Thursday, September 26, 2013

NICU Survival Guide - Adoption Edition

I might not be a mom yet, but I experienced two months of being a mom to preemie twins in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Having your baby in the NICU is stressful enough, but adding in adoption brings its own set of challenges. Here are my top 10 tips to get you through the highs and lows.

1.  Find a friend that has been through the NICU experience and listen to everything that they tell you. I had two, let's call them the Bettys*. I work with one Betty and went to high school with the other. I wasn't that close with either, but they embraced me with open arms and prepared me for the fight ahead. They were a wealth of knowledge, knew exactly how I felt and let me lean on them whenever I needed. I would not have made it through without them. There isn't a big enough thank you out there for them. So go find yourself a Betty -- whether it is a Facebook friend, co-worker or another mom at the hospital. You need to have a support system. Hey, I am available!

2.  Make a plan with the hospital staff and birth parents about expectations.  If you have an open adoption, will the birth parents and family be allowed to visit the baby during the hospital stay? Do you want to be there while the birth parents are visiting? Who will make medical decisions? Who will be called in case of an emergency? Who is paying for the hospital stay? The adoption laws in your state may determine what you are legally allowed to do. Are you comfortable with the birth parents holding, caring or doing kangaroo care with the baby? What about breastfeeding or pumping? How do you want everyone to be addressed? Our nurses called both the birth parents and us, Mom and Dad. It made me uncomfortable in the beginning, but I got over it. Discuss whether the birth parents will be at the hospital on discharge day. The staff treated us as their parents, but be prepared for it not exactly going the way you wish. Be flexible and understanding.

3.  Get to know your nurses and doctors, you may be there for awhile. Aside from taking care of your baby everyday, they will ease your fears and tell you what's beeping and why. Our nurses gave us hugs when we needed it and sat and listened when we wanted to talk. When we needed some reassurance about what to expect in the long term, the doctors met with us and answer all of our questions. These are a special group of people that love what they do and it really shows. They rock!

4.  Take pictures of your baby the entire time. It may be hard to see them hooked to machines or look so small and fragile, but you need the pictures to see the progression. This is especially helpful when the baby has a set-back and you feel like it is the end of the world. You can look back to see where they were just days or weeks ago and how far they have come. It was amazing to me 
how resilient and how much a baby can overcome. Set-backs happen and it is OK.

5. Ask! If you don't understand a beep, a number, a term, just ask.  If you are having trouble feeding, diapering, etc. ask the nurses for tips. If you have concerns about something, speak up. If you researched some special formula or procedure online at 3 am, it is okay to ask them about it. Ask if you can decorate the isolette. Ask if you can bring in linens and clothes for the baby to wear (and wash them). Asking questions will help you feel like you have more control of the situation.

6.  Take advantage of learning baby care basics from the staff. When they asked us if we wanted to learn something, we said yes. We fondly called it baby bootcamp. We learned everything - swaddling, temperature taking, bathing, diapering, feeding, burping, soothing techniques. They showed us how to look to the baby for signs of what they needed and let the baby be our guide. Since we were the adoptive parents, we didn't spend the night with the babies. They did offer us to do 24 hours of care before we went home. Boy those 24 hours were an eye opener, but an invaluable experience. I feel 100% confident in my baby care skills.

7.  If someone offers help, take it. I felt like there was no time to do anything. Forget about grocery shopping, laundry, getting ready for baby, etc. In the beginning we were eating out every night or not eating. Life was still happening, but I didn't have any time to address it. My parents got us a hotel room for a long weekend near the hospital. Our distant aunt offered us to stay at her home that was close to the hospital. She fed us a home-cooked meal and packed our lunches for the day. Thank you. I took advantage of convenience services like getting our groceries delivered by Fresh Direct and having the laundromat wash and fold our clothes. These things really made our life a little easier. Your friends and family want to help, so let them.

8.  Take a break.  We wanted to be with the babies as much as we could. You will feel tremendously guilty when you are not there, but you have to take care of yourself so that you can take care of the baby. The nurse reassured us that they don't expect parents to be there all the time. It's easy to get burned out from the stress and long days. An adoption situation is different because you normally don't get maternity leave. I had vacation time saved, but I wanted to use those days for when the babies came home. We could not afford to take unpaid time, so we worked. When we could not be there, we called to check-in. I admit that I called several times a day. We took the first week off to get the rhythm of everything and then after that we hopped in the car every night drove 2 hours to sit with the babies for a few hours. We stayed in the area on the weekends to spend more time with them. After several weeks of 18 hour days, we knew we would not be able to sustain the routine. We started alternating. Once or twice a week, I would stay home and Marlon would go to the hospital by himself and vice-versa. It made a huge difference.

9.  Step aside and give some space to the birth parents. If you have an open adoption, the NICU may prolong that final goodbye between birth parents and baby. If the birth parents are visiting, give them some privacy to say goodbye before the baby goes home. If they want it, let them have some alone time with their baby during the hospital stay. You will have a lifetime with the child. I surprised myself at how relaxed I was with their birth mom. I thought I would be jealous, but I wasn't. I felt secure that she wasn't changing her mind, but just wanted to show her love to the babies. Try honor and include them as much as they need, it will only promote a good relationship later.

10. Celebrate! Celebrate every little milestone, every ounce gained, and every machine taken away. With each day, you are one step closer to taking your baby home.

Ultimately, this adoption did not work out for us. Along with the hospital staff, we gave them the best start possible. They needed us to be their parents and I feel good about the time we spent with them. On the bright side, I no longer have any nerves about caring for an infant. After two months in the NICU, I think I can handle just about anything.

Irish blessing                                                                      Image by Jim Muth

*I changed my NICU friends' names. They have the same name and they know who they are. xo

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Letting Go

It's been about six weeks since we had to return Ian and Ada to their parents. I have to say that I am feeling better. People continue to check in on us and everyone says the same thing - that they have been thinking about us and praying for us, but don't want to bring up what happened. We thank you for that. We are really trying to move forward. That doesn't mean I still don't hold back tears when I see a double stroller or anything else that might set me off, but it is getting easier.

We had a good relationship with Ian and Ada's mom and she invited us to be a part of their lives. After that terrible day in court and handing them over, we felt like we wanted to continue to have a relationship. We were not ready to let go of the babies, but as days and weeks passed, it became increasing difficult for me. For our open adoption, we set-up a private Facebook page so that their birth family and friends could see pictures of the twins regularly. But now the tables were turned and instead of us posting new pictures of the babies, she was. We were just bystanders looking in -- always an "aunt", never a mom*. I would see how much the babies changed each day, how she was turning into their mom, and how they were now called by their middle names, the names she chose. Our time with them was fading away. It was too much for me to bear. I couldn't sleep at night; I couldn't move on. Marlon and I both knew what we needed to do - let go.

I wrote an email telling her goodbye. I could not call her, I would not have been able to get it out. A letter allowed us to say the things we needed to say. Maybe I am wuss, but these past few weeks have been painful enough. We didn't hear back. I hope she understands. We packed up the rest of the little things that we kept from our time with the babies and sealed the box. We left the private Facebook page and unfriended her. That was that. I felt like I could breathe again. That chapter is over and now we can start another. I have slept every night since. I know it was the right thing for us to do.

Ian and Ada will always hold a special place in our hearts. They needed us to be their parents for the first two months of their lives. I hope I do see them again one day, maybe all grown up in the grocery store. Even if I don't, I know that they are loved and will be okay. I know that we are loved as well and you should know that we are going to be okay.

*Don't get me wrong, I do love being an aunt and I think I am really good at it. I have a sweet little nephew and a niece on the way. I also have three incredible godkids. I love them all to pieces, but I do want to be a mom one day. It's just truth. xo

Monday, September 9, 2013

Birth Fathers

So, we've had one failed match and one failed adoption, both because of the birth fathers. Hmmm, I am sensing a trend. Maybe the same care and concern shown to birth mothers hasn't really been applied to birth fathers, but I am thinking maybe adoption professionals should start considering both birth parents equally from the start. Don't get me started talking about the Baby Veronica case.  I feel for both sides, but most of all I feel for little Veronica. We never met Ian and Ada's father until after they were born. We only had the information given to us about him to go on when deciding if this was a good match for us. In the beginning, we did not believe this adoption was what they call an "at risk" placement. I have played what went wrong in my mind a million times. Why were we so naive? The bottom line is that their father did not want his children placed for adoption and he stopped it. Everything else is irrelevant.

This post is all my opinion and I am sure you'll correct me if you feel I am wrong.  Also, I am only referring to birth fathers who did not commit a crime that resulted in pregnancy.  

I feel like more birth fathers are stepping up. In general, men are now taking a more active role in parenting. Sure there are some birth fathers that couldn't give a rats ass, but I bet I could find plenty that do. Our agency says birth fathers wanting to parent are rare, but we have had it happen TWICE. It seems to me that in the past the birth mothers pretty much held all the cards and the birth fathers were either left in the dark or steamrolled into signing surrender papers. That doesn't work anymore. Birth fathers know their rights and don't necessarily want to be forced into placing their child for adoption because that's what the birth mother wants.

Birth fathers experience loss too, but I don't think it is recognized in the same way. If the adoption agency offers counseling, are the fathers given the same attention as the mothers? In my opinion, the answer is no. I know some guys are probably not as eager or receptive to the counseling offered, perhaps it's time for an update to adoption procedures. Where are the male social workers? Maybe another man might be able to relate to what the birth father is going through and the birth father might feel more comfortable talking to a guy. The face of adoption is changing rapidly and maybe the old way of doing things don't quite work anymore. The approach needs to balanced and both birth parents should feel it is an equal decision. OK, I am stepping down from the pulpit.

Lessons that I learned are: if the birth father isn't on board, then we are not on board. If he doesn't sign a surrender, tread cautiously. If the birth father has an attorney, walk away. It's hard to separate your emotional connection to the child from what realistically is going to happen. We weren't able to do it but in the long run it's going to hurt either way. You should know what your state laws are for birth fathers, but that doesn't necessarily mean a judge is going to follow those laws. If the birth father is interested in parenting, there is a good chance he will be allowed to do so. It's important that time is spent in the beginning with the birth father to really gauge how he is feeling instead of trying to just get him to sign. No more at risk placements for us. If you are the expectant father, we want to talk to you, get to know you, find out what you want. Our relationship should be the same as the birth (expectant) mother.

It has never been our intention to take someone's child, no adoptive parent wants that. We want to have a family and we want both birth parents to be secure in their decision to place a child with us for adoption. All that matters is what is best for the child. I think that is pretty straight forward.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


We have been busying ourselves with distractions as we try to move forward and pick up the pieces of this failed adoption. Sometimes putting on a happy face and trying is better than laying on the couch with a tub of ice cream. I have done both in the past couple of weeks.

After our spectacular adoption fail, we headed to the Poconos for a little R&R. The Inn at Pocono Manor was like the set of Dirty Dancing. It is an old hotel with lots of charm and resort-like activities. It was supposed to be haunted, but we didn't encounter any ghosts. I loved it. We had breakfast at this "breakfast in a skillet" place that we ate at 10 years before when we came to the Poconos on a ski trip. It was exactly the same. We swam in the pool, went on a hike, listened to music and hit the casino. We won enough money to buy two Bloody Mary cocktails. I was perfectly happy about that. We needed some space from what happened. We were raw, but made the best of the trip.

Marlon took me to see Kick-Ass 2. I couldn't remember the last time we went to the movies. We had passes, so we actually splurged on the snacks from the concession instead of bringing in snacks. Come on, you know you have all brought in your own snacks. The movie was entertaining and served its purpose -- a distraction.

I gave myself a mini make-over. If you look good, you feel good, right? It's a theory... Anyway, I got my hair cut and went to Sephora and did my make-up with their samples. We owe 15k in legal fees from this adoption fail, so I wasn't actually going to buy new make-up. The samples did the trick. I did invest in some wrinkle cream hoping it would erase the bags under my eyes from crying. The wrinkle cream and concealer combo seem to be helping. I do feel better.

My hubby asked me on a date and the place was a surprise. The only clues were that it was on a Saturday and we would drive. (We have a car now, one of the things that has stayed put after the fail. We needed the car to go back and forth (120 miles RT) to the hospital everyday. We aren't quite ready to part with our trusty '94 Volvo wagon.)

I kind of had an inkling of where we were going, but I didn't snoop or investigate online. I wanted to be surprised. We went to the Scottish Highland Games in Old Westbury! Oh how does my honey know me. Scots in kilts cheered me right up! We went down a slide in a burlap sack, watched the caber toss and the hay toss, ate fish and chips, walked the grounds of Old Westbury Gardens and voted in the antique car show. I got a new plaid winter hat as a souvenir. We had fun, but I know we were both watching all the families there having a good time. It's hard, sometimes it just hits us. We took a little break and put down our (plaid) blanket under a tree away from the festivities and laid there. It was like everything around us disappeared.  I think we both needed a moment. I really enjoyed the day; I do love the Highland games and all things Scottish, except haggis.

We are trying and that's all we can do right now to get through each day. The truth is that our hearts are hurting. We are putting the adoption thing on hold until at least the new year. If something should fall into our laps, we are definitely open to considering it, but we aren't actively pursuing adoption. Right now, we are practicing our happy faces, keeping busy and hoping that one day a true happy face will reappear.