“How Should New Parents Navigate the Hospital Experience?”
By Kathleen Silber, open adoption expert
The few hours or days the birthparents and adoptive parents spend together at the hospital are intense for everyone involved. The birthparents are saying hello to the baby, and, at the same time, are preparing to say goodbye. The adoptive parents are joyful but anxious. They may worry about how they’ll be treated by the hospital staff, or that the birthmother will change her mind about adoption and delay their dreams of parenthood.
It helps to discuss the hospital experience with the birthparents and an adoption professional ahead of time, giving both families the opportunity to weigh in. Decide on as many details as possible, such as who will hold the baby first in the delivery room and what name the birthmother will put on the birth certificate form, and record them in a written hospital plan.
If these topics aren’t talked about in advance, there can be hurt feelings on both sides at a very emotional time. The discussion you have will not eliminate all of the problems and stress at the hospital, but it will reduce the number of potential stumbling blocks. Here are more tips on making the most of the time you’ll spend together following your child’s birth:
- Advocate for the birthmother. If the nursing staff is giving her a hard time, speak up on her behalf. One birthmother I know described how much the adoptive mom’s support in the hospital meant to her: “It helped me realize that she cares about me, not just my baby.”
- Be sensitive to the birthmother’s needs, and let her feel she is in control. It helps if you can view this as her hospital experience. Check in with her and ask how things are going. At the same time, offer her time alone with the baby while you take a break (go back to the hotel and take a nap, or shop for baby items). Some birthmothers have complained that the adopting couple was always in the room, and they never had any time alone with the baby. You will have plenty of time with the baby when you get home!
- Bring a gift. A special token will show you are thinking about the birthmother. You might bring flowers or an album, with a couple of photos from the hospital already in it. Point out to her that there is plenty of space for the pictures you will send her in the coming months.
- Keep an open mind. Remember that, in the hospital, the baby is still the birthmother’s, not yours! Be as flexible as possible, and take cues from her on how she wants to proceed. It’s OK if the hospital plan goes out the window once the baby has arrived. For example, the birthmother might have said in advance that she didn’t want to spend time alone with the baby in the hospital. Suddenly she is rooming in with him. Does this mean she is changing her mind about the adoption? Probably not. She has simply changed her mind about wanting time with the baby.
- Be prepared to witness the birthmother’s mixed feelings and pain. Placing a child for adoption is a difficult decision. Don’t ask her for reassurance that she isn’t changing her mind. Instead, encourage her to talk to her counselor about her feelings and decisions.
- Don’t involve friends and family. One problem I often see is that of the adoptive parents inviting friends and relatives to come to the hospital. Although you want everyone to see the baby, remember that this is the birthmother’s time with the baby. If she places him for adoption, this is the only time she will get to be the mom. The birthmother also needs to see you falling in love with the baby at the hospital. This is best done without the intrusion of friends and family members.
The hardest part of the hospital experience is the discharge. This is the time when the reality of the adoption decision hits the birthmother. She has had the baby with her for nine months, and now she is leaving the hospital empty-handed. Be sensitive to her emotions. At the same time, you might find yourself struggling to balance your joy with her pain. Many families have told me they were surprised to feel guilty at the discharge time, knowing that their happiness came at the expense of the birthmother. (Guilty feelings might also initially affect your bonding with the baby.)
Keep in mind that the birthmother’s sadness is a normal part of grief. She wants you to be happy—and your joy will ease her pain. It will be important for her to hear from you in the coming months, to know how happy you are and how the baby is doing. Don’t be afraid to send photos of a beautiful, happy, smiling baby. That is what she wants to see!
KATHLEEN SILBER is the associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and coauthor of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (both Corona).
In Your Own Words
We asked readers to share their hospital stories. Here’s what they told us.
“Our adoption facilitator walked us through what to expect, and we wrote out, in detail, our hospital plan. Our birthmother specified how long she would hold our son, who would be in the delivery room, who would cut the cord, and so on. It was great to have that conversation early on, so we would know what to expect and not be surprised."
JAYSON AND ERIKA, California
“I was in the O.R. when my first son was born. It was surreal. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t ‘mom’ yet, but the birthparents kept calling us ‘mom and dad,’ and had us care for the baby in the room. I can never thank my son’s birthparents enough for sharing their days with him with us. I don’t believe anyone who has not been through this experience can fully appreciate how your emotions fluctuate minute by minute. It’s worth it, but it’s not easy.”
“I was in the delivery room, and my husband was in the waiting room. The hospital staff treated us like part of the baby’s family, and they included us in all aspects of the birth (we set that up in our agreement ahead of time). The baby slept in-room with her birthmom the whole time she was there, and then we took her home. The hospital even had a room for us to stay in, so we didn’t have to leave.”
ERICA AND KURT, Minnesota
“We did not have the greatest experience at the hospital. The match came the day before our son’s birth, and our attorney was unable to arrange for a social worker to meet us at the hospital. We could see the baby only with the birthmother or her family present. The head nurse was not at all sympathetic, and the staff treated us as though we were there to steal our son. We were very happy to drive away from that hospital with our new son.”
GRAINNE AND FRANK, Florida
“Our social workers made the hospital experience bearable. It’s so hard. We loved our birthparents, and we felt like we were ‘taking’ their baby. We had a specific hospital plan, which our social workers executed brilliantly, so that our good-byes (which were really ‘see you later’s’) didn’t last for hours while we all stood there crying.”
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