Dealing with Fear in Adoption

Creepy Crawlies and Things That Go Bump in the Night- Dealing with Fear in Adoption.

It’s officially fall and we’re officially into the month which celebrates Halloween. Halloween has become a bonanza for retailers, with some reports indicating that 179 million Americans spent $9.1 billion dollars on candy, costumes and decorations in 2017. Since 72% of those 179 million people decorated their homes, it’s quite likely that you’ve been seeing Halloween decorations in stores, your neighborhoods, community centers, and maybe even your home.

Halloween provides us with a safe scare. It tames down things in which we don’t really even believe and makes for a time of fun. Even on a scale of scary starting with cute kids in costume yelling “trick or treat” and ending with a big guy in makeup and a fake chainsaw jumping out at you at the local haunted house, the thrills and chills are manufactured. You know that these things are not real and last just for a few moments. Come November 1, the turkeys and Pilgrims will start replacing the skeletons and witch cauldrons that adorn the landscape.

Real fear invokes a physiological response.

Our brains revert to the defense mechanisms of freeze, flight, or fight. Sometimes the fear is brief and goes away. Other times fear lingers, lodging itself in the corners of our being and turns into a gnawing sense of anxiety.

Sometimes fears are easy to name. Some people have a fear of spiders, or of heights, or of losing someone near to them. Sometimes fears are less obvious. These may show up as worries. These worries may start when something happens…DCS takes your children away. You have a miscarriage. Suddenly you are no longer in control of things that only yesterday seemed like a certain deal.

Adoption brings its own fears to the table.

For expectant and birth parents, there is the fear that their child will hate them or someday reject them. There is fear that the adoptive parents will not keep their promises. Adoptive parents fear their child will someday hate and reject them and return to the birth family. Or that the birth family will show up on their doorstep and demand the child back. Even adoptees may have a fear of being unlovable or unwanted. And these fears are fears that often wear masks. They are less easy to identify.

What helps ease these fears?

After all, adoption is a lifetime of relationships. It’s not as if the calendar will one day turn to a new month and a new set of decorations comes into play. These adoption related fears can impact our identities. Am I really a mother if I’ve placed my child for adoption? Am I really a mother if I didn’t give birth to my child? Am I a real person if I wasn’t born to my parents?

This is one reason why openness in adoption is valuable—whether you know everyone’s full identities or even have visits.

The mindset of openness in adoption is one of open communication and honesty. You may not want to admit to feeling nervous about an upcoming placement because you aren’t certain what will happen. You may not want to admit to feeling anxious about having a visit with the other parent in your adoption relationship. But naming those feelings and bringing them out into the open is the first step in conquering those fears. 


Should I or Could I?

Did you know that you talk to yourself almost all the time? Whether or not you are aware of your thoughts, our brains are working constantly. The things we tell ourselves have a direct impact on our emotions.

One of the most detrimental words that we use is “should”.

To say we should do something indicates a duty, or that something is a must do. Generally, when people hear that they should do something, the rebel in them immediately goes for the opposite.

Potential adoptive parents might be hearing from friends and family the things they should be doing or feeling as they go through the process. They might hear or say to themselves, “You should be happy you don’t have to go through pregnancy”, or “You should be excited about your birth mother lead”, or “You should be grateful you were approved to adopt”. Expectant parents might hear or say to themselves, “You should let the adoptive family be in the delivery room”, or “You should be happy this baby will have a good home”, or “You should use this attorney or that agency” 

Are any of those statements really helpful? Be honest. Don’t they just feel heavy and dull?

 What might be a better way to handle these heavy shoulds?

Try substituting the word “could” for every “should”.

For the grammar geeks out there, “could” is the past tense of the verb “can”, and it is used to express possibility. The word could gives you much more power, more of a choice, and takes away the urge to rebel. We all really do have the ability to change how we feel about our situations by changing what words we say to ourselves.

There is so much in the adoption process that is beyond anyone’s control.

Timing, what the expectant parents are thinking or doing, what the potential adoptive parents are thinking or doing, and family members’ opinions and actions are all things that are far beyond any one person’s control. Each of us can only control how we will react to any given situation. Feeling overwhelmed and down? Take a look at the things you say to yourself. If the “shoulds” are outweighing the “coulds”, do a little substitution and flip them around. Hopefully this will frame things in a more positive light.


Birthdays: From Bittersweet to Joy

The anticipation…complete with countdowns to the big day when “this many” fingers increases by one. The sound of paper being torn from the packages. The sticky fingers and face from the icing on the cake. The sounds of singing that simple little song—“Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you!” The glow of the candle. These are all rituals of celebration—symbols to mark the importance of the day a new life entered the world.

While it’s easy to join in the celebration, birthdays are also a great time to take a step back for reflection, especially for parents. In some traditions, an extra candle is placed on the cake to signify hope for the upcoming year. And in families where adoption is a part of that family’s creation, there is always another layer to consider.

A person’s birthday is the day they entered the world.

For a woman contemplating adoption, her child’s birthday is when reality hits and the “what if” starts to become more insistent. The “hello” starts to become the “see you later” that is the bittersweet part of adoption. The celebration is associated with sadness and loss.

On the other hand, adoptive parents find it easy to celebrate their child’s birthday because this marks the day their dream of parenthood is realized. And every year that passes is a recognition of their family.

Is there a way to reconcile the loss of the birth family with the gain of the adoptive family?

Well…whose life is being celebrated on the birthday? Of course, the answer is the child—the person who joins a family through adoption. And that is where the reconciliation begins. For young children, a birthday is a good time to retell their adoption story. Incorporating the birth family into the celebration is a positive way to show that child that they are loved and valued.

Birthdays are celebrated because we remember the past year…the good days and the growth. Birthdays are celebrated because we look to the future…the dreams and the hopes. In a healthy adoption, birthdays recognize that the child is shaped by the birth family and by the adoptive family. The child is celebrated for who they are and who they will become.


Dads—You Matter! 

Check out the self-help section of any bookstore. It’s likely that you will find many of these books divided by gender. Maybe this all began with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus back in 1992. Maybe it’s biology, maybe it’s society, or maybe it’s none of these things. But when it comes to being an adoptive dad, the role of father is important, special, and unique.  

It may not seem like it. It often seems as if the women involved in adoption are running the show. The expectant mother makes the choice of adoptive family. The potential adoptive mother fills out the paperwork and arranges the appointments for meetings. Even adoption professionals tend to be women! 

So where do you men fit in?

The answer is everywhere. In every step of the adoption, you are important. While not every expectant mom chooses a married couple to parent her child, most of them do. Many times her reasoning is simply that because she is struggling as a single mother, she would like the stability that the two-parent family offers.  

If the reasoning behind an expectant mom’s decision is this stability, it just makes sense that the waiting-to-adopt dad steps up and demonstrates what kind of father he plans to be. Show her in the little things—from opening the door for her when entering and leaving the restaurant at your meetings to offering a hug as a greeting. Show her in the big things, like how you treat your wife, the expectant mom’s children, and in how you answer questions. 

The relationship between hopeful adopting parents is on display during the waiting time and during meetings with the expectant mom.

If expectant mom is looking for a stable and happy relationship between the hopefuls, it makes sense she would see a relationship in which both the husband and wife are interacting easily with one another and with her.  

Once the hospital experience hits, hopeful dads really need to shine. If the laboring or newly delivered mom needs an advocate, a hopeful dad can speak for her while the hopeful mom can be the one holding the birth mom’s hand.  

The dad’s voice, just like the mom’s, is not confined only to words.

Don’t forget that actions often speak louder than words. Being willing to hold the newborn baby or change a diaper lets the birth mom know that you will be an involved dad, which might reinforce her decision that adoption is the right one.  

Then baby comes home.

Hopeful dad becomes Dad. Countless research projects have shown the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. Birth mothers know this too—especially if she chose adoption so that her child would have an involved dad. Even if adoptive mom is the one to typically send the photos and updates, birth moms appreciate hearing directly from adoptive dads too. Dads can send those updates as easily as moms.  

Dads can and should also talk to their child about adoption. They can be the ones to answer questions about birth family. Adoption is not just a mom thing!   


The Home Study- What, When and Why

What do you think of when you hear the words “home study?”

What is your picture of the person who comes to your house to complete a “home study?” The home study process can be anxiety producing, particularly if you picture a social worker from the 1960s wearing orthopedic shoes and reading glasses.

Home studies have been called investigations, background checks, and parenting assessments. While all these may be true, that does not paint the complete picture.

At a basic and simple level, the home study is a document that gives the court reassurance that the home into which a child is placed is safe. It is typically completed by a social worker or other mental health professional. Requirements vary from state to state, but all home studies will include criminal background checks. Most home studies will also include such elements as medical physicals, financial statements, and reference letters.

All of this may seem very cut and dry.

Fill out a mountain of paperwork, wait for someone to come to your home and ask intrusive questions, and then you are given the green light to become parents. Never mind that other people get pregnant every day—even teenagers—and no one asks them for any paperwork suggesting they are capable of parenting! If this is your mindset, and the mindset of your home study provider, adoption may not be for you. Just as it is unlikely the social worker completing your home study will be a hold-over from the 1960s with orthopedic shoes and reading glasses, it is unlikely that your home study will be so cut and dry. A modern home study done by an ethical provider is more than a series of boxes to be checked.

The home study is a process and a tool. It is the means by which your home study provider gets to know you, and equally importantly, you get to know them. Your home study provider can be more than a “one and done” type of place. A good provider will be able to offer support and guidance down the road.

The home study is a conversation.

It’s a conversation about your dreams of parenting, as well as your practical knowledge of parenting. It’s a conversation about where you’ve been and where you hope to go. Most importantly, it’s a conversation about what you know about how adoption will impact a child, and what it is you still need to learn.

The home study is an education. From beginning to end, it’s an education about yourself, your relationships, and your community. You will not be expected to have all the answers to the questions, but hopefully, a good home study will point you in the direction of where you need to go to find the answers. Even more importantly, a good home study will make you think of more questions!

Yes, your home study will include the mundane pieces of your life. It will include those criminal background checks, health physicals, social histories and financial statements. Our advice? Don’t settle for the mundane. Immerse yourself in the process. Ask questions of yourselves and family members about your own history. Ask your home study provider about trends in adoption and where you might be able to make an impact. And most importantly, have conversations with your home study provider about the human side of adoption, particularly what a child who is adopted might need.

Focus your heart on your future child, then go through the home study process willing to learn and to share.

 


When Adoption ‘Breaks the Internet’

We’ve all seen them. Viral stories about celebrities who adopt a baby. Viral stories about families picking up their baby at the adoption agency, and then surprising their own extended families. Viral stories about children spending thousands of days in foster care, then having their adoption finalized. These seem to be everywhere.  

These stories evoke positive responses. They are shared and repeated, over and over. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?  

But adoption is not an ending, happy or otherwise.

In fact, bringing home the baby is only the beginning. The finalization of the adoption, whether with an infant or older foster child, is only the beginning. Adoption is the creation of a new family, but one that is built on losses. The adopted child’s identity will forevermore include the tag “adopted” and a genetic history that she does not share with her parents. To be an adoptee means you have had to say goodbye to the people who created you. And what’s more—you didn’t have a voice in that decision.   

Can we all agree that children are not delivered by storks?

They do not fall from the sky. Behind every “delivered” child, is a woman who struggled. For every child who is placed through foster care, there is a heartbreaking story of birth parents ill-equipped to raise children or faced circumstances most of us can’t begin to imagine. The reasons for placing a child are legion. There is no “one size fits all” adoption story, yet the common thread is loss 

Many adoptive parents begin the adoption journey because of infertility. Others adopt because of a sense of calling that is either faith based or service based. When a child joins a family through adoption, the dynamics of that family changes forever. The adoption will not fix infertility. It will also forever alter the “what might have beens” of the family without fertility issues. Likewise, adoption will not be the cure-all of a birth family’s struggles. It will be a loss for the birth family—for the parents, siblings, and extended family.  

At its best, adoption is for the child. Adoption is an institution that should guarantee a safe, loving, and happy home. And part of that safe, loving, and happy home needs to be the acknowledgement that the child is his own person. He comes to the adoptive family with biological family’s DNA. He comes to the adoptive family with his birth mother’s experiences while she was pregnant. He lives with the adoptive family and absorbs the love, the traditions, and connections that they offer. And one day he is ready to take on the world herself.  

What should you do when you see one of those viral stories?

Share it? Share it and comment? Before you do any of those things, take a moment to think of the people behind the story. Acknowledge, at least to yourself, that this story comes from someone else’s pain. From their brokenness. Be grateful for the family or families that created you. Those thoughts can be turned into comments that will serve the internet well. Those are the thoughts that can change the face of adoption to a more realistic view that honors the birth family, adoptive family, and the child who is adopted. Those emotions…joy and pain…are real adoption.   


Celebrating Birth Families

Where’s the joy? Where’s the excitement?

When a new baby comes home, the baby is welcomed with banners, balloons, visitors, and gifts. In adoption, the adoptive family is swamped with people wanting to visit, hold the new baby and offer congratulations. But when a woman who has placed her baby for adoption returns home from the hospital, there is no celebration. She may have family near-by who want to support her and love her, but celebrating is not a part of the vocabulary.

Not to be insensitive to the grief (which is oh-so real), think about what holds us back from celebrating the birth family. Balloons and banners are not appropriate as a welcome, but the sentiment behind them might be. Is it not knowing what to say? Yes, the grief is real. No, the baby is not with her. But the woman who just placed her baby is WORTH CELEBRATING! And if the birth father was a part of the adoption, he is worth celebrating also.

The dictionary defines the word “celebrate” as to make known publicly or to praise widely. The history of adoption in the 1900s did not involve celebration, especially for birth families. Rather, adoption was the secret no one wanted to talk about. It was too shameful. It reflected “mistakes” and “sinful behavior.

Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond the secrecy and shame. But are we ready to “praise widely”?

It’s time. It is time to praise widely. Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the time to draw attention to someone who does not want that attention. It’s not the time to start a gossip session. But it is time to remember and acknowledge the birth mother and her choice.

So celebrate that she created life.

Celebrate the strength that it took to place the baby’s needs before her own. Celebrate her intelligence in sorting through her options and making her choice. Celebrate the hope for the birth mother’s future. Praise widely!

And if balloons and banners are not appropriate, there are ways to give that recognition and praise. Visit the woman who is now home from the hospital after giving birth, even though the baby is not with her. Talk with her. Ask if she wants to talk about the baby, her experiences, and her grief. If she says she doesn’t want to talk about those things, that’s ok! Follow her lead! At least she will know you care.

Provide a home cooked meal. Go out for coffee together. If she has other children, offer to babysit for an afternoon or evening. Offer a ride to the doctor or counselor’s office. Think about what you would do for the new adoptive family, and then offer the same to the birth mother.

The days of secrecy in adoption are gone. How will you celebrate the birth families in your life?


Rights and Responsibilities for Adoptive Parents

Adoption is an emotionally charged experience.

No matter if you come to adoption from infertility or because of a faith calling, it involves the lives of not just the child, but the lives of the child’s birth family and extended family. Adoption has an impact on the siblings the child may have in either the biological family or the adoptive family, the community in which the child lives, and the schools the child attends. Entering into an adoption relationship should be done only after much soul searching and with an open and committed heart.   

Keeping that in mind, as you find yourself in the adoption process, you should remember that as adopting parents you have both rights and responsibilities. Regardless of how you come to adoption – after experiencing infertility, having biological children, or through a sense of calling – these rights and responsibilities are an important part of the journey  

The rights include of adoptive parents include:   

  • The right to be treated with respect and honesty. 
  • The right to have emotional support before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process. 
  • The right to review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it. 
  • The right to receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to health information about the child you are adopting, including any prenatal drug exposure or communicable disease. 
  • The right to refuse the placement of a child whose needs exceed your ability to care for that child 

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include: 

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty. 
  • Create a “go-to” person or team who is familiar with adoption issues who can help you answer your questions, and support you with your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • Ask questions!  
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you file a petition for adoption with the court. 
  • Process your infertility losses. Understand that having a child through adoption is not a “cure” or fix for infertility. Use the services of a counselor, pastor, or trusted friend who understands what you have been through and will help keep you moving forward. 
  • Be honest if your plans change. If you become pregnant during your adoption journey before the placement of a child into your home, place your adoption plans on hold. Focus on one birth at a time! 
  • Ask for medical records and review them with your child’s medical professional. 
  • Be realistic about your abilities as a parent. 

While these are general rights and responsibilities for adoptive parents, adoptive parents also have more responsibilities to their child that are unique to adoption and are key to developing a healthy sense of identity in the child.

These responsibilities include: 

  • Being honest with your child about the adoption piece of their identity. 
  • Speaking respectfully and lovingly of your child’s birth family. 
  • Using positive adoption language. 
  • Remembering your child’s story is their own and share it only with those with a true need to know. 

No single list is all inclusive. Remember the Golden Rule as you meet expectant parents and develop a relationship with them as your child is growing.  Above all else, you have the responsibility to understand the adopted child carries a piece of their biological family with them forever, and this should be celebrated!    


Rights and Responsibilities for Expectant Mothers

So many times in adoption, all the focus is on the adopting parents.

People share their infertility stories or their faith commitment on social media and with friends and families. Women experiencing an unexpected pregnancy are seen as simply the way for the adopting parents to get their baby. It’s hard to get in the way of their excitement and joy, but no one need ever feel put down or be ignored for choosing to place their child for adoption. No matter how young or old you are, as an expectant mom, you have rights.

These rights include:

  • Be treated with respect and honesty.
  • Have an advocate for support before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process.
  • Review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it.
  • Receive emergency living expenses totaling up to $4,000.
  • Receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement.
  • Change your mind about placing your child at any point before you sign consents for the adoption.
  • Choose the family who adopts your child.
  • Know how the adoptive family has been screened and evaluated.
  • See, hold, and care for your baby in the hospital.

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty.
  • Let your advocate know your questions, thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions!
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you make a firm commitment to adoption.
  • Use the emergency living expenses as intended.
  • Use counseling services to help process your grief and provide a way to move forward.
  • Be honest if you are not planning on moving forward with an adoption plan.
  • Think about what type of family would be best for your child.
  • Ask what screening measures were done by the adoptive family to insure not just a safe home but one where adoption is celebrated.
  • Being available for your child when they have questions about their identity.

No single list is all inclusive. Maybe the best way to think about rights and responsibilities is to remember the Golden Rule—that is to treat others as you want to be treated. 


Safe Haven Law/ Baby Boxes

Indiana and the Safe Haven Law

Since 2001, Indiana has had a “safe haven” law on record. In simple terms, this means that a baby can be handed over to a designated safe place where people will take care of that baby. The person who places the baby at a Safe Haven site will not get into trouble or face criminal charges of any kind. The Indiana Department of Child Services puts it like this:

“The Indiana Safe Haven Law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution.

As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Any knowledge of the date of birth, race, parent medical history, child’s health or anything that would be useful to the child’s caregiver would be greatly appreciated.

Once the baby is examined and given medical treatment (if needed), the Indiana Department of  Child Services will take the baby into custody through Child Protective Services where it will be placed with a caregiver.” (https://www.in.gov/dcs/2915.htm)

In practical terms, a safe haven space is a police station, fire station, or hospital emergency room. The law is also meant only for infants from birth through 30 days of age.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes

This law was expanded in 2018 authorizing the use of “baby boxes.” A baby box is a safety incubator where a baby can be placed and then receive immediate care without any interaction between the person placing the baby and the person who begins caring for the baby.

That is Safe Haven in a nutshell. In more practical terms, the Adoption Support Center recognizes that leaving a baby with medical personnel anonymously means the mother of the baby is struggling with the reality and practicality of caring for a newborn. Her circumstances are such that she is afraid to do anything else. The baby may not be “unwanted” as DCS suggests, but is the victim of circumstances the mother cannot face.

The short explanation does not explain what happens after the baby is placed in the custody of DCS. The caregiver is most likely a licensed foster parent or approved pre-adoptive parent. Without further contact from the baby’s mother, DCS makes all the decisions for the baby. DCS chooses the family and allows that baby to be adopted by them. The birth mother may never know where her child is or have any other communication.

But what if the mother changes her mind? What if she regrets dropping her baby off at a Safe Haven site? It is important to know that the mother’s rights are not immediately terminated when she takes the baby to a Safe Haven. She can come forward at a later time, identify herself, and begin to make choices for herself and her baby again without getting into trouble. Since the State of Indiana has legal custody of the baby at this point, the birth mother will need to work with the caseworker in making future plans for her baby. However, the birth mother’s voice can be heard. She will not be in trouble for leaving her baby with a Safe Haven provider.

If you have more questions,  visit the Safe Haven Baby Box website.