The isolation and loneliness of adoption

19/07/2021

Adoption can be really isolating. Really isolating.

From the challenges of having to be separate and not introduce family early in placement, to the isolating impact of challenging behaviour caused by early trauma, a sense of separation and loneliness can easily creep in with adoption.

Parenting in general can have this effect, but adopting can create some very particular circumstances. Early in our placement, once I had gone back to work after taking extended leave, the door would close, and my partner would be on her own.

Of course, I’d do whatever I could to ease the loneliness she was experiencing, but in the early days all the recommendations are to keep things simple, not introduce the child to many people and help them to grow their bond with you. This is of course sound advice, but it doesn’t stop the creeping feeling of separation.

When a baby comes home from the hospital and things have settled down, friends and family will swing by, but with a newly placed child, the opposite has to happen

During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, we joked about the similarities between lockdown and the first few weeks of an adoptive placement – you have to stay in your local vicinity and friends can’t come around etc. But of course, when we adopted we weren’t also stressed out by the ever present threat of a highly transmissible virus! I can only imagine the additional challenges posed to families who have adopted throughout the pandemic.

The challenge of difference

Loneliness in the early stages is one thing and it can of course run into post-adoption depression, but as time has gone on, I’ve mused more about the ongoing forms of isolation that adoption can create.

Navigating situations, services and institutions that fundamentally don’t understand the challenges of your child or your family can be really isolating. Whether it’s being in a play area and your child hitting another kid as they’re completely overwhelmed, or a school reacting to behaviours in a way that exacerbates them, dealing with the challenges posed by early trauma can often make us feel exposed as parents. There can be that feeling that wherever you are, someone is staring or commenting on what they see – while not really understanding it.

My partner and I are very lucky in many regards, as we have a supportive school that works well with us and we have family and friends who have been open minded and supportive. That said, it doesn’t take away the feeling of having a child that can’t always fit into the neat little boxes created by society.  

Support and community

Friends and family can obviously be a huge help, but there’s nothing like the support of someone that really gets it from first-hand experience. The simple look of recognition when you recount a tricky situation or challenge that occurred in public can be of great comfort.

I’ve got to say, I think the adoption community is amazing. As a new adopter, it can sometimes be hard to tap into, as when you’re frazzled and getting your head around a million different things, finding adopter support groups and meet ups can be just another thing on the list. However, as my partner and I have met more adopters, through being put in touch by our former social worker, joining groups and accessing adoption spaces online, it’s made a real difference to us.

We’ve managed to meet people with comparable experiences even in terms of the health challenges which our daughter faces, which has been hugely helpful.

To me, the potential for isolating situations in adoption is a constant. Like so many things with being an adoptive family, finding the right support networks and tools that work for you can really help. While this element of adoption won’t go away, it can be managed through mutual support.

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