The adoption process is often compared to a roller coaster. Many prospective adoptive families spend months or even years completing paperwork and waiting for placement of a child, and some encounter significant setbacks along the way.
The journey that ultimately led my husband and me to a successful domestic infant adoption was a lengthy one. However, to say our amazing daughter was worth the wait would be a tremendous understatement. I am confident that we ended up with exactly the right child for our family and will remain forever grateful to our wonderful family and friends for their support along the way.
If you know someone in the process of building a family through adoption, you may be wondering what you can do to help. Below are some tips for providing support to a prospective adoptive family before and after the placement of a child in their home.
Throughout the adoption process:
- Understand the type of adoption involved. Adoptive families can be formed in a variety of ways including international adoption, domestic infant adoption, adoption through the foster care system and stepparent adoption. Adoption.com and similar websites provide excellent background information on the various types of adoption, but keep in mind that rules can vary depending on the state, country and/or agency involved.
- Offer tangible assistance. Families in the adoption process sometimes need a favor. Many—if not all—candidates for adoption will require reference letters from friends or family members. Some may also need photographs for a profile book, help spreading the word about their desire to adopt or just a listening ear. If you want to help out, but aren’t sure what you can do, just ask.
- Celebrate significant milestones. Depending on the type of adoption involved, landmark moments might include making the decision to adopt, completing the home study process, matching with an expectant mother or receiving the referral of a child. There are many ways to acknowledge these milestones. To celebrate the start of our process, one thoughtful friend gave us a picture frame intended to hold a photo of our future child. Others simply told us how excited they were when they learned about progress we had made. A handwritten note or card would also be a nice gesture.
- Acknowledge setbacks and disappointments. The “lows” of the adoption process can include anything from a paperwork snafu to a failed match with an expectant mother. If you aren’t sure what to say in such a circumstance, try a simple, “I’m thinking about you.”
After placement of a child:
- Offer the use of baby supplies. Because the adoption timeline is often uncertain, some prospective adoptive families choose not to purchase many baby supplies in advance. This approach saved our sanity during the wait, but left us scrambling when we received word our daughter had been born several states away. Fortunately, friends provided us with clothing and supplies left over from their own children to help us get through the first few weeks. If you’re already a parent, consider loaning your dormant diaper pail or baby washcloths to a family in the early stages of parenthood.
- Respect privacy about the details of the adoption. Adoptive families have varying comfort levels regarding the information they wish to share about their fertility history, their child’s biological parents, and the circumstances that led to the adoption. Of course, the closeness of your relationship with the individuals involved shapes the types of questions that are appropriate. Regardless of the situation, though, try to avoid putting new parents on the spot about issues they seem hesitant to discuss.
- Focus on adoption as the desired outcome. Adoption should be treated as a wonderful way to build a family, not a second best option. Comments such as, “Are you still going to try to have your own child?” are better left unsaid.
- Celebrate the end of the adoption process. In some cases, an adoption is not finalized until after a child has been home for weeks or months. It’s a big deal to be legally recognized as parents, so offer a hearty “Congratulations!” when this milestone is reached. If you are particularly close with the family, you may even consider offering to attend the final court hearing. We were touched and honored to have family members willing to travel by plane to celebrate the finalization of our adoption. I look forward to sharing photos and memories from this trip with our daughter as she grows.
The suggestions above are neither mandatory nor all-inclusive, but simply a starting point to help you support a prospective adoptive family in your circle. Like most journeys, the adoption process is a lot more fun with family members and good friends along for the ride!
Michelle Shirk is an attorney, freelance writer, and proud mother of one. She writes about family, travel and seasonal events for parenting publications across the United States.