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How to Survive Your First Year of the Adoption Journey

Image Source: Mike Berry
Image Source: Mike Berry

It’s the early morning hours on a Monday when I open my laptop to check email. The glowing light of my screen is the only light in my quiet house. The sun hasn’t even begun its ascent over the tree line in our backyard.

After a long weekend, and mostly ignoring email and social media for a few days, I’ve got a full inbox. I give it a quick scan, selecting a multitude of Spam messages to feed my hungry Trash folder. And there, at the bottom of New Messages, I spot it. A personal email with a Subject that says it all: “I need help!”

Her storyline is one I’ve heard a million times over the past 15 years personally traveling the adoption journey:

… We couldn’t get pregnant.

… Our hearts were broken.

… We decided to adopt.

… And got really, really excited.

… Filled out all of the paperwork.

… Chose foster-to-adopt to save money.

… We were matched with a birth mother.

… Jumped in with a full heart.

… Brought home a beautiful baby girl … a sibling group … twins from an orphanage

… Realized pretty quickly how hard this journey is.

… At the end of my rope. Questioning my choice. Need help!

I get it. I really do. We were just two years into our journey when everything started to fall apart on us. We were head over heels in love with our children, but there were many things we weren’t prepared for, didn’t know, or didn’t do when we first began. Our hearts were full, but we quickly became tired. We too needed help.

The journey can be long, uphill, and filled with ups and downs that feel like a punch in the gut. I would love to tell you that all you need to do is focus on loving your child and everything will work out. But, that’s just not reality … for the adoption journey … or the parenting journey in general. You will never be fully prepared, but there are some key steps we’ve learned to help make Year #1 of the adoption journey less stressful and more meaningful.

Seek community.

You and I were never meant to travel this road alone. The adoption journey is beautiful, amazing, and adventurous. But it can also become extremely difficult. Most of the world won’t understand the unique trials and tribulations we go through. We need others around us who understand, are in the same trench as us, will never judge us regardless of the situation, and help us grow. When everything falls apart, your child is out of control, or you’re dealing with a foster care system that yanks you around like a bullwhip, a strong support community can get you through it.

Grow in your knowledge of trauma and attachment.

Your child has come from trauma, even if they were adopted privately and their birth mother took care of herself. There’s still deep loss in that the person who carried them in her womb for nine months is now gone. But imagine how deeper this loss is when your child has come from the foster care system or an orphanage in another country. This trauma can play out in their behavior, poor choices, refusal to attach themselves to you in a healthy manner, or more. If we could go back, 15 years in the past, and learn one thing, it would be how to parent children from traumatic places. Trauma-informed care and knowledge of attachment issues can be a game-changer in relating to your child, and helping them form healthy bonds with your family.

Carve out time for you.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Parenting takes the life out of you and consumes your time regardless of what type of parent you are, but the adoption journey can take extra out of you. When you bring children into your home who have come from difficult places, you will be in an uphill climb almost daily with their special needs. It can wear on you fast. If you want to survive the first year and beyond, intentionally carve out an hour or two (or three) each week (or each day, if you can) to be alone.

Guard your child’s story.

There will be a lot of people who ask a lot of questions, often in the first year of your adoption journey. When we first adopted, our daughter was black and we were white. This prompted a lot of questions. Most were appropriate but several were completely inappropriate. And her adoption in general caused people to speculate because it was an adoption. There was an automatic assumption that her birth mother was in some sort of trouble, in prison, or in jail. Even though this wasn’t the case at all, we shared very few details on her adoption.

We realized pretty quickly that most of the world around us did not understand adoption, or why people choose to adopt. My daughter’s story was her story, and ours. Bottom line! We didn’t owe any explanation to anyone and neither do you. The last thing you want is someone walking up to your child someday and sharing intimate details of his or her story. Guard their story!

Invest in your relationships.

It’s easy to feel isolated on the journey. Even more so, it’s easy to slowly fade into a place of isolation. Because of the unique nature of this journey, and especially if you’ve adopted children from traumatic pasts, it becomes easy to distance yourself from friendships, even your own marriage or partnership. The most important thing you can do during the first few years especially, is invest in key relationships. Carve out time for date night with your spouse, or significant other. Keep regular coffee or cocktail dates with your best friend.

Here’s what I want you to know, if you’re in your first year or two of the adoption journey …

It’s a beautiful and fulfilling journey. Your children are precious and they’re YOURS! Your family has been uniquely designed to do exactly what you’re doing. But, the journey will become difficult. Sometimes, it will be difficult for long periods of time. You can do this, however. You are strong enough. The way your family is designed is perfect. There’s no mistake. As you focus on the children you’ve been blessed with, be intentional about caring for yourself and investing in relationships that can keep you healthy on the journey!

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