Adoption friendliness at its best. How one nurse blew me away and changed how I think about adoption placements.
October 18, 2013 | By: Liz
Adoption is a complex world. As anyone who is going through the process, or who has gone through the process knows, the legal issues are complicated, the emotional issues are highly charged — about as charged as a scene from the Wile E. Coyote cartoon, where he gets blown-up by accident from the mega tons of TNT he has left to detonate in the path of the Road Runner — and everyone is walking on pins and needles. And my description does not begin to adequately address the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of birth parents. I am NOT comparing birth parents or adoptive parents to the Road Runner or Wile E. Coyote, I am just pointing out that there is a lot of powerful emotional stuff going on in the midst of an adoption, most especially the time around the baby is placed in the arms of the adoptive parents, and the fact that the tension and emotionally charged nature of many adoption situations remind me (on an emotional level) of this cartoon.
Due the highly charged nature of this particular time in the adoption process, many adoptive parents emotionally hold themselves at arm’s length from their new baby until they are told that the legal process is complete and/or that birth parents’ parental rights are terminated. The time at which birth parent rights get terminated varies from state to state and varies whether you are working with an agency or an attorney. Indeed the adoptive parents involvement at or around the time of the baby’s birth often varies tremendously based on whether you are working with an agency or an attorney, and even more so among agencies. Every attorney and agency has their own way of trying to protect everyone’s emotions during what I am going to call the Wile E. Coyote Phase of the adoption process, the period of time after the baby is born and before birth parents’ rights have been terminated and when the baby is “placed” with its** forever family. It doesn’t mean that I think this time period often results in the detonation of emotional TNT, indeed it is my experience that the vast, vast majority of situations work out after a baby is born. Some don’t, as I can personally attest to, but most and I repeat MOST do work out and a new [adoptive] family is born.
As an adoptive mother I have always felt that the Wile E. Coyote Phase is perhaps the hardest part of the adoption process. Not so much because a birth mother can choose to parent during this last and final phase of the adoption process (just as we think we are getting to the proverbial finish line) but because so many of our hopes and dreams have to give way to legal procedures, agency procedures, hospital procedures, adoptive triad dynamics, and it’s just not how we envisioned what it would be like to become a parent. We have faced this reality for a long time before Wile E. Coyote comes along, but those feelings and dreams tend to creep more to the surface when you are surrendering everything to a process that is almost wholly outside your control. The only thing in your control is how you react and respond to what is going on around you, and how you choose to feel about it. However, both from personal and professional experience it is my practice to advise my clients that this is a difficult time period and to try and walk into the placement phase, or Wile E. Coyote Phase, with an open but guarded heart. And more importantly to let go of all of your expectations of how you think becoming a parent “should” be and do your best to surrender to the process, to Wile E. Coyote.
Yet, a recent experience has set my opinions, thoughts, feelings and my future advice to clients, on it’s HEAD. I have learned that I have been looking at it the wrong way and thus depriving not only myself of certain experiences, but those of people who look to me for advice and counsel. One person has totally shifted my perspective of the Wile E. Coyote Phase.
What happened? Great question.
Approaching the end of the Wile E. Coyote Phase, an adoptive couple** was getting ready for their baby to be discharged from the hospital. The birth parents had signed all of their legal consents to the adoption and although they were not yet legally binding under the laws of this particular state, as the birth parents still needed to appear before a Judge and agree to the adoption and the termination of their parental rights, it was time for the adoptive parents** to take the baby “home” to their hotel to wait out the remainder of the Road Runner’s race and the Wile E. Coyote Phase. After carefully dressing the baby and getting it** settled into its car seat, the adoptive dad** was sent to the parking lot to get the car. Adoptive mom**, after finishing packing up their belongings, reached to get the baby and the car seat, preparing to walk out of the hospital and get in the car to go to the hotel. As she scooped up the car seat the nurse came in and asked adoptive mom what she was doing. Of course adoptive mom’s heart stopped; she immediately began worrying that Wile E. Coyote had just detonated some or all of his TNT. With her heart in her throat, adoptive mom calmly turned to the nurse and said she had been instructed be her attorney and the pediatrician that they could go to their hotel with the baby, she believed she had signed all the necessary paperwork, and inquired if there was some kind of a problem. Indeed there was said this nurse, at which point the nurse asked the adoptive mom what gave her the right to walk out of the hospital with the baby? Confused, the adoptive mom asked the nurse what she meant.
The nurse — being extremely emotionally intelligent and adoption friendly, and my current heroine — explained that: “NO NEW MOTHER WALKS out of this hospital. Please wait while I get you a wheelchair.”
Now I don’t know about any of you other infertile ladies or adoptive moms but one of my personal dreams has always involved being wheeled out of the hospital holding my baby in my arms. I still cry at scenes like the one in the movie “Marley and Me” where Jennifer Aniston’s character is holding their new baby girl in her arms in a wheelchair while Owen Wilson’s character video tapes the scene. I never got that experience and while I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, you know I am honest about this stuff and it makes me sad that there are certain dreams that I have had to let go of along my journey to parenthood. Heck, I was jealous when I walked along side our birth mother after we were discharged from the hospital as she was the one in the wheelchair holding the baby in the car seat, not me. Never mind the fact that she was holding my hand so that we were walking together. I wanted to be the one in the wheelchair and I had to accept that I wasn’t, and I probably was never going to experience that particular dream. I don’t think I am alone in harboring this little secret that one of the things I had dreamed about while growing up was that wheelchair ride. And that wheelchair ride is not something adoptive mothers get to experience. Or so I previously thought, believed and experienced.
Back to the hospital, adoptive mom argues with the nurse that she didn’t give birth to the baby and didn’t need the wheelchair; she was “only” the adoptive mother, certainly the hospital must need the wheelchair for someone else? But the nurse wouldn’t relent. She didn’t care a wit about adoptive mom’s “labor experience”, or lack thereof. The nurse was very clear with adoptive mom that regardless of the circumstances by which she was becoming a mother adoptive mom was THE MOM, and as a MOM, a NEW MOM, she was to be discharged just like any other new mother; ALL NEW MOTHERS get discharged in a wheelchair. They continued to discuss this issue until the nurse brought everything to a head and asked adoptive mom: “don’t you want to be discharged in a wheelchair like any other mother would be? Don’t you want that experience for yourself?” Crying, adoptive mom admitted she would love to be discharged in a wheelchair. At which point the nurse instructed that MOM had better get a hold of DAD so he could video record their exiting the hospital with MOM holding the baby in its car seat in the wheelchair.
The point was not lost on me nor was it lost on adoptive mom. We are all new mothers no matter how our babies come to us and we are entitled to have our dreams come true regardless of the manner in which we become parents. The fact that this nurse understood the grieving process adoptive mother’s often go through, and the importance of our dreams, is a testament to her education and experience. Perhaps she herself adopted, or she knows someone who has, or even more to her credit perhaps she just understands how important are some of the images women hold of the milestones of our lives and recognize that without that wheelchair ride we may be reminded — even if it’s on some small level in comparison to the joy and gratitude in our hearts — that our path didn’t take the turns we expected. Whatever the reason, this nurse got me thinking about how important moments like that are, especially during the Wile E. Coyote Phase, and how much of a celebration we are missing by giving so much power to that cartoon of a coyote.
That wheelchair ride brought profound joy and a sense of celebration to adoptive mom and adoptive dad, and may well provide something even larger than that to the baby. As that baby grows up and asks to hear its adoption story, that baby will get to see an image that all of its “bio-baby” friends probably get/got to see. But I am not just talking about mom and dad leaving the hospital in the wheelchair carefully holding that car seat, I am talking about the utter joy, bliss and excitement on mom’s and dad’s faces as they left the hospital. To be able to see that excitement — which existed long before the baby’s birth — and the pure joy the baby’s parents were experiencing as they brought their new baby home, helps that baby/child understand how much it was wanted and how much love its parents’ hold in their hearts. Other aspects of our children’s adoption story will express those emotions, but a picture truly says a thousand words, and videos even more so. In this case I think that video probably is one of the most valued and treasured pieces of their journey to parenthood.
There are so many levels on which that wheelchair ride takes my breath away. I long to meet this nurse and thank her, not only for what she did for these adoptive parents but for what she has done for their family, for me, and for the new approach I am beginning to take to the Wile E. Coyote Phase of the adoption process.
I am curious to know how many other adoptive parents have been given this wheelchair ride. If you have, please post something in reply to this blog or email me privately (Liz@storklawyer.com). If you wish you had that wheelchair ride, and are as moved as I am by what this nurse did, please let me know that too. And if you want to have that wheelchair ride ASK FOR IT. Because as that nurse said, every new mother deserves to leave the hospital in a wheelchair (assuming that is what the new mother wants). I recognize that not all adoptions are going to provide circumstances that enable an adoptive mom to have that wheelchair ride, but in those circumstances that do permit it, this nurse has taught me even more about all the nuances involved in the fact that biology alone doesn’t make a family, and a new understanding that we are not as powerless as we may feel, that we don’t have to give up all of our dreams, all of the time.
My final thought or comment of this blog is to all of the nurses in all of the maternity wards who are involved with or helping an adoptive family, if you don’t or can’t offer that wheelchair ride, please consider the thoughts and feelings identified in this blog and consider changing or working to change things so that more of us new moms get that wheelchair ride.
Because we deserve to have that experience.
** general terms have been used in this blog on purpose to help identify roles in the adoption process and emotions related thereto, but without any intent to devalue or belittle the roles of the people who enter into adoption plans every day.