When we came home with Zinashi, life was a whirlwind. We’d had a different experience than we expected (this seems to be a theme in our adoptions) and had Zinashi with us for a month in Ethiopia before coming home. What we thought would be a week of us traveling after meeting Zinashi and attending court, followed by four to six weeks of me waiting out the embassy process alone in Addis Ababa, turned into thirty days of instant parenthood. All the things I had intended to do while sipping macchiatos alone fell by the wayside, including my plan to draft a “we’re cocooning, but we still love you” letter and send it to all our friends and family. We arrived home exhausted, with Jarod due back at work in a few days. I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to negotiate everyone’s expectations or feelings, and I ended up being spectacularly terrible at keeping Zinashi’s world small in the beginning, the way I intended to. Even though this process with Elvie has gone incredibly fast, I don’t intend to make the same mistake twice. We will be cocooning when we arrive home, and we will be firm about it.
Cocooning is a word to describe a period of time in which you gently introduce your child to his or her new surroundings and learn how to be a family. In our case, Elvie has had multiple caregivers; cocooning gives us a chance to meet all of her needs ourselves and show her that we are not just more caregivers in the rotation, but the people who are her parents. It will allow Elvie to adjust to all the new noises, sights, and smells of our home. We hope that it will give her a sense of home and of family and give us a chance to focus on getting to know her personality, her rhythms, and the way she expresses her needs.
Many people begin their cocooning process by spending six weeks at home, with no visitors when their children are awake and no big outings. They then begin to introduce their child to others gradually. We would consider this sort of situation to be ideal. However, because of Elvie’s medical needs, we will alter this somewhat. We have a firm no outings, no visitors approach for our first two weeks, after which we will need to begin going to medical appointments. Because the appointments are bound to be stressful for her, we will then evaluate each week how she is handling things and modify our cocooning approach. When we feel she is ready to begin meeting new people, we will first introduce her to the people we will see most often, then branch out from there.
Throughout the cocooning process and beyond, we will be the only people to meet Elvie’s needs. If her diaper needs to be changed, Jarod or I will do it. If she needs a bottle, Jarod or I will do it. If she needs to be comforted, Jarod or I will do it. Same goes for bath and rocking and all the rest. Meeting her basic needs is part of what teaches her that we are her parents. We will forge bonds with her and begin the work of attachment before anyone else may do basic things for her.
This will also extend to having other hold her. It’s not that we don’t want anyone to experience the joy of our little girl, it’s just that allowing her to be held by multiple people will be too close to the group care experience to which she has become accustomed. By being the only ones to hold her, we send the message that her life is different, that she has a family now, and that we are that family. As she moves through the stages of attachment, it will be possible for others to hold her, but we will still do the majority of her caregiving ourselves. Just as we will gradually branch out in terms of who she meets, we will do the same with people who are allowed to hold her.
There are many time schedules recommended for cocooning, but the biggest indicator of what to do next is evaluating our child’s needs. We don’t have a definite timeline. I know that this will be hard for a lot of people who love her a lot and just want to squeeze her. When she is ready, we will let people know. We will introduce her, and we will offer to allow others to hold her. If you know a family who is cocooning, the best indicator of when this is okay is when it is offered. It’s a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” type of situation.
If we don’t explain what we are doing, I think it can be extraordinarily hard for friends and family to understand. It is important to us to prepare our family, friends, and community for what Elvie’s needs will be and how they can help. We intend to do this by writing a blog post on our family blog to inform our community at large and sending an email to people we will see in our day to day lives. We know that this is different than when a biological child comes home, and we respect that not everyone will have done research into how to best handle us and our new family member. We take responsibility for making sure that Elvie’s needs are met and that our friends and family know how to best help us as we become a family of four.
Cocooning can be a challenge; after all, we want to show off our gorgeous girl. However, we know that if we do it right, our relationship as a family will be stronger and there will be more joy in the future as we expand Elvie’s circle to include everyone who adores her. And that will be a very good thing.
Photo credit: MorgueFile