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The Top 7 Fears Adoptive Parents Have

adoptive parent fears

It took me a long time to come around to the idea of adopting. I was told I would likely never conceive while still young and single, so I grew really tired of people telling me I could “just adopt.” My heart was broken, and I needed to mourn that loss before I could move onto the next possible step.

Because of that experience, I am a firm believer that no one should be pressured to pursue adoption until the point, if and when, it’s a path that they feel truly called to.

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For me, that point came a few years after my initial infertility diagnosis. I can’t say for sure what changed. I was still single, though no longer quite as young. But one day I just woke up and realized I was ready to be a mom, and I didn’t care how that child came into my life.

That was when I knew I was ready.

Still, that’s not to say there were no fears on my part. Because adopting is scary, and there are some fears that all adoptive parents have to face.

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1. Not being picked

There’s a lot of anxiety in putting together an adoption portfolio. What if the agency decides you’re not fit to be a parent? What if they approve you, but then no matches are ever made? What if no one ever thinks you’re actually worthy of being a parent?

2. Scams

I actually dealt with a scammer a few years after my daughter was born. A woman reached out to me asking if I would be willing to adopt her baby. She had all the necessary details, including already being vetted by an adoption agency she was willing to connect me with. Something about her set off a lot of red flags for me, though. Within 48 hours, I uncovered scams she had inflicted — through reputable agencies — upon multiple hopeful adoptive couples across the country.

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Scammers absolutely exist. The best way to protect yourself is to ensure you are with an agency that thoroughly vets their birth mamas, and to avoid agencies that encourage you to give money to potential birth mothers to help with their expenses. This is something that has been questioned as an unethical (and potentially coercive) adoption practice anyway.

3. Failed placement

Then there’s the fear of someone choosing you, only to change their minds. I have to warn you: This fear doesn’t go away until everything is 100 percent official. Even then, you’ll still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after a nightmare about someone taking your baby back. The truth is, it happens. Failed placements occur. This isn’t an unfounded fear, it’s simply one you have to power through and deal with, should it become a reality.

4. Alcohol and drug exposure

One of the hardest things for adoptive mothers to let go of is control. I can tell you, without hesitation, that had I been able to carry and protect my little girl from conception, I never would have smoked, drank alcohol, or done drugs. And I would have tried really hard to eat a healthy diet, to exercise, to avoid stress, and to take care of both myself and her as best as possible. Unfortunately, with adoption, you can’t control the environment your child was in before they came to you. There may sometimes be issues to deal with as a result of that environment. For adoptive mothers who don’t know what to expect, this can be a very real fear.

5. What if you can’t love a child that isn’t yours?

I’ll admit it, one of the things that held me back from adoption initially was the fear of taking a child I just couldn’t grow to love. I now recognize that fear as completely unfounded. I love kids, so why would I not love my own? And yes, an adopted baby would always be just as much my own as any baby I birthed. But I was afraid until my little girl was actually placed in my arms. That’s when I fell deeply, madly in love with her.

6. Reactive attachment disorder

A related fear is that your child may not be able to attach to, bond with, or love you. Reactive attachment disorder is a real thing. It’s more common with older child adoptions (though still rare), but it is a valid fear no matter what. I can’t talk you through this fear, or promise it won’t happen in your adoption. All I can do is say that if you do have a child with reactive attachment disorder, there is help. Plenty of families have found ways to break through those walls.

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7. Lack of acceptance by others

I’m lucky in that my daughter and I have been surrounded by massive amounts of support since day one. Some families have to deal with racism, even within their own extended family, when embarking upon transracial adoptions. Some have to deal with ignorance and hateful words spewed by those they otherwise thought of as closest to them. And all adoptive families will inevitably have to deal with the ignorance of strangers at some point. (Oh, the questions I’ve been asked!) This is another truly valid fear. But at least for my part, I can say that the love I have for my child trumps all else. I don’t care what anyone thinks of our family, so long as we have each other.

Bottom line

In case you haven’t recognized a consistent theme above, the truth is that most of your fears are probably valid in pursuing adoption. But that doesn’t mean they should prevent you from adopting. If this is where your heart is truly pulling you, there are ways to overcome any challenges you might experience. Even the inevitable day when your child screams at you in a moment of rage, “You’re not my real mom!”

It hasn’t happened to us yet, and it’s still a fear I hold on to tight. But when and if that day ever comes, I know I’ll be ready. And that I’ll look her in the eyes and say, “I know you don’t mean that. And I love you very much.”

  • What are some helpful resources for families hoping to adopt?
  • Many resources exist for families considering adoption. Visit the National Council for Adoption website to get started. Considering what type of adoption most interests you (domestic versus international, older or younger child, faith-based, public, or private) may help guide you through these resources. Your local foster care agency is another place that will have information, particularly if you are thinking about fostering a child at first.

    - Karen Gill, MD
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Leah Campbell
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