This summer and fall, I had the privilege of doing something I have never done before. I have fostered newborn babies, and I have met with birth parents in the hospital who are losing custody of their newborn child. But, I had never walked through a pregnancy with a birth mother before.
In June, my husband received a phone call that there was someone wanting us to adopt her baby when he was born in the fall. That phone call sparked a new journey for us. After meeting the birth mom in person and laying it all out on the table—we homeschool our four children; we have a child on a feeding tube, and we have a child with severe behavioral issues—I actually kind of expected her to say, “Hmmm….no thanks!” Instead, she said, “You’re the family I want.” In the months that followed, I had the incredible privilege of being there for all the prenatal appointments and even the birth of our new son. What I learned on this journey humbled me.
I cannot imagine how vulnerable it must feel to allow someone else into your life at a time like this. The circumstances that brought you to where you are, the broken parts, the hard parts, the painful parts. Allowing someone else to physically see your body in all kinds of awkward moments and to allow someone to be there while you are in terrible labor pains. I often was in awe of our amazing birth mom and how well she took everything in stride. I feel blessed that on all sides, it was a good experience. Often, though, I had the uncomfortable feeling that a misstep on my part could have devastating and lasting effects on the birth mom. While we cannot prevent all misunderstandings or even how others choose to interpret things, I was very conscious of trying my best not to cause any unnecessary pain in this process. I decided to compile a list of things that occurred to me, and things I learned, to encourage others that might walk alongside a birth mother.
1. Don’t abuse your power. Did you know that you are really powerful? If you are preparing to adopt, you have a house or an appropriate housing situation. You probably have a vehicle, possibly a job (unless you are a stay-at-home parent, then you are blessed enough to have a partner that is working fulltime to provide), disposable income, a bank account, and some ‘fancy’ items. It is probable that the birth mom is missing several of these things. Maybe all of them. Never use your position in life to lord over someone else how well you are doing. It sounds obvious, but sometimes people feel a boost, seeing that their station in life is, actually, better than they imagined. This can come out in so many ways. Think about how you dress. If your birth mom is living in a shelter and getting all of her clothes through an outreach, do not go to pick her up in all expensive, brand name, designer clothes, decked out in all your jewelry! Be aware of how you are coming across, and the message you are sending. Be courteous. You may already be a mom of one, two, three, four, or ten children, but this birth mother deserves your respect. Be on time, come prepared, and don’t spend the whole time talking about your upcoming or past exotic vacations with someone who may never have traveled outside of their region (I have now met several people through our ministry who have not traveled past the next nearest city, only an hour away. This is their reality due to financial issues, lack of a vehicle, addictions issues, etc). Check yourself. Are you power tripping, at all? If so, drop it now. You are YOU, and that is okay. You are allowed to have preferences and tastes, but respect the person you are working with and realize some things can be left by the wayside to make others comfortable.
2. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. No games. If you say you can take her to an appointment, DO IT. If in your mind you are wondering if you will have child care for your other children, speak it out loud. “I would love to take you to the doctor next week, but I will have to sort out a babysitter,” is much, much more honest and appropriate than promising a ride to someone who may not have another way to get there, and then backing out later, leaving her in a lurch. YOU (likely) have the power! If you are the one with a car, it is your responsibility to be honest about what you can and cannot do as far as transportation to appointments. Same for EVERYTHING else. If you say you don’t mind if the birth parents pick the name for the baby, but you are secretly not so sure about this, you are aiming for disaster. If you wait until the baby is born to let on that you don’t like the name picked or had really wanted something else, feelings will be far more hurt, and a difficult situation arises.
3. Start how you intend to finish. Do not overcommit if you know you cannot sustain. Do not allow someone to begin to rely on you if you know that it cannot continue. Set clear, loving boundaries early on. While people suffering from mental health issues may struggle with accepting this, it is still an extremely healthy habit on which to start a relationship. You will also save yourself a world of pain. If you don’t ever intend to lend money, then say no the first time. If you don’t mind lending a small amount, make it clear what the limit is, and when you expect to be paid back.
4. Do everything in love. I mean it, EVERYTHING! Even hard things, even awkward things. The Golden Rule still applies today: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Try to be empathetic and imagine how you would feel if you were a mom carrying a child you knew you were going to place for adoption. Think first before you respond. Think of things in degrees of love: if something would be loving to do, find a way to make it doubly loving. A birth mom set to place her child for adoption is about to have her heart ripped out of her chest. It is the least you can do. For every hard thing, do something unexpected: a coffee on the way to an appointment, a card or flower, a small item you know she would enjoy.
5. You come second. Always! In this circumstance, you are set to gain, and the birth mom (birth parents) are set to lose. Your joy at having a new child is their pain at the loss of a chance to parent. If you have grand plans for how you would like things to be at the hospital, hold up. It is not yours to choose. Defer to the birth parents. What would make THEIR journey easier? You have the rest of the child’s life to do things your way. The birth parents may have hours to a couple of days, tops. If they don’t want visitors at the hospital, respect that. We asked family and friends to refrain from coming to the hospital until the birth mom had been discharged. She felt this would be easier, which made sense, and we accepted that. This meant our other four children did not meet their new brother until he was 2 days old. This is just reality. If the birth mom does, or does not, want to breastfeed after the delivery, leave it be. It is not your decision to make, regardless of your feelings about the benefits. Let hospital staff deal with it if breastfeeding is not an option due to drug use. If the birth mom wants liver and onions after the labor and delivery, send your husband out to get her some, NOW! Even if you really wanted something else. And get him to pick up a huge bouquet of flowers for her, too. But no “Congratulations on your baby” card, please! Just a beautiful bouquet for a woman doing a beautiful thing.
6. Be humble. Adoption is hard, and adoption is different. Adoption always involves a loss. If you make a mistake, say something wrong, or get into an argument, be quick to apologize. While not everyone has ongoing contact with the birth parents, it is likely that at some point, your shared child will be in contact again, even years down the road. The best, healthiest thing for the child is to see loving adults who get along and cherish each other. Fighting and bickering will only sadden the child. Travel light and leave worries and nitpicking behind. We are all unique, and we are all valuable.
At times on our adoption journeys, we just want someone to say, “You’ve got this! You can do it!” And you can. Remember, this birth mother will remember you and how you acted during her pregnancy, labor, and delivery for the rest of her life. Make it count!
If you are unexpectedly pregnant, please consider adoption. Visit Adoption.com to view adoption profiles from hopeful adoptive parents. Visit Adoption.com/unplanned-pregnancy to find guidance with your unplanned pregnancy.