I was there when the little girl I would adopt was born. Standing in the delivery room, I tried to get a glimpse of her. What would she look like? Would it be love at first sight? What if I felt differently than when my biological son, Joey, was born? What if I fell for this baby and then the birth mom changed her mind?
When I finally got to hold her, I wanted to tell her, “Mama is here!” But I didn’t yet know if this really would be my girl. Falling head over heels in love felt risky.
A few days later we were able to bring our baby girl home from the hospital. I found myself cautiously bonding with her — afraid of the pain I’d feel if the adoption didn’t go through. Before long, I intentionally decided to love her and bond with her, for as long as I was given time with her. Months later, the adoption was finalized.
Here is what I did to successfully bond with my newborn:
My biological babies were all born premature. One of the therapies I used to help them thrive was "kangaroo care." It simply means skin-to-skin snuggling, with the baby lying chest-to-chest with the parent. I used this to bond with my adopted daughter, to get her used to the sound of my heartbeat. The close physical contact allowed her to hear, feel and smell her new mom. I scheduled kangaroo time right after our last feeding before bed. That way I knew I wouldn’t get too busy to take the time to snuggle.
I tried to use the 30-second rule in responding to my daughter’s basic needs. When I heard my baby cry, I tried to respond to her within 30 seconds. This was either verbally (“Mama will be right there!”) or physically (immediately going to see if she needed to be changed, fed or just snuggled). Meeting a baby’s real needs in the first months will not spoil a child. While we shouldn't come running at every little peep, babies do need to learn that their basic needs will be consistently met, and that Mom and Dad are the people who do that.
Even though I wasn’t the first person to gaze into my baby’s eyes, I knew she would thrive on the long gazes and expressive faces of her mom and dad. Eye contact is an important part of relationships for all people, especially infants. Babies need eye contact and physical touch just as they need food to grow and develop. And the development is not only physical; watching our facial expressions is instrumental in how the brain gets wired to trust and learn empathy.
I wasn’t always enthusiastic about early morning feedings. But I tried to see each feeding as a prime bonding opportunity. Every time you feed your baby, he or she is learning to associate the contentment of being full with the love of a parent. Make sure you are holding your baby close and making a clear connection between food and bonding. Prioritize those times and give your baby your attention, as your hearts grow closer together.