How did you handle attachment? Do you have any advice for best attachment practices?
Attachment is one of the most critical parts of the adoption process, so we covered it extensively in our pre-adoption training. However, every child is different, and I would argue there is no one-size-fits-all approach so much as there are general guidelines that can serve as a starting point in your attachment journey.
We had heard a lot about “cocooning” — essentially creating a safe, small environment for your child for the first few months at home. Cocooning practices to foster attachment may include limiting visitors, keeping excursions outside of the home brief and only when necessary, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and emphasizing mom and dad as the sole caregivers for the child.
Many have asked us if we cocooned. I would say we took a very liberal approach to cocooning and focused on monitoring Sam’s responses to us, others, and his environment when making decisions. Practically, it looked like:
We left the house pretty early on because Sam came home the week of Christmas, during Christmas break, and we have two other children with their own needs as well. We celebrated Christmas with extended family and attended Christmas Eve church services within a week of Sam’s homecoming. However, Josh and I were the ones to hold him, feed him, change his diapers, comfort him, etc.
I wore Sam in the Ergo as much as my back could handle in the early months. That ended up being one of the best ways for us to bond. We tried co-sleeping in our king-size bed, but it just wasn’t creating an optimal sleep environment for any of us. We switched to co-sleeping in Sam’s room and then eventually sleeping next to his crib with him in his crib, then staying with him until he fell asleep in his crib, then standing several minutes at the door until he was almost asleep, then eventually working our way to kissing him goodnight and leaving his room where he would fall asleep independently.
We had the freedom to keep Sam with me full-time for his first 6 months home, so we did that. He did start going to the gym’s childcare for about an hour per day at around 7 weeks home. Church took longer for us to get comfortable with (coming home in winter, Sam was sick with back-to-back colds for so much of the first few months), but he did eventually start going to the nursery weekly as well – maybe around 12 weeks home.
Ultimately, I wanted to treat him like a baby as much as I could in that first 6 – 12 weeks. We didn’t push him to drop his bottle at bedtime during that time (though he did end up dropping it easily once he learned to confidently use a sippy cup), we rocked him (and still do) and made a lot of eye contact and fed him his bottle just as we would have a young baby. I fed him his meals bite by bite. If he wanted to snuggle, we would try to drop everything and snuggle whenever possible (two other kids, so we did our best but definitely didn’t have a perfect record). It was 3 steps forward, 1 step back over and over again until we hit some obvious signs of progress – he doesn’t cry when dropped off at the gym, church or mother’s day out. He smiles and runs back to us when we pick him up. He shows major attitude and opinions in our home, which doesn’t necessarily sound like a win, but he is perfectly behaved with other teachers and adults. While toddler tantrums are nobody’s favorite thing, we are very happy that he feels confident enough in our love and stability that he can push boundaries as 2-year-olds do without worrying we will abandon him.
What has bonding looked like between Sam and his brothers?
He attached to me (Whitney) first, then Josh, then Jackson, then Elliott. It was a process. Jackson and Elliott loved him from the very first time they heard about him long before he arrived in Tennessee. Jackson viewed him more as a baby, so he loved to hold him and get toys for him. Elliott also viewed him as a baby, but once Sam started walking, the 18-month age gap became apparent. With both of them being toddlers, they often each wanted my undivided attention at the expense of their brother. I think it made the bond a little slower. After Jackson started kindergarten, Elliott and Sam learned to enjoy each other’s company more as the only two kids at home during the day. They are now quintessential brothers — swinging the pendulum between best of friends or fighting constantly several times each day.
How did the immigration and citizenship process work (United States)?
Early in the adoption process, you complete forms and go through fingerprinting and complete your home study, and your case is submitted to USCIS. USCIS then approves you as an adoptive family in the United States. Later your individual child’s information is also submitted, this time for approval for the adopted child to join your family in the United States. When we completed Sam’s adoption, this paperwork was sent to an office in Seoul. I believe that changed in 2019, so I’m not sure where that paperwork ends up.
However, at custody you are given a big sealed packet of information that you guard with your life (or leave at the agency and have to go back for. Whoops) because you will give it to an immigration officer at customs when you enter the United States. After the office reviews the packet, your child is cleared to enter the country as the cutest new little US citizen. YES, as a citizen! This was not always the case, which is why you may have seen headlines about adoptees being at risk of deportation because their adoptive parents didn’t complete the citizenship process at the time of the adoption. Thankfully, that was changed. Your child should receive his or her certificate of citizenship within a few months of arriving home. This document you really do want to guard with your life. We keep Sam’s in the most secure and protected location in our home.
BUT. Our agency encouraged us to go through the re-adoption process in our state, so we did that too. This was the easiest way for us to make sure every legal i was dotted and t crossed. It completed Sam’s name change and provided him with a social security card.
How can friends and family support an adoptive family after custody?
Pretend the family just had a newborn. You may think adoption an older child has its advantages since nobody is recovering from a major medical event, but let me promise you: new adoptive parents are an exhausted and emotional mess, and we need HELP. And we may have no idea how to ask for help because cocooning has led us to believe we need isolation to be good parents to our grieving child.
So here are some ideas:
- Meal train. Not the kind of meal train where you come in and meet the child and hold him and take pictures. The kind of meal train where you drop it on the porch and send a text from the driveway saying, “I know you’re bonding in there! Now you can bond over the casserole on your porch!”
- Take the older children, please I beg of you. When Sam first came home, he went to sleep for the night at 5:00am. Jackson woke up for the day at 5:30am. I had the absolutely biggest meltdown/freakout/complete nervous breakdown of my life after several days of this schedule. I legit was holding Sam and sobbing while walking laps through our living room as Josh and I argued out of sheer exhaustion more than any real reason. While no parent wants the older siblings to feel neglected, the reality is they need a lot of time and attention and parents need sleep. You can’t “sleep when the baby sleeps” because your older children are wide awake and your toddler can’t just hang out in a swing while you try to nap. So volunteer to take the older children out for lunch or a fun activity. That would be so unbelievably helpful.
- Be a sounding board. However hard the adoptive parents admit it is, double it. We feel immense guilt that we feel exhausted and a little panicked after going through such an insane process to get our child home. Pray for the parents, siblings and kids. The transition is rough at first. It’s not a lack of love. It’s simply overwhelming for everyone involved. If a new adoptive parents needs to vent, please listen and encourage. Stand in the scary transition place with us, and let us know that you won’t judge us for our struggles.
- Respect the boundaries. All of these tips are what would have been helpful for us as a family, but we are just us. Some families will very matter-of-factly let you know that they are not open to outsiders until the cocooning phase is done. Your texts may not get timely responses (or any responses), they may seem a little neurotic with their specific lists of how you can and can’t interact with their child, they may refuse to share details of the adoption or their experience with you. All of us are doing the best we can to respect our children and their unique stories and experiences. Offer to help, but don’t take it personally if a family doesn’t want it. They won’t stay cocooned forever.
Are you in contact with your son’s birth family or foster family?
We are required to send an update to foster family once per quarter for the first year. Then it is up to the family and us. I don’t feel super comfortable sharing the details of that online, but if you are a PAP with specific questions, you can always reach out to me on instagram – @whitneymsewell.
What was the financial impact of international adoption?
I’ve been so hesitant to discuss finances because it’s such a personal thing for people. I do think many families hear the average cost of international adoption and immediately think, “oh, we obviously can’t ever afford that.” I would say — with God, anything is possible.
Our adoption costs were funded by: generous donations from friends and family, a matching grant, our own savings, airline points, hotel points, t-shirt sales, the adoption tax credit.
And now a year post-adoption, I can honestly say God has provided in unexpected ways that left us financially where we were before adoption.
The costs seemed astronomical at first, especially when our timeline moved so rapidly that we needed to pay the vast majority of the costs before we even told most people we were adopting. I don’t want anyone to think we just had the resources lying around while we thought of a good way to spend them. We had one of our tightest financial years in 2016 and spent 2017 rebuilding, so to come out the gate in early 2018 writing 5-digit checks felt like absolute insanity.
But we knew we were supposed to do it. We were 100% sure. And we trusted that if God had made it so abundantly clear Sam was our son, he would also provide abundantly and miraculously to get him home.
And if you know our story, you know that’s exactly what happened. From our first adoption forms in January 2018 to landing with our sweet boy at BNA in December 2018. God provided abundantly and miraculously in finances, timelines, and friendships.
So what is the financial impact of adoption? I don’t know the answer for everyone. I just know for us the impact was a strengthened faith and a bold proclamation of God’s promises of delivering immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine when we trust him.