I think the realization hit me in the mid-90’s. The realization that my life may not end up as I had expected. My husband, Michael and I were both teachers and our life was predictable, scheduled around the school year. Our plan was easy – first comes love, then comes marriage… After years of infertility, my husband and I entered into the world of adoption. I didn’t know what to expect. I had few people to talk to and my mind was spinning. I wasn’t sure which way was up or how any of this would turn out. Our lives shifted from thermometers and calendars to paperwork and interviews.
Our first child came home to us quickly and the hospital time was a surreal blur of events. Supportive nurses helped us as we learned to care for this little baby that would be coming home with us. Our next child came home when he was almost 4 months old, so sadly we missed the early days of his life. The story of our youngest, however, was completely different than his siblings. We met our youngest son’s Mom when she was just 7 weeks pregnant. She decided to place the child she was carrying in our family and we spent the next 7 months preparing for his arrival, with myself acting as her childbirth coach. The plan was to be in the delivery room to welcome this little boy into the world. While the experience was beautiful, the time in the hospital was difficult. Nurses seemed unsure of how to manage the closeness of our open adoption and logistics of our involvement. I was so surprised that our two hospital experiences could be so vastly different.
People often ask how I ended up in Healthcare from my elementary school classroom. With three little ones, I left teaching and started to teach a monthly Red Cross Babysitting Class at the local hospital. This class ultimately led to teaching CPR to expectant parents and it was not uncommon to have families waiting to adopt in my classes. My heart ached for them as I watched them listen to the conversations going on around them, the comparing of due dates, baby shower themes and symptoms they would never experience. They would look longingly at couples that were on a completely different journey. It became painfully clear that classes were needed just for them and I approached the hospital. “Could I teach classes just for waiting parents and perhaps help on the Labor and Delivery deck during infant adoption placements?” The classes were a yes, the idea of being added support for families upstairs was quickly dismissed – “Our Social Workers deal with that.” “We don’t need any help.” But, as I started teaching classes, the stories continued and the experiences were as different as our first and last – often at the same hospital. It was clear that hospital staff did need added support during this time. Social Workers were often unavailable, or were juggling a huge caseload, often having training that solely addressed paperwork and nothing more. Knowing how to discharge a patient pursuing adoption is but a fraction of the care she truly needs.
The next year, thankfully, Parker Adventist Hospital opened and this hospital quickly caught the vision for caring for the adoption community. We became dedicated to training our staff and to learning from every adoption that entered the Parker BirthPlace. As I saw the raw emotion while caring for these families, I discussed with them the needs they had – What made it hard? What do you need? What is helpful? What is not? It was these conversations over the coming 10 years that would craft the Family to Family Adoption Support Program. Conversations with potential-adoptive families and our patients helped us define our care at the bedside, and this model and the curriculum created defined best practice for caring for these families.
Our two hospital experiences covered only about 80 hours of our last 17 years, but those hours forever changed my life. It took me from my 4th grade classroom to a hospital room, and has now allowed me to walk the adoption path with hundreds of families. My hope is to share our model with hospitals across the nation, to continue to honor the adoption journey, to respect all, and to acknowledge the forever impact adoption has on all involved, the parents, the adoptive family and, most importantly, the child.