In the three days after her birth, I was able to treasure every moment for myself. My family and the staff supporting me helped carry out this desire. I knew going into the hospital that I wanted to love on her as much as I could while she was still legally “mine.” As my social worker once said, these were my moments and the adoptive family would have forever. I took that to heart because I didn’t want to have regrets or should-haves, but instead have precious memories and photos that would carry me during the hard days. Having these moments brought so much joy, even with knowing a goodbye-for-now was ahead. No moment was wasted.
My parents were a huge support by documenting her birth story’s facts and taking an abundant amount of photos and videos to help remember our time together. They often checked in on how I was feeling emotionally and protected my desires, including my time with my daughter. I held her often, fed her bottles, changed her into outfits I had brought for her, and took naps together. I felt upheld and cared for in such a vulnerable time. My daughter’s adoptive family was a welcomed, calming presence to me as well. We had clicked from the first meeting when I was seven months pregnant and they continued to show that they loved and cared for me, not just my baby. We already felt like one big family! They were very respectful of my time with her in the hospital, yet I also loved watching them fall in love with her and felt assured by their presence.
One of my favorite memories of the hospital was watching her parents meet her for the first time when she was a few hours old. Especially her dad as he cradled her in his left arm and gazed down at her tiny face with immense love already. I remember watching a single tear stream down his cheek, and I felt assured that she would have a father who would love her as much as I did and protect her.
The staff at the hospital seemed to be prepped for our unique situation and did whatever was possible to make it a good experience. However, I believe it was my parents and social worker who helped make sure of that by advocating for my needs. There was one nurse taking care of us that exuded joy and encouraged us to take pictures to always remember her tiny feet that would surely grow quickly. I felt like she was more confident to step into our room to love on all of us, and she saw me as a mother too. There was one nurse who came to discuss newborn care where I felt invisible, it was like I didn’t exist because I wasn’t the one taking the baby home. She kept her eyes and direction on her adoptive parents, which I understand, but while in the hospital I was still her legal mother and was caring for her as well. That was the only negative experience I had with staff, and while it irked me and my stepmom, it was a small moment in an overall great experience.
I signed the relinquishment papers on the third day of being in the hospital. Prior to signing was my second favorite memory in the hospital. Sitting in my hospital bed, preparing emotionally for what was to come, her adoptive parents asked to speak with me alone. In this moment they revealed their heart and character even more so. “Leah, we know this can’t be an easy decision and we want you to know that if you decide to parent her, we will be okay. Of course, we will be sad, but we will be okay and trust God for our family and His timing. This is your baby and your decision. We wanted you to be sure before you signed any papers that you knew that you are supported either way.” Their heart posture of wanting to remove any unconscious pressure from my decision was a gift to me. Thankfully I didn’t feel pressured by anyone surrounding me, and without that pressure, I felt free and confident to make my own decision. Their words assured to me yet again that they cared for me as a person, as her first mother, and pointed to their character again of integrity and love. Their words only assured me again that I was making the right decision and with the right people.
Naturally, signing relinquishment papers was one of the most emotional moments and hardest to face during our stay. It’s one thing to plan an adoption, it’s another to face in black and white the paperwork stating the revoking of my rights legally. The wording can make you feel unfit and unloving as a mother, yet I still knew despite what the wording says legally I loved her and was choosing a life for her to break cycles. To give her more. As I signed those papers with tears streaming and a shaking hand, my best friend that I had found online and also a birth mother stood near me. It was comforting to know that there was one person in the room who knew the depth of the heartache in that moment. Someone who could say, “I know it hurts” while extending a hug and I knew she did truly understand, having placed nine months prior as well. Her emotional support– and sacrifice of time, as she drove thirteen hours to be with me– was such a help in these harder moments.
As our time ended I wanted my extended family to have an opportunity to meet her before she went home and to have an adoption ceremony celebrating this new chapter that was beginning for us. It was something I requested and was honored, but was warned that it could get very emotional. They were correct. I loved being surrounded by family members and others who had walked through this journey with me, but being the center of attention in a time of such an intricate mixture of grief and joy was overwhelming. Still, I am glad that people important to me got to see her and that I felt encircled with love by the people standing around my hospital room sharing prayers and encouraging words.
The day we left the hospital I remember feeling more joy than grief. I had cried and grieved a lot the day before after signing and the ceremony since that was such an emotional experience. Getting ready to leave, I tucked away everything possible from the hospital as mementos. A teeny white shirt, a yellow pacifier, hospital blanket, her bracelet, an empty bottle, her bassinet name card and tiny foot prints.
Once packed, we decided to go into the hospital gardens to take nicer pictures before we left. I’m so glad we did! I was wheeled out of the hospital with my daughter on my lap, and I was smiling authentically. I remember months later at a visit my daughter’s adoptive dad commented on this moment saying, “I was just amazed how you could be smiling like that on such a hard day.” That smile was the evidence of a deep knowing. It was a supernatural peace and assurance that this was the best choice for us. I had hope carrying me that this wasn’t goodbye forever, but goodbye for now. In fact, as we hugged before getting into our separate cars, that’s what her adoptive mom told me. “This is only goodbye for now, we will see you again soon.” I trusted them with those words as I watched their car drive away. And yes, they followed through to their promise over and over for the next 18 years (and beyond).
Did I cry and grieve still? Absolutely, but it was balanced with the joy of days surrounded by people who loved me and the peace of my decision. While the hospital was a vast emotional rollercoaster, I authentically look back at our hospital stay with a fondness. I felt loved. I felt cared for. I felt like I was honored and had voice. I felt like it was a beautiful beginning to our new chapter as families united by adoption.
About The Author
Leah Outten is a mother to five at home and a birth mom to one. She still maintains an open adoption relationship with her birth daughter and the adoptive parents she chose when she was 16 years old. Using her experiences a birth mom and a teen mom, she now works in the adoption and pro-life community through her writing, education, and mentoring. In her speaking and writing, she aims to educate on complex issues surrounding motherhood and adoption with grace.
“I share my experiences in hopes that people can see what has worked well for us so that perhaps families can apply what fits into their stories too. So, even if she doesn’t have family or a friend’s support, this could be an opportunity to love on her and advocate for her within the reality that she will be hurting and maybe feeling alone. Can you step into the hospital room, set your hopes aside, and be there for her?”