Adoption is an incredible option for individuals and couples who choose to expand their families and enrich their lives by including children in the equation. But how does one determine if he or she is ready for such a permanent decision?

Sometimes, couples who have experienced infertility turn to adoption to have the child that they cannot seem to conceive through biological channels. Similarly, single individuals begin considering adoption because they do not foresee partnering and do not want to pursue alternative insemination (if female). In each instance, there is a choice made to adopt as a second resort; that is, adoption is the alternative choice.

Such placement in the lineup of choices does nothing to lessen the excitement or life-enhancing aspects of bringing children into the family by way of adoption, but there are certain emotional issues that are important to deal with before the actual process of adoption is begun in order to help the individual/couple be totally emotionally ready for the challenging process ahead.

Grieving the loss of a dream is a process that is not altogether uncommon. For example, as we grow through the stages of life, we often have to face the reality that one or more individuals in our family of origin are not who we wished them to be. Perhaps a daughter or son is gay, or perhaps a father or mother is alcoholic or a workaholic. Over time, the person we hoped and dreamed for (parent, child, sibling) is given up in our psyche, but that process requires some grieving before the actual letting go can occur. We wrestle with questions like: “What if he/she had been straight/sober etc. – what would my life have been like?” At some point, hopefully, the psychological wrestling turns into a resolution of sorts and acceptance of the person – and one’s own life relative to the accepted reality – sinks in. The grieving process helps us to come out whole and resolved on the other side; we are now able to have an authentic relationship with that person, even if it is not the relationship we had hoped and dreamed about previously.

Similarly, the process of realizing that the more typical manner of having children will not happen for an individual or couple involves the process of grieving for the loss of that dream, that expectation. Society leads us to believe that having children is the norm and that having them biologically is the preferred method. Neither assumption is correct. Some individuals and couples decide that having children is not right for them, and some choose adopting over biological procreation for various reasons. But, for the majority, some grieving must take place to adjust to not being able to have children biologically.

Grief takes time and rigorous work with oneself. The process cannot be hurried; each person grieves in his or her own manner. There are, however, some common stages in the grieving process that typically occur for most people, although they do not necessarily occur in the order presented and some stages may be repeated multiple times. The stages of grief typically recognized in the professional literature are: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

For some, there may be a practical approach to the decision where feelings seem to be resolved. Nevertheless, in most cases, when one door closes, there is usually some sadness even though the next door opening will be wonderfully fulfilling. Social service agencies address the natural grieving of a birth mother, but may forget that grieving is also an aspect of the adopting process itself.

Some is also written about grief arising after the adopted child arrives if problems surface that were unexpected and are severe. Adoptive parents may not anticipate such issues.

But the focus of this article is on the process of becoming emotionally ready to adopt and that process may involve an increased understanding of grief and a willingness to allow oneself the time and space to grieve the fact that adoption has become the choice. Such grieving will, in no way, diminish the joy and love that the adopting persons experience when they finally have found their chosen child. Rather, this author believes that allowing the grief process to run its natural course – and understanding that course – will help the person contemplating adoption be more emotionally ready for the new adventure of adoption, which will benefit the child as well as the adopting individual.


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Deborah M. Henson