For months, you live in this lulled, soft, gentle place and then in an instant it all changes. You get squeezed through something the size of a toothpaste tube, amidst much groaning from the voice that had initially soothed and sung to you. You suddenly squirt through the toothpaste tube and out into the freezing cold. Somebody gives you a good swipe on the bottom. It’s cold, it’s wet, its unfamiliar, you start squalling and have no idea how you’re even making that sound.
You get wrapped in something thin, cold and scratchy and can feel yourself being past to somebody completley foreign & strange to you. Everything that you have known for your whole life is suddenly gone. Suddenly you are being held by someone who is crying, someone you don’t know, someone completley unfamiliar to you and you’re powerless to stop it. You’re helpless and have no words to voice your fears and your distress at all this strangeness.
You wait to hear the familiar and soothing sounds of your mothers voice but that voice is silenced, that voice is gone and it is never to be heard by you again, well not for many years to follow.
Can you imagine how traumatic that must be? That was what birth was for Ava-Grace. That is what birth is like for many adopted babies. Birth is already a stressful process for babies, without the added stress of being taken from your mother and placed with complete strangers.
I haven’t thought too much about this subject until very recently when I was forced, through others judgement, to take a long, hard look at how I coped with the first few months of Ava’s life with us.
Our SW’s had advised us on post placement stress and trauma that adopted babies experienced but to be honest, I was too overwhelmed and happy to finally have a baby, to pay too much attention to the advise they were giving us.
We were advised to talk in soft, hushed tones around her to give her time to get familiar with our voices. We were advised to hold her & to do skin to skin contact, to allow her to get familiar with me and to feel safe with me. We were advised to limit visitors and to not play “pass the parcel” with her early on.
I’m ashamed to say, we did not heed the advice we were given and I’m sad to say that I’m sure that did play some part in how Ava adapted to life outside the womb and life with us, away from her birth mother.
The day she was born, we took her home and straight into the arms of my sobbing mother. Shortly after that the house began filling up with visitors. Two days after she was born, I had my Cape Town baby shower. A day later we boarded a plane and flew home with her and once home, the stream of visitors continued.
A few days post birth, Ava began having issues with stomach cramps which got progressively worse until she was having full blown colic attacks, always somewhere between 11pm & 5am. Every-single-night.
A few weeks after her birth, I had my Jo’burg Baby Shower, at that event, we once again played “pass-the-parcel” with her. She never slept a wink that day and that was the beginning of my nightmare.
From that day until around 10 weeks, she stopped sleeping during the day and we struggled for hours to get her to sleep at night. She would sleep for a few hours and then the horror of a colic attack would follow and we’d be up the rest of the night. In addition, at the same time, she developed a very strong Moro Reflex and would jerk herself awake when dosing off.
In hindsight, I can see we made a lot of mistakes with her in the beginning. We should have tried to curb our excitement at sharing her with the world and gone into hibernation for a while, to give us all a chance to adapt to our new situation.
I’ve read a number of interesting articles in recent weeks that deal with coping with, comforting and assisting a new born baby cope with the initial separation anxiety and post placement trauma that they experience. You can read an interesting article here about how baby massage is even more beneficial for adopted babies.
This extract from the article made me cry:
The new baby can experience daily normal stress and the added stress caused by the
change of ambience, caregivers, sounds and rhythms. An adopted baby can sometimes
regress for a time, resist touch or even need to cry deeply and uncontrollably. This is the
time to be there for your baby, by holding him and letting him grieve. In this way you
are showing him it’s ok to express his feelings. Just being there, he will feel your
Sometimes, a baby will start to fuss and cry only when they start feeling safe. Feelings
of grief, anger or rage will come to the surface from time to time and the best you can do
is to remember this is a good sign and listen and support your child with love.
For the first time, and as selfish as this sounds, I thought long and hard not just about what this journey has been for Walter and I. But how traumatic it must have been for Ava. As her mother, I wish I could have protected her from the trauma and grief she must have experienced.
So for those of you who are waiting to adopt, remember this when taking placement of your baby. And for those of you who are friends or family with someone waiting to adopt, remember this too when they initially refuse you access to their new baby, remember that their baby is in a stressful and grieving phase and that process needs to be respected.
But most of all, remember that babies and adopted parents circumstance are very different to yours so try to be supportive and not judge how they have coped with all the legalities, financial stress, trauma and grief that is involved.