Imagine this: You leave the hospital with a newborn baby and he is perfect. There is nothing about his little self that does not make you simultaneously want to weep for joy and giggle with relief. He is here and whole, and absolutely adorable. You are besotted. No other love will feel like this one, you just know it. You arrive home to an empty house because your spouse is at work. He didn’t know the baby was coming today and he couldn’t get away. He’ll be home later with flowers and diapers. You put the baby in his crib next to your desk and begin to mindlessly scroll through social media. A friend from church just had a baby and the ladies from church threw her a baby shower to bless her and her family. How do you feel now? Looking over at your sweet, sleeping cherub you still feel deep love, but do you also feel a bit cheated? There were no balloons to welcome his homecoming. No new adorable outfits to bring him home in. He’s wrapped in a white cotton onesie, a hospital cap, and a hospital receiving blanket. You were going to go shopping later this month but the baby came early. Oh, also, no one knew you were expecting. Because, well, you weren’t. You were hoping for the miracle of adoption to take place but the birth mom was still on the fence and you weren’t sure if the adoption would actually happen. Because you’re introverted and were afraid to get everyone including yourself excited for nothing, you didn’t say anything.
What could have been done differently? Doesn’t every baby and new mama deserve a sweet shower of gifts and love from friends and family? I think so, yes. However, hundreds of these quiet homecomings with no preparedness at all happen in the foster and adoption community because potential adoptive parents just don’t ask, “How do I invite others into my adoption journey?”. And believe me, it is a journey, not just a one-time event.
So, potential mom and dad, here is where I need to ask you to be bold. None of your friends are mind readers. I found out after the fact that my sweet friends wanted to throw me a baby shower for my little girl but they were afraid they might do something wrong and make me upset. Now, as ours was a foster to adopt situation there was a chance our sweet girl could go back to the birth mom and dad, had things gone differently. Nonetheless, even if that had been the case, the baby still needed diapers, clothes, bottles, and bedding. I still needed people to be in on my struggles and triumphs that are unique to being a new parent and an adoptive parent. I can now say with confidence I wish I had just said what I wanted. It isn’t arrogance or selfishness we are asking for our children to be treated with the same pomp and circumstance as birth children are. The fact of the matter is the needs, whether birth children or adoptive children, are very much the same.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I know a great number of stories about potential adoptive parents who had a baby shower, told all their friends they were adopting, set up a nursery, and then for one reason or another didn’t get to adopt. I personally understand the nervousness of not wanting to count chicks before they are hatched. You don’t have to set up the nursery or have a shower when you have just filled out paperwork and submitted your home study. What I’m really talking about is letting people in your circle know what is going on with your life. It is a big deal. It is a huge life change and you will need people around you no matter what.
Ideas For Inviting Others Into Your Adoption Journey
- Send an email to two or three close friends letting them know your intention. At the very beginning of the process let them know that you’re pursuing adoption to grow your family. Let them know you are feeling nervous (if you are) and that there is a chance that you could get the whole way through the process and still end up without a baby at the end. Let them know that you need their support as you walk through this adventure and it would be an honor to have them by your side however long it takes. This sounds cheesy but it does a few things. It lets them know you feel they are an important part of your life and you want to share this important event with them. It also gives them space to ask questions. Some questions are more difficult to verbalize. I personally communicate much better when typing or texting than I ever can when I’m having a conversation out loud. Give them space to ask questions and offer insight. Maybe they know someone who was adopted or someone in their family was adopted and it was either a very easy or a difficult situation. Ask them. Send them to Adoption.com and have them search for articles to help them understand the journey you are embarking on together.
- As you proceed in your adoption journey you will hopefully be matched with an expectant mother. As you reach that milestone and have a firmer idea of when your baby will arrive you can begin to branch out to more family and friends. Again, I feel like an email or a letter in the mail is the best way to go but you could just as easily do a phone call or video call, or ask your friend out for coffee. Tell them you’re adopting in so many months and exactly what they can do for you to be supportive. As a general rule, unless your friends or close family have adopted they won’t know what to say or do. It is such a weird concept to some people and they may have preconceived notions about adoption that could color their view of your journey. The time to find that out is before the baby arrives so you can correct the language before it can be damaging. At any rate, you can start letting a few more people know what is going on when you have a better idea of when your miracle will be arriving and a more concrete idea of the fact that they will actually get to be yours. If you need more ideas go to Adoption.com/forums and ask people who know from experience.
- So now you have an exact due date. The expectant mom is fully committed and is so excited for you to parent her baby. You are a few weeks out. Gather your close friends and let them know the details that you have. Give them the opportunity to ask what you need and what you want. Again, they aren’t mind readers. It isn’t selfish to ask. It is selfish to demand though, so don’t be that person. Do you have a nursery? Your friends can help you set it up. The baby may come any day so he’ll need a place to sleep. Ask friends to be on-call to help housesit, dogsit, or babysit other kids when the time comes for your new baby.
- The baby has arrived! YES! This is what we have been planning for! Make sure you have the car seat installed. After you get home you can snap a couple of adorable pictures and send those out to all the people you love and want to know you now have a son. Your friends aren’t surprised because you’ve been talking about this for months. You can send out precious birth announcements just like you would do if you had given birth with the bonus of no terrible after birth pictures of you in a hospital bed, nor any post-birth recovery. These same steps can still apply to older child adoption. Be prepared for a little bit more push back when you say you’re adopting a 12-year-old versus an infant. Though to that end, you might care to ask the 12-year-old, “How do I invite others into the adoption journey?” because they might have a few thoughts on the matter.
Because you slowly let people in your circle know what was happening, they could help you prepare and celebrate. Now let’s briefly examine what would have happened had tragedy struck around step three. The baby died, or the expectant mom decided she wanted to parent, or you had a personal tragedy that made adoption impossible at that time. Even though contacting your friends will be exhausting and hard, those people that have loved you through this experience can help you recover and heal. They can come to remove the eyesore that is the nursery that was supposed to be home to a baby next month. They can get rid of every scrap of baby clothes and diapers to a safe place for storage until you decide to try again, donate, or return them if you decide your heart can’t take the potential for breaking again. They felt the eagerness with you and they will embrace you as you face your heartache. You didn’t let everyone know so virtual strangers in church won’t ask you where your new baby is and reopen a wound.
Let’s back up to the beginning. Let’s assume instead of a matched adoption, you are a potential foster mom or dad. You don’t have the foggiest idea of when or even if you will be matched with a baby, how long you’ll have them for if they come, or what their needs will be. Inviting others into your adoption journey becomes more complicated. Some of these steps above are impossible based on that system. However, you still (perhaps even more so) need people around you and supporting you. The order of things will be a bit different. Some steps entirely (like the birth announcement) need to be eliminated. Here’s the thing though, the child still deserves a happy homecoming. If you are fostering a three and nine-year-old they (even more than a baby) deserve a happy homecoming. You will still need people on standby and people around to love and support you. So, again, I will suggest an email. Include a link to your state’s foster care guidelines, and some suggested reading for the people you are closest to and expect to be the most involved in your lives. In my case, most of those people were other foster families. They were amazing for emotional support and provided friendship and understanding for both parents and kids. However, keep in mind that they are not generally available to run to Walmart at two a.m. for you because you ran out of diapers and cannot leave the baby with anyone else. Get yourself a friend that will make two a.m. Walmart trips for you. They are some of the best kind and I could not live without mine. Is there no one you are close to? Go to Adoption.com/forums and find people in your area going through the same things as you are.
The bottom line is that some people feel strange about adoption and foster care. They want to help but don’t know how to do so without feeling awkward or like they will do or say the wrong thing. Tell them what the right thing is. Tell them that you appreciate and need their support while you go through this life-changing event. I have learned that as awkward as it is for me to ask for help, it is that much more awkward to not ask. People are very often willing to help even if they don’t know you especially well. How do I invite others into my adoption journey? The simplest answer is to just ask them in. You’d be surprised by just how many people will jump at the opportunity.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of five. She has a bachelor’s degree of Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.