Know family or friends who are adopting? There are many “what not to say/do” lists floating around the internet, but here’s my “what to say/do” list.
How you can support loved ones who are adopting:
- Listen to what they are telling you about their adoption situation. Every adoption is different, because we are human beings, prone to error-making, mind-changing, and overall unpredictability. Even if two waiting families are participating in the same type of adoption (i.e. domestic infant) those two families will not experience the exact same things. There are tons of factors that vary and will render everything you’ve seen on TV about adoption meaningless. If your loved one tells you how things are for them, resist the urge to say, “Well, I saw on TV or in an article that blablabla.” Just LISTEN to them. The fact is: THEY know more about this whole process than you do. They are the ones involved and the ones who can answer your questions, so listen when they do. Be a sponge. Really, just like a sponge. Sit there and absorb. Sponges don’t challenge, question, or attack. They are calm. They just take in what is given to them.
- Keep things normal. Invite us to baby showers just as you did before you knew we had fertility issues (I must point out some folks adopt who have no fertility issues too!) We want to come celebrate your joy. We want our friends to be happy; this has nothing to do with our situation. For me, hearing a friend is pregnant is a good thing. What can get annoying is seeing seven posts in one day about distant acquaintances being pregnant. Just the sheer number all at once does sting, because it’s a subtle reminder of just how many people this is easy for and it feels isolating. It feels like everyone is moving on and we’re left behind. I can handle seeing one at a time, but on New Year’s Day, I saw seven at once…and I had to close my laptop. Then, I got over it and went back to click “like” and say congrats. So keep us included in your baby adventures. This also includes friends just hanging out. I am sorry if I’ve talked some of my friends’ ears off about babies and fertility and adoption… It has been all-consuming at times, so that’s just where I am… but I will try to tone it down.
- Support the triad. Adoption involves not just the adoptive parents and child, but the birth mother. Sometimes the birth father, but not usually (statistically). This woman is enduring some type of hardship that will not allow her to parent a child. Adoptive parents have a child, have joy, as a result of this woman’s hardship. Be respectful when talking about her. Use the term “placed” her child for adoption, rather than “gave up” her child. Of course, birth mothers are regular people, so all will be different; however, the majority of them plan the adoption in advance with help from an agency. They choose a family they believe will be appropriate for their child. They are not the bad guy. In some cases there are dramatic circumstances, like a meth-addicted birth mother who wants to place the child, go on her way and is never heard from again. More likely, though, is a woman who cannot be a parent for whatever reason, but does care deeply and wants to make sure the child will be ok. That can mean having monthly or yearly check-ins, photo exchanges, visits, or whatever is agreed upon by all parties. Please accept and respect the birth mother, and understand that if you make insulting comments about this woman in front of our adopted child, we will not be able to let you be around our child.
- Know your facts. There is a myth floating around that a definite way to get pregnant is to adopt first. Someone, somewhere, heard this happened, and it got spread around. It even went into Sex & The City when Charlotte adopted Lily and birthed Rose. It is a myth. Adopting will not give you some magic spark to suddenly be able to produce babies. Five percent of people with untreated fertility problems conceive after adopting– the same percentage of infertile couples who conceive but do not adopt. (Source: Raising Adopted Children, by Lois Ruskai Melina, 1998). Also, perpetuating this myth implies that the family is only adopting so that they can have their own later. Not the case. Another fact to know: 40% of fertility issues involve unexplained male factor/low sperm count. So, basically half. If you are part of a conversation about someone else’s fertility problems and you hear someone say, “Oh, really, what’s wrong with her?” as an automatic assumption that the woman is to blame, you need to shut that down. Be proactive when false things are said. Women have enough to deal with without automatically being blamed for fertility problems. In fact, the man shouldn’t be “blamed” either. It is nobody’s fault. But immediately saying the woman has a problem feels like an attack and is factually inaccurate (Source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine and Shady Grove Fertility).
- Ask what they’d like to do for their shower. Adoptive families often don’t have typical showers because they don’t know the month or even the day the baby will arrive. On top of that they may feel presumptuous to have a shower in advance for fear the adoption will not go through. You could ask them about their preference so you can help when needed. As for me, I plan to have a shower at my own house, once the baby is here and the (certain number of days) have passed where the birth mother can change her mind. My shower may happen when the baby is a month old. At that point, we will already have a car seat and bassinet, but you could help your loved one populate a registry for things not yet bought.
- Be part of the solution, not the problem. Adoptive families often feel criticism for every choice they make. If we choose international adoption we hear, “What about all the babies in our country?” If we choose domestic we hear, “I heard you can get a child from China much faster.” If we choose adoption vs. IVF we hear, “Why not just try it once? That’s what so and so did” If we adopt a black child we hear, “Oh, there they go, trying to be like Sandra Bullock in the Blind Side.” If we adopt a white child we hear, “They must have not wanted a black child.” If we choose an open adoption we hear, “Will the birth mother know your address?” … you see the problem here? Biological families do not have to deal with fielding all of these questions, which come off as criticisms. Accept our situation knowing we have put great thought into our decisions and would like to hear one thing only: “We will support you.” You can inquire about how it all works, listen, and support…without being one of the people we feel we need to defend ourselves to. When others ask you about your family members’ adoption, you can then be part of the solution by educating others. Assuming you’ve listened in the first place, you can then reiterate facts and explain to others.