Let’s face it: Being a nurse whose patient is placing her child for adoption can be stressful. You don’t know your patient’s story, who to talk to about the baby, or how to handle all the emotions flying around. In order to make the best of the situation, it’s important to educate yourself so you can help the birth parents, adoptive parents, and most of all, the child.

Stay up-to-date on your hospital’s policies.

Who do you contact with questions? Are adoptive parents allowed to stay in the hospital? Does the security band need to stay with the birth parent(s), or are adoptive parents allowed one as well? The answers to these questions vary by hospital, so it’s important to know the rules to keep everything running smoothly. It’s important that both birth and adoptive parents understand these policies clearly, to avoid confusion.

Remember the rights of the birth mother. 

Until her parental rights are relinquished, the birth mother is still the child’s guardian. She gets to make the decisions regarding her child until that time. This includes decisions about vaccinations, who is allowed in her room, and who gets to hold her baby. Adoptive parents are not who you ask these questions to. I know both birth and adoptive parents who have been offended by nurses who, unsure of what to do, ignored the birth mother and asked the adoptive parents about decisions for the baby pre-placement.

Regardless of any original agreement, the birth mother has rights to her child, and the right to change her mind about relinquishment before signing papers, unless the child is taken into state custody for their safety. This is the law. Regardless of your personal opinion on the matter, she has the right to choose to parent.

Be mindful. 

On a more personal level, it is so important to be mindful of a birth mother’s emotions. Not only is she coping with postpartum hormones, but she is also grieving a huge loss. This also includes the birth father if he is involved. A kind word goes a very long way. Using proper terms is also very important. In the adoption world, we don’t use the phrase “giving up” or “giving away.” You give away old books you don’t want, but you place a child from loving arms to loving arms.

You have the power to give her a very positive or very negative experience. I know many birth mothers who were deeply hurt by unkind and judgmental things that were said to them. I was blessed to be surrounded by very attentive, caring nurses who went out of their way to make my hospital stay the best that it could be. They made a world of difference, and I will remember them forever.

Educate the birth mother about postpartum options. 

Even birth mothers need lactation support. Is she going to pump and give it to the adoptive parents or donate? If not, she will need help drying up her milk and preventing mastitis. Just like any other mom, she will need to know how to manage her milk supply. She will also need to know what to expect when it comes to postpartum hormones, including postpartum depression and where to go for help. Just because she is not taking her baby home doesn’t mean she won’t need postpartum care.

Being a nurse takes a strong person. You are often a witness of the worst moments in another person’s’ life. You work long hours looking after the health, safety, and comfort of other people. Your hard work and empathy has improved the lives of many, including the birth mothers that come through your doors. “They may forget your name, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.