“She’s gone through a lot of big changes. She’ll need big movements, lots of hugs. Smoosh her body between two pillows. Wrap her up tight. She’s going to need help to feel connected and grounded.”
After being together for weeks, this was the advice I received from a fellow adoptive momma the day before we began our new, our real, routine of life. Our nuclear family wasn’t going to be together 24/7 anymore. Chris would go back to work. The kids would head to school. I would be alone with our newly adopted daughter, the one who, at the time, wanted anyone else but me.
We do big movements. Fill the time with eye contact and connections. She is a gem, sparkling and fascinating, hard and brilliant. The day goes better than anticipated, overall. I post pictures of her smiling, because most of the time, she is. And when she’s not, and my hands are busy fighting with the vice trying to crush my heart, it’s not a picture anyone wants to see.
I’m not sure why, but I’m surprised by how similar adoption feels to having a new baby. In one day, one moment: you are a mother, again. They hand her to you, Here she is, congratulations, and she’s yours. Like being discharged from the hospital with your first child, the information they gave you didn’t tell you what to do when she won’t stop crying. All the training doesn’t quite seem adequate in the moment, the instructions aren’t as robust as you’d hoped.
It’s not exactly like that, a hand off of a newborn. But here, at home, weeks later in a different time zone on a different continent, it feels similar. And, naturally, there are the new mother fears mixed in with old mother experience: the fear of not knowing — what to do, how to do it, what will come next, how long it will last.
In these first weeks (and months), we will make life slow enough to catch and sense the needs of the newest member of our family. The ones she may not yet be able to communicate. Our job is to learn her. Study her. In the past, I’ve felt free to come and go, do whatever needed to be done, plan. And as with any new child, this is the challenge: managing the unpredictability with a waning level of confidence, trying to dance to an unfamiliar rhythm with a partner who isn’t sure about you.
Thanks to the New Year and my love of resolutions, I’m working out again.
Chris came home early those first few days of our new routine, when everyone else was getting back to their normal lives. I walked downstairs to put in my earbuds, with the volume up, well past the warning about “listening at this volume for a prolonged period can lead to hearing loss,” and lift more weight than I probably should. I’m sure I’ve injured my left shoulder.
During the cool down, with the volume still drowning out life, I change the music. Enya plays first. Then some Lord of the Rings song. I’m in warrior pose.
In this moment, with my feet planted firmly on the ground, my arms raised and extended, my breath deep, the music grand, after heavy lifting, I feel — epic.
This (what we’ve done, what we are going through) is so big.
It’s in this moment where I feel bigger than myself because I am so small.
So this is what I want a new mom to hear: this is epic.
You have either brought a new life into the world or, in addition to yours, you have forever changed a life that’s already here. Do not forget, in an effort to learn your little one and meet their needs, you have gone through a lot of big changes, too. Becoming a new mom, in any way, can be overwhelming. Not good or bad, just big.
So, maybe you need big movements, too?
Wrap yourself up in a blanket, lay between some pillows, stand in warrior pose. This has changed your life. You need to feel connected and grounded too.
In my effort to meet her needs, I realized I’d minimized mine. (Which is what we do, isn’t it, moms? It’s just what we do.)
This transition for her, for me, for our family, cannot be rushed. There is no prescription or procedure to follow. We have a new pattern, one we don’t know by heart. Even if it feels familiar, it is uncharted territory. It will take time, but it’s coming.
I can feel it down deep.