How to prepare for birth and adoption uncertainty


Bruce Regier
Focus on Adoption magazine

We have been chosen by a birth mother to adopt the child she will soon give birth to. As you can imagine, this is a very emotional and stressful time for us. Is there any advice you would give to people in our situation as we anxiously wait and deal with the uncertainty?

The time to celebrate has not quite arrived. Remember that being chosen does not necessarily mean that all of your dreams are about to come true. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for birth mothers, and sometimes birth fathers, to change their minds about proceeding with an adoption plan. As in life, there are no certainties and no guarantees.

That said, the fact that an adoption plan has proceeded this far is a positive sign, and the odds are that circumstances will proceed to an adoption. Despite this, the possibility that it might not happen can lead to stress and anxiety.

Though it would be diffcult to totally eliminate your anxiety, there are a few ways to reduce the stress and pain you might experience if your adoption plan does not go through. One thing I always suggest to prospective adoptive parents is that they prepare for the possibility of any outcome. I strongly discourage preparing a nursery or purchasing any items you will need to care for an infant at this stage. When I work with couples, I even recommend that they hold off on purchasing a child safety seat, sleepers, diapers, and other baby care essentials until 24 hours or less from the time of placement in most cases. I also recommend that adoptive parents hold off making announcements to anyone other than a few close friends and family members until after the placement actually happens, because of the uncertainties.

Being aware of the birth parent’s circumstances and an understanding of some of the red flags that might indicate a problem in the birth mother’s decision making process are helpful. Ask your social worker these questions: Is the birth mother secretive? Is she is attempting to hide her pregnancy from close friends and family members? Is the birth mother resistant to counseling? Is she resistant to discussing alternatives to adoption? Is someone other than the birth parent driving the plan for adoption? Is there a lack of support for the adoption plan from either of the birth parents’ families? Is the birth father named, and is he involved in planning for the child? Has the birth mother waited until the last minute before contacting a counselor or adoption agency to start planning? Is there a lack of understanding on the part of the birth parent of the consequences of making an adoption plan and of appropriate boundaries in the relationship with adoptive parents? Each "yes" is a red flag indicating a higher likelihood that the adoption plan might halt.

Being aware of the possible risks may not eliminate your stress, but there is comfort in having a better understanding of the dynamics of the situation. At the same time, you can also drive yourself crazy by over analyzing the situation and trying to predict the outcome. Avoid this by maintaining your normal routine as much as possible and treat yourself well. Go to work. Exercise. Eat properly. Keep in touch with friends, particularly those who are understanding and supportive. Don’t take on anything new. Enjoy light reading. Go to the movies or rent all the videos you have wanted to see but haven’t had time to. Cook some great meals or go to your favorite restaurants. Don’t drink too much. Take a weekend getaway or day trip (take your pager or cell phone if you are worried about missing calls from your agency).

Something else I suggest is prayer. Prayer takes us outside of ourselves. Pray that the emotional needs of the birth parents will be met, and that this child will lead a good life no matter who parents him or her. Giving up control and letting go in this way can help you to genuinely care for the birth parents rather than wanting to see them manipulated into going through with an adoption plan. It can help you to see them as people rather than adversaries. Letting go in this way can also help you to deeply care for the well-being of the child rather than desiring her as a possession.

Still, no matter what you do, if your dream of adopting this child does not come true, it will be heartbreaking, and you’ll need time to heal. I wish you the best.

Bruce Regier is a social worker with Hope Adoption Services.