Adoption—a word that is all-encompassing and often stereotyped in different ways. Many don’t understand the ramifications of adoption to the family, child, and community. It is often stereotyped in movies or other media as “happily ever after” or as hopeless children who never find “their family or home.” Have you, as an adoptive parent, ever been asked any of these questions: What was your adoption experience? What led you to adoption? What does openness in adoption mean? This episode of Gladney reFRAMED answers these questions surrounding adoption and explains the domestic adoption process. Emily Morehead (the domestic adoptive program manager) hosts, and Bailey Gutherie (an adoptive mother), as well as Ashley Whiteside (manager of domestic infant adoption), join Morehead on the show. Bailey shares her experiences and the education process during her domestic adoption. This episode discusses many aspects of the adoption process, including what leads families to start the adoption process, how to discuss and work through losses experienced during the process, how the roller coaster experience of the adoption can impact families, the waiting process and how families face the waiting period, how to acquire various support, and how to educate others about adoption.
Families come to Gladney, as well as other adoption agencies, for many different reasons. Sometimes, families have different background experiences, and they also have different reasons for wanting to adopt. For some families, they may want a family but are unable to because of infertility. Other families may have biological children but want to open their homes to children who need a home. It may be that they feel called to adopt those who are physically or mentally challenged.
One important issue discussed was the importance of the couple being aligned, or being on the same page, before starting the actual adoption process. Initially, when first discussing adoption, the couple may not be fully aligned, and that is okay. It may take one person more time to be fully comfortable with the complexities of adoption than the other person, and that is okay as well. However, it is important that the couple realizes and understands the issues that need to be resolved so they can meet on a common page.
Bailey shared her story about how she was practically “nagging” her husband every day, asking almost daily, “Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet?” She finally realized that she needed to compromise on the timeline and give him some space. She joyfully remembers the day her husband told her he was ready.
For my husband and myself, we started the adoption process after we had been married for almost two years. We had discussed adoption for a considerable time, and we were positive that we wanted to start our family, and that it would be through adoption. Because of a medical condition, I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry a child safely, and this was something we talked about early on in our relationship.
Dealing with infertility is hard. It is an evolving process and something you never completely get past. Bailey discussed how she was never officially diagnosed, but they suffered many losses through miscarriages, even when in the adoption process. Bailey shared her grieving process, how differently her husband and herself grieved, and how and when she shared this information with her caseworker. At the very beginning of the adoption process, Bailey wasn’t sure how much and what to share about the losses with their caseworker. But, as the process continued, she learned that it was important for the caseworker to have this information because this would enable her to help safeguard the family and their hearts, especially during the matching with a birth mother phase of the adoption process.
Being open and communicating with your caseworker is so vital. I know it can feel strange to share a lot of personal information with someone who is almost a complete stranger. I am a social worker and an adoptive mother, so I understand both sides. But I will also tell you that it is very beneficial to be as open as possible with your history and any issues that are affecting your family. Caseworkers are there to help and support you, and having information that is complete allows them to support you in the best way possible.
Emily had wonderful insight related to adoption, loss, and infertility. She stated that adoption only solves one thing in terms of the loss. It doesn’t solve pregnancy loss or genetics/biology loss, but it does help solve the loss of having a family. She also mentioned it’s very common and beneficial for families that have experienced loss or infertility to attend counseling or support groups.
Bailey shared how families come into the adoption process with a sense of excitement, and many times, they don’t know what they don’t know, but they learn things along the way.
Different experiences during the adoption process may mimic a loss or a miscarriage. These could include a failed adoption which is when an expectant mother is matched with a prospective adoptive parent, and then she decides to parent. Sometimes, this feeling of loss can also occur when the profile book is being shown; you are revealing your life, and you are not being picked.
Bailey shared that these emotions really resonated with her during their adoption process. She discussed how their profile book was shown dozens of times without results. They also experienced two failed adoptions. She shared how she and her husband worked through the failed adoptions. She discussed how they picked themselves up each time and how it can feel like you are starting over, even though you really are not because you have already been through it. Bailey shared that her husband is an internal processor, and she is a talker/external processor. They both realized this, and both learned to compromise to make sure each other’s needs were met.
While they grieved during the times of their two failed adoptions, Bailey discussed how looking back at those experiences helped them grow and become better prepared. It helped them grow as a couple, helped with their communication, and helped them see the heart and eyes of the expectant mothers who are facing the loss of their children to someone whom they do not know. They are fully appreciative of the love the birth mother has for her unborn child.
Bailey also shared the mixed feelings that accompany failed adoptions. She expressed it as a sad and a grieving experience, but also motivating. Especially after their second failed adoption, Bailey shared how she felt more motivated and even more ready than before. After their first failed adoption, they took a small break from having their profile book shown. All families handle grieving differently. For some, it may be a breaking point, but for others, it is a challenge that will be overcome. Some families will continue with the adoption process, while others will take an extended break to grieve before continuing the adoption process, and some will quit the process.
We personally experienced a failed adoption, so I can very much relate to all the emotions that will occur. The expectant mother decided to parent the day before she gave birth. For us personally, we took a small break with our agency after our failed adoption. But we continued on with the matching and profile book process fairly quickly. This brief break gave us a period of time to communicate, reset, and grieve the feelings we were facing.
One area that many people ask about is the waiting period. How do you handle it? What do you do during that time? How much communication and notification do you receive from your agency during this time? Bailey shared that every family has their own specific way of handling it that is best for them. Some families want to set up the nursery completely during the waiting period. Some get the basic needs for a newborn but don’t fully “nest” or decorate during this time until they have their child home. Some want to be notified every time their profile book is shown. Others do not want to know every single time and only want to be notified when an expectant mom wants to meet or wants additional information about them. It is a very personal choice.
Personally, I felt that it would be too much up and down emotionally to know every time our profile book was shown. Therefore, we did not want to know every time our profile was shown. We were only notified when an expectant mother wanted to meet with us. To us, knowing how many times our profile was shared and we were not selected would feel like defeat.
Another very big aspect of adoption and the adoption process is how and when families share they are adopting. Some, like Bailey, are very open and want to share with family and friends as soon as they start the process. Some people go the extreme opposite and don’t share with anyone until they have their child in their arms. Some have baby showers ahead of time. Others wait and have a welcoming party once their child is home. Again, it is a very personal decision made by the family on what would be best for them.
We shared with our family and friends very early on in the adoption process. Our family is very close, and we wanted to share and experience the process with them. But there is no right or wrong response to this, and every family is different on how and when they share about their adoption journey.
Sharing about your adoption process can lead to discussions and possibly positive and negative comments. Bailey shared that most people never meant to harm with their comments. But many are just naive and don’t know how to react or even discuss adoption. When you let someone know you are adopting, there are a few common responses. One common response is the “savior mentality.” For example, they will say things like, “You are so wonderful,” or “You are saving that child.” The other common response is the idea of adoption being “second best” and not the first option for starting a family. They may respond by, “Oh okay, if that’s what you choose.”
While most of our family and friends were supportive of our adoption and shared in our excitement, we still experienced some of these types of comments and personally had a few of these instances mentioned above. Nothing ill-intentioned, but the savior mentality was shared with us a few times, saying we were so great to adopt. But that was not our intention at all, and we tried very hard not to convey that to people.
Along with sharing the adoption process with others, there is a need to be educated. The education relates to appropriate adoption language, openness with the birth family, and the need for support. Appropriate adoption language represents using empowering adoption terms such as “place” and not “give up” a child for adoption. Openness relates to the openness, or the type of relationship, you have with the birth family. Sharing and being open with family and friends about the adoption process can also help lead to sharing the roller coaster journey of adoption and knowing those close to you will be there as a support for you when you need them.
Another very important aspect of adoption is about empowering your child and his or her birth family culture. It is so important to honor your child’s history and culture as well as her birth family. Emily and Bailey shared the idea of thinking about things and characteristics that defined her child’s birth mother and family. This relates to talking about the strength and dignity that every birth mother represents. Emily and Bailey also gave a great reminder to never share information with someone else that has not been shared with your child yet. It is your child’s story to share—if and when he is ready. It would be very traumatic for the child to learn something about himself or his birth family from someone other than yourself. Overall, education is so important so that your support system has the knowledge and the tools needed to help you when you need them.
Our story is somewhat unique. Due to our daughter being born prematurely, we did not adopt her until she was out of the NICU and was 3 months old. She is now 7 years old and in first grade. We have an open adoption with her birth mother and birth siblings, and we visit with them a few times a year. I really value this relationship, and we try our best to honor her birth mother whenever we talk about her or whenever Anna asks about her.
Bailey ended their conversation with the statement that she wished someone would really have explained to her that the process was going to be rocky and that there were going to be ups and downs. It is not easy, and yes, it is a process. But as Bailey also said, it always ends the way it was meant to be; we have our two children because of adoption, and I can’t imagine it any other way.