On June 20, we fulfilled an important step in the home study process by attending a pre-adoptive parent training group held at our agency. There is a LOT that we learn, which we'll space out over a few posts, both to share them with you and to reflect on them further ourselves.
[Sidenote: I - Bethany - couldn't help but think of all the times growing up when I'd ask my mom, "How did you know that?" when she amazed me with her extensive knowledge of the world, and she'd reply, "Oh, I learned it in Mom School" - which I thought was a real institution for an embarrassingly long time. Well, Mom, guess what? We've been to Mom & Dad School, and we have the certificate to prove it! :)]
-- Six couples, including us
-- Two presenters, both social workers who work part-time for Barker doing home studies, one of whom was an adoptive mom
-- All day: 9:00 - 5:00
-- Three guest speakers: a birthmother, an adult adoptee, and an adoptive family
-- Six sessions (more or less) on various topics related to adoption
-- Lots of time for questions and discussion
1.) The first thing we learned: Everyone involved in an adoption has gains and losses.
"Everyone" here means the three main parties involved in any adoption:
1. The birthmother / birthfather / birth family placing the child for adoption
2. The adoptive parents
3. The child
All three parties experience adoption as both a gain, and a loss. The birthmother, etc. gains the security of knowing her child is going to be well taken care of; she losses the opportunity to parent her child herself. The adoptive parents gain the gift of the child, and parenthood; their loss is (usually) the inability to conceive a child from their own union (infertility) and/or the loss of not getting a chance to parent a genetically related child. The child gains a family to take care of him/her; he or she loses the chance to be raised by the same mother and father who conceived him/her.
Describing adoption in this way made it clear that it's not just a one-time thing, like the adoption happens and then it's over. Rather, adoption continues to touch the lives of everyone involved, forever. At different points a person might feel the gains more keenly than the losses involved, or vice versa.
It was really helpful to take the time to try and see adoption from the birthmother's/birth family's perspective, and from the adopted child's perspective - not that we're able to do that completely, but it builds empathy and a sense that many people besides ourselves are affected by our adoption. It also impressed upon us that we are really welcoming not just a child, but also the birth mother in some way into our family.
-- Adoption does not cure infertility, even though it cures childlessness. It's okay to still be sad about our infertility from time to time, even after adopting. Acknowledging and accepting our feelings, and healing as much as we can, will help us be even better parents to our child, who has also experienced a difficult loss. If we know the path of healing, then we will be that much better prepared to help our child toward healing from his or her own loss.
-- The main questions many birthmothers wonder about while deciding whether or not to place their child for adoption are, "Will my child be safe? Will my child be loved? What will the adoptive parents tell my child about me?" - we found these questions very poignant and touching.
2.) The second thing we learned: Our child's adoption story is his/hers alone.
This point came up multiple times. First, our child's adoption story is his or hers. This means that we as adoptive parents really should tell our son or daughter everything we know about the circumstances of their adoption, about their birthparents and extended birth family, etc. - even if it includes difficult elements. The presenters advised making adoption in general a normal topic of conversation in our family from early on, so it's not something mysterious or feared, but a part (one among many) of our family's life and our child's identity. And they advised sharing particular details at age-appropriate moments, especially if they involve our child learning difficult or sad things about his/her birthparents. But the whole story belongs to the child, and must be told.
Second, our child's adoption story is his or hers alone. It was stressed that we, the adoptive parents, should not share details about our child's adoption beyond very basic things concerning location, hospital, birth date, etc. This is particularly important regarding information about the birthparents - our child should hear information about them from us, and should be able to decide whether to tell others or not. This especially matters when such details are sensitive, or difficult to process - our child shouldn't hear them second-hand from someone else or think that others are discussing very personal things about his life and background.
We found these pointers very helpful!
-- There are most likely going to be things our child wants to know about his/her birth family and their history, that we won't know. It's okay - even if hard - to say, "I don't know" and commiserate with the child that that is hard, not having all the answers about your biological heritage.
-- It's important that we help them process what it means to be adopted, and any points along the way when they learn more information, and not just say something big and then move on. A quieter child may be thinking about adoption, still, and keeping the invitation open to discuss it is important. Lots of in-depth conversations take place on car rides, or at bedtimes - the key is being available when the questions come up.
-- There are some great kids' books that can introduce the idea of adoption to a young child and make the concept familiar.
We learned a lot more! To be continued...