So many people ask me if I love my adopted son as much as my birth children. I also hear this a lot as an excuse not to adopt, so let me tell you my opinion and my experience. Do I love my adopted son as much as my birth children? Yes. Did I love him immediately as I did my birth children? No. Let me explain. When you are pregnant with a child you get 9 months to prepare to love that child. You hear the child’s heart beat, feel the child move and anticipate that child arriving. With adoption it’s totally different. With our adoption we had 9 hours to prepare to meet Joshua. That does not give you enough time to emotionally bond with a child. You spend, as a mother, nine months bonding with and beginning to love the child you are carrying, with adoption you don’t get that much time, usually. When I first met Joshua he was in NICU hooked up to a lot of machines and frankly, we didn’t know if he would make it or not. The emotions I was feeling were really diverse. Fear, mostly. Fear of getting attached to this child and loosing him, as we had our two previous pregnancies. Then compassion for this tiny little child who was so helpless and needed us so much. I did not yet love him, I had compassion for him and that, after time, grew to love. It was a journey. I would ask you, if you are married, did you love your spouse the first moment you met them? Most of us, if we are honest, would say it took months to love that person. That same is with adoption. It takes time to love. In the adoption world we say, “fake it till you make it”, meaning love is a choice, it’s not a feeling. Love is action. You display love for your child by taking care of that child. It’s not gooey emotions all the time. But as mothers of birth children we feel that gooey emotions when they are born, but most of that is biochemical anyway. God designed us as mothers to have a bond with our newly born children so we would take care of them. Because really, if He wouldn’t have, I think that whole getting up in the middle of the night for weeks and months on end and getting barfed on might cause us to give up on this little needy creature. 🙂
So, how long does it take to bond with and feel love for an adopted child as you do with birth children? That question has a different answer for everyone. I will just give you my experiences. With Joshua it was really hard to bond with him in the hospital because we were not allowed to hold him much at all and we were scared, as I mentioned, that he wouldn’t make it. There is nothing quite as sobering as a social worker telling you that you cannot have custody of the a child until they are discharged from the hospital because it will be simpler that way in case the worst should happen. Once we brought Joshua home we almost immediately found out we were expecting Elijah. That left me with little energy to bond well, but it offered Glenn the chance to do night-time feedings and he bonded much quicker with Joshua than I did. Now, three years into this, I would say that we have all bonded and Joshua is no different than my other boys to me. When did that happen? I can’t say for sure, it was a process, not a point in time. I will say that recently Samuel said something very interesting to me he said ‘ Mom, it’s like Joshua wasn’t even adopted, it’s like he was just like the other brothers to me’. I have seen the journey of Joshua bonding with his brothers and it’s such a joy to see. I will say, that the older the child and the more special needs that child has, the longer the bonding process will take. I expect it will take about 2 years for our daughter to fully bond with us, but we have had a lot more time to emotionally connect with her ahead of time than we did with Joshua, so it might take less time. It also depends on her personality and her willingness to bond with us. Bonding is a two-way street.
I say all this not to scare anyone but to be honest. When you enter into the adoption process you should be aware of bonding issues and our agency has done a great job of preparing us for this by asking us to read books and do training on how to bond with an adopted child. Time is the great equalizer and it just takes time to bond with any child, but especially ones from difficult places. It will happen. You will grow to love this new child just as you do birth children, but it is a process not a moment.