When you are adopting you can often feel like you miss out on a lot of the experiences that people having biological children get to have. You probably won’t get an ultrasound, you won’t get to pick out cute (but insanely overpriced) maternity clothes, and if you’re adopting an older child, you probably won’t even get to choose a name. I think it is important for people entering into the grand adoption process journey to treat this time as a celebratory time, just like any other family expecting a child would. However, the reality is that the process of adoption and having biological children is not the same, so you should embrace the opportunity to celebrate this time. However, there are things you should keep in mind that can help prevent any avoidable heartbreak if there are some bumps along the way—which there often are.
1) If you are having an adoption baby shower, have it for a baby in general, not a specific baby.
Even if you are matched with an expectant mother who is due in May with a girl, it’s probably not a great idea to register for all-pink summer baby clothes. A good friend of mine experienced what is known as a “disruption” or “failed adoption” where the expectant parents chose to parent. My friend said the hardest thing she’s ever had to do was take back all the gender-specific clothing people had given her and have the sales associate ask, “Was there anything wrong with the items?” Talk about a gut punch.
There are so many things all babies, regardless of gender or date of arrival, need that you can register for and have guests bring as gifts to a shower. Car seats, strollers, and Pack N’ Plays are all generally gender neutral. Do not forget about diapers! Those marvels of modern hygiene are not cheap, and if you have people buy you boxes in several sizes that is one less thing to worry about! If you think you know what type of formula or bottles you might want to use, then you can add those to the registry as well. However, you might find that your child has an allergy, reflux, or some other ailment that necessitates special bottles or formula.
Something I recommend with aggressive, nearly evangelical enthusiasm to all new parents: basic white onesies. Get some short-sleeved ones; get some long-sleeved ones; get them in several sizes. Not only can you bleach them if you have a “diaper incident,” most of them are just a tiny bit see-through. Combine this with the fact that most newborn and smaller-size diapers have a stripe that indicates when a diaper needs changing, and it means you can ascertain if it’s time for a change without having to take the onesie off! I had grand plans for our daughter being an infant fashion plate, and once she got a bit older she definitely was. In the newborn stage though I was all about the white onesies.
It’s 3 a.m., and you are so tired you can’t remember your name, and you want to make sure the kiddo has a clean diaper before you attempt to get a few hours of broken sleep? All you have to do is lift them up and look at their tush. Boom. The power of the white onesie.
2) Think of other ways your loved ones can help you out other than just buying baby products.
Have a party where people bring things to put in your freezer. Have a get-together where people help you paint the nursery. Take one last fun kids-free trip to somewhere sunny with a swim-up bar and good margaritas with your best friends.
When it boils down to it, frankly, the best gift for adoptive-parents-to-be is cash. You’ve undoubtedly coughed up a lot of it for the adoption process, and you’ll need more of it to get everything the baby needs as well as cover some of your expenses while you wait for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC, to clear. Or maybe you need more money while one of you stays home with the baby before returning to work, or while you’re in-country with your newly internationally-adopted child.
Some would say it’s gauche to ask for cash, but I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with adoptive parents saying, “We don’t know exactly what this child will need yet, so until we bring them home and all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted, Target/Walmart/grocery store/Visa gift cards would be tremendously helpful.” If someone insists on buying you “a thing” rather than just throwing some cash your way, refer back to the previous list of gender neutral and non-specific items you know you’ll need and point them in that direction.
A celebration doesn’t have to be the traditional lunch where people have to guess the flavor of baby food and the mother-to-be opens up 900 boxes full of very small clothing while everyone else says “aww” 900 times. If you are going to be an adoptive parent, you’re going to need to get used to always being a little bit outside of the box in some respects. Might as well start now and have a “baby shower” that is really representative of what you want or need, rather than what you think is expected of you based on what the “standard” baby shower entails.
3) Get excited but be realistic.
After we dealt with multiple pregnancy losses and IVF failures, when we entered the adoption process, my first concern was that I didn’t want to make any announcements I’d have to retract. It was bad enough telling close family and friends when things didn’t work out, and I didn’t want to have to do that again, let alone have to make that “retraction statement” to even more people on social media.
The reality of adoption is that sometimes things don’t work out the way you initially thought they might. You might end up waiting to be matched for far longer than anticipated—do you really want people hounding you for “updates”? You might experience a disruption—do you really want to have to tell Aunt Sally that she’s going to have to redo the personalized monogrammed quilt she made you? Often on social media or on adoption shower announcements, I see couples giving out a lot of specific information as if things are a done deal. The reality is, even if you are 100 percent certain that there’s “no possible way” these expectant parents are going to “change their mind” that option and that child is still theirs up until the termination of parental rights, or TPR, is signed and/or the revocation period is over.
Sometimes people who are adopting post or send out announcements or shower invites that say, “We’re having a boy! Whathisface Johnson Jr. due November 12th!” When I see those posts all I can think is, “I really hope that things work out how you hope, but I really hope you’ve thought about what you’ll have to deal with if you experience a disruption.” Disruption is hard enough. You are grieving the loss of a child, and it can be just as painful as losing a pregnancy. The last thing you want to have to worry about is giving 30 people their gifts back and making a post to your 400 Facebook friends that things didn’t work out.
4) Don’t let others pressure you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with.
As with the birth of any child, grandparents and various relatives will all want to get involved. They mean well and want to support you and celebrate your new arrival, even if you’re not sure when he or she is coming. However, they often don’t fully grasp the complexities of adoption or think that there’s only “one right way” to have a baby shower.
If you think you have some family members who might unintentionally make you crazy, it’s best to be upfront with them and educate them about why you are doing things the way you are. Educate them about what your adoption process is going to look like and explain it to them. For example, explain why you don’t want them to throw you a shower with 80 blue balloons even if you’re matched with an expectant mother who is having a boy. The vast majority of people will be reasonable and sensitive to this if you explain it to them, but don’t go into the planning phase assuming that everyone involved truly understands what your adoption process entails.
If you have family members who are unsupportive because you are having a non-traditional shower or, worse, because they are unsupportive of your adoption, welcome to your first lesson in parenthood. Remember, above all else, you are your child’s strongest advocate and anyone in your life who isn’t supportive of them, isn’t supportive of you and isn’t worth trying to change or please. It can be really upsetting to have your favorite cousin or even your immediate family not on board with your adoption or how you choose to celebrate it. But understand that their protests are about them and their inability to see past their narrow definition of what “having a baby” means. It is not about your worthiness to be parents, and it is not about your future child being any less loved than the one you gave birth to. Not everyone we love is in our lives forever.
Sometimes people grow and change and their loved ones don’t understand or don’t agree, and you have to decide if the relationship is worth continuing. You will be your child’s parents forever, and you will always want to be able to tell them about how you joyously celebrated their impending arrival with people who were equally supportive. This might mean some people don’t make the cut for shower invites if they’re vocally in disagreement with your shower plans or adoption plans.
5) Don’t be afraid to be excited because you think it will hurt less if something goes awry.
I went into the adoption process, as I mentioned earlier, after experiencing a lot of difficulty with infertility and pregnancy loss. In my mind, trying to become parents was equal to pain and heartbreak and things not going how we wanted them to. When we switched to domestic infant adoption, it took me a while to get on board with the idea that the adoption process was not the same as IVF. If I hung in there long enough and was patient, adoption would make me a mother even if I didn’t know how long it would take or how many bumps and hiccups there would be along the way. IVF was an “if,” adoption was a “when.”
While I was dealing with my infertility treatment and beginning the adoption process I had a great counselor who gave me a very sage piece of advice (and I highly recommend that all prospective adoptive parents find a counselor or someone who can be their neutral, objective sounding board during the process). She said, basically, it isn’t going to hurt any less if something goes wrong if you let yourself be hopeful and excited about it now. And, if things go “right,” you’ll wish you hadn’t been “Eeyore-ing” it up prior to this child’s arrival. I went into the adoption process initially thinking that no one would pick us because of a number of fundamentally dumb reasons. Not only did someone pick us, but we got picked after only 13 days of waiting, and our daughter was already born.
Children love to hear about how excited their parents were to get their nursery ready, to complete the adoption paperwork, or to participate in a baby shower. If you are going through the adoption process you have completed some hard tasks and some that are just plain time-consuming. Even if you can’t yet feel excited about the child that is coming, allow yourself to see your shower as a celebration of your hard work up until this point trying to pursue adoption. Being an adoptive parent means you entered into parenthood incredibly intentionally and jumped through a lot of hoops to make it happen. That effort and that love you have for a child you don’t even know yet? I can’t think of anything more worthy of celebration.
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