Beyond the Boob: An Adoptive Mom’s Take on Building Bonds with Baby through Feeding

Written by: Jen Arnold

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 to enter in. It also meant I had to choose to let go of feelings of inadequacy and embrace a different direction. But that didn’t mean I didn’t grieve the loss of nursing 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 to enter in. It also meant I had to choose to let go of feelings of inadequacy and embrace a different direction.”

Milk Sharing

Although it’s possible for adoptive mothers to nurse 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 it was possible. (Can I just say — 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 with formula some weeks, and overall felt great that we could attach to our boys in this way — providing them the best we could, going the extra mile (literally — we had several stashes that came to our Ohio home from Chicago!) and enjoying every tender moment while holding them close during feeding.

Click here to learn more about Jenn’s milk sharing experience!

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, very sweet and intentional time between parent and child, and that’s just what our experiences have been.

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 or formula feed. 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 that version of me 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 catch 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. And know that you are doing the best you can and your baby is all the better for your love and commitment to them! And if you chose to pump and bottle feed, or formula feed, know you made the best choice for you and your family! No judgment here. Ain’t nobody got time for that! 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. And 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 well past the bottle stage.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series on going beyond the boob to bond with adopted children.

The Arnold family believes that we are specifically together for reasons beyond ourselves. That we have been knit together — bonded together — forever through love. We hope to be a family that is known for loving others well, seeking justice and walking humbly with our God. To celebrate each other, those who came before us and those in our community who are like us and those who aren’t. To embrace everyone and to love well.


Originally published at www.mimijumi.com.

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