Whether you’re a birth parent looking into making an adoption plan or you’re hoping to adopt, you have a lot of decisions to make, not all of them easy. If you’re an adoptee, you may be grappling with some very real and confusing emotions, and finding someone who can understand what you’re going through may help you work through this and what next steps to take. Support systems are critical as you go through emotional journeys that deal with adoption, and surprisingly, you may not have the support that you thought you would have from friends and family. It might shock you to discover that not everyone you love will agree with you or be there when you need them as you go through this time, but this is likely because they have their own issues regarding adoption, and its not a reflection of you, but their own lived experiences. This article will help you find the people you need in your life as you go through what will be very important for you.
Support for Birth Parents: Find the Help You Need
It is very common for birth parents to think they are alone in their journey and not want to let family and friends know their situation or to reach out for support. However, this isn’t true. You’re not alone, and there are people who either have been through your situation and want to help you OR who have been professionally trained to discuss any issues you have been having. (In fact, some trained counselors were birth parents as well and were led into the field to help others in situations that they have real-life experience in!)
Adoption.com has multiple online support groups where birth parents can ask questions and get candid answers from the people that have gone through what they have. Additionally, many adoption agencies offer birth parent counseling and birth parent support groups. In fact, that was one of the things that drew me to work with the adoption agency that we did. I loved all of the counseling and opportunities to connect with other birth parents that were offered. It was important to me to see that birth parents were given as much support as adoptive parents and adoptees.
In talking with birth parents who were younger when they created an adoption plan, they said they found much of their support in their parents, and for many of them, counseling was helpful; in other cases, it continues to be helpful as they work through their feelings about the placement as they age and grow emotionally.
This firsthand account of coping after placing a child is a great start to understand that you are not alone.
Support for Those in the Adoption Process
Your family and friends are where you may turn to first, but if they haven’t gone through the adoption or foster process, they may not fully understand it.
There are a lot of feelings at play as well as people’s own personal opinions about the subject that can make it difficult sometimes to connect to others when you’re going through this process.
Cheri, who adopted through foster care, notes that she didn’t have much of a support system. She didn’t know other foster parents at the time, and in fact, some people in her life were discouraging of their choice to be foster parents. Though they received prayers from their church family and support was offered, no one had any experiences with it to help them in that way.
Finding support can be hard. I, personally, began to read more books about adoption and started reaching out to authors and other mothers by adoption that were posting publicly on social media. Once we adopted our daughter, I reached out to adult adoptees who were a part of a transracial adoption so I could have the support and the information I needed to better parent my child. I met most of my adoption tribe virtually—and we’ve met face to face since and walk this journey together. If an issue arises with adoption, I know that I can reach out to them (and many times, I consult them on articles like this because their lived experiences are important to share!)
Though the Internet isn’t always our first choice for support, there are countless groups to help, and in fact, you can find out a lot of information from people who have been through what you’re going through. I found Facebook a helpful place to get started!
However, your first plan should be to reach out to the adoption agency you’re working with. Had ours of been more local, I would have liked to take advantage of the support groups and counseling offered. Yet, whenever I needed something, I was one phone call or email away from getting the support that I needed.
Support for Adoptees
Adoptees need support as children and as they grow to adulthood. Through every stage of development, and depending on the circumstances of their adoption, adoptees will need support as they begin to comprehend the unique family situation that they may have. Navigating relationships with new family members, digesting and understanding their own adoption story, to struggling with understanding who they are are all things that adoptees seek support on.
For children, it is advisable to seek help from a local adoption agency that may offer face-to-face groups for various age groups that are lead by a counselor or social worker. You should reach out to an adoption professional who can find the best scenario for your family.
I have seen countless adults connecting on online platforms for support and have even seen adoption organizations and agencies host support groups for adult adoptees.
I have had the unique privilege of speaking with adult adoptees as they navigate meeting birth parents and biological siblings for the first time thanks to DNA testing. It seems overwhelming for many who find others who have done this as well to speak to. I can honestly say that though I’m always one who will sit down and listen, this isn’t something that I’ve been through, and though I can offer support, I can’t fully understand the overwhelming emotions that adoptees feel during this time.
Many adoptees have found support in biological family members as they’ve completed their DNA tests and connected with biological family members.
Read more about DNA testing and adoptees here. These true stories of adoptees connecting with their birth families through DNA tests like Ancestry.com and 23andme are very powerful.
Sometimes, your family members may not be open to you searching for your birth family—not because they don’t support you, but because they haven’t dealt with their own emotions in relation to you having another family.
Learn more about one adoptee’s story as she searched into her genetic past and found family members that she never knew she had!
Here are some additional resources that would benefit adoptees.
Your Family Isn’t Your Only Source of Support: Find People Who Understand Your Unique Situation and Know When to Educate Those Who Don’t
Again, you may think that your family and friends are going to be there to support you only to find out that they might not be as supportive or as understanding as you had hoped. This is okay. Oftentimes, this lack of understanding stems from a lack of education. Though you may want to help them with this (and if you have the wherewithal, by all means, do it), it’s not your responsibility to educate people when you are seeking support. Particularly when there are resources for you. However, if you’re inclined to help (as I honestly felt the need to do myself), this is a great article about helping extended family members to understand adoption.
Quite frankly, I have learned how to determine who just lacks education and truly has the desire to learn and who doesn’t. One group that I like to continue to educate about adoption are other kids in my daughter’s life. (Thanks to the kindness of helpusadopt.org and Tracey Zeeck, my daughter’s classmates have received copies of The Not in Here Story, a very important book about adoption that has transformed how we speak to other children about it. I keep extra copies to gift to families who have recently adopted because I truly believe in the power of this remarkable children’s book!)
This article will help you better educate children (who aren’t adopted) about adoption—this is great for siblings, classmates, friends, etc.
Share with Others What You Need
The first step to getting the support that you need is admitting that you need it. I’m the WORST at this. Until I connected with a community of adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and adult adoptees, I didn’t realize that I was missing these people in my life. With them, I feel confident when it comes to parenting my child and meeting her needs and my own. This stuff can be messy, and it’s emotional. It’s okay to want to talk about it and find resources to navigate it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out
I used to be afraid to ask for help, but when I became a parent, I threw that right out the window. It was important enough for me to understand other perspectives, and as you’ll see me write time and time again in articles, I’m a firm believer in learning from people who have really lived experiences to help you understand. I remember when I started learning about adoption, I kept seeing Becky Fawcett’s name pop up, and we had various adoption connections in common. As the cofounder of helpusadopt.org, she had a lot of information and knew people who could help when I had questions. I reached out to Becky, and we formed a Facebook friendship, culminating with real-life meeting awhile back. Likely, if you think someone can help support you, they can.
You Never Know Unless You Ask
You may want to connect with someone or even meet with another adoptee, birth parent, or adoptive parent for coffee or lunch to talk. Before you write them off as being too busy, just ask. I try my best to make time for anyone that reaches out to me that wants to have a quick phone call, chat over email, or even meet for lunch. It’s definitely hard to coordinate schedules, but I have benefitted from the time I have received from others and am always happy to pass that on!
Adoption Professionals are Experienced and CAN Help!
If I haven’t found answers that I needed through relationships that have grown organically or through connections I’ve reached out to, I always reach out to the social workers at adoption agencies. These are licensed professionals, many who are running groups that might benefit you! If they can’t help you, chances are, they will know someone who can, which is all we can ask for!
It’s Time to Find the Support That You Need!
It may not seem easy to admit that you need support, but whether you’re a birth parent, an adoptee, or a parent who is in the adoption process, there is a person or group out there for you.
You just have to identify what support you’re looking for, ask the right people for help, and be open to meeting new people and immersing yourself in new situations. I know, easier said than done, right? But if you’re really going through something, it is in your best interest, and oftentimes your family’s, that you find support so that you can navigate these tricky situations!
In opening up yourself to meeting new people, you may find, as I have, a group of people that you now call friends that you can lean upon when times are tough, when you’re navigating different emotions, or when you just need someone to talk to who “gets it.”
Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.