A PHENOMENOLOGICAL LOOK AT ADOPTIVE NESTING TO PREPARE FOR ADOPTIVE MOTHERHOOD By KARIN G FIELDS A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2017
2017 Karin G. Fields
To all members of the adoption triad
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First, I thank God, without whom I would never have had the strength to finish. I also want to thank my husband, David Fields, who held down the fort and cared so well D stuf f Dave. Mine certainly could not. He is my partner first and always, and he gives me space to be who I am while also keeping me anchored to what matters most. I want to thank my three amazing children, Joshua, Lianna and Kiara, for inspiring me to do this research and to see the world through fresh eyes every da y. Being their Momma is my Lianna I sat down at my computer. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my best friend Megan Testerman for her unwavering and wholehearted love, support, and help in the home stretch. I could not have done this without her, and I would not have wanted to do it w ith anyone else. She provided an abundance of meals, edits, perspective, computer skills, hand holding, table space, moti vation, and company for an extro vert who needed a partner to go through this with. Megan is the smartest person I know, and she uses he r talents, experience, and abilities to make othe rs better. I look forward to having many more adventures side by side. Sarah Jane Moore. Her influence and legacy live on profoundly in her amazing daughter. I want to thank my mother Mary Hull for modeling motherhood so beautifully throughout my life and for being my role model and biggest fan. If I can be half the mother she is, I will consider it a huge success. I would not be who I am as a person or a mother without many other important wo men in my life. A heartfelt thanks to my
5 sister Mary Mullins for being my first and dearest friend and for teaching me so much about life and what matters most. Watching her be a mother is an inspiration to me. I also want to thank my sisters in law Amber Petiprin and Christina Rinehart and my mother in law Joyce Fields for being models of strong women who love their families well. I also owe so much to my aunts, Betty, Donna, and Kathy. And I have been blessed with two almost sisters, my cousins Molly and Katie. The extended Hedrick family, beginning with my incredible and inspiring grandparents Bob and Mary, has been my rock and my anchor throughout my life, and I am humbled to be a member of it. I have been blessed with many soul friends ov er the years who have each contributed to my life in significant ways. I want to especially thank Dayna Watson for being both a dear friend and fellow traveler on my Ph D journey and foster/adoption journey. I thank God that our paths crossed the way th ey did. I also want to thank Sarah Higgins and Alyse Young for being so faithful and true. We fell into something truly special and their friendship is a balm for my soul. I would be remiss if I did not thank my babysitter and dear family friend, Juliana Matthews, for her constancy, patience, and willingness to love and care for my children and for me. Knowing she was with my kids gave me the ability to put in the time I needed to finish this Ph.D. She is so special to me and to my family. I sincerely want to thank my patient and caring advisor and friend Sondra Smith Adcock for being with me from the application stage to every Ph D milestone after. I am truly grateful to her and to my other committee mem bers, Jacqueline Swank, Silvia Echevarria Doan an d Suzanna Smith. These incredible women nurtured and
6 encouraged a working mother who did not believe she would ever see the end of the tunnel and made her believe she may just be a researcher yet. I must also thank my colleagues at LCS who have stood by me since I first launched by crazy scheme of returning to graduate school and maintained their support every step of the way. I specifically want to thank my partner, Dee Dee Scharf, for believing in me from the very beginning. I am deeply grateful to my c difficulties with them and teaching me more than they will ever know about strength, resilience and the importance of vulnerability. I am humbled by my church community at Creekside Community Church. Individua lly and collectively, I have been encouraged in more ways than I can ever say. They have loved this rebellious and skeptical fellow believer well and I am grateful to have the support of such a true and connected community. Lastly, I want to thank my fell ow adoptive mothers who have crossed my path and provided comfort, comradery, and hope by sharing their stories and their lives with me. I especially want to thank the six women who gave their time and their heart s to this study and taught me so much. Th is is their research too, and I am honored to know these mothers. I am not sure what life will look like on the other side of this Ph D but based on the people who have walked alongside me, it will surely be sweet. It takes a village, and I have the best one.
7 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 10 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 11 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ 12 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTI ON ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 14 Theoretical Framework ................................ ................................ ............................... 18 Maternal Identity ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 18 Phenomenology ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 21 Scope of the Problem ................................ ................................ ................................ 23 Need for the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 26 Purpose of the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 28 Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 29 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE ................................ ................................ ........................ 31 Overview ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 31 Maternal Identity Development ................................ ................................ ................... 31 Transition to Biological Motherhood ................................ ................................ .... 32 Transition from Infertility to Adoption ................................ ................................ ... 36 Transition to Biological and Adoptive Parenthood: A Comparison ..................... 41 Transition to Adoptive Parenthood ................................ ................................ ...... 48 Maternal Identity Development for Adoptive Mothers ................................ ................ 52 Nesting and Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ .................... 58 Summary ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 59 3 METHODOLOGY ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 61 Overview ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 61 Hermeneutic Phenomenology ................................ ................................ .................... 61 Purpose and Research Question ................................ ................................ ............... 62 Participants and Sampling ................................ ................................ .......................... 62 IR B Protocol ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 64 Data Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 65 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 68 Trustworthiness ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 73 Subjectivity Statement ................................ ................................ ................................ 75
8 4 FINDINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 79 Overview ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 79 Adoptive Nesting Vignettes ................................ ................................ ........................ 80 Vi gnette 1: Elle ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 80 Vignette 2: Gloria ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 81 Vignette 3: Marie ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 81 Vignette 4: Ann ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 82 Vignette 5: Ashley ................................ ................................ ................................ 83 Vignette 6 : Meghan ................................ ................................ .............................. 85 Composite Themes: Pre Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ 85 Choosing Openness ................................ ................................ ............................. 86 I Want to Be a Mom ................................ ................................ ............................. 88 Grieving Infertility ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 88 Embracin g the New Plan A ................................ ................................ .................. 90 Honoring the Uncertainty ................................ ................................ ..................... 91 Redefining Family ................................ ................................ ................................ 92 Day by Day: Managing Expectations ................................ ................................ .. 92 Riding the Rollercoaster ................................ ................................ ....................... 93 We ................................ ................................ ......................... 94 It Takes a Village ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 95 The Learning Curve ................................ ................................ ............................. 96 The Importance of Formal Support ................................ ................................ ...... 99 Adoption Tasks ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 100 The Adoption Club ................................ ................................ ............................. 101 Meant to B e: Letting Go of Control ................................ ................................ .... 103 Choosing Not to Nest ................................ ................................ ......................... 104 Preparing for a Houseguest ................................ ................................ ............... 105 Composite Themes: Post Adoptive Nesting ................................ ............................ 106 ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 106 ................................ ................................ ................................ 108 Going All In ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 109 Permission to Nest: Condensed Nesting ................................ ........................... 110 The Village Becomes the Extended Adoption Club ................................ .......... 112 Maternal Tasks ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 114 ................................ ................................ ....................... 115 Redefining Family ................................ ................................ ............................... 116 Honoring the Other Mother ................................ ................................ ................ 116 The Adoption Club ................................ ................................ ............................. 118 Meant to Be: Gratitude ................................ ................................ ....................... 120 Adoptive Nesting as a Comprehensive Process ................................ ...................... 122 Lived Experience of Adoptive Nesting ................................ ............................... 122 Visual Depiction of Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ 124 Essence Statement ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 126 Summary ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 127 5 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 130
9 Overview ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 130 Maternal Identity Development ................................ ................................ ................. 133 Nesting ................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 137 Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 138 Emotional Nesting ................................ ................................ .............................. 139 Psychological Nesting ................................ ................................ ........................ 141 Spiritual Nesting ................................ ................................ ................................ 145 Relational Nesting ................................ ................................ .............................. 147 Practica l Nesting ................................ ................................ ................................ 151 Physical Nesting ................................ ................................ ................................ 152 Study Limitations ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 155 Implications for Practice ................................ ................................ ............................ 158 Im plications for Theory ................................ ................................ ............................. 162 Implications for Future Research ................................ ................................ ............. 164 Summary ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 166 APPENDIX A INTERVIEW 1 GUIDE ................................ ................................ .............................. 167 B INTERVIEW 2 GUIDE ................................ ................................ .............................. 168 C GR OUP INTERVIEW GUIDE ................................ ................................ ................... 169 D INFORMED CONSENT FORM ................................ ................................ ................ 170 E STUDY PROTOCOL FOR IRB201700057 ................................ .............................. 171 F RECRUITMENT FLYER ................................ ................................ ........................... 177 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ................................ 178 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .............................. 184
10 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3 1 Study Participant Overview ................................ ................................ ..................... 78
11 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 4 1 Pre Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ ........................... 128 4 2 Post Adoptive Nesting ................................ ................................ .......................... 1 29
12 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy A PHENOMENOLOGICAL LOOK AT ADOPTIVE NESTING TO PREPARE FOR ADOPTIVE MOTHERHOOD By Karin G Fields August 2017 Chair: Sondra Smith Adcock Major: Counseling and Counselor Education The purpose of this study was to understand the phenomenon of adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers as they work to create a maternal identity and prepare for the arrival of a child by way of ad option. Adoptive nesting is defined as the emotional, psychological, relational, physical, practical and spiritual process of preparing to bring a not the same for adoptive mothers as for biological mothers, this acknowledged difference may inhibit adoptive par ents from knowing how to or having permission to participate in the symbolic process of preparing for motherhood, and, in turn, developing a maternal identity. The goal of this study was to explore the lived experiences of adoptive mothers as they reflect ed on their preparation process of becoming an adoptive mother and the complexities they experienced as they participated in the nonnormative process of becoming a mother through adoption. The phenomenon of adoptive nesting was explored as it related to th e lived experiences of six adoptive mothers. Each participant engaged in two semi structured interviews, and four of the participants also took part in a group interview. A hermeneutic phenomenological methodology was used to analyze the transcripts and
13 me mos Findings from the study indicate d that the process of preparing for motherhood f or adoptive mothers is different from the process for biological mothers, but equally important. The concept of adoptive nesting provided a lens for the participants to ma ke sense of their experience of preparing for adoptive motherhood and validate d the importance of symbolically preparing for motherhood in a nonnormative way
14 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The existential yearning and uncertainty of motherhood is nuanced and complex for women desiring to become mothers, but it may be even more complicated for women who become mothers t hrough adoption (Goldberg, 2010; Weir, 2003). influential research on maternal identity, Reva Rubin (1984) discovered that the preparation process for many women begins at an early ag e. The fantasy of motherhood is initiated by pretending to mother dolls and imaginary babies, and then it moves on to assuming caretaking roles for younger children and continued role playing activities. Informal steps toward building a maternal identity r einforce that a preparation process begins long before the transition to motherhood formally occurs (Rubin, 1984) This perspective leads to the conclusion that adoptive mothers and biological mothers participate in this informal, ongoing process of prepar ing for motherhood to varying degrees throughout their lives. In addition to the psychosocial process of preparing for motherhood that can take woman becomes pregnant that assist in preparing for the birth and arrival of the child. According to Workman, Barha, & Galea (2012), the hormonal variation that takes place during pregnancy spurs on the maternal processes of parturition, lactation, recognition of offsp ring, and maternal aggression. Essentially, the body readies itself to respond to the needs of the child, and this process extends throughout motherhood. Although many elements to the psychosocial process of preparing for motherhood may overlap
15 for biological and n on biological mothers, the physical and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy provide a significant gap in experience between the two groups (Fontenot, 2007; Sandelowski, Harris, & Holditch Davis, 1993). Attending to both their physical and psycholo gical needs is an important component of the preparation process for expect ing mothers. Several studies highlight the significance of self care and interpersonal support for expecting mothers in reducing depression, anxiety and stress both during pregnancy and after the baby is born (Barnes, Pratt, Finlayson, Courtney, Pitt & Knight, 2008; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn, Hanich, Roberts, & Powrie, 2012; Milgrom, Schembri, Er ickson, Ross, & Gemmill, 2011). Although these stu dies focus on pregnant mothers, these interventions may also be effective for prospective adoptive mothers. The recurring themes of support, connectedness and relatedness suggest that one of the most impactful interventions for expect ing parents is spendi ng time with others who are going through or have gone through a similar process and can offer wisdom and shared experiences (Barnes et al., 2008; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn et al. 2012; Milgrom et al., 2011). To date, research related to how adoptive mothers engage in self care and interpersonal support is sparse, though the preparation for motherhood for this population is just as important (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Fontenot, 2007). To more fully understand the psychosocial process of prepar ing for motherhood for adoptive mothers, the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting is used to make meaning of these symbolic processes. The act of nesting is a universal respons e of animals and humans alike. The definition comes from the nesting instinct of birds to gather materials for the nest where the female will lay her eggs and prepare for them to
16 hatch (Merriam Webster Online). This implies that the process of nesting is more than process of preparing to become a parent. Thus, a lthough the concept of nesting is widely informally used to refer to any act of preparation on the part of a parent before the arrival of a child. There are more than 42 million result s that come up in a Google search of the word nesting, linking interested readers to countless websites, articles and references to this term. Some of these sites include nesting.com, thenest.com thenester.com, blessednest.com, and thenestingjournal.com, which all cater to expect ing and new mothers. The media and the public clearly identify this concept as an important part of the childbirth process, but the academic research on this phenomenon i s minimal. Although there is substantial research on the process of preparation both physically and psychologically that takes place before the arrival of a child (Glade, Bean, & Vira, 2005), the term nesting is rarely used in academic liter ature to descri be this process. To date, only one article has been identified that directly applies the term nesting in a sociocultural context to parents preparing for the arrival of a child (Gameiro, Boivin, Canavarro, Moura Ramos, & Soares, 2010). This represents a s ignificant gap between academic research and interest in nesting. Although the term nesting is primarily used to describe the preparation process for biological mothers, adoptive mothers are weighing in on what it means to apply this concept to their own experience of becoming a mother and bringing a child home. A
17 online articles addressing t he complexity of this process. arrival. It recognizes experiences that make adoptive nesting different, such as the unk nown timeline, the risk of a failed adoption, and the patience needed to wait. empowerment stance, encouraging adoptive parents to view themselves as real parents and partici pate in the process that biological parents experience, including nesting. Similarly, a popular site for adoptive parents, Adoption.com, has several references to the concept of nesting in articles, blog posts and online forums. Readers engage in dialogu e about their process of getting things ready and the ambiguity and anxie ty that can come with it. These are just a few examples of the prevalence of this term specifically related to adoption in the larger cultural context. In light of the pervasiveness of the concept of nesting in the broader culture it is necessary that adoptive mothers not only participate in a symbolic preparation process of nesting, but also have the freedom to experience this process from their own unique perspective. Though the p henomenon of nesting has not been studied in adoptive mothers, there is reason to believe th eir feelings of preparedness and sense of maternal identity are just as, if not more, important as they go through the process of becoming a mother in a nontraditio nal way (M cKay, Ross, & Goldberg, 2010). As use of the term nesting gains more popularity, it will become even more vital fo r adoptive mothers to feel connected to the existential and practical journey of preparing for motherhood.
18 For the remainder of th is paper, I will refer to the unique preparation process for adoptive mothers as adoptive nesting, which I define as the emotional, psychological, relational, physical, practical and becoming a mother through adoption. Theoretical Framework Since little research exists on the concept of nesting, a framework is needed to explore this phenomenon in the context of becoming a mother and d eveloping a maternal identity. Maternal Identity D evelopmen t, particularly the process of binding in will be used to establish the connection between the preparation process and maternal identity development. In additi on, a phenomenological framework will be applied to highlight the need for more research specifically exploring the phenomenon of adoptive nesting. Maternal Identity Rubin (1967, 1984), a pioneer researcher in the field of maternal identity development, b elieved that developing a maternal identity involves biology, socialization, experience, awareness a nd most importantly, volition. According to Rubin (1984), there are two generally held beliefs about the origins of maternal behavior: (1) it is instinctiv e and genetic, which includes the physiological processes of female development, menstruation and eventually pregnancy and procreation; and (2) it is psychosocial and developmental, which includes childhood play and other socialized processes that teach y oung girls and women how to be a mothe r Although Rubin recognized both these beliefs, she emphasized the importance of not relying solely on the instinctual process of mothering and minimizing the significance of th e volitional act of mothering. This is i mportant for two reasons. First, not every woman who participates
19 in the physiological process of pro creation wants to be a mother. Secondly, not every woman engages in the informal, psychosocial motherhood preparation process t o the same degree throughout her life T herefore, although the physiological process of becoming a mother is vital for the continuation of life, the act of choosing to mother is crucial in developing a maternal identity (Rubin, 1984). Prior to the emer mate rnal identity d evelopment (1984), Rubin (1967) created a framework based on her research that emphasized role taking through modeling behavio r s and completing tasks, culminating in the achievement of M aternal Role Attainment (Rubin, 1967), which defines ma ternal identity taking, with a woman having a sense of being in her During the preparation process, expecting mothers are performing t asks to prepare f or the arrival of their child. These include ensuring safe passage for self and baby; seeking acceptance of and support for self and baby; binding in, or connecting to baby; and giving of one self (Rubin, 1975, 1984). Under this model, the concept of binding in task takes on more weight and becomes the basis for maternal identity development. Rubin conducted a naturalistic longitudin al study on the subjective experiences of more than six thousand pregnant women over the span of twenty years. There were no interview or observation schedules ; rather the primary question posed by the trained nurses conducting the study focused on h ow th e wom e n in the study fe lt about themselves in th eir situation s at th at time From a naturalistic standpoint, the content of the data collecting session was recorded after each session and averaged ten pa ges for
20 each observation hour. The results of this in depth qualitative study led to the deve maternal identity d evelopment (1984). A substantial component to developing a maternal identity involves the solidifying of the relation ship between mother and child. Rubin coined the t erm binding in to replace the word attaching because she believed it better acknowledged the qualitative and mutual experience of connection and relationship between a mother and child. The child bonds with the mother in utero through complete dependence a nd constant physical interaction. The mother responds to the unborn child by caring for her, keeping her safe and planning for her arrival (Mercer, 2004; Rubin, 1984). This process of mutual interaction and care begins the life long relationship between p arent and child. For the adoptive mother, binding in in a similar way is difficult, if not impossible, since the mother is not acting as the physical protector of her child prior to placement. Without this physical connection, the adoptive mother must eit her find alternative ways of binding in or postpone this meaningful process until the child is placed in her care (Goldberg, 2010; Levy Shiff, Goldshmidt & Har Even, 1991; McKay & Ross, 2010). There are numerous factors that are meaningful in the prepar ation process for becoming a mother. However, Rubin emphasizes that the motivating factor comes down to one thing : something that can be experienced by both biological and adoptive mothers alik e. Once the wish or the desire to mother occurs, the process of binding in can begin. in process into three modes: (1) Replication, which involves seeking out and studying the behaviors, attitudes and role s of those who have come before and the trying on of different components of
21 motherhood ; (2) Fantasy, which incorporates the imagining and envisioning of a future (3) Dedifferentiation, which refers to the importance of the mother maintaining a sense of self while incorporating the maternal image once the child arrives. ally there are also ways adoptive mothers can participate in the binding in process. The waiting mother can initially engage in Replication in a more logistical sense of filling out paperwork and attending classes (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003), and the n she c an bind in more relational ly and practical ly once a match occurs and a clearer timeline for bringing a child home is known. She can also engage in Fantasy by imagining what it 1993). The timeline for adoptive parents is variable, so the preparation stage may last only a short time or it can last several years (Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; Levy Shiff et al., 1991). of binding in does incorporate some of the t angible processes of preparation, such as information gathering and future planning, but it does not directly where the concept of nesting adds an important dimension that the term binding in does not fully address. Additionally, p reparing for a child moves beyond practical and biological mothers. Phenomenology Since little formal re search has been conducted on the connection between the preparation process of bringing a child home through adoption and the development of
22 maternal identity, a qualitative study is necessary to gain a deeper understanding and to lay the f oundation for fu ture research. The phenomenon of nesting has symbolically invited women to share in a collective experience and make meaning out of this ife. Therefore, a phenomenological research study was conducted to develop insight and awareness about the experience of adoptive nesting itself child (Moustaka s, 1994, p 26). O nly after the phenomenon is brought to light can new knowledge occur. Although the goal of phenomenological research is to understand the rticipant but his or her lived experience, or phenomenon (Vagle, 2014, p. 23). Martin Heidegger expanded the phenomenological framework in his desire to study human existence and let the process speak for itself rather than coming to an objective reality about it (Guignon, 2012; Heidegger, 1962 ). According to Heidegger T o better describe human ex ist ence, Heidegger (1962) experiences cannot be isolated from the larger context Heidegger coined the term hermeneutic phenomenology to expound upon the early understanding of hermeneutics that posits that human phenomena are always m eaning and value laden, and meanings are accessible to humans because of their meaning making essence (Guignon, 2012; Heidegger, 1962).
23 Heidegger developed his understanding of human existence by stating that much of what people d fe is shaped by the community they find them sel ves a part of (Guignon, 2012). Heidegger (1962 ; 1988 ) emphasized the significance of the term dasein, or being in the world, to further underscore the significant influence the world has on t he s This acknowledgment of the impact that other forces have on our experiences, both in our immediate community and the broader cultural context, makes Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology the most appropriate theoretical framewor k for the proposed study on the phenomenon of adoptive nesting. Using a Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological approach, the current study explore d the phenomenon of adoptive nesting in connection to the phenomenon of nesting i n the larger cultural c ontext. By inviting adoptive mothers to describe their experiences related to adoptive nesting, I as the researcher participat ed with those individuals in an intersubjective, intentional process of deepening understanding and creating new knowledge (Vagle, 2014). Scope of the Problem According to Child Welfare Information Gateway (2011), the types of adoptions (open, closed, domestic, i nternational, private, public) and the demographics of adoptees (race, age, disability level) have broadened significantly since the turn of the twenty first century. Additionally, social acceptance of adoption has also increased, making it a more satisfactory and even desirable path toward motherhood for women (Esposito & Biafora, 2007). Yet despite these positive changes in the social fabric of adoption, the number of children adopted per year has remained relatively stable for the past fifty years at about 125,000, with adopted children making up about two percent of
24 all children residing in the United States (Biafora & Esp osito, 2007; Fontenot, 2007 ; Porch, 2007 ; US Census Bureau, 2014). A consequence of the under representation of adoptive parents in the general population is a lack of understanding and resources directed at parents to be during the adoption preparation process (Goldberg, 2010; Weir, 2003). This can lead to feelings of alienation and confusion for adoptive mothers, making it difficult to fully participate in the preparation process and to develop a maternal identity (Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; McKay & Ross, 2010 ; W eir, 2003 ). Approximately 6.7 million women struggle with infertility defined as the inability for twelve consecutive months to conceive or carry a baby to term (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Since most heterosexual c ouples pursuing adoption have experienced prolonged infertili ty (Bausch, 2006; McKay et al., 2010 ; Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009 ), the link between infertility and adoption is an important issue to recognize in the existent ial journey toward motherhood. F or many infertile women, it is difficult and painful to accept that motherhood cannot be achieved in the traditional way, alienating them from the normative process of becoming a mother. When a decision to pursue motherhood through adoption is made, expect ant adoptive mothers are at risk of further alienation from the normative process (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Sandelowski et al., 1 993; Wegar, 200 0). Becoming a mother is considered a significant rite of passage for women (Barnes et al., 200 8; Merce r, 1981; Parry, 2005). Since there is a substantial connection between maternal identity and the preparation process ( Mercer, 2004 ; Rubin, 1984 ), adoptive mothers may feel uncertain about how to prepare for the transition to adoptive motherhood due to the added complexities of adoption and not being able to participate
25 in the nesting process in a traditional way (Fontenot, 2007; Levy Shiff et al., 1991; McKay & Ross, 2010; McKay et al., 2010). Scholars described the ambiguity of the preparation process for (Goldberg, 2010; Sandelowski et al., 1993). Th is pre adoptive period has been termed child is on the way ( Sandelowski et al., 1993). Due to the lack of physical evidence, the variation in timeline for the arrival of a child through adoption, and the continued social stigma of becoming a parent in a nonnormative way, adoptive mothers need support and resources to help them maneuver this complex transition. Without support and resources, adoptive mothers may not feel prepared for motherhood (Goldberg, 2010; McKay et al., 2010). Although few studies exist exploring the long term impact of the lack of preparedne ss for adoptive mothers, the research on biological mothers suggests that feeling unprepared for motherhood can lead to a decline in mental, emotional and relational health, which can have a negative impact on both the mother and the child (Barnes et al., 2008; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn et al. 2012; Milgrom et al., 2011). Research on biological parents also identifies a strong association between parent and child mental health outcomes, making early identification and intervention crucial in ensuring positive long term outcomes for the family system (Essex et al., 2006; Nomura, Wickramaratne, Warner, Muffson, & Weissman, 2002; Weissman et al., 2005). Given the added complexities for adoptive mothers, long term negative outcomes are linked to attachme nt difficulties, behavior problems and eventually adoption dissolution (McKay et al., 2010; Goldberg, 2010)
26 Need for the Study parent, but more research is need ed on the unique experience of adoptive parents during the transition to parenthood (Ceballo, Lansford, Abbey & Stewa rt, 2004; McKay et al., 2010). T he thousands of online adoption websites, blogs, and forums make clear that adoptive mothers are looking for support and resources to guide them through this complex life transition. Due to lack of academic research on nesting, specifically adoptive nesting, adoptive mothers are looking to informal support and resources for answers (McKay & Ross, 2010). While so cial media can be extremely helpful, it is not a scientific basis for understanding adoptive families. Academic research is needed in this area to fill in gaps and provide a broader spectrum of understanding f or women transitioning into the role of adoptiv e mother s Without formal, academic research on adoptive nesting, it is impossible to develop a conceptual framework for what the preparation process looks like and the ways this process could be strengthened. Despite noted progress in the way adoption i s viewed today, adoptive parenting is still contrary to the position of cultural pronatalism and the idealization of parenting that permeates American s ociety (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003 ; Porch, 2007 ). The broader cultural context (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Goldberg, 2010; Parry, 2005). Because of this reality, counselors and helping professionals need to be sensitive to their language and aware of their unint entional biases and lack of knowledge about the adoption process (Brodzinsky, 2013; Porch, 2007; Riley & Meeks, 2006). They must also cultivate empathy for the complexities and nuances of the adoption experience to effectively assist women in developing t heir identities as adoptive mothers (Goldberg,
27 2010). Helping professionals involved in the adoption process need to understand the differences between the process of becoming a mother biologically versus through adoption to assist adoptive mothers in the adoptive nesting process including developing a maternal identity (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010). Despite the long history of adoption in this country and the significant contributions of researchers across disciplines there is a recurring theme throughout adoption related resear ch: there is not enough of it. The early pioneers in adoption research identified key needs and complexities for parents and families during the transition from infertility to the pursuit and e ventual achievement of parenthood through adopti on ( Brodzinsky & Schechter, 1994; Levy Shiff et al., 19 91; Sandelowski et al., 1993). Since then, however, most adoption research has moved away from preparation and transition for adoptive parents and has focused more on adoption outcomes This outcome oriented research focuses on the impact of adoption on the emotional and relational health of the adoptive family members (McKay et al., 2010), as well as the long term impact of adoption and the prevalence of adoption disruption, an adoption s topped prior to finalization, and adoption dissolution, an adoption that fails after finalization (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2012; Goldberg, 2010). While these studies are important and vital for the field of adoption research, they do not sufficiently identify the causes of these negative outcomes and ways to prevent them. To better understand these components and implement i nterventions to improve long term outcomes, more research is needed about the transition process for adoptive parents (Goldberg, 2010; McKay et al., 2010).
28 Although research on adoptive nesting and binding in for adoptive mothers is scarce, Fontenot (2007) took a conceptual look at the journey toward motherhood that adoptive mothers undergo This research highlighted areas of uncertainty and confusion adoptive mothers experience by exploring the existing literature on the topic of preparation for adoptive m others and comparing theories and frameworks for developing maternal identity for biological mothers to adoptive mothers Despite a handful of studies that exist on the topic of the transition to parenthood for adoptive parents, Fontenot (2007) concluded t hat much more research is needed to be able to more thoroughly understand the complexities of this process and facilitate sup port for these parents Also, although some similarities exist in maternal identity development for biological and adoptive mothers more research is needed exploring maternal identity specifically for adoptive mothers (Fontenot, 2007 ) Due to an acknowledgement in popular culture of the socio cultural phenomenon of nesting and the emphasis in conceptual literature o n the importance of preparing for the arrival of a child to facilitate maternal identity development, it is crucial that adoptive mothers feel invited to participate in the symbolic process of adoptive nesting and to explore what this phenomenon lo oks like for adoptive paren ts. To better understand needed. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers as they work to create a maternal identity and prepare for the arrival of a child by way of adoption. Since the process of becoming a mother is not the same for adoptive mothers as it is for biological mothers, there may be times where this
29 acknowledged difference may inh ibit adoptive parents from knowing how to or having permission to participate in the symbolic process of preparing for motherhood, and, in turn, developing a maternal identity. Thus, the need for a study on adoptive nesting arose. The primary research que stion addressed by this study wa s h ow adoptive mothers experience d adoptive nesting as they prepared for adoption To address this question, I conducted a qualitative, hermeneutic phenomenological research study to better understand this phenomenon from th e point of view of adoptive mothers. Definition of Terms The circumstance that occurs when an adoption process is stopped after the child is placed in an adoptive home but before the adoption is finalized legally (Child Welfare Inform ation Gateway 2012 ). The emotional, psychological, physical, relational, practical mother through adoption. Binding in : The qualitative, mutual experience between a mother and child of connection and relationship that begins at conception and carries over after birth (Rubin, 1984). Emotional Nesting: Honoring the tension of holding back from emotionally attaching to a specific child, while still emotionally engaging in the pre adoptive process so that the adoptive mother can feel the freedom during po st adoptive nesting to begin emotionally attaching to her adopted child.
30 Infertility : The inability for twelve consecutive months to conceive or carry a baby to term (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). A bed or receptacle prepared by an animal and especially a bird for its eggs and young (Merriam Webster Online). Preparing a physical space for the arrival of child, including setting up a nursery and accumulating baby goods. Participating in various tasks necessary to practically prepare for the arrival of an adopted child during pre adoptive nesting, as well as the practical tasks related to the daily needs of caring for a child during post adoptive nesting. Mentally managing daily life as a prospective ado ptive mother during pre adoptive nesting and an adoptive mother during post adoptive through the lens of adoption. Fostering healthy, communicative relat ionships with loved ones and friends throughout the adoptive nesting process. Incorporating a personal philosophy or faith in a higher power throughout the adoptive nesting process, as well as a broader acknowledgment that supposed to.
31 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE Overview In this chapter, I review literature related to maternal identity theory and the process of preparing for the arrival of a child both biologically and by way of adoption. (1984) theory of maternal identity d evelopment, I address existing research on the topics of transitioning to biological motherhood, transitioning from infertility to the concept of adoption, transitioning to adoptive parenthood, and the importance of developing a maternal identity for adoptive mothers. Throughout this chapter, I incorporate the concept of nesting and highlight the lack of existing academic research on this term to build a case for the need for the current study on adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers. Maternal Identity Development Rubi on maternal identity is cited often in literature related to the transition to motherhood (Barnes et al., 2008; Fontenot, 2007; Mercer, 20 04; Sandelowski et al., 1993). Also present in the research for biological mothers is the importance of f eeling prepared for motherhood (Barnes et al., 2008; Dunn et al., 2012; Milgrom et al., 20 10). The connection between maternal identity development and feelings of preparedness is highlighted during this transitioning. At each significant transition, ther e is ne eded preparation in all areas. This fits with the definition created for the phenomenon of adoptive nesting, which emphasizes the various nesting areas in which an adoptive mother can prepare. In the following sections, research related to the transitions to various stages of becoming a mother are addressed to emphasize the
32 identity. Transition to Biological Motherhood This section explores research on the trans ition to biological motherhood and the needs t hat arise for this population. (1967; 1984) research on the transition to biological motherhood is a study conducted by Barnes et al. (2008), which identifies the preparati on and information needs of first time mothers recruited from a community child health center in Brisbane Australia. Telephone surveys were conducted with 151 participants three months after first receivin g services through the center. Additionally, eight participants took part in focus group interviews seven to nine mo nths after receiving services. The results indicate that few participants felt well prepared for managing the physical or emotional experience of becoming a mother and the practical issues t hey faced. The authors also suggest that health professionals need to be more available to offer various types of support to increase parenthood smoother. This study reinforces t hat the transition to parenthood can be difficult and confusing and that more intervention is needed for expectant mothers to feel prepared for this symbolic life transition. Despite their feelings of lack of preparedness, the eight participants in the foc us groups reported receiving support from other mothers through storytelling and shared experiences, reinforcing the importance of relational support from peers and mentors to ease the transition to motherhood. These findings support the Replication pr oce maternal identity d evelopment with its emphasis on receiving both tangible and relational resources to increase the sense of preparedness for expecting mothers (Rubin, 1984). This study is
33 limited by its use of only one well resour ced location in a metropolitan area in Australia, but the similarities between these results and previous literature suggest that it is a viable study on the topic of maternal preparation (Barnes et al., 2008). Dunn et al. (2012) conducted a pilot study th at explored the effects of an eight week mindfulness based cognitive therapy group for pregnant w omen. The research included an experimental group of ten expecting mothers that received the intervention and a control group of nine expecting mothers that re ceived no intervention. Participants in both groups completed several scales to measure levels of depression, anxiety, stress, mindfulness, and self compassion at the beginning of the study, end of treatme nt, and six weeks post partum. After completing the study, participants in both groups were asked to describe their experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and transition to parenthood. The women in the therapy group reported a decline in depression, stress, and anxiety, and an increase in mindfulness and sel f compassion over time, whereas there was very little change in outcome scores for the contro l group. This study highlights the importance of formal mental and emotional health interventions for expecting mothers to help prepare them for the arrival of the ir child, s pecifically in a group setting. While this study was limited due to its small sample size and high attrition rate, its findings support previous research on the effectiveness of mindfulness during pregnancy (Dunn et al., 2012). In a similar stud y, Milgrom et al. (2011) evaluated the effectiveness of a prenatal intervention to reduce the prevalence of anxiety, depression, poor postnatal adjustment, and parenting difficulties in expecting and new mothers recruited from two hospitals in Melbourne, A ustralia. 143 women participated and each received information in the
34 form of a pamphlet called Community Networking that provided relevant support and information services to expecting mothers. In addition to this pamphlet, half of the women (n=72) also received a nine unit self help workbook called Towards Parenthood and were instructed to read one unit per week and then discuss the readings with a psychologist or psychology trainee over the phone each week. Results of the study indicate that women in t he intervention group who received both the general pamphlet and the parenting curriculum reported lower levels of depression and parental dysfunction than women who only received routine care and the pamphlet. This study supports the importance of incorp orating a formal parenting program during the prenatal period to help parents feel more prepared for the transition, as well as regular contact with a mental health professional to assist in the emotional and psychological process of bringing a child home. Since the parenting workbook was always administered in conjunction with a telephone discussion with a trained professional, it is impossible to determine the degree of efficacy in either component individually, which is a limitation to the study. However the use of these components in conjunction with each other is shown to be successful in increasing parent readiness and improving emotional and relational functioning (Milgrom et al., 2011). In a study by Doran & Hornibrook (2012), the authors conducte d a qualitative study with fifteen pregnant women who attended a prenatal and postnatal yoga group at a community based feminist non attending this pregnancy and postnatal group. The women in the study who participated in the yoga support group were then interviewed individually to discuss their participation in
35 this group and what impact, if any, it had on their prenatal and postnatal experience. one theme entitled the pregnancy journey, with the subthemes of preparation for birth, connecting with the baby, and sharing birth stories (Doran & Hornibroo k, 2012). These theory of maternal identity d evelopment due to the emphasis on binding in that is achieved by connecting with and preparing for the child prior to birth, as well as receiving internal and external support fr om others who are going through the process This study and its findings reinforce the value of incorporating yoga into a prenatal routine, but the most significant results suggest that sharing stories, information, and resources, as well as simply being a part of a nal and physical preparedness. According to Doran & Hornibrook (2012), this study is limited in its use of a small sample size comprised of previously identified y oga users, as well as the absence of follow up data on birth outcomes and parental adjustment for the participants, indicating that more research is needed that accounts for these limitations. Although these studies all incorporate components o 984) theory of maternal identity d evelopment, particularly the importance of formal interventions and programs for expecting mothers to increase their sense of preparedness, they do not directly address the concept of maternal identity and the role it play s in a positive transition to motherhood. The research highlights the importance of social support and the significant li fe transition of having a baby. These studies als o suggest that regular
36 contact with a mental health professional is effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression and increasing overall preparedness in expecting mothers (Barnes et al., 2008; Dunn et al ., 2012; Milgrom et al., 2011). While these i nterventions are effective in sense of preparedness, the lack of follow up data on long term outcomes makes it difficult to determine if the effectiveness of these inte rventions remains after the tr ansition to motherhood occurs. Thus, more postnatal research is needed on the impact of prenatal preparation on the adjustment to parenthood and the development of a maternal identity for biological mo thers (Rubin, 1984; Merce r, 1981 ; 2004). Due to the limited research on the transition to parenthood for adoptive parents, it can be helpful to present research on the transition process for biological parents to address possible similarities and differences between these two grou ps (Goldberg, 2010; McKay et al., 2010). However, the nuances of the adoption process and the lack of representation of adoptive parents in the broader culture emphasize the need for specific research on the transition to adoptive parenthood to more fully understand the needs of this population (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Goldberg, 2010 ; Porch, 2007 ). Since this research focuses only on the normative process of becoming a mother biologically, it is difficult to determine if the interventions would be as effective for waiting adoptive mothers, indicating that more research is needed that specifically addresses the needs for this population. Transition from Infertility to Adoption The link between infertility and adoption is well documented in literat ure (Bausch, 2006 ; McKay et al., 2010; Sandelowski et al., 1993). The process of infertility can be time consuming, financially draining, socially alienating, relationally straini ng, and
37 emotionally depleting. For women who are unsuccessful at becoming pre gnant through infertility treatments, a decision must be made: accept an identity that does not involve motherhood or be open to pursuing motherhood through non biological channels, namely adoption (Goldberg, 20 10; Sandelowski et al., 1993). If the decisio n to adopt is made, a symbolic process begins of shifting previously held expectations and Goldberg et al. (2009) conducted a constructivist, grounded theory study exploring how lesbian and heterosex ual pre adoptive couples experience and construct the transition from infertility to adoption a s a means of becoming parents. The participants were thirty heterosexual couples and thirty lesbian couples who participated in interviews condu cted with the couple together. The interviews and subsequent analysis suggest that both heterosexual and lesbian couples expressed significant stress and strain on the relationship while trying to conceive biologically through assistive reproductive techno logy. Lesbian couples made the transition to adoption more easily than heterosexual couples due to the lack of biological relatedness one partner would experience through conception, their familiarity with nontraditional family structures, and the kinship norms of LGBTQ communities that prioritize relational/affective ties over bi ological ties. Although the heterosexual couples in the study saw the shift to adoption as more of a si gnificant leap than simply a change of course like the lesbian participants, both groups expanded their view on how families form and embraced adoption as an alternative, yet viable way to create a family. This study reinforces the significance of honoring the shift from pursuing infertility treatments to pursuing adoption, as well as the importance of meaning making for parents who
38 decide to pursue adoption as a wa y of expanding their families. Although this study includes a retrospective view of the transition from infertility to adoption, it does not include a retrospective view of the transition from the decision to adopt to the achievement of adoptive parenthood (Goldberg et al., 2009). The absence of this perspective prevents the authors from gathering information about the connection between deciding to adopt and preparing to bring a child home and the process of developing a maternal (parental) identity. This limitation supports the need for the current study, which focused on the retrospective process of becoming an adoptive mother, since the participants had already received children through adoption by the time the interviews took place. Another study exploring the experiences of becoming parents through adoption after unsuccessful infertility treatments is a qualitative, phenomenological study by Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell ( 2003). The participants were thirty nine infertile, heterosexual couples who, due to infertility, had adopted one or more children within the last five years. The couples were interviewed together in their homes using in depth narrative interviews. After c onducting the analysis, three themes emerged, which the authors categorized as Revisioning a Family (the decision to adopt), The Crucible (the adoption process), and Coming Full Circle (the experience of becoming parents through adoption). In Revisioning t he Family, the infertile couple is grappling with the fear of t hey would likely feel. Ultimately, the couples in this study who chose to pursue adoption decided that fami ly included children, and adoption was the way they could achieve that goal. Once the decision was made, the participants described the emotional, legal, and
39 social land mines of the adoption process, which the authors refer to as The Crucible. Several par ticipants related some of the feelings during the adoptive waiting period to feelings they experienced during infertility, particularly the feelings of powerlessness and lack of control. Although many similarities were identified between these processes, t he couples in this study reflected that they felt more united as a couple during the pre adoptive period than they did while pursuing infertility treatments. As the participants described their journey to parenthood, or Coming Full Circle, a range of emoti ons were getting through the process, feelings of inadequacy and lack of preparedness for parenthood, and healing after a long road of both infertility and pre adoptive waiting. A common theme among participants was the belief that things worked out the way things were meant to b e (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003). This study highlights the importance of honoring the transition from infertility to adoption and the similar ities that may exist between the processes of infertility and adoption Also, although maternal (or parental) identity development was not the direct focus the study addresses the correlation between making meaning of becoming an adoptive parent and feeli ng prep ared to be an adoptive parent. This study identifies the lack of preparedness adoptive parents felt, despite an intense preparation process, stressing the need for more formal support by mental health professionals and adoption specific resources fo r this population (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003). This study supports the need for the current adoptive nesting study because of its adherence to a phenomenological framework to understand the experience of creating a family through a doption for inferti le couples. Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell (2003) acknowledged that meeting with the couple together and only once may
40 have limited the depth of feedback they received, but the findings lay some groundwork for future research on the topic. Sandelowski et al. ( 1993) conducted a qualitative, grounded theory study with thirty five white, middle class couples from a larger study of couples waiting to adopt. The couples were interviewed every four months until placement occurred, which averaged between one and two years. The purpose of this study was to describe the claiming work done by infertile couples as they transition from infertility to adoption and cope with the pre adoptive waiting period (Sandelowski et al., 1993) When processing the pre adoptive period, the prospective adoptive parents found purpose in (1) which involves unblooding, or moving on from the notion that blood ties must be present for love and bonding to occur. By doing this c laiming work, the couples in this study not only moved on from a vision of biological parenting to a vision of adoptive parenting, but they also deepened their investment and strengthened their parental identiti es (Sandelowski et al., 1993). These steps of imagining a child and binding in to that specific child despite theory of maternal identity d evelopment, specifically the process of Fantasy imagining what the child will be like and how the mother will relate to the child The participants in this study acknowledged the additional complexities that come with becoming a parent through adoption, but the research indicates a stronger focus on the similarities between the two groups rather than the dif ferences (Sandelowski et al., 1993). This study emphasizes the importance of meaning making in the transition from infertility to adoption and the need for a symbolic transition during the pre adoptive period to prepare parents for the identity shift
41 that will occur. Although this article continues to be cited in adoption research over twenty years later (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; McKay & Ross, 2010), the cultural perspectives on parenthood and adoption have evolved si nce it was written, highlighting the need to apply the research cautiously and in conjunction with more recent studies. These articles on the transition from infertility to adoption highlight the importance mily to include non biological children (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Goldberg et al., 20 09; Sandelowski et al., 1993). In doing so, adoptive parents are encouraged to imagine a future child and incorporate an adopti on narrative into their lives. Altho ugh maternal (or parental) identity development is not explicitly mentioned, the internal process of transitioning from infertility to adoption reinforces the psychological and emotional experience of preparing for adoptive parenthood, not just the physica l and tangible process. This supports theory of m aternal i dentity d evelopment and the need for the current adoptive nesting study on the connection between the preparation process and maternal identity for adoptive mothers. Additionally, the emphasis in these studies is on both partners rather than just the prospective a doptive mother. While this is common in adoption research given the lack of a biological process for the mother and the increased similarities in experience for both partners prior to placement, the need is clear for more research directly exploring the process for adoptive mothers (Fontenot, 2007). Transition to Biological and Adoptive Parenthood: A Comparison Although the research is limited on the transition process for ado ptive parents, some studies exist comparing the experience of becoming biological parents to becoming adoptive parents. Most of the studies took place over twenty years ago, but
42 they are included because they are foundational in the adoption field and all point to the need for more research in this area (Holditch Davis, Sandelowski, & Harris, 1998; Koepke, Anglin, Austin, & Delesalle, 1991; Levy Shiff, Bar, & Har Even, 1990; Le vy Shiff et al. 1991). Levy Shiff et al. (1990) conducted a quantitative study to compare the psychological functioning of prospective adoptive parents to expecting biological parents during the pre adoptive or prenatal period The participants in the study were fifty two first time parents to be; half were waiting to adopt and half were preparing for the arrival of a child biologically. Six different scales were used to assess the psychological functioning and health of these couples, and the results were analyzed and compared. The results suggest that the expectancy period was diff erent for both groups and that adoptive parents showed more positive adjustment attitudes than biological parents did, including higher marital satisfaction and social support during the waiting period. The authors noted that the stress of becoming a paren t and by the joy of receiving a child after the complex road of the pre adoptive process. They suggest that this long awaited joy may reduce initial emotional distress, b ut that it could lead to tougher adjustment issues later (Levy Shiff et al., 1990). Although this study lays important groundwork for assessing the similarities and differences between the expectancy phase for biological and adoptive parents, it is limited since it primarily evaluated psychological functioni ng and relational satisfaction. While these factors are important indicators of a successful transition to parenthood, the lack of research addressing parental readiness and identity development make it difficult to determine
43 the long ter m outcomes for these families. Also, this study highlights the gap in literature on the topic of adoption preparation since the 1990s, with very little current literature on this topic. Levy Shiff et al. (1991) conducted another study exploring pre adoption or prenatal expectations and post adoption or postnatal experiences in first time adoptive and biological parent couples, respectively This short term longitudinal, mixed methods study included 104 Israeli, first time adoptive and biological parent couples. The adoptive couples that participated had already been matched with an infant by the first interview. The couples were interviewed in their homes twice, once two to four months again when the infants were four months old. Several scales and checklists also were administered at both times to more specifically assess for changes over time and differences between the two groups at two separate times. According to the findings, ado ptive parents had more positive pre adoption expectations and reported better coping and more overall satisfaction with their parental roles in their first few months of parenting. The authors pointed to the age and prior life stability of ado ptive parents as contributors. They also stated that higher expectations overall seem to contribute to more positive outcomes for both groups, but that adoptive parents seemed to go into parenting with higher expectations than biological parents (Levy Shiff et al., 199 1) As in the earlier study (Levy Shiff et al., 1990), Levy Shiff et al. (1991) acknowledged that the higher satisfaction rates may be related to the significant relief experienced after a long road of infertility and pre adoption and that follow up studie s are needed to determine the long term outcomes for adoptive parents. The use of mixed methodologies and the inclusion of a follow up interview four months after
44 placement is a strength of this study; however, interviewing both parents together may have l imited the adoptive parents from sharing negative feelings and experiences resulting from the difficulty in becoming parents through adoption due to their desire to reassure their partner that it was worth the wait and the struggle (Levy Shiff et al., 1991 ). Holditch Davis et al. (1998) conducted a qualitative, naturalistic study comparing early parent infant interactions of couples with a history of infertility who became adoptive or biological parents to interactions of couples with no history of infert ility who became biological parents. Seventy couples participated in the study, including thirty infertile couples who eventually had biological children, twenty one adoptive couples, and nineteen fertile couples. The study was conducted using parent infan t observation by naturalistic techniques derived from ethology, and behaviors were recorded and analyzed. According to the findings, adoption and infertility did not hinder early parent infant interactions. Although the results in most categories were simi lar across groups, one significant difference was an increased division of responsib ility between adoptive parents. This is likely due to not breastfeeding, but it could also be indicative of the cohesive and shared process adoptive parents undergo to beco me parents (Holditch Davis et al., 1998). Although the emphasis on interactions and behaviors yielded helpful results about the observational similarities and differences between these groups, this r emotional processes. Also, have been influenced by the presence of a researcher, which is a possible limitation.
45 Ceballo et al. (2004) conducted a mixed methods, longit udinal study on the different paths to parenthood and compared the experience of gaining a child through birth, adoption, or marriage to understand both the overall experience of gaining a child and the complexities of gaining a child through nonnormative means, such as adoption and the blending of families (Ceb allo et al. 2004). Sixty eight families of the 13,000 surveyed in the preliminary National Survey of Families and Households database acquired a child through adoption sometime between the initial i nterview and the second interview. The researchers used this sample and randomly selected an additional sixty eight families that became parents biologically and sixty eight families that became blended families during the time between the first and second interviews. Face to face interviews were conducted at two different times approximately five years apart, and several scales and checklists were given and then compared f or more tangible measurements. Among the variables being investigated were psycholog ical well being, marital quality, family relationships, and work roles in the three parental groups biological, adoptive, and stepparent (Ceballo et al. 2004). Results suggested that the experience of becoming an adoptive parent or a stepparent may be les s stressful than the adjust ment to biological parenthood. Overall, however, the impact of gaining a child did not vary significantly across parental groups (Ceballo et al., 2004). Although this study suggests that the transition to parenthood may be simil ar for all three parental groups, it also emphasizes the importance of honoring the transition to parenthood and the nuances that may exis t for nontraditional families. The use of a randomly selected, nationally representative sample and longitudinal dat a is a strength of this study. A limitation of this study is the absence of information about the
46 circumstances of the adoptions, which limits the ge neralizability of the results. As in the study by Levy Shiff et al. (1990), Ceballo et al. (2004) focuse d on psychological well being and relationship satisfaction as indicators of overall success in the transition to parenthood. While these are effective measures of short term adjustment, more research focused on feelings of preparedness and parental identity de velopment is needed to determine long term outcomes for both biological and adoptive parents. Using a mixed methods approach, Koepke et al. (1991) compared the feelings and reactions of first time adoptive mothers to biological mothers to better understan d the transition to motherhood. Individual structured interviews were conducted, and a thirty item questionnaire was given to first time mothers of infants, including twenty four adoptive mothers and twenty four biological mothers. The results indicated th at the feelings and experiences during the transition to becoming mothers were similar in both groups One notable difference between groups involved e motional responses to fatigue. Adoptive mothers expressed more feelings of happiness, and biological moth ers reported more feelings of being overwhelmed and weary. Another difference was that a higher percentage of adoptive mothers reported a positive effect on their marriage (Koepke at al., 1991). The results of this study are particularly meaningful for the current adoptive nesting study because of the emphasis on the transition to motherhood and the noted similarities in this process between bi ological and adoptive mothers. This study highlights the appropriateness of using existing theories and frameworks for biological maternal identity development for adoptive mothers due to the overlaps in experience, while also addressing the symbolic differences for adoptive mothers, both positive and negative, that need to be honored. Although a mixed
47 meth odology can provide a broader array of data, it may be a limitation for this study because the use of structured interviews and questionnaires may not provide as rich of a description as other qualitative approaches could (Koepke et al., 1991). Additionall y, this study is outdated, highlighting the need for current research on the topic of becoming an adoptive mother. The above studies reinforce that, while similarities exist in the transition to parenthood for biological and adoptive parents, the proces ses are not the same and should be treated uniquely (Ceballo et al., 2004; Holditch Davis et al., 1998; Koepke et al., 1991; Levy Shiff et al., 1 990; Levy Shiff et al., 1991). The prevalence of research suggesting that the transition to adoptive parenthood may be smoother and have less negative outcomes than the transition to biological parenthood dating back over twenty years may have created an assumption that additional intervention for this nonnormative population i s not needed (Goldberg, 2010). To the contrary, the frequency of family problems, behavior issues, and adoption disruption indicates that, despite positive expectations and higher levels of satisfaction in the early phases of adoptive parenthood, there are persistent unmet needs for adoptive f amilies that must be addressed (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007; Brodzinsky, 2013; Porch, 2007) In the current study, the emphasis on the connection between feeling prepared and developing a maternal identity sociocultural phenomenon of nesting provided further support for the position that the more invested an adoptive mother feels, both to the specific child and to her identity as an adoptive mother, the better the long term outcomes for these families.
48 In the next section, more recent research is presented on the transition to adoptive parenthood that shows that, despite some similarities and even advantages of becoming an adoptive parent to becoming a parent biologically, adoptive parents undergo complexit ies and challenges unique to their process that need to be honored and addressed, both in adoption literature and by professionals connected to the adoption process (Lobar & Phillips, 1996; McKay et al., 2010; McKay & Ross, 2010). Transition to Adoptive Pa renthood Although the literature is lacking on recent research related to the transition to motherhood for adoptive mothers, some significant contributions have been made to the field of ado ption research in recent years. McKay et al. (2010) reviewed exis ting research on the topic of adjustment to parenthood for adoptive parents. By searching six databases using a variety of keywords related to post adoption, a systematic literature review limited to those studies that addressed the immediate post adoption period through three years post placement was conducted to examine individual and relational adjustment outcomes during the transition to adoptive parenthood. After thorough review of the literature focusing on the experiences of adoptive parents, only el even relevant research studies were found addressing the overall health of adoptive parents (McKay et al., 2010). This is surprising considering the abundance of literature addressing the transition to parenthood for biological parent s (Glade, Bean, & Vira 2005). Despite the sparse research addressing adoptive parents, this review of existing literature reinforces earlier research done on this topic that suggests that rates of mental and emotional distress in adoptive parents are lower than the rates for b iological parents (Ceballo et al., 2004; Holditch Davis et al., 1998; Levy Shiff et al., 1990; Levy Shiff et al.; 1991; Solchany, 1998). Although this seems like good news for adoptive
49 parents, much more research is needed to determine the causes for these initial differences in distress levels between biological and adoptive parents and whether adoptive parents continue to experience less distress over time Also, these findings should not suggest that the road to adoption is easier and therefore that more formal support and comprehensive intervention are not necessary (McKay et al., 2010). As in previous studies exploring adoptive parent adjustment, the studies included in this literature review measured success and positive outcomes by focusing on mental and emotional distress rather than feelings of preparedness and parental identi ty development. Although less distress can be an indicator of a healthy transition, it is difficult to determine how the initial relief and joy of becoming parents following an often long and difficult road of infertility and pre adoptive waiting affects the results for adoptive parents, which reinforces the need for both post adoption studies and longitudinal studies to explore this further (McKay et al., 2010). McKay & Ross (20 10) conducted Grounded Theory research describing a pilot study from Ontario, Canada that explored the support needs of adoptive parents in the post placement period. Eight semi structured interviews were conducted with nine newly placed adoptive parents r ecruited through local agencies and adoption groups. Eligible participants had to have adopted a child within the past year or be in the process of adoption at the time of the study. Using Grounded Theory methodology to analyze the data, the investigators identified two meta meta theme of Challenges, three sub themes emerged: isolation and fear, parenting related obstacles, and lack of su pport. Within the Facilitators theme, sub themes were
50 classified as overcoming challenges, positive parenting experiences, and support. Participants in the study acknowledged the stress they experienced due to not having the needed knowledge about parenti ng and children, which they often attributed to the suddenness and unpredictab ility of their placements. According to McKay & Ross (2010), the adoptive parents in the study also acknowledged that they were hesitant or unwilling to participate in parenting groups for fear of being the only adoptive parents present Adoptive mothers in this study avoided seeking support from biological mothers because they perceived that biological mothers would not be able to understand what they were going through. The part icipants also stated a hesitation in reaching out to family and friends out of fear of being misunderstood or being perceived as ungrateful. Although this presented as a hardship, most of the participants described seeking out support from other adoptive parents instead of their immediate family and friend networks, which provided comfort and connection for the participants McKay & Ross (2010) concluded that preparing adoptive parents for the difficulties they may face could increase their feelings of pre paredness during the transition to adoptive parenting. The authors highlighted the importance of developing both strong resources and solid support systems during the waiting period so that parents are better prepared to handle the transition once the chil d arrives. Though this study is limited due to its small sample size and heterogeneous sample, it is a useful framework for adoption workers and adoptive families to pull from dur ing this important transition. focus on the transition process to adoptive parenthood further supports the need for the current study on adoptive nesting because it connects the tangible preparation process to the emotional, relational, and psychological process that takes place concurrently.
51 Although somewha t dated, Lobar & Phillips (1996) conducted a qualitative, ethnographic study that still holds valu e for adoption research today. The study was designed to describe the feelings, experiences, and perceptions of parents pursuing adoption and their influences on the parent child relationship. The participants in the study were five married couples who had no children prior to adopting and all received infants thro ugh private adoption agencies. After conducting open ended interviews and analyzing the data, the authors identified seven phases of the waiting process: (1) choice to adopt, (2) the adoption path, (3) the call, (4) the pregnancy wait, (5) birth and receipt of the infant, (6) adaptation to parenthood, and (7) after the legal birth certificated. Out of these phases, several themes emerged, including uncertainty, unpreparedness, commitment to an unguaranteed investment, seeing selves as risk takers, isolation, competition, judgment, and ostracism (Lobar & Phillips, 1996). These themes highlight the confus ion and loneliness that can exist during the transition to adoptive parenthood due to the ambiguity of the adoption process and the feelings of alienation that accom pany a nonnormative lifestyle. While some of the themes are unique to the experience of pri vate, domestic infant adoption, the overall themes and the feelings of the participants seem to fit with current research on the transition to adoptive parenthood and reinforce the need for formal support services for waiting parents, widespread education, and increased understanding of the complex needs that may be present for adoptive families (Goldberg et al., 2009; McKay et al., 2010; McKay & Ross, 2010). Although this study is dated and limited due to its small sample size, use of a qualitative, ethnographic approach to understanding
52 the private adoption process demonstrated the importance of gaining insight and perspective on the topic through personal and in depth contact with the participants. Despite research indicating that some parts of the process of becoming an adoptive parent may be easier than becoming a biological parent, other studies that focus more on feelings of preparedness indicate that adoptive parents feel unprepared for adoptive parenthood and alienated fr om the normative process of becoming a parent (Lobar & Phillips, 1996 ; McKay & Ross, 2010). Lack of preparedness, feelings of isolation, and lack of formal support all signify that more understanding and research is needed on the experience of becoming an adoptive parent (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Lobar & Phillips, 1996; McKay & Ross, 2009). Additi research on biological mothers that links feelings of preparedness to the development of a maternal identity suggests that this conn ection also needs to be explored further for adoptive mothers. Maternal Identity Development for Adoptive Mothers For both biological and adoptive mothers, feeling invested in the process of becoming a mother and in mothering a specific child leads to a s moother and healthier transition for both mother and child (Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; Rubin, 1984). in, a mutual attachment between an adoptive mother and child would not begin until the child is physica lly with th e parent. T o apply Rubin theory of maternal identity d evelopment to adoptive mothers, it is necessary to return to the precursor for binding in: the wish her desire to mother a child (Rubin, 1984 p. 51). For adoptive mothers, that process starts with the intentional decision to pursue motherhood through adoption.
53 As in of the wish, adoption literature also points to an underlying theme that permeates the research and seems to be a significant indicator of a successful and healthy adjustment to adoptive parenthood. For adoptive parents to fully invest in the adoption process physically, psychologically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually they must believe it is meant to b e (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Lobar & Phillips, 1996; Sandelowski et al., 1993; Solchany, 1998). Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell (2003) expound upon this notion of m eant to b e in their research with infertile cou ples who have adopted a child. Throughout th e complicated process of becoming parents through adoption, the participants expressed an increase in philosophical understanding about life and meaning Mitchell, 2003, p. 396). This idea of m eant to b e is not simply the natural outcome of child placement and maternal role attainment; rather, it is the result of a complex process of identity shifting that begins with the wish for a child and culminates in the attai nment of the desired fu ture. Although the concept of meant to b e was applied to both adoptive mothers and adoptive fathers, it bears a certain significance in the process of maternal identity development. Once a prospective adoptive mother has the wish (Ru bin, 1984) and th en believes a certain child is meant to b e (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003), she can begin readying herself, her home, and her life for the arrival of her child through adoptive nesting. Like the concept of meant to b e, Sandelowski et al. (1993) used the term parental claiming to describe the process prospective adoptive parents experience as they prepare to bring a child home. According to Sandelowski et al. (1993), there are
54 three important steps involved in this parental c laiming proce ss: (1) creating an object to claim, (2) undermining the importance of blood ties, and (3) transforming someone into the right child for them. By undergoing this process, the prospective parents buy into the belief that the child who comes to them is theirs and can begin preparing for parenthood and incorporating their child into their lives (Sandel owski et al., 1993). Both concepts of meant to b e (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003) and parental c laiming (Sandelowski et al., 1993) tie in to Rubi theory of maternal identity d evelopment in their recognition of the symbolic shift in role and identity necessary to ensure a successful transition from infertility to adoption. Solchany (1998) also addressed this con cept of meant to b e in a q ualitative, phenomenological study designed to develop a deeper understanding about the journey for women participating in the pre adoptive experience and adoption process. The participants were three women who had each recently adopted a child internatio nally. The author conducted open ended, semi structured interviews to explore the phenomenon of the pre adoptive experience. After thorough analysis of the data, the author characterized the pre adoptive period with seven themes: (1) taking control decidi ng to adopt and preparing, (2) creating a family believing this is the path they are meant to take, (3) anticipating, (4) celebrating the pictures making the child and the valuing the part of their stories that precede them, (6) investing personally spending of self, time, money and, resources, and (7) bonding feeling connected to the unmet child as a result of all the other themes. Although there are components to the pre adoptive experien ces for the participants that may be unique to international adoptions, the findings can be
55 applied to other types of adoptions as well (Solchany, 1998). This research supports the use of a phenomenological study by identifying the pre adopti ve experience as a phenomenon. Additionally, this study highlights the significance of the pre adoptive experience and the need for more research on this topic. This study touches on the importance of adoptive nesting without using the term by its emphasis on the emoti onal, psychological, and physical process of preparing for adoptive parenthood. This study is limited due to its small sample size, but since the focus was solely on international adoption, Solchany (1998) reported receiving a rich picture of this experien ce through these three participants. Despite the lack of current research on both the transition to adoptive motherhood and the incorporation of the phenomenon of nesting, Fontenot (2007) made a significant contribution to these topics in a literature rev iew conducted specifically on the adaptation and transition to motherhood for women who adopt children, with the goal of identifying implications for clinical practice. The author reviewed existing literature on the transition to biological motherhood to p rovide a com parison between the processes. framework for maternal role a ttainment (Rubin, 1967) and theory on m aternal i dentity d research on Becoming a Mother are included, which highlight s the significance for adoptive mothers of strengthening maternal identity and binding in to their child even before that child is placed with them. The literature review was conducted by searching electronic databases for articles focusing on the early tr ansitions to adoptive motherhood published after 1990. After an extensive search of several databases using many key terms, six articles were identified that met the criteria. After evaluating the
56 existing literature, the author concluded that the process of adaptation to motherhood is very similar for adoptive and biological mothers, but adoptive parents reported unique emotions and concerns during the transition that need to be addressed to better help them navigate this transition (Fontenot, 2007). Afte stages of Becoming a Mother to the process of becoming a mother through adoption to highlight the added complexities that adoptive mothers face in developing a maternal identity. By looking at the stages, there are clear areas of uncertainty and confusion for adoptive mothers in compl eting this process. The first stage commitment, attachment, and preparation which is identified as the pregnancy stage (Mercer, 2004), is risky for p rospective adoptive mothers. Allowing oneself to fully commit is not wise considering the uncertainty of the adoption process prior to placement. In addition, biological mothers begin attaching to their baby in utero throughout pregnancy, with milestones s uch as ultrasounds and the baby kicking that make the process even more real (Rubin, 1984). This type of physical attachment is not present for adoptive mothers. Because commitment and attachment are difficult for adoptive mothers to participate in prior to the arrival of the child, it is a reasonable assertion that the next part of the first st age preparation would be d ifficult as well. pregnancy stage, the other stages of Becoming a Mother are not likely to occur in a similar manner for adoptive mothers as they do for biological mothers. By compari ng the differences in process and experience for adoptive mothers to biological mothers in stressed the need for the development of a maternal identity framework specific to
57 ad optive mothers. Additionally, although a handful of studies exist on the topic of the transition to parenthood for adoptive parents, much more research is needed to more thoroughly understand the complexities of this process and facilitate support for thes e parents (Fontenot, 2007) Although there is a gap in the literature regarding adoptive nesting, Fontenot (2007) touches on the complexity and beauty of this phenomenon without naming it. Also, the specific emphasis on maternal identity development and th e topic of maternal identity for adoptive mothers. After an extensive review of the literature, Fontenot (2007) noted that new theories on maternal identity and role trans ition are needed for helping professionals to better attend to the needs of adoptive mothers. Research on maternal identity development for adoptive mothers is scarce, but the few studies that exist point to a meaningful connection between participation i n a incorporate becoming a mother (Fontenot, 2007; Solchany, 1998). Due to the added complexities of becoming a mother through adoption, adoptive mothers have felt alie nated from the broader sociocultural process of preparing for motherhood, leading to a lack of confidence in their maternal identities and feelings of unpreparedness prior to the arrival of a child (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; McKay & Ross, 2010). Th e following section explores the limited existing research on the phenomenon of nesting and points to future research that is needed to explore this phenomenon specifically for adoptive mothers.
58 Nesting and Adoptive Nesting Although a substantial amount o f research exists on the preparation process for expectant mothers, the academic literature has yet to recognize the significance of the cultural phenomenon of nesting and the symbolism of referring to the preparation process in this way. After an extensiv e review of the literature, only one article was identified that touches on the concept of nesting and expands it to incorporate more than just the physica l process undertaken by birds. This article, entitled Social Nesting: Changes in Social Network and S upport Across the Transition to Parenthood in Couples That Conceived Spontaneously or Through Assisted Reproductive Technologies by Gameiro et al. (2010), provides a starting point for future research in this area. These researchers studied social nesting, which they define as movement by the parents toward their nuclear family during the process of transitioning to parenthood, in spontaneously conceiving parents and parents who underwent Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) This denotes the researcher may vary depending on the complexity of experience a couple undergoes to become parents. Thirty one women and twenty two men that conceived through ART and twenty eight women and twenty four men that conceived spontane ously were interviewed twenty four weeks into pregnancy and four months postpartum. The results indicated that, regardless of method of conception, new parents showed a strong social nesting movement toward their nuclear family during the transition to par enthood. Although results were similar for both groups, the ART group reported a decrease in perceived emotional support from extended family. Findings of this study highlight the importance of honoring the differences in spontaneously conceiving parents and ART parents in their pre natal preparation process and their post natal adjustment process.
59 complicated for nontraditional parents than it is for spontaneously c onceiving biolog ical parents. Th e researchers concluded that that future research is needed to better explain the social nesting phenomenon and how it impacts both traditional and nontraditional parents (Gameiro et al., 2010). Although this study used the term social nesting, it did not define nesting, making it difficult to fully understand where this term originated. Gameiro et al. (2010) also described the social nesting process as gender neutral, which assumes that the process would look similar for b oth fathers and mothers. This is acknowledged as a possible limitation in the study given that some differences arose between the mothers and fathers, particularly in the ART group, regarding the perceptions of emotional and instrumental support received from family members. This limitation points to the need for the current study on adoptive nesting because of its incorporation of the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting and the connection between the adoptive nesting process and maternal identity developm ent for adoptive mothers. Summary After reviewing the research on the transition to biological parenthood, the transition from infertility to adoption, the transition to adoptive parenthood, and comparisons between different groups of parents, it is apparent that many similarities exist in the process of preparing for motherhood for biological and adoptive mothers (Holditch Davis et al., 1998; Levy Shiff et al., 1990; Levy Shiff et al., 1991; Koepke et al., 1991). Despite the noted similarities, the research also highlights the significant differences and added complexities for adoptive mothers and the need for more research on the transition to motherhood and maternal identity development for this group (Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg et al., 2009; Lobar & Phillips, 1996; McKay & Ross,
60 2010; Solchany, 1998). Additionally, throughout the research on transitioning to motherhood, only one article address the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting directly (Gameiro et al., 2010), which is surprising given the prev alence of this concept in popular culture today. By conducting a hermeneutic phenomenological study on adoptive nesting, the phenomenon of preparing for motherhood for adoptive mothers was explored in hopes of furthering the research and eventually develop ing a framework for adoptive nesting. In the next chapter, the methodology for the current adoptive nesting study is described
61 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY Overview This chapter provides an overview of the current study, including the methodology and data collection and analysis p rocedures that were used. The purpose statement and research question are reiterated to highlight the focus of the current study and the rationale for the chosen methodology and data colle ction and analysis procedures. This chapter also includes a subjectivity statement to account for possible bias and to explain the interest in this subject area. Hermeneutic Phenomenology The research method chosen for the current adoptive nesting study was phenomenology because of its emphasis on lived experience in investigating a certain phenomenon of interest (Moustaka s, 1994). highlights the importance of dasein, or being in the world (Heidegger, 1962; 1988). At the core of dasein is the notion that no ob ject or person exists outside of the world around it and that every object or person is influenced by its environment (Guignon, 2012; Heidegger, 1988 ). Miles, Chapman, Francis, & Taylor (2013) specifically connect or care, to studies focused on interpersonal relationships and the impact of the re lationships on the phenomenon. Sorge is a fundamental component for being in the world, as it is what connects people to others in the world in a mea ningful way (Heidegger, 1962). T his is important for the current study because of the interconnectedness that exists between the sociocultural relationships as she waits and prepares for the arrival of her ch ild. Sorge is also
62 reflected in the current study because of the shared experience I as the researcher had with the participant s in being an adoptive mother. This commitment to and investment in the phenomenon on the part of the researcher is a critical co mponent of hermeneutic phenomenology (Vagle, 2014). Purpose and Research Question The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers as they work to create a maternal identity and prepare for the arrival of a child by way of adoption. Adoptive nesting is defined as the emotional, psychological, physical, relational, practical, and spiritual preparation process of The following research question guided the study: How did adoptive mothers experience adoptive nesting as they prepared for adoption? Participants and Sampling
64 IRB Protocol Study Protocol (see Appendix E). The IRB process is designed to ensure that the most ethical and appropriate standards and procedures are implemented in the study to ensure the safety and well being of the human su bjects lived experiences, this began with ensuring confidentiality to the best of my ability at every stage of the research. Each participant chose a pseudonym during the first interview that was used for the r emainder of the study as the only identifying information for the participant. Each research participant was designated a confidential file that included the informed consent form, demographic information, interview transcriptions, and any memos, notes, or observations related to the participant. All hard copies were kept in a secure and locked file cabinet inside my home office. All electronic documents were stored on a password No identifying informat ion was given to the participants about each other. The participants were notified on the informed consent form (see Appendix D) that, although confidentiality and anonymity would be maintained throughout their par ticipation in most of the research study it could not be guaranteed during the group interview. The participants were informed that they could opt out of the group interview to maintain confidentiality and anonymity, or for any other reason at any point during the study. At the end of the secon d interviews, I reminded each participant about the
65 limitations to confidentiality and anonymity during the group interview and asked if they had any questions or concerns about the group interview process. I also informed them they could be referred to by their pseudonym or any name they preferred during the group interview Data Collection For this study, each participant was asked to take part in two individual, semi structured interviews lasting approximately one hour each and a follow up group intervi ew lasting ninety minutes with approximately two weeks between each interview. The purpose of the first interview was for the participants to provide relevant background information and share their stories and experiences with preparing for adoptive mothe rhood using the semi structured Interview Guide 1 (See Appendix A) as a framework (Seidman, 1991). Although unstructured interviews are most commonly used in phenomenological research studies because they tend to be more dialogic and conversational (Vagle 2014, p. 78), a semi structured approach was selected for the current study to provide consistency in t he interview format. The goal of phenomenological research is not to replicate the same interview with each participant; rather, the purpose is to find out as much as possible about the phenomenon of interest. Thus, the structure served as a guide and was modified if it interfered with pursuing the phenomenon fully (Vagle, 2014). After each first interview, researcher memos were recorded to make note o f any reactions, observations and informal communication between the researcher and the participant before and after the recording (Crist & Tanner, 2003) During the second interview, the fo cus was on reflecting meaning. This was done by sharing experiences since the first interview, providing any additional thoughts on the
66 phenomenon of interest, and presenting themes to the participants that emerged from the analysis of the first round of interview s (Seidman, 1991). Results w ere provided in the form of specific theme s that emerged in each general themes that emerged second interview, the phenomenon of nesting was discussed and the phenomenon of adoptive nesting was introduced and defined for the participants to develop a stronger connection between the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting and how it relates to adoptive mothers. (See Appendix B Interview Guide 2.) After each second interview, rese archer memos were recorded again to ensure the incorporation of all relevant data into the data analysis process (Crist & Tanner, 2003). To fully develop an understanding of the phenomenon of interest, Seidman (1991) recommends conduct ing at least three i nterviews. Similarly, Vagle (2014) urges phenomenological researchers to engage the participants as many times as necessary and in whatever formats are most useful to fully describe the phenomenon of interest. For the current study, a third interview was c onducted in a group format in which the participants were gathered together to reflect, connect, summarize, review transcripts, and make individual and collective meaning of their experiences (Seidman, 1991). This on the reflective interpretive process of emphasis on hermeneutics, Gadamer (1984) reinforced the view that interpretation is not an isolated activity, but rather it is the basic structure of experience (p. 58). This process of interacting with the data both individually and collectively through a process
67 called the hermeneutic circle is discussed in more detail later in this chapter (Crist & Tanner, 2003; Moustakas, 1994). An additional goal of the group interview was to facilitate support and enhance com munity among adoptive mothers. The presence of the group component strengthened the interconnectedness of the participants to each other and to me as the group facilitator, Although participation in the group interview was encouraged from all six participants, only four participants attended the group interview. The two women that did not attend lived in mo re rural areas about an hour away Although they initially committed to the group interview and expressed interest in participating, both women had work conflicts precluding them from attending. The se two participants were contacted separately to share any final t houghts and wrap up the study. A second group interview was considered, but since the participants who did not attend live nearly an hour away from the location where the interviews were conducted and in opposite directions from each other, it was decided that a second group interview would not occur at this point. As the group interview began, the women greeted each other and sat down excitedly. In the room there was a large white board with the emerging themes from the first two interviews displayed. This summary provided a background for the interview. The women were asked to look over the themes and provide any reactions or feedback No new themes emerged from the group interview, indicating saturation, but through dialogue, some of the themes were renamed and reorganized under different nesting areas. As was the case for the first two interviews memos and field notes wer e recorded immediately following the group interview to document informal
68 conversations, observations, and interpersonal dynamics that may not have come across on the audio recording, in addition to the researcher reactions and reflections (Crist & Tanne r, 2003). After the group interview, the memos also highlighted general reactions to the shared experience of adoptive nesting and how those dynamics differed from the interactions between the researcher and one participant. Each interview was audio record ed and transcribed verbatim (Flick, 2009) The transcribing and subsequent coding of the first interview took place closely following the interview and prior to the second inter view. The same procedure was followed between the second interview and the gr ou p interview (Seidman, 1991). Thus, the data sources for the current study included interview transcripts as well as the memos field notes, and observations recorded during and after each interaction with the participants. Data Analysis Data collection and data analysis are difficult to separate in phenomenological research because they are intertwined throughout the research process (Moustakas, 1994; Vagle, 2014) To stay congruent with the theory and method, data should be analyzed based on the specific a pproach being used. One commitment that remains important across phenomenological approaches is utilizing a whole parts whole process, which comes from the idea that focal meanings, or moments, must be thought of in relation to the broader context, or the whole (Vagle, 2014). ; 2014 ) Hermeneutic Phenomenology Thematic Analysis was used to analyze the data. This method involves approaching the data in three distinct ways: (1) Wholistic which involves attending to the text as a whole; (2) Selective (highlighting), which involves reading through the text several times and identifying statements or phrases that are particularly revealing about the
69 phenomenon; and (3) Detailed (line by line), which involves looking at every sentence and asking what the line or sentence says about the phenomenon (Van Manen, 2001 ; 2014 ). Engaging the data in this manner increased the trustworthiness of the study by ted throughout the data analysis and in the subsequent themes that emerged. (2001; 2014) approach to thematic analysis was first applied to each interview individually. Each interview and subsequent memo from the first round of interviews was read and re read to capture the essence of the data as a whole and what the text conveyed about the phenomenon of adoptive nesting Then, I returned to the data in portions reading and re reading paragraphs and sections to get a deeper sense of what each section was communicating about the phenomenon. Next, I returned to the data again, this time reading reach sentence and line carefully and asking if and how each line connects to the adoptive nesting experience. This coding process resu lted in the emergence of preliminary themes from the first interviews for each participant individually, as well as general themes throughout the interviews. This same process took place after the second interviews and the group interview as well, leading to richer descriptions of experiences and deeper understanding of the phenomenon of interest. Although there are some similarities in methodology across phenomenological approaches, Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology which falls under the category of interpretive phenomenology makes some important distinctions for how data analysis should and should not be conducted (Moustakas, 1994) phenomenological methodology aims to understand the subjective meaning of the
70 social experience, rath er than measure, explain, or make predictions, and to locate this ). In both data collection and data analysis of interpretive phenomenological research, a balance is necessary between structure and freedom to provide a clear focus, while still leaving room to engage with and respond to the data (Smythe, Ironside, Sims, Swenson, & Spence, 2008). To do this, the researcher participates in the discipline of reading, writing, talking, thinking, rereading, rewr iting, and developing new insights (Smythe et al., 2008, p. 1393). This process is known as the hermeneutic circle interpretation through understanding is achieved through this circular process (Crotty, 1998; Tuohy, Cooney, Dowling, Murphy, & Sixsmith, 20 13). From a hermeneutic phenomenological lens, inviting others to participate in this circle can lead to richer and deeper interpretations (Gadamer, 1984; Tuohy et al., 2013; Vagle, 2014). As mentioned previously, I invited the participants to join the h ermeneutic circle by sharing exemplars or significant excerpts that characterize specific common themes or meanings across participants (Crist & Tanner, 2003, p. 204), as well as facilitating their reflection on the experience of participating in this r esearch. The participants were incorporated into the hermeneutic circle during their individual interviews and the group interview through sharing emerging themes both from their own previous interviews an d from the larger body of data collected This prov ided an oppo rtunity for the participants to reflect with me on the emerging themes and provide additional perspective and feedback in a collaborative setting. M emos and field notes were taken when dialoguing with anyone connected to the data as part of the audit trail.
71 After thorough engagement with the data by participating in the hermeneutic circle, I as the research investigator continued with interpretation through naming, which is the conceptualization and coding of central concerns and exemplars (Be nner, Tanner, & Chesla, 1996). As themes emerged, I provided names that were congruent with the way the themes were represented in the individu al stories of the participants. Some of the wording for the themes came directly from the participants, while oth er names were developed through careful engagement with the data using the three approaches in Van ; 2014 ) Hermeneutic Phenomenology Thematic Analysis. When naming the emerging themes, I incorporated the phenomenological emphasis of discoverin g th e life world existential themes from the data that allow phenomenologists to reflect on how people experience the world (Tuohy et al., 2013; Van Manen, 2001). By using life world existential themes as a framework for naming in the current study, the em erging themes carried both a personal and a universal significance that resonated across the data. (Vagle, 2014) While descriptive phenomenology promotes bracketing, or putting aside past knowledge and assumptions to be fully present with the phenomenon as it is (Vagle, 2014, p. 67), interpretive phenomenology sees the recognition of assumptions and past knowledge as the forward arc of the hermeneutic circle, making this awareness of personal connection to the phenomenon not only appropriate, but crucial to the interpretation p rocess (Crist & Tanner, 2003). unders ( Smythe et al., 2007, p. 1392). With that in mind, it is still important in interpretive
72 phenomenological studies to be aware of any previous knowledge or assumptions that co uld influence both the conduct of the investigator and the interpretation of the data (Smythe et al., 2007; Vagle, 2014). assumptions and experience is by engaging in an alternati ve technique known as bridling (Dahlberg, 2006). Bridling incorporates the essence of bracketing, but rather than seeking to remove pre understandings held by the researcher, the goal is to restrain such pre understandings so they do not limit ope nness. This process phenomenon as a whole throughout the study (Dahlberg, 2006; Vagle, 2014). Dahlberg, Dahlberg, & Nystrom (2008) describe bridling as looking forward and bra cketing as looking backward, emphasizing that the goal of bridling is to allow the researcher to construct some distance between self and the phenomenon to create an atmosphere of ahlberg, 2006, p. 16). As a fellow adoptive mother interviewing other adoptive mothers about their experiences, I was acutely aware of the possibility for bias and assumptions based on my own experiences. I incorporated bridling into my data collecting an d data analysis to provide greater opportunity for the phenomenon to be understood more fully through the lived experiences of the participants. Immediately following each interview, I wrote memos specifically addressing my personal thoughts, feelings and experiences with the participant and in response to her lived experiences. I also used bridling of my own perceptions while listening to the audio recordings of the interviews and reading through
73 the interview transcripts and memos. I also analyzed m y res ponses during the interviews to identify if any themes emerged from me as opposed to the participants. Hearing my own reactions and experiences on the recordings and reading them on the transcripts provided the opportunity for me to continue to bridle my t houghts and reactions throughout the data collection and data analysis processes. From a Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological perspective, it is central for researchers to put aside any claim that their research will yield objective, simplified, scien tific concepts of truth. This essential tenet does not remove phenomenological research from the scientific realm, but rather it strengthens the identification of phenomenology as a scientific philosophy (Heidegger, 1988) Instead of seeking repetition in results, the researcher must embrace the reality that each conversation and emerge and interpretations can be made by honoring each narrative and acknowledging that th ere will always be more thinking and experiencing to be done, both individually and collectively (Smythe et al., 2007). Trustworthiness
74 Another important aspect of establishing trustworthiness is by accounting f or researcher bias. As mentioned previously, it is not appropriate in interpretive
75 phenomenology for the researcher to bracket out all past knowledge of and experience with the phenomenon of interest (Crist & Tanner, 2003; Vagle, 2014 ). However, it is nece ssary to be aware of possible bias resulting from assumptions based on the process, I established enough distance to see the phenomenon from a fresh lens, but I did not, no r could I, remove myself entirely from the research process or the subsequent findings (Vagle, 2014). Also, integrating my participants into my interpretive team provided many opportunities throughout the data collection and data analysis processes to brid le my own experiences while reflecting on the lived experiences of my participants. Subjectivity Statement The motivation for this research came from my own experience as an adoptive mother and my passion as a mental health professional to help people ex plore their identities and make meaning out of their experiences. When I began my doctoral wo rk in 2011, I had no children. Shortly after starting the program, my husband and I underwent infertility treatments until eventually making the decision to pursue adoption whol eheartedly and whole mindedly. In 2012, we welcomed our son into our family at the age of four by way of adoption. It was only two months from the day we first heard his name to the day he moved in to our home permanently, resulting in an exp edited nesting process and a great deal of uncertainty and fear abo ut my readiness for motherhood. It was at this point that my fascination with the phenomenon of nesting and maternal id entity development took shape. My fascination began informally through talking to others I knew who had adopted children and looking at online re sources for adoptive families. In my rushed process of readying my house and my heart for my
76 child, I thought about the term nesting often. It gave me the permission I desperately n eeded to prepare his room, to let others participate in the waiting period with me, and t o begin feeling like a mother. Yet in my online searching, I noticed the discrepancy between the prevalence of the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting for biological m others and the infrequent use of that term in the context of adoptive mothers. The lack of the term in the context of adoption made me feel alienated. I wanted to participate in this phenomenon in the same way as all the other women who became mothers biol ogically, but I knew my process was not the same. As I began to see motherhood from the unique lens of an adoptive parent, my personal and professional worlds started coll iding. As a mental health professional who meets with clients, my connection to th e local adoption community began generating counseling referrals spe cifically related to adoption. Simultaneously, I had made the decision to focus my doctoral research on the nesting process for adoptive mothers. I was saturated in adoption, and it felt congruent and motivating, both personally and professionally. In 2015, my husband and I welcomed two more children into our family by way of adoption. This time, I was more mindful and intenti onal about my nesting process. My identity as a mother was well established, and I felt confident about expanding my maternal identity further as the mother of two daughters, ages five and three at the time of adoption. Although I felt more prepared, both physically and emotionally, there was still a great deal of uncertainty and a tremendous amount of tangible preparation to do. I realized that, although nestin g in the broader sense was important, there were specific
77 ways I needed to prepare that were unique to my si tuation as an adoptive mother. This led to the development of the term adoptive nesting. My interest in conducting a study on adoptive nesting with first time adoptive mothers came out of my personal experience and the lived experiences of others I know. From a Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological perspective, consistent and strong passion for the phenomenon of interest and its impact on people i s necessary to remain fully committed to the process (Smythe et al., 2007). I used my insider position to build connection and trust, both at the recruiting stage and in working with the participants. As a mental health professional, I understand the impo rtance of listening to the perspectives of others and using moments of connection and common ground to add to the experience rather than change or impede it. My goal for this study was to explore the phenomenon of adoptive nesting in hopes of creating a framework for mental health professionals to use to help expectant adoptive mothers prepare emotionally, psychologically, physically, relationally, becoming a mothe r through adoption. This goal was the driving force behind the curre nt adoptive nesting study, has been a continued motivation in my clinical practice, and remains a significant part of my life as an adoptive mother.
78 3 1 Study Participant Overview Name Age Race Years of Infertility Length of adoptive waiting at time of study Type of Adoption Elle 42 W 9 14 months 8 months private, domestic, open Gloria 36 W 8 2 years 18 months private, domestic, semi open Ashley 28 W 6 10 months 2 years, 8 months private, domestic, semi open Marie 37 W 6 2 years 11 months private, domestic, open Ann 43 W 4 17 months 18 months private, domestic, semi open Meghan 36 W 9 2 years 2 years, 6 months private, domestic, semi open
79 CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS Overview This chapter includes findings based on the study procedures outlined in Chapter 3. An overview of the concept of adoptive nesting as experienced by each participant is provided, as well as visual representations of both pre adoptive nesting and post adoptive nesting (see Figures 4 1 and 4 experiences of adoptive nesting are provid ed as composite descriptions of the phenomenon. Each theme is docume nted with participant quotes to depict each provide an overarching view of how first time adoptive mothers experience this phenomenon. The presentation of the findings experiences with the phenomenon of adoptive nesting. These vignettes construct familiarity with each participant, in addition to the phenomenon of interest, to add depth to the study and thoroughly represent t he findings both personally and generally. After these introductions into the lived experiences of the participants, the emerging themes are presented for the two time periods of pre adoptive nesting and post adoptive nesting. Some themes are found in both pre adoption and post adoption categories. Even though there are categories related to the pre adoption and post adoption time periods, the entire process of pre adoptive waiting, child placement, and post adoption adjustment encompasses the phenomenon of adoptive nesting.
80 Adoptive Nesting Vignettes Each participant was asked to describe her journey leading to pursuing adoption, her process of becoming an adoptive mother, and how she defines the sociocultural term of nesting. The participants were later given a definition of adoptive nesting and asked to comment on their experiences with the phenomenon. Vignette 1: Elle Elle is a forty two year old Caucasian female who is the adoptive mother of an eight month that the lack of con trol was the hardest part of her adoption journey. Elle experienced infertility for nine years prior to transitioning to adoption, undergoing intense medical interventions throughout that time. The length of time and the emotional and financial investment she and her husband put in to conceiving a child biologically played a key role in their adoption journey and her identity as a mother. that she felt hurt by close people i n her life throughout her fertility and adoption experiences, making it difficult to know who to trust and how much to share. Elle talked frequently about keeping expectations low, both about the placement and in what she expected from other people. Despi te the tremendous fear of uncertainty and lack of control she experienced throug hout the adoption process, Elle eventually believe d things worked out the way they were supposed to. Although Elle expressed feeling unsure how to engage in the process of bec oming a mother through adoption while she was in the middle of it, she acknowledged that, in hindsight, she wished she could have been more open to the adoption process and to other people in her life.
81 Vignette 2: Gloria Gloria is a thirty six year old Cau casian female who is the adoptive mother of an eighteen month old son. Gloria described her family as stable, religious, and intellectual. Gloria and her husband experienced infertility for eight years before pursuing adoption. She described it as a natur al shift for them, acknowledging that adoption was something they were always open to but did not know much about. Gloria repeatedly emphasized that her belief in God gave her comfort during both her infertility journey and her adoption journey. She talked about how important it was for her to grieve the loss of a biological child and share her feelings with others so that she could At the beginning of their two year pre adoptive waiting period, Gloria did not ta lk about it with many people. After about six months, she had a significant interaction with a distant relative who was also an adoptive mother and who encouraged her to be more of my colleagues had children through adoption. Like this circle of support just materialized. adoptive nesting process as less than the biological process, but she recogniz es and honors the differences. The one thing she would have told herself at the beginning of Vignett e 3: Marie Marie is a thirty seven year old Caucasian female who is the adoptive mother of an eleven month old son. Marie described her life as different than what she envisioned, but better than she could have imagined. She stressed the importance of
82 bein g present and intentional, a philosophy she has incorporated into her parenting as well. Marie and her husband experienced infertility for six years and underwent various degrees of fertility interventions prior to making the transition to adoption. Marie stated that her husband was ready to make the shift to adoption sooner than she was, but after educating herself more and talking to others who had adopted, she felt fully invested in the adoption process. Marie stated that she thinks she nested to some extent. Marie echoed a sentiment shared by the other mothers in this study regarding physically preparing for a s way did not keep her from preparing in other ways. She continued to talk to people connected to adoption during the waiting period, as well as reach out to family and friends for support. Marie expressed the importance of being open with family and close friends about how she was doing and what she needed, both during infertility and throughout er experience, deepening their investment in the adoption process and her future child. She acknowledged that her extroverted personality contributed to her desire to connect and her willingness to be open with others. Vignette 4: Ann Ann is a forty three year old Caucasian female who is the adoptive mother of an eighteen month old daughter. Ann described herself as having a dominant personality, which strengthened her resolve and created opportunities for her throughout the infertility, adoptive waiting, and post placement process. Ann and her husband
83 underwent fertility interventions for four years and experienced significant loss throughout their fertility process, leading them to reevaluate and redefine what it means to create a family. Ann stressed t he importance of being a team with her spouse, particularly when facing issues with family or any other problems that arose related to the adoption process. Ann acknowledged that the process of adopting a child was unfamiliar for them, and it was also new for others in their lives. Ann received meaningful support from other adoptive parents, as well as from her attorney and social worker. She was not afraid to ask for help and to seek out the support she needed. Ann described nesting as getting the house r eady and preparing for a child to come home. She immediately responded that she chose not to nest because she did not want to be disappointed. When asked about adoptive nesting, she said it resonated with her and seemed to fit her experience more closely. She specifically identified the importance of spiritual nesting during her waiting process, stating that faith is crucial for Vig nette 5: Ashley Ashley is a twenty eight year old Caucasian female who is the adoptive mother of a two and a half year old daughter. Ashley perceived judgment from some people when she and her husband began pursuing adoption due to her younger age and the Although this experience
84 differs somewhat from the experience of the other mothers in the study, Ashley and her husband tried to conceive a baby for six years prior to beginning the adoption p rocess which was congruent with the other participants When asked about her transition from fertility intervention to adoption, Ashley was candid about her emotions and her desperate need for hope. Ashley described the adoptive waiting process as very lo nely and confusing. Although she received support from her spouse, she admitted that she did not know how to incorporate others and that it did not seem like anyone who had not also been through the adoption process could understand. She reported that she leaned heavily on the support of her social worker, both emotionally and practically. normative sense, such as buying things and setting up a room. When presented with the term adoptive nesting, Ashley agreed it encompasses the many facets of the adoption waiting process, although she admitted she did not engage in some of the areas as much as she w ould have liked. Ashley emphasized how important it is to her that other adoptive mothers do not feel as alon e as she did. In a memo written immediately following her first individual interview n the parking lot that she finds herself standing physically closer to people when she finds out they are adoptive parents. She described this pull toward other adoptive parents as the instant removal of an invisible barrier, which is energizing and comfo rting. She shared that she connects her desire to support other adoptive mothers to the loneliness she felt on her journey toward becoming a mother.
85 Vignette 6: Meghan Meghan is a thirty six year old Caucasian female who is the adoptive mother of a two a nd a half year old son. She and her husband have been married for fifteen years and live in a small, rural town surrounded by extended family and close friends. They experienced infertility for nine years before pursuing adoption. Meghan talked about the d esire she has had since she was a child to be a mother. Meghan described herself as an open person, which helped her maintain relationships and receive support during her long and hard journey toward motherhood. Meghan did not buy many things prior to pla cement out of fear that the adoption would fall through. She stated that, although she wished she could nest more fully, she felt better waiting to physically nest until after placement occurred. She attributed some of her freedom of waiting to prepare phy sically for a child to the support she felt from her family and friends, stating that she knew they would help her in whatever ways she needed. Despite having a large support system around her, she admitted to not having many connections with other adoptiv e families. Overall, Meghan expressed tremendous gratitude for the way everything worked out. Composite Themes: Pre Adoptive Nesting In this study, a hermeneutic phenomenological method was implemented to develop thematic representations from the combined experiences of the participants. The emerging themes fell into two distinct time periods, before placement and after placement. To honor the differences the participants experienced during each time frame under the larger phenomenon of adoptive nesting, t he composite themes are also
86 adoptive motherhood until the placement of the baby with the adoptive mother, and placement until the present study, which ranged from eight months to two and a half years, depending on the participant. The following section presents the emerging themes identified by participants during the pre adoptive nesting period, which include Choosing Openness, I Want to Be a Mom, Grieving Infertility, Embracing the New Plan A, Honoring the Uncertainty, Redefining Family, Day by Day: Managing Expectations, Riding the Rollercoaster, Formal Support, Adoption Tasks, The Adoption Club, Meant to Be: Letting Go of Control, Choosing Not to Ne st, and Preparing for a Houseguest. After these themes are addressed, the composite themes for the post adoptive In, Permission to Nest: Condensed Nesting, The Village Beco mes the Extended the Other Mother, The Adoption Club, and Meant to Be: Gratitude. Choosing Openness a way of life during both time periods of adoptive nesting. For the current study, Choosing Openness represents a philosophy of how to approach the adoption process by initially deciding to be open to adoption as a path toward motherhood and then continuin g to be open to the adoption process psychologically, emotionally, physically, relationally, practically, and spiritually throughout the adoptive nesting process. Each participant in the study talked about choosing to be open during their journey through i nfertility and
87 pre adoptive waiting and into their lives as adoptive mothers. Marie attributed her philosophy of being open to her ability to make it through the infertility and adoption process. I think [being open] is unnatural for a lot of people, but I think when people world give Elle acknowledged that her lack of openness made her pre adoptive process lonelier than it needed to be. I wish I would have allowed myself to get a little bit more excited. I just shut myself maybe a little more than I needed to because of those earlier little more excited about the idea. I find that some of the coolest things I have acquired in life come from times when I was a little bit more open minded and exploring, you know? Meghan stressed the importance of being vulnerable and not shutting herself off from others or the world. I think with anything, the more open you are about something, I think the more people c that just backfires. Gloria described her intentional shift toward choosing to be more open during her pre cipants discussed Choosing Openness throughout every stage and all nesting time periods, the theme is situated in various places throughout the entire adoptive nesting process.
88 I Want to Be a Mom According to the participants, the core desire driving the pre adoptive waiting study, infertility played a key role in the decision to pursue motherhood through adoption. All six study participants tried to conceive biologic ally and underwent some level of fertility intervention for a period of time between four and nine years prior to transitioning to adoption. Their previous journeys with infertility and the various measures taken to conceive a child reinforced their desire to be a mother. Marie addressed this when responding to negative feedback she received about transitioning being able to have biological children, you have to be like how bad do you want this? me really strong in my resolve. It really made me out to pr ove that adoption was a valid infertility and adoptive processes. We want it so much, and we want it so badly, and we just want to make the best out of it and be the best pare nts we can be. You think about it for so long, you go through the infertility, you go through the treatments, and just like, I just want to be a parent. I want to be able to raise a ch ild. And you become so much more grateful for it when you receive that blessing. Grieving Infertility Being open to pursuing parenthood through a non biological route led to the iological child.
89 alternative path toward parenting. Some participants knowingly engaged in a grieving process, while others did not realize they had participated in it until later points in the adoptive nesting process. Marie spoke candidly about her grieving process and how important it was for her. this through talking to people, being open about it, writing in my journal, crying to my mom all through these different steps, I felt like I was ready. Meghan spoke about how painful it was to see other people get pregnant when she he friends getting pregnant and the baby showers to the struggle of trying to be happy for others when her own grief from not being able to conceive was the women commiserated about the pain and loneliness of infertility. Ann shared how defeating it f through the ado ption classes that first you have to let go of your own sadness and your Choo sing to be open at this point involves not only being open to the grief of infertility, but also to adoption as a path to achieve the core desire to be a mother.
90 Embracing the New Plan A According to the participants, Grieving Infertility prior to and eve n after choosing as a viable path to motherhood. Some of the participants acknowledged how hard the transition was from trying to conceive a biological child to pursuing a doption. In the first time to come to terms with not being able to start our own family, but once we made the transition from fertility interventions to adoption, All the participants expressed an increase in hope that accompanied this transition from infertility to adoption. Meghan described the contrast in her feelings h infertility, I had expressed a similar sentiment about the transition from inf ertility to adoption. And you wanna be happy for other people. But you still brokenhearted. But when we actually went on the [adoption wait] list, this pressure lifted off of me. Eventually, I have something to look forward to. In addition to coming to accept adoption as a viable path toward parenthood, several participants expressed a confidence that developed about adoption being the right path for their family. Gloria explained her process of making the transition to adoption my story [of infertility] helped me to take that step and to really embrace adoption as not
91 Honoring the Uncertainty Some of the participants acknowledged embracing adoption early on but remaining hesitant about the adoption process given the variability in outcomes and adoptive wai ting process for the participants, leading to the emergence of the theme devasta participants, fully investing and preparing did not feel healthy or appropriate given the variables in outcome, but Honoring the Uncertainty created an openness to the process t hat helped the participants prepare in ways that felt productive and meaningful to them. Ann analyzed how back and forth the adoption process felt at times, and how she nna of wanting to believe it will happen and acknowledging the uncertainty o f the process was present in all six participants in the study. Despite the continued uncertainty, the participants chose to be open to the adoption process to varying degrees. Gloria described her shift to being more open as Being open to adoption brought the hope of being a mom, which was the start of an adoptive nesting process for each participant.
92 Redefining Family rticipants, primarily in the area of psychological nesting. Redefining Family represents a cognitive shift in how the participants conceptualized family, putting less emphasis on blood ties while still honoring the biological connection that exists with th e birth family. Marie stated that this was a smooth transition for her and her husband because they have very close friends our group of friends is biologically rel harder to let go of the vision of a biological child. Ann described the first time she I would be remiss if I didn and post adoption. Day b y Day: Managing Expectations Once the decision was made to actively pursue adoption, the parti cipants all expressed a need to take things as they come and not get preoccupied by the by Day: Managing by process. Eac h participant expressed the importance of dealing with things as they come and keeping expectations low, while also remaining positive Elle shared what this felt ma tter how much you do, someone else is making that decision. And so, we just took it day by
93 c omes. I guess it was always in the back of my mind. So I just went day by his approach to the adoption process could seem detached, the participants stated that it felt important to maintain some psychological distance at times to keep them emotionally grounded during the waiting. Riding the Rollercoaster The participants all sh ared emotional ups and downs that occurred during the pre adoptive waiting period, especially after being matched, resulting in the theme of rollercoaster that everyon e says you get on. And it will be literally up and down in one specific chil Ashley tried to put to words what the waiting process felt like for her and the tension it exc To cope with the ups and downs, the participants expressed the importance of not putting too much emphasis on emotionally preparing for the arrival of a child out of fear that it will not happen. Ann connected the emotional ups and downs to the theme of Day by psychologically draining. You kind of go step by back as part of their preparation process was expressed by all six participants. Gloria
94 an important part of preparing to be a for emotional distance to stay on the emotional rollercoaster of adoptive waiting. Since all the participants in the current study were in committed partnerships at the time of the a represents the importance of spousal or partner support during the waiting process. Several of the participants acknowledged a perceived distance between their experiences and the experien ces of their spouses. Meghan shared about how supportive her husband was throughout the infertility and adoption process, but that it whatever it took to make me ha described her husband as being invested in the big picture but not as invested in the day to kind of let me take the reins on Although there are certain parts of the emotional process that created distance between spouses for some of the participants, all the participants highlighted the value in being a team and going through the process together. Ann talked about how reluctant her husband was to embrace adoption at first, but then he was the one who took the first step toward pursuing adoption after undergoing so much loss during infertility. Meghan described her marriage as very much a team, stating that they made decisions
95 described her husband as being solid and steady throughout the infertility and pre adoptive period and stated that he was ready to transition to adoption sooner than she was. Gloria associated her relationship with her husband as having clear gender roles, but also as being very much partners. Ann advocated for maintaining a strong partnership to ensure a more positive onship with her spouse was unique, all the participants expressed the importance of both partners being open to and invested in the adoption process. It Takes a Village As important as spousal support was for the participants, they also acknowledged that t hey could not get all their relational needs met through that connected to others and t he positive impact of moving toward family and friends during the pre adoptive waiting period. Although Ashley reported not feeling much support during the pre adoptive waiting period, she recognized in hindsight how much she
96 system. Lots and lots of support. And j ust make sure that you are going to have that Several participants acknowledged the complexities of helping loved ones know how to support them since adoption is not the normative process. Marie responded to what I needed. And then people respected that. little bit because t For some participants, the pre adoptive period also included setting boundaries with loved ones. Ann described a confrontation she and her husband had with close family members and When their lov ed ones did not respond in appropriate or supportive ways, the adoptive mothers had to decide when to set boundaries and how best to educate people about adoption in hopes of increasing their support system. The Learning Curve The participants admitted th eir lack of knowledge and awareness about adoption differences between the normative process of having a biological child and the nonnormative process of adopting a child for the participants. Ann talked candidly
97 ealousy resulting from having to do so many es, how to handle other people, what Other participants saw their engagement in the nonnormative process as something freeing, perceiving the lack of knowledge about adoption and the underrepresentation of adoption in s ociety as permission to move toward adoptive parenting in whatever ways worked best for them. Gloria responded to the idea of not need ing to fit her experience into a so ciocultural mold of what it should be pressure. I can go against the grain adoptive mothers in the study could embrace adoption as both a deviation from the norm and an equally valid way to becom e a mother. Most of the participants shared the experience of being the first person in their immediate families to have adopted a child. Meghan described the distance this created at tim er to be able hurt at times by the lack of understanding on the part of her loved ones, she recognized similar perspective on managing the hurt she experienced by loved ones due to their hrough this. I used to blame
98 According to the participants, they were aware of their desire for support and how comforting it was to re ceive support from members of their village who were on board with their adoption path. Gloria spoke about her desire to help her loved ones better needs, and then that vil lage has needs! And sometimes it was fun to be the teacher of educating and setting boundaries with members of their village to prevent further harm When the participants felt pressure to be a model for and to educate their family and friends in a way that did not feel emotionally or relationally healthy for them, they ience ones] because I wanted to get our house in order, and I knew that the in laws would with adoption. For these people, the participants did not feel like they could take on the burden of trying to help them understand, so they had to set boundaries. Elle shared the Before we adopted, my mom told me she was not sure if she was going to be able to love this child as much because he is adopted, and that was
99 fiddle to a biological grandson. Ashley acknowledged that some of her loneliness during the pre adoptive waiting period may have been caused by her struggle to set boundaries with her l oved ones. teaching potential adoptive mothers to set boundaries with your family, even though ess because you have to reteach how somebody frustration and pain for several participants. The Importance of Formal Support Because of the emo tional toll the adoption process can take on waiting parents, practical nesting. Some of the participants who struggled to receive emotional support from family members especially relied on the formal emotional support of their social workers and adoption professionals. Ann mentioned that she called her social worker or her attorney to process her emotions and receive support almost every day from when they were matched to when the baby was born. Ashley talked about the way her social worker helped her manage some of her fears. that was Often the participants expressed that it was the practical advice and feedback from a professional that eased their emotional distress. Glo ria remarked about the permission she felt to engage in the process and go through the steps after receiving helpful feedback from adoption professionals.
100 One thing our social workers told us a lot is they used the word practice. You know, we had a meeti ng with the birth mother who ended up not was really helpful because it lets you go far emotionally without placing expectations. Ashley talked about how she felt discouraged w hen she tried to find books and comprehensive resources that related to what she was going through, and she expressed her gratitude for her social worker for filling in all the gaps and answering her ike that resource for me because she has seen so many adoptions. She was very helpful when I had questions The Importance of Formal Support for the participants also connected to the need fo r resources for loved ones during the adoption process. Ann explained how she reached out to their social worker for resources on adoption competent language after with her social worker during the adoptive waiting process as crucial, especially related wor ker in terms of trying to just process everything and find out the best way to proceed nesting and the larger process of adoptive nesting. Adoption Tasks The logistic al components of becoming an adoptive parent can create additional stress and confusion for waiting parents. The practical and tangible preparation process adoptive mothers i n the study had to take to become parents, including filling out
101 paperwork, getting fingerprinted, and attending parenting classes. Gloria talked about motherhood preparation was filling out the paperwork and talking about discipline Since all six participants met the birth mother prior to delivery, they also en gaged in the task of being interviewed by the birth mom. Ashley described her experience with ng the insides creating an adoption book for prospective birth mothers. Ashle y talked about completing The participants acknowledged that it would have been helpful and comforting during the waiting period to see th ese tasks as a purposeful part of adoptive nesting and as movement toward the goal of becoming a mother. The adoptive mothers in the study reached out to adoption professionals for practical and tangible support related to Adoption Tasks, as well as sought out both emotional and practical support from other adoptive parents for guidance and direction. The Adoption Club The emotional and practical support provided by those further along the adoption road proved to be invaluable for most of the participants, which led to the emergence of
102 rollercoaster, then what happens is it still feels lik she did not have much connection to other adoptive mothers during her pre adoptive waiting period, in hindsight, she recognized t he value in that. to cry on. And yes, be able to identify the exact same feelings because else has been t hrough it and walked down that road. It is so comforting. Gloria identified the symbolic shift toward openness she experienced after talking with her distant relative who is an adoptive mother. Her willingness to be open and share her story led to a whole network of adoptive parents coming to the surface and your goggles and see all the red around you for the first time. So many more people have a connection to adoptio members of The Adoption Club. Although all the participants acknowledged the importance of being open with family and loved ones during the adoption process, many also expressed how comforting it was to connect with people who already understood. The Adoption Club recognizes how isolating it can feel to participate in the nonnormative process of becoming an adoptive parent and how helpful it is to relate to people who have gone through it. Elle highligh ted the connection between The Learning Curve and The Adoption Club. navigate adoption. Just having people around you [who have already
103 dramatically reduce the learning curve. Gloria shared in the group interview about how her decision to be more open about their adoption process led to unimaginable network that was there the whole time, but you never exchanged the secret to connect to people she In Ashle recalled a meaningful conversation with a coworker who was an adoptive mother when she was trying to decide between undergoing further fertility interventio n and pursuing adoption. adoption is what we were gonna do. Even the participants who did not have much contact with adoptive families prior to placement stressed how it would have been helpful and that it is something they want and need now as adoptive parents. This will be discussed furth Themes: Post Meant to Be: Letting Go of Control All the participants expressed some value in holding on to a greater purpose and trusting that things will work out the way they are supposed to. The theme that emerged
104 being matched and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of the pre adoptive waiting period. Meghan relied on her faith in a higher power to comfort her during the waiting he had the perfect baby picked out for us from the get ssed a similar felt during the pre adoptive waiting period as opposed to the infertility period where she participants in the study, this theme of Letting Go co nnected to the theme of Day by Day because both highlight the importance of taking things as they come and not trying to over control a situation that felt essentially out of their hands. Incorporating a philosophy about a way to make sense of life and fam ily seemed crucial to each participant in her own way, which is why this theme is primarily associated with the area of spiritual nesting. Choosing Not to Nest The participants all expressed an unwillingness to prepare a nursery or tangibly prepare for th e arrival of a child beyond basic needs a reluctance to physically nest. thin physic
105 d ones if they could throw them a shower, and the common response was to wait until the baby was born and placed with them permanently. For the participants, the reluctance to physically nest was closely tied to their hesitation to emotionally nest. Marie expressed the emotional necessity of not physically d about her need to hold back, even though she wanted to do more. So he had swaddlers, a couple outfits, a bassinet, and a way to eat. And I felt like that was pretty much all I could do. Because if she changed her mind, that was all I could emotionally h andle. So, I protected myself in that way emotionally. There were other things the participants were unwilling to do, such as set up a crib and buy specific clothes and toys for a particular child. Gloria was offered some baby things by a colleague, and Preparing for a Houseguest Although specific physical nesting felt too risky, many of the participants found ways to more generally prepare their home for the arrival of a child. This theme is
106 cleaned out the workout room and painted it brown when they officially started pursuing adoption. Elle talked about her urge to physically do somethi some kind of physical outlet that I could put physical energy into the house, the yard, participants, the urge to get things in order was not attributed directly to nesting, but in hindsight, several of the participants identified it in those terms. Gloria laughed in the group interview when she realized she had nested in ways she had not realized by study agreed that finding some way to generally prepare for the possibility of bringing a baby home was important to them. Com posite Themes: Post Adoptive Nesting In many cases, the emerging themes for the post adoptive nesting period are related to the pre adoptive nesting period. The themes were expanded and redefined by the participants as they reflected on the changes they ex perienced when the adoption was finalized. Choosing Openness remains an underlying theme throughout. Beginning at placement and continuing into early parenthood, the adoptive mothers in the study expressed feeling the freedom to be a mother. G loria expressed herself as a member in similar ways as biological mothers would, such as putting a picture of her son on the home screen of her work computer. week
107 mother. Ann talked repeatedly about feeling li Although this can be a positive component to developing a maternal identity, she admitted that she reacted out of fear and insecurity at times. Ann expounded on her protective instinct kicking in after becoming a mom and how it connected to motherhood feel like that comes out when you become a mother. It comes out whether you delivered or adopted the child. It becomes something t emphasized the relief and joy they felt in finally feeling like a mother and being able to participate in motherhood like biological mothers can by caring for and protecting a child. The participants also acknowledged the connection between having others identify them as mothers and embracing motherhood. Both Ashley and Meghan talked about how the hospital staff helped them feel like a mother by treating them like one. Gloria mentioned how encouraging it felt to receive so much validation that she is in fact a mother through gifts and words of support after placement. Despite this freedom of finally being able to identify as a mother, some of the participants expressed feeling the distance between their process and the process for biological mothers. Ashley acknowledged feeling different than biological mothers and similarities in other ways. Ann attributed her willingness to throw herself into biological
108 mothering circles to her comfort with breaking r ules and getting her needs met. Regardless of what their processes looked like, all six participants acknowledged the need to reconcile their identity as a mother through adoption with the sociocultural norm of becoming a mother biologically. ma For adoptive mothers who do not share a biological connection to their child, there are additional complexities to identifying as a mother and perceiving herself as salient to the participants after placement. For some of the participants, the process of seen about a mother who is frantically trying to protect her son. where she was like insane to protect her child. And I thought about that a lot. Like could I? Would I ever do that? Wo uld I ever go absolutely berserk if I knew my child was in danger and do everything, like claw at the walls, to protect him? And I was walking my son around the block, and this dog, like this pitbull, came up and it looked like he was coming up to me. And I flipped out. Like flipped out in this way that I never had before. I had so much adrenaline. I so had that momma bear reaction! And I was so happy. I was like, yeah, this has nothing to do with if this is my biological child. I will protect him no matte r what. I think something shifted after that. Elle was the newest mother in the study, with her son being six months old at the time of the first interview, and she was honest about the gradual process of feeling fully role one hundred percent she
109 Some of the participants in the study described the process of becoming a mother to their child as happening quickly and naturally. When asked what it was like to st became his and just when I started holding him, it was instant. It was an instan Going All In Emotional nesting during post adoptive nesting can be summed up in the theme allowing themselves to emotionally attach during the pre adoptive waiting period, the mothers described the overwhelming outflow of love they experienced for their child after permanent placement occurred. Marie reflected on how, despite the struggles that led up to her becoming a mother, incorporating her s on into her life and her heart felt natural. to tell people who are thinking about adoption Some participants acknowledged that despite feeling immediate love for the child, they still held back emotionally until the papers were signed. Ashley stated that she first felt like a mom when they put her daughter in her arms, but she still felt scared.
110 hospital hours to terminate parental rights. So even right when I should be letting the emotions Once the papers were signed and the participants realized they were taking their love in your heart for this little being, and you never knew you could love something so her feelings for her child have grown over time. four or five months into it, I realized I had swit ched from the infatuation to like full blown being in love with him. immediately. As emotional nesting continued for the participants, they each expressed Permission to Nest: Condensed Nesting tangible gaps created by the limited general nesting done during the pre adop tive period. The participants explained that without the emotional barriers used to protect against further heartbreak, the physical barriers were broken as well, allowing for ] until the
111 emphasized the intentional decision she made not to physically nest befor e placement, home. Elle described it as being fun to go back and buy all the things she wanted to I had this free for The significant role the village played during Condensed Nesting seemed expected for some and out of the blue for others. Meghan talked about how supportive he r community was leading up to placement and how she knew they would come through when she needed them. been amazing. I had three huge baby showers! I was like, we do not need all t his stuff! But it was just the support, the love. Because it had been such a long time, you know? Because we had been trying for years. Marie expressed her gratitude for her community and the various ways people supported them post placement. Our com They dropped off countless dinners. My sister organized this online shower for us. And everything just arrived on our doorstep, including just like love and goodness from everyone. It was so beautiful. Gloria expressed similar feelings of gratitude and noted how having so many people behind them gave her confidence. In 24 hours, we had everything you could possibly need, including people who brought food over. We did not have time to fee l unprepared, which was amazing; which I think contributed to the feeling that we can do this. I can do this.
112 Even those who struggled to feel connected to their village prior to becoming an adoptive mother reported feeling grateful and touched by the support they received when they brought their children home. Elle expressed her surprise when things just started arriving at her door and how moving it was for her to realize so many people why she thought this village materialized, especially since she and her husband are The participants in t he group interview agreed that the barriers to emotional and physical nesting that were lifted for them at placement also seemed to have lifted for their village, giving their loved ones permission to be excited and embrace this child as a member of the vi llage through gifts and support. The Village Becomes the Extended Adoption Club By giving loved ones buy in and allowing them to invest in their adoptive families, two powerful outcomes came about for the participants, which resulted in the theme of talked about how her struggle to feel understood by her loved ones shifted significa ntly in the post rience of feeling surprised at how supportive and encouraging people were after feeling isolated at times during the pre adoptive waiting period. Her feelings are summed up in her reaction to
113 receiving both gifts and words of encouragement from unexpected people after their son Second, more people had a lived experience with adoption on a personal level, increasing familiarity with adoption on a broader scale Marie told a story about how some good friends met someone who was adopted and felt a connection to that person through their experience of walking through the adoption process with Marie and her ity has had this connection The Learning Curve and how far her family had come, Ashle y talked about how her result, her mom expressed willingness to share her experience with other grandparents of adoptive children. Ann talked about how being clear and setting boundaries with family during the waiting period led to improved relating and a better understanding of During the group interview, the participants agreed that, although most of their loved ones did eventually get on board and have now joined the Extended Adoption Club, having more resources for their village during the pre adoptive waiting pe riod would have made the process smoother and taken some of the pressure off the adoptive parents. Marie talked with the other mothers about how a formal framework
114 things worked out well overall, more formal support for their village could have spared a great deal of hurt, confusion, and conflict for all involved, allowing the focus to be more on preparing for the arrival of the child and strengthening relationships. Maternal Tasks Practical nesting during the post adoptive nesting process culminated for the p changing diapers, and comforting a crying baby, served to both care for the child and connect the mother to the child through dependence. Although Elle struggled to fully feel like a mother early on, she identified feeling like a mother most acutely while performing Maternal Tasks. few hours and I was not getting any sleep. Like within the first week, I was Ashley shared a similar sentiment about her lack of sleep when she brought her daughter home. I read all this stuff about when you bring the baby home, and they say the bab you go a week without sleep! And that was probably a moment where Ann described how helpless and insecure she felt at times and the comfort she found in just doing what she knew she was supposed to do. od. We can do
115 brought their child home and learned how to parent together. Meghan discussed how she and her husband remained a team after bringing th eir son home by sharing more of did this like little tag increase in shared responsibilities as adoptive p stereotypical, even though we are both working. But, the childcare gender roles have discussed how her husband took a month off work afte r their son came home, creating a lot of opportunity for them to bond as a family and share parental responsibilities. She commented on how, in some ways, she felt like her experience was more like that of a hink my experience as a new adoptive of connection and shared experience betwe en Marie and her husband, as well as between other mothers in the study and their spouses. In addition to shared responsibilities, several of the participants noted that their spouses became more emotionally invested once their child was born. Ashley talk ed about how she knew that her husband was not as emotionally invested until their the situation. And
116 Redefining Family Once the child psychologically adjusting to this new family became daily life for the participants. They described a continuation of the theme Redefining Family during the post adoptive nesting period. One way this adju stment occurred was in coming to terms with parenting a child who has no biological connection to them. In the group interview, the participants talked about how they find themselves pointing out similarities between a parent and the adopted child. Ann rep articipants agreed that making these connections feels good because it Honoring the Other Mother Another significant theme that emerged more directly during post adoptive This theme came up for all the participants as some mothers in the study th an others. Elle shared about how her continued birth mom and I see his birth dad. their lives.
117 another person who had this baby in Ann shared in the group interview about the complications of keeping her promise to her gency lost contact with her. The one thing we promised our birth mother was that we would keep open email communication through pictures. And then she went dark after the birth. So I felt guilty. I promised you one thing. You gave us your daughter, and no Some of the participants spoke more easily about their care for the birth mother, despite the other emotions. Meghan expressed feeling concern and care ed differences. She am so glad that we chose you guys to raise this kid. You are doing an o reassuring. I think I will forever continue to need her approval. For most of the participants, being able to fully embrace their identity as this of view. Elle addressed the reality that in adoption there are always other parents,
118 Marie latched on to a philosophy that her social worker shared with her during the people in your li The Adoption Club According to the participants, the theme of The Adoption Club increased in significance after placement. The importance of connecting with other adoptive families t ook on a new meaning once the adoptive mothers in the study officially joined the ranks. Elle expressed her desire to connect more with adoptive families because she recognizes the importance of supporting her son throughout his life. eting other adoptive families and parents because I just feel like there are going to be a lot of questions. There already are questions, and I feel a little insecure on how to proceed with, you know, making him feel like a whole complete person. Ashley shared her perspective about how talking to people who have gone through something similar can lead to a greater sense of confidence as a mother, as well as her concern that the lack of resources for adoptive mothers may put them at a disadvantage. I thi nk sharing your story and somebody else being like, you know, I feel these Lamaze classes and breastfeeding classes and all these moms get got to figure it out. All the adoptive mothers in the study referred to some sense of paying it forward and wanting to support other adoptive parents because it was either invaluable to their experience or missing from their experience, and they do not want the latter to be the to pay it forward, too. To be like,
119 okay, all these people gave me their stories, and it was so helpful. And hopefully I can to speak at their adoption agency about th eir adoption experiences as a way of paying it forward. Ashley particularly valued this activity since she did not have much of an adoption support network herself. In the group interview, Gloria and Marie also talked about how helpful it was to hear fro m adoptive parents at the initial meeting when they were considering adoption and how nice it feels to go back to those meetings and be on the other side of it. Regardless of whether they had support and help from The Adoption Club during the pre adoptive period, the participants engaged with it more deeply and in different ways during the post adoptive period. Ann sought out support from others who had adopted, stating it was comforting to talk to people who had gone through something similar. Because of t he support she received and how encouraging it was to her, she has made it a point to reach out to others going through the adoption process and to make herself a resource whenever possible. The people who we then helped and counseled when they reached ou t to us, then we were able to give them comfort. When I reached out to our looking for. Ashley, on the other hand, acknowledged how comforting it would have felt for her to hear how hard the adoption process is and to be reminded that others have made it
120 Durin g the group interview, advocacy was highlighted more as the participants processed their experiences with adoption together. Their desire for others to be more educated about adoption and for people to be aware of the opportunities that exist through adopt ion became clear. Gloria expressed her desire for adoption to become more normative. love plan. And substitute. It is the plan. Marie responded to the group topic of raising awareness by addressing the sociocultural shifting with the Elle added to the discussion by highlighting how adoption is much more prevalent than she first thought, especially if people are open to connecting wi and on a broader scale, was identified by all the particip ants as important for the health and well being of their child throughout his or her life. Meant to Be: Gratitude Throughout adoptive nesting, the spiritual nesting process maintains its emphasis on trusting that things worked out the way they were suppose d to. This mindset provided comfort and peace of mind prior to placement through the theme of Letting Go, and it led to appreciation and thankfulness after placement through the
121 All the parti cipants expressed a sense of gratitude for their child and the way door otherwise. other mother, but I do the group interview, Elle shared how, looking back on her experience, she had was this path that was mean t to be, and when I got little nuggets of information that feeling right for them. Additionally, some of the participants used their experience to deepen their spiritual philosophy about life. When reflecting on her unexplained infertility, Meghan And G experience to philosophize about how she sees things from a broader perspective because of everything she endured on her path toward motherhood. Children who are adopted are part of just ours. And it got me thinking: I think that is healthier for all parents to like a gift to the world.
122 The participants all found purpose thr ough choosing to engage in spiritual and philosophical nesting to various degrees throughout the process of becoming a mother through adoption. Adoptive Nesting as a Comprehensive Process Though composite themes are presented in two categories, pre adoptiv e nesting (see Figure 4 1) and post adoptive nesting (see Figure 4 2), the comprehensive adoptive nesting process remains connected. During the second interviews, t he definition of adoptive nesting was given to the participants, and their perspectives abou t this term in relation to their lived experiences are included. A description of the visual depic tions of the adoptive nesting proces s is provided to better articulate the connection between the emerging themes and the phenomenon of adoption nesting. Lived Experience of Adoptive Nesting Participants were asked to describe their process of adoptive nesting, as well as to comment on their thoughts related to the term and what it means to them. Meghan shared how overwhelming it is to become a first time parent, especially with the added comp for this child spiritually, intellectually, physically, all of that brain around it, especially as a first he definition of adoptive nesting to include her infertility journey. I wonder if we could use the word nesting to also apply to infertility? And I found adoptive nesting way easier than infertility nesting because in infertility nesting, it was up to me. I had to fix it. I had to go to all the appointments and get the doctor to fix my body and argue with my insurance company and this and that. And what I love about adoptive nesting is it was not in my hands. It was not up to me. And I could just say if it problem and make my child real. I do my part, and then I let it be.
123 It became clear from the participants that an adoptive nesting framew ork needs to incorporate all the different ways ado ptive parents prepare for and embrace the arrival of their children by way of adoption. Through their engagement with the term and its meaning in their own journeys, the participants agreed that a framework for the adoptive nesting process is valuable and purposeful in a variety of ways. Ann expressed how having a process to refer to d I think having a support group would have helped. Like someone to connec t with someone, like one of us, to be able to say, not that we would have been able to give the answers, but hey, think about this, think about that. Ashley explained how having a framework for the waiting period could be comforting given the variable time something to do, a support group during that time, it provides fluid movement. You feel oria acknowledged that having a more formal structure to refer to during the adoptive nesting process could provide direction during the ambiguity and hat right balance was of preparation and non Even for the participants who actively engaged in the various types of nesting that comprise the adoptive nesting process, the participants all agreed that having a framework to know that they were productively preparing for their child would have been
124 useful. Marie acknowledged that, although she was doing most of the things that she would recommend for someone in the pre adoptive waiting period, it was hard for her to feel like she was moving forw ard while she waited. For me, I felt like I was spinning my wheels that whole time, and I think if I would have thought of [the pre adoptive waiting period] as practice or as to tal preparing and practice and nesting and good things . I wish I would have shifted my thinking more optimistically. It would have taken a weight off my shoulders. All the mothers in the current study expressed that participating in attitudes and beha viors of adoptive nesting provided them with additional support, comfort, resources, and hope. Visual Depiction of Adoptive Nesting Emerging themes based on the lived experiences of the participants are represented in the visual images of the phenomenon o f adoptive nesting, with Figure 4 1 representing pre adoptive nesting and Figure 4 2 representing post adoptive nesting. Although many of the themes overlap in pre to post experiences with the phenomenon took on different meani ngs. The themes related to adoptive nesting that are most prominent for mothers in each time period are shown in larger font. For instance, in the pre adoptive nesting period (Figure 4 1), physical nesting is less prominent because the participants all exp ressed a resistance to tangibly prepare for the arrival of a child prior to placement due to the uncertainty. However, in the post adoptive nesting period (Figure 4 2), physical nesting is more prominent than sis on finally feeling permission to nest in a physical sense after permanent placement occurred. The double sided arrows for the themes between the core of the model and each area of adoptive nesting represent
125 the fluid relationship between the inner and the outer components of the figure. Some of the themes are represented in more than one nesting area, indicating that there are overlapping processes involved in preparing to become an adoptive mother. These themes have been bolded for emphasis. The colors for each nesting area remain the same for both figures to show the congruence of themes throughout the adoptive nesting process. As depicted in both Figures 4 1 and 4 2, some themes are situated inside what looks like a center, while the remaining themes fall under one or more of the adoptive nesting areas situated around the center. This illustration signifies the early processes of both pre adoptive and post adoptive nesting periods described by the participants of focusing on certain internal experienc es before moving outward into adoptive nesting. In Figure 4 1, the theme Choosing Openness underlies the entire pre adoptive nesting process, first appearing at the desire to become a mother (I Want to Be a Mom), then moving outward to grieving the loss o f biological parenthood (Grieving Infertility) and being open to a different vision of family and parenting (Embracing the New Plan A and Honoring the Uncertainty). Choosing Openness then extends out to each of the adoptive nesting areas. In Figure 4 2, Ch oosing Openness is also at the center of the post then extending out to each adoptive nesting a rea again. The central themes in both Figures 4 1 and 4 2 are rooted in the importance of maternal identity as a groundwork for preparing for the arrival of a child and assuming the role of mother.
126 Essence Statement For first time adoptive mothers, the e ssence of adoptive nesting holistically preparing for the arrival of a child by way of adoption is intricately related to the theme of Choosing Openness. Choosing to be open, for the mothers, emerges at various points in the process to the extent that it b ecomes an experience itself. At the beginning of the adoptive nesting process, the prospective adoptive mother chooses openness by symbolically pursuing motherhood through non biological means. Embracing a nonnormative process involves grieving the loss of having a biological child and redefining motherhood to include having a non biological child. Being open to an alternative perspective on motherhood provides the prospective adoptive mother the freedom to move toward adoption as a viable path for creating a family. Choosing to be open by embracing adoption also leads to an acceptance of the uncertainty of the process of becoming a mother through adoption. Once the decision to adopt has been made and the prospective adoptive mother is waiting, she choose s to be open to exploring what this waiting period can look and feel like for her. She opens herself up to the emotional rollercoaster of the process. She takes it day by day and manages her expectations. She practices letting go of control and being open to whatever comes. She also decides what openness looks like from a relational standpoint. First time adoptive mothers acknowledge the risk involved, but they also recognize the significant reward that comes from being open relationally and allowing others to participate in the pre and post adoption experiences with them to a healthy and appropriate degree. Post The adoptive mother does not have to hold back anymore. She can go all in and choose
127 to be fully open emotionally and psychologically to this child and to her role as this She can reap the benefits of her choice to be open to her social throughout the waiting process by receiving their support, gifts, and enthusiasm. During this post adoption phase, the adoptive mother figures out what it means to be open to old space for this person gratitude for things working out the way they were meant to be. Finally, the new mother can choose to be open about the adoption narrative of h connect to others impacted by adoption. Summary This chapter provides an overview of the findings of the study. The findings are organized into two main time periods, which are identified as pre adoptive and post adoptive n esting. Although the findings are presented in this format, the entire process of preparing to become a mother through adoption, which includes both time periods, continues to be referred to as adoptive nesting. The findings are illustrated through Figures 4 1 and 4 2. In the next chapter, these findings are discussed and related to prior literature. Implications for theory, practice, and future research also are addressed.
128 4 1 Pre Adoptive Nesting
129 4 2 Post Adoptive Nesting
130 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Overview The following chapter summarizes the findings from the current study and connects the findings to the existing research literature. Emphasis is placed on the concept of adoptive nesting and the development of maternal identity for first time adoptive mothers. Research literature in the areas of maternal identity, preparing for the arrival of an adopted child, and adoptive parenthood is related to the phenomenon of adoptive nesting and the findings of the curren t study. The chapter explores the theme of Choosing Openness as the essence of the current study. Maternal identity development for adoptive mothers is addressed within the larger sociocultural context of motherhood, and each of the study findings related to adoptive nesting is discussed. Limitations of the study are discussed, followed by i mplications for practice, theory, and future research Choosing Openness The word openness felt significant for the adoptive mothers in the current study for many reason s. The word was first used to describe their type of adoption. Based on the common understanding of the term open adoption, the level of openness is contingent upon type (e.g., pictures, letters, face to face visits) and frequency (e.g., once per year, mon thly, as desired) of communication between biological family members and the adopted child (Brodzinsky, 2006). In sharing their stories about how they came to motherhood, all the mothers in the study talked about their willingness to be open to the birth m other or birth family to some degree and how important that felt to
131 them. This willingness to be open and the value each mother placed on being open played a role throughout their entire adoptive nesting process. The conversations with the adoptive mothe rs revealed that the first time the women in the study had to choose to be open was when they decided to pursue adoption as a path toward motherhood. The adoptive mothers in the study all underwent fertility interventions to various degrees prior to pursui ng adoption, which is congruent with previous research findings reporting that most women who pursue adoption do so after prolonged infertility ( Bausch, 2006; McKay et al., 2010 ). Once the decision was made to stop undergoing fertility treatments, the barr ier to conception provided an opportunity to decide how much each woman wanted to be a mother. For the adoptive mothers in the study, the desire to be a mom triumphed over years of infertility that prevented them from having biological children. Although t his desire elicited a painful grief at the loss resulting from an inability to welcome a child into their families in the traditional way, this same core desire to be a mom gave them the courage to pursue a nonnormative path toward motherhood, allowing the m to fulfill their desire to be a mom through adoption. For the adoptive mothers in this study, openness to adoption resulted in a candor about the uncertainty and fear that accompanied the adoption process. Adoption has been described in a previous stud were not directly referenced, the risk and uncertainty of adoption were acknowledged by the mothers in the current s tudy, which resulted in some of the mothers feeling frozen and alone and others turning outward and seeking resources and support. For the
132 mothers who shared their feelings with others and let people invest in their experience, the waiting period felt less lonely and more purposeful. In contrast, the women in the study who struggled to be open with others during pre adoptive waiting wished they had been more open in hindsight. The level of openness to both the risks of adoption and the risks involved in bei ng vulnerable with others about what they were going through were indicators of overall emotional and relational health for the adoptive mothers during the pre adoptive waiting period as well as predictors for how smooth the transition to adoptive motherho od was during the post adoptive period. Choosing to be more open yielded more positive results throughout the entire process better emotional and relational health and a smoother transition to adoptive motherhood. For the adoptive mothers in the current st udy, there was an awareness that the process of becoming an adoptive mother was different from that of becoming a biological mother, particularly for the period prior to bringing the child home. Despite the absence of physical connection in utero, the deci sion to hold back emotionally prior to placement, and other differences in their experiences, many of the adoptive mothers expressed that they did not feel like their process of becoming a mother was less than that of becoming a biological mother even thou gh it was significantly different. These findings contradict past research that concluded that there are more similarities in experiences between adoptive and biological mothers than there are differences, which inappropriately led to the conclusion that a framework geared specifically toward transitioning to adoptive motherhood may not be needed (Holditch Davis et al., 1998; Levy Shiff et al., 1990; Levy Shiff et al., 1991; Koepke et al., 1991). Unlike the more dated research, a more recent study of previo us literature (Fontenot, 2007) resulted in a
133 similar conclusion as the current study, finding that the differences in processes for biological and adoptive mothers necessitates a framework specific to adoptive motherhood rather than trying to fit adoptive motherhood into existing biological frameworks. In the current study, the findings are focused on seeing biological and adoptive motherhood as equally meaningful and valid paths, while acknowledging their differences, instead of simply minimizing the diffe rences between them. Choosing openness influenced and informed every part of the current study and the adoptive nesting process, beginning with the decision to be open to motherhood through the nonnormative means of adoption. Being open to the adoption pr ocess and being open to others while going through the adoption process became the groundwork for the mothers to explore what it meant for them to become adoptive mothers and how to prepare for such an important identity and life transition. Maternal Iden tity Development mother is a holistic, identity shifting process for adoptive mothers. This finding became poignantly clear in the current study through the foundational desire to be a mom and the process of becoming a mom to a specific child. The current study expands on hlighting the phenomenon of two distinct experiences adoptive mothers undergo: (1) the initial wish to be a mother prior to actively trying to conceive a baby and (2) the second wish to be a mother after choosing to pursue motherhood through non biological means. to their pre adoptive waiting period, the process of adoption provided many other
134 opportunities for the adoptive mothers to decide how much they wanted to be mothers, maternal identity development that emphasizes the volitional act of choosing to be a mother as paramount for developing maternal identity, the multiple crossroads adoptive m others face in pursuing motherhood could be seen as opportunities to bolster their maternal identities. These intentional acts of choosing motherhood again and again adoptive waiti ng period. For many of the mothers in the current study, they were better able to see themselves as mothers when others viewed them as a mother and treated them as such, but they found it difficult to perceive themselves as mothers without external valida tion. The women who began viewing themselves as expectant mothers during the pre adoptive waiting period reportedly made the transition to seeing themselves as mothers more quickly in the post adoptive period. The emphasis on perceiving oneself as a mother is incorporated in previous research on developing a maternal identify for biological mothers (Mercer, 2005; Rubin, 1975; 1984), but it is not explained in previous literature related to maternal identity for adoptive mothers. By participating in adoptive nesting during the pre adoptive waiting period, an adoptive mother can begin exploring how to create a maternal identity and prepare for motherhood emotionally, psychologically, relationally, practically, spiritually, and physically as a way of seeing her self as a mother and perceiving her actions as purposeful movement toward becoming a mother.
135 An added layer of maternal identity development for adoptive mothers is denoted in the current study through the acknowledged difference between the process of bec (1984) theory of maternal identity development acknowledges the importance of binding in to solidify attachment between mother and child, as well as to develop maternal identity. process of binding in, such as not having a physical connection in utero and the absence of a genetic link to the child. Additionally, the presence of biological connections between the child and the birth mother adds a layer of complexity that can in process looks in either needs t o be modified to fit more congruently with the adoptive experience, or a new conceptualization is needed that more appropriately describes and connects to the process of becoming an adoptive mother. The current study begins to lay a foundation for what a n ew framework could look like by focusing on the areas of preparation and maternal identity development adoptive mothers can put their energy into during the pre adoptive and post adoptive periods. Although the adoptive mothers began the study expressing m ostly positive experiences with motherhood in general and adoptive motherhood specifically, which is congruent with previous adoption research ( Ceballo et al., 2004; Holditch Davis et al., 1998; Koepke et al., 1991; Levy Shiff et al., 1990; Levy Shiff et a l., 1991), as the study continued, the adoptive mothers began acknowledging more of the struggles they experienced in becoming an adoptive mother especially when my own adoptive mother
136 status was brought to the forefront Although previous studies touched on the personal and hardships of pursuing adoptive motherhood emerged out of the desire to know tive mother. expressed feeling more connected to me and feeling more freedom to be open about their experiences of becoming an adoptive mother. They revealed hurt they exp erienced by well meaning loved ones and the loneliness they felt even from their husbands as they longed for a child. By asking about their lived experiences with pursuing motherhood the pain and heartbreak of infertility, miscarriages, and surgeries came to the surface. As the mothers shared about pre adoptive waiting, the fear that a match would never come and the uncertainty of incorporating adoption into their nuclear and extended families flowed freely in conversation. These shared experiences of the adoptive mothers revealed how set apart the adoptive mothers felt from biological mothers. As an adoptive mother who struggled with infertility and who does not have biological children, my insider status proved to be crucial in these dialogues because the participants perceived me to be someone who could relate. By being open about both the positive and negative aspects of becoming an adoptive mother, the women in the current study reported feeling more connected to their child and the adoption process and more eager to share their experiences with other women pursuing adoptive motherhood. As a result, they strengthened their identities as mothers and solidified their specific roles as mothers to their adopted children.
137 Nesting The adoptive mothers in the current study were asked to define the concept of the mothers had with the term nesting substantiated the need for more research specifically related to nesting for adoptive mothers. Given the collective interpretation of the term, the adoptive mothers in the study were originally quick to distance themselves from the concept of nest ing due to the possibility of the adoptive placement falling through and additional heartbreak that could result by nesting more tangibly. T he mothers all confidently and clearly reported a resistance to participating in the nesting process. This convictio n not to nest in the traditional sense demonstrated that adoptive mothers recognized the differences between their process and the process for biological mothers, but choosing not to nest in accordance with the sociocultural definition of the term did not make their journey toward motherhood less valid. By espousing the perspective that biological and adoptive processes of becoming a parent are not and should not be treated the same, adoptive mothers can embrace the unique characteristics of their nesting p rocess instead of feeling like they are restricted from participating in nesting in any sense. to be a source of connection for the mothers in the group interview. Although the reluctance to nest could be perceived as a limitation for adoptive mothers, the women in the study saw the decision not to nest as simply part of the adoption experience. Most of the mothers conveyed feeling purpose in encouraging prospective adoptive mothers to engage in ways of preparing other than nesting in the traditional sense, such as
138 understanding about adoption and adoptive parenting. This holding back in certain areas of the preparation process further highlights the differences in experience between biological and adoptive mothers and the need for adoptive mothers to reframe the nesting process through the lens of adoptive nesting as opposed to the societally defined nesting process geared toward biological motherhood. An adoptive nesting framework would allow adoptive mothers to both generally prepare for the arrival of an adopted child and specifically prepare for adoptive motherhood, which could result in an increas ed sense of preparedness and a stronger maternal identity once the child is placed with the adoptive mother. Adoptive Nesting Given the familiarity the women in the study had with the concept of nesting and the scarcity of research on the topic of adoptive nesting, the current study provided significant groundwork for future exploration of the impact of incorporating an adoptive nesting framework into the adoption preparation process for prospective adoptive mothers. By providing adoptive mothers with a mor e expansive and holistic definition of adoptive nesting, they realized that many of their actions and experiences during their pre adoptive waiting period were moving them toward adoptive motherhood and readying them for the arrival of a child, though they did not realize that at the time. Although a previous study involves examining nesting beyond the traditional physical preparation by incorporating the concept of social nesting (Gamiero et al. 2010), the r adoptive mothers broaden the concept of social nesting and incorporate additional nesting areas as a way of defining a
139 holistic preparation process for adoptive parents. These nesting areas include emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational, practic al, and physical nesting. Creation of the term adoptive nesting and the current study findings on adoptive nesting have generated a symbolic starting point for expanding the conversation on the connection between holistically preparing for the arrival of an adoptive child and developing a maternal identity for adoptive mothers. Although there was frequent overlap between the emerging themes and the various nesting areas throughout the study, each nesting area provided opportunities for the mothers to inten tionally and symbolically prepare for adoptive motherhood. The six nesting areas included in the previous research on preparing for motherhood. Emotional Nesting Du ring the pre adoptive period, emotional nesting addresses the tension between emotionally holding back from attaching to a specific child and still emotionally engaging in the pre adoptive process. Once the pre adoptive period begins, emotional nesting evo lves into finally feeling the freedom to begin emotionally attaching to the adopted child. The adoptive mothers described their decision to postpone emotionally attaching to the baby they were matched with as a necessary and appropriate part of their pre (1984) theory for maternal identity development stresses the importance of participating in binding in before the baby is born, then continuing the process once the ba by arrives. Since a significant component to binding in involves the mother envisioning the unborn baby as already her own child (Rubin, 1984), participating in this aspect of binding in felt
140 emotionally inappropriate for the adoptive mothers in the study given the uncertainty of outcome. Additionally, some of the women in the current study acknowledged the inability as adoptive mothers to physically attach to a baby they were not carrying in their womb, thus reinforcing the difficulty of binding in for ado ptive mothers prior to placement. Holding back emotionally was a necessary part of pre adoptive waiting for the mothers due to the possibility of a failed placement, but the decision to hold back in this way did not mean that the mothers were not emotional ly engaged in the pre adoptive nesting process in other ways, such as by addressing both the positive and negative emotions that they experienced and by taking comfort in the general vision of becoming a mother. The mothers in the study acknowledged the em otional ups and downs created by the uncertainty of the adoption process. Because the adoption process caused the adoptive mothers to feel unstable, they had to find ways to control some of their other emotions to prevent feeling completely overwhelmed. T he adoptive mothers stressed that not emotionally attaching to the child they were matched with prior to placement helped them stay engaged in the adoption process while still maintaining some emotional distance to help them manage the weight of the uncert ainty of the process more effectively. In hindsight, some of the mothers acknowledged wishing they had allowed themselves to emotionally engage more throughout the pre adoptive process. One way some of the adoptive mothers in the study did this was by emot ionally connecting to the vision of being a mother generally. By doing this, rather than emotionally connecting to the vision of being a mother to a specific child which they felt unable to do, the adoptive mothers began forming their maternal identities p rior to the
141 birth and placement of their adopted child. The mothers who made it a priority to stay emotionally engaged during the pre adoptive waiting period by addressing their positive and negative emotions and by holding on to the vision of motherhood r eported feeling more connected to the possibility of being a mother and, subsequently, more prepared. This finding highlights that implementing an adoptive nesting framework would facilitate deeper awareness about the steps prospective adoptive mothers are taking to become mothers and the ways they can begin the process of developing a maternal identity as an adoptive mother prior to placement of a child. Emotionally preparing for motherhood is necessary for both waiting adoptive mothers and expecting biolo gical mothers in terms of cultivating maternal identity prior to the arrival of the child, but the way emotional nesting is experienced for both groups of women differs significantly. Once placement was solidified, the adoptive mothers all reported experie ncing overwhelming feelings of relief and excitement. The uncertainty that led to holding back from emotionally attaching prior to placement was lifted, and the mothers described feeling permission to love their child. Despite not being able to and not all owing themselves to emotionally invest in a specific child prior to placement, the mothers in the study did not express feeling at a disadvantage compared to biological mothers as far as attaching and connecting to their child. For the current study, emoti onal nesting provided mothers the freedom to honor their journey toward motherhood and allowed them to go all in once the emotional guardrails were no longer needed and placement was secured. Psychological Nesting The area of psychological nesting for adop tive mothers incorporates the mental processing of daily life as both a prospective adoptive mother during pre adoptive
142 nesting and an adoptive mother during post adoptive nesting, as well as the broadening rough the lens of adoption. In addition to the psychological uncertainty of adjusting to a nonnormative path toward motherhood, the adoptive mothers also emphasized the importance of taking things day by day when it came to the adoption process and maneuve ring the various components of adoptive nesting. The mothers in the current study stressed the importance during pre adoptive nesting of not getting too bogged down by all the details or the uncertainty of adoption, but instead trying to stay focused on wh at was in front of them and dealing with things as they came. Since adoptive parenthood is not the normative means for creating a family, the adoptive mothers acknowledged a steep psychological shift as they began pursuing adoptive motherhood. The notion of having to learn about adoption as a nonnormative path toward parenthood is represented in previous literature (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Lobar & Phillips, 1996; McKay & Ross, 2010; Wegar, 2000). For the adoptive mothers in the current study, the awareness of creating a family in a nonnormative way and the differences between the biological and adoptive processes of preparing for motherhood. Recognizing the differences between preparing for biolog ical and adoptive motherhood felt alienating for the adoptive mothers in the current study, making it difficult at times for them to know what they needed and how to ask for what they needed during the pre adoptive waiting period. This finding also occurre d in a study by McKay & Ross (2010) that identified adoptive parenthood. The learning curve experienced by adoptive mothers due to the
143 underrepresentation of adoption an d lack of awareness about adoption on a societal level contributed to the alienation adoptive mothers felt from others who have never been through the adoption process (McKay & Ross, 2010; Porch, 2007; Wegar, 2000). Despite feeling alienated at times, adop tive mothers recognized the value in making this mental shift toward a nonnormative family and helping others understand the differences between biological and adoptive preparation as well. Adoptive mothers recognized the added complexities that existed for them in how they both created and defined family, which led to redefining the idea of family. This difference in how family was defined generated a distance between their experiences and t he normative process biological mothers undergo to create and define family. Sandelowski et al. (1993) referred to this act of reframing what family means from a non sentiments of most of the participants in the current study when it came to making sense of adoption because the adoptive mothers described their process of redefining minimizing the im portance of blood ties. The discrepancy between how the process was described over twenty years ago (Sandelowski et al.,1993) and how redefining family was described in the current study may be attributed to the shifting perspective on open adoptions and t narrative to promote better long term outcomes and healthier identity development (Brodzinsky, 2013; Goldberg, 2010; MacDonald, 2016; McRoy, Grotevant, Ayers Lopez, & Henney, 2007).
144 Anoth er way family was redefined by the mothers was by honoring birth mother, or incorporating the role of the birth mother and biological family into both One mother shared how she looks at his face. Despite the complexities and discomfort of acknowledging another thers maintained a perspective recognized that, even though their children are still very young, incorporating their already led to uncertainty and confusion for them about what it means to share the maternal role and how to establish healthy interactions and communication patterns. However, despite the added complexities, all the mothers expressed commitment to honoring mother and promoting openness about the adoption narrative in their family. Although some previous adoption research addresses the significance of the research is somewhat dated (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Sandelowski et al., 1993; Solchany, 1998) and does not account for the increase in prevalence of open adoptions today (Brodzinsky, 2006; MacDonald, 2016; McRoy et al., 2007 ). Since the level of o penness of the adoption was not part of participation criteria for the current study, yet all six adoptive mothers who participated qualified their adoptions as either open or semi open, there may be a connection between choosing to be open at various poin ts throughout the adoption process, including level of interaction with the birth mother, and willingness to participate in a study about adoptive motherhood. Some of the mothers
145 reinforced this by acknowledging that it may be more important for them to be connected to an adoption community as they maneuver the complexities of open being open about adoption in their lives as a way of promoting healthy dialogue with t heir adopted children and setting a tone that adoption is not something they are trying to hide. For the mothers in the current study, psychologically preparing for both the internal and relational complexities of forming an adoptive family increased confi dence in both their participation in a nonnormative family structure and their identity as an adoptive mother. Spiritual Nesting philosophy or faith in a higher power, as well a s a broader acknowledgment that certain Throughout the current study, the adoptive mothers continued to stress the importance of believing things worked out the way the y were meant to be. This philosophy provided comfort for them during pre adoptive waiting, as well as gratitude post placement and into adoptive motherhood as they reflected on their process of becoming adoptive in previous literature about transitioning from infertility to adoption (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Sandelowski et al., 1993). Some of the mothers in the current study related this directly to a belief in a specific higher power, whereas other mothe rs spoke more generally about forces beyond their control. When reflecting on their experiences during the pre adoptive waiting period, the adoptive mothers expressed their desire to have some sense of control, despite feeling
146 out of control in various wa ys, which resulted in mothers deciding to let go of control. The mothers who recognized their need to let go of control during the emotional rollercoaster of the pre adoptive waiting period explained how holding on to that philosophy allowed them to stop t rying to control every variable and to instead shift their focus toward doing what they could do and letting go of the rest. One mother explained how difficult it was for her to let go of control, pointing out that she could fill out all the paperwork and send her family profile to multiple agencies, but she could not make a birth mom choose them. Although the women had different ways of making sense of life during the waiting period, they all seemed to circle back to this idea of trusting that things will work out as they are meant to be. Some of the adoptive mothers in the study reflected that, although they did recognize they were making meaning of their experiences during the waiting period, their awareness of their spiritual philosophies became more so lidified after placement and into motherhood through the feeling gratitude. Once placement was secured, the mothers reported feeling grateful for their journey that led them to this place with this child. The hardships the adoptive mothers faced leading up to that moment felt worth it, and they identified feeling stronger as a person because of their struggles. This is related placement. Daniluk & Hurtig Since all the adoptive mothers in the study experienced infertility, the feeling of gratitude about things working out the way they were supposed to als o served to provide healing for the loss and pain they experienced prior to transitioning to adoption.
147 new to adoption research (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Sandelowski et al., 1993). meaning making process by highlighting the active step during pre adoptive nesting of letting go of control as movement toward their desired goal of becoming a mo ther. In retrospect, the adoptive mothers in the study recalled unhealthy and unproductive ways in which they tried to grasp for control as a reaction to how out of control the pre adoptive waiting period felt for them. One mother talked about her obsessio n with checking her online adoption profile. Another mother described her fear of putting her phone down in case her social worker called about a possible match. Putting an emphasis on spiritual nesting as a part of the preparation process for adoptive mot hers provides opportunity for them to more clearly identify what their spiritual beliefs or life philosophies are so that they have a meaningful way to cope with hardships that are likely to occur during pre adoptive waiting. Additionally, since adoptive n esting is a holistic process, spiritual nesting does not occur in isolation from the other areas. By engaging in the other areas of adoptive nesting when hardships occur, an adoptive mother can find comfort through reaching out to a friend; she can feel pu rposeful by reading a book about adoptive parenting; she can feel accomplished by cleaning out the closet in the guest bedroom in general preparation for a future houseguest. There are many ways for adoptive mothers to make meaning out of the circumstances which reinforces the need for incorporating an adoptive nesting framework for adoptive mothers during all stages of the adoption process. Relational Nesting Relational nesting signifies the importance of fostering healthy, communicative
148 relationships wit h loved ones and friends throughout the adoptive nesting process. During the pre adoptive waiting period, mothers who were waiting identified with the support from loved ones and connect with people during the uncertainty of pre adoptive nesting. For some of the adoptive mothers in the study, their community of friends and mother s in the study, investing in their village felt hard and painful because they were met with resistance and even judgment about their chosen path of adoption. The mothers who felt less supported admitted to pulling away and isolating further. This resulted in increased hurt, as well as fear about what it would be like once the baby came and placement was secured. The current study highlights that in addition to being open to their village for relational support, the adoptive mothers also took on the role of helping loved ones develop a deeper understanding of adoption and expand their perspectives on adoption relational and psychological nesting further promotes the holistic overlapping process of adoptive nesting. Being the teacher was difficult for adoptive mothers in the current study because they all expressed feeling like trailblazers in their family by being the first person or one of only a few extended family members who have adopted a child. This reinforces previous research highlighting that adoption is a nonnormative path to parenthood, resulting in less understanding, resources and awareness on a societal level (Biafora & Esposito, 2007; Brodzinsky, 2013; Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; MacDonald, 2016; Wegar, 2000). The mothers in the study felt both a pressure and
149 responsibility at times to educate and inform their loved ones, coworkers, and even strangers about adoption. This lack of support led to feelings of alienation and resentment in some situations, as well as feelings of connection and investment in others. Having the support of both adoption professionals and other adoptive parents proved to be invaluable for the adoptive mothers in the study as they ma neuvered through relational nesting. The adoptive mothers expressed feeling encouraged by the amount of support they received from their vill age post placement. The mothers who struggled to reach out to family during the pre adoptive period expressed regr et in not trying harder to incorporate their loved ones prior to placement and giving them more of a chance to get adoptive waiting period in symbolic and meaningful ways to b oth strengthen relationships and ones increase their understanding of adoption as a way of facilitating connection post directly in previous literature. The mothers who made it a priority during pre adoptive nesting to include their village into their pre adoptive experience and help their loved ones understand the complexities of adopt ion and adoptive parenthood reported an increase in emotional, relational, and physical support during post adoptive nesting. The current study findings suggest that by facilitating healthy and open communication with loved ones during pre adoptive nesting the transition to adoptive motherhood is smoother and more supportive for adoptive mothers, which lays crucial groundwork for
150 developing an adoptive nesting framework for loved ones of adoptive parents to better prepare them for embracing an adopted chil d into the extended family network. Although adoptive mothers expressed a desire for their village to be significant contributors to their preparation and adjustment processes, it was also clear to the mothers that certain components to adoptive nesting se emed difficult for people to understand who had not been through it directly. During the pre adoptive waiting period, several of the adoptive mothers in the current study received both emotional and practical support from other adoptive parents. This inclu ded specific advice on adoption related tasks, as well as emotional support during moments of uncertainty and doubt. Connecting with other adoptive parents also provided models for the adoptive mothers in the study to look to, as well as a sense of hope th at adoption is a viable path toward creating a family. The adoptive mothers stressed their desire for more of a formal group setting where adoptive parents can receive support from each other with the presence of a helping professional to facilitate both p ractical and emotional nesting. During the group interview, the adoptive mothers expressed feeling energized by connecting with each other and eager to keep connecting with other adoptive families as their children get older. Inside the circle of adoptive mothe rhood, we laughed with each other about having a secret handshake and compared stories about times when loved ones did not understand some nuance of adoption or adoptive parenting. Findings related to the e group interview solidified the relevance of incorporating this component into the current study and the need for this type of resource to be available to adoptive mothers throughout the adoptive nesting process.
151 Several of the mothers in the study stress ed how helpful it would have been to participate in a support group with other waiting parents during the pre adoptive period. Practical Nesting Practical nesting describes the various tasks that need to be completed to practically prepare for the arriva l of an adopted child during pre adoptive nesting, and the practical tasks related to the daily needs of caring for a child during post adoptive nesting. Although completing forms and running frequent errands does not feel like meaningful preparation for m any adoptive mothers during the pre adoptive waiting period, resolve to be a mom is tested and strengthened through participation in adoption tasks. The adoptive mothers in the study shared about how tedious and stressful it was to pursue adoption because of all the paperwork, legal aspects, and details to maneuver, which is similar to Mitchell (2003). Although all the mothers in the study identified closely with this aspect of adoption preparation, none of the mothers connected these logistical and legal components to their adoptive nesting process until presented with the definition for the phenomenon. Upon receiving the definition for adoptive nesting, th e adoptive mothers expressed a sense of purpose that, in hindsight, they wished they had seen during the pre adoptive nesting process. Seeing adoption tasks not only as necessary steps of the journey toward adoptive parenthood, but also as meaningful movem ent toward their vision of becoming a mother provided a shift in perspective for the adoptive mothers in nesting process in the current study. By viewing these tasks as part of the larger process of adoptive
152 nesting, the adoptive mothers in the current study acknowledged they would have felt more invested in the preparation process prior to placement, provid ing them more room to begin cultivating a maternal identity prior to the child being born. This finding reinforces the value in having an adoptive nesting framework to provide adoptive mothers with clear areas to focus on as a way of preparing for an adopt ed child. Although much of the practical nesting process during pre adoptive nesting involved performing logistical tasks, the responsibilities shifted for the adoptive mothers in the study post placement to the daily tasks of caring for an infant. The mot hers in the as purposeful and fulfilling after desiring to be a mother for so long. Through performing these daily tasks of feeding, changing, bathing, and generally at needs, adoptive mothers expressed feeling similar in some ways to biological mothers with infants. Accomplishing maternal tasks felt like inclusion in a motherhood club, which helped to solidify maternal identity for adoptive moth ers during post adoptive nesting. These maternal tasks were the closest connection made between biological and adoptive motherhood made by the women in the study. The area of practical nesting seeks to create meaning out of cumbersome, mundane, tedious, an d exhausting tasks during both pre adoptive and post adoptive nesting by viewing them as crucial components to adoptive nesting and maternal identity development for adoptive mothers. Physical Nesting Physical nesting involves preparing a physical space fo r the arrival of child, including setting up a nursery and accumulating baby goods. Although all the adoptive mothers in the current study expressed an unwillingness to prepare a nursery prior to
153 placement, they did participate to various degrees in more g eneral readying, which mothers likened to preparing for a houseguest during the pre adoptive nesting process. When this emerging theme was shared with the adoptive mothers during the second interviews and group interview, many of the women expressed feelin g validated about an urge they had not been able to identify, namely their desire to nest and their uncertainty and fear about how to do this. By generally preparing for a child, the mothers felt a sense of purpose without putting themselves at too great o f an emotional risk. Some of the mothers in the study were aware of this desire they had to nest in a general sense, while others did not realize they were doing it. During the group interview, the adoptive mothers shared stories about painting rooms, doin g yardwork and obsessively cleaning the house as a way of physically doing something to prepare. When reflecting on their pre adoptive experiences, the mothers expressed that if they had viewed these small, but significant actions as part of the adoptive n esting process, they may have felt more permission to generally nest instead of avoiding any physical actions of readying their home for the possibility of a child. This finding further stresses the need for the incorporation of an adoptive nesting framewo rk into the pre adoptive waiting period. Once the baby was born and placement was secured, the adoptive mothers in the study reported feeling an immediate relief, followed by a readiness to nest. The mothers felt permission to engage in physical nesting a nd recognized an impetus they felt due to their decision not to more tangibly prepare prior to placement, resulting in a preparation process referred to as condensed nesting. The mothers did not report feeling stressed by the abbreviated timeline or by the physical presence of their child
154 while they nested; rather they expressed excitement about finally being able to prepare a room and buy the clothes, toys, and decorations they had avoided buying prior to placement. Some of the mothers also acknowledged a shift in their perspective about the sociocultural definition of nesting after undergoing the nonnormative process of pre adoptive waiting, expressing that by waiting to nest until the baby was home, they could simply get the things their baby needed inste ad of trying to predict what a baby may need prior to being born. This finding addresses the importance of not only expanding the definition of nesting, but also challenging the societal definition of nesting and redefining the term in a way that is fittin g for individual mothers. Another reason provided as to why the adoptive mothers did not feel overwhelmed about a condensed nesting process was due to the abundance of support they received from their village post placement. The adoptive mothers in the study all reported feeling amazed by the gifts and tangible support they received from their village, even from people they did not know well and people who had not been outwardly supportive during the pre adoptive waiting period. This generosity was a wel come contribution to the mothers in the study since they all waited to physically nest until placement was secure. The adoptive mothers acknowledged how meaningful and profound being showered with so much love and support felt like to them. Some of the mot hers in the study reflected that it made them feel more like a real mother to be received as a mother so immediately and fully by their village. Additionally, most of the mothers in the study attended baby showers in their honor after the baby was born. Fo r most of the women in the study, this act was a welcome induction to the broader motherhood club, as well as a way for their loved ones to show their support of their
155 adopted child and their new family. By investing in relationships with their village pri or to placement, loved ones desired to invest, both relationally and tangibly, after placement occurred. Thus, preparing in one nesting area, such as relational nesting, during pre adoptive nesting, has a positive impact on another nesting area, such as ph ysical nesting, during post adoptive nesting. This reinforces the interconnectedness of adoptive nesting and the importance of including adoptive nesting into the adoption preparation process. Study Limitations I focused recruitment efforts toward word of mouth and advertising to local adoption entities. As a result, five out of the six adoptive mothers in the current study came from the same adoption agency and interacted with same adoption social worker. This overlap in experience is a strength in some w ays due to the homogeneity of the sample, but also a limitation given the lack of representation among the women in the study. The adoptive mothers who worked with the same social worker all reported feeling supported by her, and they described their overa ll adoption experience as very positive. While the current study findings help to provide a foundation for what a positive experience with an adoption professional can look like it also highlights a limitation since this is not the experience of all women who adopt through private agencies. These study findings suggest the need for more research with adoptive mothers who did not feel informed and supported by adoption professionals to more fully address the discrepancies between adoption related services. Additionally, all six adoptive mothers in the study were white, heterosexual, married women, and all but one mother in the study adopted a white child. T his highlights the homogeneity of the sample, which is seen as a strength in a
156 phenomenological researc h study, but it also points to the need for more research that incorporates diverse populations. Also, none of the adoptive mothers in the study experienced a failed placement, or a match that does not end in permanent placement of the child with the prosp ective adoptive parents, which could be another limitation of the study. Further research is needed on the lived experience of mothers who experience failed placement and the impact the experience has on participating in adoptive nesting and developing a m aternal identity prior to placement. The women in the current study were provided with a definition of adoptive nesting at the start of the second interview. Offering a definition to the participants could have informed the way they conceptualized their p re adoptive experiences. Since this adoptive nesting were described prior to hearing this term, which reduced the potential for bias. The current study initially h ad seven participants, but one mother was excluded from data analysis and the group interview after participating in two individual interviews. She did not meet the initial selection criteria because her adoption was not finalized by the time of the interv iews, but she passed the initial screening due to the overlap of experiences in several areas and her strong desire to participate. I was forthright with this mother about the possibility that she may be excluded from this study, and she stated she would s till be willing to participate in the interviews. Her interviews may be included in follow up studies with her permission. Two of the six participants were unable to attend the group interview. These participants each lived about an hour away from the in terview location in more rural
157 areas, while the other four participants lived within the city where the interviews took place. Although the perspectives of the two more rural participants were congruent with the perspectives of the other par ticipants throu ghout the first and second interviews, it may be a limitation that their perspectives were missing from the group interview for several reasons. First, the absence of two participants in the group interview changed the dynamics and prohibited their feedbac k from being shared in a group setting Additionally, one of the two participants who did not attend the group interview was the only participant in her l ate twenties, as compared to the other participants who were all in their late thirties or early mid f orties. Although her perspectives were similar to the themes of the other participants during her first and second interviews her presence in the group interview may have generated more discussion about age and life experience for the adoptive mothers. L astly, the other participant who did not attend the group interview was the only participant in the study who did not interact with the same adoption social worker at some point throughout their adoption process. Since the four women who attended the group interview bonded over their shared experience with their social worker, having the participant in attendance who did not share that experience could have provided a more diverse perspective on the pre adoptive waiting process and the role of adoption prof essionals. Another possible limitation of the current study is researcher bias and social desirability. Based on hermeneutic phenomenological theory, it was necessary and valuable for me to share that I am an adoptive mother to the other mothers in the st udy (Vagle, 2014). Although this likely led to more openness on the part of the adoptive mothers in the study because of my insider status, it could also have produced some
158 bias on my part, as well as a social desirability concern, resulting in the partici pants telling me what they think I want to hear. I took lengths to ensure that I was aware of my bias by bridling and member checking with the participants about the findings (Vagle, 2014). A subjectivity statement is included in this paper to acknowledge my personal investment and potential biases going in to conducting this study. Implications for Practice Findings of the current study stressed the importance of formal support to and facilitate maternal identity development. The primary formal support for the adoptive mothers in the current study was received through contact with their adoption social worker through their adoption agency. This supports previous research concluding that both expectant biological and adoptive mothers could benefit from interacting with helping professionals who understand the connection between feeling prepared for motherhood and developing maternal identity (Barnes et al., 2008; Daniluk & Hurtig Mit chell, 2003; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn et al., 2012; Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; Milgrom et al., 2011). Most of the interactions the mothers in the current study had with their social worker were casual and as needed rather than structured therape utic sessions, but the accessibility of the social worker led to increased feelings of support and comfort for the adoptive mothers T he adoptive mothers reported repeatedly seeking out their adoption social worker for feedback and information about adoption, adoptive parenting, resources for educating loved ones, and the logistical and legal aspects of the adoption process. The current study emphasizes the need for adoption professionals to have the necessary knowledge and experience about all
159 aspects of adoption to ensure they are providing ethical and appropriate mental health services to adoptive families. Although the percentage of children in the U.S. who are adopted remains very small at around two p ercent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 ), most mental health professionals are likely to work with members of the adoption triad on a regular basis and encounter people impacted by adoption to some degree even more frequently (Porch, 2007; Post, 2000). Therefore, it is crucial that a standardized measure for adoption competence be developed (Brodzinsky, 2013). The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) (2009) developed a task for ce to identify crucial elements that constituted adoption related competence. After reviewing multiple sources and interdis ci plinar y perspectives, they selected fourteen elements of adoption competence that are as follows: Separation and loss; developmen tal challenges; development of multiple service systems; family formation and differences; abuse, neglect and trauma; experience with adoptive families and adopted persons; cultural competence; success in supporting strengths; range of therapies for healin g; family/strengths/evidence based approaches to treatment; advocacy; therapies to strengthen parenting; therapies for parent entitlement; professional education and licensure. ( Brodzinsky, 2013 p. 24; C.A.S.E., 2009; C.A.S.E., 2012). To date, the adoptio n field is still lacking a broad, standardized consensus about what constitutes adoption clinical competence (Brodzinsky, 2013), but the creation of this task force in 2009 and the subsequent findings and research that has been done on the need for this ty pe of classification is encourag ing for the field of adoption. These broad expectations for helping professionals who come in contact with adoptive families must be present in order to provide the highest quality of care to all parties involved in the comp lex process of adoption.
160 Once a standard for adoption competence is established training in adoption competence needs to be required for mental health professionals already in p ractice, as well as incorporating the fourteen elements of adoption competence into the curriculum of counselor education programs to ensure that comprehensive and effective emotional, psychological, and relational care is provided to members of the adoption triad (Brodzinsky, 2013; Porch, 2007; Post, 2000). The need for competent a doption professionals is not a new finding (Brodzinsky, 2013; Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Fontenot, 2007; Goldberg, 2010; Porch, 2007); however, the current study highlights the importance of both a competent and consistent adoption professional that can provide both practical and emotional support throughout the adoption process. In addition to the need for adoption competence for adoption professionals, the mothers in the current study expressed how valuable their adoption social worker was in helpin g them prepare for adoptive motherhood. After reading them the definition of adoptive nesting, many of the adoptive mothers expressed feeling like they engaged in many aspects of adoptive nesting without knowing they were doing it, and they attributed this largely to their social worker. Overall, the mothers in the study had very positive adoption experiences and have adjusted well to adoptive motherhood, but they acknowledged that other women going through the adoption process may not have had positive exp eriences like they did. Therefore, the current study findings may provide a framework for adoptive nesting for adoption professionals that they can share with prospective mothers to increase their sense of preparedness for the arrival of an adopted child a nd strengthen their maternal identity both prior to after adoptive placement.
161 In the current study, four of the six adoptive mothers met for a group interview with me, an adoption researcher and a mental health professional, as the facilitator. They all s tressed how meaningful it felt to connect with other adoptive mothers and how they wished there was a group they could attend regularly. Although informal group support is helpful, the importance of formal group support facilitated by a trained mental heal th professional could provide a safe space for adoptive mothers to be open and vulnerable about the struggles of pursuing motherhood in a nonnormative way, as well as the added complexities of adoptive motherhood. Due to the complex nature of becoming a mo ther through adoption and the grief and fear that accompanies the waiting period, the mothers articulated the value of participating in a therapeutic support group to address the uncertainty of adoption and have space to connect with others who are going t hrough something similar. Additionally, a therapeutic support group could provide opportunities for prospective adoptive mothers to engage in all aspects of adoptive nesting to facilitate a stronger sense of preparedness and the development of maternal ide ntity. The adoptive mothers in the current study all emphasized the need for resources and support for their loved ones, as well as for them. Although several of the adoptive mothers in the study expressed feeling comfortable with the teacher role at time s, all six women emphasized that the priority had to be on their own nuclear family, and they had to trust that everyone else would get on board eventually. This points to the need for more formal resources for loved ones during the pre adoptive period so that the burden is not solely on the adoptive parents to educate their families and loved ones about adoption. When the adoptive mothers in the group interview were asked what resources
162 for family and friends should look like, they shared ideas such as a s upport group for adoptive grandparents and other loved ones, a book about adoptive nesting for both adoptive parents and others connected to the adoption process, and one on one peer support carried out by pairing up a waiting adoptive grandparent or famil y member with a current adoptive grandparents and other family members to provide a place to share fears and concerns about having an adopted child in the family. Since helping professionals are positioned as resources for adoptive families at various stag es of the adoption process, it is important for them to know what services are needed and facilitate those services as appropriate. Additionally, providing specific resources about adoptive nesting to family and friends impacted by adoption could alleviate some of the pressure felt by the prospective parents to educate others while undergoing the confusing and uncertain process of the pre adoptive waiting period. Implications for Theory provided a foundation for decades of research related to the transition to motherhood. identi ty provide a basic framework for further exploration into the experiences of becoming a mother in a nontraditional way (Rubin, 1984). Despite some areas of overlap for biological and adoptive mothers as they transition to motherhood, the current study emph asizes that the experiences for biological and adoptive mothers both prior to the arrival of a child and after bringing a child home permanently, are, in fact, substantially different. To address the differences in experiences between biological and adopti ve mothers, specifically during the pregnancy and pre adoptive period, it is no longer appropriate to apply biological frameworks to adoptive mothers without
163 significantly modifying the model to address the specific experiences of adoptive mothers. Althoug h modifying existing theories and frameworks can be useful in some ways, Fontenot (2007) recommends focusing future research on the development of new theories on maternal identity and preparedness for adoptive mothers. Out of findings like those in the cu rrent study, new theoretical frameworks specifically geared toward adoptive mothers can be developed. The need for new theories on preparing for adoption and transitioning to adoptive motherhood is reinforced in the current study. Creating a formal theory of adoptive nesting and an adoptive nesting framework could increase understanding about the transition to adoptive motherhood, as well as incorporate adoptive nesting into the larger sociocultural phenomenon of nesting for biological mothers. The current study and its findings support the notion that prospective adoptive parents risk alienation and lack of support simply because it is not clear what support should look like or how to increase understanding about the complex process of transitioning to ado ptive parenthood (Daniluk &Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; McKay & Ross, 2009; Wegar, 2000). Rather than further alienate adoptive mothers from biological mothers, understanding the differences between the biological and adoptive processes for becoming a mother has the potential to create more awareness and empathy among different types of mothers and provide more opportunities to find common ground. This can help adoptive mothers both appreciate the complexity of their process and normalize their transition into th e broader motherhood club. Creating a framework for adoptive nesting allows adoptive mothers to embrace their own process of being open to adoption as a valid path toward motherhood and participating in a symbolic
164 preparation process that addresses the com plexities of preparing for the arrival of an Implications for Future Research A phenomenological theoretical approach was used due to the lack of research on the topic of nesting and adoptive nesting (Guignon, 2012). Now that some insight into the experiences of adoptive mothers is gained, there could be a benefit in exploring a grounded theory methodology to develop a theory and framework for adoptive nesting (Flick, 2009). Also, quantitative research could be conducted in the form of surveys directed toward adoptive mothers addressing their adoption preparation process and assessing for degree of confidence in their maternal identity development before and after placement of a ch ild. Lastly, qualitative and quantitative research could be combined through conducting program evaluations for adoption agencies to assess for competence for adoption professionals, and a needs analysis could be conducted to assess what areas prospective adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptive families feel supported and what areas are lacking in support for these adoption stakeholders (Stufflebeam & Coryn, 2007). The current study explored the phenomenon of adoptiv e nesting for first time adoptive m others in heterosexual partnerships who went through a private, domestic agency or law firm. These specific inclusion criteria helped to achieve saturation and develop a depth of understanding about the phenomenon for the adoptive mothers in the study, bu t the narrowness of the sample provides limitations to applying the findings of the current study to other populations without additional research. Additionally, although race was not included in the selection criteria, all the participants in the current study identified as white. It is important that future research be conducted on diverse
165 adoptive parents to more comprehensively understand their needs as they transition to adoptive parenthood. Some of those populations include heterosexual fathers, LGBT parents, minority adoptive parents, and single adoptive parents. In addition to exploring specific populations of adoptive parents, this study also provides a foundation for expanding the type of adoption from domestic, private, infant adoptions to other categories of adoptions, such as international adoption, adoption through foster care, and older children and special needs adoptions. Moreover, race and cultural components should also be investigated through formal research, including transracial adopti on and transcultural adoption. Although previous adoption research exists on all the above listed populations, more research is needed that directly explores the adoptive nesting process for these nonnormative parents. Another important finding from the cu rrent study highlights the need for further research on adoptive nesting for extended family members. Further research in this area could identify what resources are needed to help adoptive parents educate and model adoption appropriate language and behavi ors for their loved ones, as well as facilitate positive relationships between their adopted child and members of the larger family system. Despite some significant research on the connection between infertility and adoption (Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 200 3; Goldberg et al., 2009; Sandelowski et al., 1993) more research is needed that directly connects earlier infertility experiences with maternal identity and adoptive nesting. This goal seems relevant given the role that infertility played in the experien ces of all six adoptive mothers in this study.
166 Lastly, b ecause much of the existing research is dated, and open adoptions have become more prevalent in recent years, more research is needed to further underst and open adoption and its effect on those involved (Brodzinsky, 2006; MacDonald, 2016; McRoy et al., 2007). Specifically, more research is needed on the connection between being open to the process of adoption and choosing to participate in an open adoption both before and after adoption finalization. Summary In conclusion, the findings from the curr ent study expand upon previous literature related to maternal identity and becoming an adoptive mother. While there are many parallels between the present data analyzed from the adoptive mothers to existing research related to first time mothers, the study reveals new areas of research in the field of adoption. The research question for the current study was addressed, but the conversation about adoptive nes ting and the effect it has on the transition to adoptive motherhood is just beginning. By incorporating the term adoptive nesting into the vocabulary of stakeholders in adoption and adoption professionals, a deeper understanding of becoming a parent throug h adoption can be developed.
167 APPENDIX A INTERVIEW 1 GUIDE Background 1) Tell me about yourself. 2) How would you describe your family? 3) What is an average day like for you? Preparing for Motherhood 1) Can you tell me about your journey in getting to the place of pursuing motherhood through adoption? 2) How would you summarize the preadoptive waiting period for you? so? 4) Tell me about your experience of preparing to become a mother. 4) In what ways did you feel supported during the preadoptive waiting period? In what ways did you not feel supported? 5) Looking back, is there a moment that stands out to where you first felt like a mother?
168 APPENDIX B INTERVIEW 2 GUIDE 1) I would like to go over some of the themes that emerged from our first interview to see if they seem appropriate and fitting for you. 2) We talked a bit in the first interview about your personal experience with adoption and becoming a mother. Now I would like to talk some about how your experience fits into the larger experience of motherhood. I want to start out by asking you about the term nesting. Are you familiar with this term? What does this term mean to you? 3) Did your experience feel different from the experiences of other new moms you know? How so? 4) Thinking about what nesting means, I have come up with a definition for the term adoptive nesting, which I have shared with you before. Read definit ion. Using this term, can you tell me what your adoptive nesting experience was like? Do you feel like you had one at all? 5) Based on the definition of adoptive nesting, in which areas did you feel prepared? In which areas did you not feel prepared? 6) What was your experience like of becoming a mother? What was the process like of incorporating the role of mother into your identity? 7) What would you tell someone in your situation when she is first deciding to pursue motherhood through adoption to make the experience feel meaningful and purposeful for her? 8) Describe what motherhood means to you now.
169 APPENDIX C GROUP INTERVIEW GUIDE 1) Introductions 2) Open the floor to comments and feedback about participating in this study on adoptive nesting. 3) Share themes and exemplars from the data and ask for feedback. 4) Read definition of adoptive nesting. Looking back, what was missing from your adoptive nesting experience that you wish you had experienced more? What was me t? 5) What does support look like for you as an adoptive mother? 6) What role could helping professionals play in helping you participate in adoptive nesting? 7) How might your experience look and feel different if you decide to pursue adoption again?
170 APPENDIX D INFORMED CONSENT FORM Information and Purpose: The interviews you are being asked to participate in are part of a research study on the preparation process for first time adoptive mothers. The researcher is interested in the impact of feeling prepared for motherhood on the development of a maternal identity for adoptive mothers. The purpose of this study is to explore the phenomenon of adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers as they work to create a maternal identity and prepare for the a rrival of a child by way of adoption. Your Participation: Your participation in this study will consist of two individual interviews lasting approximately one hour each and spaced approximately 2 3 weeks apart. You will also be asked to participate in a third group interview that will occur 4 6 weeks after the initial interview. The group interview, which will be approximately 90 minutes, will include the researcher and the other research participants. If you do not want to participate in the group inter view for confidentiality reasons, you will be asked to participate in a 30 minute individual interview to wrap up the study. Throughout the interviews, you will be asked to share your experiences of becoming a mother through adoption. You are not required to answer the questions. At any time, you may notify the researcher that you would like to stop the interview and your participation in the study. There is no penalty for discontinuing participation. This study is in no way affiliated with any adoption org anization or entity, so your participation or lack of participation will not impact any ongoing services you may be receiving or any future adoption related activities you may participate in. Benefits and Risks: There are no direct benefits to you for par ticipating in this study. The indirect benefit of your participation is to contribute to the field of adoption research. By doing so, the hope is that more resources and support will be made available to all parties involved in adoption and more knowledge can be disseminated about the unique and complex process of creating a family by way of adoption. There are no risks associated with participating in the study. Confidentiality: The interview will be audio recorded, but your name will not be recorded on the tape. All of your information and interview responses will remain anonymous. Your interviews will be transcribed, but all identifying information will be removed from all wri tten documentation. All recordings will be destroyed and all transcriptions will be erased after research on this data is concluded. The researcher cannot guarantee that all group participants will keep the discussion during the group interview confidenti al. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the researcher, Karin Fields, at email@example.com, or her supervisor, Dr. Sondra Smith, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information regarding your rights as a research participant, contact the IRB offic e at (352) 392 0433. By signing below, I acknowledge that I have read and understand the above information. I am aware that I can discontinue my participation in the study at any time. Signature____________________________________________ Date________ _______ IRB201700057
171 APPENDIX E STUDY PROTOCOL FOR IRB201700057 1. Background: Maternal identity has been studied for d ecades for biological mothers. (1984) foundational research on maternal identity, the connection between feeling prepared and maternal identity development was explored and has continued to be referenced to this day. Despite the presence of some current research on the transi tion to motherhood for biological mothers (Barnes et al., 2008; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn, Hanich, Roberts, & Powrie, 2012; Milgrom et al., 2011), the research is sparse on the transition to motherhood for adoptive mothers (Goldberg, 2010; McKay et al ., 2010). The majority of the existing research on the connection between parental identity and feelings of preparedness is dat ed ( Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Sandelowski, Harris, & Holditch Mitchell, 1993), but the few current studies that exist rei nforce the significance of preparing for adoptive parenthood and the positive impact this has on the transition overall, as well as pointing to the need for further research specifically on this connection (Fontenot, 2007; Goldbe rg, 2010; McKay & Ross, 201 0). Building on the early research on the transition to motherhood (Rubin, 1984) and the lack of research that exists on this transition for adoptive mothers (Fontenot, 2007; McKay & Ross, 2010), the proposed study on adoptive nesting, which combines the p reparation process for waiting adoptive mothers with the development of maternal identity, is the logical next step in the research. 2. Specific Aims: The purpose of this study is to explore the phenomenon of adoptive nesting for adoptive mothers as they wo rk to create a maternal identity and prepare for the arrival of a child by way of adoption. Since it is a qualitative, phenomenological research study, the goal of the research is to develop a thorough understanding of the phenomenon of interest from the p ences (Vagle, 2014). T o achieve this, the researcher must approach the data without hypotheses in order to remain open to the phenomen on as it is (Moustakis, 1994). By conducting this research, the goal is to lay groundwork for future research by creating a foundational framework for adoptive mothers transitioning to adoptive parenthood. 3. Research Plan / Study Description:
172 For the purpose of this study, each participant will take part in two individual semi structured interviews and a follow up group interview. The interviews will take place in a secure office room within a private counseli ng office in Gainesville, Florida with a private entrance so that con fidentiality can be maintained. No interviews will take place The purpose of the first interview is for the participants to choose their pseudonyms, provide relev ant background information, and tell their stories and experiences around preparing for adoptive motherhood using the semi structured Interview Guide 1 (See Appendix A) as a framework (Seidman, 1991). Although unstructured interviews are most commonly use d in phenomenological research studies because they tend to be more dialogic and conversational (Vagle, 2014, p. 78), a semi structured app roach has been selected to provide consistency in the interview format. During the second interview, the f ocus is o n reflecting meaning. This will be done by sharing experiences since the first interview, providing any additional thoughts on the phenomenon of interest, and presenting themes to the participants that emerged from the analysis of the first round of interv iews (Seidman, 1991). In this interview, the phenomenon of nesting will be addressed more fully in order to develop a stronger connection between the sociocultural phenomenon of nesting and how this relates to adoptive mothers. (See Appendix B, Interview Guide 2). T o fully develop an understanding for the phenomenon of interest, Seidman (1991) recommends conduct ing at least three interviews. For the proposed study, I have decided to conduct the third interview in a group format in which the researcher and all of the participants will gather together to reflect, connect, summarize, review transcripts and make individual and collective meaning of their experiences (See Appendix C Interview Guide 3). This dialogue and conversational process aligns with the he rmeneutic circle in that it adds a layer of richness and depth to the phenomenon (Crist & Tanner, 2003). It also strengthens the interconnectedness of the participants to Chapman, Francis, & Taylor, 2013). The hope for this group process is to facilitate support and enhance community among adoptive mothers.
173 Following each interview, the researcher will keep field notes and memos about the expe rience (Crist & Tanner, 20 03). These memos may include nonverbal communication and general reactions to the shared experi ence. Each interview will be audio recorded and transcrib ed verbatim by the researcher. The transcribing and subsequent coding of the first interview will take p lace closely following the interview and prior to the second interview. The same procedure will be followed between the second interview and the gr oup interview (Seidman, 1991). Thus, the data sources for the proposed study will include interview transcrip ts, as well memos and observations recorded during and after each interaction with the participants. Each research participant will be designated a confidential file by the researcher that will include demographic information, interview transcriptions, and any memos, notes, or observations related to the particular participant. Each participant will be assigned a numerical code that includes her birthdate and the month and day of her MMDD). They will also be asked to choose t heir own pseudonym in the first interview that will be used throughout the research process and the final paper. Participant identities will not be recorded on the audio recording and will not be transcribed or used in any subsequent papers or reports. Al l recordings and hard copies of any transcripts or memos will also be kept in a secure and locked file cabinet participants will be destroyed after research on thi s topic has been completed. Data analysis will begin with a holistic reading of the entire text without writing anything down to simply get acquainted with the data (Vagle, 2014). Both in data collection and data analysis of interpretive phenomenological research, a balance needs to be maintained between structure and freedom to provide a clear focus while still leaving room to engage with and respond to the data (Smythe, Ironside, Sims, Swenson, & Spence, 2008). To do this, the researcher participates i n the discipline of reading, writing, talking, thinking, re reading, re writing, and developing new insights (Smythe et al., 2008, p. 1393). This process is known as the hermeneutic circle, in which interpretation through understanding is achieved through this circular process (Crotty, 1998; Tuohy, Cooney, Dowling, Murphy, & Sixsmith, 2013). From a hermeneutic phenomenological lens, inviting others to participate in this circle can lead to rich er and deeper interpretations. For the purpose of this study, I will invite the that characterize specific common themes or meanings across participants (Crist & Tanner, 2003, p. 204), as well as inviting them to reflect on th eir experience of participating in this research. I will take minutes when dialoguing with anyone connected to the da ta as part of the audit trail. This process is congruent with a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to data analysis. While descriptive phenomenology promotes bracketing, or putting aside past knowledge and assumptions in order to be fully present with the phenomenon as it is (Vagle, 2014, p. 67), interpretive phenomenology sees the recognition of assumptions and past knowledge as the forw ard arc of the hermeneutic circle, making it not only appropriate but actually crucial to the interpretation process (Crist & Tanner, 2003). Although bracketing is considered inappropriate for interpretive phenomenology, it remains important that the inves tigator be aware of any previous knowledge or
174 assumptions that could influence both the conduct of the researcher and the interpretation of the data (Smythe et al., 2007). After thorough engagement with the data by participating in the hermeneutic circle, conceptualization and coding of central concerns and exemplars (Be nner, Tanner, & Chesla, 1996). As themes emerge, the researcher provides a name that seems congruent with th e way it is represented in the individual stories of the participants. These themes are formed out of the life world existential themes that allow phenomenologists to reflect on how people experience the world (Tuohy et al., 2013; Van Manen, 1990). By usi ng themes as a framework for naming, the themes carry an existential significance that resonates across the data. Possible Discomforts and Risks: Since participation is voluntary and no physical or medical interventions are involved, there is no risk to the safety and wellbeing of the participants. Although individual interviews are designed to collect information and experiences of the participants, and participants are free to disclose as much or as little they want to, there is minimal risk that quest ions about personal experiences may create emotional and/or psychological distress for the participants. If this occurs, the researcher will check in with the participant and provide an option to s top the interview at any time. Also, the participant is fre e to withdraw participation at any point in the study without any penalty or consequence, which helps to address this minimal risk for emotional/psychological distress. As in most qualitative studies, the biggest risk is the possibility o f a breach of c onfidentiality. For this particular study, disclosure of identifiable information about the participants does not present any additional risks to them since the criteria of the study is simply being an adoptive mother, which is something that is likely to be a public identifier about the participant prior to participation in the stud y. The third interview, which will take place in a group setting with the other participants, will involve disclosing the identities of the participants, but only among the othe r participants. In order to be forthcoming about possible limitations to confidentiality, the informed consent states that the PI cannot guarantee confidentiality in the group interview. Since each participant is able to opt out of this group interview wi th no pressure or penalty, full anonymity can be maintained by any participan t who desires that. Also, since the group component is addressed in the informed consent, each participant will have full knowledge of this disclosure of identity among participan ts and can opt out of the study or the group component prior to beginning the study. Possible Benefits: There is no direct benefit to the participants in this study, as s tated in the informed consent. Since little research exists on the transition to motherhood for adoptive mothers, the participants, who will all be adoptive mothers, may benefit indirectly from the proposed research by gaining insight on the shared experiences of other women, as well as the possible contribution this research could hav e on the field
175 of adoption. This research will serve to create new knowledge in the hopes that more research wil l follow. This is a possible benefit to adoptive mothers because it increases adoption awareness and also normalizes this non normative family s tructure. The group interview will also serve to directly connect adoptive mothers to others who have experienced the tran sition to adoptive motherhood. This is seen as a possible benefit because the research that exists on transitioning to both biologic al and adoptive parenthood stresses the importance of social support both during and after the transition to parenthood occurs (Barnes et al, 2008; Daniluk & Hurtig Mitchell, 2003; Doran & Hornibrook, 2012; Dunn et al., 2012; McKay & Ross, 2010; Milgrom et al., 2011). 4. Conflict of Interest: As an adoptive mother myself, there is a potential for a conflict of interest because of my direct connection to this topic and my investment in the results of this study and any sub sequent research on this topic. I wil l address this possible conflict of interest by lettin g all my participants know about my p ersonal connection to the data. I will also reduce the potential for conflict of interest in my criteria for inclusion. I adopted al l my children at the age of three or above. This study is designed to mirror the biological process of becoming a mother as closely as possible, thus limiting the criteria to first time mothers who adopted a child under the age of two This similar, yet different, experience will provide appropriate distance between my experience and the ex periences of the participants. Also, I have chosen Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology for my methodology, which recognizes the value in a shared commitment to the research by both researcher and participant (Vagle, 2014). This can be strengthened by personal investment as long as the researcher is aware of her invested position and brings it to the conversation as appropriate. As an adoptive mothe r and a mental health professional in the community, I do have a history of professional and personal relationships with some of the entities that will be used for recruiting. However, the conflict of interest is minimal since I am not directly engaged in any professional or personal relationship with any of these entities or their employees at this time. I will maintain that personal and professional distance as appropriate and necessary throughout the course of the study. Given my professional affiliatio ns to local adoption agencies and organizations, it is possible that I may have some professional relationship with recruited participants. If this happens, I will excl ude them from the study to avoid any possibility for unintended pressure for participat ion or hesitation in being honest and forthcoming during the interview process. Also, given my personal ties to the local adoption community as an adoptive mother, I may encounter participants that I have informal relationships with as co members of the a doption community. If this happens, I will not exclude them from the study since Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology promotes shared passion and investment in the topic and views it as a strength of the research process. However, I will remind these pa rticipants, like all the participants, that their participation is voluntary and there is no pressure to participate and no consequence for ending participation at any time.
176 Apart from my personal interest in the research topic and my personal and profes sional connection to local adoption entities, there are no additional conflicts of interest in this study that need to be addressed.
177 APPENDIX F RECRUITMENT FLYER Department of Counselor Education University of Florida PARTICIPANTS NEEDED FOR RESEARCH IN ADOPTION PREPARATION FOR FIRST TIME ADOPTIVE MOTHERS Seeking volunteers to take part in a study on the impact of feeling prepared for motherhood on the development of a maternal identity for adoptive mothers. Looking for first time adoptive mothers in heterosexual partnerships who finalized a domestic adoption within the last 2 years of a child below the age of 2 at finalization. Participation in this study will consist of two individual interviews lasting a pproximately 1 hour each and a third group interview lasting approximately 90 minutes. Your involvement will contribute to the field of adoption research with the hope that more resources and support will be made available to all parties in the adoption process. For more information about this study, or to volunteer for this study, please contact: Karin Fields Department of Counselor Education at (352) 871 5876 Email: email@example.com The study has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Revie w Board, University of Florida IRB201700057
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184 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Karin Fields receive d a Bachelor of Arts degree in s ociology and a Bachelor of Science degree in family, youth, and c ommunit y s ciences from the University of Florida in 2005. She later attained a Mast er of Health Science degree in rehabilitation c ouns eling with a specialization in mental health c ounseling from the Univer sity of Florida in 200 7. Karin received her Ph.D. in c ouns eling and counselor e du cation with a concentration in mental health c ounseling at the University of Florida in August 2017. She has worked as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Supervisor, and Vice President of a group counseling practice in Gainesville, Florida for 10 years, specializing in children and adolescents, adoption, and counselor supervision and training. Karin is passionate about increasing awareness and advocacy for vulnerable children populations, particularly children in the foster care system. She looks forward to expanding her clinical and academic pursuits to help vulnerable children receive support and achieve success.