I look back and remember the days following the births of Mary Grace and Carson so vividly. Our hospital room and front door were revolving doors to family and friends who were beyond thrilled at welcoming the newest Allison into the world. They were passed around from visitor to visitor and were smothered with kisses and affection. It was joyous and exciting.
And sweet goodness, after the longest “pregnancy” everrrr, it will also be so stinkin’ joyous and exciting when we have Elizabeth home with us. It’s just going to look a bit different.
The term “cocooning” is term widely used in the adoption community that refers to the process of staying close to home as a family to facilitate the process of bonding and attachment. During this process, contact with the outside world- yes, even family and friends- is limited to help the adopted child learn who her parents are. To help foster a healthy attachment to us. I already can hear some of you starting to protest, so let’s explore this for a minute…
So, let’s go back to Carson and Mary Grace for a minute. For 40 weeks, they grew and developed in utero with the best possible prenatal care. They were born into a loving environment with incessant (and probably annoying) cooing, ohhing and ahhing, and constant attention. They were kissed and hugged and snuggled. When they were wet, we changed them immediately. When they were hungry, I nursed them. When they cried, we rocked them. We read to them. Played with them. Showered them with attention and met their every need. There was no question that we were their parents.
But Elizabeth? She has been in an orphanage essentially since birth. Spending her days in a crib with peeling paint, no toys, and little if any personal attention. She has had a host of caregivers who have done their best to meet her needs, but ultimately a child’s needs can never be adequately met in an orphanage. There is a cycle of attachment that occurs in the ideal situation, and it goes like this:
Baby has a need
Parent meets needs
As this cycle goes on, a healthy attachment between the child and the parent develops. However, in Elizabeth’s case, the cycle has been broken. She has not had the opportunity to work through this cycle of trust and attachment, and the concept of mom and dad- of family– is completely foreign to her 20 month old self. In fact, the last report we received on Elizabeth was simply that she spends too much time in her crib and doesn’t get enough attention. Heartbreaking for sure, but unfortunately, this is the reality for most children in orphanages.
So, what does this mean? In short, it means that we are going to be doing all we can do to reestablish this cycle of trust and attachment with Elizabeth. The hope is that through our plan of cocooning, Elizabeth will learn that we are her parents and that she can trust us, and ultimately that a healthy attachment can be developed.
Specifically, this means a few things for our family…
- While we wait for some final clearances, I will be staying in DRC for three weeks with Elizabeth prior to coming home. (Matt will be there with us at the beginning and end of the trip, and we will be traveling with our new friends who are adopting “Baby P” who I have mentioned before. No worries- I won’t be alone.) When we’re there, Elizabeth will be staying in our hotel room with us. I am so looking forward to spending three weeks in a hotel room with just our daughter and limited distractions. Because once we get home, there will be many. With two other young children at home, we cannot logistically stay home 24/7 in a tight cocoon. Carson and Mary Grace will be going to and from school, Elizabeth will need to get out for some inevitable doctor’s appointments, and, well, it’ll be Christmastime. So, I’m going to call our plan a “modified cocoon”. We will try to lay low at home and limit unnecessary excursions out as Elizabeth adjusts. Every child is different, and no two adoptive families have the same story when it comes to adjustment and attachment. So, we’re going to let her guide us and lead the way.
- For several months, Matt and I will be the only ones to meet Elizabeth’s needs. Again, she has already had so many caregivers in her 19 months of life, and she needs to learn that we are different. That we are her parents and that we’re here to stay. That she can trust us to meet her physical needs. And so, when we bring her home, we will be the only ones feeding her, changing her, and responding to her cries.
- This next one is a hard one to address because you guys have been so incredibly loving and supportive to us and Elizabeth during this time. You are praying this baby girl home, and no words can express our gratitude. However, for a while, Matt and I will be the only ones who hold, kiss, and hug Elizabeth. You will want to hold her and smother her with kisses. I mean, you’ve seen her picture! But we ask that you hold back for a while until a firm attachment has been made and Elizabeth understand that we are her parents and her primary caregivers. Feel free to talk and smile and high five and blow kisses. That’s all completely appropriate! As hard as it’s going to be, though, we ask that leave the physical affection to us for now.
As much as we’re going to close ourselves off to the outside world upon our arrival home with Elizabeth, we would love to introduce our little girl to anyone who wants to meet us at the airport upon our return home. Our *tentative* itinerary has us flying into RDU on December 2nd, but we’ll keep you posted!
I know I have linked to this post by Jen Hatmaker before, but I’m doing it again. Because it’s spot on, and she says it so much better than I.
This is getting long, so I’m going to wrap it up. Please let me know if you have any questions at all! This is always such a sensitive subject, but please know this is about Elizabeth and what’s best for her. Thank you so much for continuing to love on our family during this time.