The words “adoption disruption” strike fear into the heart of any hopeful parent pursuing adoption.
An adoption disruption occurs when an adoption placement falls apart. This takes several shapes. In domestic infant adoption, it could occur after a family has been selected by a prospective birth mother but before placement, or it could occur after a family has been placed with a baby. In foster care adoption, a child could be with a family for several months and then be removed from their home. International adoptions can experience disruptions after a family has been matched with a child but has not traveled to adopt the child yet. While rarer, an international adoption can also disrupt after a child has left their country of origin and returned to the U.S. with their adoptive family.
While the complex reasons for an adoption disruption are almost infinite in their possibilities, all disruptions share a common thread for the hopeful parents: heartbreak. This is an incredibly difficult thing to experience, made even more so by the fact that so few people can truly relate to what you are feeling.
As a friend of someone experiencing an adoption disruption, you may be at a loss for words. How can you provide encouragement and comfort in a meaningful way to a friend experiencing something so difficult and confusing?
By asking the question, you’re stepping in the right direction. Clearly, your heart is where it should be. You want to help. Action ultimately matters more than intention, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Armed with your good intentions, here are several ways you can be a true friend to someone who is going through an adoption disruption.
Start simple. Make yourself available to meet your friend’s needs, on their terms and in their time. We all respond to grief differently, but a lot of people need at least a little time alone. Don’t be so eager to be a superhero that you rush your friend through the time they need to process what is happening. There’s so much going through their heads right now. Start by letting them know you are there, and then give them the time and space to reach out to you.
Listen to their Needs
Don’t assume you know what your friend needs from you. They may need a shoulder to cry on, or they might need a meal, because doing something as mundane as cooking after receiving news like this is just exhausting. Many acts with good intentions miss the mark. So instead of deciding what your friend needs, let them tell you and then act accordingly.
We all grieve in different ways. Now is not the time to offer any judgement of the way your friend is responding to their adoption disruption. Instead of speaking up about how they could respond better, just be a listening ear. Keep in mind that their journey is different from your own, and how you would respond is not necessarily going to be best for them.
Provide Something to Do
Your friend may need time to be alone. But some couples have found that time alone leaves the mind to wander, resulting in a downward spiral of sadness. Getting out and getting their mind on something else can be helpful. In a way that demands nothing, offer things to do with your friend. Whether that’s grabbing lunch or going for a hike, some sort of activity that helps them take their mind of the disruption can be a welcome reprieve.
Honor the Loss
Our natural instinct is to be overly encouraging when faced with insurmountable discouraging situations. Right now, that may not be what your friend needs. With the utmost care, speak in a way that validates their loss. The pain they are feeling is legitimate. As a friend, you can let them know that it’s okay to sit in the sadness of it all. Sometimes, while not intended, encouragement can create a sense of obligation in the person being encouraged. They may feel that they need to live up to your words. Instead, simply be there to remind your friend that it’s okay to grieve. They’ll move from pain to healing when the time is right — don’t try to rush them.
Connect Your Friend with a Helpful Adoption Specialist
If you know that the time is right and your friend would like to speak to a professional following an adoption disruption, we can help you connect them with a helpful adoption specialist. Don’t offer this too early or in a way that feels pushy. Once your friend has said to you that they are ready, you can contact us at any time.