‘I was holding my 4th pregnancy test. I know, birth control is a thing. I had to consider another adoption.’: Single mom pursues open adoption twice, ‘I was scared this would define me’

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“I’ll never say my journey has been easier or harder than anyone else’s. I won’t ever wish it were different or regret what brought me here. Even knowing that, I can’t say it wasn’t a hard road at times. I have experienced beautiful things and I have walked through intense darkness.

I have given birth to three perfect and beautiful babies over the past six years. I only brought one of those sweet babies home. I am a mother and a birth mother of two precious angels.

Richfield High School, May 28th, it was the class of 2011. There I was, one of the bright-eyed graduates walking that day. I was probably one of the least studious graduates in my class. I was, by no means, concerned about my academics or my future planning at that time. If I look back to high school I was, more often than not, hustling before class to finish a paper that was due in ten minutes. Preparedness and excelling in class just didn’t make my priority list. I wouldn’t have admitted it back then but I was simply boy crazy. There were more important things than getting an A or even a B and they were wearing jerseys on game day! I cheered most of high school and graduated as the Head Cheerleader. With the leadership title, came the responsibility of sitting on the Student Council. I was the President of the FCCLA and Sterling Scholar of my class in Family and Consumer Sciences. The irony is, I had such a lack of interest in doing any of that. All I wanted to do was cheer and dance. The rest of it was handed to me and just like that, I was given opportunities to go to college.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I feel terrible admitting I had no ambition to do much except have a good ol’ care-free time when so many students would have killed to get those opportunities. The reason I am telling you all of this is to explain how good my teen years treated me. I mean, I was blessed! Things were easy for me. No, I don’t mean I was just exempt from assignments or automatically scored well on tests, but I just had a happy, go-lucky attitude and a short attention span. It worked for me!

The important message here is the things that were about to change my life were not the result of a hard childhood or some unfair circumstances out of my control. What happened over the next 9 years was all my own doing.

I grasped onto one of the many scholarships I was granted and moved 2 hours from my hometown to start school. I was studying Behavioral Sciences, which is funny looking back now. I was the least in tune with my own inner self and my behavior would change day-to-day. I eventually lost my full-ride scholarship due to bad grades. I thought experiencing the nightlife, every night, was more important than classes. It was the spring of 2012 when I decided I was done pursuing further education. I wasn’t committed to anything back then. I wasn’t in a relationship, I had no debt, and the world was my oyster so what did I do?

I got a desk job.

My lack of direction led to spending my time with less than productive groups of people and after a series of questionable decisions, I found myself in a serious relationship.

I got married five months after meeting my now ex-husband. We were wrong for each other from the start. There is a thick past with us and I learned some major lessons going through it. I had never expected myself to be in a relationship with the issues we were facing. I was only 20 years old. I had no idea what I was doing or how to handle it. We were in and out of it for 4 years. At one point, I had pursued a relationship outside of my marriage, thinking that was my way out, and got pregnant. I remember the day I took the positive test very well. I was panicked. I knew I was not ready for a baby. I may have been too stressed because I miscarried at seven weeks. I just remember the physical pain of it and knowing it was over. I know it sounds heartless to admit it but I felt relief. I was getting a second chance, in a way. I knew I needed to figure out my next step and go forward, whether that be with my husband or divorce.

My first baby girl was born in June 2014. After a messy pregnancy and giving the relationship another try, we finally had to end it for good.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

My divorce was finalized in May 2017.

During my divorce, I met a guy from my hometown. He was different and interesting and had life experience. I needed something to validate me during a very hard divorce. Sharing my two-year-old was not easy for me and on the weekends I didn’t have her, my misguided need for attention took over. I don’t want to make excuses for the irresponsible behavior but I don’t know I could have pulled myself from the dark place I was in at that time. I just had to self destruct for some reason.

Positive test number three was in my hand, January 2017. I hadn’t even been with the guy 3 full months when I found out I was going to have his child. Again, terror overwhelmed me as I again realized I was messing with life. This was bigger than me and my rough patch in life. He proposed to me and I said yes, thinking it was mandatory considering the circumstances. I didn’t love this guy, I barely even liked him half the time. Two weeks into our engagement, I snapped out of robot mode. I decided this was not the time to just roll over. I had a small window of time to do the right thing for this baby. I knew he and I wouldn’t last so I chose not to even go there.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I moved back to the city and made the scary decision to meet with an adoption agency. He knew my plans and I explained my reasons. He attempted to keep contact but it wasn’t long before we didn’t hear much from each other.

Even though I was still pregnant and had a big decision to make, I felt free, in a way. I felt like I was following my inner warrior as she told me how to do the right thing for this child. I had no job, no savings, and was in no place to raise a baby alone, especially when I was already juggling the life of a single mother. I knew what it took to do it on my own and I wanted more for that sweet child.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I was blessed to have peace about my decision and once I chose the family that felt right to raise my baby, I didn’t look back. I made sure my adoption would be open and I would get to stay in touch with the family. We became good friends over the remainder of my pregnancy and in October 2017, we brought her to the world together. She was a gorgeous baby girl meant for her parents. I was calm in the hospital, knowing I was making the right choice. Yes, there were tears and moments I felt deep sorrow for myself but ultimately, it was about the baby, not me.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart
Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart
Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I went home from the hospital after saying my goodbyes to the child I had carried. I didn’t know what to expect as I passed the houses entering my neighborhood. None of what I knew felt familiar at that moment. I was exhausted and drained but stayed up for hours crying. I didn’t feel regret or pain for the choice I had made but I had a sense of self-worth when I returned that night. I signed away my parental rights and relinquished any chance I had to be that little girl’s mom and yet, I was lifted up. That emotion surprised me and carried me through.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart
Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

Now I get to see her often and it is nothing but sweet and fulfilling to see her so happy and well-loved.

I thought for sure that this incredible experience would change me forever.

Less than a year later, I was holding the fourth positive pregnancy test. I know, I know. Birth control is a thing. I have been lectured, teased, and given the biggest life lessons about responsible intimacy. I am not unaware of how this happens but as part of my journey, I had something else at play. I was struggling with the self-destructive patterns I had developed in my early twenties. My carelessness was chronic and the cause of all my pregnancies. I knew I had to get a handle on it.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

My most recent baby was born last year, May 2019. He was also a beautiful healthy baby. He too went home with the parents I chose for him, as my life was still not what I would want to offer a baby.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I was still alone. I was working full time and knew I couldn’t do it by myself. His biological father was a good guy. He and I dated for two and a half months before I found out I was pregnant. I moved in with him to try and give this baby a family when we came to the conclusion we weren’t right for each other. Yet again, I was here with a man I knew I wouldn’t be with long term. It was painful to consider another adoption but it was more painful to consider keeping him. Knowing I couldn’t give him the attention and time he deserved was killing me, month after month. I was nearly eight months along when I finally looked deep within myself for the answer. I was his mother and unlike the baby girl before him, I was planning to parent him from day one. My heart and mind were pulled in two different directions as I prayed over this precious life. Was I meant to be his mother? I knew there would be help and his biological father wanted to parent but he also had limited means and I had a five-year-old. Sharing parent time with my ex-husband was not easy on Haven. She was constantly confused and torn. I saw what a split home would feel like for any child. Even though the relationship was civil, it was difficult.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I looked at all my options from every angle and I just couldn’t see my situation offering what a ready and able two-parent home could. I salute women who choose to parent in the midst of difficult circumstances. I was that woman back when Haven was born, alone, and still struggling to ground myself. The decision to place him for adoption was right for me. Once again, the minute I chose adoption, I was filled with a sense of peace and confirmation there was a couple waiting for him. I followed my gut and messaged a couple I knew briefly. They were attempting to start a family with no success and they felt it too. We came together to give this sweet baby an amazing life.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

My labor and delivery were just as peaceful as my other two pregnancies. I knew what to expect! I felt like I knew what to expect emotionally at that point as well. I was wrong. I was calm but there was a whole separate set of feelings. I was feeling a considerable amount of guilt for even having another unplanned pregnancy. I was sad for the biological father and what he must have felt. I was scared this would define me and I would always have the low esteem that brought me to this place a second time.

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I went on with life after relinquishing my rights to my third baby. I picked myself up and went forward with the intention of finding my truest self and loving that girl. I wanted more than anything to not feel regret or wish I were different. The girl who didn’t care in high school or dropped out of college or said ‘I Do’ when she didn’t mean it or the girl who just couldn’t find a healthy relationship with intimacy — she deserved love too. She was in dark places and had to grow out of them. That girl finally accepted herself. That girl is me!

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

I am now in the healthiest and happiest relationship I could have ever imagined. I am doing what brings me joy in life. I am building the woman I can be proud of!

I want to be someone all three of my babies can be proud of and learn from, just as I have learned from them.”

Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart
Courtesy of Shannell Renae Stewart

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannell Renae Stewart from Vineyard, Utah. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more touching stories like this here:

‘She told her daughter, ‘I’m sorry.’ She gave her a kiss and handed her to me. She left without her baby.’: Woman becomes close to birth mom during adoption, ‘There is no love without loss’

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‘She’d text us, ‘I need more money.’ She saw me not as a woman to love her unborn child, but as a target. Our hearts and wallets were drained.’: Couple suffers adoption scam, ‘She broke us’

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