In 1984 Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel wrote a book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It has been the go-to guide for expecting mothers for over 35 years. The book has been referenced in every romantic comedy movie where there is an expectant mother, and there was even a movie made with the same title in 2012. It describes both the physical and emotional changes a woman can experience during pregnancy. Most women would agree that they experience a range of emotions or an emotional rollercoaster. Likewise, most families waiting to adopt can relate to the anticipation of waiting. Even though there is not a physical demand on the body from carrying a child, waiting to adopt is very similar to the process of waiting for the birth. The preparation is different, but ultimately the end goal is the same, which is to adopt a child and develop your family.
The process of adoption is no less stressful than having a biological child. Many moving parts lead to the completion of an adoption. From the decision to adopt to the court finalization, your emotions can run wild.
The Decision to Adopt
Deciding to adopt may not come as naturally to everyone as some would think. Yes, some people know early in adulthood that adoption is the way they want to grow their family, but some do not. There could be so many reasons why some are reluctant to explore the idea of adoption. Being misinformed about finances, long-term health inquiries, or birth family relationships can all take a toll on making a decision. This is definitely not a decision to be taken lightly, so it is very understandable to dissect all the pros and cons or questions that might arise.
This can be uncharted territory. It is perfectly normal to feel scared, nervous, hopeful, or even guarded. There is no right or wrong way to feel while trying to make this decision. It is such a personal and life-changing decision that you should expect to experience a wide range of emotions. It is okay to take your time.
When going through an agency a personal profile is necessary. This allows both the agency and potential birth mother a little insight into who you are. In general, trying to describe oneself is always challenging. Choosing the best words to capture who you are while trying to be as modest and humble as possible can be frustrating. If you look up, “how do I set up an adoption profile,” the tips given can seem both redundant and stressful. For example, you can understand that the tip to “pick an amazing cover photo,” can be agonizing because we live in the social media era. So, I can only imagine the pressure of picking a picture that will be the first impression your potential match would have.
Although I personally am unfamiliar with going through an agency, I can understand the mental pressure of trying to make a profile. You are trying to show on paper, with pictures, or even a video of who you are, why you should be entrusted with a precious little being. My husband and I did not have to make an official profile or document about ourselves, but I did have a one-on-one conversation with our son’s biological mother, assuring her that we would love him and give him the best life we could. I felt like I was trying to present the best version of ourselves without coming across as pushy. This was difficult for me because our son’s biological mother happens to be a relative of mine. We were never close and, honestly, we did not know much about each other besides the genetic link between us. The emotional whirlwind and insecurities that rushed through my head were overwhelming. I questioned whether I said the right or wrong thing, whether I seemed too eager or not eager enough, whether I made her feel bad about anything, or whether I created tension or pressure. It was like interviewing for a dream job while having no experience and being underqualified. The agony was piercing through my mind constantly. Many sleepless nights followed as I waited for her official decision.
Waiting to Adopt
Whether you are waiting for a match or waiting for the actual birth, waiting seems to be the most exhausting season. We live in an era where waiting for anything is a foreign concept. If we want information on any topic we can simply Google from our phones, we can order food from an app and not wait in a drive-thru line, or we can perform an instant transfer of funds between friends, no ATM needed. No one likes to wait for anything anymore, and thankfully the instant option is available to us through the avenues of technology. However, there are some things beyond the reach of our instantaneous lifestyle. No matter what, humans will always have to wait for babies.
Finding ways to cope with the inevitable wait can be a key component to you keeping the peace. This is an understandably difficult and uncomfortable time. Know that your feelings are valid and it is okay to talk about them. There are common soothing techniques that can be beneficial like listening to music, deep breaths, or hanging out with friends.
Nesting can also be a way of redirecting the anxiety of waiting. I tried to prepare our home as much as possible. I organized and made space with a mental floor plan and design. However, I did not fully decorate just in case things did not pan out. This is the difficult emotional cycle that we sometimes try to avoid talking about. Sometimes, we remain a little guarded for emotional security purposes, and we want to stay in the emotional limbo between excited and not getting our hopes up. These feelings are normal. Knowing and understanding the realities of adoption is just something we have to acknowledge and embrace. There is no designated way to move forward and navigate all of your mixed feelings. Some agencies provide resources such as webinars, 24-hour helplines, and mentors to help steer through this daunting time of waiting. Whether you nest completely, partially, or don’t at all is your choice. Whatever provides you the comfort you need is going to be the best option for you.
Recently, I spoke with another friend who is currently waiting to adopt. She and her husband have two biological children but knew their family would be whole when they were able to adopt. I gained some insight into how different families approach their time of waiting. Knowing that a new baby could be on the way she decided to take a trip. With the possible shortage of free time nearing she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to getaway. Research has shown us that traveling is a good way to instigate happiness and is stress-relieving. Physical activities or something as simple as doing a puzzle can have the same effect if traveling is not an option. Find something that can make you happy and can distract you to alleviate some stress.
I asked my friend how she copes with the extended waiting period. She responded that she finds hope and comfort knowing that while she and her family wait, other families are being completed. I found her response so selfless and sincere. It was an unexpected point of view that really has stuck with me. Also, this gives her family more preparation time. They go back and forth with different scenarios while trying to imagine how they would react. This type of role-playing is very healthy, and according to Psychology Today, it can ease anxiety as one embarks on a new life journey. My friend ultimately remains firm in her belief that what is meant to be will be.
The Home Study
A home study is a required home assessment performed by a social worker. The history of the home study dates back to the Minnesota Adoption Law of 1917 when judges granted the request that the proper authorities could make an “appropriate inquiry to determine whether the proposed foster home is a suitable home for the child.” Although the law was in place, it was not enforced often until the 1950s. Depending on the state you live in, the requirements may differ. Typical requirements include background checks, fingerprinting, home inspection, individual interviews with adoptive parents, health screenings, and financial overviews.
Another friend of mine, who adopted as a single father, described the home study portion of his son’s adoption as the most stressful part of the process. He adopted through foster care, and as he prepared his home he realized how many common household products would be considered hazardous. There was even an unforeseen incident of being locked out of the house during an inspection. Can you imagine the worst-case scenario in your imagination becoming part of the actual interview?
Speaking from my own experience, I would have to agree with him. The tension of wanting to give the best representation of our home life was overwhelming. We wanted to make sure our environment was safe and that our personalities seemed balanced but not rehearsed. A stranger was coming into our home and ultimately deciding on whether or not we should be parents. I remember after our final interview and inspection, I turned on an Audrey Hepburn movie, but my husband on daddy duty, and knocked out so hard. It was such a relief to finally have the official approval to be parents.
Your final court date is a truly special, complex event. It has this extraordinary way of making you feel complete and relieved all at the same time and, not to mention, everything in between. Everything is put into perspective. All of the emotions, good and bad, seem unexplainably worth it. Every email, every phone call, every stack of papers read come full circle and you just feel like you won a piece of your destiny. Even though you knew in your heart that you were a mom or dad from the time you connected with your child, there is something so special about it being put on paper.
I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the phone call from my lawyer telling me that our final court date was set. We had experienced a few hiccups during our adoption process, and it felt like it was never going to end. I cannot even count how many times I had to take a mental break to regroup in between lost fingerprints and unavailable social workers. It seemed as if this process was lingering just to test my patience, and it was getting harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then, when we got the call, it felt like a huge weight was lifted; we were so close to closing that chapter of our lives. We would never again have to ask, “What’s next?”
As adoptive parents our labor is different. We have a whole other set of tasks and responsibilities to ensure that we provide not only a safe, healthy, and happy home for the child but also a smooth legal transition. I remember hearing comments about how lucky I was to have skipped the birthing process and that I had it easy. While I can appreciate the lack of physical pain, there was nothing easy about becoming a parent by way of adoption. The emotional toll on both my husband and myself really did a number on us. However, despite that, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. So, if you ask me what feelings you can expect while you are waiting to adopt, my answer is every single feeling you can think of!Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.