- What I wish I knew before adopting a child
- What to consider when deciding to adopt after infertility
- Adopting older kids: Is it right for you?
- Adopting older kids: Making them feel at home
- Transracial adoption: Maintaining your child’s culture and identity in a colorful world
- International adoption: Maintaining your child’s culture and identity
- Fostering kids: Joys and challenges of foster parenting
One of the things I love these days is the growing recognition that families are all different. Same-sex parents, multiracial families, single parents, stepfamilies, and adoptive families are all common in our daily lives. This array of blended households might lead readers into thinking anything goes. However, the social reality for anyone living out these lives is often rich, complicated, and painful.
Adoption is no exception. While the images of sweet happily-ever-after keep on annoying adoptive parents on social media, it still makes good for those images that go viral and warm people’s hearts. Anyone considering adoption as the way of making a family should seriously do some homework first.
Reasons to choose adoption
Why adoption at all? Some may ask why not? So many children need stable, loving homes. So many couples are struggling with fertility issues. What’s not to like? The mantra of “Why don’t you just adopt?” gets thrown around so often, triggering eye rolls from adoptive parents and annoyance from adoptees.
So why pursue adoption at all? Here are a few good reasons to think about it:
- You want to give a child a loving and stable home.
- You are prepared to change and work on yourself in order to adapt your natural parenting style to be the trauma-responsive one that many of these children need.
- You are self-reflective and resilient enough to cope with an intrusive assessment process.
- You understand that children come with a birth family in their history, which will always be present somehow. Whether in your child’s thinking, helping them understand their past, or requesting to contact them.
When is the right time to end fertility treatment for adoption?
Only you can decide when this is right. I never pursued fertility treatment, so I speak with my doctor hat on here. I’ve seen couples who can’t deal with any other hormonal injection rollercoasters after one IVF cycle. And I’ve seen others go to the wall with 10 cycles, flying back and forth for treatment that is cheaper abroad.
Whatever you decide, it’s imperative to allow yourself time to process the emotions of coming to the end of fertility treatment. Grief for miscarriages, failed treatments, and the loss of hope of a biological child is a common and real pain that needs to be acknowledged. Even when I thought a biological child wasn’t really part of my own script, the emotions manifested after adoption.
During tough times with behavior, I sometimes wonder and grieve for a child that looks and sounds like me, even though I thought it was a value of mine not to feel the need to recreate my own DNA. Be wary because this stuff has a way of popping up and catching you out. You think you know yourself? Adoption will hold up a mirror to yourself.
Importance of researching about adoption after infertility
You absolutely should do your research here. Adoption is a living, breathing entity that will be in your lives every day. Children don’t come unaccompanied. They bring their histories, some of which may be ugly or painful.
Humans need a strong and healthy attachment with a caregiver to thrive. Lack of attachment arrests physical growth of the brain. But it begins in the womb. Breaking that attachment is trauma in itself. Research is very positive that attachments can reform with new caregivers. Still, the foundations are often a bit wobbly, which may manifest as behaviors.
Past traumas also create behaviors at times, such as defiance, aggression, and lying. Resilient children can also get affected by their past to a greater or lesser extent and at different times of their lives. Many adoptive families live normal lives, and many are doing ok but with issues, while some have significant difficulty. That’s not to say that you can’t overcome problems, but some kids need extra therapy, time, and hope.
Reading about infertility and child adoption is very important. Sally Donovan’s book No Matter What: An Adoptive Family’s Story of Hope, Love and Healing is a hard read but still one of the best accounts. The book speaks to potential adoptive parents and draws inspiration from Sally’s own adoption journey after infertility. It comes highly recommended.
More importantly, talk to a range of adoptive parents and types of families. Most of us are very keen for someone to listen to our stories. Local adoption support groups often offer sessions for new prospective parents or else an agency may bring parents in for training. The stories of birth parents and adoptees are essential and a good agency will include their voices in training. Many people’s lives are affected by adoption in some way, so just asking around usually brings up some contacts.
A reputable agency will run through A LOT of education. Ours took at least 5 days, with homework, and I still felt unprepared on some levels for the emotional aspects of having an adopted child. What can I say? Nothing can really prepare you for the feeling of actually being a parent. If an agency is saying they offer a couple of hours of online training, walk away.
Know the different kinds of adoption
A good agency will guide you through these decisions. However, forewarned is forearmed. Our social worker kind of sprung this on us in the first session. And we then just opened our mouths and said something she didn’t like and had her scribbling things down about us in her enormous file. (Obviously, we passed the assessment in the end.)
There is an increasing shift towards “open” adoptions, where regular contact with the birth family occurs. This isn’t always possible, e.g., if the child’s relationship with their parents has been severed due to violence. However, in some countries, contact still may take place via letters arranged through social workers. Contact is usually desirable for the child to understand their growing identity. However, it can sometimes be messy, so it is something to read about and get your head around.
Transracial adoption is another area to consider. People will debate far and wide as to whether this should happen, but it does. My personal take on this after A LOT of thinking is that the question isn’t whether transracial adoption is good/bad, but how to better identify and prepare families capable of undertaking the learning and change to support a child of another ethnicity.
Many children in need of adoption have special needs. It may sound callous to sit and go through a list of what we could and couldn’t cope with, but that’s what we did with our social worker. We were prepared to cope with a range of complex histories and mental health issues. Still, the reality was that our multilevel apartment with its numerous short staircases going around corners is unsuitable for a child who couldn’t walk.
Coming home with your adopted child
The journey to get here took 2.5 years. It wasn’t easy at times. Challenges ranged from difficult questions, feeling a bit judged at times, and a process without much regard for your emotions. If you’re still reading, be robust. Nevertheless, we arrived.
What was it like bringing our boy home? My husband has never, ever questioned his happiness about being a dad. I had post-adoption depression, which is similar to postpartum depression, but with some differences. I found it hard to fit in with the other playground moms. As a transracial family, it turned out I did not have the thick skin required to deal with the “Is he yours?” brigade. I have that thick skin now and I’m grateful for the personal growth, but it was hard.
Four years in I just feel like we are a regular family now. My son is doing great. He’s the cutest in my eyes. But then, we would all say that about our kids, wouldn’t we? Adoption has enriched our lives and I wouldn’t change anything right now, but parts of the journey were hard.