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is your hospital birthing center adoption competent?

Is Your Local Hospital Birthing Center Adoption-Competent?

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Just about everyone knows an adoptee. Or an adoptive family, or someone who has placed a baby for adoption — or is involved directly in one. We continually improve so many aspects of patient care. What improvements are being made in the way we “do” adoption?

Pioneered in Colorado at Parker Adventist Hospital, the Family to Family Support Network is going national in helping families create child-centered open adoptions from the very beginning, through adoption training in hospital labor and delivery wards.

Here’s an interview with founder Rebecca Vahle on why she’s made it her mission that more and more hospitals answer this headline with a “yes.”
nurses trained in adoption

A Hospital-Based Program That Understands Adoption

What is the Family to Family Network?
Rebecca: This groundbreaking program is a model of care that meets the unique needs of a patient considering adoption for her infant. rebecca vahle, founder of the family to family adoption support networkPrompted by my own inconsistent experiences as an adopting mom, and after talking to dozens more families, it became clear that there is a lack of training for healthcare workers who are asked to care for patients and families involved in infant adoption placements. Training that addresses the emotional and logistical complexities faced by nurses and doctors is essential with the changes in adoption – especially with the open adoption model becoming the norm.

Education, ethics and empowerment are our core values. The program gives added support to expectant moms exploring adoption throughout their pregnancy and aims to empower decision making based on accurate, unbiased information.

“Winging It” Doesn’t Cut It

How is the Family to Family Support Program good for nurses?

labor nurses face adoption situationsOur Serving the Unique Family Seminar empowers nurses to care for patients with confidence – free of personal bias and based on an accurate understanding of current adoption practices. Nurses are held to a high standard when it comes to patient care and they deserve to be trained in caring for the unique family. Many nurses — too many to count – have told me how difficult it is caring for these families with no understanding or specific training. Nurses hate not knowing how to best care for a patient, and it’s horrible to hear of a nurse losing their job based on their care of a unique family when they’ve had no training in the complex dynamics.

Rarely is there malicious intent when a nurse mishandles a potential adoption. Almost always it’s simply a lack of education. After training, I hear so many nurses express remorse because they “just didn’t know how to best handle” the situation. They are grateful to now know.

Where else in healthcare do we leave nurses and doctors to “wing it”?

A Wedding and a Funeral in the Same Room

How is the Family to Family Support Program Good for Adopting Parents?

Having been that woman hoping to adopt an infant from the hospital, I can attest it’s a very emotional time. Even if the expectant mom wants you there at the hospital, you are still unsure of your place. What to say or not say? Carrying your own infertility experience, you wonder  how to navigate the intense emotions that are going on for everyone in the room.

Having a staff that understands the complexity is so important. While our main focus is our patient, we are also there for the family hoping to adopt. Not just with physical accommodations such as a room, but also with a compassionate understanding of the road that brought them to this point.

adoption brings happiness and griefHow is the Family to Family Support Program Good for Expectant Parents Considering Adoption?

Our program empowers expectant moms in unintended pregnancies to make decisions based on accurate information. As we built the Family to Family Network, resources in our community started  referring women considering adoption to our hospital. This allowed us to help these Moms assess their needs while establishing their prenatal care.

Throughout their pregnancies, Moms are encouraged to define their parenting plan – or gain adoption information from ethical adoption resources. Sometimes women who are considering adoption are facing a temporary situation, and with added support they are able to bridge the gap and parent their child. A child staying with his or her mother is ideal whenever possible (after all, ethical adoption is about finding a home for a baby, not a baby for a home).

If parenting is not possible, then ethical adoption resources are offered. We are unique in this hospital model because we have no skin in the game.

We can therefore offer neutral, compassionate care while encouraging Mom to explore all her options. In addition, we acknowledge that placing parents will face grief on their journey. Hospitals are not unfamiliar with grief; we bring to birthing centers the lessons we’ve learned about helping patients and their families begin to process their grief.

The Baby’s Story Starts Before Birth

How does Family to Family help the baby?

The nine months leading up to Baby’s arrival and possible adoption will forever be a part of the child’s story. Going into an open adoption just over 17 years ago, I didn’t navigate it well as an adoptive mom. In the Family to Family Adoption Support Program we honor the child’s story and give tools to parents to continue their relationship and connections after the intense time in the hospital.

is your hospital birthing center adoption competent?

Forever Fingerprints, a children’s book by Sherrie Eldridge, is used during the hospital time to create a means of telling the child her story through the years. In the book, a little girl is making sense of her adoption story and her parents explain to her that she was never closer to her birth mom than when her fingerprints were created in her birth mom’s tummy. The little girl kisses her fingertips when she misses her birth mom and holds her close through this forever connection. Inside the front cover of the book, we put the Mom’s fingerprint alongside baby’s and give Mom the option of writing a note to her child. Baby’s father can also leave his fingerprints and a personal message, as well. With duplicate copies going home with both sets of parents, this book provides a tool for families to tell their child’s story and connect her to all her pieces, far into the future.

Sometimes a “place to start” is needed to begin the life-long process of our kids making sense of their stories. Along with emotional tools and with permission from the Mom, new parents are also given private education that covers topics ranging from basic baby care to bonding techniques to help them transition home. As an adopting mom, I knew that my children were not “expecting” me when they were placed in my arms – those nine-months leading up to delivery create a connection that is noticeably absent to the infant — even though I was in the delivery room.

In acknowledging Baby’s loss, we can help the baby transition by lowering the anxiety experienced by all by offering compassionate care in the hospital setting.

The Hospital Wins by Reducing Risk and Liability

How does the Family to Family Support Network help the hospital?

family to family support network in hospitalsThe potential for an unintentional, insensitive misstep is ever-present throughout the hospital time, especially with staff members who have not received specific training as to how to best care for these families. Should staff not follow policy and protocol (if they exist for such unique situations), the hospital faces liabilities large and small. Sadly, the majority of hospitals have not updated their policies to reflect the change in practice – many don’t know what they don’t know. Clearly, a very precarious place to be.

Can you imagine someone walking out of the hospital with a baby without having proper documentation — all because staff aren’t quite sure what that may mean in unique circumstances?

How Can I Bring Family to Family to My Area?

family to family support network in hospitalsAre you a hospital administrator? Our website contains information about sending staff to a training here in Colorado or hosting a training on-site. Hospitals can contact us via our website to talk about their facility’s specific needs.

Are you a healthcare worker? Have you walked this delicate situation wishing you or a coworker had more training as to how to handle such a complex situation? The Family to Family Support Network is available to do both on-site training, as well as system-wide conferences. Or perhaps you know a nurse or a doctor that could benefit from this information. Contact the Family to Family Support Network. I can then help brainstorm your needs and what educational offering would be the best fit and explore upcoming training opportunities in your area.

Do you have a passion for adoption? Check out ways to donate. We can do adoption better and we must do adoption better.

Nurse image by Jason Bortz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Tears image by By Michael (Flickr: IMG_4240.jpg) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


Lori Holden's book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open AdoptionLori Holden blogs from metro-Denver at Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole (written with her daughter’s birth mom), is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful gift for the adoptive families in your life. She is a supporter of education, empowerment and ethics in adoption; she has recently joined the board of the Family to Family Support Network.

Lori is available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 6, 2015

    In reading through this, I simply can’t believe these measures aren’t already in place. Long overdue and very needed!!!!!!!

  • comment avatar Lori Holden September 6, 2015

    So very true, Amber!