Being chosen by an expectant parent for placement is usually one of the high points on the adoption roller coaster for adoptive families. Expectant parents may feel a sudden sense of relief after choosing a family, but most will realize that everything feels shockingly real all of a sudden. They have put faces and names to the people who will be their child’s family. Suddenly, they are not facing this decision alone; they have gotten your emotions wrapped up in their crisis, and they feel more pressure and weight on their shoulders than ever before. When the initial excitement dies down a little for the adoptive parents, reality sets in for them too. They have that “Oh my gosh” feeling of realizing there is someone out there who is considering them to be the parents to their child, and that means there is an actual child coming. This is real. And thus begins the period in some adoption matches where two families spend a little time getting to know one another, building trust and a foundation they can build upon for many years to come should placement happen.
I’ve been through two matches that resulted in placement. One match was only five days long while the other was three months. We’ve also been through two matches that did not result in placement. One match was with a mother who was considering the placement of her 18-month-old daughter before family stepped in to help. The other was another three month match with a woman who opted to parent. As far as domestic adoption goes, we have had a wide range of experiences and have had our share of pre-placement anxiety. We’ve also learned a few lessons about contact pre-placement and how the dynamic’s change post-placement. I have a few key points to keep in mind for hopeful adoptive parents as they enter into this portion of their adoption journey.
Remember: You might be excited, but she is in crisis.
The match period can be filled with excitement for many hopeful adoptive couples. They have just met a new friend who will hold a very important place in their life. They want to get to know her and begin building a rapport so she can feel comfort at the time of placement. The match period is also filled with anxiety for hopeful adoptive parents as they begin to feel emotionally invested. Hopeful adoptive parents may have a hard time remembering that while they are marking off each day on their calendar with excitement, the expectant mom is marking off each day on her calendar with impending dread and anticipatory grief.
Remember: She needs the opportunity to explore her options.
It’s the last thing a hopeful adoptive couple wants to think about, but if an expectant mother who has made an adoption plan finds a way to successfully parent the child, that’s a wonderful thing. Because adoptive parents often pursue an adoption because of a longing to become parents, one reality is often clouded; adoption is intended for children to find the families they need, not for families to find the children they want. It’s important to think years ahead to a time after placement where you know, without a doubt, that you never encouraged a mother to place her child. You want to sleep well at night knowing you had nothing in the world to do with her placement decision, other than giving her peace of mind that her child would be loved and protected. You want to know she was presented with, and explored, her options.
Remember: Under-promise and over-deliver.
During the match period, hopeful adoptive parents need to be ready to answer hard questions because expectant parents deserve to have peace of mind about the family they’ve chosen. Hopeful adoptive parents should be completely honest about everything, including the level of contact they can maintain post-placement. One of the most heartless and desperate acts hopeful adoptive parents can do is to say what they think an expectant parent wants to hear. Instead, admit that you’re unsure if you’re unsure. Admit that you want to build trust over time and see where things go if that’s the truth. If you can offer something concrete, start at the very basis of what you know you can deliver. Explain that you want to be extremely realistic as you make promises so that you know you can always follow through. Be prepared to under-promise and let them know you will strive to over-deliver, then do so.
Remember: Try to maintain a level of contact pre-placement that you can continue to maintain post-placement.
I’m sure you’ve heard open adoption relationships compared to marriages before and adoption match periods paralleled to dating. While courting, there is a honeymoon period where sweet things are done frequently, every detail is remembered, and couples stay on the phone talking all night. Imagine experiencing this, but having it abruptly disrupted by the greatest trauma of your life. In the midst of your grief, this person who has doted on you and showered you with affection for months is suddenly too busy to answer your calls and no longer seems as interested. You would undoubtedly feel rejected and misled, all while grieving. Hopeful adoptive parents need to look ahead and anticipate this, which is why the amount of contact pre-placement should closely mirror what you feel you will be capable of post-placement. Adoptive parents need to continue taking the time to welcome not only the new baby into the family, but that baby’s family as well.
There are pros and cons to pre-placement matches. Some arguments dictate that match periods can be coercive to expectant parents, making them feel guilty if they choose to parent. This is why, if matches are made prior to placement, hopeful adoptive parents should remind the expectant parent that they are here as an option, on stand-by, should she choose to place her child for adoption. Should she choose to parent, they will support that too, and they will be okay. Lastly, remember: this “maybe baby” will be an adult with thoughts, feelings, and opinions someday. You’ll never regret treating his birth parents with respect so you can someday look him in the eye and earn his respect in turn.