Tips and Info for family and friends
“We are Adopting!” For many, sharing the information with their loved ones that they have decided to grow their family through adoption is difficult to do. They may or may not have shared their plans for growing their family with others, or may have been open about their experiences that have led them to adopt. Despite what many think, infertility is not the only reason people choose to adopt. If infertility is a factor, or if it is not, it is very important that loved ones respond in a supportive and encouraging manner. However, not everyone knows or understands the complexities of adoption or how to respond.
How you say it matters!
It’s important to explore what your personal views are on adoption. It’s normal for loved ones to experience a sense of loss when they learn about the adoption. The loss of adding biological children to the family, or the fear of the unknown, the impact on the family or community dynamic… you may have some concerns. It’s OK to feel that way but important to seek clarification and education prior to sharing with the adoptive family or responding.
|It’s a shame you can’t have real children.||Adoption, wow, we didn’t know you were considering that option. We don’t know much about that; will you help us learn more?
We support you in whatever way you decide to grow your family.
|Just keep trying, you’ll get pregnant.|
|Have you tried everything?|
|Won’t the child have all sorts of problems?|
|What if the real parents did drugs?|
|Why? You already have your own kids!|
Sharing the decision to grow their family through adoption should come from the adoptive family directly. Avoid discussing this with others until they decide to share it themselves. It’s also important for you to know that as they begin the adoption process, they may need to set boundaries that may seem offensive but are really done with the intention of supporting the adopted child and family. The adoptive family will have learned the importance of protecting their adopted child’s story, as it belongs to the child and will be up to the child to share if he or she decides to. We would never want an adopted child to hear information about his or her birth family or adoption from someone other than the parents. For this reason, the adoptive family may not share much information about a potential match or birth family not because they do not trust you, but because they are respecting their child’s adoption story.
Privacy should not be confused with shame. It is important to know when adoptive parents protect their child’s story, it is not because they are ashamed of their child’s origin, birth family or adoption in general. Their child will know they are adopted in an age-appropriate manner and they will have control of their story.
The Labor Pains of Adoption
Adopting is a long and, at times, exhausting process. For a family to adopt, they need to complete an extensive home study which involves ongoing interviews, training, background and medical checks, home visits, reference checks, etc. Once the home study is completed, they could be waiting a long time to be matched with a birth family/baby. For some, they are able to meet the birth family prior to delivery, for others, they may go directly to the hospital with no prior knowledge that they would be matched. There is a risk of an adoption falling through and the adoptive family will be aware of those risks.
Sadly, for many adoptive families, their experience as they prepare to add a child to their family can be vastly different than their friends and family who experience the community preparation in pregnancy. Employers and co-workers, family and friends and others in their community may not know exactly how to respond and end up not acknowledging the pending adoption at all, which can be hurtful. We want to encourage you to be positive and optimistic during this time of preparation and anticipation. Some ways you can do this would be to show interest in learning more about adoption, hosting a baby shower or helping the couple register for baby items in anticipation for the match, and finding ways to give the couple some support and attention during this time.
Respect for Birth Family
The realization that you cannot parent your child or provide the life for your child that they deserve is not a decision made lightly. Birthparents will fluctuate in their decision throughout the pregnancy and adoption process and that is OK. It is important for family and friends of the adoptive family have a basic understanding of the need to be sensitive and empathetic when talking about birth families. While some circumstances that lead to adoption are difficult or dangerous, the courageous act of choosing life and making an adoption plan (NOT ‘giving up a baby’!) is one that should be respected and celebrated. After all, it’s what led the adoptive family to grow their family. 99.9% of birth families select the adoptive family themselves and it is part of a well thought out and intentional decision. Always defer to the adoptive parents on what to say, or not say, regarding birth families. An adopted child will pick up on negative associations or feelings of those around them. How their loved ones feel about their birth family will impact how they feel about themselves, and will contribute to an uncertain sense of self or positive identity.
What if they take the baby back?
In each state, there is a specific amount of time, called ‘legal risk’ when the birth parents can change their mind about placing for adoption. The adoptive family will know what the legal risk time period is depending on the type of adoption they are doing. After legal risk has passed, in VA it’s 10 days, birth parents can no longer change their mind and decide to parent. Support persons need to be invested in the permanency of adoption and relay that to the family so be careful about questioning things such as this. Trust that they have done their research and know the risk.
Most adoptions now are considered ‘open’ which means that there is some level of contact between the birth family and the adoptive family. Research shows us that the outcomes for the birth family, adoptive family, and adopted child are better when openness exists.
The adoptive family will likely have learned a great deal about ways to promote healthy development and attachment with their adopted child. We recommend to them that they spend a period of time (3 weeks to 3 months) focusing completely on building healthy attachments. In adoption, this is often referred to as ‘cocooning’. During this time, and possibly after as well, the adoptive family may limit guests, choose not to have others hold the baby, or decline invitations to social gatherings. They may do this because they are focused completely on acclimating as a family and building healthy and strong attachments. While this can be difficult for loved ones to understand or accept, please know that if the adoptive family has set these boundaries, it is not a reflection on how they feel about or appreciate you but rather, how invested they are in giving their child the best possible start. Some of the recommendations of things adoptive parents can do to promote early attachment are: frequent skin to skin contact, having baby sleep in the same room, have parents wear or hold baby as much as possible, nurturing feeding rituals, etc.
Supporting the Adoptive Family
There are many things that you can do to support the adoptive family prior to and after placement. Consider starting a meal schedule or helping with housework, just as you would for a mother who recently gave birth. Adoptive parents are just as exhausted as biological parents and are at risk for feelings of isolation or baby blues. Be present for the family and let them know you are there to support them.
Adoption is a Lifelong Journey
Adoption has an impact on everyone involved- the adoption triad- which is composed of the adoptive family, the birth family and the child. Adoption will be interwoven into the identity of each member of the triad forever. It will be more relevant at different stages in each member’s lives. The adoptive family will appreciate your sensitivity as their child grows and reaches various milestones that may prompt questions around their adoption. Curiosity and a desire to learn more about a child’s birth family is very normal and healthy. Adoptive families understand this and want to foster an environment in which their child can always come to them first with questions about their adoption.
We, as well as the adoptive family, greatly appreciate you taking the time to read these quick tips and learn a bit more about how you can best support adoptive families. That you are willing to learn is a beautiful reflection of your love for the adoptive family and your desire to support them. We encourage our families to be open in educating on and talking about adoption, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
* * *
If you would like more information on adoption, please call our Pregnancy and Adoption Support program at 703-425-0100 or visit our website.