For Families Considering Adoption, The Wait Is Different
Biological children come with a timeline, even if that timeline comes with lots of surprises along the way. Pregnancy’s fairly standard length, concluding by 40ish weeks in the majority of cases, means that parents have a variety of ways to prepare, mentally and physically, throughout those months. For families considering adoption, the timeline is less concrete.
While the home study process, by which a family becomes locally approved as ready to adopt, can take a few months, the real question mark comes after becoming a “waiting family.” With foster care and some independent adoptions, the response is nearly immediate, and placement can take place before some families are at all ready. In other cases, the phone doesn’t ring for months or even years.
For families who find themselves waiting for an indeterminate amount of time to match or have a child placed with them, there are indeed ways to prepare. These activities, however, are often more mental than they are physical.
Find a Pediatrician
One practical step rises to the surface when talking to adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals alike. In the flurry to get one’s home study completed and get ready for a potential match with a birth parent, many families undergoing independent infant adoption do not settle on a particular pediatrician before the child is born or placed in their home. With newborns, having a pediatrician is particularly important, since seeing the doctor frequently in the first weeks and months is a common practice that helps parents get accustomed to their new family member.
You may find yourself driving to see the pediatrician frequently, whether you adopt an infant or an older child, since you won’t be sure what is 'normal' for a particular child until you’ve gotten to know each other a little more.
Sheryl Linne, Executive Director of Adoption Professionals, an adoption agency in Ohio, tells new waiting families a whole list of items that are helpful to do during their waiting time, but finding a pediatrician is one of the top items.
If you haven’t yet, it’s probably not too early to find a pediatrician with whom you connect, and located somewhere convenient to your home. You may find yourself driving to see the pediatrician frequently, whether you adopt an infant or an older child, since you won’t be sure what is “normal” for a particular child until you’ve gotten to know each other a little more. A pediatrician who works with many adoptive families may also be a real benefit, since they may have insights specifically related to adoption.
Read Books, Take Classes… Or Don’t
Jess and Paul are the hosts of “We Can Do This: Our Adoption Journey,” a podcast that chronicled their application, eightmonth waiting time, and placement with their adopted baby daughter. Throughout the podcast, Jess and Paul updated their listeners on the things they were doing to stay busy and feel prepared.
Paul, for instance, expressed reluctance on the podcast to start reading parenting and baby books; many parents-to-be feel like the books will make them more stressed rather than making them feel more prepared. Jess, as well as many listeners who wrote in to the podcast, says that it really should be a personal choice as to how much you prepare through reading books.
They did, however, have a positive experience with some hands-on training.
“We recommend fellow adoptive parents take a baby-care class, especially a baby care class for adoptive parents,” says Jess. “I’m still organizing all my notes and transferring ideas into my work on our registry. Lots of information was given about swaddling, diapering, bathing, and feeding… All that stuff! Really informative.”
Given the potentially short or long wait, it makes sense to gather resources and advice and participate in what parenting preparation you can. However, it’s best not to spend months or years agonizing about whether you’ve read enough or taken enough classes.
Prepare Mentally For Both Quick & Slow Matches
Emotional preparation, while important, can be hard to accomplish. As Krista Parrish, an adoptive mother of two, says, there is no real way to prepare for every possible scenario; there are too many ways that this process can play out.
One thing that is valuable, however, is to take at least a little time with your partner and talk about what you’ll do if you match quickly: what life plans will need to be altered or even cancelled if you need to drop everything and go pick up your child? What household projects, work commitments, or travel arrangements need to be tentative during this period of waiting?
While having your thoughts in order about a quick match is a good idea, especially if your agency or lawyer have told you this is a likely possibility, there are also benefits to preparing for a slower match as well. A slower match gives you more time to consider how you will parent long term; try to have conversations to get on the same page during this period of waiting.
“With adoption, ask those big questions with your spouse: How you are going to handle it when they have curious questions about their birth parents?” says Parrish. “Have some conversations about how you will answer your child in an honest, caring, loving way, without giving too much information at once or not enough."
We’ve had birth parents switch from semi-open adoptions to wanting full openness at the time of birth.
Build Your Support Network
Parrish also acknowledges that she would have loved to have more people in her circle who understood what she was going through. A parents’ group, Moms group, or other connection to other adoptive parents is something she recommends finding during this waiting and preparing time. You can also help those you love to join you on this journey.
“That’s where your support group comes in,” says Parrish. “You can also share your adoption materials with your family and friends so that they learn about this process alongside you.”
Even if your area doesn’t have a formal structure for adoptive parents, it may be worthwhile to reach out and see if other adoptive parents are willing to come over for dinner, have a cup of coffee, or otherwise share their story as you prepare for your own family to grow. They may have ideas for how to help your family and friends accompany you well on this journey.
Expect The Unexpected
Once you know you’ve matched with either a child or a birth family, choices still come up within this process that can have a major effect on your family moving forward. One example is the choice between closed, semi-open (letters and photographs, for instance, but no in-person visits), and open adoption. While most people have preferences going in, Sheryl Linne suggests keeping an open mind, if possible, and knowing your own limits.
“We’ve had birth parents switch from semi-open adoptions to wanting full openness at the time of birth,” says Linne. “You should be considering this possibility so you don’t have to make this life-changing decision quickly if it happens. That’s a pretty important thing to be thinking about ahead of time.”
While it is important to know your own boundaries, it’s also valuable to be open to a different arrangement if, as you and the birth parents get to know each other, anyone in the adoption triad (child, birth parents, adoptive parents) starts to feel differently. Take time to talk to your partner and understand what aspects of the process are important to you. Your adoption social worker can help you know what typically goes on and offer you insights about the choices ahead.
No matter how you are waiting, how long you are waiting, and what you do to prepare, adoptive parents frequently will remind you: the waiting and preparing are more than worth it when you get to grow your family at the conclusion of the process.