Saturday, February 12, 2011

Planning for Parenthood

A few days ago, I was sitting in the cafeteria of our local hospital when people began streaming through the hallway.  Couples, mostly, and most of them carrying two pillows. And all the women were pregnant.   Looked pretty obvious that childbirth class was about to begin.

Childbirth class is an essential part of preparing for the birth of a child, not only for the labor and delivery skills, but also for the unity that develops within expecting families. Couples learn what to expect during labor and delivery, then from their newborns and how to care for them.  Great stuff.

In contrast, I remember a time I was invited to speak to a group of parents waiting for their first adoptive placement. At 7 p.m., the husbands and wives arrived -some separately-many clutching notebooks and binders - not pillows. There was nothing physical to convey the message: I'm about to become a parent.

Pregnancy is a time for growing a baby and a time of transition and preparations for parents. The mother's body conveys urgency in making the plan for maternity leave, the nursery, and learning how to care for a baby. To everyone around her, it invites discussion thereby acknowledging that her life role is about to change - a lot. Pregnancy slows down the mother's life. She needs more sleep, and her body makes it difficult to continue an active lifestyle. It readies her for the time after the baby's birth, when her life will be centered around an infant who needs almost constant care.

When I was waiting to adopt our first child, I didn't want to slow down. If I slowed down, I had time to think about a process that was out of my control. I was surprised - and excited - when a friend pulled into my driveway one day with a crib in the back of her Suburban. "It's time to get the nursery ready! Let's go!" I wasn't quite ready to get the nursery ready. For one, I already had a 10 month old I was chasing. And I was so nervous - typical first time adoptive mom. I was afraid our birthmom would change her mind.  Or not show up. And an empty crib would just serve as a reminder of the uncertain process that is adoption.

But that crib forced me to start thinking about the transition our family was in. Getting physically ready for the baby forced us to get emotionally ready, too. It might seem that emotional readiness is the last thing an adoptive parent needs to worry about. Haven't we longed for this child for years? Havent we jumped through all the hoops of paperwork, home studies, profiles, conference calls, financing, etc.?  However, for some, the years of infertility and waiting for placement have causes some to put up a wall against further disappointment. After a setback, it's difficult to believe we will ever be parents, so we delay readying ourselves for that new life. It may take a leap of faith to overcome these obstacles, but it is important to begin.  So make the jump!  Get ready!

Get Ready!
While waiting, adoptive parents can follow the lead of pregnant women (and their partners) in getting ready for a new child. You can slow down your lives and take a look at any unhealthy patterns that you may want to change. Find opportunities in the communitiy to learn the nuts and bolts of baby care. Enroll in a childbirth class anyway - just  for that reason. If you're uncomfortable in that setting, some adoption agencies run their own child care classes just for waiting adoptive parents. (just call Heart to Heart and request one!) Another option is to take a community college course on infant and child development
Get Comfortable!
The waiting period is also a good time to become familiar with adoption issues and to discuss how to talk about adoption with your child and with people outside your family. Think about how birthparents might be addressed or included in your child's life. Consider carefully how information about your child's background will be discussed with him, and when.

As you think about these issues, you may discover that some parts of your child's adoption story seem distressing. You may find you have intense emotional reactions to imagined scenarios. Rather than saying, "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," now is the time to explore the center of those feelings.

Adoptive parents often have many issues to resolve. They may not have even realized they were there - til it starts getting "real".   There is the loss/grief of the biological child they never got to have. There are questions about identity, sadness at the concern of not being able to nurture a child from conception, and fear about whether the relationship with an adopted child will be a fulfilling one. And it's okay.   Parents who acknowledge these issues and explore how to deal with them are in a better position to accept an adopted child as their own, to feel entitled to be their child's parents, and to honor their child's genetic influences and biological connections.I found it helpful - actually invaluable - to keep a journal during this time. Writing about my feelings - good or bad -  helped me identify issues and work through them. And I was able to vent.  Without judgment or fear. An adoptive parent support group can be a good place to share concerns and learn what to expect as you raise your child. This is also a time to shelve the "how-to-adopt" books and check out books about life as an adoptive family.
Get Talking!
Communication is the key.  Cuples often find that their relationship is stressed by the demands of infertility treatments and/or the adoption process. It's easy to move from focusing all your energy on conceiving a baby to focusing it on adopting a baby, but we forget our  marital - and other - relationships in the process. This is a time to nurture each other. Set up a weekly "date" and keep it. Talk about parenting styles, discipline, religion, education, and other family issues. Adoption applications don't always explore these questions.

Stay in touch with supportive friends.  Get out and about a little.  Pamper yourself...it won't last long! Communicate with family members and close friends about adoption. People who have not adopted sometimes make comments or ask questions that are insensitive. We have talked about it frequently on this blog.  Review those postings.  Let friends and family know how you intend to include your child's birthfamily in your life, how adopted children view extended family, and how they can be supportive.  My husband and I explained to our friends and family that we would not be sharing details of our children's background and birthparents,  because we feel strongly that our children have the exclusive right to reveal "their stories" when - and if - they choose to.  We gave very general information about adoption and suggestions for explaining what was happening in our family to young children in the neighborhood and in  our extended family, and then asked very plainly for their support and love, whether they agreed or understood - or not.

This is also a great time to start communication flowing toward the child. One couple asked family members to help them build an album of photos and memories that would become a treasured keepsake for their new child. We asked some of our dear friends to write a page about the day our babies were born; what they remembered or knew of birthmom, when they got the call from us that our baby was here, the first time they saw/held our little bundle, etc.  I know of another waiting mom who kept herself busy and happy by making a keepsake quilt for her daughter with help from friends and family.

The waiting time seems to go on forever, but just keep your eye on the prize. Your child is certainly worth the wait!

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