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The Baby Game
How do you know when you've bonded? Ker-Pow!

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Let's not stack all the gifts in one place," I'm saying to my daughters. "I don't want it to look like we went overboard." I don't think we went overboard. Stuffed toy rooster, farm quilt, farm-themed bowl and plate and cup and spoon, plus baby riding outfit featuring actual jodhpurs and vest decorated with little embroidered horse. It's a theme. It's a farm theme, because we live on a farm, and Robin and David and baby Amelia are coming to visit, and maybe we can dress the baby in the riding outfit and hold her next to our pony for a picture.

This is so exciting. My girls are drawing pictures, already envisioning Amelia as a very stubby creature with vast cheeks and curly locks. "Welcome to America!" Anna writes on one picture. And on another, "We all came from China!" She's taping the pictures to the front door. "Am I going overboard?" she asks. I tell her, no, of course not. When it comes to welcoming a new baby, you can't go overboard.

And when it comes to welcoming a baby from China, well, look out. It's my thing. It's the best thing I ever did with my life, and I did it twice, so I can easily get caught up in sharing the love. Ker-pow! Woe is the person who even hints at a desire to adopt a baby from China. Ker-pow! I'll hit her with my love story, insist it will be the best thing she ever does with her life, and soon enough I'm passing along phone numbers of adoption agencies, and, yes, I happen to have an extra immigration form if you'd like to get started right here, right now, today. Robin and David never needed my convincing, but they were kind enough to let me participate with celebrations of each paperwork milestone, and soon enough their dossier was complete, shipped off to China, and they hunkered down for the nine-month wait for the referral of the baby who would be assigned to them.

"I just don't know how I'll make it through this wait," Robin said to me on the phone one day. She asked if she and David, who live in New York City, could come visit us for a weekend, and maybe they could ask us some questions.

That was a year ago. Robin had a notebook full of questions. Most centered on the one so many prospective adoptive parents face: bonding. How could they make certain it would happen? I remembered this one so well. Somehow, you get all twisted up in the thought that just because the kid didn't grow inside of you, you're not going to be able to connect as a parent should to a child. Or, the baby won't with you. So how do you facilitate bonding? Robin had been reading a lot, and she had cooked up a number of plans. She was going to forbid anyone but herself and David to hold the baby until she knew the bonding process was complete.

"How will you know it's complete?" I asked.

"Well, I have no idea," she said. "How do you know?"

I told her that with Anna, I felt connected the moment I touched her, and with Sasha the process may have been a milli-second shorter, or longer, I couldn't remember exactly. "It was all more or less instantaneous," I said. "It's your baby. You're the mom. You bond." I told her not to worry about it, knowing that nothing I could say would quell her private fears.

Then my husband, Alex, piped in with the embarrassing story of what he blurted out on the bus one day in China shortly after we got Anna. We were with eight other couples, all of whom had likewise just received their babies. "So," Alex yelled. "Does everyone think they got the best one?" It was so crass and so true, and we all fell into uncomfortable laughter. There we were, adoring our babies -- even feeling a bit sorry for others in that they were not blessed with the privilege of parenting this princess, this empress, this most amazing creature to ever grace the planet -- and there, as it turned out, everyone else was likewise entranced with their own little burp machine. "You'll see," Alex said to Robin and David. "You'll see."

So here we are, one year after Robin and David's first visit, and now, finally, they are pulling up our driveway with baby Amelia. "They're here!" I shout to Alex. I tell the girls to please scatter the presents a bit more so it doesn't look like we've gone overboard. I'm so excited I might explode. I hope it's all happened for them the way it happened for us, so instantly, so profoundly, so mysteriously: a family.

They're walking up the path. Robin is carrying Amelia. I'm on the porch going up and down on my tiptoes. Amelia has apple cheeks and a crazy ponytail on top of her head. Robin is jiggling her, and David is juggling bottle, formula, bib. Robin sees my eyes welling up, or maybe I see hers. We are about to lose it, and I am wishing someone would make a joke. I open my arms for a hug, and Robin loses it first. "The best one," she says. "Oh my God, we got the best one."

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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