I always enjoyed working with children and families and was looking forward to continuing my career at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. My first day was on September 10, 2001, one day before September 11. There was much uncertainty and anxiety in the world during this time. Not only was I feeling the trauma of 9/11, but I was also starting a new job where I knew nothing about infant adoption. Nothing. My prior experience came from working with foster families where children were removed from abuse and neglect and parents’ rights were being involuntarily terminated. Thus, the idea that a birthparent could voluntarily place their infant for adoption was completely different for me and has changed my life forever.
When I first began, I primarily worked with our transitional care families who would provide temporary care to babies while their birthparents decided to place their infant for adoption or parent their child. I was somewhat intimidated at first, because the social worker before me had been in this position for years and had children of her own. When she was training me, I often heard her give support and advice on caring for infants. I had no children and had absolutely nothing to share. My nieces were not born yet so I never even held a baby. What advice could I possibly give, “Hang in there” You can do it!” My mom said when I was a baby I was “a perfect little angel” so I never heard stories of colicky babies. I felt a little useless, however I had good mentors who were patient and helpful. I also learned that sometimes advice is not what the transitional care parents needed, it was someone who was willing to listen and support them.
I took this listening and support and used it as I began to work with adoptive families in helping them to prepare for adoption. It was here that I heard their stories of infertility and the grief and loss that so many of them endured. Stories that I never heard before, not because it did not happen often but because it was something that was so difficult to talk about. During this time, I continued to learn that advice was not what was needed as much as compassion. I was not in their shoes and could not possibly be able to understand, but I could help support and them through their journey. Again, this is where my director and co-workers were so very helpful in providing the education that I needed to help me to work with adoptive parents.
Then came the role of being on-call. This was a new concept for me too as I would meet with birthparents in the hospital soon after they gave birth to a baby, sometimes two. I was 29 years old at the time and when I first started would walk into the hospital room asking a birth mom, “Is this a good time.” Not good a choice of words for sure as they just gave birth and were coping with thoughts and feelings of placing their baby for adoption. They were tired and often emotional as they were thinking about making the most difficult choice in their lives. It did not matter if it was their first child or their fifth. As difficult as it was, I learned that they always loved their child(ren) and that they wanted them to have a life that they could not give them at that time. I also learned that saying things like, “It will be ok” was not what was needed. Rather, support and compassion were needed.
I am now embarking on a new journey in my career as I am providing counseling to adoptees, along with individuals and couples experiencing infertility. I am “slightly older”, but I don’t feel anxious as I did on September 10, 2001, as I have gained a lot of experience throughout my twenty plus years. However, I will always go back to listening, compassion, and support which are so very important in working individuals and families.
Joe Ritacco, LPC