‘As I wheeled the adoptive mom out toward the elevator, I could see her shoulders shaking with sobs. I knelt down beside her and took her hand in mine.’

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“When I think about the word adoption, I can’t help but think about how adoption has so intricately interwoven itself into almost every aspect of my life. I see its effects all throughout my day. When we made the decision to adopt, I knew that it would forever change the way we viewed the word family. What I didn’t expect is how it would also deeply affect who I was and the care I provided in my career.

When I was a teenager, I was sure about two things for my future. 1: I wanted to be a mom, and 2: I wanted to be a Labor and Delivery nurse. When my husband and I started dating one of the first things we talked about was how we both wanted a big family. In fact, at our engagement party, I specifically remember someone asking how many kids we wanted to have one day. In unison my husband and I both said: ‘eight!’

How cute and naive of us.

Bride and groom sharing kiss at wedding reception
Courtesy Shannon Henson

One month after graduating from nursing school, at the age of 22, we got married and I was able to fulfill one part of my dream. I landed my dream job: a labor and delivery nurse at one of the most renowned hospitals in our state. Being alongside mothers as they bring their newborns into the world, is the biggest privilege and honor. To share a moment so intimate with their families, is not something I take lightly. The emotions in a labor room are palpable. Anticipation, joy, anxiety, fear, hope. For months, sometimes years these parents have been preparing for this moment. That moment has finally arrived and depending on the situation it is met with either immense joy or immense sadness.

After working as a nurse for a few years, my husband and I were ready to start a family. ‘This is it,’ I thought, ‘the second part of my dream life.’ However, right about that time we heard about the number of children in foster care. Over 400,000 children right here in the United States. Kids who needed love and a safe place to heal. ‘Wait we can do that,’ we thought. We knew we had an extra bedroom and not a whole lot of commitments other than our jobs. We started to research foster care, and quickly our passion for these kids started to grow. We knew it was now, or possibly never, as we were not confident, we would still feel this passion once we started our ‘own’ family and the busyness that comes along with that.

So, we jumped in and starting fostering. Within weeks of being licensed we became parents! Over the next 9 years we would foster many and adopt four beautiful precious souls. Every so often throughout the years, my husband and I would check in with each other and ask if we wanted to try to have biological children. Our answer was always the same: not right now. The world we had discovered as foster and adoptive parents was too messy, too broken, too beautiful. We knew this was the life we were created for.

Mother smiles as she rests head on sleeping adopted baby

Courtesy Shannon Henson

What I did not realize though, was just how much foster care and adoption was going to shape me and prepare me to be a better nurse to a certain population of my patients; and in turn how caring for those patients was going to affect me and shape me into a better foster and adoptive mom.

I remember the first time I was assigned to a baby in the newborn nursery that was to be taken home by his adoptive parents. I remember the butterflies in my stomach as I stepped into the nursery unsure of what I would be stepping into. The goal for my shift was to prepare the baby and adoptive parents for discharge. The joy on this couples’ faces was so evident. They carefully listened to every instruction I gave them, while lovingly rocking the little bundle in their arms. Our conversation turned more personal as I shared with them that I too was an adoptive mom. Immediately, a bond between us was formed as the adoptive mom began to share with me her worries about saying goodbye to their child’s birth mom who was still on the unit recovering from her delivery.

I did my best to help reassure her that although it would be extremely difficult, that she could do it, that this was an important piece to their adoption story, and that I would be with her every step of the way. Finally, the time for discharge came. What happened in the next few minutes is something that only few will witness in their lifetime, and that is forever etched on my heart. I watched a brave birth mom pick up her child, rock him in her arms, as tears streamed down her face. I watched her kiss him on his forehead, as his adoptive mom rubbed her arm for support. I encouraged them to take a photo all together so that their child could one day see just how much he is loved. The birth mom and the adoptive parents agreed, and they together huddled close around this precious little life as I snapped a picture that captured a moment so filled with joy and grief that it was almost too much to bear.

Finally, the birth mom placed her baby into the arms of the adoptive mother she had chosen to raise her child. They hugged and cried and said goodbye. As I wheeled the adoptive mom out toward the elevator, I could see her shoulders shaking with sobs. I knelt down beside her and took her hand in mine. She looked deep into my soul and cried, ‘How can something that is so painful for someone, bring me so much joy?’ I knew I didn’t have an answer for that, but rather hugged her and said, ‘There is not much about adoption that makes sense, but what is true is that you were created to be the mommy to this child, and it’s going to be hard, but you are going to do a really good job.’

As it turns out this was not the last time adoption and nursing would interconnect. Over the years, I have had the privilege to care for both birth mothers, their babies, and the families adopting them. I’ve placed babies into the arms of brave mothers who know they are soon saying goodbye. I’ve been in the room when moms have found out they are losing custody of their child. For an entire shift, I’ve held a baby in my arms who was just waiting for a family to come forward and take him home. I’ve stood by for support as adoptive parents thank their child’s birth mom for the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate gift. I’ve been brought into a room to offer comfort to an adoptive mom who just found out the birthmother of the baby they were prepared to bring home had changed her mind. I’ve held her in my arms as she collapsed to the floor with cries of agony I will never forget. I have been witness to the most joyous hello’s and the most painful goodbyes.

As it turns out all my years of fostering and adopting were shaping me into someone who could empathize with my patients. Yet in turn, all my years of nursing were shaping me into someone who could better love and care for my own children’s birthparents. Who could feel the weight of their loss. Who could know firsthand how hard their goodbyes were, how deep their love for their children was, because I have been a bedside witness to it in the hospital.

So, in honor of National Adoption Month I’d like to say thank you to all the birth moms and adoptive moms I have had the privilege to care for. Thank you for letting me be a part of your story. Thank you for trusting me to care and advocate for you and your child. Thank you for trusting me with your emotions. You are stronger and braver than you know.”

Nurse stands smiling with her five adopted children
Courtesy Shannon Henson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Henson, 35, of Los Angeles, California, You can follow their journey on Instagram here.  Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

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