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Adoption in a Small Town ~ The Agony of Knowing…. Part I 

Prelude:  My small town in the mid 70’s had one main highway which held the one and only “hotspot”… an older fast food joint called “Burger Chef”.  Our population for the county was at least 75,000 to 100,000 LESS than it is today. (We have well over 125,000 now). We were rather spread out geographically which made this feel more like a small country town.

When a baby would be placed up for adoption, there was to be great secrecy to protect the identity of both the birth mother and the adopting mother.  Before any type of open adoption, before there were several available agencies and when there wasn’t much “red-tape”….  The doctors had a list (The LIST) of names they collected, their patients who were unable to conceive wanting to adopt. Often, if a mom was considering putting her baby up for adoption, she didn’t say anything to anyone until delivery. (Some never had any pre-natal care) The docs would tell them they could handle everything for her and arrange for a lawyer to come talk to her etc… Once the connection was made between birth mother and lawyer, it was all handled very professionally and legally.

Sometimes, in a small town, working in L&D/NSY, you might accidently be aware of where a baby is going… the identity of the adoptive parents.

The first time this happened to me, I had been at a friend’s house at a party, when another friend drove up- rushed out of the car hollering “We’ve got a baby!! We’re getting our baby!!”. We all knew she had been unsuccessful getting pregnant and was on many waiting lists to adopt. We were all SO happy for her. All of us asked: When? Where? Boy/ Girl? Etc…  All she knew was that a baby boy had been born that day at our general hospital (where I worked).  It was a very strange feeling.  I knew I was going to be seeing that baby the next day at work, possibly assigned to either the mom or baby’s care.

The next day I was in the nursery. The birth mother was a shockingly young teen, 14 years old. The baby, born by C/S, was very healthy (about 8 lbs actually) and he had no problems. I didn’t say anything to anybody. The day that the OB office called to arrange for the final discharge, I had answered the phone…I guess my young little self felt the need to be all truthful and honest. I quietly and meekly told the woman on the other end of the line that I knew where this baby was going.

Dead silence

She asked “What did you say?”  Now.. I had to repeat it…. “I know the adoptive parents of this baby.” She made me feel really bad. “How did I find out this info?” She said I could “NEVER tell anyone I knew, I might jeopardize the entire adoption, these records will be sealed”…etc..  So I kept my mouth shut, the little boy grew up peacefully with his adoptive family, the young birth mother even came back to deliver  more children many years later.

Note to self….. Never do THAT again.

Adoption in a Small Town ~ AGONY  Part I

During a particular busy shift in L&D, circa 1982, a young 17 yr. old girl came up from the ER in very active labor.  She was 5 weeks early, 5cm dilated, 100% effaced with bulging membranes and looked to be moving fast.  It took me a few minutes to recognize her name. Sarah Johnston! Sarah Johnston??  I did a double take and looked at her again. Then I realized this girl was the daughter of one of my best friends! Her mom, Karen, was a ski instructor with me. She and I had skied together for years. Karen was older than me but we shared a lot of the same interests and could talk forever while riding the up the T-bar. Sarah was acting like she didn’t recognize me.. I was actually closer in age to Sarah than to Karen. Since both our whole families practically LIVED at that ski area all winter, we spent a lot of time together and Sarah was always hooking up and skiing with my younger sister. She certainly knew me from the ski area.

(I started to think.. maybe Karen doesn’t even KNOW she’s pregnant! ) After her next contraction, I privately whispered to her that I take privacy and confidentiality very seriously and I would NOT tell her mom anything. I then asked her if she would like me to leave the room. She immediately started to cry and said “no–please–   I’m so scared, please stay till my mom gets here.” (Privately I’m thinking… wheeh… Karen knows…) So I stayed with her and coached her until Karen got there. I gave the other nurses a heads up and they covered my other patients.

 Karen was already in tears when she arrived about a half hour later. I greeted her outside of Sarah’s labor room. She also seemed distressed and uncomfortable with my presence.  I quietly said the same things to her I had said earlier to Sarah. Karen said.. “It’s ok that you’re here. I trust you; it’s just that NOBODY in the family knows that Sarah is pregnant. You have to promise NOT to tell your family or anyone in my family! …I am trying so hard to do what Sarah wants… Not to tell anybody.  I only found out she was pregnant 3 weeks ago. She’s even giving the baby up for adoption! This whole thing is breaking my heart! I didn’t even tell my own mother!”  We didn’t have time to talk anymore.

The baby was born and Sarah did not want to see him or hold him. Although he was a good weight of about 5 Lbs, he had some transitional breathing problems. We needed to take him right over to the nursery.

Sarah asked to be transferred to another floor {which we routinely offer to moms placing babies for adoption. They are always told they may come see the baby any time even if they are on another floor}.  I did not see Karen after that. I felt she would come to me if she wished.  I did not want to be intrusive.  I did not talk again to any of my co-workers about my relationship with the family.

003I focused on caring for the precious little baby boy. He needed a sepsis work-up with labs, Chest X-ray and an IV with antibiotics. He was also under an Oxyhood with a little bit of oxygen support. We would observe and monitor these 35 weekers at our small hospital and decide if they needed to be transported to a bigger hospital. This baby was stabilizing and improving rather than deteriorating. He stayed with us.

The next day, when I came into work, one of my most favorite doc’s, an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. E. was in to see the baby. I couldn’t figure out why, what was going on.  She had scrubbed up and was standing at the incubator and asked..”Could I hold him?” I only asked,–are you related to him?  We didn’t have the kind of security then that we do now.. It wasn’t that unusual for another doctor to show interest in a baby, esp a woman doctor.

Dr. E said “I’m kind of related….my brother and his wife are adopting him! So I guess that makes me his Aunt! I’m actually going to keep him with me for a few weeks until the paperwork is signed. My brother lives in Atlanta.” I found out later that this was arranged because of the LIST, that Sarah had not made any plans for agencies and was very eager to allow the doctor’s lawyer to handle all the arrangements.


I saw Sarah and Karen only one more time in the hospital after the birth. They were standing outside the nursery glass. Sarah was being discharged and had asked to stop by the nursery.  I went out and invited them inside to see the baby.  They both came in.. hesitantly.  Karen had tears streaming down her face, trying to be strong for Sarah. Sarah got a little closer; she asked a few questions like a teenager would, and then she wanted to go. She wasn’t acting upset, her affect wasn’t flat; she was just acting pretty normal to me. So they left.  Part of my heart left with Karen. I knew this had to be so hard for her.

The adoptive family had named the baby “Joey”.  Soon all the nurses called him Joey. He stayed with us for a full course of antibiotics, 7 days.  Dr. E came up from her ortho office to see him frequently and she spent a lot of time with him. She asked me so many questions and wanted me to help her with so many aspects of his care. I spent a lot of time with her.. She didn’t have children yet. It was clear to me that she was so in love with this baby! Dr. E didn’t know, but I had a special interest in this baby too! It made me so happy to know Karen’s grandson was going to such a great family.

Over the next several months, Dr. E would occasionally show us pictures of Joey with his family down in Atlanta, how big he was getting etc.. She told me also that once her brother and his wife had adopted Joey, they found out they were pregnant! When Joey was about a year old, he had a little brother!

Some time went on; life was normal…I saw Karen and Sarah all winter long on the slopes and at some family events. Karen would visit at my house like usual. Sarah would visit with my little sister like usual. Nothing was said.  I never told my mother, my husband, my sister or anyone my family. NEVER. I never talked to Karen about it. I respected her privacy and felt if she wants to talk about it, she will.

One day, about 1 ½  years after the birth I ran into Karen at the hospital. She looked very upset.

“Karen.. What’s the matter???”

“It’s Sarah. [crying now] They think she has a brain tumor. We are transferring her to Philadelphia now for tests and maybe even surgery!!”

“Oh my God Karen! “

Stay tuned for Part II

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anxiously awaiting part 2!!!!

    May 14, 2009
    • Birth_Lactation #

      Thanks!…..projected for tomorrow…

      May 14, 2009
  2. Joy #

    Wow, this is intense. How difficult it must be to keep all these secrets- but how wonderful to know that the babies were well taken care of and loved!

    May 15, 2009
  3. Birth_Lactation #

    Part II ready!

    May 16, 2009

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