LOVE extended through adoption
Originally published in Families First Monthly Oct/Nov 2020 issue
by Melissa Ryba, LLMSW
“Surprise, I’m pregnant!” These words are not always welcome news. Unexpected pregnancies happen frequently but still can have a lot of stigma associated with them. And, it seems, everyone has an opinion about what should happen.
Lisa Wisniewski, Pregnancy Support Specialist and Adoption Supervisor at Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan (CFS) has helped families sort through these feelings for over 15 years. In her role, she provides free services to any woman of any age experiencing an unplanned pregnancy by offering support, helping process feelings, and exploring what options are available regarding the pregnancy.
What has surprised Lisa the most in her experience is that there is no “typical” pregnancy client. “Oftentimes, people envision the most likely pregnancy client to be a teenage girl. While we have had several teen mothers utilize our services, we have also served a number of women in their late 20s and early 30s, who might be married, divorced, parenting other children, and find themselves suddenly faced with an unplanned pregnancy,” Lisa states.
It is important to Lisa that women seeking services receive compassionate, non-judgmental support. Some of this support includes referrals to various other services, such as the Department of Health and Human Services; Women, Infants and Children; Healthy Futures; the Doula program; parenting classes; and assistance with transportation to doctor appointments. One option that may be discussed is adoption. If a mother decides to place her child for adoption, CFS is able to assist with navigating and carrying out the adoption process. Through CFS’ Infant Adoption program, there are families waiting and are ready to welcome a new baby.
Lisa has worked with many of these families during the vetting process. “Most of our families are couples in their 30s who have already gone through years of fertility procedures with no success. They reside in any one of our 13 counties. Occasionally, they might have one child after a very high-risk pregnancy and they want to further grow their family but have been advised by their doctor that another pregnancy would be too high risk so they decide to grow their family through adoption. They are all families who ache to have a child and to experience the joys and rewards of being a parent.”
Over the years though, Lisa has seen adoptions decline. “The trend I have seen over the last several years is an ongoing decrease in the number of women making the decision to place their child for adoption. I think there are several factors at play that are influencing this trend. First, some cultural shifts have taken place. There is no longer the enormous stigma attached to a teen being a parent. In fact, we even see it being normalized and perhaps even a bit glamorized in popular shows like ‘Sixteen and Pregnant.’ Along with that cultural shift, there seems to be a cultural attitude right now about women choosing to place their child for adoption that is less than favorable and that carries a judgmental narrative that goes something like, ‘I can't believe she'd be so selfish as to just give her child away.’ I have seen this very dynamic at play with some of my clients who have felt enormous pressure to change their mind about placing because their peers stood in such strong judgment against their decision to place.”
Kennedy,* a mother who placed her son for adoption, can relate. She faced a lot of judgment, but she also had a close group of people that supported her. Later in life, when she was ready to start a family, she experienced a mixture of emotions as she gave birth to a son. “I admit it. I was terrified of having a boy. I was positive there was no way I would be able to handle bringing home a little boy. I thought there was no way God would make me because twelve years before I had to be wheeled out of the hospital with an empty lap after placing my precious first born son into the waiting arms of his adoptive parents. The pain never goes away; you learn to live around it. There's not really an accepted place for a birth parent's pain in our society. We place so our children can have a life we know we cannot provide for whatever reason, choosing what's best for them over all other considerations. I am grateful for all the love and support I have received from my incredible family and friends though the years. I am tha
nkful for all of the wonderful adoptive families out there, but I am especially grateful for my son's adoptive family.”
Lisa empathizes with this very difficult decision. Throughout the years, she has seen the love and dedication it takes to make this decision. “I would never describe any of our mothers as selfish or uncaring. Quite the opposite. Each one of these women is thinking of her child’s needs first. This is one reason why we do such extensive home studies of our adoptive parents. We want our birth parents to feel that they know the adoptive family and made a well-educated decision.”
Families that are interested in adopting first meet for an orientation to begin to understand the general process and ensure that the agency is a good fit. The families submit an application, which then begins the paperwork process, including criminal clearances, physicals, references, financial information, and autobiographical questionnaires. (Currently the CFS Infant Adoption program is full and not accepting new family applications). Then their worker completes a series of interviews to find out more about their childhood, marriage, home, neighborhood, employment, parenting philosophies, and reasons for adoption. Once those interviews are complete, the information is consolidated into an Adoptive Family Home Study Assessment. The families are also asked to put together a portfolio that is a like a scrapbook that contains pictures of themselves, extended family, their home, and anything they think would be important for a birth mom to see. A letter to the birth mother is also included.
This portfolio is shown to birth mothers when they have decided to place for adoption. It is the first way a birth mom is introduced to the families that are in the approved pool of families. From there, the birth mom decides which families she wishes to interview. Once a mom chooses a family, “then we go about the business of navigating their relationship and what that should look like, both during the pregnancy and after the baby goes home with the adoptive family.” After the child goes home with the family, the birth mom has to go to court to officially release her rights. At that same hearing, a judge orders the child adoptively placed with the family and the child/family enters what is called "supervision" for six months. After the six-month time period, the adoption is finalized and the case is closed.
Although the case may be closed, Lisa is still there to provide support to the birth mother through this transition, and link the birth family to long-term supports. “The situation is never an easy one, no matter what the mother decides to do,” Lisa says. “Hopefully we can help ensure that the birth family feels that they made the best decision for them and for the baby.”
For more information about CFS’ pregnancy support program please visit cfsnwmi.org/pregnancy-support or call 231-946-8975 x1035 to speak with Lisa.
*name changed to protect confidentiality.