“On Valentine’s Day 2003, my grandma married Jim, her third husband. When Jim first appeared in our lives, I was very against him. I didn’t want to like him and I felt like he was replacing ‘Grandpa’ which just wasn’t possible. Over time, I would grow to have a lot of respect for him and he would later teach me to drive in Alaska. But in 2003- I had just started to accept.
My mother, my sister, and I had rented a car and we road tripped to the river for the wedding. We blasted music on the stereo, including the soundtrack to ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ my favorite movie at that point in time. About two weeks later, I was in my parents’ bedroom- confessing a huge secret I had been keeping, one that would change our lives forever. I was pregnant.
They were angry. They were shocked. Disappointed. They hadn’t expected this from me. Didn’t I know better? After the initial wave of shock had worn off, my dad decided I was going to have an abortion. So the next morning, my mom took me to Planned Parenthood. I remember we stopped at Jack in the Box on the way. I remember the building was run down and it was in a bad part of town.
When I was examined, we were told I was too far along for an abortion and that I would be having this baby. Estimated due date- early May (also my mom’s birthday). Now my dad was even more upset, but he declared I was going to give up this baby for adoption. And when I dared to speak up, he looked at me and shouted, ‘You would really put this family and me through a crying baby? You are so selfish.’
So there my mom was in the living room, flipping through the yellow pages in the phone book, making call after call to adoption agencies. Unfortunately all of these agencies were more geared towards helping hopeful parents adopt children, not helping children get placed. After half a dozen of those calls, I mentioned that a former teacher of mine had told me she would consider adoption the following year. Maybe we could call her? So my dad left her a vague voicemail on her number at the school, and when she called back- she asked if I was okay. My dad said yes, then explained about the pregnancy, and asked her if her and her husband might be interested in adopting my baby.
Over the next three days, it was all ironed out and all that was left was for them to call a lawyer (which they did). I began prenatal care. I celebrated my 16th birthday, pregnant. I stopped working. My pregnancy was a huge secret and since I was currently homeschooled, nobody really noticed that I was home bound more than normal. My mom was embarrassed, but she drove me to all my appointments, helped me pick out clothes at the Motherhood Maternity store, and fed me lots of Oreo shakes from Jack In The Box when the doctor was concerned I hadn’t gained enough weight. I carried small and even on the day I went into labor, the hospital told me I would be lucky if the baby weighed 6 lbs.
K was born about 2.5 weeks after her estimated due date. Perfectly healthy, 8.5 lbs. We stayed at the hospital for a few nights, and then we were discharged. I had decided I wanted to carry her out of the hospital. I had read that leaving the hospital empty handed while watching other moms holding their babies, could be really difficult. So I held her as they wheeled me out: adoptive mom and my mom by my side. And then I handed her off to her new dad, watched them buckle her in, got hugs, and watched them drive away with her new mom waving at me from the backseat. We went to my mom’s car and went home.
My puppy was glad to see me. I was tired. I was sad. I was using cabbage leaves to try to minimize the milk coming into my breasts. My incision site from the c-section was painful, it was difficult to move around much. I remember feeling thankful that K had gone home with someone who could care for her and wondered how anybody took care of a newborn while recovering from a c-section. I had so many emotions. I mourned the loss of her. I watched my emails come in and hoped to hear from her mom. I was angry towards my parents, angry towards her biological father. Some days I missed him, other days I was glad to be strong enough to move forward without him.
So the summer of 2003, I tried to be a normal teenager. I volunteered a lot, kissed a cute boy, re-enrolled in public school, went camping, etc. I went through a bunch of old journal entries from that time, recently. The most interesting thing is that when I was sad about only getting to see K a few times a year per our adoption plan, a dear friend told me that maybe someday I would get to see her every other weekend. I didn’t believe him.
But that’s exactly what happened.
I had a hard time getting close to K when she was smaller. I had an invisible line that I didn’t dare cross, and because of that line- I was not very emotionally available to her. I didn’t want there to be any perception that I was trying to parent her, because that wasn’t my role. I was honestly afraid that emotional distance would always exist between us. Sometimes I’m afraid we’ll go back to that, but right now- I think things are the best they have ever been.
We talk, text, and hang out. She comes with me to my Girl Scout meetings and helps wrangle my troop of K-2nd grade girls. She offers to babysit her younger siblings, sometimes because she misses them- but sometimes just to give me a break! We go shopping together, have lunch, sometimes she comes to the office for a few hours, I take her to ice skating practice, take her and her friends home from the rink, and I’m an emergency contact for her at school. She usually comes with me to my company picnics and I always introduce her as my daughter. My brother has stepped up to the uncle role, and K knows she can count on him or his girlfriend for anything she needs. My ex-husband is also around for her, serving as an extra dad, even though she’s not his legally or biologically, and both he and his wife love her.
Her mom is one of my dearest friends. We both love our girl, and I often am reminded of the saying, ‘It takes a village,’ when I’m heading home from visiting with her. We have each other’s back as mothers and as friends, and I know I can count on her for anything I need. I am extremely fortunate to have both of these wonderful women in my life and in my younger kids’ lives.
When I was K’s age, I was a ‘good girl,’ but I was also very insecure. I thought I was fat and ugly, I thought I would die before ever being kissed; I thought boys wouldn’t like me. I was dumb. All of these things led me down the road where I got pregnant at 15 and had a baby at 16. I don’t regret those days, because it got us K- but I definitely want to protect her from those types of experiences. Navigating her teenage years has been an adventure, especially as I see so much of me in her.
In 2019, I will turn 32 and two months later, K will turn 16. We are planning a trip to Canada to visit some of my extended family and are both looking forward to some much needed girl time together. I am very excited, because there was a time that a trip like this was something I could only have dreamed of- but in a few months, it’ll be a reality!
There was a time when I thought I’d choose a closed adoption, because it would be easier for me. But after doing my research, I chose to have an open adoption because I wanted to make sure K always knew her birth-mom wanted her and loved her. It helped that her intended parents were so supportive, especially K’s mom. She encouraged an open adoption to maintain the friendship we had developed over time, and also because she believed it was in all of our best interests. Almost 20 years ago, she and I bonded over our love of Buffy, but now because of K- we are joined forever as family. I am eternally grateful that K’s parents love me almost as much as they love her!
We have a little bit of an unconventional family, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
K- I love you, girl. You are my heart. You are beautiful, inside and out. I admire your strength and tenacity, your ability to persevere through tough times, and how deeply you love. Thank you for forging a beautiful bond with your younger brother and sister and for always meeting me halfway to work on our relationship. I am so proud of you and the kind young woman you have become. I look forward to whatever adventures life has ahead for us.”
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‘You might look at these pictures, and feel uncomfortable. You might think, ‘I could never ‘share’ my child like that.’ She leaves the hospital with empty arms. Open adoption does not equal co-parenting.’
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