I fly back to the East Coast about once a year. Each time I fly, the assigned stewardess goes through the obligatory demonstration of how to apply the oxygen mask in case of an unforeseen emergency. Thank God, I’ve never had to use those. However, the key element is that as parents, we are urged to put on our own gas mask before applying our children’s. Why? Because we cannot care for our children unless we care for ourselves first. The same principle applies to unforeseen events that occur during the adoption process. What do you do in such a case? Keep reading.

1. Pregnancy

It seems like young couples wishing to adopt often get pregnant during the adoption process. This is a great surprise for couples who have struggled with infertility! Depending on your situation, it may be good to postpone the adoption in order to focus all of your energies on the newborn. But I have seen couples proceed with the process. In the end, it is like having twins. It can be overwhelming because the development can be different. And if the adopted child has special needs or is significantly older, you will be torn about which child to focus your energies on. Proceed with caution.

2. Move

A relocation may or may not affect the adoption process at all. It depends on where you move to. If you are moving within the state, it should not be a problem. Of course, if you are downsizing your home, you will need to have space for an extra little one. If you are moving out of state and are conducting a foster care adoption, you may have to file something called an ICPC (Interstate Compact For the Protection of Children). This will allow you to adopt across state lines. You may also need to transfer adoption agencies. Check with your adoption worker.

3. Divorce

A divorce drastically changes the dynamics of a family. The trauma, chaos, and uncertainty involved in a divorce would indicate that things need to come to a standstill. There are many questions that need to be answered, like, Where will the child live? Can I handle raising an adopted child as a single parent? What about my biological children? Depending on your situation, I would place the adoption on hold at least until the divorce is finalized and all legal issues are settled. Then you need to deal with your trauma before dealing with the trauma of an adopted child.

4. Hospitalization

Depending on the nature of your illness or injury, you may have to postpone your adoption for some time. Getting physically healthy is more important than proceeding with the adoption process. After all, you cannot care for a child until you can care for yourself first. In most states, being physically healthy and being able to care for a child are prerequisites to adoption. Check with your adoption worker.

5. Death in the family

Tragedy in a family can be emotionally draining. If the person was close to you, the trauma that death brings will significantly interfere with the care of a little one who may be suffering trauma of his own. If you suffered the loss of a child, you may need to consider counseling before proceeding with adoption. Put on the brakes. Your adoption worker will understand. There may be major disappointment, but you need to deal with you own loss before you start helping a child with his or her loss.

It may sound selfish to care for yourself first.  But just like an oxygen mask in an airplane, you must survive first before you help your child survive. Of course, self-care is vital in all stages of parenting, but especially in the beginning stages of the adoption process and doubly so if you are a first-time adoptive parent. In many cases, the postponement of the adoption process may not be permanent, but just temporary until life gets back to “normal.” Then you can give the adopted child everything you’ve got.  

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.