Adopting a child can be a long process, full of waiting and hoping and so much paperwork. Friends, family, and coworkers can be unaware of the stress and high emotion involved. Beth and Andy Long share the story of bringing Drew from the forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bloomington, Indiana and the hardest six months of their lives. In that story, they reflect on how people supported them well, the dangers of work/home compartmentalization, and the bravery it takes to create change in a workplace culture.
You can listen to the entirety of the interview here:
Here are my three takeaways from my conversation with Andy and Beth
1) What are the implicit demands that your company makes on employees? Have you stopped to wonder? If not, now is a good time to ask. Go ask a coworker or a direct report about how they think the company views time off. And, call this lesson 1, part b, do you have established policies around time off and leave? Andy and Beth were trailblazers in many ways, creating policies and precedent around NICU stays and adoption. If you don’t have established policies, it’s time to get some things in writing. As you create these policies, ponder, what kind of a culture do you want to create?
2) If you are going through the stress of an adoption or a prolonged hospital stay or any sort of substantial stress, coax yourself to be able to accept the help that is offered. Taking your other children to play, receiving a delivery of groceries, it is good to be able to accept the help that is offered.
3) Beth talked about the world of adoption policy and news and updates that was “an entirely different language” than what was being spoken around her in southern Indiana. If you are part of a support system for someone that is going through an adoption process, take time to ask them about the policy and the Facebook groups. And then listen. Really listen. Andy and Beth spoke about how it was difficult for them to feel that some people close to them were not “in their corner” and rooting for the adoption to go forward, as you hear about difficulties or obstacles, before rushing to judgment and advice, instead consider offering a statement like, “I’m so sorry for that hassle! That sounds complicated and difficult; I imagine that you just want to be united with your son or daughter as soon as possible.” This sort of statement conveys empathy without pronouncing judgment.
If you want additional insights, here are some additional excerpts from the episode:
There is so much paperwork
7:02 - Beth Long
Yes, so I mean every day, and I was sort of reporting back to Andy, but every day I'm online looking at the rumors talking about the chatter of what's going to happen. I heard this, you know the senator said this, I heard this from DRC. You know, everybody was just kind of putting the information together because like Andy said we really had no idea, we're going on rumors and tweets
The every-day reality of waiting
8:16 - Beth Long
Yes. So, we had a lot of online support as any sort of Facebook groups, but I think we had wonderful people in person, but you know how it's difficult to follow another person's health journey or you know their court dates. It's hard to keep all that straight. I'm using a whole different language when I'm talking about this adoption world. And so, there were definitely times when people were kind of like, oh you're, you're still doing that; you're still trying to bring that kid home? Yes, this is my daily reality. I'm daily still working on this every day is our son and every day we're thinking about it talking about it trying to figure out how I can make this happen.
Skepticism about the process feels hurtful
9:54 - Andy Long
And so, I felt like they maybe moved to, maybe be wary of the way that they approached it. They kind of didn't want to talk about it or ignored it. In some ways, because it felt like they were really nervous for us and we interpreted that as, they didn't care as much or they were skeptical, which I think they had every right to be because it was an indefinite suspension. They didn't know what was going on, neither did we. But it felt hurtful in the moment.
There is a danger in compartmentalization
19:04 - Andy Long
You know, looking back, I'm not sure how I did that or if I did a very good job. I probably suffered at work and wasn't aware of how distracted that I was. It felt like, maybe I probably was trying to do my best, but I would imagine if I look back now was probably very distracted and was underperforming. I think the part that suffered the most was home life because it's more difficult to turn off work and being on stage and you know trying to be pleasant, providing great customer service acting like everything is fine, leaving your problems at the door. I think I became very good at turning that off and when I was at work focusing on work, so that it became more difficult to engage when I came home to pick that back up and then engage with the problems and the difficulties that we had which became a major stress point for Beth and I. Probably the hardest thing that we've been through was my inability to say no to work or to change what I was doing there, which lasted for months and months probably six months.
Policies around disruption are important
22:01 - Andy Long
We didn't have real clear policies at work about, hey if you have a baby or if your family has a baby, this is what's normal to take off or these many days or this doesn't count against your vacation time or if you've got a medical emergency you know take this amount of time away from the office. We didn't have any of those policies really, really clearly stated at all and so then it was kind of, we were jumbling through it together where there was a lot of weird expectations on my side and I'm sure my co-workers at work needed me there and so they didn't really know how to process that or, you know, they, I'm sure would have liked to have me there more but they also understood it was inappropriate to ask me to come home or to skip some of that family time, so that I made it more difficult that we didn't have any clear policies on how much time I should take or what the procedure was for something like that like a medical emergency or traumatic birth.
Share how you are struggling
30:14 - Beth Long
And I think, also, one thing I wish that I would have done is just feel more comfortable to be, to tell people, this is how I'm struggling I feel, I actually later in the year started extreme problems sleeping. I started having chest pains and I felt like I was going crazy, which I think if I had just talked to people, they would say know that, you're experiencing anxiety and you probably should be based on your life circumstances right now. It took me slowly telling people small parts of that to put that all together, but I wish that I would have been braver with those emotions to say, hey here's what I'm experiencing.