Adoption: Expectation vs reality

05/08/2021

No matter how prepared you are or how ready you feel, the realities of adoption will always be a shock. They certainly were for us.

We’re still relatively new to being an adoptive family in the grand scheme of things, but I feel we’ve come through quite a few challenges while learning on the job!

Our approval process was long. At the time it felt like an eternity. We were asked to take time out between stage one and stage two to take stock, as well as having to undertake adoption focused counselling. Initially it was a frustration, but we embraced it and decided to roll with the punches.

For a while, it felt like adoption would never become a reality for us. Then suddenly, as if an impenetrable dam had broken, our assessing social worker told us that she was happy and ready to write out Prospective Adopter report (PAR).

Once that happened, things moved very quickly. We had agreed that there were certain challenges that maybe we weren’t the right people for, but our social worker thought we had an openness to other and an approach that might mean we could consider some hard to place children. Before we knew it, we were having conversations about medical conditions and whether we would consider a child who had been waiting a long time as a result.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, we’d seen a profile, started reading a Child Permanence Report and were being considered as prospective adopters for our future daughter. We’d gone from what felt like stasis to action on all fronts and it was both exciting and utterly disorienting.

The imaginary child

We’d done our research, read the books and met up with other adopters. We’d immersed ourselves in thinking around trauma and adverse early experience. But no matter how much you prepare, it’s always going to be a shock to the system.

We came into adoption being open to a wide range of challenges. I recall our social worker encouraging us to whittle down our matching criteria as she thought a panel would think we were being unrealistic. After a bit of thought, we increased the size of the no pile and then thought out the kinds of complication we could handle.

We never had dreamt of choosing to adopt a child with complex health conditions, but if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have our amazing daughter, who has grown and overcome so much in the last couple of years.

Despite trying to be open minded and understand the challenges our daughter came with, both her early trauma and the impact of her long hospitals stays, there still was to a degree, an imaginary child in the back of our minds  

For both my partner and I, there have been situations where we’ve had to think ‘ok, that’s not what I expected’ and move towards excepting the reality and letting go of the imagined child.

We differed a fair bit in the expectations that we brought with us. She had always seen herself as being a parent one day, whereas for a long time I has thought that I didn’t want kids. Despite this, I found that there were expectations lurking there deep in my subconscious. Maybe products of my own experience, my socialisation and the social values that I have been surrounded by and surrounded myself with.

Embracing who they are          

Looking back at the earliest stages of our adoption, it feels like a very strange and even awkward and forced situation. You’re all getting to know each other. As parents you’re looking for any sign of the child attaching and forming a bond with you. It can be easy to see some of the challenges as obstacles, but for me one of the keys has been really embracing who she is.

That might sound like a basic and painfully obvious thing and in a way it is, but even if you’re doing it subconsciously there can be an urge to try and change or even fix them. Through learning on the job as it were, I’ve come to see this as a fool’s errand. Trauma can’t be fixed and it doesn’t work to try and change things that are fundamental to their make-up and who they are. What you can do as an adopter is help give them the tools to navigate their lives and understand their early experience and their place in the world.

As an adoptive parent, letting go of the imaginary child has been a significant step in adapting to the type of parenting and the approach that is necessary to help nurture our daughter as she develops. There’s always more to learn and I’m as sure things change over time, I will have moments of feeling at a loss for what to do again or significantly needing to alter my approach. It truly is a journey and one that will be different for all adopters, but for me acceptance has been a key component of building and nurturing my relationship with my daughter.

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