Once our baby was born and we were rolled into a private hospital room to begin the process of learning how to really parent - because no matter what anyone says, you cannot prepare for the reality - the road to adoption, which once seemed fairly straight and clear, got incredibly twisted and tangled.
Last month, when I blogged about this, I called this phenomenon "selective dissemination of information" (SDI) based on too many "complex interests in perpetual motion" (CIPM). I’d like to take this moment to explain what those terms really meant in our adoption process, in a sort of parable to prospective adoptive parents illustrating the need for superhuman perseverance during the heady days following the birth of a child.
When we were finally alone with Kenley - and had performed the requisite visual once-over that satisfies new parents that yes, their child has all her required parts - we discovered that the nursing staff of a maternity ward has numerous levels of supervision. New parents will usually only have face time with the staff nurses on the floor; ours were absolutely terrific. And we represented a doubly whammy (look it up, you exceedingly young people) - both gay and adoptive parents. But they took it in stride.
Well, maybe except for that one nurse who, as I walked by that morning looking for a cup of water, exclaimed, "Are you part of that gay couple in 225?"
I blinked profusely at her and moved on.
But for the most part, the nurses treated us as if we were any normal couple - or, if there was exceptional treatment, it was because we were so unique in their otherwise fairly mundane ward life. We made allies early in this staff; I’d name names, but they know who they are. And they were absolutely terrific.
However, it wasn’t long before we caught whiff of the drama happening behind the scenes.
An adoption in a hospital has many moving parts. The birth mother usually has a social worker assigned to her by the hospital; the adoptive couple brings their social worker into play from their agency. It’s important to understand that these two individuals have two very distinct agendas. The adoption agency social worker is there to ensure a smooth adoption transition for the child - and secondarily, make sure both birth mom and the adoptive parents are capably considered. That other social worker is an agent of the hospital. And in our case, it seemed that the hospital wasn’t sure from moment to moment how to handle a baby who wasn’t part of a traditional family.
These are not generalizations I’m deriving from a singular experience. I worked at a hospital for years; they work hard at patient care and quality medicine, but they’re completely paranoid about process... and rightly so. The number of medical malpractice suits in this country is high - some 20,000 are awarded per year against a staggering 25% of doctors - and hospitals, which altruistic in their missions, are businesses first. If their primary job is to care for the sick, their secondary job is to not get sued doing it.
That baby may have popped out of mom and been handed over to you and your spouse, and she may be residing in your room, and the nurses might be caring for you all as if she is your baby. But she is not. She belongs to the birth mom down the hall until the adoption papers have been signed. And if the nurses on the floor help you to forget that, hospital administration - and their ambassador of good will, the social worker - are seeing the situation quite clearly.
For us, this meant that every time someone popped into our room to do something with Kenley, Jeyne had to be consulted first. This doesn’t seem like such an odd thing until one considers the fact that we all made an exhaustive adoption plan that had been filed with the hospital, in which Jeyne asserted that decisions regarding the baby were to be made by us - and she told us she kept verbalizing this with the hospital staff during our stay.
But even the best adoption plan falls prey to the litigious nature of our country, and we really pushed buttons when we made what we thought was a sensible request: we wanted to spend the night in our room with our daughter.
It’s sort of OK that Kenley was with us during hospital visitation hours; legally, we were visiting her (note the difference, officially, between visiting and parenting). Overnight, however, was a very different legal issue. First, Kevin and I weren’t officially considered to be under the care of the hospital - that status was reserved for Kenley and her mom. So to allocate a room overnight was tantamount, I sense, to turning the hospital into a hotel for wandering adoptive parents.
On the face of it, this request was met with calm consideration and, ultimately, a visit from the nurse supervisor during which she graciously informed us that the hospital had "found a way" to allow us to stay. It seemed pretty clear to Kevin and I that, while we were learning how to feed and swaddle Kenley, a series of decisions were being made as to how the hospital would respond to this unusual request. We envisioned meetings between high-power hospital officials, with Legal in the corner consulting the Hospital by-laws, cautiously considering the sticky situation of a gay adoptive couple wanting to stay the night to be with their child. When that nurse supervisor finally appeared and gave us their consent, she seemed frazzled by the experience.
At 4am, when the nurses came in to weigh Kenley in the nursery, they told us they had to pause before doing so in order make sure they had Jeyne’s permission.
We also seemed to confuse the administration via the friendly nature of our relationship with Jeyne. The following morning, when the hospital put out a lovely continental breakfast for the newly parented, the staff arranged it so that we would not cross paths with Jeyne at the meal - we’re still not sure what that was about.
The second day witnessed a visit from an even higher power: an executive of the hospital appeared to inform us - very nicely - that she was excited about our journey, but that Kenley would have to stay in the nursery the second night, and that we would have to go back to our hotel. It couldn’t have been more abundantly clear to us, at that moment, that the hospital seemed to sense that a transgression against policy had actually, in fact, occurred the prior night. We weren’t sure that heads were rolling, but we suspected that a few of them were wobbling precariously.
By the end of our three-day experience with the hospital, we were exasperated by what seemed to be complex "handling" of us. Nobody walked in to talk to us frankly that the hospital was struggling with our situation - but it was quite evident that they were. There were multiple interests (ours, Jeyne’s, the hospital’s, Kenley’s) that were evolving moment to moment, and as a result, a commitment to anything represented, I sense, a potential for risk. Instead, we got information in a highly filtered manner, parsed by multiple individuals and delivered in random bits of data that collectively formed a picture of a hospital inventing policy on the fly. Hence: "selective dissemination of information" (SDI) based on too many "complex interests in perpetual motion." (CIPM)
At the end of the day, the hospital provided superior care and if it was awkwardly administered at the political/legal level, it was more than capably delivered by the nurses and pediatricians on the floor. Kenley had a wonderful first few days of life, and we even got a final meal and good night sleep prior to the six weeks of sleepless nights to come (more on that later). So it’s difficult to complain.
But let it be known: as commonplace as adoption is (relatively speaking), it still challenges even the most well-run medical organizations - this is because at its core, society, like the human brain, forms process along the most well-tread paths. For birth, that happens to be a nuclear family giving normative birth in a hospital, staying a night, and then eloping with their newborn into the lives of the common denominator. Those of us adoptive parents who fail to fit into the norm may feel that the struggle to pay for and survive the adoptive process outside the hospital should merit a medical experience that’s relatively free of complexity - if only because we’ve gone out of our way to implement careful advance planning for it - but that type of thinking will leave you at risk for frustration and disappointment.
I’m not complaining. I have a happy baby girl. And I wouldn’t trade her for all that money, time or peace. But it’s a bumpy ride, folks, all the way through.