The emotions involved with adoption are frequently compared to a roller coaster. There are many ups and downs in adoption. The highs are exhilarating and give you so much joy. The lows can be hard to endure and make you second guess yourself and the decision to continue on the adoption journey. There are many people that will celebrate with you when you face the highs and exciting parts of adoption. When something good happens in adoption we want to shout it from the rooftops, but not as many people will be able to know how to support you in the low times.
We don’t always share the lows with everyone on social media. People don’t always know what to say if we share those lows and will frequently not say anything in fear that they might say the wrong thing. Not everyone will know how to empathize with the struggles that you face in the adoption journey. But you will find those who can empathize and be a listening ear will become your adoption support system. They will be your cheerleaders along the way whether you are facing a struggle or celebrating a victory.
In my own adoption journey, I have friends and family that I have been able to turn to through the victories and the heartbreak. I still turn to many of them to chat about adoption. I have also tried to be a support to others starting their adoption journey. You can find support in your spouse or partner, a friend that has been on the adoption journey, an adoption caseworker, or a support group in person or virtually.
Your Spouse or Partner
If you are married and are hoping to adopt, you have a built-in person that you can confide in about your adoption struggles. Both of you made the decision to adopt together. You can turn to each other through all the highs and all the lows. One of the main pieces of advice that might help is to understand that your spouse is not always going to react in the same way as you to adoption struggles. They may process things differently. Each spouse will go through their own kind of grief.
When my husband and I were first hoping to adopt, the desire for me to become a mother was probably stronger than his desire to become a father. He, of course, wanted to become a dad, but I was really pulled towards motherhood from a young age. I wanted that to be part of my identity. I saw so many other women my age as mothers or pregnant and I wished that I could have that. My husband comforted me when I sometimes cried myself to sleep when I felt like it was never going to happen. He helped talk me through some of my emotions when I would break down. We would take trips on Mother’s Day weekend when we wanted to forget about our parentless state.
There were also times when I was strong and needed to help my husband as he got frustrated with the length of the process. Many times one of us was having a good day or week and could help the other one. There are going to be times that you are both struggling. Sharing your emotions truthfully will help. Make sure that you give each other the opportunity to share and feel validated in your emotions. Remember that you are a team and are working towards the same goal. Find hobbies that you can do together to take your mind off of the adoption struggles. Go on dates and have fun together. It will benefit your relationship and help you to always put each other first.
Friends or Family Members
One of the best ways to get through the struggles you face in adoption is to be able to talk to someone that has been on the journey before. I found so much hope in hearing other people’s experiences with adoption. They told me of the different ways that they adopted their children through an agency, private adoption, and foster care. These friends or family members know the pain that comes from seeing other people getting pregnant and having babies, the wait that comes with adoption, and the feeling of being scrutinized by adoption caseworkers and expectant parents.
Prior to adopting our first child, I contacted an acquaintance and felt a quick connection with her because she had recently adopted her daughter. She was open to telling me their story and the struggles that they had been through. I knew that there was someone that I could talk to and she would understand the feelings that I was going through. I called her several times in the year leading up to being chosen by our son’s birth mother. I chatted with her when the expectant parent that was talking with us decided to choose another family to adopt her baby. We talked about the insecurities that I was facing because we were not being contacted by anyone in weeks. She helped me change my expectations for how things were going to happen. She was a listening ear when I needed to vent. She validated the concerns that I had and helped me see myself in a better way. She helped me to recognize that the right child would come to our family at the right time.
About a year after we adopted our first son, we started working towards being approved to adopt again. We were excited to have another child and for our son to be a brother. I was a happy mother but as more and more time went by the plan to have children close in age didn’t seem like it would happen. I thought that my son would move out of a crib because another baby needed the crib, but he got a big boy bed before we needed that crib.
I was going through a hard time emotionally as I found out that a sister and two sisters-in-law were pregnant. I emailed a friend to vent. I told her that I got really emotional when I found out about everyone being pregnant, not because I was not happy for them, but because it made me wonder about our own family and what would happen for us. It seemed like there were times that infertility just slapped me in the face when I was totally not expecting it.
She responded saying that it was so nice to hear the same things that she had felt. The fact that there was no one to blame and no one who could fix it made it so much harder because we realized that it was just a dilemma we had to work on within ourselves. Realizing this was so hard for her because she had always been of the mindset that if she just worked hard enough, she could get what she wanted.
I recalled feeling the same when my brother and sister-in-law announced that they were expecting a second baby, I was so excited for them, but simultaneously my body just betrayed the deep-rooted hurt and I could barely choke out an excuse to run to the bathroom before I sobbed her heart out in front of the whole family. We had already adopted our first child, so I guess like everyone else, I thought my painful infertility heartache was cured. And every time people talk about how much so and so looks like so and so, and how much someone’s personality is like whoever’s— these things still hurt, but I can’t say them out loud or ever let my children know how much I wish that I had given birth to them and that people could say that about us.
My friend’s words were so validating. I hadn’t been alone in my feelings. There were others around who felt the same way. I have found that veteran adoptive moms are very helpful in calming anxieties. Find someone that has been on this journey. You are not alone and there are others that want to support and lift you up.
Foster Care and Foster-to-Adopt
When we decided to foster-to-adopt, I reached out to a friend that had recently been placed with two children whom they were on the path to adopting. She eased some of my fears and gave me hope that good things would happen for our family. After we were licensed and two boys were quickly placed with us, I frequently turned to her about questions and struggles we endured that were different in the foster system. Having someone close who had been through a similar situation was so valuable in helping me through all the ups and downs.
If you are adopting through an agency or through the state, you have most likely been assigned a caseworker. This person will help you through the approval or licensing process. He or she will be supportive through your adoption journey. It will be beneficial for you to stay in close contact with this person. The caseworker will be happy to answer your questions. We had a great caseworker through the agency when we were adopting our first son. He frequently gave us feedback on our profile. He facilitated contact between expectant parents and us as well as giving us questions to ask or things to think about for each situation that was presented to us. My husband and I felt supported through the struggles. He was also so happy for us when we were matched and we adopted our son.
Sometimes finding a group of people is an important way to discuss different situations and problems associated with adoption. These groups can be held in person or virtually. We found a group of other adoptive families that met quarterly. It helped us feel like we were part of a club. We had an instant bond with these new friends because we were all hoping to adopt or had adopted. If there is not a support group in your area, maybe you can start one or find a group on a social media app. I have found other adoptive families through Facebook and Instagram. It is a great way to see other families and although we don’t see each other in real life, we are friends and have a bond through adoption. We talk about how to help our children’s birth parents be a part of our lives, how to navigate talking with our children about their feelings surrounding adoption, and parenting.
Becoming Supportive of Other People
Once you have been through some of the adoption struggles, you can be a support to others that are just starting their own journey. I always feel an instant connection with other women who have been through infertility and adoption. Several years ago I bought a greeting card that was directed to a couple that was hoping to adopt. It said: “We will be hoping and praying for you as you embark on this journey to find your child.” I kept it for a year before I met the person I knew I needed to send it to. This woman had heard about our family and how we adopted our first son and were hoping to adopt our next two sons. She introduced herself to me at church and we immediately connected. She and her husband were in a similar situation we had been in about six years before. We invited them to dinner and we became quick friends. She called me to tell me about their successes and failures in adoption. It was fulfilling to be the one supporting her and listening to her as so many women had done that for me.
I met another wife and husband who were just licensed through the state. We chatted several times and talked about our foster-to-adopt experience. I got a phone call from the state caseworker asking if we would take in a five-month-old baby. I immediately didn’t feel like it was the right situation for us, but I felt like I could pass on this other family’s information. The caseworker was able to connect with them and they said yes to taking in the baby. He is now two years old and they are planning on adopting him soon.
It is a blessing to be in a position to support others through their own adoption struggles. The Swedish proverb fits well when talking about the highs and lows of adoption: “Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.” You can listen and support someone through their struggles and rejoice with them in their victories. Adoption has helped me become a mother, but I have also become a part of a larger adoption community.
Alicia Nelson is a wife and a mother to three rambunctious boys. She is an online teacher and teaches English to Chinese children. Adoption has become her passion. She loves connecting with others on infertility, adoption, and foster care. She enjoys woodworking, being outdoors, listening to podcasts, and reading good books. She lives in Washington state with her family.