Friday, October 26, 2012

Bonding with Rebekah: Love can be an Emotion, but most of the Time Love is Choice

My parenting journey with Rebekah has been a different experience than with any of my other children.  Although we accepted her referral the day she was born, it took over 15 months for her to join our family.  Guatemalan adoptions were literally closing down around us and it took forever to complete the process. There were many times when I thought we had lost our daughter; as with all of our children, it was a miracle that baby #5 joined our family at all.   Her early days in Guatemala were not the best preparation for the reality awaiting her in America.  She lived with an older grandmother who doted on her every move and she had no other exposure to life with other children.  It was obvious the day she arrived at home that her transition into our family was going to be difficult.   Our new daughter was a malnourished, Spanish-speaking baby whose system was attacked immediately by a virus and four older siblings!  Poor Rebekah did not understand, love or want much to do with any of us in the early days at home.

In hindsight, I recognize this was a difficult period for me too.   I had struggled for 15 long months to bring home this baby who did not find comfort in my arms.   She resisted my attention and quickly grew to prefer her Daddy over me.  This was entirely new territory for me because all of my other children were big time Mama’s kids.   Dennis, my other adopted child, bonded immediately and we did not have a single moment where I questioned that he belonged to me.  But, it was different with Rebekah.  She did not instantly love me and frankly, I wondered the same thing about her.   In addition, I was also dealing with turning 40, staggering adoption debt and ending a very long chapter in my life of having babies.   I was swamped with caring for five children who all constantly vied for my undivided attention.  The truth was we were both depressed and simply could not find any comfort in each other. 
Although my adoption with Dennis had not prepared me for the process with Rebekah, my pre- adoption training had taught me that every single child and situation is different.  I pulled out my books and remembered that adoption, while wonderful, is often challenging.  I was not alone in this process, the support and wisdom from those who had gone ahead of me helped me through my early months with Rebekah. It was time for me to understand that love can be an emotion, but most of the time love is a choice! I had known one form of parenting and now I would find another pattern in order to free this tiny little girl from her brokenness.   I would be the only mother that loved her and did not fail her, no matter how she “felt” about the matter.   Tim became her disciplinarian and I stepped out of the lead role in that area of her life.   Daddy loved her and taught her to respect me.  I affirmed again and again my love and tried not to let her coolness toward me impact my behavior.  A little patience, a little time, a ton of prayer and a lot of love began to make a difference in our relationship – slowly, but steadily I was winning her heart. 

One day last year she was laughing at me about something funny and she said, “I love you today”.   I thought it was a bit strange, the “today” part, but I responded with “I love you every day”.   The next day another conversation led to the same response, again she said “I love you today”.  But, this time I said, “I love you every day.  Do you think you could love me every day too?”   And then it all came out, probably what she’d been dying to ask me all along but was too young to ask.  She looked at me dead in the eyes and said, “I don’t know, can you be a good mommy every day?”   Boom!  There it was.  I sank down to her level, scooped her in my arms and said “I am good every day. I am not the mommy who left you Rebekah”.  And with that, she started to sob.  I was able to talk truth to her for the first time and it brought her a measure of freedom to her soul.  I promised her I would never leave her or hurt her and she just soaked up my words.   In that moment, after several years of my faithful duty as her mother, a bond was formed with my four year old.  We’ve never been the same since.    
Rebekah had surgery to have her tonsils and adenoids removed last week.  It was the first time any of our children had surgery, so I was nervous about the process.  When she was afraid I told her she was the bravest little girl I knew.  I reminded her that moving from another country when she was a baby was the hardest thing she would ever have to do - surgery was nothing by comparison!  I made sure that both her Daddy and Nana were also at the hospital,  because I didn’t know who she would want to be with during recovery.  Surprisingly, she wanted me!   This past week has been yet another area where our bond has been strengthened. She recovered in my arms and wanted very little to do with her daddy during the process; she finally feels safe, protected and at peace with her Mama.

I am aware how far we have journeyed together and am so thankful and proud of the relationship we are building.   Sometimes she still looks at me sideways and tries to push me out, but I don’t let her stay in that place anymore.  I remind her that she loves me every day now and that I am her forever Mama.  In some very powerful ways, this tiny little princess has taught me more about the concept of love than any of my other miracles.   Now, in both of our hearts, love is not only a choice but also an overwhelming emotion. 

A few pictures from her surgery:

Waiting and watching Spongebob
Right after she came out of recovery

First sip of water for Nana

Dennis gets a smile
5 days later - feeling so much better