Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Adoption Class #4 - The Birth Parent Experience

Wow, this was such an eye-opening class! I had been looking forward to it since I saw the title of the class on our schedule, and was not disappointed. It gave us such a real look into the experience of birth parents, their reasons for making the choice they do, how they cope with it, what their relationships with adoptive families look like, and so much more.

The class was started with a discussion about how we viewed birth parents. What did we picture when talking about a birth mother? What were our greatest "fears" of birth parents, or more specifically, the relationship we would have with them? Our instructor answered a lot of questions and addressed many of the fears some of the couples have. She talked about what a "typical" birth mother looks like as far as her background, etc. But also stressed that birth mothers come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ages. She talked about what they go through when they come to the agency, and I will share that here with you guys since I've had lots of questions on the subject!

Our agency has pregnancy counselors that help in the decision making process, and offer it free of charge to pregnant women. They counsel women about their options (remember, however, that this is a Christian agency, so they do not provide or encourage abortions, though some of the women who end up making an adoption or parenting plan originally contacted the agency for an abortion), and help them get assistance and resources if they do decide to parent. If parenting is desired, the agency helps them find work, child care, helps them apply for government assistance and insurance, and offers counseling and parenting classes.

If, after decision making counseling and time, the mother decides to make an adoption plan, she works together with her pregnancy counselor to find an adoptive family for her child. She is shown a book ("The Match Book") that has the profiles of many different couples hoping to adopt. When couples are certified to adopt, they are asked to put together a "Match Letter" to show potential birth mothers. It is basically a four page "scrapbook" detailing the couple's family, their faith, their personalities and interests, etc. If you are incredibly nosy like I am, you can actually view the current Match Letters here. ;) Josh and I are working on ours now and are hoping to enter the book sometime in March!

The birth mother is asked to pick her "top two" couples based on what she sees in the book (although most of the birth parents that we heard from said they had a hard time choosing two couples, because one usually stuck out to them far above the rest, as if God was pointing them to her!). The agency then calls the adoptive family or families that she would like to meet, and a meeting is scheduled. During the match meeting, the birth mother and potential adoptive couple talk and get to know each other a bit more. We discussed how incredibly nerve racking that meeting is for adoptive couples, but the truth is it feels that way for both parties! The birth mother that spoke in our class talked about how she was so nervous, she made the adoptive couple wait for a really long time in the waiting room before she was ready to begin!

If, after the match meeting, the birth mother feels confident that this is the couple she wants to adopt her baby, she lets her pregnancy counselor know. She is asked to take some time to really be sure before the adoptive couple is informed of her choice. Sometimes the mother decides to meet with another couple, sometimes she requests another meeting with the same couple, sometimes she "just knows" after that first meeting. Match meetings go both ways. It is also important for the adoptive couple to feel comfortable with the match as well, and they have every right to say, "This just doesn't feel right" after meeting with a birth mother. We were told it doesn't happen very often, but it is good to know we will have the opportunity to pray about it and decide together if we are a good fit for each other! These meetings typically take place around the mother's seventh month of pregnancy, so if a match is made, there isn't much of a wait for that baby!

The relationship between the birth mother (or parents) and the adoptive family is really unique to the individuals. Some of the birth mothers we heard from had little contact with the adoptive families prior to the birth of the baby, some of them allowed the adoptive families to attend doctor's appointments and met frequently with them, building strong relationships. Every situation is different. The birth mother that spoke in our class, along with the mother that adopted her son, became very close prior to the baby's birth. It was really interesting to see how the adoptive couple essentially "adopted" the young birth mother and was a huge source of love and support for her. The birth mother talked about how very much that meant to her during a time when she had virtually no support from friends or family. The adoptive mother talked about how they had one adoption fall through before when the mother decided to parent, so when they were matched with this girl, they approached it with the attitude of "We are here to love her and support her no matter what she decides to do, if she decides to make an adoption plan, we will be thrilled to parent that baby, but if she decides to parent, we did everything we could for her and showed her God's love and support during a very difficult time in her life." Josh and I talked afterward and made a decision that that's exactly how we will look at it. We might be the only people in her life that love the Lord and can love on her and support her. Though it would be another devastating loss if the adoption plans fell through for us, we would be so happy that she made the decision to parent and we did all we could to show her God's love during her pregnancy.

Adoption plans are not always made in this kind of scenario. There are also "cold calls", when the birth mother has not had contact with an adoption agency prior to the birth of a baby, but goes into labor and decides at the hospital she wants to place the baby. This, and other similar scenarios, results in very abrupt phone calls to adoptive parents basically saying, "We have a baby here, would you like it?" Can you imagine!? Getting a phone call out of the blue at work one day and suddenly having a new son or daughter?!? Josh and I decided that would be crazy cool, and the Target trip that would ensue that evening would be epic. Epic.

We watched a video in class that interviewed a lot of birth parents, mostly mothers, but fathers too. My heart broke for them and I was absolutely floored at the courage they showed. These were normal, regular people. Nice people, people I would be friends with, that found themselves in a heart-wrenching situation. They talked about finding out they were pregnant, what they went through, how they decided to make an adoption plan, and their experience choosing parents for their child. The part that got to me the most, and made the tears flow down my face uncontrollably (I was really wishing I wasn't in the front row where everyone could see me!), was when they talked about the final hand-off of their child, and how it felt to leave the hospital without their baby. My heart absolutely broke for them, because I know that pain. I felt it as one mother talked about being wheeled out of the hospital without her baby. I had flashbacks to that very moment when I was being wheeled out of the hospital after having Lily, and how absolutely hollow I felt. Literally hollow. As they described those moments, saying goodbye to their baby and having to leave them there, I cried and cried because I know how that feels. It is so very difficult, nearly impossible, but these mothers loved their babies so much that they endured this pain I would never wish on my worst enemy to offer their children a better chance at life.

I don't know what your opinion of birth mothers has been, but let me tell you something. The choice to surrender a baby for adoption is never easy. I know what it feels like to hand your baby over and leave without them. I watched the same emotions come out as these birth mothers talked about the bittersweet hospital experience, how it feels to finally see your beautiful baby, but know you won't be bringing them home. As I watched them tell their stories, I remembered my own pain in handing Lily back to the nurse, in leaving empty-handed, in being joyful over her presence and simultaneously crushed over knowing it wouldn't last. I watched their tears flow and I wanted to jump through the screen and give them a great big hug and wipe their tears away! And just then, I felt God whispering to me, "This is why."

I may never fully understand why we lost Lily, why we had the experience we did, but I know there is a real possibility that God wanted to give me a special heart for the birth mother's sacrifice, that He wanted me to have an empathy for their hearts that not everyone does. I think this because I do. I do have an empathy and an appreciation for what it is they are choosing to do, because I know how impossibly hard it must be. Not because I can imagine how hard or try and picture how hard, but because I felt how incredibly difficult it was, and to know that these women choose that kind of pain for themselves out of love for their child, because they wanted to give them life, because they wanted to give them a better life, that is unbelievably strong. It is super human. Any normal person would not have the strength to make that kind of decision, that kind of selfless sacrifice that brings them incredible pain and turmoil. When was the last time you made a decision that brought you absolute agony, for the sake of someone else? That is what these birth mothers do. They put their child ahead of their own desires and make a very, very hard choice. I don't just admire that, I am completely blown away by it. I hope you are too.

We talked about how birth mothers and adoptive families make a hospital plan together, how she decides who she wants present and how she wants things to go. She makes the call, and we will be along for the ride, there to support her in whatever way we can. We discussed again how we need to be prepared for the birth mother's change of heart, and remember that there is always a possibility, even in the strongest decisions, that mom will decide to parent her baby. As I have said before, birth mom cannot sign official relinquishment papers until 72 hours after birth, so that baby has to go home to someone, and it is almost always with the adoptive parents. We were told to "hold that baby loosely" for those few days in wait for the birth mother to sign those final papers. We are praying that God will grant us peace and patience during that time, and that He will help us deal with whatever situation might present itself.

Another thing I really appreciate about our adoption agency is how they continue the process of caring for the birth moms long after the adoption. They offer grief counseling and are there for them even after the adoption is final. Placing a baby for adoption is a huge loss to a mother, no matter how confident she is in her decision or how "right" it is for her. She is still grieving, and I am so thankful our agency makes sure to take care of them and continue their counseling after the baby's birth.

We also talked a lot about making plans for how our relationship will look like with the birth family after the adoption. Again, every situation is so unique, so we really can't venture to guess what ours will look like, but we know we are open to openness. We have seen the value in a child knowing where they came from. The birth mother who spoke in our class had the unique perspective of being adopted herself, and told us that when she made an adoption plan for her child, she wanted "to do it right this time." She had a closed adoption and did not meet her birth mother until she was 18. She talked about the issues that caused for her, and how she wanted her child to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she loved him, and the decision to place him for adoption was one made out of love, not rejection.

I have struggled since we started this road to adoption with the kind of adoption Josh and I should pursue. I have such a heart for orphans who have no one else, who may have special needs or are in dire situations. I have grown to love international adoption, and have seen amazing things happen through that! But God clearly led Josh and me down this road of domestic infant adoption. We really feel that way for a variety of reasons. I struggled for some time with "Are we on the right path? There are so many orphans! Is essentially "taking" an infant from his birth mother really the kind of adoption we want?"

I am sharing these thoughts with you because I realized that maybe I'm not the only one who has wondered why we went down this path. It was not because of the finances or the fact that we really wanted an infant, though those are certainly factors in our decision. There was a time when Josh and I really wavered and very seriously considered changing our entire plan and adopting a special needs child from Russia who had no one else to love him! But God closed that door and continued to nudge us this way, down this path with this agency. After this week I think I really am starting to understand why. Josh and I will not just love our child, we will love his mother. We will appreciate her sacrifice more than anyone else can. We hope God will allow us to have a relationship with her that will be a positive one in her life! We hope our child grows up knowing how utterly loved they are, by everyone who ever called him their child. Not every couple is willing to have an open adoption with their child's birth family. We are. Not everyone can fully appreciate the sacrifice these mothers make for the sake of their little one. We do. Maybe that's why He led us this way.

I am fully confident that God has already picked out the little one and his family that we will adopt and love forever! We don't know all that will happen on the way there, but it is comforting to know that it is already decided. He knows, and He will get us there! I might not always come across as this patient, but I will say it now for when I need to read it later!

I hope this entry gave you a new perspective on birth families and their experience in the adoption process. If you ever have any questions, I would be happy to answer them! We know that "open adoption" is a foreign and scary concept to many people, it was to us too at first! We would be happy to answer any questions or worries you might have and hope you feel comfortable asking!

Once again, please be in prayer for our baby and his or her mother. Please pray that God will grant her strength and wisdom to make hard decisions, and that He will give her peace when she makes the right one. Thank you for following our story and for learning right along with us!

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