The Year of Bonding……..Trying to Prevent Attachment Disorders in Infants

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Cocoa Bean just turned a year-old, and as we got him at a day and a half old, he has been with us for a year now.  It is still hard to believe that it has been a whole 12 months since that cherub was placed into my arms, but I relish the thought of every moment we have had with him.

For those of you that don’t know, Cocoa Bean is Coconut’s half brother.  In the beginning, Dave and I were hesitant to take on the little fellow, due to some aggression issues from the birth father and for fear of complicating Coconut’s case.  Yet, on the day Cocoa Bean was born the agency called us, and I must say I caved instantly.  This is what we do, folding little lost children into our lives, home, and hearts, and we could not bring ourselves to deny Coconut’s brother now that he was actually in the world.

One step closer to making Coconut legally our son.......but, no matter what happens, he will always be a son of mine in my heart.

So, he came…….and from that very first glimpse of his red skin, tawny hair, and round cheeks, I was smitten.  He looked just like Coconut in the face, and although I cannot explain it, he seemed to belong to me somehow.  There was an instant connection that made me pick him up, hold him against my heart, and I have barely put him down since (as my amused family can tell you!)  I vowed to bond with this child, and have him bond with me……..a devotion as serious as if I had given birth to him……..knowing that it could shatter both our hearts in the end.  Through blind faith in my Father, I set out to absolutely eradicate any chance of Cocoa Bean developing an attachment disorder, which can happen to infants when they are taken from their birth mothers.

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The First thing I did was buy a Moby wrap off of Craigslist.  The sweet woman that I bought it from was kind enough to model the application of this foreign object, and gushed over the bonds that she created with her six children while ‘wearing’ them.  Research about infant attachment disorder indicated that holding the child can make or break a bond in an adoption or foster care situation with these babies.  Knowing how hard it would be to hold him throughout the day while homeschooling and caring for 5 other kids, the wrap seemed like the ideal solution.  There are websites dedicated to the fine art of baby wearing and the benefits for both baby and Mama.  I strapped him into it, and wore that little boy almost everywhere I went.

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Had we not had first hand knowledge of the devastating effects of attachment disorders, which is what Blue Eyes suffers from, things might have turned out a lot different over this past year with Cocoa Bean.  Children who do not bond with one or two caregivers, learn to rely only on themselves.  They simply do not feel safe, loved and cared for.  To balance these feeling, they learn to care for themselves which leads to an overwhelming need to control every situation, at any cost.  The result is manipulative behaviors, both seemingly innocent to downright dangerous, which they are forced to use as survival tools.  Here is a short list of the whys and whats of attachment disorders in infants:

Causes:

  • A baby cries and no one responds or offers comfort.
  • A baby is hungry or wet, and they aren’t attended to for hours.
  • No one looks at, talks to, or smiles at the baby, so the baby feels alone.
  • A young child gets attention only by acting out or displaying other extreme behaviors.
  • A young child or baby is mistreated or abused.
  • Sometimes the child’s needs are met and sometimes they aren’t. The child never knows what to expect.
  • The infant or young child is hospitalized or separated from his or her parents.
  • A baby or young child is moved from one caregiver to another (can be the result of adoption, foster care, or the loss of a parent).
  • The parent is emotionally unavailable because of depression, an illness, or a substance abuse problem.

 Symptoms:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t smile
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up
  • Rejects your efforts to calm, soothe, and connect
  • Doesn’t seem to notice or care when you leave them alone
  • Cries inconsolably
  • Doesn’t coo or make sounds
  • Doesn’t follow you with his or her eyes
  • Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys
  • Spend a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves

This is serious stuff.  As loving parents of two biological children, and many foster children over the last 3 years, we would never neglect the baby or cause him to feel unloved, so that was never an issue.  It was just the act of separating him from his birth mother that could have been the catalyst to make him rigid, inconsolable, and unable to bond with another.  I would like to say it was my diligence in nurturing him, caring for him, loving on him, and wearing him that prevented this from happening, but only our Heavenly Father knows for sure.  Along with the normal acts of caring for a newborn, things that one would expect a mother to do, here are the 3 other things that I did to try and prevent an attachment disorder:

10011422321.  Sleeping in our room:  My babies only slept in our room for the first few weeks, and then they were moved to their own crib in the nursery.  It worked well for us, they learned to sleep independently, and my husband and I could have our ‘marriage time’.  With Cocoa Bean, he has been in our room from day one, to the present, over a year later.  I have to say, I like this set up much better.  If he so much as wimpered, I was right there, ready to answer even the slightest call.  Teaching these babies to self soothe is not important at this stage, helping them recover from the traumatic loss of the woman who birthed them is.

simply spending as much time with them as you can........loving on them, teaching them, nurturing them........can make all the difference.

Simply spending as much time with them as you can……..loving on them, teaching them, nurturing them……..can make all the difference.

2.  Holding or Wearing:  Cocoa Bean and I were cheek-to-cheek every chance I got in the first few months of life.  If I sat on the couch to watch a movie, I was holding him or letting him sleep in my lap.  I sang to him, talked to him, and kissed him to the point of ad nauseam to some of my relatives 🙂  Was it overkill?  Could have been.  Would I do it again with any foster baby who passes over my doorstep?  Every…..single…..time.  I wore him while I cooked, while I cleaned, while I schooled the other children, while I gave baths and read bedtime stories……..I wore him everywhere.  The Moby wrap has since been affectionately called, “The Whoobie”, as Cocoa Bean needed his Mama-time like he need air to breathe (Whoobie is the name for the security blanket in the movie Mr. Mom)

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Every member of my family fights of spending time with Cocoa Bean…….he is such a delight!

 

3.  No Nursery at Church and No  Babysitters:  Not everyone has the luxury of being able to spend every waking moment with their children, nor do I think the practice is key to preventing an attachment disorder.  I just chose this route because I could, and why not?  Cocoa Bean learned that he could completely rely on me to be there for his every need, and that was my goal.  He went with me everywhere I went until he was about 9 months old……then we started to branch out with the nursery at church, leaving him with Dave when I went to the store, etc.  It worked beautifully.

My beloved parents :-)

My beloved parents 🙂

There are some extended family members that believe my practices were extreme (not my parents or sister, as they were brilliant and adore Cocoa Bean as much as we do!).  Even when I tried to explain the circumstances behind my ‘newfound parenting skills’, they thought I was spoiling him.  One relative even got nasty with me about how I never behaved this way with my now 17 and 18 year olds, when they were babies.  Honestly?  I wish I had.  I wish I knew then, what I know now.  I would have a zillion kids, I would wear every single one of them, and I would cherish the honor of just being a mom.  But, I can’t go back and change my parenting style from loving yet firm, to the way it is now.  What I can do instead is not give a hoot who doesn’t understand how important it is to nurture and protect these babies.  Most importantly, my older children have seen first hand the beauty and privilege it is to care for a newborn with tender loving care as the only motivation………discipline and self-soothing will come naturally…….just later 🙂

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Cocoa Bean is now a healthy, happy, fat, and adorable 1 year old baby.  He is bonded and shows no signs of any type of attachment disorder…….unless you count being extremely attached to my family and I.  Our chances of adopting him look good, but I must leave all of that up to God.  For now, I will simply thank Him everyday for the chance to love this precious angel and preventing him from being another foster care statistic.  Praise God!

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8 responses to “The Year of Bonding……..Trying to Prevent Attachment Disorders in Infants

  1. Thank you for this post! This is so very real and more common than we know. My adopted daughter who is now 11 still struggles with exactly the symptoms you explain. I thought because she was only 3 she wasn’t effected, but she is. Research shows more and more how important that first year is. Especially that first few months. My other adopted daughter is 8, and was placed at 5 and has the same struggles. We received a newborn last February and I also made it my mission to break that cycle. He has been on my hip since birth. People teased me and made comments like “I’m trying to make him my own”, so stupid. I just knew my focus and my goal was to have a baby who can love and be loved. He is still a mommy baby and we live it. We are starting the adoption process and we hope that he will be another child that is saved from the effects of abuse and neglect. God bless you and your family!! Mindy

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    • Thank you Mindy…..I wish I had been there when someone made such a statement to you that you were ‘trying to make him your own’……..people who do not walk our path, truly have no idea the amount of work, dedication, and selfless love that is put into these precious angels. I applaud you, cherish your ministry, and love you for being brave enough to ‘try and make him your own’ while he has been entrusted to your care (as his birth parents could not or would not be present)……for however long God might deem that to be! God bless and I will be praying for you 🙂

  2. I held our foster babies (both of them) for nearly six months before letting the 2 1/2 year old down and just carrying the baby. It helped tremendously with attachment! Good job Mama! Your baby will thrive because of that time you took with him!

  3. I wish I had read your post before our youngest son joined our family. He was only 3 1/2 weeks when he was first placed in our arms, but even after all the adoption training, I was not aware of the importance of intentionally and consistently fostering attachment. I naively believed it would be natural and virtually effortless, just as it seemed to be with our three bio children. He’s only 13 months now and appears bonded to us at this point, but I now know there are many things I would have done differently from day one — wearing him more, allowing less “crying-it-out”, keeping him with me or my husband at church and elsewhere instead of letting him be passed around from person to person, more skin-to-skin snuggle time, oh, the list goes on. I’ve learned a lot this past year. 🙂 Thank you for your post. As our family endeavors to adopt a 12-year-old from foster care, we are encouraged that it’s never to late to form loving attachments. I remember that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning, giving all of us another opportunity to be renewed in His strength and make changes.

    • Congratulations on your pending adoption, and may God bless your journey with your fostering! We could all do things differently with every child…….what matters is that we try really hard to do our very best, and rely on God to make up for the rest 🙂

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