The Work of Love in Adoption
Published on: February 12, 2020
This is the story of a mommy and daddy who started loving their son even before he came into their lives and how this love continued to grow when the little boy joined their family.
By Tricia Flagler
I loved him before I knew him. I loved him more when the social worker sent a Line message introducing me to my son. And when I first saw his picture, I loved him even more.
Our family had been preparing for our Thai adoption for over two years. Our hearts had time to grow in love with the child we didn’t yet know. As it became real and we met our son, our love was bursting! We were thrilled and overjoyed and ready to love! But him?
His two years and eight months of prior life had poorly prepared him for love. Though he had a birth family who loved and cared enough for him to place him for adoption, he didn’t know that as love. Though he had sweet nannies and an orphanage that provided for his basic needs, he didn’t know that as love. He had friends, fun and laughter, but he didn’t have love.
Most newborns and new parents experience LOVE–bonding naturally, seamlessly, and beautifully. But for many children from hard places, this is something they have to learn. They have to be taught. They must learn through experiences that they have safety, security, and provision. Then comes trust and later comes love.
Our family knew this walking in and felt somewhat prepared. We had spent time with adoptive families before and were connected to a helpful adoption community. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and probably not like anyone else’s experience. That definitely helped with the big picture, but in the hard moments, it was harder to remember. It felt like it should be more seamless, intuitive, and less work.
When he first met us, on an orphanage floor in the south of Thailand, our poor boy was terrified. Nervous and scared. And honestly? So was I. Even more so because we met our little boy in an awkward, not how I had expected meeting. There were scabs on his head that no one could explain. He had poor eye contact. His quietness. My response was not as I had practiced. I was a little taken aback. As the social worker told us some very hard parts of his story, in front of him, within the first moments of meeting him, my body language probably showed my hesitation. But, my husband, Matt, immediately got down on the floor with him, looking up into our son’s eyes. He tried to earn his attention by playing with his toys beside him. Later that day, Matt was the first to see his smile and hear his laughter.
They had told us that he was a loud and happy child. They said he could walk and talk, but it was an agonizingly long time before he was comfortable enough to leave his place on the floor. It was weeks before we would hear his sweet voice. Our love for him was spoken in a language he didn’t understand, by people who looked different than most he had ever seen. We smelled different, felt different, and interacted with him differently than he had ever experienced. It was all new and scary for him, and we had to learn to speak his love languages to truly show him he was loved. To earn his love, we had to show him he was safe and that we could be trusted.
When he came home two months after we first met him, that’s when the work really began. Matt continued to be the best at it. And our son favored his new daddy heavily for that time. He even used to scream and cry when Matt would leave him with me. Thankfully, Matt taught me how to not just provide for his needs like another nanny but to play with him and show him he was safe and accepted and loved. We spoon-fed him like a baby and gave him a bottle like a baby, which helped teach him eye contact. We changed his diapers and blew raspberries on his belly. In the times when he wasn’t tired or hungry or overwhelmed, we played bubbles and cars, had tickle sessions, and followed him around on walks.
But remember, he was away from all he had ever known. His first trip out of the orphanage had only been weeks before. We live in a beautiful community with amazing friends, but we asked others not to feed him, not to comfort him when he was upset. We were still working on him learning that we were his mommy and daddy, his forever family who would meet those needs. He was used to being cared for by any adult around, and we needed to teach him safe boundaries and security within his new family. The bonding and attachment that happens for most children right away, had not happened for him. We worked for it.
In the first months, there were a lot of tears–and not just from him. Some days it all felt very hard and overwhelming.
But the first time that he cried for me when I left? Exhilarating!
The first time that he fell asleep peacefully without a fight, without being afraid that everything would be different when he woke up? Joyous!
The first time that he sought comfort for a boo-boo? Amazing!
All the hard work at the beginning? Absolutely worth it!
Overall, our son had an amazing transition. Thankfully, we have a wonderful support system and strong faith to support us through the times that felt extra hard. Now, our son has been home for almost two years, and he knows he’s loved. He still experiences the hardships and will always have a story that’s different from most people, but he’s an amazing little boy with an incredible fighting spirit! We are so thankful we worked to earn his love! Our whole family is better because of it.
Photos courtesy of the author.
About the Author
Tricia Flagler and her husband, Matt, are both teachers and have considered Thailand home since 2015. They have two sons, both adopted. Tricia enjoys good coffee, foot massages and quality time with people she loves. Tricia is a coordinator for a Bangkok-based adoption support group – Facebook: Adoption Support for Families in Thailand. Being a mom is an extra treasured gift to her since it didn’t come easily.
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