7 Things Nurses Can Do for a Patient Choosing Adoption
A Guide for Hospital Staff to A Nurse’s Role in Adoption
As a nurse in the maternity ward, you play an amazing role in supporting women and welcoming new babies into the world. You are there for one of the biggest moments in your patients’ lives, and the care you provide can have a lasting impact on their memories of this important day.
This is true whether your patient chooses to parent — or place her baby for adoption.
But exactly how do nurses help in adoptions? And, as an OB nurse in adoption, what can you do to best support and advocate for your patient during this time?
Here are seven important things you can do to provide the best possible nursing care to a woman considering adoption:
1. Know and follow your hospital adoption policy.
The hospital stay can be a highly emotional and stressful time for everyone involved in an adoption: prospective birth parents, adoptive families, adoption professionals, and even hospital staff. One of the best things nurses can do for a patient choosing adoption is to know and adhere to hospital adoption policies.
Different hospitals have different ways of handling adoption cases, which may be outlined in a hospital adoption policy. Your hospital’s policy may outline specific nursing interventions for a patient choosing adoption, so take time to familiarize yourself with these rules and regulations. Following established protocols can help reduce confusion, relieve stress, and boost your patient’s confidence, so she can focus on having a healthy delivery, bonding with her baby and the adoptive parents (if applicable), and making the decision that is best for her.
If your hospital does not already have an adoption-friendly policy in place, here are our recommendations for establishing a hospital adoption policy.
2. Respect the patient’s wishes.
First and foremost, the role of a nurse in adoption is to meet the needs and desires of their patient: the prospective birth mother. An expectant mother who is considering adoption will often work with an adoption agency to develop an adoption plan, which outlines her wishes for the adoption process and for her hospital stay. This may include things like:
Her preferences for the birth of her baby: The medications and pain management methods she wants to use, the members of her support team she wants present in the delivery room, etc.
Her desires for contact with the adoptive parents: Whether she wants to the adoptive family to visit her during the hospital stay, be present in the delivery room, meet members of her family, etc.
Her interest in contact with the baby: Whether she wants to see, hold, feed, and name her baby; whether she wants the baby to stay with her, with the adoptive parents (if space allows) or in the nursery; etc.
It’s important to understand that your patient may have spent months making this adoption plan during her pregnancy. If she is working with an adoption agency, she has likely developed a trusting relationship with an adoption specialist, who provided counseling and supported her in the creation of this plan. Her adoption plan can provide a great roadmap for her hospital experience, and her adoption specialist can be a source of added information and support during her hospital stay.
Remember, a woman considering adoption maintains all the legal rights and responsibilities for her baby until she has signed adoption consent documents. She can change any of her plans at any time during the hospital stay. Nurses can support prospective birth mothers by staying flexible and respecting her wishes, even as they change.
3. Be sensitive to your patient’s feelings.
For a patient considering adoption, the hospital stay is an incredibly emotional time. Even though adoption is a decision she is making voluntarily, it is also an incredible sacrifice and a significant loss.
It isn’t always easy to know what to say or how to support someone making an adoption plan. Every birth parent grieves this loss differently. While there may be specific nursing interventions for disenfranchised grief related to adoption, the best thing you can do for a patient may be to offer an encouraging word and let them know you’re there to support them. When in doubt, try simple statements like these:
“I’m sure this is a difficult time. If there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know.”
“What you’re doing is so brave. This little baby is so loved.”
“Are you doing okay? Is there anything I can get you?”
You may have your own thoughts, feelings and opinions on adoption, and it may be difficult for you to watch a prospective birth mother make such a painful decision. However, the role of a nurse in the adoption process is to remain open, positive, and nonjudgmental at all times.
Remember, when you walk into a patient’s room, you do not know their backstory or their reasons for considering adoption, nor do you know the amount of time, effort and counseling that has gone into this patient’s adoption decision. Do your best to put aside any personal biases or negative misconceptions about adoption you may have. Trust that the prospective birth mother is capable and will make the decision that she feels is best in her circumstances.
4. Use positive adoption language.
The way we speak about adoption can have a greater impact than we realize. Using positive adoption language can go a long way in providing the best nursing care for a woman that puts her baby up for adoption. Here are just a few examples of adoption language to be mindful of:
Never refer to a woman’s adoption decision as “giving her baby up” for adoption. Instead, use “making an adoption plan,” “choosing adoption” or “placing baby for adoption.” This removes any implications that a woman is carelessly “giving her baby away” or “giving up” on herself by choosing adoption.
Do not refer to a patient as a “birth mother.” Until she signs the adoption consent paperwork, she is her baby’s mother. Until then, she is simply a mother, a patient, and a woman considering adoption.
The alternative to placing a baby for adoption is “parenting” or “raising the baby” — not “keeping the baby.” The word “keep” implies that the alternative option is a negative one of “giving away.”
Words are powerful. Making simple language changes may be one of the most helpful things nurses can do for a patient choosing adoption, and it will be appreciated more than you know.
5. Communicate with the rest of the care team.
During a woman’s stay in the maternity ward, she may be seen by a number of different hospital staff — different nurses, physicians, hospital social workers, and more. To provide the best nursing care in adoption, it is important to make sure everyone involved in the patient’s care is aware of her adoption plan.
If your hospital does not already have a system in place to discreetly alert hospital staff that a patient is considering adoption, consider suggesting the implementation of such a system. This could be anything from placing a color-coded sign on the hospital room door to placing a certain color of flowers or balloons in the patient’s room.
Often, hospital staff will enter a new mother’s room with a well-meaning greeting: “Congratulations!” or “Hi, mom! How’s your baby doing?” But for a woman considering adoption, these kinds of comments can create added guilt, pressure and sadness during what is already a stressful and emotional time. This notification system will immediately alert any hospital staff caring for the patient that they should practice extra empathy and sensitivity when interacting with the patient.
6. Know your patient’s rights.
Women considering adoption can be connected with the legal counsel they need, for free, through an adoption agency. However, it’s still a good idea to have some basic familiarity with state adoption laws and the rights prospective birth mothers have. For example, hospital staff members often have legal questions, like:
What if the patient’s family members disagree with her adoption decision? Do the baby’s grandparents have legal rights to the child? No. Many prospective birth parents face opposition from members of their family regarding their adoption decision. However, as long as the mother is old enough to legally consent to the adoption (as established by state law), she is the only person who can make this decision, regardless of others’ opinions.
What if the patient is a minor? Can she still choose adoption? In most cases, a minor can place her baby for adoption, even without her parents’ or guardians’ involvement. However, every state law is different. An adoption agency will set up the proper legal representation and get a legal guardian involved should that be required for the situation.
How are the birth father’s rights handled? What should we do if he shows up at the hospital against the mother’s wishes? Different states and adoption professionals handle birth father rights very differently. In some cases, the birth father will be involved in the adoption process and will sign the adoption paperwork alongside the mother. In these cases, he can be as involved in the mother’s hospital stay to whatever extent she feels comfortable. Hospital staff should defer to the mother’s wishes and hospital security policies when deciding whether to permit an unsupportive birth father to visit the mother.
Having basic knowledge of these and other state adoption laws will allow you to empower and advocate for your patient during her hospital stay. For more information about adoption laws that may impact your patients, see our FAQ for Hospital Staff.
7. Have adoption agency referrals ready.
Sometimes, women will express interest in making an adoption plan upon being admitted to the hospital, but they have not yet contacted an adoption agency. In these cases, hospital staff should have a readily available list of adoption agencies to provide to patients.
When a patient is considering adoption from the hospital, it is important to connect her with an agency that has the staff and resources to complete the adoption relatively quickly. Working with a large, national adoption agency like American Adoptions is often the best choice in these situations for a number of reasons:
Our adoption specialists are available 24/7 to respond to a prospective birth mother’s needs, no matter when she goes into labor or arrives at the hospital.
We have hundreds of waiting adoptive families from all over the country, all of whom are ready to travel to a prospective birth mother’s hospital at a moment’s notice. This gives potential birth mothers more choices and allows them to find adoptive parents who match their desires exactly, even when they are considering adoption at the “last minute.”
We regularly complete adoptions across the U.S., so we are familiar with state adoption laws and have established relationships with local adoption attorneys and other professionals needed to successfully complete the adoption.
To get in touch with an adoption specialist now, call 1-800-ADOPTION at any time.
At American Adoptions, we recognize that the nurse’s role in adoptions is a vital one. Our team is always happy to work alongside you and other hospital staff to provide the best possible care to women considering adoption.
If you need to speak with an adoption specialist, you can get free information now by calling 1-800-ADOPTION.
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