I hope you got a good laugh about the title of this post. 🙂 Sarcasm is one of my primary languages.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the media’s portrayal of adoption from foster care is that generally speaking, they present the rosy side of things. As if you just waltz in, adopt this poor child, and then … everyone wins! Rainbows and unicorns! 🙄 This is unfortunate for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the impact on the adoptee. But I won’t rehash that. Today, I’m going to unpack some of the things that my pre-adoptive self wasn’t aware of (or, more accurately, didn’t want to believe), in hopes that it may help some of you.
Most foster parents I know begin their fostering journey starry-eyed and full of optimism. (I know I did.) And then you get a placement. Often, you fall hard in love. (I did that, too!) Sometimes, the kid(s) reunify with their parents, or are moved to family. Which is hard! And other times, the placement becomes permanent.
Because of the grueling nature of foster care, it can be easy to believe that things will just be so much better once you adopt. (And yes, I did this, too. 🙄 ) For some families, that may be the case. But for many, it is not. And so nowadays, I like to look at the adoption day as just the beginning of the road, instead of the end of a long journey.
The Upsides of Post-Adoption Life
Before I get to the nitty gritty, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the post-adoption awesomeness that is …
… the break from constantly having social workers in your home, and
… not having to get forms signed for the social workers every time you visit the doctor, and
… finally being able to share pictures of your adorable kids on your social media, and
… getting the kids’ hair cut any which way you please, without having to ask permission, and most importantly,
… FINALLY BEING A FOREVER FAMILY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It really is awesome! But post-adoption awesomeness, and its challenges, are not mutually exclusive. They co-exist. Here are three of the challenges that we have personally faced, following adoption.
1. Post-Adoption Depression is a Thing
We know that many women suffer from postpartum depression. Understandable, given the amazing feat their bodies have just pulled off. But did you know that it can happen after adoption, too?
Just stop right now and think about all that you navigated up to the point of adoption day. Starting with the first packet of paperwork that you requested from your FFA (foster family agency). How long ago was that? A year? A few years? Many years, perhaps?
To begin with, the vetting process to become certified (now known as approved in my state of CA) is rigorous, time consuming, and vulnerable. And then on the other side of certification, the emotional ups and downs of your new placement, along with physical demands (think lots of sleepless nights), are nature of the beast.
If you think about that in light of how stressful any other life transition is, and the “letdown” that so often occurs immediately following, it makes sense that many adoptive parents deal with depression following an adoption finalization, too.
2. Navigating Biological Family Relationships
We have an open adoption, as many foster care adoption families do. It is our belief that the terms of open should be different for every situation, and that ultimately, open simply means, “not closed.” But regardless of your situation, this is a huge piece of the puzzle for your child. Your kiddo is likely be curious about their first family at some point, and you are the link.
Some (adoptive) families have bio family contact written into their post-adoption agreement. Example: the (adoptive) family will send pictures and or updates X number of times per year, or visit with biological family X number of times per year, etc.. While our post-adoption agreement is not set up in this way, we do have ongoing contact with biological family members. Our Little Bean has a full biological sibling, originally placed with us, who was moved to, and later adopted by, family members. So we have a vested interest, on his behalf, in keeping lines of communication open.
At the same time, for many adoptees, contact with biological family can be triggering. 😥 A visceral reminder of the losses they’ve incurred. So while it is important for the (adoptive) parents to ensure that their own personal fears and insecurities do not hinder their child’s ability to remain connected to first families, it needs to be handled in a way that doesn’t send your kiddo spinning.
This is a tricky balance!
Not for the faint of heart.
In our situation, it has not been a straight-line journey. It has been two-steps-forward-one-step-back, and has involved tears, prayers and awkward conversations. On top of that, we feel that what is working for us today may not work in a year or five years. If so, we will be back to the drawing board to re-think what is best.
There is no rule book, and your pre-certification trainings cannot possibly prepare you for the scope of this. But it is good to bear in mind, as you await adoption day.
3. Some Issues Don’t Present Themselves Until Later
Before adoption, people would ask me how I could say yes to a placement unless I knew for certain what issues we’d be dealing with. To which I responded that none of us ever really know what might crop up for our kids later on … even with biological children. So while it is good to ask the social workers questions up front, one can never be sure how early trauma will manifest over time.
That being said, when the issues do present themselves, they may be challenging, and tap your reserves … emotionally, physically and financially. I say this not to scare you, but to inform you. There can be no doubt that if I knew then what I know now about trauma, I would make the same choice again. Because I can’t even begin to describe to you how much I love our son.
But over the past year or so, love has looked a lot like …
… reading (even more) books on parenting kids from hard places,
… intentionally seeking out seasoned moms of kids from hard places for help and mentorship,
… getting super intentional about date nights with my hubby,
… prioritizing self care,
… researching therapists,
… piles and piles and piles of paperwork for said therapists and the accompanying funding sources,
… therapy appointments for him (and. for. myself.),
… working out childcare to get to said appointments, and
… never losing sight of the hope that better days are ahead.
And what about you? Has adoption been all that you thought it would be? Or have the dream and the reality been somewhat different?