Yeah, right. Don't worry--I woke up to how arrogant I was being. I decided it would be more pleasant for everyone if I went to the workshop as a learner, open to receiving from the agency professionals and (gasp) even the other prospective adoptive parents. Our adoption is young and I still have so much to learn. And if I have to sit alongside people while they work through their fears, then so be it. I'm glad they're facing them and educating themselves before there is a child in their homes. I know that part of taking on a posture of learning will be not offering unsolicited advice. There are few things worse than someone who can't stop talking about their own experience with something. So, to prepare myself, I need to get out some of the things I am dying to say to those prospective adoptive parents:
- Please don't refer to the first mother of your adopted child as "our birthmother." She does not belong to you. I know this can be tricky if you part of a pre-birth match, since "the mother of the child we will adopt if she chooses to relinquish" can be cumbersome. Consider calling her a "prospective birthmom," "expectant mom," or "woman we've matched with." Always remember that she, like you, is far more than her label.
- As hard as the wait was emotionally, the match and placement were harder. I know it seems counter-intuitive, since the very thing I'd waited for was finally happening. But, for me, as the family I'd dreamt about came closer to becoming reality, I also became more aware of how easily it could slip away. It was a time full of conflicting emotions. I wanted Puppy's first mom to have every chance to decide not to place, yet also wanted so badly for the adoption to happen. I struggled knowing that a joyful ending for us meant grief for a another family. I didn't know how to communicate that we would be thrilled to parent Puppy and had already begun to love him, but also that we respected her right to parent. I wanted to be joyful and excited like an expectant mom, but simultaeously wanted to guard my heart in case of disappointment. It was, by far, the most difficult time of the adoption process for me and the time I felt most alone. I know it was hard for K and R (Puppy's birthparents), too.
- Your adoption process will be part of a collective experience. Learn from the people who have gone before you. Read books and blogs, join the adoption forums, talk and listen to others in the adoption triad. In all of our stories there are threads of loss, joy, grief, anxiety, exultation. The more you prepare yourself, the easier it will be to recognize those themes as they emerge in your own story. It can be incredibly encouraging to know that you aren't alone in your feelings, and it can keep you from doing or saying things you might later regret.
- At the same time, your adoption story will be unique. Don't try to force your experience to mirror someone else's. Let it be your own.
- It's okay to have expectations of your child's first parents. I don't mean micromanaging their lives, asking them to conform to your standards, or pressuring them in any way. But as we talked with K and R about what our future relationship would look like during the match process, there were things I didn't think I could say. I deeply hoped that they would continue to be present in Puppy's life, not always wait for us to initiate calls or visits, and not close the adoption during harder times. Unfortunately, I thought that the discussion should be about what they wanted us to commit to them, not also about what we hoped they could commit to us. I felt that they were entrusting their child to us, so who was I to ask for anything more? Thankfully, we are developing the relationship I had hoped for. But I should have voiced those hopes earlier, so they knew they were there and to give them a chance to respond. There will be many times over the years in which you'll need to those kinds of conversations. If you don't allow yourself to voice your expectations prior to the birth, it will only be harder after, and there is a good chance you will be disappointed.
- Like any other relationship, a successful open adoption requires honesty, trust, and respect from everyone involved. They are your child's family and will therefore be your family. If you don't feel like you can respect and trust prospective birthparents prior to placement (or vice versa), it may be better to walk away.
- Be yourself. I know the whole thing feels like some kind of messed-up competition sometimes. It's not easy to have your life on display or to wait to be chosen from a pool of families. It's tempting to present yourself as who you think someone would want as an adoptive parent, rather than who you really are. Resist. First, it's dishonest. Second, later on it will be more reassuring than you can imagine to know that your child's birthparents chose you just as you are and because of who you are.
- Don't settle for just conforming to the letter of the adoption law. Consider also what is morally and ethically right.
Phew. That felt good. What do you wish you could say?