As adoption and foster professionals, you are tasked with the privilege and responsibility of preparing parents for a child to join their family. Often, the families you work with are coming to their desire to adopt through their struggles with infertility. During home study interviews and educational meetings, you have a significant opportunity to prepare them and help them work through their infertility grief.
Help Hopeful Adoptive Parents Work through Infertility Grief
There are several issues adoption professionals can address to be sure prospective parents are ready to welcome an adopted child after they’ve traversed the challenges of infertility. We’ve compiled these suggestions from a CreatingaFamily.org podcast with Carole LeiberWilkins, LMFT on Coming to Terms with Infertility Grief Before You Adopt.
Establish that adoptive parenting is different from biological parenting
When you welcome a new prospective family to your agency community, listening to their story is essential. Try getting to know them and their expectations by asking how they got to this point in their journey. While you are getting to know each other, help them understand that the journey of creating their family by adoption will be significantly different than raising a family through genetic parenting.
There are several differences (from genetic parenting) that prospective adoptive families should consider as they start an adoption process:
- The formation of an adoptive family is still relatively unusual for many communities.
- “Adoption” holds many meanings and contexts for all members of the adoption constellation.
- An adopted child’s identity has additional elements, including the birth family’s identity, the culture of birth, the child’s ethnicity or race.
- The adopted child’s sense of “where they fit in the world” can be pretty different than a genetically-related child’s perspective or experience.
These differences are not insurmountable, but many prospective parents may be relatively unaware of them or have not yet experienced coping with them. It’s a necessary part of working through their infertility grief to acknowledge and give space for these differences.
Acknowledge the losses of infertility
Many of the prospective adoptive parents who have come to you through infertility have faced many losses. As you are guiding them through the educational process to prepare them for this adoption, it’s helpful to talk with them about their losses and inquire about how they have coped thus far with them.
To help you listen to them with this in mind, here are some of the losses that infertility patients commonly enumerate:
- Their “dream child” – the child they dreamt of when they began family planning
- Participation in both their extended family’s history and future legacy
- The pregnancy experience and the intimacy of knowing that child in utero
- Typical conception
- Time toward becoming a parent
- Time with a child they did not know from the moment of birth
- Control over the prenatal experience and environment
- Access to information about medical history
Ask them to tell you about how they mourned those losses if they feel comfortable exploring that with you. If they’ve not tried any ritual or acknowledgment of loss, you might suggest that they consider creating one for themselves. It can be a useful tool that helps them conceptualize their loss and mark the end of those dreams to begin this new one of adoption.
Help them identify what aspects of their infertility grief could use extra support
Whether the prospective parents can consciously identify their “tender spots” of untouched grief or need help to become conscious of the unresolved areas, self-examination should be encouraged. It will help to have resources on hand to direct them to reliable, skilled grief counselors familiar with infertility care.
Identifying their losses and facing them with healthy coping skills will prepare hopeful parents to support an adopted child more thoroughly. As you know, when adoptive children are struggling with the losses and grief of their adoption history, many parents might feel their previous losses keenly and in new ways. Parents who have done the hard self-work of facing grief and learning to cope can scaffold their child’s experience of loss without getting triggered by or stuck on their recurring pain.
Ask them how they knew it was time to stop treatment
“When your desire to be a parent is greater than your desire to be a genetic parent, then it’s really time to start looking at the alternatives.”~ Carole LeiberWilkins, LMFT
Not every family facing infertility will stop fertility treatments and choose adoption. Many couples choose to remain childless as a preference over non-genetic parenting. But for those who choose to explore adoption as their alternative to genetic parenthood, it’s helpful to articulate their motivations and how they knew they were ready to stop infertility treatment.
Address the unknowns of adoption
Prospective parents have usually been through the thought process of facing the unknown elements of creating a family through fertility treatments, such as the limits of their available resources, the potential for a genetically unrelated child, the costs and risks to one’s health, finances, etc. Early conversations with them should include similar unknown issues in adoption – the child’s unknown genetic or medical history, the baby’s prenatal environment, and more. Hopeful adoptive parents who struggle with these unknowns may benefit from your reminders of the many unknowns they have already faced and processed.
Acknowledge the loss of control they feel
When prospective parents have come through infertility, they have likely already dealt with the shattering of their illusions of control. Fully embracing adoption as an alternative family-building method will require them to step deeper into surrendering any sense of control to which they might still be clinging.
You can normalize for them that parts of the adoption process are out of your – and their – control. It’s just part of the experience. Your calm, steadying assurances that some parts of adoption are unpredictable can help them remember all they have already overcome. You can also help them think through their process of surrendering control as a means of celebrating the differences that exist in the adoption constellation. What makes us different as individuals can also make us beautiful as a whole family unit. Acknowledging that they cannot predict or control the actions of birth parents they work with or the children they adopt can help them more fully embrace the process that got them to this point.
Normalize the ebbs and flows of infertility grief
The prospective parents with whom you work will likely already know this, but it’s important to remind them that adoption does not cure their infertility. Adoption makes them a parent; it won’t make their grief disappear. What they might not know, or expect, is that their infertility grief might rise in different ages and stages of parenting their adopted child.
Just as an adopted child faces his losses differently as he develops new levels of understanding in his adoption story, parents will also experience their losses differently through the stages of parenting. It’s normal, and if they expect it, they can also prepare for the supports they need to cope and process it. Seeking the support of a mental health professional is excellent wisdom across all the stages of adoptive parenting.
Encourage them to process the grief in relationship with others
Hopeful adoptive parents will also find a significant advantage in being connected to other adoptive parents who have struggled through infertility and are willing to share their experiences and thoughts. Online and in-person support groups, whether through your agency’s services or from other reputable organizations, can be a remarkable tool for self-examination and peer support while they learn. CreatingaFamily.org has an excellent online support group that includes all members of the adoption constellation and provides peer support through the many different stages of the adoption process.
Encourage Them to Get Comfortable with Soul Searching
These mental and emotional preparations to move from infertility to adoption require honest self-examination. Some prospective parents are naturally able and interested in this kind of introspection. They will easily consider that they should investigate their motives, past experiences, and grief process. Others will struggle in this area and need your grace and guidance for this soul searching. Regardless, the life skill of introspection will be a handy one when they are guiding an adopted child to a thriving adulthood. They will benefit from your expertise and education and the resources you offer them to help them work through infertility grief before adopting and beyond.
Do you have experience helping prospective parents work through infertility grief as you guide them through an adoption process? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Image Credits: hnt6581; Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology; Stockunlimited