Thursday, April 2, 2020

Not Your Typical Baby Shower: How to Prepare & Celebrate Well in Adoption


As with the birth of any child, there is much to celebrate in adoption! Any time a baby joins a family, we should celebrate new life and rally around the new parents with our support and excitement. Getting ready to welcome a child often comes with a lot of anticipation and joy as you prepare your home and share your news and plans with others.

But what if your child is joining your family through adoption? Should your preparations and celebrations look different? The short answer? Absolutely.

Parenting through adoption is no less special or important than becoming a parent through pregnancy. But becoming a parent through adoption is different than becoming a parent biologically. It's important not to erase these differences, but to acknowledge them and their impact on the choices you make. There are unique aspects to adoption that are critical to consider as you prepare:
  • Adoption includes a birth family; there are other people involved to acknowledge and consider as you plan and prepare for a baby to join your family.
  • Adoption involves loss; brokenness is at the beginning of adoption when a birth family, for whatever reason, decides they want another couple to raise their child.
  • Adoption is about finding families for babies, not babies for families; this can shift our perspective and the choices we make throughout the process.
  • Adoption is not final until consents are signed and finalized by a judge; this should impact plans, preparations, and heart postures.

In light of these important differences, here are some practical ways to honor the unique aspects of adoption while you prepare and celebrate:

Adoption Announcements
Like any parents, hopeful adoptive parents are eager to share the news of their growing family. This is a great way to not only update friends and family, but also include others in your journey. (I love these creative ways families I've worked with have announced their adoptions found here and here.) It's important to note that once you share your adoption plans, for many of your friends and family you will become an unofficial "adoption educator." In this new role, you have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to advocate for adoption; ensuring you use positive adoption language and extending grace as others learn about the process alongside you.

Match Announcements
An important step in the adoption journey is when a couple is officially "matched" with an expectant family. Most people prefer the term "chosen" since the expectant family has carefully chosen the hopeful adoptive family to parent their baby. When sharing the news that you've been chosen, it's important to communicate in a way that's open-handed and clear that adoption is the plan, but nothing is final until after the baby is born and necessary paperwork has been completed. This is also a great time to think of protecting the child's story. Very often, adoptive families regret all they shared at this stage and wish they had not disclosed private details, even to close friends and family. Remembering to guard the child and the expectant/birth family's story is critical, even in the beginning.

Gender Reveal
It's a current trend for couples to have some kind of a gender reveal party where they announce if they're expecting a boy or a girl. But as I've noted, adoption is not final until all paperwork has been signed. A gender reveal party easily communicates a finality and surety to the adoption plan that simply isn't the case prior to birth. 

Preparing Older Siblings
Just like anyone preparing for a new a baby to arrive, preparing your children for the arrival of a baby brother or sister is an important step for families. But talking about the complexities of adoption can be challenging, especially with little hearts trying to make sense of hard topics. One easy way to do this is to focus on the idea of preparing your home for a baby in case another family needs help. When the language shifts from a specific baby and timeframe to being ready in case there's a baby that needs a family, it can help communicate your family's desire to help a child versus find a child.

Setting up the Nursery
To prepare for your home study, most often the room for the baby doesn't have to be ready (and let's be honest; for most families the baby sleeps in the parents' room in a bassinet for the first few months anyway!). When couples ask me if there's a "right time" to set up the nursery, I always tell them to do what feels right for them. For some couples, the thought of walking by an empty nursery while waiting for a baby to arrive feels painful. But for others, the tasks of painting a baby's room, setting up a crib, and finding the coziest rocker is a practical way to prepare and dream of the child they will one day be caring for in that room. Just like couples who attend prenatal appointments and birth classes, setting up a nursery can be a way of getting ready for the birth of a baby. It's also wise to decorate in neutral tones to prepare for a boy or a girl.

Birth Announcements
In an age where it's easy to give updates within minutes, we see new parents posting news of a baby's birth within hours. There is a special sacredness to adoption and those first days and hours when a baby is born. Very often, this is a time when the mother (and possibly the father and their friends and family) have to spend with the baby. It's often full of immense emotions and critical for the hopeful adoptive family to take the birth family's lead as to what they want the hospital experience to look like. In light of this, it's wise to wait to share any news or pictures of the baby publicly until consents have been signed. Instead, focus your time in the hospital loving the birth family well; giving them the time and space they need.

Baby Showers
Every mother (or couple!) deserves a party celebrating the arrival of a new baby and adoption is no exception. The question for adoptive families is more about timing; when to have a baby shower. Sometimes the easiest way to celebrate with a baby shower is after the baby has been placed with the adoptive family (after consents are signed). Setting up a gender neutral registry of necessities while waiting for placement can also be helpful. Many families find that a baby shower after the baby has been home for several weeks is a great way to celebrate. They often have a better sense of what they need and it's a sweet time to have family and friends meet the new addition.

Finalization Day 
Many couples take the opportunity to celebrate the day the adoption is finalized in the courts and often mark that as a special anniversary yearly in their family. Some families also call this "Family  Day" or "Adoption Day" (the phrase "Gotcha Day" has historically been used but generally has a negative connotation now since it can imply some kind of ownership.) This can be bittersweet, especially for the child as it not only marks a celebration of a new family, but also the separation from the birth family. Using sensitivity, especially as the child grows, to their feelings around this day will be helpful as you navigate how to/if you will mark this occasion in your family.

Clearly there's much to celebrate and consider when adopting a child. Here's some final questions that might be helpful to ask as you think about how to honor adoption and the entire adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents, and birth parents) when it comes to preparations and celebrations:
  • Does this honor the expectant/birth family?
  • Does this put unnecessary pressure or expectation on an expectant family?
  • Does this acknowledge the plan of adoption (vs. assuming something is sure)?
  • Does this feel too premature: could we put this off until later when the time might be more fitting?
  • Does this consider protecting the child's story that is theirs alone to tell?

Before a baby is placed with you, your focus and top priority should be on educating yourself, preparing for parenthood, and taking every opportunity to love the expectant and birth family well. There will be years to celebrate your child and the joys of parenting. Waiting a few short months to celebrate well and at the right time is a beautiful way to honor your child, their birth family, and the choice you've made to grow your family through adoption.

In the end, that kind of preparation and celebration is worth it.

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