Helping the Adoptive Family

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The following advice comes from not only my own experiences adopting babies, but from my experience in trying to support other adoptive parents, usually the mother, through a quest to adopt, which may take years to accomplish. There are many issues that are not well understood by most people, but which are very important to the new adoptive family. Some of this has to do specifically with supporting an adoptive mother who wants to start nursing her new baby, but much of it applies to any adoptive situation. This is "motherly" advice, which I hope will reach the eyes and ears of people who have someone close to them adopting.

Many people, mistakenly believe that, since the adoptive mother has not given birth, she has been through no ordeal and needs no extra help or consideration. As anyone familiar with adoption knows, adopting a baby is generally an extremely stressful event. There have often been years of attempts at parenthood prior to the adoption. In many cases, where a couple has been chosen by a potential birth mother before the birth, there has been concern about whether the placement would go through and/or,depending on the laws governing the particular situation, whether the baby will be allowed to stay, or whether the baby will be reclaimed after, days, weeks, or even months.

In some cases, most often with international adoption, the potential adoptive mother has known about a baby who was already born and has been given a time frame in which to expect to be able to bring the baby home, only to have the time extended over and over again.

The adoptive mother may also be feeling badly for the birth mother, and even feel guilty about being happy, knowing that another woman is grieving. This is much like the "survivor guilt" that often occurs in people who have survived accidents or other catastrophies where others have been killed.

Worry, long distance travel (in many cases) and concerns about how to finance the adoption (which can run as high as $30,000 or more), can leave a new adoptive mother feeling like she has been through a battle. She is exhausted, physically and emotionally, and she may have stress induced illness, or a worsening of any recurring illness that she may already have had, such as migraine headaches.

It may sound like I am dramatizing, but I am not! People close to a new adoptive family can be of tremendous service, by volunteering to have meals brought in, helping with housework or the care of any other children in the family, offering to pick up necessities at the grocery store, etc.. Because of the financial burden that adoption usually brings with it, others can often help by choosing gifts of necessities, like diapers, strollers, carseats, etc..

They can also help by timing their visits well. Most adoptive parents are delighted with others' interest in the baby, but care should be taken to visit at a convenient time and the adoptive mother should not be expected to entertain company. Another thing that visitors can do is to help provide the new adoptive mom with opportunities to relax and feed the baby. Whether breast or bottle feeding is chosen, it is important for a newly adopted baby to be fed by his new adoptive mother (or father, if bottle feeding) as near always as possible. Feeding is a very emotionally important experience for a baby, which acquaints him with the adoptive mother and helps him bond with her. A baby can easily become confused about who his new parent(s) is/are, if many different people are feeding him.

If the new adoptive mother is trying to breastfeed, it is important for her to be surrounded by only people who are supportive of, or at least tolerant of, her efforts. Those around her can help by freeing her up to spend more time with the baby and by refraining from volunteering to give the baby a bottle, or any other gestures or comments that would tend to question her ability to adequately feed the baby at her breast. Anyone who cannot be supportive, even grandmas, may need to keep their visits brief. Some of the doubters, however, may be concerned more from a lack of understanding of the process than anything else, and may feel much more capable of being supportive after reading up on the topic.

Another issue that is helpful for friends and family to be aware of is that adoptive parents may have even more concerns about having the baby exposed to many people, than parents who have given birth would have. An adopted baby's maternal stores of antibodies are usually specific to a different area than his adoptive home, making him more susceptible to illness. For this reason, new adoptive parents may feel even more of a need to limit the new baby's exposure to others for a while. Our last adoption is a case in point. While waiting for clearance to travel home with our youngest daughter, Joanna, there was a hurricane developing, which was headed straight for Miami, where she was born. When we were told that all beach front hotels, including the one we were staying in, were being evacuated, I was in a panic! I was actually not nearly as afraid of the hurricane as I was the thought of being in a shelter with my five day old daughter being exposed to hundreds of people from all over the USA and several other countries! Fortunately, some kind soul got on the phone and found us another hotel room in an area that was not being evacuated!

Copyright © 1999-2000 Darrillyn Starr. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Credits: Darrillyn Starr

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