Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand
As far as I’m aware, there’s no rule that a pregnant woman considering adoption must have counseling, although it is highly encouraged. I remember hearing once – again, research to support this piece of anecdotal information yielded nothing – that by law, counseling had to be offered to a woman considering adoption, even a private attorney adoption, but that’s pretty much the extent of things. As you might imagine – particularly if you’ve ever dealt with (or been) a pregnant woman – she has lots of bonus hormones looking for a place to land. Combine that with an ill-timed, out-of-wedlock, and/or crisis pregnancy and a woman considering adoption, and you’ve created the emotional perfect storm.
It’s not the time for remembering details – or hearing, let alone acting on, the information. Particularly when someone says, perhaps as a casual comment, “Oh, by the way, counseling is available if you want it.” That’s why an agency adoption is so important for the prospective birthmother. She is assigned a caseworker who makes sure to talk her through the most essential details – and offers an ear to listen, as well as (hopefully) wise counsel and answers to any questions the pregnant mom does think to ask in her flustered state. That’s the problem, though, with a first-time pregnancy. You don’t know what you don’t know.
On the other hand, I don’t envy the job of an adoption social worker – or any social worker, for that matter. At least a baby usually finds a (better) home at the end of an adoption, so I guess there are pluses. But I imagine there’s a lot to know and remember to explain along the way. Still, it would seem there should be a checklist of topics for the caseworker to discuss with the pregnant mother, whether or not she decides to keep the baby. If she’s going to carry the pregnancy to term, things will come up and decisions will need to be made.
Yes, there’s that ubiquitous book, What to Expect When You’ve Got Anything at All to Do With Having a Kid, EXCEPT Be a Birthmother. That book – and all the others like it – focus on the happy event, assuming the baby will go home from the hospital with the same people it went in with, which is exactly what does not happen in adoption. Not ideal reading for the prospective birthmom. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Patricia Roles’ book, Saying Goodbye to a Baby, came closest to answering and addressing my questions, but (a) I didn’t find it until after my son was born and living with his other family and (b) even it didn’t cover some of the more basic issues.
As a matter of fact, after scoping out the Amazon reviews for Roles’ book (two 5-star reviews; two 2-star reviews, and one 1-star review), I think I’m going to order another copy so I can re-read it, 22 years later, as it seems my perspective just may have shifted. I do get the sense that the writer of the 1-star review is one of those people I wrote about in a prior post who has no desire to release her grief or heal from the adoption wounds. Yes, her pain is real, and there is no timeline for getting over it. But forward movement after any trauma is probably a healthier option than choosing to live in that pain forever. Yes – for many people, birthmothers included, living in pain is a choice.
So here are the things I wish I’d known before they occurred:
My scoliosis would matter when it came to the epidural. Epidural is a drug commonly used during labor and delivery. It is inserted into the spine by an anesthesiologist, with the command, “Hold still or you might wind up paralyzed.” I had a single dose that helped for the first little while, but the second dose didn’t “take.” We later deduced that the curve in my spine meant the epidural hadn’t gone where it was supposed to go. The nurses told me the pain I experienced was the equivalent of natural childbirth. You’re welcome, kiddo!
Those little red dots all over your neck and chest are capillaries that broke during the “pushing.” Nothing earth-shattering here, but it would have been a good thing to know so I didn’t have to freak out about it.
The birthparents make the circumcision decision. It was a bit surprising to find out after the fact that my OB/GYN did not perform this procedure. So Eric had to go home a happy kid, and come back a week later to be mauled and – some might say – mangled. Although a huge debate churns on about the merits of circumcision, as I understand things, the child still generally does whatever the father did. Had I realized ahead of time that it would be important to know my doctor’s stance, I would have made other preparations.
Breasts are milk producers. Duh, right? But not when you’re not expecting it. No one prepared me for my milk to come in, or informed me of the need for nursing pads even though I wouldn’t be nursing. Not to mention that nursing the baby you will place for adoption is an option. It would seem immeasurably more difficult to surrender a baby with whom you’ve shared that kind of bond, but I have known birthmothers who’ve done it.
I could have had Eric baptized in the hospital and been there for the ceremony. This is, of course, specific to Christian religious belief – in our case, Catholic. It wasn’t until I read in a chatroom about a birthmom who did this that I was even aware it could have been a possibility. Again, this is less important to me now, but it would have been a very special moment to share and is one of my very few regrets.
Grief can show up as anger. Though I discussed this in a prior post, it’s worth noting again here. I spent the entire first year of Eric’s life extremely pissed off at the world, and it wasn’t until someone I didn’t even like very much pointed it out to me that I recognized that anger as grief. I’m not sure there would have been anything to do differently, but it feels like it would have been useful information at the time.
It seems unlikely that Patricia Roles will update her book – so maybe it is time for a new book. And maybe my job is to write two of them: one, a handbook like Roles’ for birthparents, and the other my own adoption story.
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.
6 thoughts on “Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand”
I think you’re writing your adoption book now. Laura! There are not enough adoption books written by birthmothers. A few, but not many. I think you’re well on your way!
Some days I think so – other days, I’m not so sure! Laura
P.S. You’re the only other mother I’ve known who has written about broken capillaries on neck and chest from pushing during delivery. I experienced that, and it freaked me out, too! And no one told me it would fade within a few hours / days. I thought I would always have this ‘measled’ look to my skin!
I had a paperback book that I wore out during my first pregnancy. I think it was called Your Baby and You. When I began doing pregnancy counseling 12 years after my first pregnancy, I looked up that old book (I had long since given my copy to another expectant mother), I thought I could use that book to help prepare my clients, most of whom were considering adoption.
I was appalled at how that favorite book of mine just naturally assumed that 1) the reader was in a supportive relationship; 2) the emphasis was on a happy ending to the pregnancy (It started with a discussion on picking out wall paper — together — for a nursery) ; 3) No decision making was covered, not even about circumsision. and 4) it was NOT an appropriate resource for my pregnancy clients.
I wanted to write something that would stand in for this book, which had been so important to me. I did participate in a month-by-month one-page handout that was prepared for the Teenage Pregnancy Program, sponsored by the AZ Health Department, but its emphasis was on fetal development with a little bit on body changes of the mom. I wonder if it is still in use? But it didn’t mention burst capillaries!
Thanks for the feedback, Beth. I rather wish I’d been journaling during the process, as I’d have much more complete thoughts to rely on than the ones I’m trying to pull out of 23-year-old memories. Those were the things I remember wishing someone had told me – there were probably more. Glad of your awareness about that book not being appropriate for pregnant moms considering adoption.
I remember my social worker telling me that most of the teen girls she saw wound up keeping their kids – it was women in their 20s like I was who went through with the adoptions. She said they all bought the carriages and diaper bags and toys and clothes, almost as if they were preparing to parent dolls, not live little people. But they were so attached to the title and role and specialness of being moms that they couldn’t see down the road to what teenage motherhood really looked like. I imagine that a book about adoption for pregnant moms would have to touch on that stuff, too.