Birth is a sacred thing. It’s a time when families witness a miracle together, and in a perfect world, loss wouldn’t have any place in a birthing room. It’s a time when emotions are heightened, and is—when an adoption is pending—a time when the new mother needs to be in control so that she can process the emotions and make what may be the biggest decision of her life.
Sometimes, hopeful adoptive families are invited to the hospital by a birth family that wants them to be a part of things from the very beginning. Sometimes the birth mom is a sweet, empathetic soul who wants the hopeful adoptive mother to feel a part of a birth she’ll never experience herself, and that moment is shared between two mothers. All birth stories look different when it comes to how hopeful adoptive parents are involved, but they always include one woman struggling physically and emotionally as she brings a new life into this world amidst an unfair amount of fear.
It’s easy as a hopeful adoptive parent to say that we love the woman who’s giving birth to the child we’ve dreamed of parenting. We can say the words all day every day, but when it comes down to how we act, our true colors show. There’s a difference between being well-meaning and fumbling through the experience, and being the kind of person who feels entitled. This is a sacred time between a mother and her child, and it can often leave hopeful adoptive mothers scrambling to find where they fit in the equation. They envision the years they’ll spend raising the child, the bond they will have, and they want to be there from the very first second, just as any other mother would. It takes grace and restraint to pull back, get those emotions in check, and realize that we are merely in the hospital as a friend to a woman who is going through an incredibly trying time.
Above any other advice I can give hopeful adoptive couples about the hospital stay, there is one thing that will never steer you wrong: Look her in the eyes and tell her this is her decision to make, and that you will love her no matter what happens. You will never, ever regret saying those words.
Also, remember that the hospital time can often be a make-or-break time, where hopeful adoptive couples show their true colors to new mothers considering adoption. This is an opportunity to stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk instead. I have two children, both welcomed through infant adoption, and we were included in hospital time with both. I learned a lot through those experiences, and I’ve compiled a list of the top five things hopeful adoptive parents should never do at the hospital, along with some tips on how to better handle that time. I hope it will empower hopeful adoptive parents who are afraid of fumbling, and will soften the hearts of hopeful adoptive parents who feel entitled.
This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share your own thoughts by commenting.
1) Never make assumptions.
Check your ego at the door. This is another woman’s baby until she signs TPR and you have no rights to this child. It sounds so harsh, but hopeful adoptive couples often need the straight truth because emotions start taking over at rapid speed and all logic gets thrown out the window. Never assume this is your child until he/she is.
2) Never take the lead.
Would you walk into a friend’s hospital room and snatch her baby up into your arms without being invited? Whether you think you have laid claim to this baby or not, the truth is that you have no rights–legally or morally–to this child. This hospital time is a time when you should be laying the foundation of respect, showing that you can appreciate boundaries, and that you see value in the new mother’s role as her child’s mother. This is a time that many birth mothers prize for their entire lives, and may be their only chance to be the only mother their child has, so let them enjoy this time. Ask permission, or allow her the time she needs to offer privileges to you. Also, whether the new mother is holding steadfast to her adoption plan or not, it is not your place to make any decisions for the child until TPR is signed. Even if a well-meaning nurse looks at you for direction, you need to turn full control over to the child’s mother. There is no circumstance where answering on behalf of the child’s mother is appropriate.
3) Never invite family or friends to the hospital unless the child’s mother requests their company.
Even at her request, you may decide to play it safe and ask your family members to stay back until TPR is signed. If the mother insists and wants to see the instant love your family has, discuss that with your family members to see if they’re comfortable visiting. Just never, ever treat another woman’s hospital experience as your own and begin inviting friends and family as you would if you’d given birth to the child yourself.
4) Never overstay your welcome.
Whether this is during daytime or nighttime hours, it’s easy for hopeful adoptive couples to have their heads in the clouds and to miss the common social cues signaling a need for space. Be aware of the situation and frequently offer breaks to the new mother. She may need her rest, or she may want some alone time with her child. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to give space. I’ve heard of many hopeful adoptive couples pushing the envelope by making requests about sleeping arrangements, such as sleepovers in the mother’s room, sleeping in a neighboring hospital room, or having the baby “room in” with the adoptive couple. As I mentioned earlier, this is a hopeful adoptive couple’s chance to show what they’re made of. Follow the lead of the new mother, and accommodate her wants however possible, just as you would with a close friend, but never–ever–try to take over or ask for favors of her during this time. She has enough on her plate, and she deserves to be in control. Also consider the conversations and the closure new mothers may need during those quiet nighttime hours with their child. A pushy hopeful adoptive couple who crowds the new mother won’t ensure placement happens; they’ll ensure the relationship starts off with lack of respect as the foundation.
5) Never coerce or guilt a mother into placement.
Many new mothers feel tremendous pressure to follow through with their adoption plans, especially when they’ve seen the hopeful adoptive parents with their child. They’ve seen a family travel to the hospital and they’ve seen the look in that couple’s eyes. They’ve likely begun to love this family as well, and they know the extreme financial and emotional ties they’ve made to the baby. Hopeful adoptive parents need to recognize that there is already pressure on the new mother because of this knowledge and the bond she’s already made with the family she chose, so nothing possibly coercive should be said or done. Hopeful adoptive couples shouldn’t bring monogrammed onesies with their initials on it (or similar gifts), nor should they bring gifts of value to the new mother. Saying “when” instead of “if,” or talking about what “will” happen instead of what “would” or “could” happen can make a birth mother feel she no longer has ownership of her choices. Other birth mothers like to hear hopeful adoptive parents talk in absolutes, and that’s why communication is of the upmost importance. Have those serious discussions where you say that you’re unsure of how to speak or act, but you don’t want her to feel pressured because of the relationship she has with you. Assure her you will still love and respect her if she chooses to parent. Remember: you will be telling your child this story for years to come, and you should conduct yourself in a way that will make your child proud of the role you played.