Today was the day! We would finally meet our son! We traveled to Ethiopia with two other couples and we were all filled with butterflies. Our hosts came out and invited the first couple in. And then the second.
Then it was our turn - and we were told, "Your son is napping."
For a deflating two hours, we mingled with the other children at the orphanage and took pictures on behalf of other waiting parents. We would stick our heads in the room of the sleeping 2-year-olds and hope our son had awakened. We waited and waited. Finally his beautiful eyes were opened and I picked our son up.
Now, I am an adoption "veteran". I know that during the first meeting of adoptive parents and children, the Disney music is NOT always playing in the background. However, I had not prepared myself for our son's crying. He was emotionally attached to the wonderful caretakers at the transition house. In his world, he knew who was supposed to be there lifting him out of his crib - and it wasn't 1) a man who 2) spoke a language he had never heard. My son started crying and had to be taken by his nanny to calm and soothe him.
I, the adoption vet, felt terrible. I was tired from jet lag and totally depressed. I tried to put on a brave face, but I was bummed. My wife wisely played off the tenderness of the nanny who absolutely loved our son. Watching her, learning from her, my wife began the long process of bonding with our boy. I moped around the margins.
The next day, we went back for our "gotcha day". It didn't take long for me to get over that initial disappointment. When we picked up our son and carried him to the van, he cried out for his "mama". I knew he was calling for his nanny.
With crocodile tears in his eyes, we left the transition home ready to become our son's parents. Little did I know that this little boy who loved his nanny and cried out for her would quickly attach to my wife.
In the early days, our son was attached to my wife's hip. He demanded that he be carried everywhere. Carrying a 23 month old constantly is exhausting but my wife carried him because he needed to be held, he needed to be close, he needed to feel the warmth of her skin.
In this way he knew he was loved and cared for. For him, this was his way of attaching to us.
Well, he was attaching to my wife.
Our son would come to me, but I was not someone he looked for when he needed comfort, soothing, love.... my bonding time with my son would look very different.
The first 7-9 months, our son routinely awoke anytime between 4am and 5am. I would bundle him up, put him in the stroller and we'd walk - anywhere between 2-4 miles. This was a wonderful way for our son to learn that I was not a bad guy. He was close to me, but not touching me. This is the way he needed to bond to me.
For us, a major treat was when he actually stayed asleep until 6 or 6:15. But, as tired as I was, those early mornings yielded beautiful bonding between Father and Son. Sure, it wasn't the recipe used in many adoption books but it was the one my son needed.
Now, my son is my bud and whenever I am not home, he constantly calls for "Daddy". Conversely, whenever my wife is out of sight, he wants "Mommy".
Figuring out how our son needed to bond to each of us has made our family connection strong.