The whistle of the boiling water on the stove reminded me just how little time I had to finish preparing everything I was taking for Thanksgiving lunch. The warmth between my fingers wasn’t the steaming pot on the stove but the curling iron I was holding to fix the bushy mop on top of my head. And, while I could hear my two girls playing in the other room, my phone began to ring.

I assumed it was my mom asking what time we would arrive or my sister wanting to borrow a shirt. But as I read the caller ID, it was the name of the social worker from our adoption agency. We had just talked with her for the first time the week before when we got the news that a prospective birth mother had chosen us to adopt her baby girl, due in February. When I picked up the phone to answer it, my thought was, “How sweet of her to call and wish us a happy Thanksgiving!”

Her call was not the cordial merriment that I assumed. My heartbeat was now the only thing I could hear as our social worker repeated the words, “She’s in labor.”

Our daughter’s birth mother, at 28 weeks gestation, was about to deliver our daughter at a hospital a thousand miles away, on a holiday, while my husband was at work — and before I had any time to plan for the initial birth in February, much less a premature one. But the truth didn’t change. Our daughter was born 12 weeks early and taken immediately to the NICU, while we had to quickly get our bearings straight and get to the hospital on short notice.

Our situation may not be like many, but many births can come unexpectedly and leave little time for organized plans. We learned a few things you can keep in mind if you find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Take a Minute to Breathe

We couldn’t just immediately jump in the car and go (especially not a thousand miles away), and we had no clue what flight we would be taking. But we knew we needed to sit down for just a couple minutes and take in the news we had just heard. We needed to celebrate a birth, wait to hear more details from the social worker about what hospital our daughter would be at and how the birth mother was doing, and let our family and friends know.

A few minutes to wrap your mind around it all will help you emotionally and mentally in the long run.

2. Find out the Name of the Hospital

If you haven’t gotten this from the prospective birth mother or the adoption agency yet, or if a birth happened unexpectedly and the hospital could have changed, then you need to find out where your child’s birth mother gave birth. This will help with flights, hotels rental cars, etc., because everything will be centered on what hospital your baby is at.

3. Make Sure You Have No Loose Ends

Before you leave, probably for an extended stay, make sure everyone knows what they need to know and everyone is taken care of. My husband and I have two older girls at home. So, we had to plan everything for them — choose their babysitters, find them transportation, pack their clothes, write down their schedules and help them understand what’s going on — before we could think about leaving.

We planned two weeks for our older girls, not knowing exactly what would come after that, but knowing we could cross that bridge when we came to it. We also had to make sure bills were paid or work was notified about our plans. This helped our stress levels when we were leaving town, knowing that we weren’t like the scene in “Home Alone” where everyone panics last-minute to make it to the airport.

4. Find a Flight, if Needed

We didn’t really have a choice. It was either an 18-hour drive or a two-hour flight.

We found a flight from a nearby airport a couple days after our baby was born. She was born so prematurely that the doctors weren’t allowing her to even be touched the first week of her life, to minimize any potential issues. So, we booked a flight that would allow us time to get everything done at home and then fly non-stop when we left.

You may not have time to wait a day or two, but familiarize yourself now with travel websites that make it easy to find and compare flights so you will know how to navigate it if the time comes.

5. Book a Hotel or Ask if the Hospital Has Rooms

Some hospitals have hospitality suites for families or a Ronald McDonald House, or they may even book you a mother/baby room in the hospital before discharge. But, even if they do, you will need a hotel or place to stay after discharge and before you can travel home.

If you are out-of-state, you will have to wait for ICPC to go through, which can take up to two weeks. If you are in-state, you may still have to wait to see a doctor a couple days after being discharged before leaving to go home. This can be something your adoption agency can help with too, so ask them what their suggestions are for places to stay and if they have an idea of how long.

6. Familiarize Yourself with the Hospital and Area

While you are driving or waiting in the airport, start familiarizing yourself with the hospital and the city where you will be staying. Find where the entrance to the hospital is, call and ask if you’ll need an ID to get in, and find out where to park. Search for restaurants, gas stations and a local Target or Wal-Mart near the hospital for things you will need during your stay.

7. Stay in Contact with Your Social Worker/Agency

The professional you are working with will not leave you to handle it alone after the baby is born. Call them with questions and updates so they can best assist you along the way. Use them as a guide and a friend to alleviate some of your anxiety, so you can better celebrate the birth of your little one.

8. Be Flexible

With everything in the adoption process, we have learned to be flexible. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned and what we thought a situation would look like doesn’t usually line up perfectly with our expectations. Just be flexible.

With all of life’s unexpected experiences, adoption is one we can never be fully prepared for — because every instance will be unique. The less we stress about the small details, the easier it will be to enjoy the moments.

Jill is a 32-year-old wife and mom. She has been married to her husband, Brannon, for eight years and has a 5-year-old, a 1-year-old and a newborn daughter.  Jill lives in a small community in Kentucky. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish and obtained her Master’s degree in Christian Ministries. Jill’s passions are her faith, her family, writing, playing sports and eating good food.