Adoption: Part II
Part I appeared in our October 1991 issue. Editor
I’ve counseled street kids and sheltered kids, some on drugs and some in trouble with the law but I’ve never had a client I didn’t really like. There is always something to admire in each of them.
Sarah* doesn’t place her child for adoption easily.
No girl does.
Sarah’s girlfriends are pressuring her to keep the baby. Some days she feels that by choosing adoption she is unloving and no good, that she is “abandoning” her child. I tell her that allowing a child to be born is the greatest expression of love. I help her see that by the good prenatal care she is taking, she is lovingly nurturing her pre-born child.
It is never a question of “Who loves the baby?” Everybody loves the baby. The question Sarah must answer is who can best provide for the baby, one parent very young and unprepared or two mature and ready. The adopted child is loved twice, by both the birth and adopted families.
I take a lot of care writing the social history of the birth family for the adopted child. I have an obsession with capturing Sarah well in my description. I want her to be as likeable on paper as she truly is.
I also interview Paul, the child’s father. He is easy to talk with. To locate some birth fathers, I’ve had to travel all over the province and even into some jails.
But the effort is worth it.
The child needs his birth father’s medical and social history. It will lessen his own identity problems later.
Sarah is young, only 16, so I have one interview with her parents. They are sad, angry, disappointed. Their relationship with Sarah is never going to be the same. They are all saying goodbye to her childhood. They are uneasy with their daughter’s choice. Adoptions did not always work so well in their day and they need to be assured of some of the practices that make adoption today more likely to succeed.
Sarah is also busy writing. She is composing a letter to her baby that will answer the inevitable question, “Why did you give me up?” And she may later choose some gifts to pass on to her child. They can be new or keepsakes. Some girls pass on a family heirloom ring, others their own baby blanket or teddy.
The counselors who interview adopting couples have selected three who they feel most closely match what Sarah has requested. She eventually chooses Mark and Kathy. She can meet them if she wishes and if they are comfortable with a face-to-face meeting with a counselor at the agency. No last names are given. They all agree. Later Mark and Kathy will be able to tell Robbie, “We felt you kick in your birth mother’s womb.”
Even though Sarah is pleased with Mark and Kathy, there is grief ahead. I help her prepare for it.
We rehearse what will happen in hospital long before she gets there. I tell her that she can see the baby as often or as little as she wishes, but that she should see him at least once. If she doesn’t she may always wonder what he looked like and if he was healthy.
However, if she spends a lot of time with him, she will find it harder to part. She chooses the gynecological floor over the maternity wing and avoids rooming in.
The hormones released at childbirth will predispose Sarah to bond with her baby. Placing for adoption takes sacrificial love and strength. Sarah needs to be reassured, “We know you love your baby tremendously.”
When Sarah calls to tell me Robbie’s been born, I listen to anything she wants to tell me about him, but I focus on her, how clever she’s been, how wonderful she is. How is she feeling? She feels tired but happy. Her parents and brothers are visiting. (In her mother’s day the pregnancy would have been kept a shameful secret. She would probably have given birth alone in a strange city.)
I visit Sarah the next day and she’s as high as a kite. I ask all about her and then tell her, “I’ll call you tomorrow but you won’t want to hear from me.”
Sarah’s grief will be most acute the day she leaves the hospital and Robbie doesn’t. She will cry. The more she cries before it happens, the easier it will be. She would have grieved no matter what her choice.
“You are going home and Robbie is not. The baby is beautiful and you want to take him home. All the plans you have made are for adoption. You haven’t made any plans for keeping Robbie.”
(When a birth mother does change her mind and wants to keep the baby, I tell her, “You need to go home alone and make a parenting plan.” The hospital social worker has already met with my client. No hospital will let a baby go home if nothing has been prepared for him.)
To ease this transition we always offer a dedication service. It can be however Sarah would like it, with just her, Robbie and me in her room or with her pastor or the hospital chaplain in the chapel.
This is a chance for Sarah to acknowledge that Robbie is a gift God has given her and now she is giving him back to God.
“I will help you walk through this, Sarah. I will tell you when you are approaching a door. Some of the doors do close behind you. Even with the disclosure services, you may never see Robbie again. You will talk through this and I assure you, you will come out on the other side.”
In the earlier months Sarah and I have made a “home plan,” what to do when she’s at home without the baby. We’ve talked about the difference between feelings and making a decision in your head. I phone to ask what she has done today, what she’s going to do. I know this is a hard time. It is normal to feel tearful and terrible. “If it’s bad right now, believe things will change.”
On the eight day the adoption papers are signed.
Sarah had examined the forms months earlier and I’ve made sure she understood them. I go with her for the appointment at Children’s Aid, but she is alone with the social worker for the signing. There must be no coercion. Afterwards I ask if she would like to do something special. Would she like to go out for coffee or lunch? I show her the first lot of photos I took of Robbie in the hospital. I tell her I’ll call her in three weeks to see how she’s doing. She knows she can call me any time.
Another counselor visits Mark and Kathy and takes more photos for Sarah so she can see for herself how content and secure Robbie is in their home.
Mark and Kathy are required by our agency to maintain contact, through the agency, with Sarah and Paul for at least one year. This includes writing a letter and sending them photos.
Up to the twenty-first day after signing, Sarah can rescind her consent. She need only go to Children’s Aid and say she’s changed her mind. A month after the birth the adoption is final for Sarah.
The social worker who did Mark and Kathy’s original home study must do some adjustment visits to make sure all is working out. It is then the adoption is finalized for Mark and Kathy, sometime between six months and a year after Robbie’s birth. If the placement does not work, Sarah could choose another couple.
Sarah is haunted by the fear that either Robbie or Mark and Kathy will die and she won’t know. I assure Sarah that she would be told. “If we know, you will know.”
If Mark and Kathy should die after the adoption has been finalized in court, the arrangements they have made will be respected.
I do follow-up visits with Sarah and find that by the sixth month she is ready to get on with her life. She is back at school and her marks are good. I am a reminder of something she doesn’t want to dwell on. “I think you’re doing fine, Sarah. I don’t think you need me any more but you can always call.”
We hug goodbye. I have two daughters but this is very special.
I am so grateful to be in an agency that lets me talk of forgiveness and hope and redemption. God will make something beautiful out of all this. As for my courageous clients, all the Sarahs, I don’t forget any of them.
* Sarah, Paul, Mark and Kathy are composites of several clients.