Many American parents adopt children from countries outside of the United States. The reasons for doing so vary. Some prefer to avoid the long wait and high cost of adopting from within the U.S.; others choose a child from a particular country for personal reasons. And still others seek out those most in need and begin the process of bringing a child from an impoverished or war-torn country into their lives.
The anticipation of adopting a child can be overwhelming and exciting. But what happens at the actual moment of adoption? How do parents feel and how do children react? These were the questions asked by Aurelie Harf of the House of Solenn, Cochin Hospital at the University of Paris Descartes in France. Harf decided to explore the emotional reactions experienced by parents at time of adoption. Harf interviewed 46 parents who had completed international adoptions. The parents provided information pertaining to the first meeting with their children.
After analyzing the interview responses, Harf discovered that the majority of the parents included at least one subtheme relating to difficult emotional states as a result of the meeting, as well as several positive experiences. The challenges described included feeling anxious or isolated at the time of meeting their children. For many, the birth mother was present, and that fact made the experience more confusing and uncomfortable.
Other points that concerned the parents were related to poverty and health. A large number of the children were living in deplorable conditions which the parents were unprepared for. Seeing their children covered in bruises, dirt, and feces, or children in general poor health, was also shocking to many of the parents. These traumatic images created negative reactions for many parents. Added to this for several parents was the unexpected reaction of the child. Some children were rejecting and violent toward their new parents. This created more anxiety for parents and further reinforced their feelings of apprehension.
In sum, the responses all pointed to one general theme: unpreparedness. The parents expressed a desire to have more information about the child, the child’s health, and the child’s living conditions prior to adoption. Armed with these details, parents could be more emotionally prepared for what they would experience at time of adoption. Harf added, “The study of grim, difficult, possibly traumatic experiences, endured by parents at this meeting should be a priority for professionals working with adoptive families.” These results underscore the importance of providing support for adoptive parents and children before, during and long after the adoption.
Harf, A., Skandrani, S., Radjack, R., Sibeoni, J., Moro, M.R., et al. (2013). First parent-child meetings in international adoptions: A qualitative study. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75300. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075300
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