One of my most tender memories surrounding our adoption experience was the time I spent at my sister’s house waiting for Interstate Compact paperwork to go through. Our son was born in California, which was not our home state, and lucky for me, he was born about an hour away from where my sister and her family lived. They graciously opened their home to me and my new son; my teenage nephew moved out of his bedroom and allowed me to overtake it with baby things. My sister and her husband were ever-supportive, loving, and did all they could to make our time there comfortable. They even offered to take the baby for a night so I could get a full night’s rest. When the time came for me to take my son and go home, I cried out of gratitude for all of her love and support. Words couldn’t even express my appreciation.
If your sister is hoping to adopt, you are in a unique position to lend support. However, when you are not involved in the world of adoption, it can seem strange and foreign. It is hard to understand the roller coaster of emotions that take place during the process. You may feel a little lost and helpless, wondering how to best love and support your sister who is hoping to adopt. Here are a few ways to let her know you are there for her.
While she is waiting:
- Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I’ll admit, the question of “any adoption news?” gets old. Adoption is emotionally exhausting, and sometimes I was just too tapped out to talk about it anymore. However, when the question came from someone I was close to, and I knew it was a sincere question, and I felt safe to express my real feelings with them, it meant SO much that they would ask. Adoption can feel very lonely, and having a sister or close friend really ask about it helped me to feel not so alone. Even if you can’t understand, you can still listen and sympathize with feelings of frustration, fear, happiness, and peace. Sometimes all I needed was someone who would listen.
- Volunteer to help. There are a few things you can do to help during this time. Offer to write a letter of recommendation or be a reference for the home study process. Help her work on her online profile or hardcover profile book that some agencies require. It’s always nice to have a second opinion on which pictures to use or someone to proofread your captions. If your sister is holding any kind of fundraising activities, you can help with those too. They often feel overwhelming. Help gather donations from businesses for silent auctions, or pick up donations for yard sales. Make posters, bake cookies for bake sales, wash cars during benefit car washes, but most importantly—show up. Be there. Sometimes just your presence can be enough.
- Share her profile. More and more adoption matches are happening through word of mouth. By sharing your sister’s profile, you are helping to spread the word. The more exposure, the better! Not only will this help her in her process, but it will also warm her heart and let her know that you are in her corner.
After she is matched:
- Share in her cautious excitement. Being matched after what feels like endless waiting is very exciting, but it’s important to remember that even when things seem perfect, nothing is for sure. Share in your sister’s excitement, but allow her to express her fears as well. Listen to her, love her, and be there to ride the waves with her.
- Learn to love the expectant parents too. In some situations, you may be able to meet the expectant parents and get to know them. Don’t shy away from this opportunity. It will deepen your love and appreciation for what your sister is experiencing. In other circumstances, you may not have the chance to get to know the expectant parents personally, but you can get to know and love them through your sister. As she shares pictures, conversations, and other experiences, you can develop a love for them vicariously.
- Throw a Welcome Baby Shower. This is also something that can be done according to specific circumstances. Some expectant mothers like it when their hopeful adoptive couple has a baby shower before the baby comes. However, in most circumstances, it seems appropriate to wait until the placement has happened before a shower is thrown. But once baby is home, host a shower! Welcome the new little one and help her new mother to feel special and loved. It can even be a beautiful gesture to include a space for gifts to send to the baby’s birth mother to let her know she is being thought of and loved as well.
- Set a meal calendar. Often, women who become mothers through adoption miss out on the pampering mothers who have biological children receive after they return home with the baby. Just because your sister didn’t give birth doesn’t mean she isn’t “recovering.” She is still caring for a newborn baby, experiencing sleepless nights, and is sorting through all sorts of conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow that come with placement. She needs some pampering. Set up an online meal calendar and encourage family and friends to sign up and bring dinners in for a few days.
- Offer to babysit. Your sister will be tired and will most likely crave a night out alone with her husband. Offer to babysit for an hour or so while they grab some dinner or a movie. The bonus is you’ll get some uninterrupted snuggle time with your new niece or nephew—solidifying your place as favorite auntie.
- Love the birth parents. Depending on the openness of the adoption, birth parents may be invited to family events such as birthday parties, christenings, baptisms, and even finalizations. They may feel out of place at these events. Welcome them. Sit by them. Introduce them to others. Talk to them. Let them know that they are loved, accepted, and appreciated. If the adoption is not that open, you may still be able to write a note of support, appreciation, and love to send to them. It will mean so much for them to hear from other members of the family besides the baby’s parents.
But, what if an adoption fails?
- Be there. Acknowledge the very real grief your sister is experiencing. Hold her while she cries. Ride the waves of sorrow, anger, fear, guilt, and anguish that will come. You may be feeling these emotions, too. Help her express and work through them.
- Get away for a weekend. Hop in the car and head out on a road trip. Sleep in, eat what you want, sing along to your favorite songs, lounge by the pool. Whatever it takes to relax and help her take her mind off of the grief for a bit.
- Don’t pressure her to jump back in too soon. Let her decide when the time is right to start pursuing adoption again. For some, it happens quickly. For others is might take longer. Respect her needs and her healing process.
- Support her when she does start again. When the time comes, and she is ready to start again, you are back at the beginning too. Take a deep breath, because here you go . . .