Becoming a mother through adoption has been an incredible journey. My husband and I adopted two boys, five weeks and two cities apart. They’re our version of twins. Choosing this route (or sometimes, this route choosing you) obviously means that some things that come naturally in biological parent-child relationships require sacrifice and a little creativity. Having always wanted to become a mother, I held onto images of what that would look like -- pregnancy, birth, nursing. With our boys coming to us through adoption, I had to let go of those images and allow new ones of an adoptive family to enter in. I also had to let go of feelings of inadequacy and embrace a different style. But that didn’t mean I didn’t grieve the loss of breastfeeding and physical bonding, it was still real, and that’s OK. I yearned to physically bond with my baby; I just had to think beyond the boob!
“With our boys coming to us through adoption, I had to let go of those images and allow new ones of an adoptive family to enter in. I also had to let go of feelings of inadequacy and embrace a different style.”
Although it’s possible for adoptive mothers to breastfeed their babies, this wasn’t something I chose to do. And boy, I really had to challenge myself not to take on guilt for this choice each time I heard another person tell me that. (We mamas do our best and we don’t need validation from others, amiright?!) Because I chose to forgo this opportunity for attachment, I committed myself to ensuring they had the best. I networked with about twenty women who donated breast milk to both boys and got them to the magical one year mark! We supplemented the breast milk with formula some weeks, and overall, it felt great that we could bond with our boys in this way -- providing them the best we could, going the extra mile (literally -- we had several breast milk stashes that came to our Ohio home from Chicago!) and enjoying every tender moment while holding them close during feeding.
Bottle over Breast
After some reading and talking with friends, I realized I could still bond with my babes without breastfeeding. Bottle feeding can be a very intimate, sweet, and intentional time between parent and child, and that’s just from our experiences.
It’s all about perspective. Before I became a mom, I quietly (and sometimes flat out loudly to close friends) judged other moms for choosing to bottle/formula feed and not breastfeed. Now that I’ve been around the block (it’s a short block-- they’re only a year old) I’ve learned a thing or two about infant feeding options. If I could get a hold of my pre-baby self, I’d straight up punch her in the face. I’ve comforted friends who deeply desired to bond with their babies through nursing, and held their hand as they cried over this dream fading. I’ve empathized with others who were brought to places of sadness, shame, and defeat. Either their child didn’t latch on or wasn’t interested, it was physically too painful to bear, the supply didn’t stick, or their work schedule didn’t permit. If this is you, I’m so sorry, friend -- your pain is real! Your feelings are completely justified. Know that you are doing the best you can and your baby is all the better for your love and commitment to them! If you chose to pump breast milk and bottle feed, or formula feed, know you made the best choice for you and your family! No judgment here. Moms do their BEST for their babies with what they have and that’s what I did for my boys.
“Your pain is real! Your feelings are completely justified. Know that you are doing the best you can and your baby is all the better for your love and commitment to them!”
In my experience, it can be a beautiful experience to feed by bottle. My husband and I still talk about those precious moments -- holding them, providing for them, and loving them. In those sweet times, nothing else mattered. It was just them and us. Such love. Such tenderness. I may have felt a closer attachment physically through breastfeeding, I don’t know. But what I do know is that we created strong bonds in those moments between provider and recipient. Their sheer dependence brought a responsibility and attachment I’ve never known otherwise. Besides my favorite furry friend - which is truly no comparison - I’ve never known the weight of being the sole provider for another person’s life. That kind of honor surely builds bonds.
There are many ways to bond with your baby, and as our children grow, we find new ways each day. In that first year, we figured out how to make bottle feeding a sweet and intentional time with our boys, even though I couldn’t feed them from my breast. It was something I grieved at first, but something I learned to celebrate -- our special connection from parent to child, providing their needs and going the extra mile to give them the healthiest options available. Adoptive families -- and all families -- have so many ways to bond with their babies, even after they’re past the bottle stage.