I've mentioned earlier this year that our first grandchild will be born any day. I've been caught up in the tidal wave of excitement along with other family members and friends. A wide swath of support and joy have surrounded the delighted expectant parents. At every level this baby is immersed in a community that oozes happiness at the prospect of his existence.
When the baby is born, he will enter a world filled with familiarity because he's heard the voices of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends during these past months.The music and even the clatter of daily life will enfold him in a sense of continuity and safety.
I simultaneously ponder how an adopted child’s gestation differs dramatically. His conception is startling, unplanned. A crisis. Emotions swing from joy to panic as the expectant parents frantically struggle to determine how to gather the resources necessary to parent their unexpected baby, or make an adoption plan for this precious life they’ve conceived. This emotional, dramatic and chaotic prenatal environment stresses the baby. The overwhelmed mother and father struggle with intense emotions, difficult decisions, advice from family, friends, counselors, social workers. Imagine for a moment what it is like for an expectant mother who is making an adoption plan when strangers notice, comment on and enthuse about how thrilled/excited, etc. she must be. Can you feel the razor blades of grief? The unborn baby does. And it shapes him.
How can we adoptive parents prepare ourselves to be ready to meet this child's unique needs? We must immerse ourselves in the world of Adoption-attuned Parenting. Skip Lamaze classes and learn about attachment styles and how they affect parent/child relationships. Learn about grief and loss issues--the child's and your own--so that their responses do not trigger your own hot buttons. Read widely. Listen to podcasts like this one from Family to Family in which Brina, a young birth mother, recounts her experience with open adoption. She shares how she made her decision, selected prospective adoptive parents, her labor and delivery experience and her life since placing her son. Very powerful and enlightening.
Take classes. Adoption Learning Partners offers a wide selection of excellent ones on-line. They are offered on demand so you can fit them into your busy schedule.
Read up on adoption. Choose books that recognize adoption-attuned concepts and strategies, that acknowledge grief and loss issues and prepare you for the unique experience of adoptive parenting. Be sure to include some that address the more difficult parts of adoption so that your child knows it is acceptable to discuss. Provide books that explore adoption from the child's point of view. This will help him see how other children think about their adoptions and will help him express his feelings to you. It will help frame his complicated feelings into words. Plus, it will demonstrate that you are open to talking about them and are strong enough to hold both his joy and his sorrow.
Advances in neuro-biology have deepened our understanding of infant and childhood grief. Open Adoption, while not a panacea, does eradicate secrecy and reduce the shame that infused closed adoptions; it is worth exploring or pursuing. (Check out Lori Holden's book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption. Gayle's review: Please refer to our website for an additional list of suggested resources and books that are some of our favorites.
Educate yourself, your family and friends.
Remember that "It takes a village to raise a child," so help your family and friends become adoption-attuned so they can support you and a child. Let them see that your decision is well thought, heartfelt and firm. Bring them into your vision and onto your family's team. Address their questions. Just as adoption was a decision that took time to explore and choose, it may also take them time to accclimate to the idea. Let them know, that you want them to be a part of your child's life. One excellent book is, Patricia Irwin Johnston's, “Adoption is a Family Affair What Relatives and Friends Must Know.
Adoption is an important way to grow a family AND it comes with an additional level of responsibility. Our joy must not ignore the genuine struggles and challenges our children must work through as they braid their birth and adoptive heritages into a healthy identity. Parents often say they would do anything for their kids. Becoming adequately savvy about adoption is one thing all adoptive parents must do. Our kids need this. They deserve the best prepared parents, ones who love them enough to do the hard work, to hear the difficult truths and to commit that extra level of time and effort so they we can become the parents they need as well as the parents they want.
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