Becoming a first-time parent through adoption can be a very interesting experience. For people who are able to have biological children, they typically have nine months to physically and emotionally prepare for the birth of a child. With adoption, that isn’t always the case. In some instances, there is time to prepare, but in other instances, a phone call comes and a child is placed in your arms almost immediately. And so, for those of you who are new parents through adoption, here are a few pieces of advice I’d love to share with you.
1. Sometimes bonding doesn’t happen immediately, and that’s okay.
The day my son was born felt very surreal. It was a day we had hoped and prayed for, but once it arrived, it brought a myriad of emotions I was not prepared for. Though we were able to take him to a private room in the hospital for the two days he was there, he was not our child. No paperwork had been signed and his birth mother still had the option of changing her mind. We guarded our hearts carefully during that time, and though we grew attached to him, I couldn’t let myself deeply bond yet.
On the day she signed relinquishment, I was expecting to feel relief. But what I wasn’t expecting to feel was sadness. It just kept creeping in. I was holding another woman’s child. She had placed him with me at the expense of her own heart. There was guilt too. I had to be able to work through that in order to allow myself to bond with him.
Soon my heart was able to make the shift from feeling like I was babysitting someone else’s child to feeling like he was my child, but for those days in which I was just going through the motions, I wondered if that change would ever come. Just be patient with yourself and know that bonding doesn’t always happen immediately for biological parents and children either.
2. Post Adoption Depression is real.
As a mother of both biological children and an adopted child, I suffered from postpartum depression after my birth experiences. It was no joke. I was worried that I may experience similar things after the birth and adoption of our youngest son. I spoke with my doctor and he was ready to step in at a moment’s notice to put me back on the medication he had prescribed with my other children. I carefully watched for signs of depression creeping in, and was lucky that none manifested. But, for others, post adoption depression can and does happen.
Don’t be afraid to get help from counselors and medical professionals should you feel sad, tired, anxious, or experience other signs of depression such as a loss of appetite and inability to sleep (or the desire to sleep all day). Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to seek help from those you trust. It’s okay, and it will get better.
3. Be prepared to answer lots of questions.
The minute you arrive home with your new child, everyone is going to want to hear the story. It’s a normal response since most of these people were cheering you on in your adoption journey. They feel like they have some ownership in your experience. You’ll have to find a balance between sharing your story, and not sharing too much personal information about your child’s biological family, your child’s health history, or any other aspects that may need to remain personal.
Not only will you get questions from family and friends, but you may also get questions from strangers in public places–especially if you are a transracial family. It’s good to have some go-to responses for certain questions like, “What is she?” “Is she yours?” “Where did you get her?” “How much did she cost?” And other jaw dropping things that might come out of people’s mouths.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Bringing a new baby or child into your home is a huge adjustment! Schedules change, you may not be sleeping, you are getting to know a new person’s likes, dislikes, and temperament. It’s not easy. Just because this is something you have been hoping, dreaming, and praying for doesn’t mean it won’t be hard when it finally happens. No one should expect you to do this on your own. If people offer to bring in meals, let them. Give yourself the same patience and care as if you had given birth, and if those around you don’t feel that it’s necessary, take the time to explain that the adjustment is the same.
4. Keep your promises.
Before your child is born, it is easy to make lots of promises to the birth parents. But once the child arrives, many adoptive couples find themselves feeling jealous or threatened by the birth family’s relationship with the child. When those feelings of jealousy or inadequacy creep in, some adoptive couples choose to pull away. It is during those times, that it’s important to remember that adoption is about the child.
Please do your best to keep your promises to your child’s birth family. Decide now that you are going to only speak positively about your child’s birth family, as hearing negative things about their biological family can cause children to feel negatively about themselves. Establish an open line of communication where everyone can feel comfortable expressing their needs. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but will get easier as time goes on.
5. Last but not least, just be patient.
Be patient with yourself, your significant other, your new child, your child’s birth family, and with those around you. Adoption is an emotional experience for you, the biological family, and even the child. For others not as involved in the adoption world, it is often misunderstood and stereotyped. It takes time for everything to fall into place and for others to open their eyes and hearts to what adoption really is. New relationships, especially those built on high emotions, can be difficult, but push through. It will be worth it. Give it time. Things will work out.