Deciding to pursue adoption is a big decision which has lifelong ramifications, both for the parents and for the child. Adoption is also an extremely complex process, regardless of whether it is domestic or international. The complexities are compounded when past trauma and special needs are added. To navigate all of this, it is extremely helpful to make use of the broader adoption community. Here’s why.
1. The adoption community can help you perform due diligence before signing up with an adoption agency. I’m sorry to say it, but not all adoption agencies are squeaky clean. Some have less-than-stellar records when it comes to ethics and transparency. Before signing on the dotted line, ask people for references…and not just the ones provided by the agency itself. Do some research. Speak to individuals privately. Be willing to hear the hard stories. And then you can choose an agency with whom you are comfortable with.
2. The adoption community can help prepare you for what is to come. Sure, everyone takes adoption training, but I think we can all agree that even the best training doesn’t cover everything. For that, you need experienced parents. Their expertise can help you with how to navigate the adoption process itself, travel experiences if you need to travel, helpful advice as to how to survive those first few days and weeks, and specialized experience with specific special needs.
3. The adoption community can act as a lifeline. More than once, I have watched as experienced adoptive parents have reached out to support a family struggling with their new child. Since I am in the international adoption world, this usually means that the family is in country and struggling. Their child is not behaving as they expected. The child seems to have more special needs than they were told. They are feeling things they didn’t expect to feel. They are panicked and helpless and don’t know what to do. So a message is written and posted in an adoption group, crying for help. In minutes, I have seen dozens of parents respond with support and stories of their own terrifying first days. Phone numbers are shared with instructions to call day or night. Experienced parents who happen to live in the country offer to come and help. This support often tips the balance into the adoption continuing. You can never know what will await you when you meet a child for the first time. It is wise to be sure you have all the help lined up that you can.
4. The adoption community can provide guidance. This is especially true in the realm of parenting a child affected by trauma. The type of parenting such a child requires in order to heal is often at odds with society’s view of “good parenting.” It might also be at odds with the new parents’ preferred parenting style, particularly if this is the first hurt child they have parented. It is a different paradigm completely, and one that does not come naturally. At least, it didn’t to me. It can be so helpful to have the wisdom of more experienced parents.
5. The adoption community can help you parent a child with special needs. Many adoptive parents also have children with medical needs. Because they deal with a myriad of doctors and specialists and hospitals and medicines, there is a wealth of knowledge. I have asked about how to prepare a child for upcoming surgery, how various medicines have affected other people’s children, and the best ways to help a child through an MRI, to name a few.
6. The adoption community can help provide a community. I have met some wonderful people through being a member of various adoption groups. I have made more than a few valuable friends. We have contact with other families who look like ours. These are people who ‘get’ our particular form of crazy mainly because they have a similar form themselves.
The amount of knowledge in the collective adoption community is huge. That knowledge can help bridge the gap between newness and experience. Some of us have gained this knowledge the hard way and are more than happy to help spare new parents some of our more excruciatingly difficult experiences, if we can. Make use of the community available to you. But you will also need to be willing to listen to hard stories and uncomfortable suggestions. Adoption is wonderful, but being born out of so much pain, there are hard parts to it. I have watched the adoption community teach, support, admonish, grieve, and rejoice together. Be a part of that community.
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