Mary Ostyn has 10 kids, six of whom have been adopted.
The author of “Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting” and her husband, John, adopted two boys from Korea and four girls from Ethiopia, and they’re one of many families in the U.S. who have adopted. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Americans adopted more than 7,000 children in 2012, most often from China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are 17,900,000 orphans around the world.
In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, we spoke with Ostyn, as well as local experts, about what potential adoptive parents need to know.
It’s going to be a long process.
Marc Arneson, adoption service coordinator at The Cradle in Evanston, always asks if adopters can get excited about parenting through adoption, not seeing it as a second best choice but simply as a different choice. He says that helps to give a better understanding of why adoption is such a long process. Parents who look into adoption can expect classes, home studies, counseling, background checks and other formalities to be completed.
You may feel more comfortable with a certain form of adoption.
Ostyn and her husband looked into domestic adoption and were even chosen by a mother, but the adoption eventually fell through.
“If you do an adoption of an infant in the U.S., what you usually need to do is write a birth mother letter and you show pictures of your family,” Ostyn says. “It ended up feeling to me like this weird little sales pitch, like you’re trying to talk somebody out of their child. We ended up feeling like we felt more comfortable with a situation where the birth family had already relinquished and we were no part of that decision.”
Besides international and domestic infant adoptions, parents can adopt from the foster care system, which Arneson says has a huge need for adoptive parents. In 2012, there were 397,122 children in the U.S. foster care system.
Every open adoption is different.
Arneson says an open adoption seems to offer children more opportunities because the birth family can provide family background history that can be helpful in the future. However, the idea of an open adoption can be scary for some parents. Arneson says he asks adoptive and birth parents to work together to come up with a plan that’s right for them. Some families only stay connected through shared photos and letters, while others see each other in person on a regular basis.
Nijole Yutkowitz, director of resource and community development at The Cradle and an adoptive mother, finds birth parent involvement to be empowering.
“Twenty-five, 30 years ago, [birth mothers] made an adoption plan and they placed your child with whomever,” Yutkowitz says. “This is probably one of the most difficult decisions they’re ever going to make, but to be such a part of it, to be so included in the process and feel good once that decision is made, I think is very empowering for a birth family and for a future adoptive family, for someone to have chosen you.”
Parenting an adopted child comes with challenges.
Ostyn says that something parents don’t always understand is that adopted kids have already experienced loss. Even infants have become familiar with the sound of their birth mother’s voice and the way she moves. She says kids can then experience grief at different times throughout development. Adopted children may think about their birth families every year on their birthday or around Mother’s Day, and Ostyn says the teen years, when kids are trying to figure out who they are, can be particularly tumultuous.
“It’s really important to hang on for the ride and be informed and really, as much as possible, keep that communication open with your child,” Ostyn says. “Make it obvious that it’s not a taboo topic and it’s one you’re comfortable broaching if they need to talk about it at any point.”
You’ll fall in love, but maybe not right away.
One of the really big questions in people’s minds when they consider adoption is whether they can really love an adopted child as passionately as a child born to them by birth. Ostyn admits she also struggled with that question.
“I found out very soon after our first adopted child came home that you do,” she says. “You just fall in love, just like they had been born to you. It really is an amazing thing.”
However, Ostyn adds that while falling in love with your child may take seconds or days, it can also take months. “Either story is absolutely normal,” she says, adding that it can be more challenging when adopting an older child. The Ostyn’s first four adopted kids came home between the ages of four months and 20 months. Most recently, the couple adopted two sisters, ages nine and 11.
“You’re bringing a child into your family who already has their own distinct personality and they have a lot to learn about your family, and you have a ton to learn about them too,” Ostyn says. “I think that with an older child it’s pretty normal for it to take longer to become really familiar with each other.”
At the end of the day, Arneson says parents who adopt simply need to look at parenting in a slightly different way. For example, you might have always pictured your child having your brown hair or being the same height as you.
“When you adopt a child, that child is not going to have that biological connection to you,” Arneson says. “They’re not going to look like you, but you’ll know they’re your child by different reasons. Things like your mannerisms or your sense of humor.”
“It’s definitely an amazing adventure and it’s so worth doing,” Ostyn adds. “These kids are such a blessing.”