In honor of Mother’s Day, here's a story told by one woman who has actually walked in the shoes of birth mothers and adoptive mothers. When faced with the challenges of infertility, grief, loss and fear, she developed a deeper compassion, a greater hope, and a more open heart than she ever could have dreamed possible. Meet Jennifer.
My story, just like so many others, is hard to put into words. Hard to put on paper all of the moments, thoughts, hurts, fears and celebrations that have brought me to the spot I stand in today.
My heart was pounding as we pulled into the agency to meet her. A beautiful young woman who had chosen us to parent her child. She was due any day. A boy would be born and I would bring him home. I would be his mommy! My heart was overwhelmed with that thought. I was in love with him already, but was overwhelmed with fear that she would change her mind. What if she was like the last birth mother? What if she changed her mind? What if I prepared my heart and home again, only to have her choose to parent? But I was also overwhelmed with grief. Grief for this beautiful soul who would soon have to do the most painful thing imaginable- to hand over her child to another woman. I think all adoptive mothers hurt for their birth moms, but it's different for me. I don't just hurt for her, I grieve with her. I understand and feel her pain in a way that few can.
Twelve years before I met her, I made the same heart-breaking decision. I carried my precious son in my body for all of those months, felt every kick, saw every ultrasound, had every craving, spent all of those sleepless nights thinking of him and the hopes that I had for his life. But I knew that I could not give him what he deserved. And if it meant that I had to sacrifice my happiness for his, then I would do what every mother does, I would put my child's needs ahead of my own. I would give him the life that I wanted for him, even if that meant I did not get to be a part of it.
The day that my son was born was the most amazing day of my life. It was a long, hard and painful labor. I desperately wanted it to be over. And yet, I was so scared for it to be over. When the doctor came in to tell me it was time to push, I immediately began to sob. This was it. I didn't want it to end because I didn't want to have to say "goodbye." When he was born, he would no longer be inside of me. He would no longer be mine. Two hours later, he was here. As the doctor held him up for me to see, my hands went straight to my empty belly. I can feel it as vividly as I did 16 years ago. The empty belly, the empty heart. I spent the next 48 hours spending every moment possible with him. If I never got another day with him, I wanted to have what was mine. I studied his fingers and his toes, changed his diapers, fed him, smelled his sweet scent. I held him so close, squeezing him to my heart in some desperate attempt to make the pain stop. But it only got worse.
Finally the time came and I had to say goodbye. I placed him into her arms, kissed his face and walked away. I was completely empty. She was holding my heart in her hands.
The first few years were tougher than I could have ever imagined, but I was comforted each time that I received an update from them. I would see the wholeness of the life that he had with them and knew that my decision had not been made in vain. I grieved that I did not get to be a part of his life, but was willing to endure it. To see his smile was balm to my hurting heart. He was happy, healthy and safe.
Over the years, the openness that they promised has been taken away. The cards and pictures got fewer and far between. The acknowledgments of my gifts stopped coming. And eventually everything stopped coming. No Christmas cards, no updates, no pictures, no anything. There is nothing to soothe my pain now and it seems like it hurts more and more each day. What does he think about me? What are they telling him? Does he hate me? Will he ever want to know me? The fear is suffocating.
After my son was born, I went to nursing school and began working as an L&D nurse. God placed me in deliveries often where I could minister to other women who were placing for adoption. To cry with them, hold them and feel their pain with them. Then I met my incredible husband. Even though I felt like I did not deserve a Godly man like him because of all that I had walked through, he loved me not just in spite of my past, but because of it and the faith that it had grown in me. We decided to start a family and I was convinced that I would get pregnant the first month. I mean, God was surely going to make this easy for me... right? My pregnancy test would fall on my birthday which was also Mother's Day that year. (As both someone who had lost her mom to cancer when I was 6 and as a birth mom, I dreaded Mother's Day. I would try my hardest to run and hide from the day and not have to face the awful "stand if you are a mother" in church. Did I stand? Did I not? I was a mother and proud of it. But I wasn't a mom. Instead, I sat alone, feeling more empty than ever.) So, what a perfect day for God to give me this positive pregnancy test, to redeem the dreaded Mother's Day.
The test was negative. And there were many, many negative tests to follow. Along with many, many doctors visits, ultrasounds, blood draws, shots, procedures, dollars and tears. After two failed attempts at IVFs, I was devastated. How could this be happening? I just HAD to be pregnant. I had to carry a baby in my body that I would get to be mommy to. These stretch marks and the body that I had hated for years needed to make sense- to have something to show for it. Another baby would never ever replace my son, but I thought it was what I needed to help me heal. Instead, the bandaid was repeatedly ripped off, leaving a gaping wound and broken heart.
One day, I received a call from a friend that is an ob/gyn and had a patient considering adoption. She wanted to know if I was interested in meeting her. I politely thanked her for thinking of us and said that I would be happy to support her as a birth mother, but that we were not open to adopting. There was no way that I could adopt. Especially not domestically, where I would have to have a relationship with a birth mom. I couldn't handle seeing her grief. I couldn't handle trying to be everything that she would need me to be. What if I disappointed her? What if despite my best efforts, I hurt her? I never wanted any other person to feel the pain and rejection that I have walked through as a birth mom. When I told my husband about it though, he said that he thought we should pray about it. After several conversations with her, we knew that she would not go through with placing. But we also knew that God was showing us that He had opened our hearts to much more that we could have ever dreamed. He was calling us to adopt.
All the same memories and fears that came with being at the adoption agency, those all came back. This had to have been God’s Plan.
Weeks later, we got another call from a friend (who had no idea that we were considering adoption) about a girl that was twelve weeks pregnant and planning to place for adoption. We met with her and she chose us to parent her baby. We didn't know where to go, but I knew that I wanted her to have the same support and resources that I had as a birth mom, so we wanted to go through an agency. I had been working with the agency that I placed with, and was a part of a birth mom support group. I contacted them and they agreed to help us facilitate the adoption.
For the next 26 weeks, we walked through the pregnancy with her and greatly anticipated bringing home a baby girl. We did all of the things that expectant parents do... We named her Sarah. We decorated her nursery. We had a baby shower. And then we got the call- her mother had chosen to parent and we would not bring her home with us.
We didn't understand. Adoption had not been our plan. In fact this was the exact opposite of what we wanted. Not only were we adopting, but we were adopting through the exact same agency that I had placed through. The same people, the same building and all of the same memories and fears that came with being there. This had to have been God's plan. But why would he bring us here, only to take her away from us?
We soon got another call that changed our lives forever. We had been chosen by another birth mom at the agency. She was due any day and she was having a boy. We were so guarded, so hesitant to change from pink to blue, so broken by the loss of Sarah and so fearful of being hurt again. But when we met her, I instantly fell in love with her and with the boy growing in her belly. Just a few days later we got the call. Seeing him for the first time, it all seemed to make sense. This was our son. And we had to lose our Sarah, so that we could get to this moment. To be here with him. But seeing his birth mom holding him in her arms, loving him so purely, my heart was broken for her. There was such beauty in those moments, as she handed him to me and entrusted this precious gift to us. I felt more joy than I had ever known. But there was a pain that welled up in my heart as strong as it was the day that I handed my son to his adoptive mom. At that moment, I realized that the joy would not take away the pain. But the pain also did not take away my joy. Somehow, I would have to learn to live with both.
Two years later, we adopted our second son through the same agency and we have openness with both of their birth families. When I was just a birth mom, I didn't understand how they could keep me out of his life. Maybe I was expecting too much? Maybe it was harder than I could imagine. But now I am an adoptive mom as well and I have to say that I still don't understand. Open adoption IS hard. I get insecure. I get defensive. I know that I am their mommy, but I still fear that one day they will want their mother and not me. But I still do it. I make the decision every day to fight past the fears. I do it for my boys. Because they deserve to know that they are loved and that they are wanted. Not every situation is the same, but in our case, we have the chance to give them more extended family to love them. And, with boundaries set, we find that to be a very good thing. I wish my son's adoptive parents felt the same way.
With each passing day of the last 16 years, I miss my son more. He consumes my thoughts, in the same way that my other two sons do. I often dream of him and will wake with my arms literally aching to hold him. I am fearful of what the future holds, but my prayer is that some day, I will get the chance to tell him how loved he is and has always been.
As Jennifer shared, Mother’s Day can be a bittersweet day for birth moms who chose adoption. This year we’re sending a Mother’s Day card to birth mothers everywhere to show we care. The card will appear on billboards around the country, signed by thousands who love and support birth mothers for their brave choice to place for adoption. Will you take a second to sign it?