Recently my husband and I had the joy of adopting a beautiful healthy baby boy. We are in awe of this precious gift in our life. Though we may be sleep deprived, the physical hardships of this major life adjustment seem small. It seems like a tiny struggle compared to the emotional anxiety the last few months have brought on. Getting picked to be an adoptive family in an open adoption is a beautiful gift, but one that comes with much stress, especially as the finish line, the hospital experience, appears.
My husband and I say that the three days in the hospital with our precious Owen, and his birth family, were the most beautiful, and the most intense, pressure filled days of our lives. But this is not where the emotions end. In stark contrast, this is where the new emotions and stresses of being a parent begin, as well as the unique and powerful emotions involved with watching a woman that holds a piece of my heart like no other person in the world, do the hardest thing she will have to do in her life. It’s time for her and her family to hand her baby to Michael and I and start this new chapter of life. It’s a time for Michael and I to be supportive of this difficult time for her, but also so hopeful that her decision to give us the gift of a child is not changed. All of these elements can make this hospital experience a journey of its own in the roller coaster ride of the adoption journey.
How does one adapt to this unstable time period and make the hospital experience one that brings joy to the new adopting parents and peace to the grieving birth family?
From the beginning of the adoption process, discuss the hospital experience as much as possible. Encourage the birth family to get as much counseling as possible at the adoption agency. Respect the birth families space and emotions, but let them know that you respect their plan for the hospital experience, and that you want to be clear on what they want so you can be as respectful as possible. Not only will this allow you to be supportive and respectful, but it will also minimize surprises that may come up in the hospital.
Expect the unexpected!
Communicate as much as possible as stated above to minimize surprises but also to set the foundation for good communication when the birth plan does not go as planned. I have never heard of an experience where the birth plan goes exactly as scheduled. It is a very emotional time, unpredictable physically for the delivery process and emotionally for the birth family and adoptive family. Go into the experience hoping for the best, but knowing that it most likely will not go as you have envisioned it in your mind.
This is the birth family's time
As much as an adoptive family wants the birthing experience to be a time of bonding with their newly formed family…in an adoption situation, the time at the hospital is the birth family’s time to be with the baby and say good bye (maybe not permanently, but to the role of mom/dad/grandma/grandpa etc). It can be a hard reality to take in, but once you do, it will make the experience more joyful and less frustrating. This also allows you to look at anytime together with the baby at the hospital as a gift, and not as time you are missing out on when you are not with the baby.
Trust the process
Adoption works! It’s a beautiful process and one that does work. If the birth family seems like they are bonding more than planned with the baby, trust that it is what is best for the baby and the birth family and that the process will end up working out in the end. Every little action taken by the birth family can lead an adopting family to believe that the adoption will be rescinded, and sadly for the adopting family, in some cases this happens, but in more cases it does not. It’s hard to know what a birth family is feeling, so make sure they have the time and space needed to gain the emotional closure on the situation, and trust that it is all for the best of everyone involved.
The intense pressure of everything going on during the hospital stay can cause emotional build up that requires constant release. Take breaks from the hospital! Run out and get food for the birth family, go get coffee with your spouse, take a walk, go develop pictures of the baby, talk to supportive family members and friends, whatever it is, take a break. Force yourself if you have to, it will be worth it in the end. Your emotions need a break from this highly intense experience.
Get to know the birth family
If the hospital is full of extended family and friends of the birth family, and if they are open to spending time together, make the most of it. Take pictures, ask questions, get to know the family (to the degree they are comfortable with). Your child may ask questions later on and they more answers you have, the better for them!
Michael and I were blessed to have an adoption hospital plan that included us being a part of every step of the birth. We picked up our birth mother from her home after getting the middle of the night call that labor had started. We checked into the hospital, we put cold cloths over her head as the contractions increased, I held her hand as she pushed, and screamed in pain, we had a first look at our precious baby boy as he made his way into this world, my husband cut the umbilical cord, we held our sweet baby after his birth and we spent the next two nights in a hospital room of our own, sharing time with his birth family as we introduced Owen into his new world together.
We loved every one of these moments, but we almost broke in the remaining pressure filled moments. I wish we would have gone into the experience more prepared for this intensity. While the birth family is making their birth plan, make your own hospital plan so that you are ready for the amazing yet intense experience that is about to unfold!