I read a post on Adoption Truth (the post is Tricks Without Treats if the link doesn't work) that reminded me of something. My kept daughter (can I just say how much I hate having to differentiate between my two children like that?) was born nine weeks early, weighed 2 lbs. 15 oz. when she was born. I was really sick when I had her. I didn't get to see her for almost 48 hours after she was born. I was kept in a room with no lights, no music, no tv, no phone, no stimulation until they could stabilize me. The first time I saw my daughter was at midnight, two days after she was born. They wheeled me in on a gurney and I saw my beautiful, half- baked daughter, tinier than anything you can imagine. She was beautiful. I had toxemia, and all things considered, we were very, very lucky. Here's the thing though, the whole time I was in the hospital (five days on the mag bag with no stimulation allowed, around the clock cbc's , constant blood pressure monitoring and way too many ultrasounds) I kept thinking the worst. Something horrible is going to happen to this baby because I gave away my son. This is what I deserve.
Isn't that awful?!! Yeah, I know, it's ridiculous. But I always felt that I was being punished for the choice I had made so long ago. What better way to punish me than to hurt the thing I loved most in the world, again. Twice in my life I've had children and twice I've left the hospital without them. My daughter stayed in the NICU for six weeks after she was born. I was there every day, twice a day for hours. I got released from the hospital about a week after she was born. I remember standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes and just starting to sob hysterically. My parents were out from Chicago to help us manage and my father asked me "What's wrong with you?" I sobbed/screamed "I just want my baby!" Boy, if that wasn't history repeating itself!
What Cassi wrote about the other day regarding her granddaughter's attachment to her mom while in the NICU struck a huge chord with me. Everything you are taught in the NICU is the polar opposite of what you are told in adoption. In the NICU they stress the importance of the mother/child bond. So much so, that there is something called kangarooing where you put your preemie child against your bare chest and cuddle them, so they can feel your heart beat and smell your scent, which helps their physical and emotional development. Hmmmm.
In adoption, you are told that the best thing for your child is to give them to someone else, who is better able to care for them. Oddly, I was encouraged to visit my child, hold my child. I was also asked to carry my child downstairs and hand him over to the new parents attorney. I could do none of these things. I had already instantly bonded with my son when he was born. The first time I held him, I went from scared teenager, to mother. I knew that if I saw him again, or held him, I would never be able to do what was "right" for him. I would never be able to walk away and give him a "better" life. I certainly was not going to hand him over to someone else to take home. I guess the big disconnect for me then, was that nobody would really acknowledge that I was his mother. Everyone danced around it. I was his mother, but I wasn't considered capable of being his mother. Hold him, but make sure you hand him over to people who are older, more capable, better than you, to raise him. Hold him because that is what is best for him, then break your heart and hand him over because that is what is best for him.
I guess the glaring difference from the NICU and adoption, is the long term bond that is allowed to be formed. In the NICU, the goal is that you are prepared to take an incredibly small, somewhat fragile child home and that you are fully bonded and empowered to care for that child. In adoption, you are asked to do what is "best" for your child. Hold him, bond with him, because that is what is best for him and at the same time prepare him to go home with someone who is better than you are to raise him. How can both of these theories be correct? You are the most important person in his life, you must be fully prepared to care for him and you are the least important person in his life and you must prepare him to be raised by someone else. How can you expect mothers to do this and not acknowledge their immense grief? How can you ask a new mother to develop that bond, only to have it broken a few hours or days later and not expect it to deeply affect both mother and child? Maybe it's because in the NICU, the mother isn't dispensable. In adoption, we are temporary, disposable, only there for the birth and then shoved aside and erased for eternity. A bookmark until the "real" parents show up.
By the time my daughter left the NICU, I could change a diaper the size of a cocktail napkin on a baby covered in wires. I could burp a baby that was so small that my hand covered most of her body. I held a baby so small that her hand could not wrap around your pinky finger, and I gave a bath to a baby that fit in the small little bin they put by the side of your bed in case you throw up. I was a well prepared, empowered mother. If they had done all those things for me when my son was born, he would have come home with me. That is the difference between the NICU and adoption.