Adopting our son, Tommy, from Guatemala in 2005 was one of the most difficult, time-consuming, detail-oriented things I’ve ever done. The powers-that-be purposely make adoption hard for couples so that people won’t abuse the system and/or the children in the system.
Adoption is a multi-part process. When a couple wants to adopt a child, they must complete a mountain of paperwork, get recommendations, submit to background checks and participate in what’s known as a home study. During the home study process, an adoption social worker comes to the home, performs an inspection of the house and the actual room where the baby will sleep (both of which will presumably be clean, neat and tidy). I’ve never cleaned like I scoured every inch of our house for that home study. The place sparkled.
The social worker also interviews the couple extensively. Part of the interview includes discussing any mental health issues that the couple may have.
If I could impart anything that I learned from our adoption experience, it would be this: adoption home study administrators, if they’re good, decent professionals, do not want to hear the gory details of your psychological illness(es); therefore, do not reveal them. Keep this highly personal information to yourself.
In other words, do not discuss specific mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, obsessions and/or compulsions, or any other symptoms that might be occurring. It’s okay to tell the adoption social worker what your diagnosis is, but, again, don’t reveal the (possibly ugly) specifics of your illness.
This is what competent home study workers do want to know:
- You’re seeing a psychiatrist and/or psychologist regularly. (You’re under a doctor’s care.)
- You’re on your medication (if any).
- Your doctor is providing a letter stating that you’re stable enough to be a parent.
Our home study case worker, Dina, was impeccable. As a person with bipolar illness, I feel that she completely respected me and my right to privacy about my disease. But I knew that this would probably be a good experience going into the home study because this adoption agency came highly recommended to my husband and me. One of my co-workers and her schizophrenic husband had adopted a baby from this agency. The agency was on board with the fact that just because a person is mentally ill doesn’t mean that he/she can’t parent well. We chose our agency carefully.
If you do have a mental illness, try to talk to other mentally ill individuals who’ve used a particular adoption agency to see what their experiences with the agency were.
Word does get out there that certain agencies are rational about mental illness.
Here’s the bottom line: mental health issues are not necessarily, nor should they be, deal breakers in the adoption process.
Hold your head up high! Many mentally ill people make marvelous parents. God knows, a person with mental illness is used to dealing with stress and life difficulties.
Mother and son’s hands photo available from Shutterstock