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Coping with Anxiety - Surviving the Adoption Wait

By Dawn Davenport, Adoption Expert and Author of The Complete Guide to International Adoption

Longer wait times for adoption can result in greater anxiety for prospective adoptive parents, as they worry about issues like bonding, health and adoptions falling through. This article on anxiety and adoption helps to put these issues into perspective.

Along with the sunshine of elation often comes the shadow of anxiety and doubt. Up until this time, you have been too busy to worry, but now you have the time to indulge yourself. Can you really love a child that looks different from you, that may not act like you, that didn’t grow inside of you or your spouse? What type of hidden problems may this child have and can you handle them? What if some politician in his birth country overreacts to some bad news story on international adoption and shuts down the whole program? The big three sources of anxiety for international adoptions are bonding, health, and the adoption falling through.

Bonding and attachment have taken on a mystical (or maybe I should say mythical) quality in adoption literature. You can’t open an adoption magazine or Google the word “adoption” without being inundated with article and Web site dedicated to this subject. Fro all its current popularity, the use of these terms is relatively new and there are no universally accepted definitions, although attachment disorders are now a specially recognized psychiatric diagnosis. Some experts say that bonding is the process, with attachment being the end result. Others say bonding refers to the parents’ tie to the child, while attachment refers to the child’s connection to the parents. And many experts use the terms interchangeably. In a nutshell, both terms have to do with the feeling of connection between parent and child.

The questions that swirl through your head and pinch at your heart when you are stuck in the middle of attachment anxiety are usually variations or the following:

Will I love this child as much as ____?

    1. a child born to me
    2. my first child
    3. a child who looks like me
    4. all of the above

Will this child love me as much as _?

    1. a child born to me
    2. my first child
    3. a child who looks like me
    4. all of the above

My anxiety was focused on the second question. I secretly wondered if this child would love me the same as if she had been born to me. Would she wish her birth mother had raised her? The day before I was to fly to pick her up, I started to panic that she would be autistic. The fear was so very real, even though I had no reason to think this would be a problem. It doesn’t take Freud to figure out this fear was just another version of my fear over her loving me.

No doubt bonding is crucial for child development and all adoptive parents should be informed about this issue, especially if the child they are planning to adopt is older. However, the concern many pre-adoptive parents feel is exaggerated.

Information is power, so here are a few facts to help quell the anxiety:

There is no specific age at which bonding must take place between parent and child.

A child who has attached in the past to a caregiver is likely to be able to attach to his new parents.

The majority of adopted children (even high-risk children) do not have attachment problems.

Parents (by birth or adoption) don’t always (or even usually) bond with their child at first sight.

Children who are abused, neglected, or adopted at an older age are more at risk.

Attachment disorders are treatable.

Another major source of anxiety for adoptive parents I the health of their child. Actually, this is a major source of anxiety for all parents, but adoptive parents have the added worry of unknown prenatal and genetic history. On the other hand, parent by birth have o worry about birth defects that aren’t apparent until the pregnancy is advance or at birth. In some ways, I felt as if I had more information on my adopted child’s health when she was referred than I did on my biological children before their birth, but her genetics and prenatal environment were a big unknown.

Consider these facts:

You will have information on your child’s health to review.

You can probably get additional medical information if needed.

You can have an international adoption doctor review the medical information to help you assess the risks.

Failed infertility treatments or miscarriages may have preceded your decision to adopt, and it may be hard to shake the feeling that something will happen yet once again to thwart your efforts to become a parent. A friend described it as waiting for the other shoe to drop. There is less risk with international adoption of the adoption falling through at the last minute than with domestic adoption, but anxiety doesn’t always respond to logic.

Nethertheless, remember this:

While countries do shout down their international adoption programs, agencies usually have advance notice and either stop accepting parents into that program or warn parents in advance.

Reputable agencies screen out families that do not meet their country’s criteria so no unexpected problems should crop up.

I know of no family that met a country’s criteria that was not able to adopt, even if it took longer than they wanted.


Dawn Davenport, adoptive parent, researcher, author, attorney, and adoption expert, is the author of The Complete Book of International Adoption. This well researched book is an exceptional guide to anyone interested in adopting internationally. This indepth article on anxiety, bonding and waiting for your adoption is copyright protected and reprinted with her permission.

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