All parents wait. For first steps, for the school bus, for driving test results… we wait. We wait eagerly for our children to come into the world, and although it is a joyous anticipation, many prospective adoptive parents find this particular wait almost unbearable.
"We waited years for a pregnancy, then a few more years researching and deciding to adopt," says Lauren, a prospective adoptive mother from Mendon. "By the time we completed all of the paperwork, home studies and background checks, we had been waiting six years for a child. We're just starting our seventh month of officially waiting to be 'matched' with a birth mother. It may happen tomorrow or next year. We have no way of knowing, and the wait. Is. Agonizing!"
It is the unknown that plagues many prospective adoptive parents. Unlike pregnant couples who can decorate the nursery, shop for baby clothes, and plan work and travel around their due dates, prospective adoptive parents usually have no idea when they will get "the call." They don't know if their child will be a girl or a boy, how old their child will be, whether (and where) they will need to travel to bring their child home, or if they will have the opportunity to establish a relationship with their child's first parents.
However, there is much you can do to make your adoption wait a cherished part of your journey. One thing to keep in mind is that it's not just about you. Adoption, like any birth, affects your family, friends, neighbors, faith community, and coworkers. The more you can do to prepare them for your adoption, the better your experience will be when your child is born. And bonus – it's easier to wait when you're not waiting alone.
Marty and Glen Smith of Spencerport* experienced this first hand while waiting to adopt their daughter from another country eight years ago. They knew that some of their family members were wary of international adoption, so they used their wait time to educate their families and cultivate acceptance. "We initially spent a lot of time talking about why we chose to pursue international adoption and why we chose the particular country we did," says Marty. "Later we moved on to teaching our families about our future daughter's culture. We always planned to blend her native culture with our own, and we wanted our extended families to appreciate the music, food, and traditions of her home land like we do."
Many waiting parents can find support through Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking groups. www.adoption.com provides links to support groups and forums for domestic, international, and foster care adoption. While waiting to adopt her son Luca from Ethiopia, Theresa Luciano of Webster and her husband developed strong friendships with other waiting families through www.etfamilies.websitetoolbox.com. "The information you get from others that have 'been there and done that' is incredible," says Theresa. "The unknowns of international adoption can be very overwhelming at times. It is great to have support from family and friends but it is hard for them to understand exactly what you are feeling if they haven't gone through it themselves."
FIND A PEDIATRICIAN. Some
adoption agencies require adoptive parents to complete a pediatric
medical examination within 48 hours of bringing their child home. Dr.
Michael Martin of Gladbrook Pediatrics in Rochester advises all waiting
parents to make plans for medical care ahead of time, regardless of
agency requirements. "It's a good idea to establish contact with a
physician and make arrangements for an exam as soon as the child
arrives," says Dr. Martin. "Birth history and family medical history are
often incomplete or misleading. In addition, children may come to the
United States with illnesses or other medical conditions that need
attention. Frequently the children need evaluation for infections,
especially Hepatitis B and HIV, as well as infestations, such as
parasites. Immunizations are frequently incomplete as well."
MAKE A MASTER SPREADSHEET of names, addresses and phone numbers to use for baby announcements, christening invitations, and thank you cards. I created a spreadsheet when we adopted our daughter, and I'm still using it, five years later. I've added pages for Christmas and birthdays, and I even use it to keep track of her friends and classmates, which makes it easier to schedule play dates and send Pen Pal mail over the summer.
NEST. Many prospective adoptive parents report strong urges to "nest" during their waiting period. I bought baby clothes off and on for three years in hopes of having a child to put them on. I bought almost everything on clearance and saved money in the process. I know of waiting parents who furnish the nursery while they're waiting, and Theresa Luciano took that even a step further. "I am not a painter but it was one thing that was very therapeutic for me," she says. "My husband came home from work one day to a complete mural on the wall in Luca's room. I tried to paint Acacia trees like the ones in Ethiopia. To both our surprise the mural came out great. I think my husband was worried the entire house would end up covered in murals but I stopped there."
SHOP AHEAD. Purchase at least two weeks worth of non-perishable, easy-fix food that you can set aside and forget about until you bring your child home. Food like boxed macaroni and cheese, dry pasta and jar sauce, and shelf stable dinner entrees may be a step down from your usual fare, but you will be too busy during your first few weeks of parenthood to notice or care!
In addition to grocery shopping, use your wait time to get a haircut, an oil change, and a dental exam. Wash your windows, clean out your closets, and shampoo your rugs. Once you bring your baby home, you won't have the opportunity or the energy to do any of that for a looooooong time. Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of coffee, chocolate, prescription medication, and basic toiletries. Getting chores like these out of the way now means you will have more time to marvel at your new family member when that day comes.
It's impossible not to daydream while waiting for your child. So, embrace it and let it work for you! Take time to ponder baby names. Design your own adoption announcements. Visualize what you want your child's room to look like. Play around with colors, patterns, characters, and furniture in your mind and on paper to get a good sense of how you want to decorate.
PUT YOUR DREAMS ON PAPER. Lauren finds that journaling helps her stay optimistic while waiting. "I know it won't make me a mother sooner, but it helps me feel like I'm working toward something," she says. "I write letters to our future baby and I think how great it will be to give them to her or him someday. It's something tangible."
Theresa started a blog to educate family and friends about trans-racial adoption and Ethiopian culture. "It was nice practice to 'talk' about some things that aren't always easy to say but opened lines of communication," she says. "And of course it was a great way to share the exciting updates we would get about Luca."
Waiting for parenthood can be exhausting and frustrating, and it's important to take good care of yourself. EXERCISE. "My husband and I have a pact to stick strictly to our exercise programs," says Lauren. "On days when we're unmotivated one of us always reminds the other that we'll have less time for ourselves when the baby comes, so we better make the most of it now."
READ. Reading parenting books, and adoption-related books in particular, can help you feel more prepared for the realities of parenting. See the sidebar for recommended reading.
REFLECT. Whether you pray, meditate, or simply sit with your thoughts, take the opportunity for reflection. The realities of parenting and adoption are often quite different than our fantasies. Use your waiting time to develop your inner strength as well as deepen your relationship as a couple, and you will be better prepared for the greatest adventure of your life. "The major thing that kept us going during the difficult times was our faith," says Theresa. "We knew Luca was meant to be a part of our family; we just had to trust in time it would all fall into place. And it did!"
There is no "right" way to experience the wait for adoption. Perhaps the best way of all to use your wait time is to share your journey in whatever way you need to. "We found it helpful to include our families in our wait," says Glen. "It gave them the time they needed to ask questions and express their concerns. Their hearts were in the right place all along. It just took some time for their minds to catch up. By the time we brought Kae home, everyone was as excited and in love with her as we were." And isn't that the point?
Sally Bacchetta is a contributing writer to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She is an adoptive parent who lives in Webster, NY.