Like everything else in life that truly matters, no matter how much we hope for a positive outcome, the adoption process comes with its own set of potential pitfalls. And like everything else in life that means anything to us, those who make the decision to pursue adoption should do so with the understanding that not everything will go as we would hope. Does the phrase “the best-laid plans of mice and men” ring a bell?
Prospective adoptive families should approach adoption with eyes wide open. The best way to do this is by taking the time to first understand what adoption is—and how considering it as an option for you will impact the lives of all involved.
Well before we began our adoption journey, I recall hearing sad and scary adoption stories from friends and friends of friends. These are the kinds of stories that stick with you and can sow doubt in your mind. Fortunately for us, despite the normal and expected ups and downs associated with the process, we were able to avoid encountering any truly bad adoption experiences. Here are some reasons some people have bad experiences and others do not:
We all think we’re prepared for adoption—until we realize that we’re not. Recognizing that we’re not is actually a good thing and serves as a more realistic place to start. Like most people who desire to build a family through adoption, I thought that I was ready to jump right in. Not that I was “unready,” but I was nowhere near as prepared as I’d first thought—until my husband and I actually ventured into the adoption community and began asking real questions about what adoption is and how it would impact our lives and the life of the child whom we hoped to be matched with. Getting honest answers from those who had been through the process themselves was a great help in making decisions and gauging what we thought we knew and understood against the realities of adoption.
I’ve heard plenty of stories and witnessed a few myself of people who opted not to take the time to make sure they were in a good place in their life before moving toward adoption, instances where spouses had not thoroughly talked things through to make sure they were on board, and false starts because friends were ill-prepared to see the journey through. To avoid false starts, missteps, and disappointment, make sure to take inventory of your life situation—your relationships, your residence, your career, your finances, your support system, and your future goals and plans. You are not being selfish by first ensuring that you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and in every other way humanly possible prepared to take the next step toward adoption in order to provide a child a secure and loving home. Of course, there’s no guarantee that things won’t change, and there’s really never a perfect time to start a family, but throwing caution to the wind is never a good thing.
It goes without saying that research is key to better understanding adoption. Limiting your knowledge of adoption to online searches and basing your opinions on nothing more than your hopes and dreams—or that inspiring article you read or that movie you saw that brought you to tears—is not enough. Yes, do online searches and read articles. Watch movies and be inspired. But also make sure to talk to the professionals and those in the know—adoption facilitators, social workers, support groups, adoptive families, adoptees, and even lawyers and financial advisors. Having all your ducks in a row eliminates guesswork. Education and training are wonderful, whether you’re fostering to adopt, adopting special needs, adopting domestically, or adopting internationally. And while no two adoptions are alike, there is a common thread among all adoptions, especially on the legal forefront. Being organized and knowing what to expect helps to make the process itself make sense and makes it much more navigable than it would be otherwise. Taking the time to educate yourself on how to be a strong parent and advocate for an adopted child will help your child to more easily transition into your family. Understanding adoption through your child’s eyes is imperative to being able to offer them the love and support he or she deserves.
Who do you turn to during a life-changing event? When you lose a loved one, you turn to family and friends, or maybe a spiritual advisor. When you lose a job, you turn to an employment counselor or a successful headhunter. When you wish to move, you turn to a trusted real estate agent and a well respected moving company. So, who do you turn to when you decide to grow your family through adoption? Make a list and check it twice, and don’t be afraid to actually reach out to the people whose names you’ve taken the time to include. From social workers to pediatricians to school officials—make no mistake, you’re going to need these folks to help guide and steer you before, during, and most importantly after you’ve finalized your adoption. It’s important to recognize, too, why these resources exist in the first place—because you’re not the first and won’t be the last people to need them. Acknowledging this reality is a healthy step in the right direction, not something to feel ashamed of.
Now that you’re prepared, you’ve done your research, and you know who you can count on to get things moving, you’re going to need support throughout the process and for a long time afterward. Family, friends, and those who have been through an adoption will help you to cross the finish line on your own journey, and, more importantly, your child’s journey. There is no guarantee that everything is going to work out perfectly. Chances are, paperwork will go missing and/or you’ll be asked to redo certain forms multiple times for multiple agencies. Waiting and hearing nothing for weeks or months or even years on end can take its toll. You’re not the first to feel the awful weight of waiting, and you shouldn’t feel as though you need to face this, nor any obstacle, alone. Oftentimes, family and friends aren’t sure what to say. Don’t take this personally. Instead, take the time to share with them what you’re feeling. Sometimes speaking your fears out loud helps to put them into better context and allows those around you to better understand what you’re going through and how they can help you. Having a strong support group in place before your adoption also translates into a solid base for your adopted child to turn to as well. Don’t just limit this support to those you know—seek out local support groups or consider starting one of your own. Having this valuable group to turn to will not just benefit you, but your adopted child as well.