Most of us imagining a future with a family base those thoughts on well-laid plans. But the reality is that half of all pregnancies in America are unintended, forcing women to carefully consider their options.
Ideally, a mother who is surprised to learn she is pregnant is in good health and is ready and able to care for the new child. But this isn’t the case for all expectant mothers.
Wilminton native ‘Michelle’ had just graduated from trade school and was working a new job when she became pregnant. “I was being a typical 22-year-old — working every day and going out a lot with friends.” When she learned she was expecting, she faced some tough decisions.
“When you have a child, you have three options: abortion, keep the kid or adoption. I don’t believe in abortion. The second option I could have done if I got pregnant the right way and I could provide,” said Michelle. With no relationship with the father, Michelle says she felt she was too young and ill equipped to take on the responsibilities of parenting on her own. She also says she is unable to rely on her parents for support.
“So, the last option, although the hardest, is what I had to do. It’s not fair for my selfish needs to override a kid’s needs. So, I gave him up for adoption. He is now in a much better situation than I could have ever done.”
Michelle’s “awesome” adoption process began with Children and Families First Delaware (CFFDE). The organization helped Michelle carefully think through the entire process of adoption and provided free counseling to her every step of the way.
Kim Sabanayagam was assigned to Michelle as her counselor at CFFDE. She says birth mothers are often very overwhelmed with many intense emotions when considering adoption. “These can include grief and shame of not being able to safely or adequately parent their own child; anger and resentment if a biological father is not supportive of the pregnancy or doesn’t acknowledge the possibility he is the father; fear of the unknown; and confusion provoked by often conflicting opinions from family and friends,” said Sabanayagam.
Emotional support by experienced professionals for birth mothers and adoptive families is one of many services provided by CFFDE. Expectant parents like Michelle receive ongoing counseling (including legal counsel) as they make an adoption plan. Helping expectant and birth mothers consider and understand what to expect emotionally — particularly through delivery and separation from the baby — is a critical part of considering whether adoption is the right decision.
Other issues that are addressed include biological father situations; a full understanding of the legal process; the level of ongoing openness birth mothers may want with a prospective adoptive family; and values and characteristics important to them in selecting a family.
A lot of it boils down to giving the birth mother a sense of control over her situation. “Throughout the process, I tried to empower Michelle to make positive decisions regarding her physical health, mental health, and an adoption plan,” said Sabanayagam.“I think the process of allowing Michelle to direct the adoption plan was very important to her ultimately feeling that the decision was the right one. “
Because every birth member brings their own unique set of circumstances to bear, CFFDE also identified a long-term therapist to work with Michelle. The therapist was experienced in grief/loss related to adoption as well as the more chronic mental health issues specific to Michelle.
Expectant or birth mothers will also learn appropriate questions they might want to pose to a prospective family and will receive help with compiling birth mother health history and family background information for the prospective adoptive family. CFFDE also offers choices of adoptive families that match their values and hopes for their child. The non-profit also offers post-adoption counseling and ensures long-term support is in place for birth parents.
“CFFDE helped me the whole journey,” said Michelle. “They helped pick out a family and the legal aspect and whatever else I needed.”
The family Michelle was introduced to now proudly counts Thomas, their rough and tumble 2-year-old, as a member of their family. Jonathan and Sandy Kirch recently adopted Thomas but have been caring for him since he was born. He has already brought much joy and perspective to their family.
“It was really special meeting Thomas for the first time. It was an amazing thing,” said Jonathan Kirch. “We came into the hospital where he was. I felt guided toward his bed by some unknown hand. I knew exactly where I was going even though I had never met him before. He’s been an incredible addition to me and my wife.”
The Kirches actually have two children; 7-month-old Matthew’s adoption has not yet been finalized. The process of adopting Thomas took 16 months.
Jonathan Kirch brings a unique perspective to his role as an adoptive father that he is confident will help him as he and Sandy raise their two adopted sons; He himself was adopted at the age of 1, and CFFDE was essentially the adoption agency for his adoption.
“I always knew that I was adopted. I grew up understanding that as part of my identity. That’s important. As a kid, you start to ask questions about yourself, and being adopted creates interesting emotions. We all ask ourselves, why didn’t the people who gave birth to me decide not to keep me? That is something that will always haunt us. But you come to terms with it.” Jonathan in fact has the names of his birth parents but has decided not to pursue a relationship with them.
The Kirches took their time to make sure they were pursuing the process in the best way possible. “Folks who adopt are very deliberate about the growth of their family. So, they can take time to know that in their hearts they are ready,” said Jonathan.
Working through CFFDE, the Kirches felt that they were extremely prepared for the adoption of their first child, including preparing them for the unexpected. “They do a lot of preparation to make sure that adoptive parents understand that some things will not go as anticipated. And that is to their credit. They explained family development and the challenges the children will face because they are adopted,” said Jonathan.
Michelle was presented with several families to consider when putting her son up for adoption. The fact that Jonathan was himself adopted was a large reason Michelle chose the Kirches as the family to adopt her son because she wanted the best possible emotional environment for him, where he had the best chance to thrive. Michelle met the Kirches twice before Thomas’ birth.
“We are able to relate to Thomas and bring him reassurance and comfort about who he is. And he knows that unequivocally he is loved in the most extreme way possible,” said Jonathan.
Since Thomas’ adoption, the Kirches have continued to rely on the resources and networking opportunities provided by CFFDE. And when babies and children are brought home to their new families, a CFFDE adoption worker will visit at least monthly to make sure things are going well and to offer support.
Amy Facciolo is a foster care and adoption worker at CFFDE, and she still visits the Kirches monthly since they have two young children to care for. She offers adoption training for parents, including helpful reminders about positive ways to talk to adopted children. “I can go through the specifics of adoption – how to talk openly about adoption and how to talk to your child about his or her difficult history. We also suggest children books about adoption. Reading the books with the children can create opportunities for discussion,” she said.
Facciolo says the Kirches have been an ideal adoptive family because they meet all of their children’s needs. If a child needs to be seen by his physician or someone at Child Development Watch, they tend to that. “And if there are any developmental delays – even small ones – they’ve always done the right thing by asking me questions and seeking professional advice”
The special bond between the social worker and the family she supports also grows over time. “Jonathan and Sandy have been an absolute joy to work with. They have been such a wonderful family. They have been so patient, considering this is such a long journey.”