This guest post is provided by an adoptive mother based ‘over the pond’ in the US. Upon reading it, you will notice some stark differences between UK and US adoption, however what struck me were the similarities; particularly in the emotion we share. Let me know which your favourite suggestion is and comment below.
As an adoptive mother and author, I participate in on-line supportive communities. I asked my groups, “What specific things can a friend or family member do to help you as you wait for a child through adoption?” Here are their responses:
- Learn about adoption and all it involves so we don’t have to answer the same questions over and over again.
- Call and ask before inviting us to baby showers and birthday parties for children. We may be too frustrated, financially strapped, or may even be privately grieving an adoption loss. Understand with compassion if we decline such an invitation.
- Trust our judgment as we make decisions – from considering birth parents’ backgrounds, to foster vs. agency vs. private adoption, to setting up a nursery. We all handle building a family differently.
- Never say, “You know you will get pregnant once you adopt!” That implies that our efforts are in vain and that the adopted child is a substitute or hold-over for a biological child. Plus, many of us simply can not conceive, which is heartbreaking.
- Respect that just as pregnant women bond with their unborn children, waiting mothers bond once we decide to adopt. We feel “paper pregnant” yet we may be “paper pregnant” for years.
- Demonstrate faith that the waiting family will eventually welcome a child. Though the waiting parents may not be comfortable buying baby clothes and supplies, you may. By doing so, you show concrete belief and support.
- If an adoption opportunity fails, be careful what you say. Reassure us that we will welcome a child in a matter of time.
- Adoption can be physically exhausting (worry, anxiety, sleep deprivation). Help us now and then by doing housework, cooking a meal, or running errands.
- Usually the biggest need for families that are adopting (domestically or internationally) is financial. Perhaps you could send money, anonymously if you like, to the parents’ agency to help defray costs.
- Show an active interest in the entire process, whether it’s the family’s first or fifth child. Each pregnancy is exciting. Adoptive parents yearn for the same treatment.
- Keep a secret journal for the child, documenting his/her parents’ love as they wait for his/her arrival.
- Save your sky miles in case the parents have to travel.
- Pray for the social workers, the adoptive family, the birth family, and the child/children.
- Take photographs at milestones (placement day, adoption day in court, the hospital, the homecoming, the airport). Sometimes the adoptive parents feel flustered and lack the presence of mind to take pictures.
- Volunteer to be an “on call” babysitter if the parents have existing children. The adoption process requires meetings and appointments and sometimes spur-of-the-moment opportunities.
- Instead of saying the child is “so lucky to have you,” compliment the parent-child relationship or say “What a lucky family.”
- Simply introduce us as parents and child. There’s no need to interject that a child is adopted. Adoptive parents don’t always feel like giving explanations or testimonies.
- Avoid questions that could make the adoptive parent feel uncomfortable or make them feel obligated to give away the child’s private story.
- Demonstrate respect for the birth family (who is the child’s family, too), especially in front of the child. Remember that these children are loved by their biological families. Don’t ever say, “You know he/she’s better off with you.” That is insulting to the child.
- Never ask how much the adoption cost. Just know that it is expensive.
- Don’t discuss birth family history, especially in front of the child.
- If you are also an adoptive parent, mentor another.
- Remember that all of our children (biological or adopted) are our “own children.” They belong to us, and we to them.
- When we welcome a new child, treat us as though we just gave birth. No, we did not endure labour, but adoption is emotionally draining.
- Honour the child with a shower or gifts.
- Instead of asking, “How long have you had him/her?” maybe say, “I would love to hear your family’s story.”
- Refer to the child’s birth parents appropriately. Don’t call them “mom” and “dad.” The adoptive parents are “mom” and “dad.” Learn the language of adoption: birth parent is a much kinder term than “real mom/real dad” and “placed for adoption” is more appropriate than “given up.”
- Regarding open adoption, pray for and encourage adoptive parents as they navigate what can be a very awkward and emotional relationship. I am often asked, “Do you still have to talk to her?” I love her. She gave me my son.
- When you question waiting or adoptive parents about a specific point involved in the process, and we answer you, know that the response is accurate. We undergo extensive, legally required evaluation and training on all aspects of adoption.
Friends and relatives of waiting and adoptive parents, you play a crucial role in the stories and lives of adoptive families. I pray this simple, direct to-do list from my adoption community here in America will help you think, learn, care, and do and say the right things to play a helpful, encouraging role as you help your loved ones build their families through adoption.
Jody Cantrell Dyer is an adoptive mother, teacher, and author in East Tennessee, USA. In her novel, The Eye of Adoption: the true story of my turbulent wait for a baby, Dyer directly addresses the sorrows of infertility and the demands of adoption while consistently word-weaving a life-rope of assurance, optimism, and humour for her readers.