My pregnancy couldn’t have come at a darker and more chaotic time in my twenty-two year old life. My parents' thirty-one years together had come to an abrupt halt, and my mother moved out and became estranged.
My own relationship with someone I loved deeply was over, for good. I had moved back in with my father to help put the pieces of his life and our family back together and through all of this found myself battling my own severe depression and anxiety. Questions and racing thoughts flooded my head. I’ve already had to step up and become a mother to my brother to try and make his senior year of high school as normal as possible; how am I possibly going to be a mother to my own child? Things like this don’t happen to people like me and the family I come from. I remember thinking to myself, when and how could this have possibly happened? I’ve been a prisoner of my own mind and circumstance for basically 6 months. I don’t even have ‘a bump’ - this has got to be a mistake. Six positive pregnancy tests later and I was finally convinced this baby was, indeed, really happening.
After I got through my 24-hour pity party I called my older sister, Claire, (who at the time lived 2 hours away) and had every intention of telling her about my pregnancy, but once we started talking I couldn’t find it in myself to utter the words I’m pregnant. Through my uncontrollable sobbing I managed to tell her, “I just need to get out of this house. I’m surrounded by memories of mom and the family that we will no longer have and I just need to get away.” She told me to stay with her for a while. I loaded my car up with as much of my personal belongings I thought would be necessary for the next 3 months and got on the road. I remember pulling over at a gas station thirty minutes away from my sister’s house and writing her a letter explaining my real reason for needing to get out of my hometown. The judgments, the local chatter, and the people who would feel the need to insert themselves and their opinions in a situation they know nothing about were something I refused to subject myself to. She would understand. When I arrived we started to unload some of my things and I finally sat her down on the bed and handed her the letter. She read it, calmly folded the letter back up, and without any judgment in her voice said, “Ok, what is your next step and what can I do to help?”
My family is one that is more than capable of supporting me financially, mentally, and emotionally, but this was my decision and given the chaos that had been my family’s life during this time, I refused to bring a child into that. A child deserves better than that, and I was determined to find that for him or her. I told Claire the only option that came to my mind was to place my child for adoption. Our family has been fortunate enough to have three beautiful blessings in our lives thanks to brave women who made the decision to place their children.
The next day, Claire contacted an organization - which later became the one where I chose to place my child through. From the second they answered the phone, their focus was on me and my child. We were connected with one of the case workers, Rita, and she offered to drive to Claire’s house to make our first meeting as comfortable and easy as it could possibly be. Rita arrived and we discussed at length all of my different adoption options. I told her I was 100% positive I wanted a closed adoption. I was afraid I would associate my child with the horrible time in my life and everything my family was going through. I just wanted to get through the pregnancy, move forward, and forget about that entire chapter of our lives. Rita gave me the names of local doctors and given how far along in my pregnancy I was, advised me to get in as soon as I could. Unfortunately, the soonest I could get in anywhere was a month down the road… That was one of the longest months of my life. All of my pity for myself turned into anxiety for my unborn child. How could my depression have kept me from realizing I was (now) almost 6 ½ months pregnant and how will the baby possibly be healthy without any prenatal care?
My appointment rolled around and I remember me and Claire meeting with my doctor’s nurse for the intake. She asked me how far along I thought I was, and I told her “Oh, I think about 7 months or so…”. She chuckled as she took a step back and looked at me again saying “I don’t think so but we’ll see once the Dr. gets you on the table and we do your ultrasound”. That ultrasound forever changed my life. I remember the tech saying “It’s a girl, and oh my goodness, look at all of her hair moving in there!” I just stared at her with eyes swollen with tears and my heart the fullest it has ever been. Claire and I left and went for a walk. We laughed about how cute she was and how she had my lips and chubby cheeks and how adorable she was even in pixilated black and white. That ultrasound didn’t change my decision to place her for adoption, but it immediately changed my decision to have a closed adoption into only wanting an open adoption. I saw her and knew there was no way I could go on with my life without seeing her again.
I called Rita immediately after my walk to let her know, and she said she would bring profiles of couples who are looking for open adoptions and fit within the criteria that I wanted. Rita came over a few days later and Claire and I carefully reviewed the profiles she brought. I just didn’t have that "Yes--this is the couple" feeling so she told me she would reach out to other offices in other cities. Four different cities and almost thirty couple profiles later, I still wasn’t any closer to finding the one. At this point, I was less than a month away from my due date and beginning to worry if I would ever find the perfect couple to raise my beautiful baby girl. Rita and Claire assured me that they were out there. We just needed to keep praying and “we would go all the way to California if we had to find a couple you are comfortable with raising your child.” Rita called letting me know she had given my e-mail address to an agency in another state and their director would be sending me four couples’ profiles to review. I only received three. They were beautiful and successful couples who I’m sure would have given my little girl a wonderful life, but I still just didn’t have the connection to them I was looking for. Feeling absolutely hopeless, I e-mailed the director back and let him know I had only received three profiles and that I, unfortunately, didn’t think any of them were going to work. He proceeded to try to send me the fourth couple’s profile two more times…
Finally, it came through and it was a moment in my life I will never forget. Shawn & Cheryl. This couple’s profile looks like something I would have put together. Everything from disliking Nickleback, NASCAR, and jorts to perfectly aligned family values, morals, and lifestyles were exactly what I was looking for. For the first time since the day I found out I was pregnant, I was excited. They were just like me and I wanted to meet them immediately.
Rita coordinated with Shawn & Cheryl’s case worker and arranged a meeting at a local church. Claire attended the meeting with me and we were both a nervous wreck. Would they like me? Will they be just as perfect in person as they were on paper? Will they really allow me to see her after she is born? Will they allow her to have a relationship with her birthfather as well? (Even though I had zero relationship with him this was important to me.) What if we just don’t have that connection? While walking in I said a prayer: “Please just show me a sign that they are the couple for my baby.” The meeting began and they were even better than I could have ever imagined. There was a point in the meeting when I was going over my reasons for choosing adoption and mentioned how two of my cousins had adopted a beautiful baby girl. I went on to say their names and Shawn & Cheryl’s case worker apologetically stopped me and asked what my cousins’ names were. I told her and she said “Oh my gosh. I was their case worker and placed that beautiful little cousin you are talking about with them!” Claire and I immediately began crying and said that was our sign we had prayed for. I knew right off the bat that Shawn & Cheryl were who I wanted to place my baby girl with, but I didn’t want to just tell them over a phone call through their case worker. I had Rita tell their case worker I still wasn’t sure and wanted a second interview with them for the following week. In the meantime, Claire and I went to a local pottery place and made two coffee mugs; one that said DAD and one that said MOM, along with a picture frame I had painted the initials of the name Shawn & Cheryl had told me in our first meeting they had planned on naming their baby girl. Claire and I got to the breakfast spot early for our meeting and instructed our waitress that no matter what they ordered to drink, it was to be served in the mom & dad coffee mugs. Our drinks came and Shawn & Cheryl began sipping on their coffee, totally unaware of what the mugs said. Finally, Shawn noticed and Cheryl did shortly after. We all cried and hugged and immediately a HUGE sense of relief came over me.
"This was it. Here is my family to go through this amazing journey with."
Our healthy, beautiful and perfect little girl, Olivia, came into the world less than two weeks after our second meeting on February 7th, 2013. A special date not only because it’s the day all of our lives changed, but because she shares a birthday with one of the family members who was adopted into our family. Our hospital stay was a unique one. What could have been such a sterile and sad time was replaced with a pizza party, a champagne toast, and Olivia being surrounded by an enormous amount of love from my family and Shawn & Cheryl. All of us were an emotional wreck the day it came to leave the hospital. The closeness that had developed during that hospital stay between our version of a modern family was a closeness I’ve never experienced before and I doubt I ever will again. A lot of people see our relationships with each other, family vacations, holidays together and our entire family dynamic and have a hard time understanding it. They think we are too close or that we are only setting ourselves up for a tough road ahead once Olivia gets older. In the beginning we had a very open and honest conversation establishing healthy boundaries and two things were always at the forefront of those discussions: Olivia’s best interest and Olivia always feeling the mass amount of love there is for her. That is all any parent would want for their child. Shawn and Cheryl were the perfect couple I had prayed for and finally found to parent Olivia.
"They were truly the light that helped overcome such a dark time in my life. I didn’t “lose” Olivia, if anything I gained three of the most beautiful people, inside and out, that I am so grateful to have in my life. They have become two of the people I want to share my happiest news with and who I lean on for support during more trying times. I love how much we all have in common. Whether it’s music, food, our loves of family, healthy lifestyles, or moral values; we’ve always seen eye to eye."
I always get asked if Cheryl is my sister when people are looking through pictures or if we are out together, our answer is always “yes” because we feel and believe we are soul sisters. We just get each other. I feel like we’ve known each other for years and she has become one of the most important people in my life. My relationship with Shawn is one that keeps me laughing and that I wouldn’t change for anything. His sense of humor and love for life and his family are something that I noticed immediately and have had such a positive impact on my life. Every time I watch Shawn and Cheryl with Olivia I am reminded of how blessed me and my family are to have them in our lives.
There is not one single thing that I would have changed about my adoption journey. I look at the fact that I had zero sadness or regret associated with my decision and sometimes feel guilty or wrong for not feeling those ways, but I 100% believe that if you are faced with a difficult decision and you know you are truly making the right choice, it’s so much easier to make.
Not only did my family grow, but I grew as a person as well. It has given me a platform and the ability to help other girls and women from all different backgrounds who are struggling with unplanned pregnancy. I am able to share my story and reassure other birthparents that you will make it through this journey and in the end everything will be okay. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at several adoption workshops and adoption conferences that have empowered me and put me in touch with wonderful people and organizations. At this years’ CAFO conference I spoke as a panelist during a workshop about honoring birthmothers and it was one of the most humbling and gratifying experiences of my life. After that workshop I was approached by a representative from BraveLove. She handed me her business card and some swag and told me to check them out. I am so glad I did! The support they give to not only birthmothers but all those involved in the adoption process is wonderful and it’s a cause that I am so happy to be a part of. We need more organizations like BraveLove promoting the beautiful and brave decision that is adoption.
In honor of Thanksgiving, we are asking the question - What have you been most grateful for throughout your adoption journey?
"Reflecting on my adoption journey I feel more blessed than I ever imagined feeling at this point. I'm grateful for Rita and the agency I placed through for going above and beyond to match me with Shawn & Cheryl. I'm grateful for the relationships I have with Shawn & Cheryl and the relationship they wanted me to have and allow for me to have with Olivia. I'm grateful for how close my pregnancy and adoption journey has brought my family and also Shawn, Cheryl, Olivia and I. "Grateful" is a perfect word to describe how I feel every single night when I lay down and realize what all my adoption journey has given me." - Ali