Gladney Center for Adoption’s mission is to create bright futures through adoption, and it has been doing so for over 130 years. It is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and has offices located around the United States. Gladney’s far-reaching services extend from those beginning the adoption process to post-adoption support and services for families.
Gladney Center’s 27-minute podcast, reFramed S1 E9 Reframing Your Brain With Gratitude, showcases an engaging conversation between host Emily Morehead and Staci Danford. Staci is an education neuroscientist specializing in the science of gratitude; she is a mother, former teacher, and an experienced scholar of the mind, the brain, and education. As Gladney states, “Staci is a one-of-a-kind mix of Neuroscience and Joy who teaches that the practice of scientific gratitude is like a magical ‘thank you’ for your brain. It can change your business productivity, health, relationships, and most of all: gratitude teaches you to see the good in others while uncovering the best within yourself!”
During this podcast, Staci, who wears a “Just Be Nice” t-shirt, describes the benefits of gratitude on the physical brain and how we can rewire our own brains to discover more joy and resilience during adversity throughout our lives.
So, the question may be asked, how is this conversation relevant to adoption? Although this podcast does not directly discuss the benefits gratitude has on adoption, it does imply relevancy. The practice of gratitude has many positive effects, especially if you are experiencing infertility challenges, overcoming physical or mental illness while preparing to expand your family through adoption, or are in limbo on the adoption waiting list. Gratitude is a practice we can instill in our children, as well, helping us all rewire our brains to achieve greater mindfulness and elevate our experience with daily family life.
Infertility: Layers of Emotion
For those who have experienced infertility, it is common to hear outside phrases like, “all you need to do is relax” or “it will happen when you’re not thinking about it.” Aside from being unhelpful, these phrases tend to push the feelings of inadequacy, body disparity, and grief further down the rabbit-hole into self-pity. Having experienced infertility myself, I understand the great strength it can take to pull oneself out of the depths of grief and into a feeling of true gratitude. It may seem a stretch to experience feelings of gratefulness when going through such a challenging time, as Staci describes (5:30), “especially when you’re in the trenches of… a hard situation.” But she later describes that those who reach a level of gratitude can truly change their energy field (10:35), which could lift the feelings of self-pity and grief to feelings of joy and empowerment. Contemplating small joys and wonders in your everyday life can help change and reframe the chemistry in your brain, which in turn allows for greater created and shared experiences.
Reframing your brain to observe and contemplate can be highly beneficial to those experiencing infertility challenges; since infertility can sometimes feel like a race against time, gratitude can reduce the anxiety surrounding each cycle and slow the process of life down to more manageable days. As Staci states (12:07), “mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand” and are keys to living life to its fullest because “being truly grateful causes you to be continually mindful, to be looking for the things you are grateful for.”
Adoption can be a result of infertility, but ideally the grief suffered from infertility has been explored and acknowledged prior to following an adoption path so prospective adoptive parents are prepared to be emotionally available to an adoptee. As adoption and infertility sometimes go hand in hand, they are also inexplicably separate in many regards. Attending an adoption seminar, working through paperwork, and completing the home studies were all manageable tasks that could be completed with an end result of receiving a child through adoption. Experiencing cycles of non-pregnancy, even if variables were changed each sequential month, resulted in a negative sign each time. The feelings of despair can sometimes compound within infertility, as it’s a month to month scenario that can turn into years and have devastating effects on those who endure this phase. In my experience, preparing to adopt a child transformed my feelings of inadequacy (stemming from infertility) into action and empowerment.
Utilizing the SPA Tool: Stop, Pause, Auditory
Recognizing what triggers you to feel grief, anger, or negative feelings is important to restructuring your thoughts (23:41). Staci provides an excellent and simple tool that helps each of us recognize and potentially shift our negative state of being. To first be mindful of triggers that provoke those negative emotions, write down what bothers you in the course of a day or a week. When you then look at your list, piece together what the underlying issues are. Staci’s example was her fear of rejection due to childhood traumas. She provides the SPA (Stop, Pause, Auditory) tool for you to use throughout the day once you recognize your triggers. First, Stop your negative thoughts. Second, Pause, breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 3 seconds, and then exhale for 3 seconds. Third, use your Auditory senses by saying something nice to yourself. This SPA tool is an excellent way to create new pathways for gratitude in the brain and change negative behaviors and thought patterns.
Gratitude’s Impact on the Physical Self
As Staci mentions, the action and practice of gratitude are recognizing that you have something to be grateful for, and then saying thank you for it (7:15). This internal stimulus starts in one part of the brain and then travels throughout your entire brain and body. This, in turn, helps you sleep better, digest your food easier, change your blood pressure, calm your heartbeat, and improve every relationship within your life.
Feelings of gratitude are located in the limbic system. Staci describes how people in a regular situation often act on an impulse, and when you practice gratitude you are literally changing your brain to think about what you are grateful for (effectively forcing your thoughts to enter the prefrontal cortex). This then releases feel-good hormones, which can greatly improve our physical and emotional health, providing the nourishment and foundation for whatever challenges may lie ahead are existent. Gratitude could also benefit challenges related to depression and anxiety as the released hormones increase positivity. It should be noted that professional care may be required when dealing with mental illness. Utilizing gratitude to help center and ground our physical selves is imperative when facing the challenges that lie ahead along the path of parenting.
There can be many challenges to overcome while enduring the adoption process. Some may be overwhelmed by the steps of adoption, or the daunting paperwork, or the barrage of questions from others that you may not feel equipped to answer. Once your adoption profile is complete, home studies are finalized, and you are officially on the adoption list, then you have reached “the wait”—which is sometimes the hardest part. Waiting for an adoption placement can be excruciating for some adoptive families, as their desire to start or complete their family is in limbo until that day when a child is placed with them.
Utilizing gratitude could help alleviate all the challenges adoptive families face; the steps and paperwork of adoption could be viewed as a more manageable time period when reframed through the lens of gratitude. Viewing all of your efforts in the process of adopting a child with gratitude can then increase the chances of possibility and positivity.
Answering outside questions can be difficult:
“Why are you adopting?”
“Isn’t it just easier to go through fertility treatments?”
“Have you tried everything possible before adoption is the next step?”
These questions can be particularly upsetting when you yourself are working through a grieving process and feeling vulnerable in your decisions about building a family. Becoming an adoption advocate is an important step in the adoption process; the words you say and the actions you take are educating those who aren’t fully apprised of the world of adoption. The SPA gratitude tool that Staci recommends and proactive mindfulness are particularly helpful in cases like these.
As Staci mentions (9:08), when she drinks her cup of coffee in the morning, she truly savors each sip and is reminded of when she would sit on her grandmother’s lap with her own coffee. There is that quiet savoring of the present that can help ease our racing minds and even place gratitude in the moments that prove to be most difficult.
The adoption path is different for each waiting adoptive family and can be described as grueling, taxing, tiring, “a race against time,” exciting, exhilarating, never-ending, or filled with anxiousness and apprehension. Whatever your feelings are towards the wait, gratitude can be interwoven as a tool to keep you grounded in the current moments you are experiencing. Embracing the now and living in awe of existence can reframe the brain at a scientific level, providing a sense of renewal for each new day. As Staci describes (6:24), only 4% of the population practice gratitude at a scientific level, as opposed to 88% using it at a casual level (“thinking they were grateful” in the study). To truly utilize the scientific level of gratitude, make a routine of proactively practicing it each day.
Teaching our Children Gratitude
Staci says gratitude is contagious (10:23); this is an especially significant statement when we find ourselves in the midst of teaching our children foundational, lifelong values. Even those still in the stage of preparing to parent in the future can take advantage of the gratitude concept, because if it’s naturally contagious it would be wonderfully beneficial to organically establish it as a family value early on. The head(s) of the family just need to be able to set the example.
In my family, we use dinnertime as a time for quiet contemplation and gratitude; teaching a 3 ½ and 1 year old this concept may seem premature, but our son is catching on. Every once in awhile he says something like, “I am grateful for our walk today,” while we are chomping on our food. As gratitude is one of the highest emotional frequencies, it elevates the mood of those around us, and we also realize there are some bright spots in our day that we can smile about.
Providing children space and time to express gratitude, as stated in Parents, will wire their brains at an early age to develop skills of empathy and appreciation that will benefit your child later in life. A friend of mine once taught me a method she used with her children that struck a chord with me. “Let’s turn this around,” she said when her daughter expressed disappointment about not being able to play in a specific area. This shift in thinking really sparked a conscious thought within me. While sometimes it’s easy to delve into a negative state, gratitude pulls out positive thoughts and asks us to turn things around. How can we see this differently? What good can we take away from this situation, despite feeling challenged?
Infertility leading up to adoption, or adoption itself, may create hardships which can lead to emotional and physical stress. Even current feelings for and responses to our daily lives are sometimes deeply rooted in past traumas. Through the act and practice of gratitude, one can rewire and reframe their brain to receive more empowerment and joy during these times of hardship, thereby developing resilience. Resources like Gladney help shed some light on adoption topics such as the need for gratitude, and by practicing gratitude we can elevate our daily experiences in the most inspiring ways.
Whether you are on the path to parenting or already in the thick and thin of parenting, gratitude will set a foundation for heartfelt experiences and memories you’ll appreciate for a lifetime. You’ll find yourself weathering the storms of life with hope that you will find the joy of unexpected rainbows along the way.