No matter how long someone wished for a baby and tried to conceive, and whether she gave birth, used a surrogate, or adopted, the first days and nights home with a new baby will always be a jarring and emotional experience. There is an entirely new person who comes into his or her parents' world, squashing the pre-baby routine that came before.
When it comes to adoptive parents, not only do they have to get used to the new routine that all new parents face, but they also have to manage a wave of emotions that comes once their dream of adopting has been realized, many of which are unexpected. While overwhelming joy is to be expected, there are many other emotions that adoptive parents can find surprising.
The first emotion that adoptive parents tend to experience, and perhaps the one that surprises them the most, is guilt and it comes in a couple of forms. The first is a version of what all new parents feel. Becoming parents is hard and there will be moments, even during those very first days, that you experience feelings other than elation. And yet, after trying so hard to build one’s family, along with those other emotions comes guilt about feeling anything other than overjoyed about a successful adoption. It is important to understand that, as for all new parents, it is normal and expected to feel a roller coaster of emotions, some of which can be considered negative. Adoptive parents should allow themselves to feel the brunt of these emotions and to avoid burying them in search of only feeling happy those first days.
Another form of guilt that adoptive parents feel is unique to the adoptive parent experience. There is often strong and unexpected guilt about "taking" the baby from the birth mom. Even though adoptive parents understand that the birth mom chose them to parent her child, there is still guilt. This feeling is normal, but it is important to process it with the logic that the only reason the baby has this new home is due to the birth mother's careful consideration and decision of what she believes to be best for both her and the baby.
A War of Happiness and Sadness
In addition to feeling guilt for the birth mom, many adoptive parents also feel sadness for her situation. Placing a child for adoption is one of the most courageous and difficult decisions for a woman to make, so it is natural to feel sadness for the emotions she is going through. What makes this more difficult is that adoptive parents are balancing their feeling of sadness for the birth mom's situation with their own feeling of complete happiness that their perfect child is finally home with them. It’s often an unprecedented and confusing experience so feel abject sadness and utter joy at the exact same moment. These two emotions will go to war. Don’t waste precious energy trying to reconcile the feelings. It’s OK for them to exist concurrently.
There are a lot of surprises that first day adoptive parents bring a newborn home. Besides the little surprises about what is difficult, what is easy, and what noises and expressions the baby makes, there can be a surprise about the reality of post-adoption depression. Many adoptive parents never even hear about post-adoption depression as they go through the process. Those that do often shrug it off as something that won't happen to them. However, it’s more common than people realize and the onset of PADS symptoms often begin during the first 24 hours after bringing baby home. It is important to recognize the symptoms and track how long they last. Sometimes the symptoms are just part of the shock of bringing a baby home, similar to typical ‘post-partum blues,’ but if they continue for weeks, it is important to get help.
There is always adjustment when bringing a newborn home, including the adjustment of bonding. Of course all parents need time to bond with their baby, but there is a physical element to bonding that biological parents had nine months to get used to. Adoptive parents did not have the months of physical changes to let the reality of a baby sink in and to have some prenatal bonding moments. Even though many adoptive parents waited for this moment for a long time, the timeline of when they would get to meet their newborn was uncertain and the biological markers of pregnancy were not present. This can be difficult, but difficulty bonding is natural and will take time to form. Go easy on yourself; don’t worry if you don’t feel immediately bonded – even many biological parents don’t. It will all come in time.
Bringing a newborn home is a tremendous adjustment for any family, regardless of the path their family-building took. Biological parents go through an adjustment period too. But for adoptive parents, many of the adjustments come as a surprise. The surprises can make things seem even more overwhelming during those first sleep-deprived days. Just hang in there. Go with the flow of what arises and, before you know it, your family rhythm will be your new normal.
Bio: Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy (www.TheAdoptionConsultancy.com), an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months.
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