Imagine… if you can….

Curled up, all snug and warm, familiar sounds & movements gently lulling you into a peaceful sleep…. feeling safe & protected in the cocoon of your mothers womb…..

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
unconditional love.
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.

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  • Reply Sweets

    Thanks you for this very insightful post. We will be welcoming an adopted baby into our family soon (baby will be about 12 weeks when placed) – my brother and sister in law. We have a very strained relationship, or a non-relationship really. Because of this I am already not sure what our “involvement” will be – we hardly see them etc., and how we are supposed to approach things – as we are with most thing in any case.

    But this post makes me realise that more sensitivity will be necessary then, and not to judge to harshly.

    Thank you.

    September 19, 2011 at 8:16 am
  • Reply Roz

    You did the best you knew how at the time my friend. Hindsight is a perfect science. I too would do so much differently if I had the chance to do it over again…but we are all human and we do the best we can. Big (((hugs)))…xxxx

    September 19, 2011 at 8:17 am
  • Reply Kimmie

    Excellent post Sharon.

    September 19, 2011 at 9:18 am
  • Reply Laura

    I understand this from an adoptive parents point of view but many first time moms have made this same mistake. When that new baby comes home the family is so excited and you just dont understand that babies get over stimulated so quickly.

    So honestly I would feel this and then let it go 🙂

    It is only now with Jack that I am learning to say “ENOUGH” give him back or you need to leave now (mainly with my MIL *sigh*) because I can sense its too much for him!

    You did the best you knew how to do and that is enough 🙂

    September 19, 2011 at 9:25 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I agree, over stimulation etc occurs with non adopted babies, but it’s important to differentiate between the 2. An adopted baby experiences all the “normal” stresses that any new born would face, plus they have the additional stress of their adopted situation, needing to grieve the loss of what was familiar to them and needing time to adapt to and learn to trust their new surroundings and mother.
      An adopted babies circumstance should not be compared to those of a “normal” newborn.

      September 19, 2011 at 9:52 am
  • Reply Gwen

    I think the proof is in the pudding Sharon. You, Walter and Ava have gone through a great deal of trauma, but she is very obviously a secure and well-adjusted child. No parent will ever do everything perfectly, and all parents will look back at some aspect of the first few weeks/months and wonder what they were thinking, but good parenting means the flexibility to learn and respond to your baby as you go along.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:29 am
  • Reply catluvagp

    Amen Sister, but with hindsight comes knowledge and so Number 2 is going to benefit hugely. A lot of women want to be locked away for those first 6 weeks, safely cuckolded in their homes with their new babies, I think that’s also a new Mom just recognising the need to protect the new babies from this over-stimulation.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:55 am
  • Reply darylfaure

    That is a very interesting post Sharon! I had not thought about the impact of the adoption on the baby. Well we all live and learn, and as Oprah says, when we know better we do better, so thanks for sharing.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm
  • Reply tzipieastwest

    Sharon, you did what you could and Ava seems to be thriving, so I guess you did most of the things very well !! Also, seen from another perspective, I believe babies feel a lot and Ava could probably feel all the warmth and love she received from all these “strangers”. …
    A read in “raising adopted children” that mostly diaria and also disrupted sleeping patterns” are the ways newborns and infant “express” the grief they experience at all these first losses.
    Another person compared the adopted newborn’s grief/trauma to the following situation: “being in love, getting maried and falling asleep in the arms of your beloved just to wake up the next morning in the arms of somebody else. … That somebody else is a stranger, strange smell, unfamiliar voice, a language you do not understand and you do not know what happened to your beloved ….”.

    September 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm
  • Reply St. Elsewhere

    I find the perspective very interesting. The idea of making a connection with the baby makes a lot of sense.

    And I did not know ‘it’ was a named reflex. Babies do tend to spread their arms if they feel the parents’ hands approaching, and they do take them back. I really did not know it had a name.

    P.S. Massaging the baby is a very common concept around here.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm
  • Reply charne

    Very interestin post shaz

    September 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm
  • Reply OnceAMother

    amazing post. i have three adopted nieces/nephews. they were all much older when adopted, but this makes me so sad to think about how their early days/months/years must have felt being shuffled around the system away from their mommas 🙁

    September 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm
  • Reply merelylife

    Wow Sharon! What an amazing post!

    Thank you very much for the priceless info & for confirming what I “sort-off-kinda-knew” in the back of my mind, but couldn’t really put words to it or explain it to family and friends.

    Allowing our son to be as close to me as possible (sleeping on my pillow with my face to his little back or his little face to my cheek at night) and holding him gently in my arms as much as he needed to be held for most of the day, especialy for the first few weeks of his life, I can see the benifits clearly. He started bonding with hubby & me from the word go, even as early as in hospital right after his birth (we were both present and never left his side untill we took him home three days later). He is now a happy, healthy toddler of two and a bit and steals heart where ever he goes!

    Thank you for confirming and shedding light on the absolute importance of giving your adoptive newborn the time to feel safe and bond on his/her terms. No doubt that we will all do even better with number two, knowing what we know now.

    Lots of Love & All the best with your fantastic blog!
    (Ps: I am new to your blog, but can’t seem to find any way to send you a private mail…)

    September 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm
  • Reply Kathy

    Very interesting! Sharon no mother is perfect and you guys did the best you could’ve. I’m sure that the love that Ava and yourself and Walter felt by all her admirers also did something to assist in her settling in in a positive way…

    I guess the same would apply for babies born to surrogates?

    September 20, 2011 at 7:02 am
  • Reply Mash

    Sharon you did so well, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone was traumatised, including you guys! And having only had a few days notice of the adoption… well it’s not much time to absorb that kind of advice. It’s like saying to someone – there’s a tsunami coming… but don’t forget to sweep the floor!

    Having said that, this insight of yours is really beautiful, I totally get what you are saying. My friend in Europe adopted a little girl from China and they were very strictly told absolutely no visitors at all for 2 months, not even grannies and grandpas. No gifts, no being handled by anyone outside the family (she was about 18 months at the time). Nobody was to be in the family home other than the three of them.

    This is extremely valuable information, thank you for it!

    September 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm
  • Reply Emily

    I really really appreciate this post! So many times I feel lkie there is pressure to share the baby and if we don’t we are selfish or perhaps too private. This happened with our first child. We had six visiters from out of state in one month stay at our house. Then we had a baby shower in our home state. It was aweful. The next child my husband and I say we are not sharing them for six months, not really but this time we are putting some boundaries up so that we can just be with this next child. I appreciate this because i feel like FINALLY someone else feels this way and I am not being selfish! Thank you much! Emily

    September 27, 2011 at 4:42 pm
  • Reply Ailsa Porter

    Thanks for sharing. I never thought about the newborn being stressed – always thought they would settle right down. Feel worse now after giving my baby up all those years ago!!

    May 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm
  • Reply Grumpy, Bad Tempered or Sensory Issues? | The Blessed Barrenness

    […] And maybe it is all perfectly normal behavior for an individual with a less than sunny disposition and that’s fine, but I need to know. I need to know if there is something we can do for her that could make life easier for her. I need to know if this is all just the manifestations of an bad tempered individual, or is it sensory or is it part of her grieving process post placement. […]

    August 5, 2013 at 10:20 am
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