Adoption can be a long and daunting journey for parents, but it is so worth it when a family succeeds in adopting a child. Arlene Harris explores the complexities and logistics of the process of adoption in Ireland.
What to expect
The smiling parents with their identikit children (one of each gender) is the stuff advertisers dreams are made of, as the ‘traditional’ family unit is still seen in some quarters as the ideal situation.
But we all know that life is much different and nowadays families are more diverse and dare-we-say-it interesting than the chocolate box image of yonder years.
The modern family unit is made up of all sorts of variables and children today aren’t even marginally concerned that their best friend may not have two parents or looks and sounds completely different from the rest of his siblings.
For many couples, conceiving naturally can be an issue and adoption has become much more commonplace today than it was a generation ago. It is estimated that up to 400 Irish families a year are adopting children from abroad.
A happy ending
Angela and Michael Talty have two young girls they adopted from Russia in 2006. The couple who live in Tipperary say that although it was a long and difficult process from initial application to becoming parents, they are utterly thrilled with their two daughters.
“We had been trying for a baby for some time and had even gone down the IVF route but nothing worked for us, ” admits 42-year-old Angela. “Initially, when Michael suggested adoption, I was totally against the idea as I wanted my own child, but the more I started to think about it, the more it seemed to make sense – we wanted to become parents and there were countless children out there who needed a good home. So we put out names on the HSE waiting list in 2003.
This is a very lengthy process with lots of stages and paperwork. We got out first declaration in 2007, and after a preparation course we were assigned a social worker who came to assess us from the home study report. It was a little daunting having someone observe our home life but we knew it was the means to an end and she had to make sure that any child adopted would go into a loving and secure home.”
After being approved by the social worker and completing all the necessary tests, Angela and Michael were told that they were eligible to become parents of a little baby girl.
Angela remembers the time well –
“Eva was almost eight-months old when we finally got to meet her. It was a very emotional experience and both Michael and I struggled to hold back tears. We were worried that it would take her a long time to settle in, but within a few days, it was as if she had always been here.
Our lives changed immeasurably the day we first laid eyes on our daughter and we knew that if possible, we would like to give her a sister, so just after her first birthday, we applied to adopt a sibling for her.
This time the process was a little shorter as all the necessary checks had already been made, but there was still a long waiting list. But three years after we welcomed our first child into our lives, our second came to join us – we didn’t take Eva with us to pick up her little sister (who is only 18-months younger) and although we were worried that Maria’s transition would be harder because she was a toddler, as soon as the two girls laid eyes on each other, the family bond was cemented.”
With their family complete, the Taltys have gone from strength to strength and while they acknowledge that adoption isn’t suitable for everyone, they believe they have been given an amazing gift of two children who will have a happy future in a loving family rather than the almost certain orphanage-bound life that they would have faced.
“Every day we count our blessings as we still cannot believe how lucky we are with our beautiful children,” admits Angela. “During the traumatic years when we were trying to conceive, I never imagined our future would turn out like it has. And this applies also to the girls – they would most likely have ended up in an orphanage with little or no chance of a successful, happy future, so it has worked out for all of us.
I know not everyone would consider adopting a child, but in our view, it has been the best thing that has ever happened to our little family of four.”
It takes time to adapt
Whilst Michael and Angela had a relatively stress-free adoption process, some families experience issues as both adults and children try to adapt to their new life. Senior psychologist, Peadar Maxwell specialises in issues relating to children and has helped many newly-formed families ease into their new situation.
“Adoptive families face many teething problems, some which are common with the arrival of a birth child,” he says. “There is disruption to routine, loss of free time and couple intimacy, the normal child-rearing stresses and expenses and also how to integrate the newest family member into an established extended family.
Other difficulties may include language differences, the child’s sense of loss for their birth family or their previous care setting, the reaction of other children in the family, emotional or developmental delays and the wider community’s lack of understanding of the intricacies of adoption.”
But the expert says the key to success is to admit the enormity of the change, make allowances and allow everyone time to adapt.
“The most important thing is to say ‘We are new to this, we are doing our best but we will need help and support in this important task’,” he advises. “Adoptive parents are healing parents. They have all of the responsibilities and tasks that people experience when they welcome a birth child with the added responsibility of adjustment to a new home and culture for them and their child.
Bonding is what happens when a parent connects with their child and the two begin to enjoy one another,” Maxwell continues. “A much deeper and important aspect of the child and parent relationship is attachment. This is when the child wants to be held, goes to the parents when they are distressed and chooses their parent over strangers; this all takes a great amount of time.
Talking to other adoptive parents can be a huge help especially if those other parents have a positive outlook and have adoption specific solutions that have helped their own children. There’s a wealth of advice and literature available to adoptive parents: I would suggest sticking to known, accredited sources of information such as regulated bodies and books written by adoption and attachment specialists respected in their field.”
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