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Hard Choices

Karen Lyons
Walnut CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, pp. 22-24

La Leche League and I first crossed paths 23 years ago when I gave birth to my eldest child. I went to my first LLL meeting not because I was having problems, but because being around like-minded mothers seemed fun. Breastfeeding was fine and mostly continued that way with all my babies. Over the years, LLL Leaders have helped with some things, of course, but I have really stayed involved because the philosophy feels "right" to me. Gradually, my life has reflected more and more of the La Leche League philosophy that I've come to appreciate and love. I've gained wisdom and experience about what is right for my children and my family.

Many times over the years, I've thought about how much I want my children to raise my grandchildren following LLL philosophy. The older ones have had the benefit of being around their younger siblings as I parented them. They could see what worked well (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby signs) and what didn't work so well for us (a few things I'd prefer to forget!). They wouldn't have to spend as much time finding their way as I did and could look to my example as they made their own parenting choices. According to my plan, that would be years away -- once my oldest daughters were married and ready to begin families of their own.

However, things did not go as I planned. When my unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, found out she was pregnant, she had hard decisions to make. What should she do? Could she parent this baby? What was best for the baby? What could she do to give her future newborn son the best start in life?

Right away, she knew she wanted to continue with the pregnancy. She felt that was the right choice for her. The baby's father chose to no longer be involved, so marriage to him was out. Stephanie could raise her son alone, but was that right for him, to perhaps never have a father? Should she find a family to raise him so he would have both a mother and father who yearned for a baby to love and nurture? We began to attend counseling -- individual sessions for her and group sessions that I attended with her, occasionally taking one of her sisters with us. Through the counseling, we learned more about marriage, single parenting, and adoption.

Around her sixth month of pregnancy, Stephanie decided to choose an adoptive family for her baby. Though it was a hard decision to make, it was also a very selfless decision and the one she felt was best for her baby.

Of course, I know that human milk is best for babies, but I admit even I was a bit unsure about the wisdom of Stephanie providing her milk for her son who was going to be adopted. We talked things through and gathered more information, particularly from Nancy Williams, a consultant in my local La Leche League Professional Liaison Department. We learned that studies show that mothers whose babies don't live long grieve and heal better if they held their babies and breastfed if at all possible. Later, these mothers can pump and donate milk to a milk bank, which also helps with the grieving process. There was no reason for it to be any different for an adopted baby -- my daughter would still grieve the loss of her child. The saying I kept in mind is, "The cleaner the bond, the cleaner the grieving." With that principle in mind, the more Stephanie could do to bond with her son and do the best she could for him, the easier it would be for her to cope with her decision after the fact.

The adoption agency was concerned with her choice. They were worried that placing the baby with his new family would become too difficult for Stephanie if she had already begun bonding with her son by breastfeeding him. The thing they didn't take into consideration is that she had already been bonding with him for about eight months. She felt that after taking care of herself to help him be born healthy, she wanted to breastfeed him for as long as he was in her care. And so, we informed the agency that she would be breastfeeding her son.

Most birth mothers don't even think much about the delivery -- their only thoughts are that they want it all over with as quickly and with as little pain as possible. Having attended several siblings' natural births, Stephanie wanted her delivery to be as natural as possible. Since she would give birth in a hospital, she made sure she prepared for the kind of delivery she wanted. Fortunately, she had read many of the books on childbirth from my bookshelf and learned several ways to improve labor and delivery. She and I talked at length about the physiology of birth, about the benefit of a mother's active participation during birth, and about her role in helping labor progress. Her dad took her on a lot of walks, keeping her active, just as he had when I was pregnant.

As well as taking her to her doctor's appointments and counseling sessions, we got the baby's father involved in choosing a family for his son and attending group counseling sessions. He was with her for several hours when she thought she was in labor and also a few days later when labor was really happening. He comforted her as best he could. He spent many hours with her after the birth. He filled out medical and personality profiles for the adoption agency. He signed the birth certificate as the father and then later signed relinquishment papers.

On the day of delivery, Stephanie and her dad went for a walk. They returned home soon because she was having more contractions and was "uncomfortable." He left to take our younger children out to lunch. She said she wanted to go to the hospital, so I started getting ready to leave. Suddenly, her water broke! I quickly drove her to the hospital while coaching her through contractions. It didn't take long to get there. Once we arrived at the hospital, she yelled at the nurses for not hurrying faster. When they examined her a few minutes later, she was already dilated at nine-and-a-half centimeters. They told her not to push because the doctor wasn't there yet. Shortly after we arrived, her dad and the baby's father arrived. They were next to her -- coaching and "hand-holding." I was at the "delivery end" where I talked with her doctor and could see my grandson being born. I was also the one who made sure Stephanie reached down to touch his head when she felt as though she couldn't push any more. He was born at 10:41 am, May 22, 2004, all eight pounds of him. He latched on and nursed almost immediately. He had no trouble adjusting to out-of-the-womb life with many people around who loved him before they even met him. Stephanie nursed on cue throughout her stay in the hospital. Her dad and I each stayed one night at the hospital with her to hold him and help her. The baby's dad stayed both nights and they spent many hours talking about why they still felt placement was the right choice for their son.

The placement was set for Monday evening at the park near our home. It included the adoptive parents, all four of their parents, and as many other brothers and sisters and cousins as could come. Some had traveled several hours to attend and were staying with the grandparents. We had almost all of our family there and a few family friends to serve as witnesses for the official paperwork. They brought dinner for all of us, their camera, a lot of family albums, and stories to share. We brought the camcorder, our cameras, and gifts for the baby and family. We spent a precious few hours eating together, getting to know each other better, taking a lot of pictures of everyone, and taking turns holding the baby, who was wrapped in the blue blanket I had crocheted for him.

As it was getting cooler, most of the extended family went home and only a few of us were left. Stephanie, the birth father, the witnesses, and the social worker went to a picnic table and began the legal paperwork. Before the birth, they had gone over the papers line by line, so both birth parents knew what to expect. I got to hold the baby (while he mostly slept) as we walked together all over the park. I got to talk with him and cry with him, knowing that this would probably be the last time I'd be holding and cuddling him -- at least for a while. Just as they finished the paperwork, he awoke. Stephanie and I took him to the car (where it was warmer) for her to nurse him for the last time. She asked me to get the birth father and they talked again. Eventually, they exited the car and I got to hold the baby while they hugged and kissed the adoptive family. Finally, everyone decided that it was time to let the adoptive family be on their way. I put him into his new car seat so they could leave. It was a bittersweet moment. I was so sad to have him go, but I knew it was in his best interest to be raised by them.

The adoptive mother was going to induce lactation, but it did not work out as well as hoped. Stephanie decided a week after her delivery that she wanted to pump her milk to deliver to her baby. She had no trouble at all increasing her milk supply. Soon, she was even up at night to pump milk for him. About every two weeks, we sent Stephanie's milk packed in dry ice so it would arrive the next day still frozen. She pumped her milk and sent it to her son until he was about five months old. She gave him the best start she possibly could. She only stopped pumping when she took a job out of state and wouldn't have been able to continue working and pumping. The adoptive family really appreciated this gift from her.

We have a semi-open adoption in which we exchange letters, gifts, and pictures with the adoptive parents. One of the favorite things we received was a video of him when he was only a few months old. He looks so cute in their little family and we know he will be well cared for. We visited with him again when he was seven months old. It was wonderful to see he had no stranger anxiety or concern at all about us. He enjoyed playing with all of the members of his "birth family." Stephanie was able to have a little private talk with him (she did all the talking!) and even rocked him to sleep. According to his recent birthday pictures, he is growing up to be an adorable little boy with curly red hair!

I am so impressed with my daughter and the wonderful choices she made for my grandson. She gave him gifts that no one else could have -- she gave birth naturally, she breastfed in the hospital, and she continued to provide her milk for five months after the birth. Though at each of these points she could have taken a different road that might have been "easier" or "more logical" for a teenager, she took the "less traveled road," the one that means the most to her son's lifelong health.

Someday, I hope he appreciates the conscientious efforts she put into mothering him. I know that I am very proud of her.

Editor's Note: Reprinted from League Spirit, Winter 2005-2006, the Area Leaders' Letter for LLL of So. California/ Nevada.

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