Ask A Doula: Working With Adoptive Families

Some friends of mine are adopting a baby, and they want to pay me to do birth and postpartum doula work for the birth mother. It’s a private, closed adoption through friends of friends and there’s no agency involved. I don’t know why the birth mom is giving up the baby for adoption, or why it’s a closed adoption. I would really like to be able to involve the adoptive mom in the birth so she doesn’t miss out on that amazing experience! The birth mom lives about an hour from the town where my friends and I live. I am excited for this opportunity but don’t really know what might be different about working with this dynamic. Got any tips for me?

First, one thing you’ll need to be very, very clear about is who who you are working for. It’s easy to feel torn between both mothers who love this little baby. But you only work for one of them, and make sure that is clear in your mind. It seems that you have some loyalty to your friends that might make it difficult if their wishes conflict with the birthing parent. Do some thinking about how you might handle conflicts and where your loyalty lies.

Secondly, most birth parents prefer to say “placing” for adoption to “giving up.” I recommend you pay close attention to which term this birth mom is using about the adoption and take her lead. Do as she does. The words and terminology used around adoption can be quite loaded in a way that’s hard for those outside of the process to see.

Third, it’s 100% up to the birth mom how much and how adoptive mom is involved in the birth. I personally would not bring ideas to the birth mom on how to involve adoptive mom, including her presence at the birth, unless the birth mom specifically requests it, as it could be perceived as pressure to have her there. If the birthing mother wants to have the birth and immediate postpartum with her baby before placing for adoption, that is her prerogative and you need to be able to support and respect that, even if it is not what your friends would prefer. Some birth moms need to have time to say hello before they place the baby. Some don’t. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Let the birth mom decide, and if she changes that plan last minute, go with it.

The birth mother may want to have photos, footprints, or other mementos to keep. She may want to write a letter or send something with the baby to the adoptive family. These should be respected and encouraged.

Fourth, when working with the birthing parent postpartum, be prepared to support her through a process of grieving. Read up on the experiences and emotions that many birthing parents experience. She may need to process her experience and possibly even thoughts of changing her mind about placement. You’ll need to be able to support her through all that with complete impartiality, even if it’s breaking your heart to think that your friend’s placement may not go through. This goes back to my first point about being clear who you are working for in this process.

You’ll also want to be familiar with her options about breast milk: how to safely suppress her milk supply or how to pump and donate. Either is a valid choice and should be respected. As a postpartum doula, you probably have the knowledge and experience to help with breast or bottle feeding. Make sure you know how to help when there isn’t a baby around to be fed.

And finally, explore and have on hand resources local to her for birth parents. Since she’s not going through an agency, this may be something lacking in her experience.

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