What do you think of when you hear the word counseling? Some might consider counseling a place for “other people.” Perhaps you consider counseling to be a place for people with mental health issues or for people who can’t keep their emotions in check on a day to day basis. Maybe counseling is for the weak.
Maybe there is some truth to these assumptions. There are many reasons and situations a person might access counseling. From a therapist perspective, counseling really is about self-care. Just as you might take a day off to rest or lace up your sneakers for a run – counseling can strengthen you and help to propel you forward in life. Maybe you’re in a scary, dark place – you might need help standing up and moving forward again. Or maybe life is about to get much fuller – and you need help managing the butterflies flying around in your stomach. That doesn’t really sound crazy or weak, does it?
Birth Parent Counseling
Many of the clients to assess counseling in adoption are birth parents. All birth parent needs are not the same, but there are some themes that come up regularly in birth parent counseling.
Grief and other difficult feelings. It’s pretty difficult to describe what it feels like to prepare to place a baby for adoption or cope with the loss of parenting a child. The word grief doesn’t seem like enough to truly describe the pain a birth parent feels as they plan or cope with their adoption plan. Even while a birth parent might know in their brain that they are making the right choice for their baby, their heart breaks and they need support and understanding. Counseling is a tool that many birth parents use to help themselves make plans and care for themselves. What’s “normal” in grief is taught and new coping skills are explored and formed.
Supporting other children. Being a parent is difficult in any circumstance. Helping children understand big issues like adoption is not an easy task. Older children might be experiencing big feelings, depending on their developmental age. Many parents needs assistance in understanding normal reactions in children to adoption and how to handle these reactions. All the while, dealing with their own big feelings! Counseling is a great place to voice these concerns and receive direction in supporting their children. Sometimes children benefit from meeting with a counselor themselves, as well.
Relationship Dynamics. One adoption plan can touch the lives of many. Birth mother, birth father, their parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, close family friends…everyone seems to have an opinion on the adoption plan. People have strong feelings about adoption in this world. Some believe that birth parents that choose adoption are among the most selfless parents in the world and should be supported and celebrated! Others see adoption in a more negative light and aren’t afraid to share these feelings with a family member considering adoption. This is very hurtful to birth parents and can also be very confusing as they consider one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever made. Counseling is a good place to sort out those confused thoughts. Finally, someone without judgement! This is often a breath of fresh air to those struggling with the relationships in their life. Once a birth parent wrestles with these difficulties (or maybe during!) they also have the task of (perhaps) selecting, meeting and developing a relationship with adoptive parents. So, there’s lots of dynamics at play. No harm in checking in with a counselor to get some validation and assistance in taking each step in the process.
Adoptive Parent Counseling
Infertility. Not all, but many adoptive parents have experienced some form of infertility in their journey to become parents. Dealing with infertility isn’t easy. Adoptive parents entering into an adoption plan may have already felt a lot of disappointment and pain and can’t fathom any more. Here’s the thing: adoption isn’t easy either. Adoption is no more guaranteed than having a child biologically. There are ups, downs, disappointments, rejections….with great moments of hope, excitement and happiness sprinkled in. This can be exhausting and overwhelming for adoptive parents, especially if they have not fully processed their emotional experience with infertility. Counseling is an effective tool to make sense of the storm and look forward to the rainbow.
Managing and planning for a relationship with birth families. For some, adoption is a concept they considered early in life. For others, there have been many steps and curves in life that brought them to make an adoption plan. When many adoptive parents set out to become parents, they didn’t think they’d also have a relationship with another family in the process. Children who are adopted have two families and the dynamics are unique in every adoption plan. Some are ready for a completely open adoption while others opt for more boundaries and use an agency for communication. There is no right or wrong arrangement, as long as all parties are on the same page. In every relationship, there can be ups and downs. It’s difficult to balance everyone’s feelings sometimes with differing circumstances, personalities and perceptions. Guess what? Counseling can help with this, too! What is in the best interest of the child? How can we make this happen? Are my feelings in conflict with what’s best? These are just some of the questions that might come up in a session about managing relationships with birth parents.
Managing Difficult Feelings. All the feels! Becoming a parent is filled with negative and positive feelings. Adopting involves all of those feelings and then some more. Even the most emotionally healthy person might have a freak out or two in the process. Getting ready to adopt a child can be complicated. We ask adoptive parents to be prepared to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice, but not to get too invested in case the adoption plan does not happen. Make sure you have what you need but maybe don’t put the nursery together just yet! The mixed messages can be difficult. Your profile was shown and you’re a favorite! Oh, you weren’t selected. Your profile is shown again… and now you’re matched! Your baby has a health issue you can’t control. Your birth parent is considering parenting. You meet, it’s a lovefest! What an amazing, selfless birth mother. The due date is off and you need to make new plans. Consents have been signed and you can move forward! Your clearances are expired and you didn’t notice. Oh good, that’s fixed now. Now you have to wait for ICPC to clear. Oh but look at this little baby face… Are you getting the picture? Adoption can be HARD, emotionally draining and completely worth it all. Adoptive parents often utilize counseling to process the ups, downs and feelings in between. Again, there is no shame in some self-care!
If you are considering or currently engaged in an adoption plan, please do yourself a favor and ask a trusted professional about counseling. Do not see it as a sign of weakness, see it as self-care. You may find yourself in a better place than where you started.