An adoptive parent’s guide to the hospital experience

As adoptive parents, there are many milestones in the adoption process. You spend a notable amount of energy and coping skills as you navigate each step and overcome the challenges that may have already come your way. To think, this is before actual parenting begins!

Finally, you’re matched and your birth mother’s due date is around the corner! You may have met her (or not) and you may be imagining what that time in the hospital will be like. Every adoption is different since we are talking about human beings and the dynamics that come along with life. While there might be surprises along the way, it’s beneficial to at least have a few ideas of how things will go:

The basics – where and when do we show up?

You would think this is the easy part, and hopefully it is for your adoption plan. Your caseworker should be letting you know what these plans are 4-6 weeks before delivery, if you’ve matched before that time frame. If you’ve been matched closer to delivery, you might be getting this information as soon as it’s known. It’s important for adoptive parents to understand that the hospital experience will be a very emotionally charged event for birth parents and plans are driven by what’s best for them. A birth mother may ask for adoptive parents to be waiting in the waiting room, in the room with her or waiting in their hotel room. They may ask you to be involved in delivery, or they may want to deliver alone or have another person in their support system. They may want to care for the baby upon delivery or they may choose to not see baby right away, or at all.

Sometimes, these plans will not meet your hopes and desires. It’s OK to acknowledge that to yourself and to your support system but do not push your birth parent(s) to change their plan. They need you to be their cheerleaders right now. If you have any specific concerns, bring them up with your caseworker. That’s why they’re there – to help you along the way.

When plans change

You may be prepared for one scenario and things change. Birth mothers may want to change their hospital plan and that is not uncommon. This can be scary for adoptive parents. Ask for support and direction from your caseworker. Sometimes changes occur due to a hospital policy. While your agency has relationships with the hospitals they work with, adoption policies are sometimes changed with little notice to the agency. Sometimes hospital staff are and not as adoption friendly as we’d like or are just unsure how to handle the adoption process. Your caseworker will advocate in these situations and hopefully involve another hospital professional who is more aware of policies. As always, that’s why your caseworker is there – to help you through the process. Do not try to handle these situations alone. Even if you are feeling like a protective parent, that is not your role at this point.

Consent and Placement Day

This is a big day for everyone involved in an adoption. Florida state law states that a birth mother can sign consents for a newborn 48 hours after delivery or when a discharge has been written for the birth mother. You might be feeling excited, nervous or both. That’s normal and do what you can to stay busy. Maybe you’re taking care of the baby in the hospital or maybe not. While you wait for your part of the paperwork, if you can, do something fun: have a nice meal, go see a local attraction or take a nap! If all goes according to plan, you will not have a nap for a while.

This is of course a big day for birth parent(s) as well. They may be spending quiet time with the baby and saying goodbye. They may want to take photos of and with baby. They may ask you to be involved in this time to some degree, let them take the lead. This is a great time to give a small gift to birth parents, to show you care and appreciate them. This is an item you may want to plan for in advance, with input from your caseworker about birth parent likes and dislikes. Many adoptive parents choose a gift that represents the baby and adoption. Jewelry with a baby’s birthstone or the adoption symbol is a great choice. A nice touch is a handwritten note expressing your feelings of gratitude, love and respect for her.

Your caseworker will tell you what to bring to placement. Surprise, there will be more paperwork to complete! By now, you may be feeling like a paperwork expert. However, take your time and ask questions. At this time, you should be receiving an update on next steps for baby’s discharge, ICPC and any other legal aspects to your adoption. Frequently (but not always), placement falls on the same day as baby discharge – so remember to install your car seat in your car before!

When the adoption plan ends

We would be remiss if we did not talk about adoptions that do not end in placement with adoptive parents. Birth parents have every legal right to end their adoption plan prior to signing consent paperwork, without notice. This could happen to you while you are at the hospital, even after having contact with the baby and the birth family.

As adoption professionals, we ask you to do something very difficult: show your genuine excitement and commitment to birth parents but also keep an emotional awareness that the adoption may not happen. Your caseworker should be communicating risk factors through the case and all the way until consents are signed. However, sometimes there are little to no risk factors in the adoption and the birth parent still chooses to parent their baby.

You likely will need to grieve. Be sure those in your support system know this is a possibility. Your agency and caseworker is there to support you and let you know your options to move forward. Take this process one step at a time, care for yourself and accept counseling that is offered.

Other considerations

Without a doubt, you will be feeling a lot of feelings during this time in the hospital. Anxiety can make the most level headed person do and say things they normally wouldn’t. Use those coping skills that have gotten you this far. Take a walk, call a trusted person or have a good cry. You’re going through an experience that will likely be life changing – be patient with yourself and others.

This has been stated several times already but cannot be highlighted enough – share your concerns, needs and questions with your caseworker! They are in the hospital coordinating adoptions all the time, very little will surprise them. They can help you to know what’s normal, what’s not and how you should move along accordingly. Ask a million questions and be honest with how you are feeling. They want you to feel supported.

Take this experience one step at a time. Do not get ahead of yourself with ‘the what-ifs’.

Hopefully, this will be a great story later for your child.