Imagine for a moment that you are pulled from everything familiar and dropped into a life that is completely Unfamiliar:
You look around. You are in a remote place in the middle of what seems like nowhere in particular. You have no maps or signs to tell you where you are. Suddenly you are surrounded by strangers, all of whom are overjoyed to see you. These people smile, laugh, and talk loud and fast, and they act as if you can understand them. They touch your hair, your face, and your shoulders, and they hug you repeatedly. You notice they have a peculiar odor. They dress differently from anyone you have ever met. Their language is unintelligible and sounds like gibberish. You have no clue how or why you are here. You have no idea if you will ever find your way back to your former life. [Do you feel tense yet?]
You feel hands beginning to remove clothing, and there, in public, these strangers dress you in new garments. Some people appear to be assessing you, sizing you up, looking at your hair and teeth closely and noting any moles or scars on your body. You are given strange food and invited to play unfamiliar games. You are handed a container of strange liquid and encouraged to drink. Everyone continues to laugh and smile and act as though this were a perfectly ordinary and normal situation. (Excerpt taken from "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" by Patty Cogen).
This is not a post I have looked forward to writing but one we believe is necessary to share before bringing Taylor home in the next few weeks (hopefully sooner rather than later). We are sooo excited about becoming a family of three very soon but have learned through discussions with numerous other adoptive parents, meetings with our social workers (in both AL and LA), and research concerning international adoption and the transition process. We have made some decisions based on all of this information about how we are going to care for Taylor during those first weeks/months when he comes home. (Some of the following information has been borrowed from others who have gone through the adoption process but is completely in line with our thoughts/plans.)
The issues surrounding attachment, bonding, and cocooning can be sensitive and controversial. I want to be very clear that this is how our family is doing things, and that we have landed here after many hours of research, training, and prayer. Our views could change. These standards that we are planning to follow are not our Bible. However, at the moment, this is where we land, and we feel confident, at this time, in the conclusions we have come to. It is not necessarily the best plan, but we do feel it is the best plan for our family at this time. We are dedicated to taking extreme measures during the first critical weeks of introducing Taylor into our family. The first six weeks at home will be spent in a cocoon. Our plan is subject to change as we get to know Taylor on a deeper level and as we feel out how our family is melding together.
In her book mentioned above, Patty Cogen says that "no matter how wonderful international adoption is for a parent, it is a surreal and stressful experience for a child." Absolutely adoption is a gift from God as a means for bringing orphaned children into loving families (with His much bigger gift of adoption in redeeming a sinful people and bringing them into a relationship with Him as "His own children"...but I digress ;). We do not want to make adoption sound that an awful experience and certainly do not want to deter anyone to adopt....we are obviously big advocates!! But, we do want to be realistic about what to expect during those first several weeks/months so that we can prepare to love him well. We are honored and blessed that God would allow us to be the parents of this amazing little guy and are getting prepared as best we can for this critical transition period. So, without further ado...
Our Attachment Plan (Much of this has been borrowed and tweaked from others):
* For the first six weeks that we are home with Taylor, our home will be our cocoon. We will not be welcoming any visitors at this time - family or otherwise - and we will not be going out. An exception will be made for doctor appointments as these are very important for Taylor to attend. Our cocoon has the potential to extend if need be.
* Michael will resume going to work as soon as he needs to, but will try to stay home at least the first couple of days. After Michael has gone back to work and I am home with Taylor, I will be very conscientious to not take too many phone calls during the day. We will do everything we can to make our home quiet and calm and structured without over-stimulation - such as excessive activity, toys, etc. We have learned that structure and routine bring comfort to adopted children during this transition phase.
* All of my attention will be devoted to Taylor during the day to work on bonding/attachment to teach him who his mommy is (and who his daddy is when Michael is home with us).
* Taylor will be carried in a carrier for the first several weeks that he is home, as much as possible pending it is comforting to him (children in Korea are typically carried in a sling or pack for up to the first three yeares of life). Physical contact is one of the best ways to bond, and it will help Taylor begin to develop trust in us. Carrying him will help him to know our smell, our heartbeat, our language, and familiarize him with his two primary care givers - Mom and Dad.
* Taylor will likely be cosleeping with us (or with me on a pallet on the floor depending on needs) so that we are always there with him when he wakes up (as many children are reported to have frequent nightmares and night terrors during the first few months home). As time goes by and Taylor becomes more securely attached we will slowly transition him to independent sleeping, but we will come very quickly when he cries. He will never be left to cry it out. We want him to understand that we are always going to take care of him and that he can trust us to meet his needs.
* Michael and I will be the only people to hold Taylor during the initial 6 weeks. We want him to understand our role in his life and how it is different than anybody else that he encounters. Only when he has securely attached to us will we begin allowing others to show him affection of any kind (as long as we know he is comfortable with it).
* After the initial 6 weeks (or more depending on how he is doing) we will slowly start to shed our cocoon. We will go out of the house to places with little stimuli at first and gradually introduce him to more and more of our world and the people who love him.
* At least for these first 6 six weeks, Michael and I will be the only ones to provide for Taylor's four most basic caretaking functions, including feeding, changing, bathing, and putting to sleep. We will do this in an attempt to establish ourselves as Taylor's primary caregivers to ensure he does not "mommy shop," a tendency of children newly adopted when numerous people are caring for them.
So there it is, our attachment plan. I am sure it seems overwhelming and excessive to some. For sure this will be exhausting and taxing. We cannot do it without the grace of God. Even if you think we are crazy (at times I am sure we will feel the same), we ask for your support and understanding, knowing that we did not arrive at this place lightly. We have spent much time preparing, planning, and praying about what this should look like and feel this is the best plan for now. We have never heard of a family that has cocooned and followed an attachment plan and regretted doing it, but we have heard of several who have regretted not doing it.
These first critical weeks are vital to transitioning Taylor's attachment from his foster mom/family to Michael and I, and we are praying for him constantly as God is preparing his heart for healthy grieving and as smooth a transition as possible. Thank you for your support. We are so very excited to introduce him to all of you and will let you know when he is ready for meeting his new family/friends! I will, of course, try to keep the blog updated in the beginning so that you can follow our new family's growth during all of this newness (and to give me some connection with the outside world!).
Michael and Amanda
** And here are a couple of new pictures of Tay (he is one cool dude)!! We cannot wait to hold him in our arms and welcome him into our family forever! We are sooooo close!