Q. Adoptive parents -- especially single adoptive parents -- need to know that bonding is just as strong and immediate for them as it is for natural parents.
In December 1983, I flew to Central America to pick up my new son (now age 6). I'd only met him for 30 minutes the preceding September and had to fight to get him (I am single, so had many problems with the other government, the orphanage, etc.).
I was confident I could handle the demands of motherhood and work. I spent months planning, finding doctors (he has a handicap), a good school, painting his room, buying clothes, toys and books in Spanish. (I also tried to learn Spanish, but I was too nervous!)
The big day finally came. There I was, in a small empty room in the orphanage. Waiting. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Suppose he doesn't like me? What if I can't understand something important he is trying to tell me? What do I do when he is sick in the middle of the night? Is it fair for him to have just one parent? I am responsible for this person for the rest of my life!
Just as the panic welled up in my throat, my beautiful son walked through the door, shyly gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, "Ola, Mamacita." Our bonding was there.
I have never known such complete joy in my life as I now have. It isn't always easy -- in fact, sometimes it's pretty darn hard -- but always, always my son is there filling me with so much love that together we can conquer anything. A.A. There is no doubt about it. A. Bonding can be as strong and immediate for adoptive parents as it is for natural ones -- sometimes even stronger. This is because fear can bind us together. A rough pregnancy; a delicate child; a threatening incident, or, as in your case, the long wait and the uncertain outcome, all remind us how great our love, how much we need to love.
Adoption can test the endurance of parents at least as much as pregnancy. To take so many deliberate steps requires a splendid kind of courage.
What you may not know is that the challenge continues -- as it does for all parents -- and in the process the bonding tightens, particularly if the child is special in some way.
Your child is special four times over. He is handicapped; he is from another country; he lives in a single-parent family, and he is adopted.
You not only wanted your son and prepared for him well, but you have accepted him every step of the way. This is one reason he's been so accepting of you, but this isn't always true for adoptive parents, at least not right away.
Sometimes we forget that adoption is tough on children. Even young ones may withdraw or act angry for months when they go to live with their adoptive parents. They may be relieved to be in their new homes and yet grieve for those they've left behind, or they may be afraid to love, in case they have to move on again.
The fear of abandonment, always a major one for any child, is more so for an adopted one. Since it has happened once, why not once more?
As an adoptive parent you have to help your child rebuild his sense of trust, being especially careful to reassure him if there is a big move or a hospitalization. Just the fear of a second abandonment can be a double whammy.
And yet you have to help him remember his five first years, talking about his memories and seeing that he has young Spanish friends and still more Spanish books. His past is part of his future.
By the time he's a teen-ager, he'll need to know as much as possible about his origins -- not because he might want to live with his birthmother instead of you, but because he needs this information to define himself -- the main object of adolescence.
You'll see other values in this candid policy if you read Dear Birthmother ($8.75; Corona, 1037 S. Alamo, San Antonio, Tex. 78210) by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, who describe their "open adoption" program at a Lutheran agency in San Antonio, Tex. Here the birthmother is invited to write an explanatory letter to the child and to the adoptive parents, who usually send back pictures and a letter -- a voluntary exchange that the agency handles, keeping all names and addresses confidential. When the children eventually read the letters they should realize that they were given up out of love, not selfishness.
How It Feels to be Adopted by Jill Krementz (Knopf; $11.95) offers a child's-eye view of adoption, to remind you of some of the worries your son might have. Reading about other children should help him come to terms with his differences and so should a support group for adopted children.
All of this will help you and your son continue to talk easily about his adoption, and this is necessary.