Our story starts in 2012 when a very strong desire grew in my heart for another child.
While we have always been open to life, my husband, Greg, was scared to attempt another pregnancy due to complications during my second pregnancy. His concern was either losing the child or losing me during delivery. My heart was open to adoption, but Greg wasn’t ready.
He wasn’t sure how adoption would feel and had few experiences with those who had gone through it or who were adopted. I strongly felt that someone was missing from our family, we were not complete. I would often talk to my friend Renee about how I felt there was a missing piece of our puzzle and we united in prayer for this intention, asking God for direction.
In January of 2014, I was able to take the trip of a lifetime. My trip to Israel was highly encouraged, if not forced, by Greg as I was to walk deeper into my relationship with Christ. I was able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and pray in these sacred places. The Bible really came alive for me and that trip changed my life.
In August of 2014, a priest visited our parish from Africa and spoke of adoption. This time when I approached Greg he was open, his heart had softened to the idea and he was willing to find out more. When I reached out to find more information about the process, I didn’t hear back. This left me confused as I thought that this might be our path to building our family.
On October 7, 2014, Birkley Nicole was born and on that same day, Greg and I celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Near the end of October, my mom began telling me about this tiny baby that reminded her of a porcelain baby doll. She told me that the baby’s mouth was so small and dainty that the bottle would barely fit. The mom and baby were living with her step-mom (my aunt) and step-mom’s spouse. On Thanksgiving Day of 2014, our family went to my hometown to visit family. The day after Thanksgiving we decided to visit this precious baby for the first time. My oldest daughter Olivia and I were given the opportunity to hold Birkley and feed her. I remember not wanting to share holding her with my daughter because she was so sweet. Little did we know how the rest of the story would unfold.
By the middle of December, my aunt and her husband were taking care of Birkley full time and, on New Year’s Eve, my aunt asked us if we could provide respite. We were excited to have a baby in our house and we absolutely fell in love from day one. On December 31, 2014, our daughter Gaby’s eighth birthday, we welcomed Birkley into our house for a five-day visit. It was a very joyous time for all of us and I felt complete. At the end of her stay, after taking Birkley back to my aunt’s house, the car felt empty. It took us all of one day of not having her for us to ask to keep her again the following weekend. The bond that we felt only strengthened and our sadness only increased each time we took her back to my aunt’s house.
This pattern went on for several weekends in a row. My husband and I then asked if my aunt and her spouse would be open to talking with Birkley’s mom about custody and then pursuing adoption. Our love and longing for Birkley to be with us were so strong from the very beginning. We were aware that her birth mom was not able to take care of her due to many difficult circumstances. The request to adopt Birkley created and stirred so many emotions within me that I had not expected or planned.
While we longed to have her forever, we knew the decisions and choices that her birth mom was facing. My heart ached to have Birkley with us, but my heart also ached for her birth mom too.
Adoption is beautiful but is it also painful. The process that her birth mom went through was not without thought. Each time we had to have another paper signed, my heart ached for her and what she must be processing. Our joy was causing her immense suffering and loss. Something that I won’t forget.
On February 17, 2015, we were granted temporary custody. We were over the moon with excitement and I remember exchanging texts with Birkley's birth mom. She was happy, but I knew that loss and sadness lingered. We prayed for her every single day and continue to this day.
On Thursday, February 19, 2015, I spoke to my biological dad for the last time. I shared the news of temporary custody of Birkley and our plans of adoption. We exchanged pictures and he told me how proud he was of our family and couldn’t wait to meet her soon. My dad passed away that Sunday, February 22 at the age of 58.
I’ve heard it said that God takes ashes and turns it into beauty. I’ve never experienced such joy and sorrow and everything in between at the same time.
On that previous Saturday I had just attended the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference and put my name in for a drawing for a necklace — and I actually won! The jewelry company sent a medal of two angels refining metal, which was no coincidence. I truly felt that I was entering into a time of refinement. Refinement is always painful but the beauty is being able to reflect back and see God’s hand.
I was able to take twelve weeks off of work to bond after placement. It was a time of sorrow over the loss of my dad, but also joy in the new life. It felt very natural for us to bond as a family, as she was who God placed on my heart so many years prior.
We were then granted permanent custody and entered into another season of waiting. This was a difficult time for us as a family as we desperately wanted the adoption to be final, but also we knew it continued to be a time of pain for her birth mom.
During this time, as a family, we discussed her name. I had always said that I would name a third daughter Elizabeth Anne. But I couldn’t see Elizabeth when I looked into her eyes. On April 28, 2015, I read about St. Gianna Bretta Molla who is the patron Saint of unborn babies. She chose life for her baby, putting her own life at risk and made the ultimate sacrifice for her baby. This reminded me of Birkley’s birth mom — putting her own wants aside to lovingly place Birkley into our arms. I also knew that I would love to honor Our Blessed Mother Mary. I texted Greg the name Gianna Marie and he wrote back “YES!” Gianna means "God is gracious" and Marie means "wished for child." I knew right away that her name was meant to be Gianna Marie.
On August 26, 2015, we went to court for our adoption hearing. This day is also St. Mother Teresa’s birthday who was a pro-life champion. For the legal process to be followed, we were allowed to have our adoption hearing but needed to wait several more days before we could be finalized. During the adoption hearing, Gianna was given a stuffed bunny by the judge. The bunny is of particular importance because it was made at the prison that my biological dad had been in for many years. It was made of a wild cheetah print and I knew that it perfectly fit my dad’s personality. It was as if he was with us in that courtroom and wanted us to know. On September 4, 2015, Mother Teresa’s canonization day we were notified that our adoption was final. She was now legally a part of our family, but she had our hearts for the past ten months.
We are open with Gianna and provide her information about adoption that is understandable for her age. We have explained that she grew in her birth mom’s belly, but she grew in my heart. We continue to pray for her birth mom and Gianna has added her half-siblings in her prayers.
Our adoption is open and we are all committed to Gianna and the love that we share for her. Your child can never have too many people to love them. We are grateful to have visits with her birth mom and her birth family and were blessed to celebrate Gianna’s fourth birthday this year together. There are still challenges to navigate as these relationships are new for all of us. But we are confident that with open communication and love, we can work anything out.
As a family, we have a deep desire for the perception of adoption to be changed and for birth mothers to be celebrated for their brave and selfless decision.
The gift that Gianna’s birth mom gave to our family is profound. Adoption has changed our family and has propelled us to educate those around us about adoption language. This is deeply seeded in our family and we were able to see the fruit when our oldest daughter felt called to help birth mothers. She contacted BraveLove and what started as education and making cards turned into something bigger and greater for birth moms around the country. And again when our middle daughter listed Gianna’s birth mom as her hero for school. We know that we have been given a gift and have the great opportunity to assist and support birth moms and change the perception of adoption, one conversation at a time.
Stacy is a wife and mother to three daughters and calls Ohio home. She said "God writes our stories; He is intricately woven into every detail. No detail is too small as He knows every hair on our head. This is the story of how God planted a longing in my heart for our daughter, how I waited and prayed, and how she had us all wrapped around her tiny fingers from our first meeting."