March 2020 changed everything for everyone around the world. At first, we heard news here and there—shaky headlines about a vicious virus that was steadily sweeping its way across the world.
Then the questions started: Where had it come from? What was it? How was it spreading? Who was at risk?
Heading into Quarantine and Away from Our Families
By early March, it finally hit home.
Overnight, we watched everything from government offices to restaurants to schools to churches to sports to small businesses to playgrounds close to the public. Forget trying to get into a doctor or dentist for a routine exam.
Millions found themselves out of work and searching for how to make ends meet; many found themselves having to cut back on hours or leave their jobs entirely to take care of elderly parents or act as administrators (and in some cases, teachers) for their children who were not considered “remote” or “virtual” learners.
And the toilet paper. How can we ever forget the aisles of empty store shelves, especially ones meant to hold paper products and cleaning supplies? If you do the grocery shopping in your household, you most likely found yourself taking a deep breath (or several) while carefully hunting down the bare basics to take care of your family.
Worst of all, families suddenly found themselves in quarantine, cut off from extended family members and friends. Even stopping to chat with a next-door neighbor was done distantly and carefully, if at all. Especially at first, as we watched people around the world suffering as family members succumbed to this unwanted novel virus. It was nearly impossible to know how to proceed.
Even now—in Spring 2021—many families are still separated, maybe because Grandma lives in a senior home that doesn’t yet allow visitors or Aunt Karen has an autoimmune issue that makes her a high-risk candidate.
We all know family or friends who have not seen their loved ones since before the COVID nightmare began.
The Cost of COVID—and the Quarantine—to Families
The deaths and long-term hospitalizations, the shutdowns and all of the closings, the separations, and the cancellations have all taken a very steep toll on families—mentally, emotionally, and financially.
Except for a few who may have benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic financially by coming up with creative ways to work around it—by inventing new options for sanitizer, face masks, or IT—2020 will most likely go down as a very dark year of lost time with the ones we love.
Heading in the Right Direction?
Despite that terrible loss and the uncertainty that continues to accompany it, toward the end of 2020, things started to look up. Multiple vaccines were in the works, regulations and restrictions were being lifted in several states as COVID cases began to decline, and many businesses discovered innovative ways to adapt to “new normal” in an attempt to bring workers back and help our country get back on its feet.
Families, too, found ways to meet up, whether by virtual “visits” or physically in smaller numbers—outside, masked, and socially distanced. It wasn’t perfect (who can forget trying to figure out their first Zoom meeting, or listening to honking horns drive-bys from surprise “birthday parades,” or venturing into the outdoors to meet up with dear ones in backyards or park settings, throwing air hugs and blowing kisses and singing happy birthday, sans blowing out the candles).
Now, just a little over a year later, more than 118M doses of the vaccine have been given and 41.9M Americans have been fully vaccinated.
Still, there is confusion and hesitancy about how quickly to get back to “normal life”. Many families are still struggling to put 2020 behind them and move forward, in some cases with family members eligible for a vaccine while other family members are not. Parents continue to juggle working from home or outside the home while supporting school-aged children who continue to sit alone in their bedrooms taking classes online, if at all, as a notable number of students are unaccounted for in school systems nationwide.
In some cases, schools are opening up one or two days a week, but in many states, there are children who have not seen a classroom for over a year. They have suffered from a loss of stability both in the home and outside and it’s shown with an increase in child suicides and teen substance abuse. Now, more than ever, they need their families to rally around them to offer hope and guidance during a time that is overwhelming even to the hardiest among us.
So, is it safe to go back into the water (cue the Jaws theme)?
That seems to be the question on most people’s minds—especially those with children at home. Is it safe to gather with our families again? Is it safe to meet up for Sunday supper? Holidays? Birthdays?
Quarantine and the Adoption Community
Families within the adoption community are caught in the middle of this upside-down situation just like everyone else.
From the start of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that in an effort to protect yourself and slow the spread of COVID-19, it was important to limit your exposure to people who don’t live with you,
For expectant parents, especially birth mothers, this proved to be very concerning as what COVID-19 would mean adoption, especially open adoption, became uncertain. What would this mean for their adoption plan?
Adopting families, too, were caught in the hazy gray area of not knowing what would happen next as courts closed, agencies went remote, countries paused adoptions, and there were few, if any, answers to be found as their adoption journeys came to a grinding halt. Waiting families, some of whom had been waiting years to adopt, according to The Oprah Magazine, shared what it was like for several families trying to adopt a child during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the more than 400,000 children in the United States foster care system found themselves caught in a holding pattern as the system quickly became overwhelmed by the pandemic. States reported that more children than normal were entering the system while at the same time, fewer families were willing to take these children into their homes for fear of further spreading the virus.
Sadly, as courts found themselves just as overloaded as every other sector of the country, adoptions took a longer time to process, subsequently keeping families apart longer—both via adoption and reunification.
At Home with Adoption
Adoptive families struggled like every other family navigating the daily uncertainties of what each new day would bring. Some, especially those in metropolitan areas where it was nearly impossible to find a safe space to leave the safety of your home, locked down.
There never seemed to be enough distractions for kids—other than endless hours on electronic devices—and parents became desperate to keep their kids on track mentally, physically, emotionally, and physically.
And unfortunately, there has been a clear mental and emotional toll on our children. Those who would normally be receiving IEPs and assistance at school found it difficult or impossible to meet their needs. All of the resources we’d become accustomed to suddenly weren’t there at a time when many families needed them the most.
On a social level, with so many restrictions in place, adoptive families with open and semi-open adoptions felt torn—trying to make sure the needs of everyone in their family’s adoption contract were being met, while many days just trying to get through some very rough and dark days. Nothing felt like it was good enough, and it was easy to feel like you weren’t doing everything you could for someone important in your life.
Bringing Families Back Together—Slowly
So now, as we find ourselves emerging from our homes—even with many businesses still shuttered or limited in capacity and many resources backed up for months to come—how can birth families and adoptive families pick up where they left off?
It’s important to recognize that every family situation is different. In some cases, families are chewing at the bit to bust down the front door and get back to it, vaccine or no vaccine. For others, it’s still too soon and they may wish to hold off to see what happens after a few more months of vaccine distribution and better weather.
In either case, communication will play a key role in taking the next steps in your open adoption plan, no matter the situation.
Not surprisingly, many birth moms felt helpless and quite suddenly out of the loop with no clear indication as to when things would be back to normal again.
The question of who will support birth mothers in their physical and emotional journeys is discussed in the article, “Supporting Birth Mothers During the Coronavirus” Several suggestions involve reaching out, whether physically, via phone, or by sending encouraging written words to make sure she does not feel forgotten during a time when she most needs support to deal with grief and loss. In addition to scheduling online adoption counseling or support sessions with other birth mothers who have walked in her shoes, the article encourages adoptive families who are in contact with their child’s birth mother to reach out. If in-person visitation isn’t possible due to restrictions or based on the adoption contract, at the very least, provide updates about milestones, new skills, and just basic reassurances that everything is “okay” and that the birth mother is being thought of.
Clearly, just meeting someone’s needs does not seem nearly enough, and we want to do more to make sure every part of our families feels united in some way.
Making Meaningful Connections
Separation from family and friends can lead to increased worry, feelings of uncertainty and isolation, and an increase in mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression. It’s important that we prioritize positive coping strategies during this time to improve and preserve good mental health, according to the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. In addition to the basics of taking care of yourself through exercise, getting good rest, and making time for fun, when it comes to the anxiety and stress of being away from family, it’s recommended to “Allow for honest and supportive discussions regarding changes in routine and any experiences of distress. This is particularly important for children who will look to the adults in their household for ways to feel grounded and safe.”
So, how do we take safe steps back toward one another?
Here are some ideas on how to transition out of quarantine as you begin to unite your family.
Keep in Touch
No matter your usual mode of communication, it’s imperative for adoptive families to stay in communication with birth moms. This is a time where flexibility may come into play more than ever in order to find some way to unite families.
We’re all over the video call, no question, but it’s still a very easy and safe way to connect in the weeks leading up to delivery as well as the days following in order to continue to work on our relationships and support one another.
If going virtual isn’t your thing, birth parents may consider sending cards or gifts when they aren’t able to have an in-person visit. Same for adoptive families; they can provide updates through pictures and updates. Although it’s not the same, it can comfort both the birth parent and the child.
Things are continuing to improve (even if it may not seem like it sometimes). Patience is important as everyone continues to bob and weave through the ever-changing situation that COVID and quarantine continue to leave in their wake.
\When planning visits or contact, remember that things may change due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s important to respect what all members of the adoption contract are experiencing. That means communicating your feelings, but it also means listening to what others are going through and currently feeling.
It’s been a tough year for everyone. As always, it’s important to acknowledge everyone’s boundaries, respect one another’s roles in the adopted child’s life, and allow some grace for all parties involved. These are not yet easy times. These are not yet normal days. Equal amounts of respect and understanding must go hand in hand.
Reevaluate your Bubble
If feasible and safe, consider expanding your quarantine bubble so that it includes both the adoptive family and birth parent. Maybe this means going to each other’s homes or visiting at a park or playground. All parties need to be open and honest, though, so far as making sure they are respectful of the other and their concerns. Trust is a must. Don’t be put off by being asked to wear a mask, sanitize your hands, or remain at a certain distance. It’s not personal.
It’s no surprise that birth parents feel better about the intentions of the adoptive parents by having in-person visits. These visits allow for the continued development of relationships, which has proven beneficial for all parties and especially the child.
It’s important to be heard. Acknowledge the very real shared frustrations and be empathetic. It’s impossible to know what another person is feeling—but we all know how difficult this past year has been.
Are You Ready to Unite Your Family After Quarantine?
2020 was a tough year for all families, and transitioning out of quarantine will take time. Stay hopeful, open-minded, patient, and try to look at the full picture of everyone involved in your adoption family plan.
Know that you are not alone and that the best way to find solutions for your situation begins with communication.
For more information on how to handle feelings of anxiety or uncertainty you may be experiencing as a result of quarantine, check out Transitioning Out of Quarantine on Cigna Global, click here for ideas on how to prepare your family for reentry, and here for help in preparing kids for a post-quarantine life.Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.