Adopting a child is a wonderful, life-changing experience. But if you've always dreamed of having a traditional pregnancy, birth, and family life, there are a few things you should consider before you adopt.
1. You may need to look for a "baby basics" class. Most women who give birth learn about the care, feeding, and basic development of babies in their childbirth class or at a class for expectant parents. If you're adopting a baby, however, this particular option won't be available to you. Fortunately, though, some hospitals, adoption agencies, and adoption-support groups now offer infant care and parenting classes to adoptive moms and dads. Ask your agency, local hospital, local chapter of Resolve, or other parent-support group for information.
2. You may not be able to breastfeed. Some adoptive mothers have been able to breastfeed their infants, by stimulating their breasts to produce milk. (Some take hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin; others use more natural methods.) Not every adoptive mom will be able to do this, however. And even those who do breastfeed will still need to supplement their baby's diet with formula, since they won't be able to produce enough milk to meet their infant's nutritional needs. If you think you'll want to breastfeed, learn as much as you can before your baby arrives. Contact a lactation consultant at a local hospital or a representative from La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org), or read a book on the topic, such as Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby by Debra Stewart Peterson.
3. You may not have a baby shower until months after your baby is born. Since the adoption process is often filled with so much uncertainty, many prospective parents prefer to wait until after their baby is home before having a shower. Often, this is a practical course of action. For instance, if a family is adopting from overseas, they may not know their child's gender, size, or age until shortly before traveling to get him. (In some cases, their "baby" may be 15 or 16 months old!) However, once parents are home and settled into a routine, they'll have a better sense of what they need -- and of their baby's likes and dislikes.
4. You won't be sending out traditional "birth" announcements. Of course that's not to say that you won't be announcing your child's adoption in a special way. Some parents send out handwritten cards or notes, detailing some of the highlights of their child's adoption (such as where he was born, his birth name, his family name, the date he was born, the date he was adopted, etc.). Others order special adoption announcements, which they personalize with facts about their family. Whichever method you choose, be sure to include a photo of your child and his new family members.
5. Your "baby book" may not begin at birth. If you're planning to be at your child's birth or to adopt her as a newborn, then you'll be fortunate enough to have some very early photos of your baby. In this case, your baby book may also include pictures of your child's birth mother and possibly her birth father. But if you're adopting an older baby, or perhaps an older child, you may not have access to many early baby pictures. (For instance, if you're adopting a child from overseas, you may have only the referral photo you were sent, and possibly one or two others.) On the other hand, your child's baby book will probably include lots of pictures from the day you adopted her and/or the day you brought her home and of the people who cared for her in a foster family or orphanage.
6. Your child may celebrate two special days. Often adoptive families celebrate not only their child's birthday but also the day he was adopted. (Sometimes this is called "Adoption Day," "Family Day," or "Gotcha Day.") Whether or not you choose to do something special for Adoption Day is up to you. But some families have a small celebration at home and perhaps look at pictures or a video from the day their child was adopted. Other families get together with their "travel group" (families with whom they traveled to the host country and who adopted on the same day), and have a larger celebration, honoring all their kids.
7. You'll probably be asked lots of personal questions. Friends, relatives, coworkers, and even people on the street may ask questions about your adoption, particularly if you've adopted from overseas and your child doesn't look like you. Many of the questions or comments are probably well intentioned, but they may seem rude or too personal, especially when asked in front of an older child. (Adoptive parents have been asked, for instance, "How much did you pay for your baby?" "How could the birth mother 'give away' such an adorable child?" "Do you know anything about your child's 'real' family?" etc.)
When asked a question that feels too personal or improper, you have the right not to answer it -- particularly if it compromises your child's, the birth mother's, or your own privacy. But sometimes you can find a way to respond to a question that's in the best interest of your family and offers some important information about adoption. For instance, when asked "How much did you pay for your baby?" you can explain that the fees you paid your agency and/or orphanage (you don't have to disclose the amount) went toward the facilitation of your adoption and to the early care of your child. In a sense, they're similar to what a pregnant woman pays to her doctor and hospital, you can add.
8. You won't remember a time when your child didn't live with you. Being a parent is one of the most enriching experiences in life. And though the job is often all-consuming and demanding, it certainly can expand your capacity for love and fun in ways you never imagined. That's why most parents (adoptive or otherwise) can barely remember a time when their child wasn't with them -- and, for many parents, all the hard work it took to adopt fades into a distant memory.
Sources: The Complete Adoption Book (Second Edition) by Laura Beauvais-Godwin and Raymond Godwin, Esq.; The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption by Chris Adamec
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.