After the Birth

  

THINKING ABOUT PARENTING YOUR BABY

 

"We are family, for a lifetime."

--M. P. N.

 

Even if you're married, you don't have to "fall into" parenting. You have a choice. With a partner or confidant, answer the questions in Appendix G. These discuss parenting and adoption options.

 

If you do parent, expect change. Change can be exciting, joyful, or frustrating, and with a child you will experience all three! What changes will your baby make in your life? Can you adjust? Even if your baby is a surprise, remember that a lot of surprises are happy ones.

 

With her children in school, her family complete, her part-time job fulfilling, and plans underway to enlarge her home, Ellen became pregnant unexpectedly. After overcoming the initial shock, Ellen and her husband Carl got excited. Ellen worked until her sixth month of pregnancy, then took a break during the business's slow season. At a surprise baby shower, she received many baby items to replace the ones she'd given away. Friends loaned her additional baby furniture and baby clothing.

 

Having breast-fed her other children, Ellen decided to bottle-feed this infant so that she could return to work when her daughter was two months old and Ellen and a friend could exchange babysitting favors. Her baby is now walking, the house addition is completed, and Ellen and her family are very happy.

 

If you're divorced or widowed, you're dealing with the crisis of losing your husband. Are you willing and able to parent now? Do you feel a bond with the baby or do you resent the responsibilities of parenting now? Talk over your feelings with someone you can trust, possibly a PREGNANCY AIDgency volunteer, member of the clergy, psychologist, family counselor, or confidant, or another parent. Make plans that are best for you.

 

Polly, mother of one child and on welfare, discovered her pregnancy right after her husband Chad went to live with a girlfriend. She made an appointment for an abortion, then changed her mind as the procedure was beginning. She determined that Chad's behavior would not ruin her life. After giving birth, Polly moved. When Chad found out, he wanted to return to the marriage. Polly laid down conditions. Chad and Polly would have to move into their own apartment. Chad would have to include Polly in his recreational plans, communicate with Polly, and stop having affairs.

 

Chad met Polly's demands. They are working through their hurtful memories for the sake of their children.

 

Many single women, like Jo (following), choose to parent their babies. They work hard to resolve the difficulties they face.

 

When Jo was a college freshman, she became pregnant. She didn't want her family to know about her pregnancy. When Jo took her disinterested boyfriend's offer to pay for an abortion, she called a phone number she saw in a newspaper but reached a PREGNANCY AIDgency, not an abortion clinic. The AIDgency volunteer explained the help that would be available if Jo decided to have her baby. Jo took six weeks to decide to give birth.

 

Jo dropped out of college, then found a job. When her job insurance would not pay for pregnancy costs, the AIDgency arranged for free medical care and a lowered hospital fee. Jo probably would have been fired for missing so much work due to nausea, but the AIDgency explained the situation to Jo's employer. Soon Jo felt better and was able to keep working.

 

With the help of the PREGNANCY AIDgency, Jo moved in with a single mother, then into a shelter home, then into a small, affordable apartment furnished with donated furniture. She went for adoption counseling but decided to parent her son. The AIDgency gave Jo maternity clothing, baby clothing, and baby furniture. When Jo returned to work, she placed her son in day care. Eventually, Jo moved back home, where her mother babysat while Jo worked.

 

TO MARRY OR NOT?

 

A parent of seven children advised each of them, "Before you marry, keep both eyes and both ears open. After you marry, close one of each." Sound advice if you're considering marriage because you're pregnant. Choose a mate wisely, then overlook the little faults. If you're considering marriage, refer to Appendix F.

 

If your baby's father is caring, responsible, and loving, then getting married before your baby is born may work for you. However, many marriages fail when couples tie the knot because the woman is pregnant. It may be better to decide about marriage after the baby is born, when the pressure to marry quickly is gone. If your baby's father would not be a good parent, it might not be wise to marry him just to "give your baby a name" or because you fear no one else will marry you if you have a baby. You may later marry an understanding man.

 

Debbie, Stacie, and Leona made three different sets of marriage plans.

 

After living together for several years, Debbie and Bob decided to marry when Debbie became pregnant. They now have two children, share parenting and housekeeping responsibilities, and are very happy.

 

A recent high school graduate, Stacie visited a PREGNANCY AIDgency and changed her mind about having an abortion. Her boyfriend asked her to postpone an adoption decision. When he got a job and an apartment, Stacie, who had now given birth, married her boyfriend, applied to and was accepted into nursing school, and began her new life as a career mother and wife.

 

Pregnant in high school, Leona didn't want to marry her baby's immature father so her mother and father helped her parent while she finished high school and got a job. Later she married a more mature man, who adopted the child.

 

PARENTING--A LIFETIME OCCUPATION

 

Parenting a child means being "Mom" for life. Do you know how to parent or how drastically your lifestyle will change if you do? Are you ready for this lifetime commitment?

 

If you've never had any experience with parenting, you may not realize what parenting your child really means. You need to find out what parenting is all about before you can prepare for it. Many high schools provide parenting classes for students; and hospitals and women's centers can refer you to community parenting classes and groups. You should definitely attend one of these groups.

 

If you don't know how to parent, look for some families who have children and talk to them about what parenting means. Do some babysitting, not just for a few hours but for a day or more at a time. Can you live with the responsibility of parenting a child twenty-four hours a day, year after year? If you are a teen, talk to other teenaged moms who are parenting about how they manage and how they feel about it. If you decide to parent, ask some other parents if you can call them for advice when you have questions or feel frustrated. Then call them, often.

 

Are you ready to parent a toddler, child, adolescent, teen, young adult? Suppose you decide to parent your child, then realize that you made a mistake. Adoption is always an option, no matter what your child's age. Of course, infants adapt better to new families than older children do, but no matter what their age, children are better off with parents who can care for them well. If you recognize that parenting your child was a mistake, admit it, like Olivia did, and do what is best for both you and your child. After struggling with welfare and an unsupportive lover, Olivia asked relatives to adopt her two children. She is working to put her life together and visits her children often.

 

CHOOSING TO PARENT

 

Choosing to parent means receiving advice. Learn to sift good advice from bad by reading books and articles on parenting, talking to other parents, and discussing parenting with your partner or confidant.

 

Ideas on parenting have changed. For example, while child psychologists used to advise women to let babies "cry it out" and to feed them on schedules, today they advise cuddling babies and feeding them on demand. Parents are advised to begin discipline when a child can understand the meaning of the words "no," "not now," and "wait." Toddlers may not like these words, but they understand them!

 

Compare modern and traditional advice, and choose a parenting style that works best for you and your child. You'll make some mistakes--no one is perfect. You may not be able to provide all you would like for your child. However, if you're generous with love, patience, and acceptance, then you're good parent material. Enjoy your child!

 

FITTING BABY INTO YOUR LIFESTYLE

 

"Superwoman never was a mother."

--M. P. N.

 

Babies need a lot of your time, and you can't schedule or postpone their demands. Some mothers, like Cathy, love the job of parenting babies. They really don't mind sleepless nights, dirty diapers, or colicky babies. Mothering is what these women want to do. Although Cathy and her Navy officer husband moved twelve times in three years and had six children in seven years, Cathy felt that parenting was "easy . . . a joy." She felt fulfilled in living totally for her children. Unlike Cathy, you may need time for yourself.

 

Maybe you do so much for others that you secretly resent it. Wanting time to yourself isn't unloving. You have to satisfy your desires, part of the time, to mother happily.

 

You may be satisfied to put off certain interests or a career until your children enter nursery school or kindergarten, or you may need time to yourself right now. Be honest. Do you feel that you will go crazy if you have to care for a baby full-time? Do you sometimes feel like a slave to everyone else's needs? Are you afraid of harming one of your children? When exhausted, do you ever feel like running away? Your fear, anger, frustration, and resentment are signs that you need time to do what you like and to discover yourself. You're not Superwoman, so why not admit it?

 

Ask your partner or friend to babysit for you while you go off alone to assess your needs. Do you need money? Time to yourself? Less housework? Child care? An adult to talk to?

 

PARENT SUPPORT GROUPS

 

Other parents often provide the best advice. Talk to some parents to find out how they adjusted to their new situations. Ask a social service organization or church if there are parent support groups available. No matter what your marital status, join both a couple's and single parent's group. Often, group members babysit for each other, exchange children's clothing, car pool, and help each other. Like you, these parents have felt anger, frustration, and despair. They can advise you of how to control strong emotions.

 

You'll also learn how to keep or resume open communication with a partner. You must take time for each other, time to touch (not just have sex), listen, and share. Pull together and stay together.

 

Also ask other parents how they introduced a new baby to any jealous household pets or siblings. A veterinarian or animal shelter may also have suggestions on overcoming jealousy in pets. A pediatrician or child psychologist can give you advice on sibling rivalry. Continue to give your pets and other children attention and don't leave the baby alone with them.

 

CHILD CARE

 

In order to care for your child, you may need to change the way you are used to living. You may have to rearrange schedules and set priorities. Be daring. As one wise woman said, "If you have trouble meeting your standards, lower your standards." Lynn (Chapter Two) did.

 

Parents, friends, or relatives can often help with babysitting, a place to live, and child care. Ellen, Jo, and Leona (all earlier in this chapter) asked for help. So did fifteen-year-old Veronica, whose father would not let her come home because she was pregnant. She went to live with her boyfriend's family, married him, and took parenting courses. He finished high school and got a job. The marriage is successful.

 

If you need a great deal of help, maybe you and a friend can take turns babysitting each other's children. Get your partner to watch the kids. Offer room, board, and a small stipend to a live-in nanny. Hire older children to do chores or to babysit. Maybe you can afford day care, housekeepers, or gardeners.

 

When Naomi became pregnant in her mid-forties, she learned that her son Alan had Down Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes mental retardation. Naomi said to her husband Marshall, "We can go crazy and get mad at each other, trying to take care of Alan and our other four kids, or we can get help." So they hired a nanny to help Alan do special exercises and to babysit. They lobbied for high-quality, special education classes in their school district, and gave Alan swimming and music lessons. Today Alan babysits for his nephews and nieces. One nephew wrote a school essay about Alan entitled "The Person Who Has Most Influenced My Life."

 

Perhaps you need someone to parent your child for you for a while. Perhaps a relative or friend can do this. Sometimes a religious organization or PREGNANCY AIDgency can find a family to parent for you. Foster care can look after your baby for a few months until you can parent. Persist until you find someone who will help you. You will retain full legal status as the child's mother. The parenting family or foster care family will provide only temporary care.

 

Two months pregnant and behind in her rent, Anita listened to her landlady's advice and went for an abortion. At the clinic door, she met a pro-life advocate whose religious community offered to pay Anita's back rent, give her money and material help, and care for her baby for months at a time while Anita harvested grapes. After four years of working the grape harvest, Anita decided to return to her parents. A member of the religious community that had been babysitting Anita's child drove Anita and her daughter back to Mexico, where they are now both happily settled.

 

PARENTING A HOUSEFUL OF YOUNG CHILDREN

 

A young psychologist and his wife had four children, all preschoolers. When his wife wanted some time to herself, the psychologist volunteered to babysit while his wife went out. After a few hours with four crying, fighting, demanding children, he couldn't wait for his wife to get home. Counseling twenty suicidal patients was a much easier job!

 

Your children can wear you out. Some of the novel and not-so-novel ideas that follow, successfully used by parents of large families, may help you out.

 

* Certain baby items and appliances can make life easier when you are caring for children. Thrift shops, second hand stores, and garage sales often feature these items at inexpensive prices. A PREGNANCY AIDgency can provide free baby items. Be sure that secondhand items meet government safety regulations. Labor-saving baby items include:

 

--A baby carrier to carry your baby while you work.

--A stroller to stroll your baby indoors, with your foot, while you work. You could also let older, responsible children stroll the baby.

--A baby walker, playpen, and wind-up baby swing.

--An infant car seat to keep your baby safe while riding in a car and to double as an infant seat in your home. If your baby is overtired or fussy, you can secure the car seat inside your automobile, strap your infant into the car seat, and take a ride. Your baby should fall blissfully asleep.

--Household appliances (if you can afford them) such as a dishwasher, clothes washer, microwave oven, food processor, and clothes dryer.

 

* Changes in household routine can make life easier. Try these tips to save work:

 

--Teach children to keep toys in one room only.

--Tidy up the rooms visitors see. Close doors to other rooms. If the house is untidy and the doorbell rings, put the vacuum in the middle of the floor and say you were just cleaning up.

--Use a diaper service if you can afford it.

--Clean on schedule, maybe every two weeks.

--Have someone babysit while you organize your house.

--Simplify meals.

--If your kids aren't really dirty, bathe them every other day instead of every day.

--Use clothes that don't require ironing.

--Launder only dirty clothes. If something looks and smells clean, don't wash it.

--Change sheets and pillowcases less often.

--Play with or read to kids in groups.

--Teach your children personal care skills as soon as they can handle them. Have children help with household tasks and reward them for good work and effort.

--Take time to do something you really like. Keep one social activity. Make time to be alone, too.

--Keep communication open with your partner. Daily or weekly, spend some time together, alone.

--When you put your children down for naps, lie down, too. If they won't sleep, lock them in the room with you with a few toys. Then, lie down and keep an eye on them while you relax.

 

In two years, your baby will be much more independent. Your other children will be two years older and more responsible. After two years of adjustment, you'll have more time to enjoy your family.

 

With two sets of twins and two other children, Holly was pregnant with her seventh child when her oldest entered kindergarten. Bearing twelve children in sixteen years, Holly had four children in cloth diapers for years, yet she enjoyed her lifestyle.

 

She and her husband Craig taught the children to care for themselves, do household chores, share clothes and bedrooms, and eat simple, nutritious food. They entertained their children in groups, shared parenting tasks, kept a tight budget, and prayed and worshipped together. While Craig's two jobs helped him to avoid parental burnout, Holly became active in church groups in which she could interact with other women and return home refreshed.

 

Today, the ten children who have graduated from college are financially helping those two still in college. Five children are professionals; one is a member of the clergy. Holly's advice to harried mothers is, "Work hard, have patience, and pray a lot. Faith gives you strength."

 

FITTING THE BABY INTO THE OLDER FAMILY

 

Did you plan your children so that they would be born close together and could be playmates for each other? Maybe now you are pregnant with a baby you didn't plan who will be much younger than your other children. Find a playmate for this baby by calling up friends, relatives, local schools, and churches. Ask for the names of moms with small children. Most women will gladly let their children play at another mother's house.

 

A few children playing together in a designated spot, with a designated adult supervisor and for a designated time, is considered to be a play group. Ask mothers about joining an established play group or create your own. A church nursery may be a good spot for a play group.

 

Babysitting in your home provides playmates plus cash. Accept only the age children you want, or have your child cared for by a sitter who watches other children who are your child's age.

 

If you live in an isolated area, visit a playground, park, or family and let your child play with children there. When your child goes to school, invite his or her classmates to your house to play.

 

Don't overlook your older children. They'll probably lavish the baby with attention, leaving you time to work. A baby also teaches kids that healthy sexuality doesn't end at age twenty-five. Your children will learn about married love from you and your husband.

 

JUSTIFYING YOUR CHILD'S EXISTENCE

 

Today, certain people see children as consumers rather than builders of society. Parents with low incomes, more than two children, or babies they didn't plan are going to hear negative remarks about their children. They will also hear remarks if they are experiencing crises, which could get worse as a result of pregnancy. These crises include financial difficulty, health problems, emotional upheaval, or career changes.

 

Your child has a right to be! As Fran (Chapter Three) said, "I don't have to give people a reason for my child's existence." You don't have to, either.

 

Kris and her husband had four children, one mentally retarded and in special classes and another with a mild learning disability from brain damage at birth. When Kris became pregnant again, many "friends" said that five children was too many and dropped the family from their social calendar. Kris joked about their "evil eye" and made new friends who see her child as a worthwhile individual instead of a mistake.

 

If you're using family planning, this baby will probably be your only surprise. Family planning methods are fairly successful. Ask a doctor, nurse, or family planning counselor what might have gone wrong with your method. Learn from your mistake.

 

Artificial birth control is not the only effective option for controlling the size of your family. Modern natural family planning methods are reliable and safe. A hospital or doctor should be able to refer you to a natural family planning instructor.

 

Just because your method of family planning didn't work does not mean that your baby is a mistake. Many of us are the results of "mistakes" or "surprises," yet we enrich the world. That's how Arlene feels about her surprise baby. With their only child in the Army, she and her husband were planning a trip to Europe when Arlene became pregnant. "We signed on for the whole ride, not just the easy stuff," her husband said. Arlene says that raising this boy has been a joy.

 

More and More Surprises

 

You're going to have lots of surprises with your surprise baby! You'll discover new toys, birthing methods, weight gain requirements for pregnant moms, baby clothes, diapers, and mothering tactics. Your child will be unlike any other, and that will be a surprise. In fact, this child may one day be your greatest consolation. This is what happened to Rebecca and Sarah (Chapter One) and to Joyce (later in this chapter.)

 

What if you wanted a child of one sex but your baby is of the opposite sex? Like most people, you'll probably accept and love the child you have. A child's sex doesn't guarantee a certain personality. Enjoy your child's individuality.

 

If you feel that you'll always resent your child, consider making an adoption plan. You needn't justify your plan. To invite another family to parent your child is to know your limits. If we all knew ourselves as well, we could make life easier for ourselves.

 

PROMISE OF A LIFETIME TOGETHER

 

If you see your baby as a gift, your life together will be bright and promising. Your child may not be coming at the most convenient time. Fitting your baby into your lifestyle may take unique adjustment. Ask for help. You may want to change the way you are doing some things. Get advice from others and take time for yourself. Love, patience, and the desire to parent your child will show you the way. A loved child can bring great rewards. Your love will help others love your child, too.

 

THINKING ABOUT ADOPTION

 

"The heart never `gives up' a child. Adoption is

a `head decision.'"

--M. P. N.

 

You've already made one of the most important decisions of your life. You've decided to give birth.

 

But have you decided to parent? Parenting right now might seem wrong for you. Answering the questions in Appendix G may reaffirm your adoption decision.

 

PARENTING BY RELATIVES, FRIENDS, OR ACQUAINTANCES

 

Parenting by relatives, friends, or acquaintances is not adoption. Simply ask a family to parent for you. You continue to make medical and legal decisions for your children, and you are legally and financially responsible for them. In time, you may be able to parent your children yourself.

 

Because she had difficulty parenting her large family, Eleanor asked her mother to parent one of her boys, who was close in age to some of her mother's sons--his uncles. After growing up between his mother's and grandmother's houses, the young man entered a business partnership with his uncles, whom he always considered brothers.

 

If you make someone your child's legal guardian, that person can make legal, medical, and educational decisions for your child. You may also make these decisions. Legal guardianship is wise if you will not be living near the parenting family. However, you still retain all your parenting rights; you are legally free to parent your child yourself, at any time. A young teen, Katrin found it difficult to parent her infant so she made her married sister her baby's legal guardian and parent.

 

If you make a legal adoption plan with relatives, the relatives will legally become your baby's parents. Legal adoption can keep your pregnancy a secret while making your baby heir to your relative's estate.

 

LEGALIZING YOUR ADOPTION OR PARENTING ARRANGEMENT

 

Adoption choices and legal procedures are constantly changing. Contact a licensed adoption consultant, either an adoption attorney or a counselor at a licensed adoption agency or adoption service. This professional will help you make a legal plan, whether it is a private adoption, agency adoption, or other parenting arrangement including temporary parenting by relatives or friends. For your protection and that of your baby, all parties need to sign, in the presence of a witness (usually a notary), a legal, written parenting or adoption agreement. Neglecting these procedures may mean facing a sticky legal battle over parenting.

 

Find an adoption consultant by checking various online references. A child and family services agency may know adoption consultants. The Bar Association may list adoption attorneys. When you call a consultant, ask for additional referrals to others who arrange adoptions. Interview several consultants before choosing one.

 

Make an appointment with an adoption professional. Ask to see the person's credentials and license. Request a list of references or clients and call them. Were they pleased with the adoption professional? Why or why not? Ask the Better Business Bureau about consultants; the Bar Association about attorneys. Call the licensing agency (usually a governmental child and welfare agency) to be sure that the professional is licensed and in good standing.

 

If a consultant has no license or references or seems to be in legal or financial difficulty, find another consultant fast! If a consultant seems honest and professional, decide if that person offers the services you want and if you feel comfortable working with the individual. Appendix G lists some questions to consider before making a choice.

 

A good adoption consultant will be familiar with current adoption law. Together, the two of you will discuss parenting and adoption options, with you free to choose either one. If you want an unusual plan, the consultant should confirm the plan in writing. After your baby is born, your consultant will help you to rethink your decision, come to terms with any grief or mixed emotions, and finalize your plans. If you decide to parent, a consultant can suggest parenting skills.

 

ADOPTION IS A PERMANENT CHOICE

 

Adoption is a decision of the head, not of the heart--a loving, major decision, but a most difficult choice. Get as much information about adoption as you can, then think about it. Discuss the questions in Appendix G, and possibly some questions in Appendix F as well, with your adoption consultant. Whether you're married or single, you may realize that adoption is best for everyone.

 

In adoption, you're the birth mother and your baby's father is the birth father. The family who will parent your child is the adoptive family. An adoption plan is the plan you make with the adoptive family. Final adoption proceedings involve a very private hearing before a judge and the signing of final adoption papers. No one can call an adoption agency or court and get information on your baby's adoption. A consultant can answer questions about proceedings.

 

When you sign final adoption papers, you give the adoptive family the legal right to parent your child, forever. This assures that your baby has a permanent home and also protects you from ever being given your child back to parent yourself.

 

It's very difficult to change a legal adoption arrangement unless a child is being abused. Child abuse is very unlikely, as adoption consultants carefully choose adoptive parents. In rare cases involving abuse, the child seldom goes back to the birth mother. Another family will probably adopt.

 

Adoption consultants have long lists of couples waiting to adopt. Many families will adopt children with special needs or terminal illnesses. Many couples have waited years for a child, and they will care for your baby well.

 

Ask a consultant what emotional, financial, age, and other requirements adoptive families must meet, what counseling they receive, and if they are studied before and after the adoption takes place. Choose a consultant who selects adoptive families carefully.

 

The more counseling you receive, and the more questions you ask and answers you get, the more certain you will be of adoption. Until you sign final adoption papers, usually weeks after your baby's birth, your baby is legally under your care. You'll have time to decide if adoption is right for you.

 

Don't be surprised if your parents, boyfriend, spouse, or friends try to talk you out of adoption. They'll have lots of reasons why you should parent, but are the reasons right for you? You are the one who will be parenting your baby. Can you or do you want to do it? You must make a parenting choice and you must be comfortable with it. Otherwise you may have regrets. Melody knew that adoption for her infant was right for her. With her husband in prison, she could barely parent her other two children.

 

Will Others Be Involved in Your Decision?

 

Just who has to be involved in an adoption decision, other than yourself, differs from area to area. An adoption consultant can tell you what your area requires. Everyone involved in making an adoption arrangement should receive adoption counseling. If you are under pressure from anyone to choose adoption, a judge may not approve the adoption.

 

In many places, no matter how young you are, your family may not legally plan the adoption of your baby, except in rare cases. They may advise you, but you must make the plan. If you're of legal age, you probably don't have to tell your family about your pregnancy or adoption plan. Andrea's and Kathleen's parents (see Chapter Two) still don't know that their daughters were pregnant.

 

Usually, the birth father, if you know who he is, or your husband (whether or not he is the actual father) will have to agree to the adoption. If no man claims legal responsibility for the child, then you are probably free to make your own plans.

 

You may face some sticky situations. Perhaps you are no longer in touch with the birth father, or don't ever want to see him again. You may be married, but pregnant because of an affair, as Pearl was, or you may have other concerns, all discussed in Appendix G. Discuss these situations with an adoption consultant. Usually, you can make plans that will put you at ease. Pearl, for example, reconciled with her husband, and the law considered him to be the child's legal father. Together they made an adoption plan.

 

If the birth father or his family or your family want to adopt your baby, they probably have to prove, in court, that they are financially secure, mentally stable, and morally sound, and that they would make good parents. If you have evidence to the contrary, tell a lawyer.

Having divorced her criminal husband, LeeAnn feared she'd abuse their three little children, so she chose one adoptive family to parent her infant and another for her two older children. A court agreed that these families, friends who attend the same church, would be better parents than LeeAnn's or her husband's relatives, who also wanted to adopt the children. LeeAnn keeps in touch with her family.

 

Choosing adoption means choosing love and making a decision for life. By talking over all your choices with a good adoption consultant, you can feel at peace with your decision. You will continue to love and think of your child forever. You have made a head decision, using all the love in your heart.

 

MAKING AN ADOPTION PLAN

 

"Many babies are conceived unplanned, but no baby was

ever adopted by accident."

--An Adoptive Mother

 

Adoption comes in many packages. Sometimes the birth mother and adoptive family do not know each others' names and never meet. Their only contact is through an adoption consultant. Other times, the birth mother meets the adoptive family and may even visit her child following the adoption.

 

You must make a plan that meets your needs. You may want to forget this pregnancy or keep it a secret. Perhaps you want your child to bond well with the adoptive family with no interference from you. If so, you may not want to maintain contact with the adoptive family.

 

Perhaps you'd feel much more comfortable knowing your child's adoptive family and visiting as your child grows. You will feel as if you have a role in your child's life and not as if you are giving up your baby forever.

 

Appendix G will help you choose the type of adoption plan you want. After reading that, choose a consultant who can arrange this plan.

 

Maretta, Willa, and Tina had to search to make the adoption plans they wanted.

 

Maretta consulted several agencies before finding one that would allow her to meet the adoptive family, exchange photos, and visit her child.

 

Willa interviewed several couples, then had to choose again when her first choice couple adopted a baby from another agency.

 

When adoption regulations in Tina's state would not allow the birth mother and adoptive family to meet, she found an adoptive family through a friend's referral. Now she can visit her son as often as she likes.

 

ADOPTION CHOICES

 

You can help choose the adoptive family. The adoption consultant can select a family to meet your requirements in family size and makeup; ethnic, religious, educational, or social background; and so on. Or, the consultant may allow you to choose the adoptive family from several on file. You may be able to interview, either over the phone or in person, the adoptive families whose files you've selected. Then you will choose one family for your child. You may exchange identifying information with the family and even visit them after your baby is adopted.

 

You can give your child a memento of yourself. You may compose a letter, tape-record a message, or make or select a special gift for your baby. You might ask that your child receive certain information at a certain age or that both of you maintain direct contact.

You can make an album or scrapbook of your baby's birth, take photos, and name your baby. Some adoptive parents use the name you've chosen as a middle name.

 

You may be able to see, hold, care for, and even breastfeed your baby in the hospital, if you wish. When you go home, others will parent your baby.

 

You and the adoptive family may not be in direct contact, as is the case with divorced Gracie and the family who adopted her child. Then the adoptive family may write letters about your baby's progress and send photos to the adoption consultant. The consultant will remove any identifying information and place the photos in your baby's file. You can request to see the file at any time. Gracie looks at her child's file a few times a year.

 

If you and your baby's father are on good terms, you may want him to participate in the adoption. Do what is comfortable for you both. If you and he disagree, your wishes will probably override his.

 

If you finalize an adoption, either the adoptive family or adoption consultant will pay your medical and counseling bills. Other expenses directly involved with the adoption, such as travel or shelter expenses, may also be paid for. An adoption consultant can tell you what bills, if any, are your responsibility. You should not be "paid for" your baby. This is illegal.

 

CONTACTING YOUR CHILD

 

In some adoption arrangements, neither you nor your child will know where each other lives. You will not be able to contact each other until your child reaches legal age and both of you consent to be found. Check the adoptive file to see if your child has written a letter asking for contact with you. If so, a court will open the file and let you find your child.

 

If you don't want your child to contact you, put your wishes in writing and ask your adoption consultant to place the letter in your baby's adoptive file. No one will be able to locate you. Should your child's health depend on vital medical information that only you can provide, you will be contacted very privately (your spouse, family, neighbors will not be involved).

 

If you do want to be found, write a letter to that effect and file it in the adoption file.

 

When Mary Jane's family wouldn't let her marry Dusty because of his religion, she had to make an adoption plan. However, later she and Dusty did marry and have two sons, but Mary Jane wanted to find her adopted daughter. At an adoption agency, she registered her desire for a reunion. Eight years later, her daughter, trying to find her birth mother, contacted the agency. Mary Jane and her daughter were reunited.

 

If you write a letter, then change your mind, call your adoption consultant and ask how you can insert a new letter into the adoption file. Follow the proper procedure. You may have to write a new letter, then have it notarized, witnessed, and sent by registered mail to the adoption consultant. The consultant will file the new letter and discard the old one.

 

If you will be in contact with your child as your child grows, you and the adoptive family will write up a contract. The contract will state how often you can contact and visit your child.

 

Many more families want to adopt babies than there are babies available. You can make a plan that suits you and find a consultant and family to go along with it. If you can't find anyone locally, tell a PREGNANCY AIDgency what you want. Ask the AIDgency to locate an agreeable consultant, and then to house you in that area so that you can make the adoption arrangement you want.

 

DEALING WITH GRIEF

 

Saying good-bye to the baby you've carried inside for nine months is very difficult. You'll probably feel intense grief and suddenly want to parent your baby. Because they will be aware that you feel so strongly, some doctors and nurses may discourage you from seeing, holding, or feeding your newborn. However, doing these things will give you a mental picture of your baby to remember and love. You'll know that choosing adoption is choosing love.

 

An adoption consultant can refer you to other birth mothers who have chosen adoption. Share your feelings with them, often. Learn how to handle and work through the grief, anger, resentment, and other strong emotions you may feel for months or longer.

 

It's OK to cry. Feeling sad and hurt doesn't mean that you made the wrong decision. Many right decisions are painful ones. Once the emotional pain is gone, the rightness of your "head decision" will bring healing and peace.

 

Pregnant after being raped at a party, Opal, a quiet, gentle Native American teenager, asked an adoption agency to place her baby with a tribal family who lived off the reservation. Opal named and cared for her baby and made her a quilt and a teddy bear. She took photos for a scrapbook and wrote her infant a touching letter. When Opal found it too difficult to hand her baby to the adoptive couple, the agency asked her to visualize Jesus surrounded by children, then to see herself leaving her daughter in his lap while praying for her and the adoptive family. This helped Opal to express her grief and release her baby in her heart. After completing high school, Opal went on to college.

 

FOSTER CARE

 

Until you sign final adoption papers, your baby is still legally yours to parent. However, you will probably not take your baby home from the hospital. If the adoptive family does not have your child, a foster family will parent temporarily. When you sign the final adoption papers, usually when your baby is a few weeks old, the adoptive family will receive your child. It's best to finalize the adoption as quickly as possible.

 

You have the right to change your mind about adoption at any time until you sign the final adoption papers. If you have difficulty deciding about adoption, a lawyer or an adoption agency can arrange for your child to remain in foster care until you make up your mind.

 

A child in foster care does not have a permanent home and may move from one foster home to another. All these moves are traumatic, especially for children over eight months old. Leave your baby in foster care for no more than eight months, at most, before coming to a firm decision about adoption or parenting.

 

Meg and Heidi both had second thoughts when their babies were born. They placed their babies in foster care while they rethought adoption decisions.

 

Meg had chosen adoption as a way of denying her pregnancy, since only her boyfriend knew that she was pregnant at all. After four months of counseling, the couple decided that adoption was best.

 

Heidi had chosen adoption so that she could go to college. When she discovered that her state provided day care and financial aid for single mothers attending college, she took parenting courses and continued to attend college while parenting her child.

 

CHOOSING ADOPTION LATER

 

If you decide to parent, then change your mind after a few months of parenting, as LeeAnn (earlier in this chapter) and Terry (following) did, you can still make an adoption plan. It takes courage and a special love to admit you made a mistake. High schooler Terry knew that she was not a good mother to her six-month-old baby, whom she'd leave with her parents while she would date, party, and experiment with drugs. After making an adoption plan, she began to straighten out her life. Like Terry, you can find someone to parent your child. You and your child both deserve a future. Today Terry is a high school graduate with a job and a husband, and her baby is doing well in her adoptive home.

 

ADOPTION FOR SPECIAL GROUPS

 

In some countries, certain ethnic groups, races, or nationalities must follow special criteria in arranging adoptions. Tell your adoption consultant about your ethnic, racial, or national heritage and that of the birth father. If any special requirements apply to your baby, your consultant will know.

 

In the United States, for example, children with any percentage of Native American Indian blood must be adopted, if at all possible, by others of Native American Indian descent. These regulations insure that the child's Indian heritage will be preserved.

 

If special regulations apply, you may still be able to make any type of arrangement discussed in this chapter. However, the adoptive families you consider may have to possess ethnic, racial, or national characteristics that approximate those of your child. Many such families are eager to adopt, so you will have a good choice for your child. Choose a consultant who knows which regulations apply to you.

 

Marissa, an unmarried Native American, made an adoption plan under the guidelines set down by the Indian Child Welfare Act. Through a private agency that had done other Native American adoptions, Marissa requested that her child be the first child in the family and live in a rural setting. Marissa wanted her child's family to value education and to be of a certain religious denomination.

The agency contacted her tribe, which had no adoptive families within the tribe. The agency then identified five nontribal Native American families who met Marissa's requirements. Marissa read a file on each family and chose the family she liked best. The family annually updates the agency's file on Marissa's baby. Letters and photos show Marissa how her child is maturing.

 

MOVING ON

 

Whether or not you have contact with the adoptive family, you'll never forget your baby. When you remember, don't deny your feelings. Work through them. It's natural to regret not being able to raise your baby. It's also natural to feel relieved, and possibly guilty, about choosing adoption.

 

Remember, you are choosing adoption because it is the best choice for both you and your baby at this time of your lives. In Robert Frost's famous poem The Road Not Taken, the traveler stands at a fork in the road, wondering which road to take. After starting down one road, the traveler wonders about the other. Where would it have gone? Yet the road now taken is "fair," as was the other. Adoption isn't "better" than parenting, or vice versa. Both are fine choices. While you may wonder what might have been had you chosen differently, you have certainly chosen something good.