Hello Before Goodbye

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by Marlou Russell, Ph.D.

I used to think it was a good idea for prospective adoptive parents and expectant birth parents to meet before the birth of their baby. I thought it might help babies to hear the voices of all the people who would be a part of their life. I figured a pregnant mother might feel better and more at ease if she had the support and encouragement of the people who planned to parent her child.

But I've changed my mind.

Now I think it is necessary for a pregnant mother to have clear space and time to be with her baby one-on-one. I believe it is more important for the birth parents to talk to their baby than for prospective adoptive parents. Babies need to hear hello before they hear goodbye. A baby needs to connect and bond to the birth mother before attaching to other people. Bonding and attachment come from shared quiet moments, not from crowded events.

I have other concerns about prospective adoptive parents and expectant birth parents having too much contact before a baby is born.

Coercion

I worry about the possibility of intentional or unintentional coercion. Will a pregnant mother who has accepted medical, financial, and emotional aid have the strength to freely change her mind about adoption and keep her baby? I'm not sure. Any woman who is pregnant and considering adoption is, by definition, having a crisis pregnancy. It takes time and clarity to make a rational, loving, and realistic decision. Being indebted to eager people around you does not make for clear thinking.

A Change of Heart and Mind

What happens when a pregnant woman considering adoption chooses adoptive parents but then decides to raise her child? I have seen numerous prospective adoptive parents tearfully process their feelings of loss when the woman they thought was going to hand her baby over to them changes her mind and keeps her baby. They feel lied to, cheated, defeated, and devastated when the baby they thought was going to be theirs turns out to stay within the birth family. Do they have a right to their feelings? Of course. Could the situation have been avoided? Yes, if all involved had embraced the idea that no one knows what will happen until it happens.

Interestingly enough, when a pregnant mother who considers adoption wants to raise her child, it's called a "failed adoption." Another way of looking at it is that the birth family successfully remains intact. Maybe we should call it a "failed assumption" instead of a "failed adoption."

So, if adoption is going to happen, let's make it easier on all the triad members. Let's not promise prospective adoptive parents something that may or may not be delivered. Let's let the woman who is pregnant and considering adoption have all the time she needs to be with her baby before, during, and after the baby is born. Let's remember that we are dealing with decisions that will irrevocably alter a human being's life. Let's make sure there is plenty of time to say "hello" before saying "goodbye."

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