Adoptive parents may travel a different path to parenthood, but it’s one equally worthy of celebration and support.
When family and friends are expecting a baby, they craft registries, post bump photos on social media, and share fruit and animal comparisons to baby’s size. (Baby is a field mouse this week! Baby is the size of a cantaloupe today!)
But when someone we love welcomes a child through adoption, shouldn’t that arrival be celebrated in the same way? Absolutely.
According to Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, “There should be no difference between celebrating a biological child versus an adopted child as both experiences represent a celebration of life.”
When someone in your community adopts a child, they need a lot of the same support as those welcoming a biological child. Sometimes, even more.
By the time Angeliegh Wingard Hartman and her husband adopted their son, they had spent a considerable amount of money pursuing their dream of becoming parents.
“We had spent about $45,000 on two rounds of IVF, followed by $13,000 for the adoption of our son,” she says.
Hartman also points out that “most people who are adopting have already been very drained emotionally and financially.”
Because of all these expenses, they could scarcely afford baby gear and clothing and relied on used items.
Because adoptions can and often do fall through, many adoptive parents avoid furnishing a nursery or filling a dresser with baby clothes.
“The whole time, you know they can change their mind,” Hartman says. “You don’t want a room full of things reminding you it didn’t work out.”
In order to avoid some of that heartbreak, Lauren Weir’s family chose to celebrate her and her husband when they were officially approved to adopt, but no specific child was in the process of placement.
As Weir says, “We wanted to enjoy the time of anticipating our family’s growth. Our family gave us gifts that were gender-neutral and many gave funds to help cover the adoption fees.”
After they welcomed their daughter, however, friends hosted a shower to celebrate her arrival and give them gifts chosen specifically for her.
“We were just so excited to know that no matter what challenges lay ahead, this child would have a community that loved them,” she says. “We were so grateful for the enthusiasm and support.”
Brooke Balderson is an adoptive parent as well as a biological parent. While she felt very supported and received two showers for her adopted child, one thrown by her mother before her son’s arrival, and one after, thrown by friends, she did notice a difference in her community’s response when comparing her two children’s official arrivals.
“When you give birth, people send gifts, bring dinners, and organize meal trains. That stuff hardly ever gets thought of for adoption,” Balderson says. “It was shocking when strangers from moms groups brought me meals this time around.”
When Balderson adopted her first child, people followed along with the adoption, but didn’t celebrate in the same way as when her biological child arrived.
“It made me wonder if people are unsure of how to handle it. Do they not know what to say or how to act, or does it really just not cross their minds?” she says.
Balderson wonders if this has to do with the fraught history of adoption. She points out that in the past it was often kept secret. “I think stigmas are beginning to change and evolve, but until somewhat recently, people didn’t discuss adoption,” she says.
Weir, however, didn’t have the same experience.
When their third child was born, she felt the experience was the same as it had been with her adopted children. “In our experience, people have been equally supportive with our children through adoption and our biological child,” she says. “I think a lot of that has to do with how direct we were about our needs.”
By taking the time to celebrate babies who arrive via adoption, communities are not only supporting adoptive parents but also showing adopted children that they’re loved and cherished.
Rachel Fry always knew that she was adopted, but when her parents were preparing for her arrival, they were terrified to share their news.
“My parents struggled with infertility for many years before looking into adoption,” she says. “They had experienced so many losses before I was born, and they didn’t tell anyone before I arrived, except my godmother, 2 weeks before.”
When it was clear that Rachel was there to stay, friends and family united to celebrate her and help provide for her needs.
“My parents had three showers… a work shower, friends, and a family shower,” she says. “I can look in their photo albums and see how much everyone celebrated me, and it means so much.”
Mendez affirms the importance of these celebrations: “The adopted child then knows that they are valued and that the family showed excitement and pleasure about their arrival. Arrival celebrations give the grown child a sense of purpose and meaningfulness. It provides the grown child with a story of roots and normalizes the adoption process. This knowledge reinforces the establishment of positive self-esteem, self-confidence, and reinforces the foundations of origin and familial identity.”
Of course, there are some inescapable ways in which adoption differs from childbirth.
Families may wait for a long time or find themselves suddenly bringing a child into their home almost overnight. They may be starting their parenthood journey with an older child instead of a newborn, or welcoming a baby with unexpected needs.
Adopted babies need diapers, cribs, clothes, car seats, and all the other — often expensive — equipment that any baby needs. Their parents also need all the helpful friends, meal trains, and support that any new parents need.
If you have a friend or family member adopting, don’t hesitate to ask them how you can support them — both before and after the adoptive child arrives — and if you can host a party to welcome their new child.
Jenn Morson is a freelance writer living and working outside of Washington, D.C. Her words have been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications.