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Jan 31, 2022

Five Ways My Job Supported Me Through Adoption

This time last year, my life was rocked overnight. My wife and I received a text in the middle of the night: The baby’s here. It’s a girl. Twelve hours later we were on a cross-country flight to meet our newborn daughter, who’d arrived seven weeks early. The journey to that NICU hospital room as adoptive parents — and the role my job played in helping me get there — was completely unexpected.

When we began our adoption journey, I was transitioning between companies. Once I started my new job, I didn’t know how to broach the subject; the adoption process felt very private and I was also worried about the company’s reaction. Should I have disclosed it in the interview process? Would my manager be frustrated knowing I might go on leave at a moment’s notice? So despite the urging of my wife, and like all good procrastinators, I put it off... and put it off.

As it became clear we were moving closer to welcoming a baby, I finally told my manager. A huge weight was lifted, and I quickly had a support system I didn’t know I needed. I want to share the crucial things my company got right:

1. Understand adoption is difficult, beyond what you might think

I’ve found the most common reaction to adoption is, “Oh, that must be so hard!” Most people mean the wait to get matched — which yes, can be excruciating. But there are other challenges, including an intensive home study (reams of paperwork, multiple social worker visits, adoption classes, etc.); the potential for a “failed adoption,” when a birth parent changes their mind; and legal challenges once a baby is born. As an employer, you don’t need to know every detail about how adoption works, but it’s helpful to understand the process has its ups and downs. An employee may be navigating hurdles during the workday (visits with social workers, conversations with the adoption agency) along with everyday work challenges.

2. Plan ahead for leave time, even with uncertainty.

Adoption asks us to embrace the oxymoron of planning for the unexpected. That meant putting a parental leave plan in place while not knowing when I was taking leave (i.e. when a baby would be born) and how much advance notice I might have. It was crucial that my day-to-day partners be prepared, and that we line up colleagues to fill in for me. In the end, there was still last-minute planning and a few handoff meetings after our daughter was born. But the early conversations and advance planning benefited not just me as a new parent, but meant that when my daughter arrived several weeks earlier than expected, my manager and I were ready to spring into action.

3. It’s ok to ask questions — but let employees take the lead.

I once had a (former) employer say to me, “Why would you adopt? You should have a baby.” Exhibit A in what not to do! Once I shared our adoption plan, my manager asked open-ended questions. And she took her cues from me. If I mentioned something about the process, it was clear the door was open. She’d respond, “Oh, tell me more about that” or “How are you feeling about it all?” I never felt judged or like an object of curiosity; her care and interest were genuine. And on days when balancing meetings and deadlines with difficult emotions was a challenge, she signaled it was ok for me to take a step back.

4. Know that parental leave can be a time of mixed emotions.

During parental leave, there is immense joy in bonding with your child (during those late night feedings, joy through gritted teeth!). But families may face legal limbo — sometimes lasting months — for example if the birth parents’ legal rights have not been fully terminated. A new parent may be psychologically preparing for the slim chance things might not work out. Give your employee space during this time, while also showing compassion. This can be as simple as a check-in text, to offering to extend an employee’s leave if they need more time.

5. Celebrate our families, just like any other.

A few weeks after we flew back home with our daughter, I received a digital ecard filled with beautiful messages from colleagues, most of whom had no idea we had been in the process of adopting! Adoption’s many stages can feel lonely and fraught, and in that moment I was filled with immense gratitude that others shared in our joy. My company celebrated our daughter’s arrival as they would any new family member. It’s not that I didn’t expect the celebration; I just didn’t realize how much it would give me strength in those first weeks.

As we celebrate our daughter’s first birthday, I look back with gratitude at how my job supported me. Adoption is just one of many beautiful and challenging family-forming journeys. The values my work displayed — communication, flexibility, compassion — can go a long way toward helping employees regardless of their path. I hope it inspires others to do the same.

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