Ask Amstel

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I received this email today: 
"Thank you for sharing your story.  It touches me to see two families become one.  I am writing to you for hopes of being able to see a situation from the birth mom's point of view.  My husband and I are adopting a baby boy next year.  My childhood best friend's sister became pregnant and is unable to care for the child.  When we initially all sat down we agreed that she would have a few hours with the baby to say good bye.  (We are having an open adoption with her visiting monthly).  Now we have run into a road-block.  She and her mother think that she should have the entire hospital time for her to say goodbye, allowing my husband and I to visit for two hours a day.  My husband and I don't believe that this is enough time.  I came up with what I thought was a middle ground where we could come in every few hours or so for feedings.  But the birthmother does not agree with this.  I understand that she needs time to say goodbye, but my husband and I also need time to say hello and to bond with our son.  Now I know you can't tell me what to do or what the right thing is but I was hoping to hear how your hospital stay time was handled and how you felt it went for you and the adopting parents.  I need some insight on this.  I would think the more time the birth mom spends with our son it may be more difficult for her to let go.  Please HELP!!"

Thank you so much for contacting me.  First of all, congratulations on the adoption!  You all must be so excited.  It's encouraging to know that you are reading about my experience with open adoption. Unfortunately, while open adoption has the potential be incredibly positive for everyone involved, that doesn't mean that there won't be road-blocks along the way.  This is a really tough situation you have described, and I completely understand where both parties are coming from.  The hospital experience will be one of the most difficult and delicate times that you, your husband, and your birthmom will experience throughout the entire open adoption journey.  It's completely normal for the adoptive parents and birthmom to have different ideas of what the hospital experience should be like.  

I had a close relationship from the start with our adoptive parents, Don and De, and while I was originally very protective of "my baby," I began to slowly open up to them after getting to know them better.  After becoming very close with them, I wanted Don and De to be a part of the hospital experience because I wanted to be able to share that with them. But not all birthmothers are alike, of course.  Your birthmom may still be protecting what she believes is hers--her son--and rightfully so.  She may not be willing to open up to you completely because she is still struggling with her decision.  And that's normal!  Remember that any adoption is only a verbal agreement until the papers are signed, and that the birthmother or adoptive parents may change their minds at any time until then.  That being said, I clearly remember a standout remark from Don and De before Deanna was born.  They told me that no matter what decision I made, to keep the baby or to place her with them, they would be so happy for me and they would accept my decision.  That spoke volumes.  Really?  They won't be mad at me if I keep her?  That said alot about their character, and it showed me that they didn't just care about "getting a baby" but they cared about Amy Hutton as a person. I immediately knew that these were the people who I wanted to raise my daughter. 

Have you expressed interest in your birthmother's well-being?  Does she know that you care about her too?  The bottom line is that she may decide after the baby is born that she wants to keep him, but that most likely won't be affected by the amount of alone time she has with him.  In fact, there are some states that allow birthmoms to spend days, even weeks alone with their baby before adoption is finalized.  If anything, she may even realize how difficult it is to take care of him by herself.  I think (and hope) that your birthmom will be very appreciative if you and your husband allow her to have the space and time she is requesting to have alone with her baby in the hospital.  After all, if you don't honor her request, can you really expect her to compromise on other issues you may have?  Will she be able to trust you with her child?  These are all tough questions she may have if you don't show her that you can respect her wishes. 

I think that bonding with the baby is very important for you and your husband, but I also think that honoring your birthmother's wishes is more important.  Remember, you are laying the ground work for a long journey ahead.  It will take compromise, but this will be the first step in figuring out how things will work.  I encourage you to ask birthmom more questions about the hospital.  Is she afraid of anything?  Will you be in allowed in the hospital room during the birth?  Who will cut the cord?  Will you be able to hold him first or will birthmom?  Could you possibly take a hospital tour with birthmom beforehand to ease fears and to become accustomed to the environment?  There are so many other issues that you may be able to compromise on in exchange for giving her time and space.

It's tough to pinpoint an exact solution because each open adoption scenario is different.  I know it will be difficult to have to wait a few days to really bond with your son, but keep in mind the other side of the equation:  Birthmom is probably thinking that while she only has a few days alone with her son, you and your husband have the rest of your lives with him.  No matter how you look at it, the hospital experience will be a time of intense emotions, uncomfortable situations, and endless compromise.  I think it's excellent that you and your husband are preparing for this time and really thinking about how to compromise fairly.

A final suggestion I have is to try and bond with birthmom as much as possible during these next few months.  Have a family dinner together, get to know each others relatives, friends, and people they know.  What do these people have to say about each others character?  Encourage everyone to ask questions about anything and everything under the sun.  No questions should be off limits because the key is getting everything out on the table in order to eliminate fears and to build a solid foundation for your relationship to grow.  And who knows, perhaps she will open up and ask you and your husband to visit more often in the hospital once baby has arrived.  Of course, this is an ideal scenario, but only time will tell.  

I know that this probably isn't what you and your husband wanted to hear, but remember that I'm coming from a birthmother's perspective and I am partial to this side of the equation.  Please don't hesitate to ask me about any other questions or concerns you may have.  I'm happy to help in any way that I can!  Best of luck to everyone involved in your open adoption.  Remember, if you keep your child's well-being at the center of every decision you make, you will have so many positives to look forward to. 


Chelsa said...

i think that is a great answer!!! :)

birthmothertalks said...

You did an excellent job. I agree 100% with you. I probably couldn't have said it as well though. I remember my time with my daughter and I didn't want to share it with anyone.

Miss Marilee said...

I don't want to sound horribly selfish, but the time in the hospital is honestly the only time where a birth mother can fully say the child is "hers". This is the one time where her memories can be her own. I say let her have all the time in the world with her. You can bond once the baby goes home with you.

This might sound horrible, but as a birth mom who was literally pushed away by the hospital staff and adoptive couple, I think the more time she gets with her child in the hospital the better. If they're offering time in the hospital for the potential adoptive couple to visit, I see nothing wrong with that. International and foster care adoptions work out without "hospital bonding".

Marisa said...

Great answer! I'm a Birthparent/Adoption caseworker and your advice is exactly what I tell all my adoptive couples and birthmoms.

Anonymous said...

My daughter placed her daughter 6 months ago. All of the best plans in the world won't necessarily be the way things will happen. Be very, very flexible.

My daughter's baby was put into the special care nursery immediately after birth. She had only held her for a minute. She didn't get to see her again until 3 hours later and then she could only hold her hand. My daughter thought she'd have the time in the hospital to say "hi and goodbye" and wasn't even able to say "hi" that first day.

The hospital had strict policies on who could visit the baby so the adoptive couple and grandparents couldn't even see the baby. We shared pictures. Thank goodness for digital cameras.

Nothing was going as planned and my daughter decided not to sign the papers until she felt ready. Although everyone had said the right things about how it was her decision and no one would be mad if she changed her mind, it got to be obvious that the adoptive couple was getting worried about losing this baby. This created a lot of tension at the hospital.

We had a big discussion between the two families minus my daughter. All she wanted to do was hold her baby -- with all of the tubes and wires and all.

Things were resolved, but the adoptive family had to take a big step back and wait. Yes, the waiting is hard, but they wanted what was best for my daughter.

My daughter signed the papers after a week and the adoptive family stayed in town waiting for all of the paperwork. We visited quite a few times and everyone was very mindful of letting my daughter have time with her baby. The two families feel as one now, but it could have all gone south had the adoptive couple gotten too demanding.

My advice is the same as Amy's, build the relationship with the birth mom and let her tell you what the plan will be. Accept whatever she gives you. Be flexible in case there are complications.

Jessica said...

Well said! As an adoptive Mother, I know where this lady is coming from. Since I was not the one that carried my daughter for 9 months, I wanted to start the bonding immediately. However, she was not MINE to bond with.

Our situation was a little different as we had met our daughter's birth parents three days prior to her birth. Fortunately, things clicked right away between the four of us and the extreme awkwardness that we expected at the hospital was replaced with mild awkwardness. :) Our daughter had complications at birth and was rushed to the NICU, where she stayed for four days. Even though she was not ours, her birth parents graciously gave us permission to visit with her. However, we limited our visits because we wanted them to spend as much time as possible with her.

It was VERY hard to wait because we fell in love with her instantly and we knew there was a very real possibility that her birth parents would change their minds, which almost happened. However, we wanted what was best for the baby and for the birth parents as well. At one point, I was second-guessing them, asking, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Back to the lady's question. Some of the best advice our agency gave us to help us and the baby bond was that my husband and I were the only ones "allowed" to actually care for our daughter. Diaper changes, feedings, calming, rocking....everything was done by us for the first 6 weeks after we brought her home. Now, let me tell you. The new Grandmas were rather ticked about this and I even got into an argument with my mother-in-law over. However, I really think it helped develop a strong bond with our daughter early on.

Jennifer said...

I'm a birthmom and I cherish those two special days I got to spend with my daughter in the hospital. If the adoptive parents did not respect my wishes to be alone, I would have resented them and may not have wanted to place my baby with them.

Britney said...

First of all... as hard as it may be to hear, it doesn't really matter what you want to happen in the hospital. Birthmom is MOM, and she gets to call the shots. She may even still choose to parent, in which case I would think it would be harder for YOU if you have already spent a lot of time bonding. (And how would you feel if, after placement, she's dictating what you do with YOUR time with him? Right.)

That time with my son was the most important thing in the world, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything. His (now) parents visited us several times, but they were always incredibly respectful of my time with him. His dad even said at our last meeting before he was born that they viewed that time as a wedding- I was the bride and I got whatever I wanted. They knew that I knew they didn't have to say that... but, the fact that they did spoke volumes about who they were and how they valued me and our relationship!

I absolutely believe that the time I spent with him made me more confident in my decision to place, which is a pretty huge thing in an open adoption.

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