‘I haven’t had enough time with her.’ It was a gut punch. I had to say goodbye to the child I carried.’: Teen mom reunites with daughter, ‘I never stopped loving her’

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“A birth mother’s story begins the moment she finds out she is pregnant, but it never truly ends. For me, this story began in February 2000. I was a naïve 16-year-old high school junior when I flipped through our family medical encyclopedia and browsed ‘symptoms of pregnancy.’ Immediately, it felt like I was sucker-punched by this overwhelming feeling I was a disappointment to all. I knew I was pregnant.

What do you do at such a young age? ‘How do I tell my parents? What will everyone think of me?’ The next 2 weeks were the darkest weeks of my life, fighting with all of my emotions and figuring out my future. I wrote out a four-page plan and was prepared to give the letter to my mother. I recently found the letter after 20 years and it was hard to read the words I wrote. During that time, I struggled with who I was and who I would be, had suicidal thoughts, and felt completely alone.

My plan was simple, or so I thought. Adoption has been a topic of discussion in my family for as long as I can remember. When I thought of the future for my child, the only option was to place them for adoption. There was no way, at 16, I could give this child the life I already knew they deserved.

That morning, I dropped my letter on the back of the couch and ran off to school. I knew my mother would see it and it gave me the entire day to figure out what I would say. This was now real. For 2 weeks, I had been carrying around this secret, telling no one. It was eating away at me. I arrived home after school and she was waiting for me. We sat on my bed and cried. Through tears, she reassured me of her love and suggested I move out of town until the birth.

My father came home and it was his turn. I knew this one would be harder since I was a daddy’s girl. Through my tears and slight hyperventilating, I managed to get out the words, ‘Dad, I’m pregnant.’ I will never forget his response, ‘I thought it was going to be worse.’ What could be worse than this at that moment? We talked, they asked questions, and I gave them the best answers I could. We all agreed I would be staying home during the pregnancy. This moment changed my relationship with my parents forever.

Courtesy of Stephanie McFredrick Photography

The next morning, I woke up with puffy eyes and a little less stress and headed to the hospital with my mother. The one thing I had yet to do was take a pregnancy test. I did not need one to tell me what I already knew. We got the confirmation I was dreading — I was indeed pregnant, but also 20 weeks along.

Now it was time to face the birth father and his family. We arranged a time for his mother and him to come over and discuss our situation. During our discussion, his mother asked if we would consider her sister and brother-in-law as potential adoptive parents. They had been married for years, lived a good life in California, and had been trying to have a child for 14 years. We agreed to meet them and see if they were the ones.

A couple of weeks later, we were at a hotel restaurant meeting the potential adoptive parents. From the moment we all met, they made us feel comfortable. I watched as my father and the potential adoptive father bonded. The potential adoptive mother had this calming tone to her voice. She just made you feel at ease about everything. I was sold already; they would be the parents for this child. My heart was filled with joy and my head was relieved we would not have to begin a search for parents.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

Navigating a private adoption was our next hurdle. We located an adoption attorney in town and thankfully, he was able to get us right in. He was so knowledgeable. He answered all my wild questions and provided us with resources to help as we started down this journey. He said he would handle everything between us and the adoptive parents through their attorney. To this day, I cannot thank him and his staff enough for everything they did to make this adoption smooth. One of the best suggestions he gave was for me to begin seeing a counselor and he knew the perfect one for me.

One day in April, I met Darcy, my new counselor. She was so cheery and warm. We met many times between that day and placement. She helped me create my adoption plan, told me how to advocate for myself, and prepared me for the emotional roller coaster I was boarding. If I could provide one piece of advice to any birth mom, it would be to find yourself a Darcy.

The big day was finally here: July 21. It was just after midnight when I felt the first sharp pain. I decided to handle this on my own at first. I knew my father had to be up early for work and my mother worked the late shift the night before. I did not want to bother either of them. I managed 4 hours before waking my mother. Shortly after, we knew we would be heading to the hospital soon so we made one phone call, to the adoptive parents. They jumped on the first flight to Tucson with hopes of making it in time for the delivery.

We loaded the car and on we went, my mother, 12-year-old sister, and myself. My sweet sister tried to comfort me in the backseat and for that, she almost received a broken hand during a contraction. We arrived at the hospital, checked in, and began the wait. My best friend and her boyfriend arrived to help. She had been through this whole pregnancy with me, one of the few people who knew every detail. I was thankful she brought her boyfriend along because he was able to be there for my sister while everyone else focused on me.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

Around 3 p.m., my father arrived after his shift on base and the adoptive parents made it in from California. I had everyone I needed with me. It was not until everyone arrived this baby knew it was time to make her appearance into the world. Joining me in the delivery room was my best friend, my mother, father, and both adoptive parents. It was important to me to have the adoptive parents witness her birth, to be there for her for every second of her life. My only request was they both stay by my head.

At 4:11 p.m., Baby J was born. Her parents welcomed her and held her first. I had been bonding with her for the last 20 weeks, so this was their time. Watching them hold her and seeing the love beam from their faces, I was at peace with my decision. When her mother brought her to me, I could not wait to hold her in my arms. I knew there would not be much more of it, so I enjoyed every second. She was perfect!

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

My doctor and I had discussed my hospital stay just the day prior. She had arranged for me to stay in a surgical room. This gave me the chance to begin my healing process and the new family to bond in a private room. Honestly, I feared bonding with her. I did not want to get too attached and change my mind. I knew if I changed my mind, my parents would have supported me and helped me.

I did not want this for their life. They had two daughters of their own; they had not had a newborn in the house in 12 years. It would be starting all over again for them so I only had one option… I had to go through with this adoption. I had to control my emotions and I had to let the three of them bond. This very thinking would affect me for the next 18 years.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

Our discharge morning arrived and I had to carry Baby J out of the hospital. Once we passed through the doors, I handed her to her mother. As we watched them drive away with her, the pain rushed through me, tears flooded my face, and I knew she would never be mine again. Going home from delivery without a baby is something you can never really prepare for. Darcy had done a great job of working with me, but when you are faced with the actual moment, it is so different.

The next week it was one reminder after another I was not going to be a mother to the child I carried. No one prepares you for the healing your body has to do, the drying out of your milk, and the hormones that ravage you. I spent the first week trying to be a normal teenager and questioning why I still looked five months pregnant.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

That first week, they remained in Arizona, waiting to get the approval to leave. I took every opportunity I could to visit with them, hold her, and control my feelings of love and sadness. Do not show too much emotion while you are there so they do not fear you are going to try to take her back. Do not cry too much because no one knows how to deal with someone who will not stop crying. Do not hold her too much, but hold her just enough. I was fighting with my brain and heart constantly. There was one special moment where we took a photo of the birth family. No matter what happened, she was the most perfect thing that came from the two of us knowing one another.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

A week after her birth, we received a call — they were heading home. I remember standing there saying, ‘No, it hasn’t been long enough. I haven’t had enough time with her.’ There are all these moments after birth you think you are prepared for, then BAM, another punch to the gut. We all went to the airport to watch them leave. How do you say goodbye to the child you carried? How do you watch two people load her onto a plane and you are not invited? How would I manage to keep it all together? Their plane taxied and I just cried. What else could you do in that moment? She was gone.

I tried to keep myself distracted after they left. After all, I had 3 weeks until my senior year was to begin and I still had to get my senior photos taken. I went through the motions for those few weeks. I saw friends, did school shopping, and prepared to go back for my final year. I would not be the same girl that left in March, I would not be like the rest of my classmates, I would never be whole again.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

It did not take long before I received my first envelope from them. It was a small card jam-packed with photos from Baby J’s first few weeks. We had never really laid out a detailed plan for how we would navigate this adoption, but we all agreed we would have some level of openness. Those first few months, I received regular cards. It felt like I was there with them as they documented everything she did. I would cry, then I would laugh, and then I remembered why I picked them to be her parents. This. This was the reason. They would take nothing for granted, they had wanted this so bad and now their family was finally whole.

About 6 weeks after her birth, I had an unexpected experience. I had spent so much time preparing myself for this adoption, I forgot to think about the impact this adoption would have on other members of my family. My father, my rock, was hit the hardest with this adoption. He was experiencing something I never thought of: the loss of his first grandchild. He was just as happy and eager to see every photo of Baby J we received. Then work sent him to California and he was only an hour from them. One evening, he made the drive with one of his coworkers. He took his little disposable camera so he could document the entire visit. He needed the time with her, he needed to see them as a family, and he needed to heal, too.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

It was May 2001 and my high school graduation was fast approaching. I knew they would be coming for a visit, my first time seeing Baby J since the airport. That visit could not get here fast enough. How much had she grown? Her beautiful red hair, those sparkling blue eyes. She was not the tiny thing that left last year. She was moving and mumbling. I would always have this love for her, a love a mother carries for their child. I would always see the best of everything in her. She was the only perfect thing I have ever done.

Over the next few years, I would receive photos, tons of photos, and we would have visits annually. Each year as we would visit, she was becoming this little lady. It was so fun to watch her grow, watch her learn, watch her play. Each visit came with fewer tears and more joy. I knew she was so loved. I moved to Ohio and made sure they knew where I was.

Around 2009, things seemed to die off. I had not received a card or photo in a while. Once again, I was faced with something I was unprepared for. I did not know what I did to make them stop sending me photos. Was it me? Did I say or do something? Would I ever hear from them again? I never wanted to overstep or push my way into their life, so I let it be. If that was what they wanted, I would accept it. I never stopped loving her, thinking about her, or missing her.

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

After years of wondering, I received an email in the spring of 2015. It was an email from her adoptive mother. She told me she had been searching for me and finally found me. She gave me an update on Little J, how school was going, and what an amazing young woman she had become. She told me of Little J’s curiosity regarding her adoption and her birth mother. We went back and forth for the next 3 years.

In all the years since placement, there was only one thing I would talk about wanting. I wanted to watch Little J graduate from high school. In 2018, her high school graduation was approaching and I knew I would never be a part of that moment. Then I received an email from her mother with a link. The link was for the live streaming of her high school graduation. I do not even think I read the rest of the email, I was beyond excited. I may not be there in person, but I got the one thing I always wanted.

As I finally read all the details, I noticed the date of the event, June 7. That is my birthday. How did this monumental occasion happen to fall on my birthday? That day, I would be traveling home from a work event but nothing would keep me from watching her walk across the stage. When graduation time finally arrived, I was sitting on a plane in Chicago, waiting to take off for Cleveland. My boss sat next to me, peeking in to see updates. The flight would take less than an hour and I just hoped I would not miss her.

We landed in Cleveland, grabbed our bags, took the shuttle to the car, and started heading home, all while I carried my cell phone with her graduation streaming. She still had not appeared. We had just over an hour of drive time. We were just over halfway home when they called her name. I watched as this beautiful young woman walked across the stage. Tears streaming down my cheeks, my boss crying, texts coming in from my family as they were watching from their homes. It was such a special moment and I am forever grateful I was included in it.

There are two more things you are never prepared for in adoption… lasting trauma and reunion. I always thought I was handling adoption great until I had an unexpected loss around Christmas 2017. Facing the loss of someone else who was so close to me made me face the fact I had been closing myself off to feelings and emotions for years. Those closest to me would joke about my cold heart when in reality, it was my way of protecting myself from further loss and hurt. Making adult decisions at such a young age really does create lasting trauma.

Fast forward to 2020. It has been 2 years since Little J graduated high school and my last communication with her family. I should have known this year would throw me a curveball. It is 2020, after all. When you place your child for adoption, an open adoption, you live for the times you will see and hear from them. When will those next photos be sent, that next email, the next time you are in the same room again?

It had been 16 years since the last time I heard Little J’s voice. I arrived to work late one morning, finally managed to make it to my office, and turned on my computer. I opened my email. There, in the list of unread messages, was one from her mother. I did not even read the full email when my eye caught one line, ‘She found your Instagram page.’

My heart sank, tears flowed, and I broke down. I had dreamed of a day when we would connect again but once again, never prepared for how it would feel when it arrived. I could not control my tears. Still in shock, I was finally able to read her email. Little J told her mother she was ready to reach out. Without even thinking, I wrote back. Honestly, I have no clue what I actually typed or even how I did it. That morning is a blur to me. By 6 o’clock in the evening, she had messaged me. I was driving when I noticed it but luckily, I was just down from my sister’s house. I pulled in her driveway, she came out, and we both cried as we read the message. J was so grown up, a young woman, college-educated. She was so kind and caring.

The last few weeks have been some of the best weeks of my life. We have messaged every day as we get to know one another. A few days into this, we decided to Zoom with our families. Seeing her again, all grown up, was amazing. She was still perfect! I do not know where the next few weeks or months will lead us but we both agree meeting is necessary. Where our journey takes us, we do not know, and I am okay with that. For now, we are connected again and part of each other’s lives. I have been missing this piece for 20 years. She is back.”

Courtesy of Nikki Lewis
Courtesy of Nikki Lewis

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nikki Lewis of Mansfield, OH. You can follow her journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘I just want you to know, we are the family who adopted your son.’ She hadn’t gone a single day without thinking about him. ‘Can you be here in 2 weeks?!’: Adopted boy surprised with biological mom, now part of beautiful open adoption

‘We got an email titled ‘URGENT.’ The adoptive family changed their minds. They didn’t want him. ‘Would you be willing to adopt?’: Family of 5 adopt newborn from birth mother, start beautiful open adoption

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