Bringing Your Child Home
The preparations you make will depend on whether your child is an infant (zero to twelve months) or toddler (thirteen to thirty-six months). A toddler is a baby in many ways, but has several unique needs and issues. An infant (at least until he starts crawling) stays where you put him for the most part, but a toddler will get into, on top of, and out of every piece of furniture and room in your house that you don't have barricaded or locked. Infants and toddlers have few language skills — they understand and communicate most things on an emotional level — but toddlers have greater difficulty in processing their emotions and regulating their behavior.
If you have been chosen by a birth mom to adopt her newborn, you may be able to be in the delivery room. You will most likely bring him home within a few days of his birth. If children's protective services has taken custody at the birth, your baby will be brought to you by a social worker or he will be placed in a foster home for a few days, depending on the laws in your particular state.
Infants should have the opportunity to begin the attachment process immediately with a caregiver. Research indicates that even if a baby attaches to one person at birth, she is usually able to attach well to another loving person who steps into the parental role. As long as the caregivers don't change more than once or twice, a secure attachment will form with time.
The preparations you make and exactly what you do when you bring your baby home will depend on whether you're bringing him home from the hospital, a foster home, or an orphanage. In all cases, gather information so you know what you will face.
A newborn (up to about six weeks of age) who has had good prenatal care will be pretty much like a baby born to you. However, if his “womb life” was impacted by alcohol, drugs, or spousal abuse, he may already be physically and emotionally stressed or deeply affected. The good news is that he's hardwired, so to speak, to attach to his primary caregiver. If he's more than six weeks old but has been in a loving foster home, he may grieve for his foster mom (yes, babies grieve!), but the attachment should quickly shift to you.
You can expect normal infant behavior — crying, eating, pooping, and quietly absorbing his surroundings. If your baby became attached to another caregiver, you might find that his sleep patterns and appetite are disrupted or that he cries more. At this time, it is important to help him calm down by spending additional time holding, talking soothingly, stroking, and comforting him.
You might think adopting a toddler would be much easier than meeting the physical demands of an infant, or that you would have a better chance of building a relationship with a toddler than with an older child you adopt. However, you would be wrong in both instances. With an infant, the two of you can gradually get used to each other; infants sleep a great deal (at least in intervals), and feeding them is simple. Children older than toddler age have cognitive skills that help them process being adopted (they understand reason) and you can take them to therapy, which can make the process if not easy, at least not so difficult.
In comparison, keeping up with a toddler can drain your physical, as well as emotional, resources. Toddlers don't have the vocabulary to verbally express their anger and fear, and might push you away instead of accepting your love. It's important to talk to toddlers and explain things to them, but realize that they simply don't yet have the skills to understand everything you explain right now. Repetition will soon make your words familiar and comforting.
If your child is arriving from an orphanage, you will endure weeks or even months of waiting as the bureaucratic gears grind along. If you've been matched with an infant, he could grow into a toddler while you wait. Be sure that your agency keeps you updated with frequent pictures, so you can shift your thinking from “infant” to “toddler” if necessary.
Toddler behavior is unpredictable, even in a child who has been in one home since birth. Adoption can simply exacerbate some of the more difficult toddler behaviors — temper tantrums, sleeping difficulties, separation anxiety, throwing things, and testing limits. You will need to take your toddler's behavior one day at a time.