by Lisa Jarot
When an adoptive mom announces she is waiting, the world does not erupt with celebration in the same way it does when a pregnant mom announces she is carrying her next child. Why not? It’s the same news. We’re both saying, “We’re having a baby”, or in some cases “We’re adopting an older child”, but either way, we are bringing another life into our family which is reason to swing from the chandeliers with excitement! I presume, because it’s a different path to get to the same outcome people need a little help knowing how to come alongside the waiting adoptive family. For that reason, allow me to offer a few suggestions for how to navigate the journey well when a loved one announces they are adopting:
1. Treat them like any other friend who is expecting.
As I have already implied, take this opportunity to CELEBRATE and be expectant with the waiting family.
Just because adoptive moms do not carry a child in their womb, doesn’t mean the dream of her new child is not present on her mind and in her heart. She is carrying this child, don’t ignore or forget that.
Chances are, she wants to talk about it.
She wants to be seen as an expectant mother.
Just be sensitive to the questions you ask.
If she is waiting for a match and you see her every week please do not ask, “Are you matched yet?” every single time. She is living with the feeling every single day that she is still waiting to be matched and if it has been several months, or even years, she is feeling weary, you can count on it.
Instead of asking if there is a match, just ask, “How are you doing in the wait?”
This gives her the opportunity to talk about whatever element of the process she wants to.
Maybe she wants to talk about how she is feeling emotionally. Maybe she wants to give you an update from the agency. This is a great way to let her know you see her expectancy, but more importantly, you see her in this process.
Also keep in mind, in the same way a pregnant woman does not want to spend every conversation she has, all day long, talking about her baby bump, an adoptive mom does not need the conversation to always revolve around her waiting either.
Since there is no growing physical reminder of time that is passing during the wait or a physical presence to the development of the process, it is important to be sure the understanding of what she carries mentally & emotionally does not fall off your radar.
You might consider…
Sending a text, just to let the family know you are with them in their wait.
Supporting their fundraiser (if they have one) by showing up and inviting others to participate.
Sending a gift either for the expected child or for the waiting family; a gift card to a restaurant for a date night or a sweet little gift for the one they are waiting to adopt.
There are a thousand ways, big and small, that you can join in the wait, just pick something and do it.
2. Remain sensitive to the ebbs and flows of this process for waiting families.
The wait is hard!
Everything is unknown until you are matched, and even then, a lot is unknown.
A waiting family often wonders, will we get a call today or tomorrow or will it be in three months or six months or a year or longer? It’s hard to plan for the short-term future with this lingering question always in play. It’s like constantly looking for a target that doesn’t exist yet. In the meantime, you are left holding the bow, cocked, with nowhere to shoot. This waiting often requires a need to expend some pent up energy. This might look like a new hobby or nesting or anything to stay busy and keep from making yourself, and everyone around you, from going crazy.
Once matched, it’s a whole different ballgame.
Now an attachment begins to form between biological family and adoptive family, or in some cases, with the child, particularly in an international adoption. For some, this attachment might begin to form after the adoptive family has received a picture of the child they have been matched with in another country, and for others this attachment will begin to form after the adoptive family receives the basic background information about a birthmom and the child she is carrying. As the adoptive family, you are only as good as the information your agency is sharing with you and they are only as good as the information the birthmom or the orphanage is sharing with them. All that to say, there are a lot of unknowns, however, that does not stifle the dreams an adoptive family begins to set in motion for this new child that will soon enter their family.
Once a family has been matched they must fully engage as though they will be bringing this child home, while simultaneously, remaining aware of the reality that the birthmom could change her mind at any point before her parental rights are surrendered or something could change in the international courts that would prevent the adoption from finalizing. This is a tricky, tricky tension to manage.
I would highly encourage you to remain very in-tune to this tension the adoptive family is facing. This time basically feels like holding your breath, and holding your breath for a long time can be very overwhelming and exhausting. There will be moments of sheer joy and moments of great fear in the wait. My best advice; draw near and ride the waves of emotion as best you can.
3. Don’t assume you know
While you can draw a lot of similarities between expecting a child biologically and adoption, it is not the same so don’t assume you know if you have never adopted. Be a learner. Ask a lot of questions. Listen, truly listen, so you can step in to the adoptive families world and support them on their journey.
The adoption process can often feel like a heavy burden to carry, especially as you begin to journey with the biological family. It’s important to remember that the adoptive family will need your support and encouragement all along the way. Instead of making comments that could be insensitive, I recommend you lead with questions. Assume the posture of student and be a learner. Allow your loved one to teach you about their journey.
Don’t ever, at any point, make comments like, “At least you don’t have to…deal with morning sickness, lose sleep during the pregnancy, go through the pain of child birth, worry about breast feeding…” Believe it or not, these are probably things that an adoptive family has grieved over the loss of. Being able to carry the child would allow a mom the ability to protect her little one in a way an adoptive family cannot. Being able to nurse a child would allow an adoptive mom to be able to provide for her child in a way that she cannot. Making statements like these imply that the adoptive family has not had to endure anything hard to get to their child, which is exactly the opposite of the truth. See them for what their journey is, not what is isn’t.