Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by IAC’s adoptive parent, Tyler Watson, on the pros and cons of adopting through a last-minute hospital placement vs. through the traditional process of waiting.
My family has now gone through two adoptions. When we adopted our son in 2012, we had a last-minute placement. The adoption of our twin daughters this year happened through a traditional match in which our first contact with the birthmother came about six weeks before delivery.
Both types of placement have their benefits and unique stresses. How you respond to either situation depends on both your personality and preparation. For example, I prefer well-crafted plans and found the last-minute placement extremely stressful. My wife, on the other hand, was better able to roll with the disruption the last-minute placement brought to our plans. I appreciated the longer time to prepare in the traditional match, whereas my wife grew impatient waiting. Knowing what both types of matches entail allows adoptive parents to prepare emotionally and psychologically for them.
The traditional match in which birth families contact adoptive parents during the pregnancy has a longer on-ramp as everyone waits for the child to arrive. This on-ramp allows for time to foster a strong, trusting relationship between adoptive and birth parents. We spent a good amount of time on the phone and in-person with our daughters’ birthmother, her family, and the birthfather.
Matching is a bit like dating, as all parties wonder if they want to enter a familial relationship with each other. There are many questions to ask and answer. Some of these questions are trivial, like what are your favorite foods? Others are deeply personal, like how important is religion in your life? We have to figure out how to negotiate our differences. If the birthparents and adoptive parents are willing to do their homework during this time, the wait before birth can be productive. It can lead to greater trust in the decision to adopt/place and in each other.
On a practical level, adoptive parents can use the time between match and birth to nest and prepare for the child to come home. Some adoptive families have been nesting all along and now there is the added joy of knowing you are not preparing for just any baby, but are readying your home to welcome this specific person into your family.
The longer on-ramp in a traditional match, however, brings with it the festering worry that the adoption might fall apart. There is plenty of time to second-guess your decision, to wonder if the birthparents are second-guessing their decisions, and to ask over and over again the unanswerable question, “How do I know this is the absolute right match?” Matching with a birthmother who lives far away may also means traveling to her a few times, increasing the costs of adoption.
It is also natural to have concerns about the baby’s health because we cannot control the birthmother, what she eats, how much she exercises, or if she goes to all of her prenatal appointments. We certainly worried about this, especially as our twin daughters seemed determined to be born prematurely. We said a prayer of thanks for each day they remained in the womb. But as adoptive parents we must remember that even if we were pregnant we could not control the child’s health. Pregnant families who attend every prenatal visit and live extremely healthy lifestyles still have babies born with complications. An infant could need to stay in the NICU even if her birthmother exercised every day.
With a last-minute placement, the timeline for deciding is greatly compressed. All parties must make up their minds quickly and there is far less space to second-guess their choices. When we adopted our son, this shortened decision period brought with it an increased focus. What was really important about a match became immediately clear and the non-essential matters faded into the background. We knew whether we shared similar expectations for our son’s future education was less urgent than providing him a loving home and ongoing contact with his birthfamily.
Oddly enough, the sense that this was the right match came to us faster than in the traditional match we had. We experienced plenty of anxiety in the few hours between receiving the call from IAC and going to the hospital, but the instant my wife and I laid eyes on our son all those questions and worries evaporated. We knew he was the child for whom we had waited and prayed. The last-minute placement also showed us how much we needed our family and community. Our friends rallied around us as we recovered from the shock of welcoming a beautiful redheaded boy into our home.
While the time for decision is compressed in a last-minute placement, the overall wait time is usually longer. In the majority of last-minute placements, the adoptive families have been waiting for over a year. But once that call comes from IAC, the speed with which the adoption machinery moves is staggering. Adoptive parents have to tell IAC staff over the phone whether they are willing to be chosen by the birthmother. The birthmother then looks through a stack of letters and makes her decision. When we agreed to the last-minute placement of our son, we had one phone conversation with the birthfamily. After a few minutes together in the hospital, our son’s birthmother cemented her decision to place him with us. It is shocking all parties involved would make such a life-changing commitment based on a few interactions. We left the hospital a little more than strangers, yet we were now intimately connected to each other because of the child.
The last-minute placement allows little space for detached reflection and thus requires all parties to have greater trust in the wisdom and experience of IAC staff. I don’t think my wife and I fully appreciated all that happened until our son was home with us and we were in the throes of parenthood. We became family with strangers in less than forty-eight hours. Certain differences in worldview and opinions had to be figured out and resolved after placement. In the intervening time since that first meeting we have grown to know and trust each other. It is now a strong relationship, but one we had to build after the fact.
A last-minute placement is also obviously extremely disruptive to any plans you have. You might have to buy last-minute plane tickets. We were at the tail-end of a vacation when we received the call about our son. Thankfully we didn’t have to end our vacation early, but we would have had he been born a day or two earlier. Once we agreed to the adoption, my wife and I immediately informed our employers we were starting family leave and not returning to work as scheduled.
Whether you have a traditional match or a last-minute placement, don’t forget any means of growing a family entails giving over a great deal of control. As adoptive parents, we are extremely aware of this fact. We cannot control how long we will wait to receive the call. We cannot ever fully prepare ourselves for adoption, in the sense of knowing all the twists and turns our paths will take.
We can, however, do the internal work to ready ourselves for long on-ramps or disruptive placements. My wife and I found in either type of match we needed the support of a community who could listen to us, help us process big questions, and encourage us through the process. As you wait, take the time to foster a helpful community of friends and family.