Editor’s Note: Name, dates and locations have been changed or eliminated to protect the identity of this adoptive family. They don’t want their son to face any social stigma regarding his birth, but they graciously agreed to share their story with the hopes of changing perceptions of “drug babies,” or babies born with drug exposure.
When Kelly and Jim embarked on their adoption journey, they never imagined the leap of faith that they’d take to reach their son Mason. The couple, who has been married for seven years, has one biological daughter Kristin who was conceived through IUI, and though they briefly pursued fertility treatments for a second child when Kristin was two, they turned to adoption pretty quickly. The couple even had family and friends who had adopted.
“Seeing all the different families made through adoption made us feel real comfortable with the idea,” Kelly says.
Some of those friends led the couple to look into American Adoptions.
“I wanted a really qualified group to handle it for us,” Jim says.
“And we didn’t want to wait forever,” Kelly says. “We knew that American Adoptions was really well-known for the timeline and for how the process played out.”
But the couple was not without their hesitations. For Jim, the biggest worry was simply the unknown. Kelly wondered how to handle a relationship with the birth family.
“Having gone through a pregnancy before, I struggled with how someone could not get prenatal care,” she says. “How could they possibly put [harmful substances] into their bodies when they know they have a baby inside them?”
Kelly, who Jim says goes at one speed (“breakneck”), worked as quickly as possible to get the couple through their home study and other pre-activation requirements. Then they settled in to wait for a match.
Kelly felt it was nerve-wracking knowing that their profile was being shown to potential birth mothers — and not having any control over the situation at this point. On the other hand, Jim appreciated the wait, saying it helped to “process what was about to happen and think about it a little bit.”
“To me, adoption is going to happen,” Jim says “Whereas with fertility, there was no guarantee of anything… I guess that’s why it was better to me. We knew the right situation was going to come along, and we just had to wait and be patient. That was that.”
Like many couples, Jim and Kelly found that their APQ preferences changed during their wait.
“The first time I saw the questionnaire, it about made my head explode, and I had to put it away,” Jim says. “I couldn’t look at the whole thing in one sitting. It’s just questions that you never considered before.”
But Kelly says that the couple realized that they were more open than they’d originally thought.
“I started looking at it like, ‘If American Adoptions called me today and said I could take home a baby, under what circumstances would I give the baby back?’” Kelly says. “And I realized that there were quite a lot of instances that I would be comfortable keeping the baby.”
After being active for just under six months, Kelly got an email about an available situation that was far outside the couple’s APQ. The baby had been born the day before and had heroin exposure. The couple called a friend who is a NICU nurse and spoke with a neonatologist. After reassurance that the baby boy could overcome the drug exposure and grow up healthy, the couple accepted the situation.
“We made the decision within the hour,” Kelly says.
Kelly and Jim traveled to the hospital, in the same state in which they live, that very day. The following morning, they met their son’s birth mother. Meeting their son’s birth mother completely changed their perception of a “drug birth mom.”
“She is a good person in a bad situation,” Kelly says. “She didn’t realize that this thing that somebody had given her to make her feel less depressed was so addictive that she couldn’t just walk away from it like she could with alcohol or cigarettes. She was so thankful and appreciative that we were willing to take him. She knew that she needed to get her life on track, and she was blessed that we stepped in to take care of him.”
Paperwork was signed right after; two days later, Jim and Kelly went to court to officially record the consents. Then, they were able to immediately step into the role of primary caregivers for Mason’s withdrawal recovery.
Although the couple presumed their baby would test positive for heroin because his birth mother had admitted usage, the couple went through the testing procedures with the hospital. Two days later, Mason began to experience withdrawal, and the hospital began the process of weaning him from heroin.
“It’s sad that they’re so well-versed in this stuff,” Jim says, of the hospital procedures.
Mason was given methadone treatments and check-ups hourly. Nurses stayed around the clock to monitor his body for symptoms of withdrawal, watching everything from the contents of his diapers to how often he sneezed. As his symptoms improved, they slowly started increasing the amount of time between dosages and then started reducing the amount per dosage.
Kelly and Jim were able to stay in the hospital and provide skin-to-skin contact with Mason, establishing physical connections as his primary caregivers. Doctors hypothesize that this can help a baby recover from drug withdrawal faster. It can be more difficult for a baby to quickly and successfully wean from heroin if his mother is still using the drug — or is going through withdrawal herself — because she may not be able to be as attentive or present during the infant’s withdrawal and recovery.
Mason remained in the hospital for just 13 days, a remarkably short time for successful withdrawal.
“He went fast in his weaning,” Jim says. “They even let him skip a couple steps because it went so well.”
The couple has made the decision to keep many of the details of Mason’s birth private. Only a couple of their friends who have adopted themselves know about the heroin exposure.
“Doctors don’t think it will affect him,” Jim says. “And we just don’t want him treated any differently at all. You know, we don’t want any different situation for him, especially if it’s not going to affect him and we can put it behind us.”
“The only thing they told us that could be different is that he may have a different learning style,” Kelly says. “And what child doesn’t?”
The couple recommends that other soon-to-be adoptive parents extensively research the effects of drug exposure on infants. They admit there’s nothing ideal or practical about such a situation but it’s good to be open and flexible along the way. And, though Kelly is the first to admit that the wait was difficult, she knows that, in the long run, it’s worth it.
“Don’t get caught up in the wait time because every situation is different, and it will happen when your child is ready,” she says. “It’s not a bluelight special at K-Mart. It’s your child, and it’s a lifelong relationship. And you want that to be the perfect situation for you, for your child and for the birth mother. It’s a lifelong relationship for everyone involved.”
They also say that reading the materials provided by American Adoptions made them feel ready for any adoption situation, even one that was as unusual as theirs.
Jim and Kelly say that daughter Kristin has been great with Mason and that they notice no difference in their parental instincts for their two children.
“I laugh that, with the hospital experience and everything, he feels biological,” Jim says. “We were there long enough.”
Kelly and Jim would never take back that the leap of faith they made in under an hour.
“We just knew he was ours,” Kelly says, “and there was really never a question.”
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