When the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world as we know it changed. Healthcare facilities were overrun and grappling with a virus that was hard to control. People were – and continue to be – overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. Many families have put their plans on hold in order to stay home and keep safe. Many of us have adjusted our daily routines, per the CDC’s guidelines, to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy.
As the novel coronavirus continues, so does life. Babies are still being born every day. As a result, adoptions are still happening. Adoption agencies continue to work diligently to match expectant/birth parents with adoptive families. If you are hoping to adopt a child, know that adoption is still possible for you right now.
Much like everything else, the adoption process has changed a bit during the pandemic. Many hospitals continue to operate with different policies, travel restrictions remain to be seen, and – as a result – many families have been facing new challenges posed by the virus.
Adoptions With Love recently spoke with some families who adopted a baby during the pandemic. One of these couples, Tony and Katie, had to travel from Massachusetts to Missouri to meet their newborn baby, despite the looming obstacle of coronavirus. In every adoptive family’s experience, we have noticed a common theme: They are happy they made the journey and have zero regrets. These families had amazing adoption experiences amid the pandemic and wish to share their experiences with you.
Here is Katie and Tony’s adoption story.
Katie and Tony’s Adoption Story
How It Started
Katie and Tony began looking for an adoption agency in late 2019, and soon decided that Adoptions With Love was the right choice for them.
The couple submitted their application in mid-March 2020, right around the time that stay-at-home orders were put into effect. Shortly thereafter, the couple began screenings and background checks as part of the home study process.
“In early summer, we started the classes and it was pretty clear by early July that we were able to become adoptive parents.”
The couple was notified of their daughter, Emerson, in late September.
“It happened pretty fast; a lot quicker than we thought it was going to be. It was a lot of paperwork upfront, but we expected that – and once we submitted everything, [the process] went fairly quickly from beginning to end.”
Katie was the first to find out about the match and was excited to surprise Tony with the news.
“I felt like I was going to miss out on that somehow, by not having a biological birth. It was something I always wanted to do and I was able to coordinate that with our social worker.”
The couple felt “cautiously optimistic” about the adoption, because their baby’s birth mother was not very communicative at first.
“We just went into it with an open mind and knew that there were going to be challenges along the way. We just had to go with the flow and see what happens. So, we were cautiously optimistic throughout the entire process.”
On Open Adoption
Katie and Tony decided to fly to Missouri a couple of days before the birth mother was induced. They wanted this flexibility in case they needed to make any last-minute purchases, or simply get familiar with the area. When they arrived, they decided to reach out to the birth mother to see if she wanted to meet them in-person. To their surprise, she agreed.
“… we had lunch with her and her sister the day before Emmy was born, which was amazing. It was so positive and such a wonderful lunch. We were able to exchange stories, and she had some questions for us. After that, we felt so much more comfortable because we could tell that [the adoption] was truly her decision.”
Tony explained that the distance in the beginning of the adoption process may have made it more difficult for the birth mother.
“But once she sat down and talked to us, and was able to have a friendly conversion with us… We all became more comfortable. We even said to her, ‘No question is inappropriate. Ask whatever you want. We’ve never been in this situation before and we’re sure it’s equally confusing for you’…She opened up a lot more after that. I think she needed that face-to-face interaction. It worked out really well.”
The couple went out with the birth mother again, a couple of days after Emerson was born. They had coffee with her and met her mother, so they were able to get more background on her family. Baby Emerson was invited to come along to the visit, as well, and it was a positive experience for all.
“I think [that meeting] gave her the comfort of knowing that she was confident in her decision, but it also gave us comfort in the sense that we knew she was confident, too. We also knew that when we eventually have the conversation with Emmy about where she comes from, we can be truthful and honest about what we do know [of her birth mom], and it’s all really positive, including actual experiences we have had with her birth mother.”
On Traveling and the Hospital Experience
“…It was hard with COVID. I mean, we were definitely nervous about traveling,” Katie shared, explaining that there was no mask mandate in Missouri at the time they made their trip.
“We were exposed twice while we were there,” Tony explained. “It was definitely a risk, but it was a risk that we felt that we had to take. We were all fine. The meetings were so brief and we didn’t interact for that long, so I think that helped.”
Despite the pandemic, Katie fondly remembers an amazing experience at the hospital, where baby Emmy was born.
“…Tony and I were able to be in our own room, right next to the birth mother. We were able to hold Emmy within two hours of her being born. We did her first feeding. The doctors and nurses were amazing, and very helpful. The rest of the time we just kind of hunkered down in the hotel, we didn’t go anywhere.”
Tony added: “I mean when you have a newborn, you don’t really have that option anyway. When you’re traveling for adoption, you’re just kind of hunkering down regardless, so the exposure risk is pretty minimal, aside from being in the airport.”
The hotel where they stayed for two-and-a-half weeks also made special accommodations for the adoptive family.
“I remember the woman at guest services called us to say, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I am going to because you have a newborn… The person next to you got COVID and we can move your room if you want.’ So, we moved.”
As Katie explained, there were also some unique perks to adopting during the pandemic.
“One of the benefits of traveling right now is that everything is done electronically. Even the ICPCs and all the things that would normally be sent through the mail was done electronically. And it got approved within a couple of days, whereas normally I think it could take weeks. So, that actually went really fast, and I don’t think that normally happens.”
The couple also did not have to go to court in person. The adoption was finalized via Zoom.
“We wore a button up shirt and sweatpants and were in court,” Tony said, laughing. “So, that was nice.”
Challenges and Wins
When asked about the challenges faced in the hospital, the couple explained that they were prepared for the worst. They knew it would be possible that only one of them would be allowed inside the hospital, or – perhaps – neither. That was not the case.
“The biggest challenge was the cafeteria situation, so I feel like in terms of challenges, that’s pretty weak. They had to cut back on the types of foods they could serve. It wasn’t bad, we just couldn’t get vegetables. We just wanted vegetables,” Tony said, laughing.
“It was really a day-of decision, which I think everyone is doing – taking it one day at a time,” Katie explained. “They assessed the situation that day and decided there weren’t a lot of people, it was not a busy hospital, and it was okay to have us there. It felt like we were the only ones on the floor, which was obviously not the case, but it felt like there was no one there. We had our own room, they kept the door closed, everyone wore a mask. And, we just stayed in that room the whole time, other than to get food.”
The new parents also enjoyed a surprisingly warm reception from the hospital staff.
“They also let us stay an extra night with the baby,” Katie remembered. “They took her to the nursery and did tests, and came back and checked on us. It was beyond what we could’ve imagined it would be, and we were able to be together as a family for the whole time, which was so nice.”
Tony added: What was pretty unique about this hospital was that they had a lot of resources, but not a lot of patients at the time. I think that’s why we got more attention and special exceptions. But also, I think that we were not the usual story they come across. I remember if it was a slower night, some nurses would sit down and hang out, just chatting with us about their experiences.”
The couple also found they were able to connect with some of the hospital staff over adoption itself.
“It was amazing, the pediatrician that we had down there was the same pediatrician that our daughter saw in the hospital, and he had adopted two children. He was sharing his experiences. Then, one of the nurses on call told us that she was adopted, and shared her story with us.
“We met so many wonderful people that, as soon as they heard our story, they were just so accommodating. I think they could see that were traveling from out of state, were in a foreign place, and needed a little extra help. And we got it. We didn’t even really have to ask.”
Life with Baby
Having a baby during a pandemic is a unique experience. Katie and Tony say they feel grateful to have the ability to work from home. The two have split their maternity and paternity leave, so that one parent could be with Emerson full-time.
“I was initially looking forward to the Mommy and Me activities,” Katie explained. “Tony and I live in the city and so we would have had access to the local library, yoga classes, music circles, and instead, I’m doing all of that on YouTube. But, in a way it’s nice because she is getting to know our neighborhood and meeting everyone in our community (safely, outside). I’ll have plenty of time, once places open back up, to do all of those things.”
Overall, the couple could not be happier.
“I’m just happy that she is here. I think I would have regretted postponing this, because we would have missed out on this beautiful, healthy, little girl who was meant for us. She’s our baby, she is the one we were meant to be with. Had we postponed this process due to COVID, you never know. I think as challenging as it was, it was so worth it! Because you are going to run into obstacles either way. A birth mother could change her mind. Pre- or post-COVID, that could happen.”
At the time of our interview, Katie was looking forward to having a virtual baby shower over Zoom the following weekend.
“I think the hardest thing about coming back to Massachusetts was the quarantine,” Tony said. “We happened to keep our adoption quiet, and pretty close members of our family just had no idea. It was fun to call them out of the blue, FaceTime them and show them our baby. But at the same time, we had to quarantine for two weeks when we got back. So, both our parents couldn’t come see her quite yet, you know. We had to wait for everyone’s safety.”
The couple even admitted that having a baby during a pandemic had some silver linings.
“Honestly, sometimes you can use a pandemic as an excuse – when you have a newborn and she’s two weeks old, eating and showering are luxuries at that point. You’re not really in the mood to see how your aunt is doing. So, COVID kind of gave us a couple weeks.”
They have also enjoyed some of the conveniences that lockdown has brought to the modern parenting world.
“One thing that really came to our advantage (so much so, that I remember we had a meeting with AWL afterwards and I made sure we shared this) – So many companies just want to deliver things. They don’t want you in stores. You can get anything in the United States at the drop of a hat. You can order a car seat on Amazon and have it ordered to the hotel in a couple of days. To have that level of flexibility ended up being really helpful.”
Advice for Hopeful Adoptive Parents
Katie and Tony shared some words of wisdom for couples looking to adopt.
“What Tony and I found helpful at the beginning of the process was to go to different orientations and really figure out which agency would be right for us. Ultimately, we decided that AWL was the best fit. We liked their model, and we liked our social worker. So that was important. You want to make sure you have all the information going into the process.”
They also want prospective adoptive families to remain hopeful and positive. Your baby is out there.
“You’re going to be matched with the baby that’s meant for you. No matter what happens, just keep going. I was prepared for this not to work out, and although I think it would have hurt my heart if it didn’t, I went in knowing that was a possibility.”
Tony also wanted to share some sage advice that his brother gave him shortly before adopting.
“Whatever plans you make, children have their own plans.”
Tony went on to add: “There is some other plan somewhere that will work out. Children have their own plans. This is just a different child that has a plan, and they are waiting for you. So, you know, if it ends up being you are matched, or that your baby is born, while COVID is happening, don’t let your child’s plans discourage you. It is all going to work out.”
The couple also urge new parents to take advantage of everything while they can.
“People step up when you say you’re adopting a baby,” Katie laughed.
Tony added: “In a practical sense, you hate to use it to your advantage. But sometimes when you’re in a different place, to have that very humanizing event that you’re going through, and to connect with someone else who is just going through their workday, it creates a unique situation. Everyone is so willing to go out of their way, like the woman in the hotel who risked her job just to get us into a different room.”
“We’re really grateful it worked out the way it did.”