July 22, 2008

Q&A: Dealing with the Wait

Bailan asks, "How did you navigate the emotional rollercoaster of waiting during the adoption process? My husband and I are adopting domestically, and we are finding the waiting and rejections to be quite challenging. It's a bittersweet time for us."

It is bittersweet, isn't it? You're so close to adding a child to your family, but there are still all these emotional hurdles. It sounds like you've had some potential matches or placements not work out, too. I'm sorry; those can be especially hard.

I'll admit upfront that we had it pretty easy. We didn't wait exceptionally long in either adoption and we never experienced the heartbreak of a disrupted placement. We also didn't know most times our profile was looked at by expectant parents, which probably lessened the feelings of rejection. But it still wasn't much fun.

Everyone handles the wait in their own way, but I can tell you how I approached it.

First, I just accepted that sometimes it was going to be hard. I'm not a big fan of using pregnancy as a metaphor for adopting, but here goes. Sometimes pregnancy kinda sucks. Being uncomfortable, nausea, tiredness, pain, scary unknowns--there are some not so fun parts of being pregnant, at least as I've witnessed it. Just as there are some not so fun parts of the adoption process. Adding a family member is such a huge, wonderful thing that it requires some hard work along the way. I think this is where the "Adoption is so beautiful!" folks sometimes set adopting parents up for disappointment. Because while there are some aspects that are amazing, it's also at times tedious, nerve-wracking, or painful. I reminded myself that the specific difficulties may be unique to adoption, but still were (a) normal and (b) worth it.

Second, as best I could, I resisted the temptation to label things as fair or unfair. If there is anything I'm not proud of, it's how often I gave in to resentment during our first adoption. Probably most people who've experienced fertility issues can at least nod in recognition. Others' accidental pregnancies, not having the certainty of a due date, being crushed when a match didn't work out--those sorts of things could send me stomping my figurative foot and saying, "It's not fair!" While I don't fault myself for having flashes of those emotions, I do fault myself for spinning them into cosmic justice issues. Mostly because it's self-centered b.s., but also because it only made me feel worse. Once you've started thinking you're being treated unfairly, you start seeing it in everything. And, at least for me, it makes it a lot harder to be compassionate toward others. And in adoption it is just so essential to move through it with a measure of compassion. There is little in adoption that is really fair, including for the parents who find themselves considering placement and the child whose life is turned upside-down. Keeping that perspective helped.

Finally, my mantra was: don't make it harder than it already is. For me, that meant not outwardly changing my life. We didn't prepare a nursery, we still traveled, I didn't read parenting books (although I did read a lot about adoption), we didn't purchase baby gear before we were matched. Some people do all those things during the wait and thrive. But I wanted my external world to be a space I could be in and pretend we weren't waiting. The hardest thing about the wait for me was just how open-ended it was. Not knowing if it would be long or short, not knowing if specific possibilities would amount to anything. Sometimes I needed an emotional break and keeping life as normal as possible gave me that. Most days the only reminders of the adoption process were in my mind.

The other thing I did to not make things harder was to make sure I had a little group of people who were safe to talk to about the adoption process. By "safe," I mean I could be completely honest about how I was feeling. The sort of friends who I could say, "I need you to be sad/happy/frustrated with me right now," and they would do it. We shared all the details of the process with them, as opposed to the vaguer version we shared with the general public. Whenever I got a weird reaction along the way, whether from a store clerk or a family member, it wouldn't bother me as much because I knew I had a safe little supportive cocoon who knew everything that was going on.

Wow, that turned into a book. I think this is one of those questions where more voices make for a better answer. If any adoptive parents are still reading this gargantuan post, what helped you during the emotional rollercoaster of waiting?


Minnie said...

I love your honesty, brutal or not, about this journey.
Thanks for continuing to share.

Yoka said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I always thought we were getting off the rollercoaster by stopping fertility treatments. It turns out we just got on a different rollercoaster...

luna said...

thanks for this post. as someone who just ended more than 4 years of trying to conceive and is only now gearing up for a while new kind of wait, any tips on keeping sane and positive are helpful. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Heather. What I'm slowly realizing as we're 6 months into our waiting process is that adoption seems to be an act of grace for everyone involved.

There's nothing we can do to "earn" parenthood, and I've never really believed that anyone "deserves" a child. So it doesn't really matter if I'll be a working mom, or if my husband and I are a bi-racial couple, or if we live in the city versus the suburbs. We can't change any of these characteristics to appear more or less attractive to any birthparents who may be consider placing their child with us. What we can do is surrender to waiting and remain hopeful that a birthparent will choose us. . .for us.


Heather said...

Bailan, I think you should have written the post yourself. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I'm going to remember these words...in the next phase. Right now, though, I'm in the "oh my god, it might happen TOO soon" panicking phase. We keep getting asked on a case-by-case basis by our agency if we want our profile sent out in instances that don't quite match up with what we specifiedc in our paperwork. And I panic every single time. We keep saying no -- mostly because of my husband, but partly because of me. I don't think I have completely come to terms that we are actually in the process of doing this. I'm trying to get through all of the summer stuff that we had planned, but then I keep remembering, "OH MY GOD, we need to get this house ready for a baby." It's surreal. Truly.

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