To prepare mentally to adopt takes on many forms. Some parents spend hours painting a nursery. Some parents spend thousands of dollars on every baby accessory out there. And some parents get a call to come to pick up their soon-to-be-adopted child with only a few days’ notice. Of course, the road to adoption is long. Your child’s arrival into your home will not necessarily have a nine-month waiting period. That doesn’t mean you can’t do all you can to mentally prepare to adopt.
Learning to cope with the trials that brought you to the decision to adopt, setting realistic expectations throughout the adoption process, and preparing to cater to your mental health needs post-placement are all important stages of the process to consider when approaching adoption.
Grief Within the Adoption Triad
Often, adoption is spoken of as a beautiful sacrifice of love—and it is. But, the true nature of that beautiful sacrifice cannot be ignored. Adoption encompasses a sense of tragedy for most, if not all, members of the adoption triad. Recognizing, processing, and accepting the harsh realities of the process is essential in entering the world of adoption.
While this may not be true for all adoptive parents, one of the most common reasons for considering adoption is issues with fertility. Couples all over the world are yearning to expand the love they have for one another in creating, together, a family to raise and multiply that love with. For some, that desire is fulfilled more simply than others.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 13 percent of couples will have trouble becoming pregnant due to infertility issues. Some of these issues can be resolved through years of infertility treatment; other couples turn to foster to share their love and home with children who are in immediate need of it. Sadly, infertility treatments don’t always work, and foster care could never replace adoption (learn more about the differences between fostering and adopting here).
As some hopeful and current adoptive parents open their hearts and homes to adoption, the door to infertility grief cannot simply be closed. Take time to grieve. Feel your feelings. Seek help and support. For yourself, your marriage, and your family, one of the most important things you can do in this process is to address and learn to cope with the feelings of loss you may experience before, during, and after an adoption is finalized.
Jody Landers, an adoptive mother, said, “A child born to another woman calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me.” The bittersweet sentiment does not sugarcoat the realities of tragedy a birth parent will experience throughout the course of the adoption process. Adoptive parents should seek to understand, the best they can, the position an expectant mother and father find themselves in when considering adoption.
An unplanned pregnancy can be jarring to one’s life. Whether an expectant parent chooses to keep or place a child, this pregnancy has caused a lifelong shift in her roles, plans, and goals. Perhaps her family or social circles are unaccepting of her unplanned pregnancy. Maybe her support systems are a little too supportive and are discouraging of considering adoption as a worthy choice in the matter. These social pressures on top of the emotional stress of pregnancy are just a few of the stressors expectant parents are experiencing. Grow to appreciate or at least try to understand her position. Offer whatever support you can. At the end of the day, an expectant parent is still a parent.
It doesn’t matter if your adoption is opened or closed, your respect and proper consideration of a birth parent’s decision will influence the understanding children will have of where they came from and why they are where they are. It is never too soon to gain proper empathy, compassion, and appreciation for a birth parent.
Realistic Expectations Throughout the Process
There are plenty of books, blogs, and blips about what to expect when you’re expecting. Even for hopeful adoptive parents, agencies and adoption attorneys can walk you through the process. But what should you expect from the process mentally and emotionally?
The adoption process can be just as mentally exhausting as it is physically and emotionally. Sometimes, the best and only preparation you can do to make the process that much easier is to know what the process will entail. Parent profiles, social support, fundraising, and waiting on a match are just a few of the hoops that you will jump through as a hopeful adoptive parent.
Parent profiles, adoption videos, and social media posts are some of the platforms hopeful adoptive parents use to find an adoption match. This may seem like an easy checkbox to fill, but once it comes time to build your profile, the weight of every word you type begins to feel heavier and heavier. Don’t stress. Take a breath. Be honest and sincere in your profile and have faith in the process.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but by now you’ve probably learned it takes even more than a village to adopt a child. Finances aside, your adoption journey is going to be full of ups and downs. Prepare your friends and loved ones now with the information they should know about being an adoption ally.
You’ll come to learn very quickly that adoption—whether it be domestic or international—is not cheap. Hopeful adoptive parents should enter the process expecting to spend an upwards of $40,000. Of course, between fundraising and adoption grants, the expenses of adoption are manageable. But, preparing now mentally and physically for those expenses will mean a world of difference at the end of the day.
The last, and maybe most grueling, process to face before an adoption match is made is the wait. The wait for the match. The wait for the right birth mother. This is the wait for your child to start down the path toward becoming apart of your forever family. Odds are, you’ve already done some serious waiting with your journey through fertility issues or working with the foster care system. However you were brought to adoption in the first place, be patient and don’t lose hope.
As discouraging as the process may seem at times, nothing compares to the joy and thrill of being chosen as an adoptive family. Now is the time to begin a healthy relationship with the birth mother and father if he is involved, finalize the adoption, and prepare to parent a child who is adopted.
Depending on how far along the expectant mother is when you are matched and whether or not the adoption is open, now is the time to begin fostering a relationship between biological and adoptive parents. This is your chance to get to know the birth parents of your future child and potentially begin a lifelong relationship with them.
Start preparing now for what you want that relationship to entail. What level of communication do you want between biological and adoptive families? When will circumstances necessitate contact between biological parents and the child to be adopted? How will you expect to maintain a healthy relationship post-placement? These are all questions that you can answer ahead of time and adjust for based on your individual circumstances.
The legalities of adoption can be complicated and lengthy. Luckily, you are not alone; you can prepare for every step of the process with your adoption agency or attorney. After the birth and placement of the child and depending on where you live, there will be a set waiting period before you attend the family court to finalize the adoption. Also depending on where you live, a post-placement visit may occur to ensure that the placement, up until that point, is successful. Post-placement visits and family court are nothing to stress about but are something that you should be prepared for.
You’ve made it. Your bundle of joy is finally in your arms. The emotional rollercoaster hasn’t given you a break yet, but a sense of completeness has at last filled your home. Now is your time to shine. You are a parent. But, your responsibilities as an adoptive parent are unique. Your child took a special road to get to your door, a road that many children have never experienced, and many adults will never understand. How do you mentally prepare to parent your child who was adopted? A few things you can do with your child is to prepare to learn all that you can about his or her origins and communicate openly and often with your child about her or his adoption story.
Whether your child is from China, Africa, or Idaho, it is important that you respect and address your child’s origins and adoption story. Learn all that you can about your children’s biological culture and heritage. When they’re old enough to ask questions and inquire about where they came from, you’ll be prepared to answer them confidently. At the same time, you should never push a child’s birth culture on her if she is resistive. Some children who are adopted prefer to embrace their adoptive family’s culture to better self-identify. Listen and be attentive to their individual needs.
Going along with that principle of attending to your child’s mental and emotional needs, a practice of open communication involving adoption should be commonplace in your home. Children who are adopted will face many challenges when it comes to self-discovery and coping with their adoption. Only a child who is adopted can fully understand what it’s really like to be adopted—that can feel extremely lonely. Prepare to answer hard questions about whatever stage of life your child is in. Encourage your children to embrace their emotions—the good and the bad. And finally, do all that you can to foster a relationship of trust and love regarding the subject of your child’s adoption.
A Never-Ending Process
Continuing your education and growth into the world of post-placement adoption will help you healthily process the mental and emotional journey. Both biological and adoptive parents can experience post-placement depression and stand in need of counseling. Take advantage of support groups, family counseling services, and the help offered to you by your village to learn how to cope with the challenges you’ll face post-placement.
As an adoptive parent, you have access to tons of support groups locally and virtually. Odds are that your neighbors and family members have no experience when it comes to parenting as an adoptive parent. So, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Reach out to the people who are more like you for specific support and encouragement.
Another source of support is family counseling. Your journey to your forever family is like no one else’s. By the time you’re taking your long-awaited family pictures, you will have gone through moments of grief, loss, discouragement, and rejection mixed in with moments of elation, happiness, fulfillment, and joy. That is all emotionally draining; at the end of the day, you must take care of your mental health if you intend to give your child the very best that he deserves.
Last but most importantly, trust your people. If you’ve prepared for this moment well before you bring your child home for the first time, your people will be ready and waiting to offer you the help and support you need. Sure, you will need plenty of personal time home alone to bond with your child appropriately. But that does not mean you are alone on an island having to fend for yourself. Ask for help and accept the help when you do need it.
A Never-Ending Reward
Any member of the adoption triad can attest to the beauties and the hardships of adoption. The process may be emotionally taxing, but with proper preparation and acknowledgment of emotion, you and your children can emerge from the process healthy and happy. Don’t let yourself become enveloped in discouragement. Remain optimistic and hopeful through the process. Use your resources for support when needed. Never forget that the promise of a forever family will be worth every bump in the road.
Courtney was adopted at 3 days old. Growing up in a home where adoption was discussed openly, she always had a passion for sharing her story. When she was 18, she reunited with both of her birth parents and continues to have a positive relationship with each of their families. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in professional writing. Since then, she’s had the opportunity to create and edit content in areas such as fitness, health and wellness, financing, and adoption. When she isn’t behind a book, you can find her dancing in the living room with her 11 nieces, attempting to cook, and tending to her extensive collection of house plants.