While I was working at a community event, a young woman came up to my booth and timidly started viewing the brochures about foster care and adoption that I had on the table. Not too long after, a rush of her friends surrounded her, picked up the brochures, gave them to her, and told her she needed to take them home to her husband. Honestly, the look on her face was one of sadness mixed in with just a bit of embarrassment.
I really wanted to go up to her, take the brochures away, and tell her friends, “She will do this when she wants to, and is ready to.” I did not, though. Instead, I said, “Just let me know if you have any questions.” Her friends were giddy with excitement about it, but her body language did not show the same excitement. That was many years ago, but I still think about her, and wonder if she truly felt supported by her friends.
Making the decision to adopt a child is a personal journey, but unfortunately, if one is dealing with infertility, or choosing to add more children to their family through adoption, the process itself can seem like a public event. Others have opinions about whether or not a friend or loved one should adopt, and quite often, they are very eager to share it.
On the flip side, friends of someone considering adoption are also navigating unchartered waters. Because of this, here are just a few ways that you can support a friend who is adopting:
- Listen more than you talk. It is better to hear what your friend is going through as opposed to offering your opinion all of the time. Sometimes, people listen only with the intent of being able to give their opinions. Although most conversations are led with concern and love, it is best to just be still and listen to your friend as he or she is processing the idea of adoption.
- Encourage your friend. Instead of giving directives such as “You should check out this agency,” or “I’m not sure if you should consider that country or foster care,” you can offer encouragement by letting your friend know that you trust his or her opinion about what is best for their lives. Give hopeful and positive thoughts and let your friend know that you are thankful they are sharing a bit of their journey with you.
- Offer to be a personal reference for the adoptive home study, or present during an important part of the process, if needed. People who are hoping to adopt are often asked to attend meetings and provide personal references. By agreeing to be a support person at meetings, or writing a personal reference, you can positively impact your friend’s experience.
- Be comfortable with your friend’s fears—and tears. Adoption is an emotional journey filled with many ups and downs. During my own experience, the best way a good friend of mine supported me was by just allowing me to cry to her and “get out” the overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness I was dealing with. She did not offer suggestions about how I could get over the feelings; instead, she listened, and at times, cried with me. Her presence was worth more than any words she could have spoken.
- Accept and embrace the child. If your friend has already been selected for a child, or has a child in his or her home that is placed for adoption, then accept and embrace that child just like you would for a new baby that is born into the family. Offer to bring over meals, help with laundry, or sit with the child while the new parents are getting some rest or a much-needed break. Prospective adoptive parents sometimes worry about whether or not a child will be accepted into their family or circle of friends. Ease their fears by loving on and being present in the life of their child.
- Throw an adoption shower! It may sound odd, but people who have experienced infertility may be saddened that they are not having a traditional baby shower. This was one of the things I longed for during my own experience. Having adoption showers of my own was wonderful, and made me realize that the adoption of my children meant something to my family and friends. Adoption showers can be creative, fun, and affirming to adoptive parents. If one does not know the gender of the child just yet, then there are plenty of ways to do gender-neutral showers. Adoptive parents need all of the “baby/child essentials,” so being able to register for gifts is an exciting part of the process.
The experience of working to adopt a child often feels like riding a roller coaster. There are a lot of “hurry up and wait” moments during the process. Friends who are supportive, encouraging, good listeners, present, accepting, and celebratory offer prospective adoptive parents a more hopeful, loving, and rewarding walk through their adoption journeys.