Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Support Friends and Family Through Adoption

I got a question through FormSpring the other day. The reader mentioned that she has a family member who just started the adoption process and asked how family members and friends can show support.

For the sake of this post, I will give advice based on my situation - infertility resulting in a domestic infant placement. And I mention ways to support after placement too. Hopefully you all can glean out what won't be relevant in a different situation.

First, here are the do's

Say She Is Expecting
One of the most meaningful things that my mom did (without knowing it) was refer to me as "expecting." My mom would tell people she had two daughters who were expecting; she was expecting two grandchildren, etc. (My sister was pregnant at the time.) I felt very included and I loved it. I think any hopeful adoptive mom would love it too!

Be Excited!
Expecting a baby (whether it's through pregnancy or adoption) should be an exciting time full of anticipation and planning. It's a little nerve wracking for hopeful adoptive parents though because first, they don't know when their baby will come - there is no nine-month count down; and second, there is always a chance the adoption won't go through. But even if a hopeful adoptive mom is reigning in her excitement, feel free to express yours. Show her nursery themes. Talk about baby names. Talk about the adoption process. The longer the wait grows, the more disheartening it is. Friends that stay positive, interested, and excited are worth their weight in gold!

Throw a Shower
All expecting mamas appreciate a shower. Some adoptive mothers are eager to have a shower once they have been matched with a birth mom. Others prefer to wait until the baby is home. Ask your friend or family member this. I bet she will just be over the moon to have people willing to throw her a shower.

Some pictures from one of my THREE showers (now why don't I have any pictures of the other two?)

Help Financially
Adoption is a big expense, no matter how well prepared for it you are. If you can offer someone five bucks, twenty bucks, or fifty bucks, they will be ecstatic. I often fantasized about how much easier it would be if every family member and friend gave us $5. :)

There are other ways to offer financial help without opening up your wallet. Research adoption loans or grants online and give your friend the info. Help her plan a fund-raiser like a craft fair or garage sale—or help her list items on Craigslist. If you’re crafty, you can make things, donate them, and she can sell them.

Help Spread the Word
About half of all adoptions happen through word of mouth—not through an agency. One statistic I read estimates independent adoptions (those not facilitated by an agency) as two-thirds of all adoptions. So helping your friend/family member spread the word about their hopes to adopt can be invaluable.

A lot of hopeful adoptive couples make “pass along” cards about their hopes to adopt. Offer to help pass them out. Give some to your church leaders, your doctors, your kids’ schools, your hair dresser…anyone! Slip them into bills you pay. Keep them handy so if you ever have a random adoption-related discussion with a stranger at the grocery store, you can bravely pass one along. These cards are successful. Read an awesome success story here.

There are other ways to help spread the news. If your friends/family members have a Facebook page for their hopes to adopt, “like” it. Or encourage them to make one. Encourage them to start a blog if they haven’t already. Put links or buttons on your blog.

Some hopeful adoptive parents write letters to attorneys, hospitals, family planning clinics, counseling agencies, etc., explaining their hope to adopt (a more intense pass-a-long card, if you will). Help address envelopes, lick stamps, whatever. Even in conversation, bring it up the topic of adoption when appropriate.

Give Adoption-Specific Gifts
Any hopeful adoptive mother will be so touched by a heart-felt gift that says you get what she is going through and you get that adoption will forever be part of their lives and family. Find a baby book written specifically for adoption situations (Here is a great customizable template). Another idea is meaningful jewelry—The R House Couture jewelry is inspired by adoption and run by an adoptive mama. They offer clothing and prints too.

I love The R House Couture jewelry. Justin got me a necklace earlier this year. 

Adorable clothes for babies and adults!

Learn the Lingo
There is a lot of jargon that comes with adoption. Learning some of it will make your friend/family member know you are seriously interested in their success.

Also, learn positive adoption language. Some people are quite sensitive to adoption language while others don’t care as much. Err on the side of caution and learn the more politically correct terms until you know what your friend/family member prefers. Like birth mom or biological mom rather than real momPlaced for adoption rather than gave up for adoption. A quick Google search will do. Or you can read this post on my friend Brittany's blog for a start.

Send Her Flowers, Make Her Dinner
After delivering a baby, most women get flowers from their families and casseroles galore. Do the same thing when an adoptive family adds a new member—even if the new member isn’t a baby. Adding a new person to your family is always a lot of work—and it always needs to be celebrated.

From my sister

From my work peeps

And as always, there are a few don'ts

Don't Tell Her She's Lucky to Miss Out on Pregnancy Stuff
Don’t tell her she’s lucky she doesn’t have to go through labor. Or how nice it must be to have a new baby without gaining an ounce. Or how she’s doing it the easy way. People said stuff like this to me all the time—as if they were compliments designed to make me feel better. I just wanted to strangle everyone who said this and tell him or her I would go through ten horrible pregnancies to be able to carry a child. I just wanted to say, "Oh, so the FBI background checks, mounds of paperwork, letters of recommendation, AIDS tests, months of social work supervision, thousand and thousands of dollars that insurance won't touch, and years of heartbreak is the 'easy' way? Good to know."

Adoption is a different path to motherhood—it isn’t better, it isn’t worse, just different. But for people who struggle with infertility, these kinds of comments are simply insulting.

Don’t Tell Adoption Horror Stories
As soon as we spread the word that we were adopting, every other person had to tell us a story about their roommate’s sister who adopted a kid that murdered them in their sleep and sold their skin on eBay as rare leather. Or the one where the “real” mom took the baby back. These people have watched too many LifeTime Movies. Most adoptions are just fine and adopted kids aren’t any worse off than any other group of children. In fact they are often in better shape. 

Don’t Overstep into Parenting Territory (When the Baby Comes)
As a brand new adoptive mom, I felt like a second-class mother because I hadn’t carried the baby for nine months and “gotten to know her” in my womb. It was a permanent blind date. Some people treated me like I was incapable and I let them.

 On the other hand, I was very impressed (and also overwhelmed) when people—people with a ton more experience than me—left all kinds of scary decisions up to me and let me call the shots. They would say things like, “You are the mother—you know best.” I questioned their faith, but I rose to the occasion.

 I’ve since learned that every new mother feels inadequate. Pregnancy doesn’t circumvent that. Maybe biological mothers experience people treating them like they are ignorant, too. I just know that as an adoptive mom, I was super sensitive to it because I believed they were right.

Don't Say "Now You'll Get Pregnant"
Just don't. 

That’s my two cents (more like two dollars—I am never short on things to say). If you have something to add, leave it in the comments. Thanks for the question, Michelle. 


sara jane said...

As always, I learn so much from you! I haven't really had a lot of close friends or family members that were adopting because they were infertile (I know a couple of people who are adopting right now---but have already had one or more children), but I believe a lot of what you have said can apply to SO MANY different situations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Michelle said...

SO helpful Lara! Thanks so much!

kareydk said...

We adopted a beautiful, bouncing four-year-old boy almost two years ago. Mostly people were kind (with the exception of "why don't you just adopt?" when they hear you're infertile -- people have NO clue the expense or effort that's involved). So I feel mostly lucky. But the one thing that still makes me kind of sad is seeing "It's a Boy" balloon bouquets on people's mailboxes, because there wasn't on there for me when I arrived home from the airport. I guess I should have told someone that it would mean a lot to me to have one. It's probably a given for a birth child and a "someone has to think about it" for an adoption homecoming. But I had a huge three-meal homemade lasagna and a huge - umpteen meals pot of soup from my sister-in-law -- saved my life! Thanks for writing this; there's a lot of valuable information.

Bizzle said...

I don't know you, but I love LOVE everything about this post - especially the part about the line, "Now you'll get pregnant." If I have to hear that one more time...
I shared this on our adoption Facebook page, I loved it so much!


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