Adoption – before the child arrives – stuff.

I am not an expert in this.  I am in this.  This being our journey towards hearing that we are approved as adoptive parents and waiting to meet our small person. Along the way we have been asked by some people to voice what is helpful in terms of support and then an even more amazing question has been posed to me:

“and please tell me what isn’t helpful – we don’t know how to navigate this, so make a list, write a blog please.”

According to my Facebook feed there are a lot of do and don’t lists out there. Around adoption. Around marriage. Around singleness. Around *insert the most recent one YOU read here*.  Some of them are helpful and some of them have frustrated lots of my friends. Here are my suggestions, rather than directives, discovered in collaboration with other moms.

Yip. I did what any modern day mother to be does and sourced some input from adoptive moms on Facebook (as well as in person). I hope this honours what the moms shared with me.

DISCLAIMER: “One size never fits all!” so different people will have different needs.  I am writing this, not just for me, but with other’s input – who are not me.  Out of relationship, in your space, with me, or someone like me, this needs to be figured out!

I guess that would be my starting point:  What is your relationship to me and what will it be to my child?   Out of this relationship space, with any new mom& dad, I would suggest that the following things are helpful:

  • QUESTIONS & CURIOUSITY: ASK! Think about what you are asking though – one mom asked that people think about how they are asking as well as why they are asking.  If it’s clumsy curiosity that can be navigated VS wanting to tell a potential adoptive parent how or why they should or shouldn’t do this.  Part of why the adoption screening process is intense is to allow for things to be thought through and for parents to be prepared.
  • JOIN ADOPTION SUPPORT groups: If you are on Facebook you can access these. It was noted that it can get tiresome having to answer questions around the details. Joining a support group on social media helps you process with us, as well as being a resource for you in terms of details and dynamics. It also shows us how much you are interested in and are wanting to support the journey!
  • BE EXCITED with us – like you would for any prospective parent. Pregnant tummies and boobs don’t grow, but the process is intense in different ways as shifts, preparation, screenings and decisions are being made.

It’s helpful when people are excited with rather than simply judging the process or the potential outcome. Hearts are growing and making space for another human- some days these are more fragile than others, and so while not hormonally driven, we still need to work out how to honour them.  Our process might seem intense to you, but it’s about making sure that our future children get matched as well as possible with their future parents.  It’s about having healthy parents – much like your scans and screenings and nutrition, in hope and faith, help grow a healthy tummy baby – our prep process helps grow healthy families.

(P.s. Not all babies raised by their birth moms turn out uncomplicated, so adopted children may or may not either! “Children have glitches sometimes” to quote a child I work with: part of a good adoption prep process explores and prepares parents for these possibilities).

  • Being EXCITED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE CHILD who is coming: Regardless of the reason why people have chosen to grow their family through adoption, whether it started by choice or infertility, a family is about to grow.

It’s hard for people who have struggled through an infertility journey to have to listen to well-intended comments that they will now fall pregnant.  There might be lots of anecdotal stories to this effect, but this can offer intense frustration rather than hope for people who are excited about one child and people are already talking about another.

In chatting to someone about adoption, and how we can fall pregnant but are choosing this, the nearest they had which they could relate to was that once they had given up on a 2nd child and got a puppy, pregnancy followed soon after. so not really like us but this was well intended and meant to be a shared understanding. Instead it was a bit perplexing. The longing for a child yes – we both related to that but our choice in this wasn’t heard nor was the sad irony of comparing an adopted child to a puppy which wasn’t worth pressing into at the time – however, my social filters were 😉

  • BABY SHOWERS: This might seem tricky as the due date isn’t quite as obvious as it is for a birth mom, but actually this is one rite of passage for most parents these days.  It’s a way of acknowledging a shift (both in budget for most of us and identity for all of us!) on a journey to becoming parents. I was at a baby shower for a friend whose own story to growing her family had lots of pain and heartache in it initially – the baby shower however was one of the most joyous community oriented, celebratory events I have ever witnessed! Never mind the abundant gifts, the abundant support for this couple is what was overwhelmingly clear.  Practical preparations (guest lists and so on) for the shower had started as soon as these friends were officially approved for adoption. The final dates and logistics were confirmed once they got the call.  Other friends had their showers once their small person arrived. There are ways to make these things work.
  • ACKNOWLEDGING STARTING POINTS: Our children’s starting point won’t be with us and while this is important to acknowledge, it is also important that we recognise that in this, adoptive parents miss out on the early days spent getting to know small people in the same way as a birth mom who has kept her baby does. This doesn’t mean that adoptive moms aren’t real moms –  See below for clarification!

Adjustment, planning to be available in terms of meals and babysitting, as well as recognising that our kids need to attach to us AFTER they have attached to others matters.  This attachment process might make us seem nit-picky or super aware of being the person who baths and feeds and does the majority of the cuddling – this is all an important part of our initial story.  Starting points also include our child’s starting (birth story) – different families have different views on how much is shared around this.

Different families may do this differently – this is another relationship space which needs to be figured out!

  • THE BIRTH MOM/ TUMMY MOM/ REAL MOM thing: The government paperwork refers to adopted children as ‘being yours as if born unto you’.    That makes adopted moms A REAL mom.  The birth mom still needs to be honoured too – regardless of her story.  It helps our children deal with their two stories:  pre-adoption and post-adoption to know that there is space in our worlds for us and their birth mom.
  • If you are a person who PRAYS, PRAY for us. Pray for us in the process. Pray for us in the waiting.  Pray for our child – wherever they are.  Pray for their birth mother and carers who will be saying goodbye at different stages in their story, before we get to meet them.  Pray for our families and communities to as they prepare to welcome a new person.

Finally to paraphrase one mom 🙂

‘Stop asking when the child is coming – when we know,

we PROMISE you will know too!’

The waiting season is a hard one for many reasons  with no idea of when the due date will be.  In this time some of us are able to carry on with work and life things as they are until we get the long awaited call.  For some of us, plans need to be put in place in preparation for the call.  I know I am one of them as my work involves processes with children and I don’t get to just stop these – so while I have work timelines I don’t have much else just yet!  This isn’t craziness – it’s preparing for the next season.

We can’t wait for the official thumbs up call.

We can’t wait for the call to say there is a referral.

Thank you for waiting with us.

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The grief of adoption

Some reflections on our initial screening to becoming potential adoptive parents

Celebration. Joy. Permanency. Family. Forever (in faith). These are all words we see and hear around adoption. The past few weeks though as we have journeyed through our initial screening and preparation to be presented as prospective adoptive parents, I have become acutely aware of the grief in this whole process.
My professional world is predominantly child focused, so it has been easy for me to be able to think, focus and identify the grief process for a child whose birth family isn’t the one that they get to do life with. Regardless of how good the reasons are for this.
My grief for the birth mother – whether someone who has signed over their baby for adoption or has abandoned them (whether through leaving them safely somewhere or otherwise) is something I have had to grapple with. No one dreams of having to make an adoption plan. In my circles questions around parenting range from your birth plan to whether you believe in co-sleeping or not to which school do you think that you would like to send your child to and why. What a contrast to not knowing what you are going to do with the small person that has grown in you, but that you can’t (for whatever reason – from age to finances to addiction) care for and having to decide what to do with the small person.
Then there is a grief for us. Our grief is less complicated or compounded in some ways as we are not grieving infertility issues. We are choosing this. In choosing this though, there is still grief.
There is no romantic standing in the hospital while a mother gives birth (thank you Hollywood) for us. Our meeting our small person only happens once there is no chance of it legally not working for the baby or us – once all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed – such a good thing for everyone actually but so hard in terms of the knowledge that from the time the small person is born until we meet them, they will have had at least a birth mother and one other carer in their little lives that they will have to say goodbye too.
My heart is sore in ways that by the time I get to meet our small one, that he will have been held by many arms, not mine. My heart is okay with the not carrying him. My heart grieves at the knowledge that I don’t get to delight in his initial newness in life (sleep deprivation and all). That’s sad for him and us…it’s a part of the bonding that birth moms and dads have with their smalls. It’s not insurmountable grief. It’s just something we need to process.
I have recently heard more than once the declaration that we are lucky to skip the exhaustion of pregnancy, the birth process and the repeated wake ups of a new born baby.
I have witnessed more than once the surreal reality of friends anticipating the phone call saying that their small is ready to meet them, but none of the ‘natural’ preparation of a visible pregnancy in the future mother for people to be engaging with.
Adoptive parents are expectant but the way in which we process this has to happen a little differently to a set of pregnant parents. Choices to get ready to meet a small person happen along the way too – but our timelines, our bodies, our planning is not benchmarked by bellies and breasts.
Our world is about to be turned upside down. We will have to get to know a small one from when they have already engaged with the world. There are going to be joyful discoveries and heart rendering moments of oh my goodness. Life is never going to be the same again. That’s not lucky though – our journey to the discovery of each other comes with a cost to all involved – one we choose and process. We are still figuring out what this all means – luck doesn’t need any of that work!

One week later: Things that helped, things that hindered & finding grace in grief

I have learnt, lived and experienced things this last week that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In the midst of the heartache and disappointment there have been many reasons for gratitude. There have also been things that happened that were perhaps well meaning but really not helpful. There were things that I am not sure what they were about but have left me perplexed. They are things. Things for me work well in lists, so here goes the list.

GRATITUDE for the man I married who has loved, held, supported and shown up when nothing he can do can “fix this” right now. I have learnt that Charlie shows up in the way that matters and that he loves me more, deeper and far better than I could have hoped or imagined.

HELPFUL reflection: We need the love and support and ACKNOWLEDGMENT of our community but that much of this grief work is private as much as the journey is shared. So thank you for acknowledging our grief, for praying, for messages and for space. That is both something that I am grateful for and that was helpful. There is a part of this that is lonely and that I can’t share with others – but value them being there. Just being there.

NOT SO HELPFUL reflection:
We chose to share the joy of discovering we were pregnant, as well as the sadness of the loss. The amount of info we share around this is up to us – it hasn’t been so helpful when people have wanted details around either the pregnancy or the loss. We were clear about the reason for not meeting our little person when we announced this (a blighted ovum). Questions & responses which weren’t helpful included, and in fact were quite intrusive:

o Did the doctors do investigations as to why? Can they explain why? (No – if you want more info, perhaps use google, rather than me).

o Were you on hormone treatment? Will you be given hormones to help you fall pregnant again? (Really – this is loaded with assumptions about how we fell pregnant to start with or that there are issues – and if there are, that is obviously something personal that wasn’t shared; and if there aren’t, how do I respond graciously and honour my community who have had struggles in this without pushing into their pain. Fertility is an emotionally loaded area. Please be careful how you approach this with anyone, maybe don’t?)

o Inquiries as to how much (& whether it will be protected/ unprotected) sex we plan on having in the near future (My gut reaction to this: Why would you like to recommend a baby making position?!)

The spiritual side of things matter too. I don’t believe that things always happen for a reason, or that there is a bigger picture or obviously God wanted an extra baby in heaven – my faith in God wasn’t hinged on whether or not this baby made it to us: I was astounded at the amount of people who told me not to give up on God. It worries me that God’s faithfulness is perceived as being contingent on my circumstances – but that is another discussion. The world is messy. Life is messy. This happening is nonsensical to me, and as hard as it is is messy. God doesn’t owe me an explanation -I don’t want to get into a discussion like Job did where God had to remind him of who is who.

It has been a week today since we found out that we weren’t going to meet our small person this side of heaven. Acknowledgment of this means being sad, saying it’s hard and taking your lead from how much information we choose to share. Our medical history is ours and the way in which we are processing privately needs to be ours too.

It doesn’t matter whether this was a first time lucky conception or a hard prayed and longed for one (with or without intervention)– or whether it was an adoption that fell through. When people bond and dream of their small people, it’s a loss – REGARDLESS of how the small person was going to arrive.

HELPFUL reflection: Recognising that while we share stories I don’t want to own your story and I don’t want you to own mine. They are our individual stories of unique babies but with a shared understanding of loss. It is stressful and hard for anyone to have to listen to someone else’s outcome which is not necessarily true for the person. Thank you for the friends who shared their stories but also for those who shared the helpful parts and didn’t insert into our story what their outcome was. Our story isn’t finished yet. A parallel story to this was my younger brother getting married before me – people often asked me if it was hard for me to hope for marriage since I am the oldest and Mark got wed first – no it wasn’t hard. I was never going to marry my brother. His being married, someone else having a baby or not is not my story. It’s theirs. My cousin is going into labour (hopefully) any minute – I am excited at the hope of new life in the midst of our loss. It’s been hard but helpful, for me, to be able to weep and celebrate with her. This might not be true for anyone else.

GRACE moments: That this either owns me indefinitely or becomes a part of my story. My daily choices as I grieve and choose to process will determine this. This was a reminder again that there is a depth of pain that lacks words. It was a reminder that I don’t have to soldier on and that in the midst of this and that there is love in places and people if I am open to receiving and allowing it to be there.

This is a club that I NEVER signed up for. I resent at times the fact that I now have to be a part of this and yet I look at the amazing women in my world who are here too – some who are birth mothers and some who mothers without having given birth (or adopting) and realise that none of them did either and there are lots of clubs throughout the world that people didn’t sign up for.

In the meantime there is grace, gratitude and recognition that it’s okay to say things are sometimes more helpful than others.

This is dedicated to a baby we never met who we named Michael; who would have been born around Freedom Day (27th April). Trusting that his story will help bring greater freedom in our lives, other’s lives as well as a sense of God’s glory in the messiness of life

Babies, Blighted Ovums & Hope

For the past 2 months my body has been growing, changing, responding to hormones and for the past month, we have known that, according to initial testing all of these things were due to being pregnant: For the first time at forty. Yesterday morning we woke up to go and discover whether it was one or two – not thinking that it was simply going to be the idea of a little person – rather than a little person. The egg had fertilised and implanted, but didn’t develop beyond that – and despite everything that science can tell us, we don’t know why this baby didn’t grow. The gestational sac did – was perfectly sized for 8 weeks. The baby didn’t: I am saying baby because, for us, the moment the egg and sperm fused, that was a developing human being.

Strangely, the week this conception happened, I had a dream that I was going to have a phantom pregnancy (this wasn’t the same thing but the outcome feels the same); I also stopped feeling emotionally pregnant about 10 days ago, but put that down to exhaustion, to nausea and general hormonal irritability. Somehow my body and soul started a conversation that the rest of me is now catching up with.

This morning I woke up with the sensation that the whole pregnancy experience belonged to someone else – yes, I know shock and denial do funny things to one’s mind – except then the sadness kicks in and the tears start again and I am reminded that this is my story. It’s our story.

I am deeply grateful that we chose to share this story with our community, our family and friends from its early days of praying, hoping and dreaming. It meant that people got to share in our excitement, allow for me to struggle through the morning sickness, give me space to be tired and more mindful of germs. It allowed for people to share with us their “pay it forward generosity”. It allowed for a different type of joy within our marriage and our families.

And now… It has also allowed for us to be loved and held and supported in what ranks up there for me with having to say goodbye to a little boy who I so wanted to be mine, but also couldn’t make mine, and watch his initial failed adoption with another family knowing that there was no stepping back in to make him mine; it ranks up there with not knowing whether my mom was going to come back from theatre after a triple heart bypass…. And yet it also doesn’t – for the simple reason that this time around I have learnt how powerful being vulnerable is in this space.

This vulnerability means that we have had a SHARED outpouring and acknowledgement of the loss of dreams and of hopes. In response to our public acknowledgement we have received many private stories, as well as public acknowledgements of shared experiences, shared sadness – and stories, which science seems to support, of hope and little people growing into their full bodies. Beyond the emotion and the science I have been so aware of the prayer covering our family too – for me, Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase in The Message sums it up:

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34: 18)

Today, in the midst of tears, the feeling of being gutted, there is an awareness of deep slow breaths too. Of choosing to see hope and gratitude in the midst of heartache and knowing that in the midst of grief there is still hope.