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Heavy Meddle: How To Cope When Your Spouse Is Reluctant To Adopt?

We started the adoption process and then my husband got cold feet. Is there anything that I can do to help guide the discussion without pushing too hard? (anieto2k/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
We started the adoption process and then my husband got cold feet. Is there anything that I can do to help guide the discussion without pushing too hard? (anieto2k/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

My husband and I decided last fall that we wanted to adopt a child internationally. We have a 3-year-old child, but have suffered a series of miscarriages since then. When we started discussing adoption, it seemed like the perfect solution to build our family.

We’ve spent the last four months under contract with an adoption agency. We built our dossier and had a home study conducted. We are now ready to send our file to the country of our choice. However, my husband has recently gotten cold feet — not only about the adoption, but about the idea of adding another child into our busy lives. I suggested several ways to ease our schedule, but he has expressed that he may wish to back out of the adoption.

I do not feel that we can bring home a child in good conscience unless both of our hearts are committed.

I am devastated. After all of our losses, this seemed like a wonderful way forward and like the right choice for our family. However, I also want to support my husband. Although he says that he is willing to proceed "because he already committed to it," I do not feel that we can bring home a child in good conscience unless both of our hearts are committed.

What can I do to repair our relationship and adjust my own hopes and wishes if he changes his mind? I want us to continue to be a happy family, but feel so upset since he has shared this news. Thinking about our child not having the chance to be a big brother just makes me feel so sad — and for me not be have the chance to be a mom again — feels like another huge loss. Is there anything that I can do to help guide the discussion to the best possible outcome without pushing too hard — and also without guilting my husband into accepting a child that he may not want?

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Also (and this is a short term issue) if my husband does decide to back out, how do we tell people? Because we needed references and documentation to complete our home study, we have already told many of our friends, family and colleagues about our plan to adopt. They have supported us thoroughly, and the idea of telling them this news makes me cringe. It is a small thing compared to the loss, but I am really dreading this.

Thanks,
A Hopeful Mom

Dear Hopeful Mom,

Of course you feel devastated and confused. You’ve spent months (perhaps years) discussing adoption and going through a rigorous screening process. All that time, you’ve been counting on adding another child to your family, being a mom again and expanding the love within your home. For your husband to announce, this far into the process, that he doesn’t want to adopt must take you to a place far beyond disappointment.

I really do wish I knew more about your husband’s reasons for “getting cold feet.” That’s a huge part of the equation here. You mention “busy lives.” Are there specific ways in which your lives have gotten busier in the past several months? Or that his have? Is he facing professional challenges, or financial concerns, or even experiencing anxieties about the amount of love and attention he receives from you? What, exactly, has changed within him?

You can’t offer him true reassurances until you have a better sense of where his true doubts are coming from.

Asking these questions — compassionately, but directly — is essential to understanding the complex feelings that are finding cover under the catch-all phrase “busy lives.” You can’t offer him true reassurances until you have a better sense of where his true doubts are coming from.

A few other questions worth pondering:

Do you think your husband would be having second thoughts if, for instance, you had gotten pregnant again?

I ask because people often fail to recognize how complex — even bureaucratic — the process of adoption is, and for this reason how intentional and determined you have to be. Adopting a child, particularly one from overseas, is a great act of faith. And as in any act of faith, there’s a lot of room for doubt to creep in. It’s not like he’s watching your body swell with life, or seeing his baby swimming around on a sonogram. Instead, he’s filling out forms and having strangers tromp around his home with clipboards.

Your husband may also feel some justifiable concerns about the challenges that arise from an international adoption. He may have anxieties about his ability to parent a child who has been subjected to trauma or neglect, and/or one who looks nothing like him. I sense that for you these challenges feel quite small compared to the joy of meeting your new child. How does your husband feel?

One other question to consider: to what extent does your investment in the process of adopting and raising another child threaten your husband’s need to feel loved and nurtured by you?

These are all questions you need to be able to ask your husband. And you need to be able to tell him exactly what you’ve told me: that you love him deeply, that you want to support him, but also that you want to have another child very badly, via adoption, and feel devastated that he has had a change of heart. Don’t you deserve the same love and support you offer him, after all?

you need to be able to tell him exactly what you’ve told me: that you love him deeply, that you want to support him, but also that you want to have another child very badly, via adoption, and feel devastated that he has had a change of heart.

You two have reached a crossroads in your lives together. It’s not a place that either of you would have chosen, and it’s not anyone’s “fault.” But it’s where you are. To get through it, you both need to be absolutely honest with each other, and with yourselves. And not just about the easy emotions.

Given the seriousness of the situation, I recommend that you consider finding a counselor who can help you two have these discussions in a spirit of love and generosity. There are also a huge number of books and websites devoted to adoption that you should use as resources. You’re not alone in all this, Hopeful. It’s a struggle that lots of other couples have faced.

At the end of your letter, you express trepidation about telling other people, and I can understand why. I do think it might help for you to seek the support and counsel of trusted friends and family. But try not to worry about breaking the news to others, because it’s still not clear what the news is.

It may be that your husband’s statement that he’s willing to go through with the adoption isn’t just a passive-aggressive maneuver, but his way of telling you that he needs you to take the lead. And it may be that once he meets his new son or daughter, or the prospect becomes more real, he’ll feel a renewal of the faith and optimism that caused him to sign on in the first place.

What I love about your letter, Hopeful, is how clear-eyed and empathic you are in the midst of your pain. It’s amazing to me. Rather than getting lost in acrimony, and laying blame, you’re focused on making sure you and your husband can navigate what amounts to a monumental conflict. If there’s anything that gives me faith that you’ll find a way through it’s this: your tremendous compassion. I hope your husband recognizes how fortunate he is to have you in his life. I trust your son already knows.

With every good wish,
Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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