Parental Leave was essential for these dads whose baby was born with NAS

Parental Leave Was Essential For These Dads Whose Baby Was Born With NAS

After years of failed adoption opportunities, New Jersey husbands Rob and Carl are thrilled to have finally brought home their beautiful baby boy Griffin. Since he was born premature and with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS,) the couple said if it wasn’t for their state’s law affording them 12-weeks of parental leave, it would have been a much more difficult start to parenthood for all three of them.

Carl is the admissions director for a college preparatory school, and Rob is a retail operations for a major retail brand. They’ve been together almost 15 years, and have been talking about starting a family of their own since they first met. In preparation for parenthood, they even relocated out of New York City a few years ago.

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“Before we were married, we knew we wanted to grow our family outside of the city,” Carl explained. “So we both changed careers and focused on laying roots by buying our first house in Rob’s hometown in New Jersey — only five blocks from his parents, and three blocks from his sister and her family. It was important for us to make these steps within a community surrounded by close family and friends.”

Rob and Carl considered a variety of different paths to parenthood, including adoption, surrogacy and fostering. They attended seminars and workshops for all three options, and spoke with close friends and family who had been down each path to learn more about what they might entail. Ultimately, they decided on adoption.

“Not only was it the most feasible for us from a financial standpoint, it also allowed us to provide a loving and caring home with abundant opportunities for connection and growth with a child who otherwise might not be able to have some of those opportunities,” Rob said.

With an adoption agency recommendation in hand from a friend, the couple got moving on the process and kicked off their journey the private route with adoption attorney Robin Fleischner. Unfortunately, there were three serious opportunities that didn’t pan out for them. 

“Initially, throughout the adoption process, we had a couple of scammers, and we had a failed match with a woman in Tennessee,” Carl explained. “We spoke to her in April. But in July, she decided to raise the child alone.”

At the time, the couple didn’t quite process how that experience impacted them. Looking back, they said they needed to grieve the event as a real loss. Rob said anyone who goes through a failed adoption should allow themselves that same space.

“If it doesn’t happen, let yourself grieve it,” he said. “We didn’t at first, but allow yourself to process everything you are feeling. I found myself taken back by overwhelming grief even for a child that was not truly ours yet. We both needed to allow ourselves to work through all of those emotions that surfaced after the experience.”

After a month, Rob and Carl were connected with another gay couple through a gay parents Facebook group. The couple’s adoption situation was unable to move forward due to personal reasons, and they were trying to help the birth mom find another suitable couple to adopt the baby, who was due the following month. With Rob and Carl on board, the couple passed their information along to the birth mother for consideration. She chose them immediately. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel was shining through.

Carl and Rob started preparing for the arrival of their baby, who was expected at the end of September 2021. To their surprise, they got a message on August 31st, telling them the baby had already arrived in a surprise home-birth. 

They raced down to start an intense month in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU.) Not only was the baby born premature, he had also been born addicted to methadone.

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Newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome tend to go into withdrawal within a day or two after birth, according to Stanford Children’s Health. NAS can include symptoms like trembling, too much crying or high-pitched crying, sleep problems, tight muscle tone, overactive reflexes, seizures, sneezing, poor feeding and sucking, vomiting or diarrhea, sweating, and fever or unstable temperature. 

As new parents, Carl said it was an incredibly emotional experience, and the only reason they could be there to support their son through his difficult first few weeks of life was thanks to New Jersey’s 12-week parental leave law.

“We knew that [he would be born with NAS] going in. That was part of being honest with what we’d be open to with adoption,” Carl said. “Not only because he was a preemie, but we needed to be in the NICU to help him get through that withdrawal too. It was one of the most emotional experiences we’ve ever been through. And we couldn’t have done that without state parental leave. It was a hard but amazing experience to start off parenthood.”

After a month of getting healthy in the NICU, the new dads brought Griffin home to New Jersey, where they said they’ve been well supported by friends and family, and they are all learning to fit into each other’s routines. 

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The dads are scheduled for a final home visit within the coming days, and Griffin’s adoption should be finalized by the end of December, via a virtual court appearance. Now, as many new parents do, they’re nervously waiting to head back to work.

“One of the hardest parts so far has been the anticipation of going back after parental leave, and to see what that routine looks like,” Carl said. “Luckily, we both qualify for the state leave for 12 weeks, otherwise we couldn’t have been in the NICU or anything, because my company doesn’t even offer parental leave. Rob is fortunate to work for a company with 4 weeks additional paid leave, that’s been huge.”

The couple said they hope that by talking openly about their experience, they can highlight the importance of family leave, and decrease the stigma around NAS to encourage more potential adoptive families to be open to adopting children who have the syndrome.

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So far, the best part about parenting for Rob and Carl has been bonding with their baby, and with each other.

“One of the best parts is watching Carl be a dad,” Rob said. 

“You’re stealing my answer!” Carl smiled. 

“Really one of the best things is seeing his instinctual nature, seeing that parental feeling come out is endearing,” Rob continued. “It’s great watching him grow and be a father.”

“The richness that being parents adds to our relationship helps us learn more about one another, through our son,” Carl added, as baby Griffin cooed in his arms.

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To other couples considering adoption, Rob and Carl’s advice is to get a solid support system in place and ask plenty of questions.

“A strong support system was essential for us,” Rob said. “Talk to people who have been through the process, because everyone’s adoption journey is different, so learning about what’s come up for others is super important. It takes a village. But having a baby has brought us new energy, especially coming out of Covid where we weren’t all able to be together. It just feels great to have this new life in our lives.”

To experience their journey as a family, follow them on social media @RobandCarlAdopt.

Posted by Brit Smith

Brit Smith is a Staff Writer & Associate Editor at GWK. A native of London, England, Brit started her American adventure nannying and waiting tables in Texas in 2006, and eventually graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. Brit has previously written and created podcasts for WBZ NewsRadio, iHeart Media, and Different Leaf.



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