Catherine and Mike finalized the paperwork with their adoption agency late on a Wednesday afternoon. Their home study was behind them and their profile to show prospective birth mothers was complete. They were thrilled to be one step closer to welcoming a child into their family. That night, the couple settled in for what they presumed would be a long wait. They had no way of knowing – or preparing for – what would happen next.
The very next morning, Catherine and Mike received the phone call. A baby boy had been born the day before and was available for adoption. Just a few days later, they found themselves driving less than five miles to meet their son for the first time. Catherine is still at a loss to express how they felt in that moment, describing it only as "surreal and amazing."
Overnight, Catherine and Mike had become parents – for the first time. As elated as they were, they were also nervous. And they had so many questions. Were they ready for a newborn? Was their home ready? They had so much to learn! Where would they even start?
For first-time adoptive parents, there's often no clear roadmap for newborn education. Catherine and Mike knew they had a steep learning curve ahead of them. Just how steep? They hadn't a clue.
Full disclosure: Catherine is a Senior Account Executive here at CCI, and she has generously offered to share her story for Adoption Awareness Month.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month
Since 1990, November has been recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month. Throughout the month, groups come together to promote adoption as a positive way to build families. States, communities, public and private organizations, and businesses honor those who have opened their hearts and homes to children in need of forever families.
Each year, National Adoption Awareness Month has a different theme. For 2020, the theme is "Engage Youth: Listen and Learn," focusing on teenagers who are often more difficult to place. One of the most impactful traditions during the month takes place on National Adoption Day, which is usually observed on a Saturday. On this day, thousands of adoptions across the country are finalized simultaneously. It's an awe-inspiring occasion.
Catherine's story has given all of us at CCI greater insight into the rewards of the adoption experience. We love the Adoption Awareness Month occurs during the holidays. The season is an ideal time to commemorate family and the mutual gifts that adoptees and adoptive parents represent to each other.
Bringing Baby Home...Everyone, meet Max!
Typically, new parents have nine, even 10, months to prepare themselves and their homes for a baby. They begin to adjust to parenthood as they progress through their pregnancy. They attend labor and birth and baby care education classes where they learn the basics of how to feed, bathe, and bond with their newborn. Catherine and Mike, on the other hand, had just a few days to get up to speed.
They knew they were ready emotionally; their shared dream of adopting a child formed the foundation of Catherine and Mike's relationship. But when they finally held their tiny baby in their arms, things got real, real fast. As Catherine put it, "Babies come with no instruction manual." Fortunately, they had a strong support network waiting for them.
When they arrived home with Max – who they named after Catherine's father – they found a welcome party. They were greeted by grandparents, friends, and Catherine's five best girlfriends, since dubbed Max's "aunties." The day was a bit of a blur. "I had no idea what I was doing," Catherine recalls. Sure she'd been around babies. But now she "wasn't even sure how to make a bottle."
Catherine and Mike, like so many adoptive parents, quickly learned that their parenting journey would involve lots of on-the-job training.
Crowdsourcing Infant Care Education: Aunties to the rescue
Fortunately, all of Max's aunties had young children under the age of 4. So they stepped in, becoming Catherine's impromptu childcare educators. They taught her about feedings, skin-to-skin, safety, and milestones. One set up Max's first appointment with a pediatrician. Catherine hoped their pediatrician would provide some materials to help guide them. He was well intentioned, but his only advice was to drop by Barne's & Noble on their way home and buy a book. That's exactly what they did.
Catherine devoured the book, highlighting important information, dog-earing pages she revisited often, and reading passages aloud to Mike. Both were determined to be the best parents possible. As Max grew and thrived, she always kept this tattered book within reach. It had become her lifeline. The two of them learned and grew as parents, and Max made it to his second birthday without incident. Still, Catherine and Mike's parenting journey highlights some gaps in education when it comes to parents who adopt.
Are adoptive parents getting proper childcare education?
Catherine and Mike's story highlights the challenges faced by adopting parents and raises some interesting questions. Are parents who adopt getting the education they need? Is this an oversight on our part as health care educators? Although adopting parents don't encounter the same postpartum self-care as birth parents, they are nevertheless taking home a brand-new baby. They're also navigating the same first-time parent experiences, things such as feedings, bath time, crying, safe sleep, and more. As educators, can we do a better job of serving adoptive parents?
We can point adoptive parents and educators to these CCI resources:
- Your Guide to Baby's First Year. In our guide to newborn care, we address new parents questions – from feeding schedules to baby milestones to care safety – and we do so in jargon-free language that regular people can understand, so parents feel informed and confident.
- We are very excited to announce that Your Guide to Baby's First Year will soon be released in eBook format. This digital version has been in the works for a while – busy parents will love the instant accessibility and in-book videos will bring the lessons to life. And in contrast to Catherine and her tattered book, parents can take notes, highlight, and bookmark content – all on one device.
Oh, and as for Max, he is now a smart, vibrant, young man who Catherine "never imagined that [she] could love that much!" He, Mike, and Catherine are a happy little family.
Where do we go from here? You tell us!
We'd love to hear if your organization does anything special for National Adoption Awareness Month. What are your ideas about educating adoptive parents, especially first-time parents like Catherine and Mike? Have you come up with novel ways to include adoptive parents in your newborn care classes? Join us on Facebook at CCI Hub to share your insights and keep this conversation going.