"Was I Alone in the Hospital?"

Our visit to the hospital where we adopted our daughter at birth helped to fill in the gaps in her birth story.

A child learns about adoption birth stories.

The hospital where my daughter was born is across town, so we don’t go past it often. But, these days, when we do, we always make a happy noise. After all, that is where, seven years ago, we met Madison for the first time.

“That’s it!” I call. “That’s Mount Carmel Hospital!”

“That’s where I was born!” Madison hollers. “I love you, Mount Carmel!”

Facing New Milestones

When Madison was two, I thought about taking her in to visit the maternity ward and to see the babies. One of my friends was pregnant at the time, and Madison had a lot of questions. Despite our open adoption and our ongoing discussions about her arrival to our family, I realized that, in Madison’s mind, her time at the hospital was a kind of limbo. She knew she belonged to her birth mother, Jessica, when she was in utero, and to us when she came home. But when she asked about the hospital, I could see that she felt alone. Still, I wasn’t sure whether a visit to the hospital would help, so I put it off.

Then, just before Madison turned five, Jessica announced that she was expecting another baby, whom she would be parenting. We spent the next months helping Madison wrestle with jealousy, typical for any big sibling but further complicated by the feelings of loss around her own adoption.

As the baby’s delivery day neared, I started thinking again about a visit to the hospital. I knew a traditional “sibling tour” wouldn’t make sense, since Madison wouldn’t be bringing her brother home with her. But a visit seemed pressing, because Jessica was going to deliver in the same hospital where Madison had been born.

I emailed our agency, and they gave me the name of the hospital’s social services director. I contacted her, and she told me she would see if any of her social workers could arrange a special tour just for Madison.

The next day, Tina called us. She was willing to come in on her day off to help us out. First, she wanted to make sure she understood what we wanted, and also to learn our family’s story and the language she should use. “So this will be Madison’s brother? You’ll refer to him as her brother? And what does she call Jessica?” Tina wrote my answers down and asked if Madison had any specific concerns.

“Yes, she does,” I said. “She’s worried that babies get left alone. She’s afraid that she was alone in the hospital. I’ve told her that babies never are, but I think she’d like to know more about that and see that she was cared for.”

We scheduled the visit for the next Saturday. To prepare, Madison and I looked at our first photos as a family, of her in the hospital, of us together, of her coming home. She picked out several photos to share with Tina, and drew a picture of her family — including her soon-to-arrive baby brother. “She’s going to be impressed that I was born at Mount Carmel!” she said. “She’s going to be surprised about that!”

Calming Fears and Completing the Story

The morning of the visit, Tina met us in the lobby, and we sat down together to make introductions. The social worker had brought a bag of goodies, including an “I’m a Big Sister” pin. Madison dug through the bag, pleased with the presents, and solemnly handed her pictures over. She and Tina discussed the photos, and Tina praised her drawing. Then we headed for the elevators up to the maternity ward. There, Madison and I sat down in the waiting room while Tina left to get a bassinet for Madison to see. When she rolled it in, Madison noticed that a baby — a life-like doll — was tucked into the top.

Together, Tina and Madison took out the doll to examine her more closely. Madison undressed her while Tina explained that all the babies in the hospital are given a stocking cap and a little shirt, along with a supply of diapers. Madison asked questions, and Tina answered them.

“You can take the cap home,” Tina said, and Madison tucked it into her goodie bag.

We moved down the hall to the newborn nursery, peeking in through the glass. Tina explained that babies are never left alone in the hospital. “When you weren’t with your birth mama, you were in here,” she said, crouching down to look Madison in the eye. “There is always someone minding the babies here.”

Next was a post-partum mom’s room. It wasn’t unlike the room where Madison had been with Jessica. I pointed out the chair, like the one I sat in the first time I held her, and the bench, like the one where Jessica’s friends sat when they came to visit.

On the way home, Madison chattered about all that she had seen and learned at the hospital — at “her” hospital. The minute she got home, she called her grandparents to tell them about it.

While the visit prepared Madison for meeting her new brother a couple of weeks later, it was good in other ways, too. There was a subtle change in the way she talked about her birth and adoption, with us and with other people. She speaks with greater confidence because she now owns the story she’s heard so many times. She saw where she was born and where we met her. After all, we walked together down the hall that I rushed down to meet her for the first time.


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