Two lanes on the same road; adoption and mental health

Lee Cambule

Adoption is a process that can mean different things to different people. From the perspective of potential adoptive parents, it can be a journey full of ups and downs. Good days like the first time you meet your soon-to-be adoptive child(ren) can contrast with challenges, set-backs and disappointments.

Throughout your adoption journey, chances are that you will also find yourself on another journey filled with ups and downs…a journey with your own mental health.

My experience covered nearly two years from my wife and I making the decision to follow our hearts down the path towards adoption until the day we received the final letter confirming that all legalities including the Adoption Order was complete. Two years of emotional challenges where my well-being was tested and tears were shed more than once. Maybe it is a story that sounds familiar to others who have completed their adoption journey?

Now, I am not saying that the process itself is bad or negative, not at all. It is a necessary system that puts the rights and needs of the child at the centre of the process. Prospective adoptive parents are assessed for an important reason, to make sure that this life-altering decision is the right one for everybody involved including the parents-in-waiting.

But this can challenge the prospective adoptive parent in terms of potentially putting a lot of pressure on them (or resulting in them putting pressure on themselves). At each stage of the adoption process, we need to be aware of the possible impacts on our mental health.

Even before you start the journey towards becoming adoptive parents, you may already be dealing with some mental health challenges. For some, they approach adoption on the back of grief or loss. For some, the decision to adopt represents a huge commitment or change in their lives (which can impact on areas like your finances). Whatever your reason for wanting to adopt, it might be accompanied by strong emotions.

When you begin the adoption process, you are faced with different sorts of issues. It could include comprehending the legal obligations, preparing for parenthood (in some cases, for the first time), seemingly endless periods of waiting for news, or the pressure of changing your lives in readiness for growing your family. By its nature, the process requires a level of openness and honesty about who you are and how you feel so it can leave you feeling vulnerable at times.

As the process continues, you could discover clues or symptoms that these challenges are impacting your emotional well-being. For instance, sleeping or eating patterns may be disrupted. You may begin to develop low level mental health issues like depression or anxiety. These pressures might affect personal relationships or your performance at work. It can even feel lonely going through this process especially if you do not have the benefit of support from people with experience of adoption. These sorts of challenges are understandable when you consider how personal this journey is for you and your loved ones.

Even when you near the end of your journey and that happy family picture you imagined is becoming a reality, there can still be challenges. Such a huge change in your life can come with doubts, uncertainty and maybe even some of that “what if” line of questioning. Adapting to a new life through the process of Introductions can help but it may take a while to fully acclimatise to your new parental role.

What can you do to deal with these challenges? It can be hard to manage both the adoption process and your own mental health at the same time but, as someone who is proof that you can overcome these demanding times, here are a few tips:

• Be aware of your mental health, being mindful of how you feel and what those feelings are doing to your health;
• Prioritise self-care, allowing yourself the space and time to unwind and relax in a way that works for you;
• Take a break from the adoption process, allowing yourself to put all the thinking and talking about adoption to one side for a time;
• Find the right people to support you, opening up to someone who you trust (maybe someone who could give you a fresh perspective);
• Don’t be afraid to seek help, speaking to a professional about different services and places to go for guidance on improving your well-being.

This is an honest account of what it can feel like to undertake the adoption process. Mental health is just as important as physical health so we all need to be aware of what we are feeling and how it is affecting your actions and behaviours.

Despite the challenges above, I look back on those two years now and would not change what happened. I get to look at my son’s smile every morning when he wakes up and remind myself that, even when a smile on my own lips seemed impossible at times, the outcome was worth it. With some resilience, help from loved ones and prioritising your own wellness, you can find the same positive end to the adoption journey.

Check out Lee’s other new blog on mental health on his website here

For more Mental Health Awareness Week resources on battling loneliness please click here