Punk Mamas’ Hana RW has shared her story of becoming a mother with us, which is heartbreaking, frustrating, raw, and honest…but has a happy ending! This past Mother’s Day, our Punk Mamas Facebook group was made aware how hurtful holiday ads can be to adoptive mothers, as they tend to only target mothers who have physically given birth. And until it is pointed out to you, it’s not something you notice. We are very grateful that Hana has shared with us her journey of motherhood. It is important to us that we show there is more than one way to parent, there is more than one way to welcome a child into the world, and there is more than one way to be a mother. SC
My husband and I had been married for seven years before we felt like we were “ready” for a baby. This is really a different story, but it leads me to my birth story – so, here we go. After about six months of casually trying to conceive, I got pregnant; it was right around Mother’s Day. Along with the usual first trimester blahs, I was excited and nervous and we blissfully went to the first OB appointment with the intent of hearing our baby’s heartbeat. After an annoying amount of paperwork and questions and waiting, we both stared at the monitor waiting to see the little blob on the screen. I’d really been looking forward to getting the sonogram picture and was excited to tell all our friends and family about our new addition. Within seconds, I could see something was wrong on the doctor’s face. She had no poker face at all. Her mouth was taught; her eyebrows furrowed together. Her eyes squinted at the screen and she frantically moved the wand around. She didn’t speak and I didn’t breathe. It probably lasted fewer than thirty seconds, but it felt like thirty minutes. She said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I heard my husband inhale sharply, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. The doctor and nurse fumbled and someone said they needed to get another doctor to confirm. I thought, “oh good – go get another doctor, because clearly you’ve made a horrible mistake. You are wrong. I feel pregnant, so clearly you don’t know what you are doing.” The second doctor burst in there was more poking and face scrunching and screen staring. He took my hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” And then he walked away.
I can’t really describe what that’s like. It’s devastating. It’s isolating. Not many people knew about the baby we lost, so I felt like I had to put on a brave face and just act like everything was fine and normal. I had to go to work and move forward with my life when all I wanted to do was cry and scream. Those that did know, said things to me like, “just try again” or “this was god’s plan.” My mom patted me on the back and said, “maybe next time.” Maybe next time? These comments were hurtful; hearing them was horrible. Possibly the most unhelpful thing said to me was the nurse at the doctor’s office, who within minutes of being told that my baby had died said to me (as she was drawing blood or I may have punched her in the face), “this is nature’s way of saying the baby wasn’t healthy. It happens.” Thanks, nurse. It does happen. Needless to say, I never set foot in that doctor’s office again. Anyway, after two years of trying to conceive and one year of seeing fertility specialists and countless painful procedures, I threw the white flag up and said I had to stop. I literally couldn’t do it anymore and I had no interest in pursuing invasive procedures and putting myself and my body through any more.
Should we call this phase two? Phase two – adoption. My first thoughts on adoption were this: do some paperwork, blah blah, home study, blah blah, get a baby – pretty basic. I quickly learned, it’s anything BUT basic. It’s exhausting, time consuming, anxiety producing, stressful, and expensive. Adoption forces you to be a parent way, way before you are a parent. You have to jump with both feet, without looking, into the unknown, no matter what the outcome. You have to prove your worth to social workers, to an agency, to a judge, to a birth parent, birth parents, or birth family. You have to prove that you are healthy, financially stable, and mentally prepared. You have to go to counseling and have a social worker come to your home for an inspection. You have to convince many people that you deserve to be a parent, and that you are worthy, when you may be feeling the opposite of that deep down. I felt like a failure. And here I was, trying to put on a smile and convince everyone that my marriage is perfect, my home is perfect, my job is super flexible, and we are a stable family. It took nearly six months to get all of our paperwork in order, clearances done, physicals completed, and home study approved. We had three failed adoptions, before a successful one. Each one was a loss of its own. We lost those babies, though they were never truly ours.
On May 11, 2016 I got a call from our adoption social worker that a birth mom had found our profile on our agency’s website and out of hundreds of families, she wanted us. This being the fourth time we were matched, I was already tired, skeptical, and burnt out from loss. But in adoption, you have to be enthusiastic even when you are not. You have to be ready even though you are terrified. You have to be confident even though you know that this could fall through. Olive’s due date wasn’t until June, so we assumed we had six weeks to prepare. WRONG. Olive’s birth mother went in to labor less than two weeks later.
May 21, 2016 was a Saturday, and like most Saturdays, I was getting ready to go around the corner to our local farmer’s market for my weekly shopping trip. My phone rang around 9am and I saw the number and my heart skipped a few beats and I felt like puking. It was our adoption social worker notifying us that Olive’s birth mother was at the hospital and that we needed to get to Kansas today (we live in Pennsylvania). I panicked inside. I’m not a flexible person. I’m not spontaneous. I’m a planner and a scheduler and an organizer. This wasn’t the first time we were dropping everything to fly across the country, either. This was taking a toll on our bank account, our jobs, our emotions, and our life. I’ve never, ever packed like a hurricane before. I called people. Someone came and got our dog. Oh, and my packing job was terrible, but thanks, Target, for saving the day (I ended up boxing most of what I bought and shipped it home). We flew almost all day, and on our third flight, Olive was born, but she wasn’t Olive yet, and she wasn’t mine yet.
We got to the hospital at around 1am on Sunday. The nurses at the hospital treated me like a threat. They whispered about me. When I entered the birthing ward, I had to say, “Hi. I’m the prospective Adoptive Parent for X-baby” (because that sounds totally fucking natural – it’s not invasive at all). Everyone knew who we were, and either completely ignored us or were very awkward with us. They acted like they had never seen an adoptive couple before, which felt really strange. The nurse walked us to a room as our social worker had arranged for us to have a hospital room just like mothers who birth have. She stood in the doorway and pointed to the bathroom and towels and asked us if we needed anything. Then she said, “let me see if I can get the baby.” In my head and my dreams, I have been wondering for years what this day is like. But after so many losses, I found it hard to be anything but scared. I didn’t want to bond to this baby, because what if like all the other babies – she wasn’t mine. After a few minutes, the nurse returned with Olive. She was swaddled in a little blanket and had a bow on her head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t excited. I just did what I thought I should do. I picked her up and held her. The nurse gave me a bottle, so I fed her. Or I tried to. I either wasn’t good at it or she wasn’t hungry. I don’t know, I just assumed I wasn’t doing it right. The nurse didn’t offer any advice – in fact, she just walked away, which was unexpected. To be honest, I was so tired. I had traveled all day, and I wanted to take a shower, and I desperately needed sleep. The nurse soon came back and took Olive to the nursery so we could sleep, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to be with her, because I was terrified of losing her. I was also doubting myself that anyone should trust me to take care of a newborn. My head began to fill with doubt and negative thoughts and self-defeating words…don’t attach…she will change her mind…protect yourself. My head was telling me that I should run away…this is too scary…you need to leave. I started to have a panic attack. And all night long, I didn’t sleep. The next two days were much of the same on repeat. I was absolutely TERRIFIED anytime my husband would leave me alone, even if it was only for fifteen minutes to run and get us food. And I mean, this was an intense feeling – the feeling that I was going to die. My anxiety had NEVER been so bad before. And the hospital was of absolutely no help to me. Nurses came in and out to check on Olive, but never offered any advice, let alone look me in the eye. Aside from being terrified, I worried about Olive. She was small and she wasn’t eating great from the bottle. She was gassy and I didn’t know how to burp her the right way. The nurses ran out of the room as soon as they were done checking on her, and I felt too tired and timid to chase after them to ask for help. I felt so defeated and scared that I was going to fuck up and not be able to care for this tiny human. Further, the hospital had only given me a wrist band that matched Olive. That meant that I had to be in the room with Olive at all times. Shawn (my husband) did not get a wrist band, so he could not be alone with Olive. I asked if he could have one and I was told that they only print three, and typically that is two for the parents and one for the baby. One was on Olive’s birth mom, one on me, and one on Olive. That’s it. Not only was I in limbo, but I was trapped. I couldn’t go for a walk. I couldn’t get fresh air. I couldn’t go to our hotel and unpack. I really, really felt like I needed to nest in our hotel. My instincts were calling to me to go to that hotel room and organize and control that environment because everything else was out of my control. But I could not. I was chained to the hospital room and my anxiety. No escape. I was away from all our family and friends, too. There was no one there to help. In between all the other thoughts, I thought of Olive’s birth parents and birth family. They were going to experience loss like I had. I cried for them and for Olive. I was glad that they had agreed to an open adoption, and I vowed to do everything I could to maintain those relationships.
On the third day, our room was filled with attorneys and social workers. This was THE day. The day that I would either become a parent or go home with nothing but a loss I was already well acquainted with. In between my horrible thoughts and anxiety, I had to smile. I had to meet Olive’s birth family and pretend I was over the moon in love, so ecstatic to have her, when what I was feeling was shame, fear, guilt, and remorse. I had to smile at social workers and attorneys. See my big smile? See how good I am doing? Olive’s birth mother is an amazing woman and she lovingly trusted us with her on that day and forever. With the stroke of a pen, the signature of an attorney, and the seal of a notary, we were given guardianship. A few days later, we had to go to court in front of a judge where we were granted temporary custody, and full custody pending we meet the obligations of our post placement visits back home – we would have full legal custody in a month. Although there was a huge burden lifted off of me, I didn’t get the relief that I expected I would from the successful adoption. It took me many, many months to bond and to feel comfortable and to feel ok with being called Olive’s mom.
We had to stay in Kansas for two more weeks in a hotel before all of our paperwork was cleared and we could return home.
Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Hana. We knew that Hana had started a Facebook support group for adoptive mothers, and we couldn’t turn down this chance to get it out there!
How has your confidence in being a mom changed over the last year, and were there any moments that made you stop and think about just how far you’ve come? Did your husband experience similar feelings in the beginning of parenthood as you did?
The first few months of being a new mom were really, really hard. I had a very hard time bonding with Olive. I really lacked confidence. But, I think the more I did things for her and found ways of being successful as a parent boosted my confidence. There were a lot of struggles; for instance, she was a car seat/car travel hater between the months of three to seven. She would scream and cry until she vomited in the car, and that really limited my ability to get out of the house and get shit done. It was also a really hot summer when she was born, so I felt like my outside time was very limited. I think by month seven or eight, I felt like I had really bonded with her. The ever changing schedule of a newborn and the inconsistency and lack of a routine for the first few months were difficult (as they are for any new parent). The sleep deprivation was the hardest. SO HARD. I didn’t feel like I had as much support from my family as I would have received if I had given birth. My perspective is that they assumed I didn’t need much help or assistance because I did not need to PHYSICALLY recover. I don’t think they understood the emotional toll that becoming a mother and caring for a newborn took on me, and my mental health was not in the best place. I think by month seven or eight, I was at Target shopping alone, and had a “holy shit!” moment – I was out with my kid, in public, doing fine and feeling confident. I often have anxiety about being out in public alone. I had anxiety that someone will catch me doing something wrong and call me out, or that Olive wwould have an epic meltdown in my favorite store (Target!) and I’d never be able to go back. But, the more and more that I went out, the less anxious and more confident I felt. Now, I feel totally fine about going out alone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I feel much more in control and I know how to challenge my thoughts when that happens and I start to think irrational thoughts.
Shawn, my husband, did not feel the same way. In fact, he really struggled to understand my anxiety about being a new parent. He really, really helped me so much and I attribute my abilities to get my shit together and parent to him. He would take Olive to another room and let me sleep all night. He would take her when she would start to scream and cry and I was overwhelmed. He really listened to me when I would tell him all the anxious and distorted thoughts in my head and tried to make sense of them, even though they didn’t make sense at all. He would help me ground myself back to reality and back to normal, rational thinking. He bonded with Olive instantly, and I still feel like they have a really solid relationship since the get-go.
For anyone reading this who may be having infertility issues, what are some resources (support group, website, book, etc.) you would recommend to help them navigate the process of deciding to go the route of adoption?
For anyone who is struggling with infertility or has experienced loss, I’m sorry that you are going through that. It has really been one of the hardest issues of my adult life to cope with. There are tons of Facebook support groups, and also in-person support groups for infertility and loss. Some are religious, some are not. I would encourage you to join a few and find one that you feel is a good fit for you. I’ve made some amazing “friends” through groups (I’m looking at you, Lindsay!). It was extremely helpful to me to be able to share my thoughts and have them reflected back to me. To hear that what I was thinking and feeling was normal and ok. I highly would recommend that if you are interested in adoption that you join a support group; that is one thing I didn’t do until after our adoption. Even if you are in the beginning stages or just thinking about it, people are very willing to answer questions and provide feedback or just show you support. Another suggestion is to take a class or training on transracial adoption, if you are pursuing the adoption of a child that is of a different race. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out an outpatient counselor who specializes in infertility and/or adoption – that was a really good choice for me!
If you are interested in joining a non-religious adoption support group, Lindsay PJ and I started one on Facebook that you can join here: Non-religious Adoption Support
What is the extent, if any, of the contact you have had with the birth family since the adoption?
We have an open adoption with Olive’s birth parents. That can mean different things to different families, but for our family we agreed to pictures and letters/emails and the possibility of in-person visits when Olive is older if that is what she chooses to do. Right now, I typically send emails to Olive’s birth parents and her paternal aunt weekly with a little update about what she’s been up to, what new skills she learned, etc. I print pictures and a letter and snail mail them twice a year.
Do you have any friends that have also adopted and is their experience similar to yours?
I do have several friends and family members who have adopted, but everyone’s experience is different! No adoption story is ever the same. Some of them did domestic infant adoption like I did, some did foster care adoption (or are still foster parents hoping to adopt) and some did international adoption. The different types of adoption offer vastly different perspectives and experiences, each unique to their own family.
If you knew someone that was planning to adopt, what one piece of advice would you give them? Is there one thing you wish you knew?
Find a core group of people who best support you and make sure you have that crucial support system set up from the start.
Thank you, Hana!