Adoption Self Help Manual
Who Gets The Newborn Baby First?
After a child has been born, there are two critical time periods during which the birth mother and/or birth father may change their minds.
The first period comes between the time the child is actually born, right up to the time the child is discharged from the hospital.
The second critical time period comes between the time the child has been discharged from the hospital – right up to the time the rights of the biological birth parents are ended.
How you and your intermediary handle these two time intervals is one of the most important issues you will face in the entire adoption process. Promise yourself, right now. that you will read this portion of the manual twice. Two times now, and twice again after you get the actual referral call.
Immediately after the baby is born, and any time up to the day when the baby is discharged, the child can remain in the nursery and/or be cared for totally, or in part, by the birth mother. My experience has shown that the more contact and involvement the birth mother has with her child during this critical period, the greater the likelihood that she will change her mind and decide to raise the baby herself.
You must remember – at this point in time, the baby still belongs to the birth mother, not to you. The birth mother can do anything she wants to do. She may see the baby, hold and feed the baby. She may even name him/her.
Some birth mothers do all these things and still place the child for adoption. But both birth mothers who do these things end up keeping the child.
In the adoptions I have handled, I advise each birth mother that if she "really" wants to proceed with the adoption process, she should limit her interaction with the child. Limit it to the least contact with which she is comfortable.
In the discussion I had about birth mothers, I pointed out some of the great emotional struggles birth mothers face in placing their child for adoption. It is difficult enough to take this step as it is. Having her actually see and hold her real, honest-to-goodness baby frequently makes her decision all the more difficult.
I can tell you stories of many strong women. Women who knew it was better for them and their child if the child were placed for adoption. But once they have held or cared for their baby, many of them cannot go ahead with the adoption process. They change their mind and keep the child. And it is their right! There is nothing anyone can do about it.
Understanding the true emotional situation, you can see how vitally important it is not to leave all this just to chance.
If you are dealing with an agency or other intermediary, question them closely on how they plan to handle this critical period between birth and discharge. Be sure they understand the importance of what you have learned in this part of the manual. Don't assume they are aware of the emotional struggles that the birth mother is experiencing.
At the same time, find out how your specific birth mother is planning to handle the situation. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you won't bring it up because you don't want to make waves. Remember the Adoption Commandments. Don't take shortcuts or try to bamboozle anyone. These issues are sure to come up. The clearer everyone is about how this is going to be handled, the better.
Let's assume the birth mother has not changed her mind during this first critical period. She wants to proceed with the adoption. The child will then be ready for discharge.
At this point, the child is going to be given to somebody. The baby can be placed into the temporary care of "foster parents," or the baby can be placed with you, the adopting family.
What is Foster Care?
In Chapter Two, you learned that you will really get started on the right foot if you understand that the baby is "on loan" to you until everybody's legal rights are in order.
I discussed how the baby first becomes an "orphan" because you cannot adopt a child who already has parents.
And I talked about how it takes some time to get all the legal machinery cranked up to accomplish these things.
Often, agencies use an intermediate family to take care of the child while all this is going on. They know it is not a good idea to let the birth mother take care of the child. They also know there may be problems with letting you take care of the child while the final legal requirements are being completed.
The intermediate family is known as the foster family.
The foster family is able to care for the child without becoming as emotionally involved and attached as either you or the birth mother would.
Using foster care is a great help to the agency. Why?
If either birth parent changes his/her mind about the adoption – and decides to keep the child – the agency suddenly must deal with two big problems. First, they will have to face you with this bad news. And second, they will have wasted a lot of time and effort.
So, agencies that use foster care do so to spare you from one of the greatest tragedies in the world: the loss of an adopted child.
If the child is placed into your care, temporarily, until the termination of parents' rights, you become emotionally involved. You start to believe that this is your baby. After all, this is what you have been hoping and praying for.
Now if either birth parent changes his/her mind, not only is the agency out their time, but you are in for a lot of grief and sorrow. From personal experience, let me tell you that having to give a baby back can crush you and can destroy all your resolve and determination. The agency does not want to see this happen to you. They want to avoid what I call a disrupted placement.
Thus, the foster family does more than provide for the child. It also helps protect both you and the agency from the catastrophe that follows when birth parents change their minds.
- Should you take the child immediately from the hospital?
- Even if the birth mother has been caring for the child?
- Should you do this even if the birth parent's rights have not been terminated?
In spite of the dire possibilities written above, I will answer these three questions with one word: YES!
You have to be thinking, "He's lost his mind. After all the horror stories about losing the child and how devastating it can be, how can Dr. Berger tell us now that we should take the baby? What was the purpose of all those scare stories about disrupted placements?"
This is where my 30+ years of experience as a psychologist is especially valuable to you.
I recommend that whenever possible, the child should be placed with the intended adopting parents as soon as it can be arranged. The sooner the better!
Following this course, especially in the case of newborns, allows for the critical psychological bonding between the child and the adopting family.
True, this type of procedure increases the risk of emotional turmoil and financial loss should either of the birth parents change his/her mind. However, there is a certain amount of risk in living every day. You have to be willing to accept some of that risk. In a case like this, I believe the rewards are worth the risk.
Besides, if you have read and understood all that you've been told here, you will know what steps to take to reduce the risks to the bare minimum.
How Do We Actually Get The Baby?
If it has been decided ahead of time that the child will be placed directly into your hands, the intermediary or agency will contact you immediately after the baby is born. You will then meet the intermediary or agency official at the agency, the hospital, or whatever place they designate.
At that meeting, you will sign some documents and take care (custody) of the baby. It has finally happened! Unbelievable!
Don't get too high into the clouds yet. If it hasn't been done, have your pediatrician or family physician check the child immediately. Don't put this off one minute longer than you have to. It's extremely important. Regardless of what was already done, ask your doctor to do a complete physical and complete blood work up. Have an HIV test done.
Two steps remain: the end of the birth parents' legal rights to their child and the post placement supervision.
After the child has been placed, the intermediary or agency will want to talk to you and your spouse and help you plan for the health, care and development of your new baby. There may be sessions where you come to the agency office. Perhaps, they will come to your home.
Many adopting families misunderstand this phase of the process. The intermediary or agency is not spying on you or looking for reasons to take the child back. They are only trying to be helpful. They are looking for ways in which they can help to make the placement a success.
Besides, they are just fulfilling requirements the state imposes on them. These requirements may be one, two, three or six visits, depending on local law.
Just be relaxed, open, and honest with them at these sessions. Tell them about the love and care you are giving the child. And if you're having problems, tell them and let them help you find solutions. They know that this is new to you. You are bound to make mistakes.
The Termination Process
As you could have guessed, this phase proceeds differently, depending on each state's laws. Generally, within 72 hours, or 30 days, or 90 days, or whenever, there will be a process set up to end the rights of the birth parents to their child.
In some states the parents legally relinquish their rights, in others they surrender their rights, and in others their rights are terminated. Time lines and processes vary widely from state to state, but the end goal is the same. The birth parents' rights (both the birth mother's and the birth father's) to their child must be irrevocably ended forever.
Remember, during this time, the baby is merely "on loan" to you. Until the birth parents' rights are ended, you have no right to adopt the child. If either birth parent changes their mind before termination, it's over for you. You're out a lot of emotion and money. And in for a good bit of anguish and pain.
And though no one wants to face this possibility, it can happen. It is my hope that you will be somewhat prepared for this possibility by what you have read here.
If you have heeded the advice on these pages, you should have no fears once the termination of rights of both birth parents has been completed.
All that remains now is to complete a few agency post-placement requirements, formally adopt the child, and apply for a birth certificate. The agency should be able to assist you through these final tasks.
Breathe easy. Pat yourselves on the back and prepare to spend the rest of your lives enjoying the love, warmth and joy that being a family can bring!