Emotionally Surviving the Wait
Step 1: Be prepared. Before diving into applications, home-study, and dossier work K and I did some reading on adoption (K far more than me) and attended some information sessions. We did enough research to know adoption was going to be an emotionally draining process. For statistics geeks out there, Figure 1 shows the normal distribution of adoptions along the continuum from “nightmare” to “sunshine and daisies.”
For those of you who are not statistics geeks, this graph has a very simple explanation. Ninety-five percent of adoptions will fit into the blue shaded zone, meaning they will be emotionally exhausting. Only a handful of adoptions will go so smoothly that they fit into the “sunshine and daisies” category. However, it is also important to note that only a handful will fit into the “nightmare” category.
There are a few points that can be made by this graph. First, when the emotional roller coaster hits, think back to this graph and remember, this is what we signed up for. Second, and this is very important, if you think you are having a sunshine and daisies adoption, don’t let your guard down. Chances are, something will happen to draw you into the shaded zone and you should be prepared for that eventuality. Finally, if you think you’re having a nightmare adoption process, chances are you’re not and you might benefit from talking to others in the adoption community at various stages of the process. These conversations will probably help you understand that your experience is “normal.”
Step 2: Understand your emotions. It is important to remember that because of the circumstance your emotions can be on a hair trigger. Think about it: you’re getting ready to add a child or children to your family for the rest of your life. You don’t need me to tell you that this is not a trivial event, but be aware of how the gravity affects your emotional response. This goes for the ups as well as the downs. While the ups feel good when you’re experiencing them be aware that a setback can bring you back down. If your emotions were already running high, albeit a good high, the swing in emotion will probably be more severe in response to the setback.
Step 3: Attach to children not ideas. There may be times during the process where you feel very close to being matched with a child for adoption. You may have seen pictures, or even have been offered a referral, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. This will probably be one of the hardest times of the process because the promise will send you to a high emotional state and the let down will feel severe.
My advice in these situations is to approach with extreme caution. The tendency is to get very excited, and I understand this. However, with this excitement your mind starts racing, you look at the picture, and in your mind you’re holding that child. You imagine him/her running around the orphanage playing, or running around in your back yard playing with the dogs. You’re becoming attached to this child before s/he even knows you exist.
Attachment post-adoption is very important; pre-adoption attachment may be counter-productive. If all you have is a picture and basic information about the child, chances are you’re not getting attached to a child, you’re getting attached to an idea. I try to avoid the inclination to let my mind wander into the "what could be" realm because it only serves to make loss of the referral/match more difficult to deal with. Additionally, if you become attached to the idea of a child, the reality of that child could be very different, which in itself could cause hard feelings.
Step 4: Let go. If your referral/match doesn’t work out I recommend thinking of the event as “what happened” as opposed to “what happened to me”. At this point what happened is now in your family's history. Worrying about what happened or where the child(ren) will end up won't help coping. Look forward to the match that will eventually work for your family. Don’t take it personally, and don’t waste time ruminating over what you could have done differently. Remember it is “what happened” in this situation. Next time it may be different.
This is my advice for dealing with the ups and downs of the waiting process. I’m sure the post-referral period involving travel, court, embassy and first family visits will have some intense emotional moments. Being in the waiting period I can’t speak on these events. Maybe when we are at that part of the process K will ask me for another guest post.
Hope this helps,