adopted toddler would be a totally different experience than bonding with an adopted newborn. Bonding with a foster baby would look different than bonding with an adopted baby where parental rights have been permanently signed over.
A baby that experiences the NICU, has withdraws or other tougher hurdles at the start of life will face difference challenges and bonding experiences with the adoptive family than a baby who is born without any sort of complications.
It is easy for me to say that bonding with an adoptive newborn isn’t much different than bonding with a biological newborn. I can say that after having experienced three biological babies entering our family and comparing those experiences with when our newborn baby joined our family through adoption.
But I can also say that because our adoption story did align so much with the biological pregnancy experiences we had. We were able to be present in the room when our son’s birth mother gave birth to him. We were able to hold him right after delivery. Bond with him right away.
His siblings were able to meet him within two days after his birth. He had no withdraws or any health concerns and we were able to be discharged from the hospital two days after he was born, we actually left the hospital earlier with him than we did some of our biological babies!
The transition of welcoming our adoptive child into our family was smooth because it did resemble so much of the same transition of welcoming our biological children into our family. I never want to minimize the experiences others may face or come across like I don’t appreciate the blessings we had in our smooth experience. Not everyone is able to have those easy transitions with their adoptive children and I don’t want anyone to walk away from reading this post assuming our experience is the norm.
Bonding with Adopted Baby: Parents
Even with an adoptive experience that was so similar to a biological experience, the differences between the two were still very present. It was easier for my husband to instantly bond with our adoptive son than it was for me as his mother.
I didn’t carry him in my womb for nine months. I didn’t feel his kicks inside me. I didn’t experience the pains of labor to bring him into the world.
For my husband he watched me deliver our biological babies. He cheered me on. He cried when they were each born and laid on my chest. The experience was very much the same for him, this time he watched our son’s biological mother deliver him. He cheered her on. He comforted her when she felt weak.
For me watching her give birth was a totally new experience. (You can read my perspective of our son’s birth story here!) Being the one cutting the cord rather than the one on the delivery table was something I never thought I’d be doing. Seeing her with her son on her chest. Watching her sob when the staff took him to be weighed and then handed him to us.
Being a mother and knowing that deep love she had for him and understanding the heartbreak she was experiencing in knowing someone else would be raising him. It was extremely difficult for me.
I struggled with bonding with our son, for many reasons.
It was so hard for me to bond with him knowing the hurt she was feeling. I thought of her so much and worried so much about her heart, her feelings, her pain. I didn’t feel guilty, I knew she was making the best decision for herself and her baby in choosing adoption. But I just felt so much sadness. It was difficult to feel joyful knowing the deep, deep heartbreak she was feeling.
It was also difficult to bond with him when I didn’t know for sure that he was going to be our baby. In Florida the birth mother cannot sign over her parental rights until she is cleared to be discharged from the hospital. So for 40 hours I held a baby. Snuggled a baby. Comforted and fed a baby. Not knowing if he’s be MY BABY or if she’d decide to parent.
I struggled to guard my heart. Protect myself. Love on him without falling in love with him. I felt like I couldn’t fully allow myself to feel connected and bonded with a baby whom I may have to give back. This baby that I’d prayed for for so long. Waited for. Wished for. Was finally in my arms but wasn’t mine to love…yet.
Again, all of this was easier for my husband. He felt instantly connected and bonded with our son from the moment he was born. He said he didn’t feel any differently whatsoever about the adoptive baby than he did the biological ones. They were all his babies. From the moment they breathed air into their little lungs…they were his. (You can read my husband’s perspective of our son’s birth story here)
It was a slower process for me. Even once the papers were signed and we were able to leave the hospital with him in our arms, it took me time. The appreciation I felt for him was something I’ve never experienced. I was beyond grateful and appreciative and thankful. But I still struggled feeling like he was my baby.
I feel that many factors played into my struggle with bonding. Aside from the birth experience differences and the time waiting for the rights to be signed, there were other things during the newborn stage that made it harder to bond as closely with him as quickly.
Did we experience bonding adoption issues? No. It was more that I felt like I was struggling to bond as much as I thought I should.
I breastfed all my bio babies but didn’t breastfeed him. (You can read my thoughts on breast vs bottle here) He is our fourth baby. LIFE IS CRAZY so it can be difficult to really truly just BE with baby and cuddle them up and truly take that time to just bond together. I also am just not a HUGE baby fan. I have always joked that if I could birth a toddler I would. The baby phase is my least favorite so I think that played a role too in my ability to enjoy him as much because I just don’t love that phase.
It is important for hopeful adoptive mothers to know that it may take time to bond. It may not be instant. And that’s okay. There are MANY things at play when it comes to bonding…especially when adopting. Hormones may not be from pregnancy and delivery, but they still play a strong role after adopting too!
For a long time I had a lot of guilt over my initial struggles to bond with our adoptive infant. But then one day it hit me. I didn’t really hardcore bond with my first biological baby either. I even wrote a post about it!
Sometimes as adoptive parents we put too much emphasis on adoption. I overthink it. I connect dots that aren’t there. I walked around worried that I was a horrible person for feeling less bonded with my adoptive son than I thought I “should feel.” But y’all, even biological babies can take time to feel bonded with.
The intense love you always hear that mothers feel the moment their babies are born? It’s OKAY not to feel it right away. It takes time. Shared experiences. Getting to know each other. The love comes. And it builds. And it’s unlike anything else.
And this goes for adoption too. Adoption is FILLED with SO MANY EMOTIONS. And you feel them all at the exact same time. Intense joy for seeing the baby you’ve prayed for in your arms while equally intense heartbreak for the pain the birth mother is experiencing. It’s a LOT and it’s hard to navigate.
It’s okay to ride that emotional wave. Wait until the sea settles. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. This baby is YOUR BABY. You have a LIFETIME to connect and bond. It doesn’t have to be instant. It doesn’t have to come one Day 1. Maybe it takes a week. Maybe it takes a month. Maybe it takes even longer. And that’s okay.
Taking time to allow the bonding to happen doesn’t make you a bad person or bad parent or mean you don’t appreciate the incredible gift you have in your child.
Another concern may involve the baby’s ability to bond with the parents. Do adopted babies grieve? Is there a struggle with infant adoption attachment? Are there adoption bonding issues?
In our personal experience we didn’t see ANY signs of our baby struggling to bond with US. He never had any signs of distress or separation anxiety. He truly saw us as his parents from day 1. There were never any issues in attachment or bonding from his end whatsoever.
Want techniques to bond with adopted child as parents?
- Spend quality time with JUST the baby. One on one. Time to get to know each other and to help the baby understand you are their parent. Skin to skin is a great way to form that bond. Eye contact. Close connecting.
- Don’t think too much about the birth experience. It’s easy to feel all the feeling about the birth mother and/or birth father or other biological family members (siblings, grandparents etc) who are hurting when placing their baby for adoption. But focusing on that won’t change it. Yes, always appreciate this gift, but don’t let it consume you either. Focus on this baby as YOUR baby. He or she is your child. He or she will always also be their child, but it’s important to connect with the baby as YOURS.
- Don’t overthink. My biggest downfall is overthinking everything. Don’t connect dots that aren’t there. Don’t assume every little thing is somehow related to the adoption process. Don’t allow your mind to go to darker places. Keep the focus on caring for and loving on your baby.
- Give it time. Don’t put pressure on the bond. Free yourself from the weight of that stress. Allow yourself and your baby time to get to know each other and learn each other and that deep love and connection will develop naturally. Before you know it you will look at your baby and only see him or her as yours and will have to remind yourself that adoption is even part of their story!
The child parent bond is so special. Adoption bonding will look different for every family and every child parent relationship. I am so thankful I gave myself the grace I needed and couldn’t imagine my life without my precious boy as part of it!
Bonding with Adopted Baby: Siblings
I was very interested to see how our biological children would bond with our adoptive baby. Would the lack of seeing me pregnant play a role? Would they feel differently about him then they did each other? Would the adoption bonding and attachment play a role? Would they sense that he didn’t share the DNA? Or would it all be as if he’d been born into our family rather than being adopted into it?
Including our biological children in our entire adoption journey was very important to both my husband and I. Much like biological children walk the path of adding a sibling through pregnancy, we wanted them to walk this path of a different way of adding a new baby to our family. Form the home study, to waiting for a match, to even meeting our son’s birth mother and siblings: our children were part of each step in the adoption process.
Our children understood the blessings of adoption. They understood the blessing of our son being added to our family. The gift he is to us all.
Just like my husband and I have so much deep, deep appreciation for our baby…so do his older siblings.
Unlike adults, children don’t overthink. They don’t put pressure on themselves to feel a way they think they “should feel.”
They let things happen organically and naturally.
Parents always worry about adding a new sibling to the home. Biological or adopted. It’s hard for a parent not to worry about the big life changes that will occur when a new baby enters the family. How the older siblings will adjust. How the children will all bond.
Much like adding a baby via adoption has it’s own challenges and concerns, adding twins to a family comes with many concerns and worries for a parent – especially when dealing with older siblings and that adjustment.
Bringing home our adopted newborn was just like bringing home any other newborn. Our children bonded beautifully together. Our oldest child has welcomed three siblings now to the family and each time he just instantly felt such intense love for each of them. Our second child was so excited that she and her new brother share birthdays just five days apart and considers him her favorite birthday gift.
Our third child was the one I was the most nervous about when adding the newest baby to our family. I wasn’t pregnant. We went from no baby to a baby. I worried it would be tough on her to not have that transition time of seeing me being pregnant to ease into the idea of a new sibling.
But she too bonded with no issues. She never felt any jealously or resentment over a new youngest child. She had an instant attachment to him. She called him “HER” baby right from the start and has loved him as hers from the first moment she met him.
What are my tips for helping siblings bond with an adoptive baby?
- Share the adoption journey with them. Pray together through the waiting process. Allow them to see your emotions in the journey. Include them in as much of the process as appropriate.
- Read books on adoption. Seek out examples of adoption. While waiting for the baby to join your family help them learn and understand what adoption is on their age appropriate level.
- Once the baby arrives, do not focus on adoption as being their beginning. Focus on the new sibling as their new sibling. Pump them up to be a big brother and/or big sister. Allow them lots of time holding the baby, “helping” with the baby, and forming their own special bond together.
- Spend quality time with each older child, without the baby. It’s important for children to continue to feel special and reminded that they are loved and that your bond with them isn’t changed by the new baby joining the family.
- Continue to share appreciation for the adoption experience as a family. We pray for our son’s birth mother and birth siblings. We included our children in the finalization of our son’s adoption. Adoption is always part of our family story and will always be special to us!
Creating a tight bond between my children is something I consider very important. I want my children to be close to each other during childhood, but also into adulthood. Adopting a newborn allowed our new baby to be part of the family so smoothly because it all started from day 1 of his life! Our son isn’t their “adopted brother” he’s just their brother. That is how they will always see him and how I want everyone to view him as well!
Bonding with Adopted Baby: Other Family and Friends
Bonding with an adopted baby is easier many times for the adoptive parents and adoptive siblings than it is for extended family and friends. Our core family unit felt lead and called to adopt (we believe strongly that adoption is a mission field).
It can be hurtful when extended family or friends struggle with accepting an adoptive child in the same way they did biological ones. It is hard. Adopting isn’t something everyone understands or supports.
It was very difficult for my husband and I when we experienced this. The joy wasn’t the same for some people when we welcomed our adoptive son verses when we welcomed our biological children. It just wasn’t.
In some cases those difficulties have separated our relationships with certain people. There are family and friends whom we are no longer close to over their open disapproval in our decision to adopt.
It is one thing to have internal issues with adoption but quite another to tell a hopeful adoptive family that you disagree or speak unfavorably about that family and their adoption decision to others behind their back.
However in most cases the bonding with family and friends just took time. Those who wrestled with some difficult feelings about adoption just needed a chance to get to know our son and hear his story and understand on a deeper level the huge gift and blessing that adoption is to so many.
Not everyone is called to adopt. Not everyone understands it. Not everyone supports it.
It is important to allow people grace. Allow them time. Allow them a chance. I have always welcomed questions and have always taken time to sit down with anyone who needed to talk through our adoption journey.
I have had people tell me that at first they struggled with the idea of loving a baby who wasn’t their biological relative but once they met our baby and understood more about his story, they love him just like they do our biological children. And they have even expressed how much it surprised them for that bond to form so easily!
I also have friends on the opposite side of that spectrum. Our friends walked our adoption path along side us and have shared that they feel more connected to our child who entered our family via adoption than they do our biological babies because they have such a deep appreciation for his journey to our family.
Want tips for helping extended families and friends to bond with your baby?
- Be open. Allow people to ask questions, even if they may be somewhat offensive or inappropriate or not “politically correct” to ask. Explain things. Share things. Educate! It’s easier for people to jump on board when they fully understand the story and what adoption is about.
- Be patient. Allow time for people to process all the emotions they may feel. Remember just because you have felt strongly to adopt doesn’t mean they feel the same way. It’s okay for it to be a slower road for them.
- Allow for bonding. Often I have read that adoptive parents seclude themselves with their baby to allow for that bonding. Yes, that’s important. But it’s also important to allow the baby to bond with extended family and friends. Arrange times for grandparents to have one on one time with your baby. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Schedule time for visits and allow them to snuggle that baby and get to know him or her just as you are doing!
- Know when to disconnect. Some people will never understand or feel bonded to your baby. It happens. Quite frequently with adoption. They just can’t see beyond “adopted child.” I don’t personally understand how anyone could be that way and it is VERY hurtful. But understand that some people are a lost cause. Know when to pull back and focus on those who do surround your family with support and love.
Whether adding a baby to your family through pregnancy or adoption it is an exciting time. You are forming new bonds and relationships with each other and finding new ways to become a family unit. Allow yourself, your other children and extended family and friends TIME and GRACE as you navigate these new relationships!