I get asked this question a lot.
Almost every time I post something about adoption. I get asked, how to support new adoptive parents.
First of all, thank you! Thank you for asking. Because that already means that you are aware enough to realise that it’s a different set of circumstances.
Both Ava and Hannah’s placements were very different but what I experienced was still very much the same. Ava was a complete surprise. We went three weeks from starting the profiling to placement. It was an insane time. I was still reeling and bleeding from my last and 7th miscarriage when Ava was being born. There was no time to plan or prepare. We got 5 days notice that we were going to be parents and because of our long history with infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, I still refused to believe it. I remember the day after we got the news, standing in the baby section at Woolworths and being paralysed by fear. I couldn’t believe this was happening and I had no clue, after 7 years of protecting my heart, what I should even buy or where to start. I stood in the middle of that Woolies, overcome with anxiety and in the end I bought a packet of vests and left. I simply couldn’t do it!
With Hannah, the experience was very different. We found out a week after she was born, that we’d been chosen by her birth parents, but still had to wait out the 60 day consent period before meeting her and bringing her home. But again, we’d had a failed adoption and a few other unpleasant experiences and I was extremely guarded about the whole process.
Both times I was just completely overwhelmed.
I think the biggest mistake is that too many people assume that because adoptive parents yearned for, longed for and worked for this baby, that they are overcome with joy and everything is coming up roses. The truth is far more complex.
With Ava and her sudden placement, I was overwrought with fear and anxiety, loving her so much and knowing that for the first two months she was with us, at any moment, we could receive a call instructing us to return her to her birth mother, almost killed me. I was terrified. And I was completely clueless. I remember bringing her home from the hospital when she was only 5 hours old and my mom asking me when she must get her next feed, I didn’t know. My mom asking me how much formula she must get. I didn’t know. Warming up her first bottle at home, in the microwave, I didn’t know. Three days after she was born, when she had her first normal poo, we rushed her to the emergency room, fearing something was wrong. I didn’t know. We’d never attended a single parenting class, we didn’t have any friends with kids. We didn’t have antenatal classes, nothing. We knew NOTHING. And that, coupled with the fear of losing her and dealing with my last miscarriage, plunged me into depression. I’d only later find out was called Post Adoption Depression Syndrome and basically, it’s exactly the same as PND but without the birth.
While I’d love to say that my early days of motherhood looked like the image of us I’ve shared above, that would be a complete and utter lie. My early days of motherhood looked more like this:
Greasy, tired, clueless, stressed, overwhelmed, giving a 4 day old baby and emergency top up feed in the middle of a busy airport after a two hour flight.
Baby No. 2
Even though Hannah’s placement was more planned, it was still far from easy. She came to us extremely stressed and we still had to find the time and the energy to deal with a busy 3 year old.
Not to mention, her placement also plunged me once again, into a deep and debilitating depression which often left me wondering how much of PND is really hormone related given that my PAD symptoms were a mirror image and I’d not been pregnant or given birth.
So how do you support new adoptive parents:
Here are my tips:
- Be there. Don’t just assume that because this baby was planned and placed and the mother has not gone through the rigours of birth, that she’s not struggling or needing exactly the same as any other new mother or parent. Message her. Pop in for visits, cook her a meal, offer to hold her baby while she takes a shower, brushes her teeth or goes to the toilet alone.
- Don’t take it personally if the new parents won’t let you do any of the above. Try to understand that there has been none of the birthing bonding and that the first few weeks of a baby’s life in its new home are critical for bonding. That a lot of babies come with trauma from placement and it isn’t ideal for them to be past around for cuddles, no matter how tempting that is.
- Post Adoption Depression Syndrome is quite common among adoptive mothers, try to be mindful of that and treat her the way you would any new mother struggling with PND.
- Don’t ask personal questions surrounding the circumstances and reasons for placement or deeply personal questions about the birth parents, with all due respect, it is none of your business. The stories surrounding my children’s placements is THEIR story, it’s not mine to tell and I won’t share it. Also, try to be 25mindful of the language you use around new adoptive parents, for example, don’t refer to the baby’s birth parents as their REAL mother and father. I’ve actually written two posts about adoption etiquette, please read them:
- 5. Treat the new adoptive parents in the same loving, considerate and respectful way you would any new parents. The history surrounding the arrival of that child may be different but the needs of the parents and the new baby are exactly the same.