I was an unplanned, unwanted baby by my mommy. She was nervous and scared all the time that I lived inside her. Instead of eating, she drank coffee. Maybe that’s why I was so small.
After she gave birth, she was sedated and whisked away, with no knowledge if I was a boy or girl. She was gone. I was all alone and didn’t get touched for ten days.
Dr. Miles Fillinger, the doctor who delivered me, cried big tears as he held me in one hand. “Welcome to the world, little one.” he said. I would later learn that he was an orphan himself, who cried at the birth of every baby. What a gift to me!
Then, nurses with big white caps and uniforms wrapped me in a soft blanket and placed me in one of their new inventions—an incubator. It was a box made of clear glass with something to keep me warm and help me grow.
This is how I imagine my newborn experience in a baby box.
History of the Baby Box
It’s interesting to look at the history of the incubator. It was first thought of in France in the late 1800s. When Dr. Martin Couney, a US physician, heard about the incubator, he worked diligently to bring the concept to the US.
Dr. Couney could be likened to the South Korean pastor featured in the recent film “Baby Box.” Both men wanted to save the lives of as many premature newborns as possible.
Because the incubator was untested technology in 1903, the developers needed a way to prove their worth and get word out. Therefore, Dr. Couney created an exhibit called Dreamland at Coney Island. It resembled a normal hospital ward, with babies, nurses providing specialized care, and the doctor overseeing everything. People at the fair could gaze at the babies and see the benefits of the incubator. That’s how word got out in the beginning.
In 1941, the incubator exhibits shut down in the US and a premie ward opened up in Cornell’s New York Hospital. That was a huge step in progressing toward hospital-based care for premature babies.
Effectiveness of Baby Boxes in the Past
However, something was sadly missing during the 1940s. It was the “closed adoption system,” saturated with shame and secrecy.
Birthmothers were told to just forget it and go on with life. That counsel didn’t work for any birth mother. My mother died a lonely old woman, alienated from everyone in her life.
Adoptive parents weren’t told about adoption grief and how to process it. Even though many unplanned mothers of babies delivered in hospitals, the babies were considered illegitimate, Adoptee birth records were legally sealed, preventing adoptees from knowing the back story of their adoption. Instead, they were told romanticized stories about how their lives began, which only produces fantasy and a desperate search for lost family members.
How I wish someone would have been present before and after my birth mother’s delivery to comfort and support all of us. Someone that knew the great loss we were experiencing and respected each person’s courage in decision-making.
Even though the baby box movement moved forward when the New York hospital created an ICU for premies, current day legislators, beginning with Indiana, are seriously considering bringing back the baby box.
What a disservice it would be to go back to shame-based solutions, instead of empowering women with resources and options throughout their pregnancy! What a reactive step backwards that would be.
How Hospitals Can Be Progressive
We need education that is easily accessible to all families and pro-education hospital programs in every community.
Many adoption agencies believe they ARE creating adoption-sensitive hospital plans, but it’s the healthcare workers that need to be taught how to create an adoption-sensitive environment.
It’s time to change from making baby boxes readily available to women by enhancing the safe haven option, ensuring a woman is empowered with education through her pregnancy, providing resources and options available to her. And, if she is considering an adoption plan, she should expect the hospital staff will support her during the difficult hospital time following best practice in serving the unique family.
It’s time to move on!
Something Better is On the Horizon
New thinking and programs are emerging as I speak. With all my heart, I believe that this is a new era in adoption care. I have seen it with my own eyes and hope I can communicate it to you!
For the last five years, I have had the pleasure of working with Rebecca Swan Vahle, CEO and Founder of a new organization called Family to Family Support Network. From the time I met Rebecca, I knew we would be working together someday.
Rebecca invited me to visit the OB-GYN unit called “The BirthPlace” at Parker Adventist Hospital, just south of Denver, CO. The walls were painted a warm green and were lined with photos of babies who had been recipients of the love and care the staff the Birth Place offered.
As destiny would have it, I got to be present for an adoption two years later. It was a sacred space in time for everyone in that hospital room. I watched as the potential mom and dad held their child for the first time. Then, the nurses unwrapped the baby from her blanket, put her tiny fingers and feet on an ink pad, and pressed them onto the inside cover of a keepsake adoption book for children. Those prints will be like gold to the adopted child in the growing up and adult years. They prove that she was a real baby at a real hospital with a real birth.
What about the mother in the adoption I witnessed? And, the father? Where were they? The mother was in another room and made the choice to not see her baby or participate in fingerpainting. The father was not present.
Was this mother shunned by hospital personnel for this decision? Far from it! She was respected, honored, and shown much compassion All patients in this program are encouraged to craft their time in the hospital, whether with potential-adoptive parents present, or not.
Rebecca left Parker’s Birth Place recently to begin a non-profit organization. Family to Family Support Network. By creating the new organization, the potential for nation-wide training in hospitals is wide open—and once again, I find myself at the beginning of defining best practice in the hospital care of babies.
When Rebecca asked if I would be on her board of directors, of course, I said yes! She believes I have much to offer from my perspective, from starting my life as the baby in the hospital, to the woman I am today.
I am again a witness to progress—first from inside an incubator to now witnessing the unfolding of a new best practice in a hospital BirthPlace through the Family to Family Support Program.
If you are interested in bringing this program to your city, please contact me.