It was a couple nights before we were heading home from our son’s birth state when we sat down to type a thought-out, delicate email to our closest friends and dear family. We were a brand new family of three, swelling round with our second-born due to join us in four months making us a family of four. As we typed words explaining the difference between attachment with our biological child and with our new son, adopted at the ripe age of one day, our hearts were nervous, protective, and hopeful. What if our family and friends were offended at our decision?
Attachment and bonding with a biological child is a very natural task: the baby has been carried by the mother for about nine months, hearing her voice and heartbeat, smelling her immediately as he/she enters the world. Most times, the baby is fed from the mother’s breast, also deepening the bond of attachment. Our son who joined us via adoption was carried by his First Mama for the first nine months of his life and knew her as mama. We wanted to take gentle and purposeful care to instill in him that we, then complete strangers, are now his mom and dad: the primary people he can trust and rely on.
The quality of the infant-parent attachment is a powerful predictor of a child’s social and emotional outcome. We made decisions based on what we believed to be the best for our son. Every parent’s decisions differ.
We made the decision to form a bond and begin healthy attachment by cocooning.
What is cocooning?
Cocooning is a very intensive time of care where mom and dad are the sole primary caregivers. Mom and dad are the only people to hold, change, feed, touch, kiss, comfort, and play with baby/child. Often times, especially when babies or children are brought home and adopted from institutions (orphanages), new family members won’t even be introduced for a period of time and the child doesn’t leave the house.
There are varying levels of cocooning, and ours was not as protected as we had originally planned. Nine months in, I can say that I wished I had better boundaries and less people-pleasing tendencies. I share that with the hope to give you confidence in whatever you decide is best for your family, stick to that decision and do not feel like you owe anyone anything. You are your child’s parents and you know what is best for them.
It is never too late to begin healthy attachment, to cocoon with your child.
Often times a family may spend the first six weeks to three months in an intense and intimate cocoon, slowly inviting others into their new child’s life, and later realize they need to reinstate the cocoon for a brief or extended time to work towards reattachment. As mom or dad, you have the front row seat to your child’s behavior, reactions, responses, and attachment. You see him/her in various settings and you know whether it is necessary to reinstate the cocoon or not.
Cocooning is immeasurably important for children brought home via adoption from institutions (orphanages) or foster care. If your baby was adopted as an infant, possibly even straight from their entrance at birth, cocooning remains gravely important, promotes healthy attachment, and I would argue, is necessary.
I have heard too many stories of babies who were adopted in their first six months having attachment disorders. What does this look like? It looks like the baby never crying or letting mom/dad know that there is a need such as a wet/dirty diaper. It looks like the baby not having separation anxiety and being completely comfortable with any human; they are used to being passed around and having various people meet their needs. The concept of “Mom and Dad” is foreign. Babies who were adopted at birth and within the first year of life still experience the primal wound of abandonment and it is worth taking the time and energy to access their precious hearts and attachment.
The cocooning process offers the child a chance to believe to their core, subconscious or not, that their mom and dad will meet their needs. Cocooning allows children to adjust to their new home and family with as little overstimulation as possible. This will promote future healthy emotional, physical, and social boundaries.
Spending our first two weeks with our son in his birth state, where we knew no one, allowed a beautiful time of cocooning for our family. He was constantly worn in a Moby Wrap, skin to skin; I don’t think he wore clothes for the first two weeks of his life except when we went out to the doctor’s or court. He slept between us in bed; of course neither of us could sleep, as we were in awe that we were parents to this precious miracle baby. No one held him other than the doctor and us. We agreed at the start there would be no form of “crying it out.” The first time he was fed, put to sleep, and greatly comforted by anyone but mom or dad was when I was in labor and he was four and a half months old. I now have the added advantage of breastfeeding him, which I have noticed a clear deepening of attachment and bonding.
My friend Leigh’s first born was adopted from Ethiopia and she shares this snippet of their cocooning journey, “Before coming home with our son I had done all the research on attachment and cocooning. I figured we would cocoon for three months and be good to go. It wasn’t until I met my son that I saw how deeply impacted he had been by all the losses in his young life.
“We landed back home on June 18th, 2011 as first time parents to the most precious little 4 1/2 year old on the planet. We settled into our little world of cocooning and I realized that my sweet son was terrified. Not of us but of the world around him; he had lost everything again and this time he had lost more than ever. Adoption is beautiful, but it is born of pain and loss, that is hard for every child no matter the age.” (Read the rest here.)
A Deliberate Parenting Choice
Cocooning and intentional attachment are hard work and can be exhausting. It is a deliberate parenting choice. It is a great sacrifice in so many ways, but we have agreed it is well worth the sacrifice of sleep and time alone if it means our son will develop healthy attachments and boundaries, and a deep bond to us.
I can honestly say the only thing I regret about our cocooning journey was when we let our guard down and allowed others to meet needs we should have been meeting. As your child firmly grasps his/her primary attachments, ask your family to support you in your decision to cocoon. Invite them into promoting healthy development for their new and so loved family member.
When your child comes home via adoption, cocooning is a great choice to make advocating healthy bonding and attachment. Over time you will reap a beautiful bounty of family closeness from choosing to protect their little heart from too much too soon.
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