Adoption and The Pandemic
One of the most interesting things about working in healthcare amid the pandemic has been to hear how it has affected other industries. As a healthcare provider, our industry was one of the first ones hit. We had to make rapid, frequent, and drastic changes in order to both provide the healthcare our patients needed and keep staff and other patients safe with what information we had at that moment. However, as time went on, every single sector of business underwent massive changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. My patients are teachers, pilots, cashiers, electricians, pastors, police officers, and the list goes on. Listening to their stories about how their roles and their routines had changed and we’re continuing to change to adapt to what was going on in the world was fascinating. Adoption has not been immune to these changes.
The changes for processes in international adoption are a little more obvious. If you shut down a border, it’s a bit difficult to enter and exit as needed to bring a child home to their forever family. You look into the sky and see exactly zero airplanes: the thought of international travel didn’t feel very likely. Domestic adoption, although less obvious, had some fairly drastic changes due to the pandemic as well.
– Meeting face-to-face with the adoptive family and expectant momma before placement
– Adoptive parents being allowed as support people in the delivery room
– Adoptive parents being able to room in with a baby in a separate postpartum room
– Legal paperwork with adoptive parents could not be done in the hospital
– NICU rules for visitors
Face-To-Face Adoption Meetings
As with most other industries during this pandemic, a common thread among most is the reliance on technology and a virtual presence.
Instead of having the ability to meet with an expectant momma before delivery, these meetings, like so many other things like school, routine healthcare visits, staff meetings were transitioned to some form of virtual meeting with a video and audio component. As with most things, there are pros and cons to this. The benefits are fairly obvious.
Meeting a stranger in person is much less awkward when it isn’t actually quite in person. Also, it’s much less expensive to spend 30 minutes on a video chat with someone several states away than it is to get on an airplane, book a hotel room, and rent a car to meet with someone considering you to be the parent of her child. The ability to actually share your home, family, nursery, etc without actually inviting the expectant momma into your home physically (although she has likely seen some of these things in a profile book you prepare, it’s way more real to show her the family dog and the crib where her baby very likely will sleep!). There is also more potential for frequent meetings or conversations since it doesn’t require the usual nuances of travel.
The cons of virtual meetings are also fairly obvious with the most glaringly obvious being that you aren’t *really* meeting. There is a magnitude of importance in this meeting for the expectant mommas to know they’ve chosen the right family for her little one. It’s also important for the potential adoptive family to have the opportunity to get to know this momma as much as possible and memorize every tiny detail to be able to share with their child later. It’s a lot to expect out of a Zoom call.
However, teachers can give you a similar list of the pros and cons of teaching their students virtually. I can certainly share several amazing aspects of seeing patients virtually from their homes as well as tell you several of the limitations as well. It’s a pandemic. It is not known for being convenient or ideal. We are all doing the best we can and trying to keep making lemonade out of the surplus of lemons we seem to have been given.
Another aspect of the domestic adoption experience that is drastically different is the actual birth experience. Depending on the hospital and the COVID policies of their women’s services department. There can be a vast array of possible experiences. However, most are limiting the number of people allowed both as visitors and as support persons. If the hospital allows the laboring mom one support person throughout her entire hospital stay, there is a very good chance the potential adoptive family will not be allowed to be present for the birth or meet the baby until after mom and baby are discharged from the hospital.
Although it would be easy for a potential adoptive momma to be super excited to meet the baby and feel somewhat entitled to be there, don’t forget that although this day is super important to you, you are not the most important person in this scenario and the expectant momma should have the person there who makes her feel the most loved and supported and comfortable. Guilt over not choosing you should not play a role in her decision of who she wants by her side on one of the most important and terrifying days of her life. There are ways to be a part of this special process without actually being there. Sending texts, videos, and facetime messages between birth momma and potential adoptive parents is an option.
Although I was not in the delivery room for our adopted little one’s birth, some of the hours spent with her birth momma in her postpartum room just getting to know each other and hanging out, are some of my favorite memories. I loved that our little one got to hear our voices and our laughs together. We shared snuggles, and stories, and sweet baby kisses, and the thought of erasing that part of our story does make me feel sad for those who won’t get that potential experience during this pandemic.
However, I would trade all of that to make sure that our daughter, and her precious birth mom, and the amazing staff taking care of them, were safe and not potentially exposed to germs by allowing extra visitors in. This pandemic has brought lots of loss of things expected with it: loss of graduation ceremonies, loss of proms, loss of weddings, loss of family gatherings, loss of traditional holiday plans, loss of highly anticipated vacations, and the list goes on. The loss of this potential for hanging out together at the hospital, the whole adoption triad (birth family, baby, and adoptive family) is definitely a loss, but it’s surely among a long list of losses as a result of COVID-19.
Depending on the state you live in, there are different rules for when consent forms and surrender of parental rights can be signed. Typically, these things happened inside the hospital with a social worker representative from the hospital, the adoptive family, and the birth momma. With visitation restrictions in place, people like potential adoptive parents, adoption attorneys, and representatives are not allowed inside patient areas either. These legal forms and processes have had to happen on the outside of the hospital once the birth momma is discharged from the hospital, in order to still get them completed, while also respecting the policies of the hospital. Knowing both the hospital policies and how your agency or attorney has adjusted to these policies will help keep things moving smoothly as you navigate the murky waters of doing anything during this pandemic.
NICUs are known for having fairly strict visitation rules even before we found ourselves in a pandemic. They house the very tiniest and frailest and vulnerable lives within their walls. It is their job to keep their patients safe from germs. As a result, they will likely have the most stringent response to the pandemic as well. Keep these babies healthy and safe, no matter what is likely the mantra the nurses are likely chanting. If your new little one has to spend time in the NICU before being healthy enough to come home with you, it is possible there are rules that will limit or prohibit you from visiting with the baby depending on the hospital and its rules for visitors. Policies are made without knowing every situation that will arise, so if you find yourself in a hospital with restrictions, but you are now the legal guardian of this tiny baby, speak with the charge nurse, social worker, etc to see if there is a way to allow you to both not pose threat to the health of your little one or anyone else’s while also being able to spend time getting to know your sweet little one. Be kind in your asking and your reception of the answer you get— everyone is doing the best they can to keep these precious babies as safe as they can.
Just like every other thing we have done since March 2020, domestic adoption professionals have had to pivot and change and then change some more in order to still provide the necessary steps from beginning to end to ensure the legal process of adoption happens as safely and supportive as possible, while also making sure to follow state and hospital guidelines.
Once that precious baby is home with his or her family, feel empowered to keep that baby safe. It’s ok to limit visitors when you have a newborn in your home. It’s ok to ask questions like
– Have you traveled in the last 14 days?
– Have you been exposed to anyone who has Coronavirus in the past 14 days? Have you been tested and don’t have results yet?
– Do you have a cough, fever, shortness of breath, new loss of taste or smell, or are generally feeling sick? (When they tell you “it’s just [insert allergies, sinus infection, a little cough]”, ask them to help you make sure your baby stays healthy and safe and wait until those symptoms are better)
As mom and dad, it is your job to protect this little one from all the things including any and all harmful germs. Asking these screening questions isn’t being fearful or going overboard, it’s doing what is right to make sure your new baby is safe and healthy. As a nurse practitioner, I highly recommend you keep doing all these things with a newborn in your house, long after this pandemic is over. A dollop of hand sanitizer for everyone who walks inside your door is also a great idea! They may roll their eyes at you, but you will know you are doing your job protecting your little one from germs.
This adoption journey likely won’t look like what you expected since you’re walking it during a pandemic. But, it’s usually pretty hard to plan for a pandemic that literally shuts the world down, so take a deep breath and roll with it. Ultimately, the goal is being a family for a little one who needs one and keeping everyone safe in the process. If items A, B, and C on your “how this should look” list have to change to options X, Y, and Z to make sure these things happen, don’t make it the end of the world, it isn’t, I promise. Somewhere out there, there’s a bride who has changed her dream of a huge wedding to a small group of family, a kid who missed his high school graduation ceremony, and a widow who sits inside her house lonely because of shelter-in-place mandates. Everyone’s story has taken an unexpected turn in one way or another due to this pandemic. Your team is likely stressed too as they are trying to navigate unknown and ever-changing waters. When you look back on this journey, you want to remember the first time you kissed the top of your baby’s head and his first smile- not how angry you were that all those plans had to change.
Chasidy Brooks is a nurse practitioner married to her best friend and highschool sweetheart, Ben. They are mom and dad to 4 kiddos, who are equal parts crazy and beautiful, ranging from preschool to middle school. Chasidy was born and raised right outside of Atlanta, Georgia, so it’s only appropriate that she cheers loudly for the Georgia Bulldogs and that her drink of choice is Coca Cola. Her passion is for being an advocate and a voice for those whose voices might not otherwise be heard, and this is evident in everything she does. Chasidy is the founder of Rainbows from Raya, a nonprofit organization that supports adoptive families through grants and mealtrains.