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Preparing for Parenthood

After years of disappointment, adopting couples have a hard time believing that parenthood is just around the corner. But now is the time to get ready. By Lois Melina



A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the cafeteria of our local hospital when people began streaming through the room. "Childbirth class," explained my husband, a physician. "You can tell because they're all carrying two pillows."

Not to mention that all the women were pregnant.

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 camaraderie that develops between expecting families. It is the place where couples learn what to expect from their newborns and how to care for them. In contrast, I remember the time I was invited to speak to a group of parents waiting for their first adoptive placement. At 6 p.m., the husbands and wives arrived-separately-many clutching briefcases (instead of pillows). There was nothing to telegraph the message: I'm about to become a parent.

Pregnancy is a time for growing a baby and a time of transition and preparation for parents. The mother's body communicates the urgency of making plans for maternity leave, preparing the nursery, and learning how to care for a baby. To those around her, it invites discussion and, in doing so, creates acknowledgment that her role is about to change dramatically.

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 stunned when a friend pulled into my driveway one day with a crib in the back of her station wagon and told me, "It's time to get the nursery ready." I didn't want to get the nursery ready. An empty crib would be a reminder of the uncertain process that is adoption.

But that crib forced me to start thinking about the transition my husband and I were in. Getting physically ready for the baby moved me to get emotionally ready.

It might seem that emotional readiness is the last thing an expectant adoptive parent needs to worry about. Haven't we longed for this child for years? For many of us, however, years of infertility and waiting for placement have caused us to arm ourselves against further disappointment. After our setbacks, we have a hard time believing 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.

Getting 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, such as smoking or excessive drinking, that you want to change.

In the absence of outward signs of impending parenthood, you might want to develop a private ceremony in which you ask your close friends and family to help you begin the transition to parenthood. Friends and family could share stories, poems, or nuggets of advice. The waiting mother could be given some kind of outward symbol, such as a pin depicting a family, to remind those around her of this transition.

If a baby shower is in keeping with your religious and cultural traditions, you should let those around you know if you want one. Friends and family members are likely to wait for a cue before introducing visible reminders that you are still waiting for a child.

Those who are waiting for an infant may find opportunities in their communities to learn the nuts and bolts of baby care. Some enroll in childbirth classes for that reason. Others are uncomfortable in such settings. Some adoption agencies run their own child care classes just for waiting adoptive parents. Another option is to take a community college course on infant and child development.

Getting Comfortable with Adoption
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. Research how the birthparents might be addressed or included in your child's life. Consider how information about your child's background will be revealed to him, and when.

In considering these and other issues, you may discover that some parts of your child's adoption story are 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," this is a time to explore the roots of those feelings.

Parents through adoption may have many issues to resolve. There is the loss of a biological child. There are questions about identity, sadness at the inability to nurture a child from conception, and uncertainty about whether the relationship with an adopted child will be a fulfilling one. 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.

Many waiting parents have found it helpful to keep a journal during this time. Writing about your feelings can help you identify issues and work through them. 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.

Communication Is Key
Couples often find that their relationship has been 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, neglecting the marital relationship in the process. This is a time to nurture each other. Set up a weekly "date" and keep it.

Waiting parents can use time together to talk about parenting styles, discipline, religious education, and other child-raising issues. Adoption applications don't always explore these questions. At the time, they seem less important to waiting parents than race, age, or the health of their prospective child.

Communicate with family members and close friends about adoption. People who have not adopted sometimes make comments or ask questions that are insensitive. 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. One couple explained to their friends and family that they would not share details of their child's background because they had been advised that their child had the exclusive right to reveal his "story." They provided general information about adoption and suggestions for explaining what was happening in their family to young children in the neighborhood and in their extended family.

This is also the 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. One waiting mom made a keepsake quilt for her daughter with help from friends and family.

The waiting time seems to go on forever, but keep your focus on the outcome. Your child is certainly worth the wait.

Lois Melina, author of the highly regarded books, Raising Adopted Children and Making Sense of Adoption, has published Adopted Child newsletter since 1981.  Melina’s newsletter has gained an international reputation as a trusted resource for adoptive parents.

We are pleased that since November 2000 Adopted Child has been available only in Adoptive Families Magazine.

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