“I placed my first daughter into a closed adoption in 1995, when I was 17 years old. After spending weeks in denial, I found out my exhaustion and sickness were pregnancy related. I did not want to believe or admit that I was ‘that type of girl,’ but sure enough, the test was positive. My initial reaction was to look up pregnancy crisis centers in my area, and a few days later I found myself talking to a counselor and confirming the results from the drug store test were correct. I was 11 weeks along. I needed to hear it from someone else before it became real, and while my world was spinning around me when she confirmed my nightmare, her calm demeanor and reassuring words were a comfort for a short moment, and then I walked out of that center and had to face a lot of big decisions.
In the months that followed, after inevitably breaking the news to all parties involved, I tried to make my life look like that of a normal 17-year-old as best I could. I took college classes and worked full-time to keep myself busy, but the morning sickness and growing belly made it hard to feel normal walking through a JC campus. Initially, my boyfriend was talking marriage, and we fantasized about a life as parents, but in reality, we didn’t make a single plan. Our lives, to that point, had been completely decided for us, and the idea of trying to make a new life with a baby to think about was utterly overwhelming. We both were frozen and terrified.
I recall feeling plagued by the shame of being the one who got ‘knocked up’ not only amongst my peers, but around every person I came in contact with, as they would give me their sideways glances and do a double take to see my belly peeking out from my shirt. I was asked to hide my condition while I was at church and was banned from participation in activities with my age-group. Never since have I felt so much humiliation. It was like wearing a huge tattoo on my forehead that said, ‘I had unprotected sex, and this is what happened.’
Since my parents’ insurance didn’t cover a dependent pregnancy, I had to use the public health clinic to begin my prenatal care, and I will never forget the awful, cold, and embarrassing experience of being treated like dirt by judgmental nurses and doctors in that clinic. Overall, I felt ashamed by the situation I was in, and even though I had the support of my family and boyfriend, I was incredibly alone.
The idea of adoption had been mentioned to me by almost every adult in my life, the pregnancy counselor being the first. My mom, my grandparents, my clergy at church, my youth leader, friends’ parents, etc., had all continued to suggest adoption, and I was told multiple times about families who were ‘looking for a baby.’ Looking back, I can’t say I blame them. They all cared about me and wanted what was best for me and my child, but I felt like my pregnancy was just an opportunity for people who wanted a baby, as if I never was worthy to be her mother.
For many months, I adamantly said no, but by the beginning of my second trimester, as I began to show and things started to feel very real. Adoption felt increasingly more realistic and more like something I needed to consider. I can’t fully explain the feelings I was experiencing during that time, but nothing felt real because the idea I was bringing a child to the world was so hard for me to grasp. While I knew what being pregnant meant, I felt like I was trying to exist in a reality that wasn’t mine. Every day was a struggle trying to anticipate the what my future would be.
After Christmas that year, I decided to move in with my grandparents in another state so I could take some time to be alone and gather my thoughts. It was hard to leave home, but it felt like the first mature decision I had made in the entire ordeal. Shortly thereafter, I met with an adoption agency. And so, at about 6 months into my pregnancy, I made the decision to choose adoption for my baby.
From that point forward, there was a feeling of peace and reassurance on my heart as I moved forward with my adoption plan. I finally had an answer for what my future would look like, and I knew my baby, who I had discovered was a girl by that time, would no doubt be incredibly loved by a family who had longed to have children.
Suddenly, the attitude about my situation was one of praise and heroism rather than failure and disappointment. The agency supported me closely through my pregnancy and walked me through the process of selecting a family. I was reminded over and over that my pregnancy had purpose and that I was ‘so brave’ for what I had decided to do. Those statements brought me comfort, and I did feel peace in the decision I had made. I had written in my journal that I was excited for my future and wrote often about the plans I was making after she would go to be with her ‘forever family.’
My daughter was born in April of 1995. My mom was in town, and I desperately needed her there with me, so my doctor agreed to induce labor. After almost 20 hours of labor, she was finally born with my mom and my grandma as my labor coaches.
For 2 days, I spent every ounce of energy I had trying to stay awake and soaking in every memory of my baby I could. While I knew our separation was inevitable, I don’t think I could possibly have imagined the true weight of the journey I was about to embark on. How do you prepare for the last moments before you send your baby away to possibly never see her again? I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know. But I do recall vividly, after signing away my parental rights, watching my social worker wheel her down the hall and out of sight. I went home to my grandparents’ house and slept for what felt like a week while a hole in my heart began to form.
In 1995, closed adoptions were the only option. I knew there would be no contact other than a few pictures and letters up until she turned one. I was assured that a closed adoption ‘was healthier for the child and birth mother’ (words directly from my journal) and that knowing less would give me the best opportunity to ‘move on with my life’ (also words from my journal).
And so, move on is what I did. I went to college. I dated and had lots of fun. I got married… twice and had 4 more kids. Eighteen years went by and my life was good. During those years, I didn’t share my adoption experience with most people, but my closest friends and family would ask about her from time to time. For the most part, I kept that part of me closed off. I would think about her in quiet moments, and when I would spot a little red-headed child of her approximate age, I would imagine that might be what she was like. Birthdays and Mother’s Day were, and still are, the hardest. The emptiness never went away and for many years, I did not feel brave at all. I had to deny for a long time that I was, indeed, a mother, even though I didn’t have a child, and that secret ate away at me slowly for 18 years. I held on to the hope that someday we would meet again, but I knew there was the possibility it may never happen. I simply didn’t know.
And then one day, shortly before her 18th birthday, I got a letter that changed things forever. Four months later, I found myself driving 5 hours by myself to go meet my daughter for the first time in her home. That experience was terrifying, yet amazing. They were so kind and welcoming to me. They took a huge chance on a stranger, but they did it all for her. I know that wasn’t easy.
We spent an entire weekend laughing, talking, and filling in the gaps of the last 18 years. I discovered my daughter grew to be a smart, funny, talented, beautiful, and incredibly loved young woman. Everything I ever wanted for her had come true. I learned biology cannot be erased by 18 years because she looks and sounds just like me. That weekend was the first time I would experience this strange contradiction of immense gratitude to them but also an indescribable sadness at realizing all I had missed. In the midst of knowing I had made the absolute right choice for her and myself all those years before, the empty place in my heart was cracked wide open, knowing this amazing human I had given birth to was a complete stranger.
After that weekend, we continued to email, and eventually my kids got to meet their sister. We met up a few times and continued to keep in touch as best we could. About a year later, as things started to slow down with our contact and life sort of settled back down, I was hit by a tidal wave of emotion and started to struggle with knowing how to move forward in this complex relationship I didn’t feel had a place for me. I started to lash out at everyone around me, including my daughter and her parents, looking for someone to blame and give me an answer. Reunion didn’t look how I had imagined, and I had no idea how to manage the intense sadness I was experiencing.
When I finally decided I needed to search for support options, a quick Google search led me to an organization called Tied at the Heart, which was running weekend retreats for birth mothers, and by coincidence, their next retreat was happening in a couple days and in my neighborhood! They fit me in, and so I went. I was completely blown away by what I discovered that weekend. I had not known a single other birth mom in my 18 years post-placement, but at that retreat, I walked into a room of 20+ women who had all had an adoption experience. Our stories were different, but every one of those women was experiencing the same feelings of grief, sadness, and emptiness I was feeling. and being in that room made me feel normal again. Knowing I wasn’t alone and nothing was wrong with me was an incredible gift, and it was there my healing journey began.
That was the first of many retreats I have attended over the last 6 years. Through these events, I have made incredible friendships and found so much healing through being allowed to freely talk, in a safe space, with women who completely understand me. I have also been given multiple opportunities to share my experience with closed adoption and reunion and in doing so, have found other women like me who never had any support post-placement and have never been open about their experiences.
I have since become a member of the board of Tied at the Heart and continue to help organize and attend birth mom retreats all over the country. I also serve with Lifetime Healing Foundation, an organization that has created free national support groups for birth mothers. These opportunities have allowed me to turn a very difficult experience into the opportunity to serve women like me, who never knew they weren’t alone in this experience, no matter what led them there. They also allow me to do what I can to ensure every woman has a support system after placing a child for adoption.
Its been 7 years since I was reunited with my daughter, and while it’s still hard some days to know how we fit into each other lives, I am grateful for every text and every thought she sends my way and find joy in every little connection. The empty spot in my heart is still there, and I don’t imagine it will ever go away, but I have learned how to carry my pain with me and let myself grieve when I need to. But I now also know I will never have to do that alone.
I have a tiny album of pictures snapped by my grandma while I was in the hospital. She said I would want them, and she was right, but I still have a hard time looking at them. No 17-year-old should be where I was in those photos. When I look back at my journey, I wont lie and say there aren’t regrets. I will never be able to get back the 18 years I missed. But what I do know is that today, my experiences have led me to a place I love, and I have so much gratitude for the strong and resilient person I am now, all because of the choices of that 17-year-old girl. Now, I do feel brave, not because I chose adoption necessarily, but because I made it this far.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amy Erickson of Riverton, UT. Amy works with Tied at the Heart and Lifetime Healing Foundation to offer support to birth moms nationwide. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit 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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