Okay, this episode of Birth Mothers Amplified brought me to tears. (Actually, I’m not sure that I’ve listened to one that hasn’t made me tear up at least a little bit.) If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you are missing out. In episode 15, we are introduced to Katie, a woman who has been a birth mother for 18 years. Even though I do not know this woman at all, I want to be best friends with her after watching this episode. It was a delight to listen to her share her story. She was 16 when she found out she was pregnant. I had to think about that. What was I like at 16? Fairly naïve and more than a little flighty. I’m not sure how I would have responded to hearing “you’re pregnant” at that age.
The birth father picked her up for her pregnancy test during her lunch break at school. She took a pregnancy test and, sure enough, she was pregnant. The pamphlets she was given stressed the importance of telling her family right away. She went out and told her boyfriend. He drove her back to school where she finished her day of classes. She told her mom the very next day. Her mom didn’t handle it well and kicked her out (but she let her come back home that night). At this point, I’m feeling pretty sad for the mom, who is probably trying to figure out how she went from being the mother of a 16-year-old to a grandmother overnight. That had to be a moment she was not expecting.
Katie talked about how her boyfriend was immediately supportive and even seemed excited. He told everyone. They picked out a name. She was 4 weeks along and they decided to name their little boy “Mark.” The adoptive family did not choose that name, but that is the name Katie uses when she talks about him. That is how she refers to him today, even though that is not his name.
Now here is where the story punched me in the gut: After a week, the birth father broke up with her, saying he was only in the relationship for sex. What? I cannot even fathom this change in attitude after just one week. That had to have been heartbreaking for a 16-year-old girl in a difficult situation.
Katie said, and would repeatedly say, she had never planned on having him adopted. She felt like he (the baby) was hers and she wasn’t going to give away something that was hers. She felt very strongly about it.
However, her mom knew about an adoption agency that had a live-in dorm. She sent Katie there without her consent because she was 16. Katie was living in Colorado, but the dorms were in Texas. So basically overnight, she was packed up against her will and sent to live in a different state away from everyone and everything she knew and loved. She said it was so scary. I cannot even begin to imagine. She went on to say there were great people at the dorm and she made such great friendships, but at the moment, it was super scary.
One of the hosts said “When you’re 16 years old, everything your mom says is like a slap in the face,” and did I ever feel that. I was a pretty conservative, “well behaved” 16-year-old, but the spats I got into with my mom were awful. I will still never know if I was being bullheaded or if my mom was overreacting, but for a few years, there were definitely some fireworks. So that line resonated with me.
Katie was so angry and upset after moving into the dorm. She didn’t leave her room for several weeks. She lived off the snacks her mom had sent and refused to do anything. She was depressed, devastated, and scared. Everyone she met was nice—her attitude had nothing to do with the other people. She just didn’t want to be there.
She had a very forthcoming “up yours” attitude. She agreed to go through the motions, but she was dead set on keeping her baby. She admitted with a chuckle that she had “No plan, no job, [and] no money.”
Even though she was just going through the motions, she was asked, “What would you look for in potential adoptive parents?” She decided that she would prefer a family with a stay-at-home mom. She wanted a financially stable family who were outdoorsy, and she wanted her son to be their first child. That seemed important to her.
Though it was completely unexpected, she found herself going through profiles. There was one couple she just felt good about. She couldn’t explain why, but all of a sudden her mindset switched. These were her son’s parents, and she knew it. She met with the parents and it felt right to choose them. They continued communication and visited her several times. They took her out to eat, to go shopping, to see movies. The adoptive mom would send letters and flowers every week. They communicated on the phone. She saved a bunch of things from that time. Ticket stubs, letters, mementos from their time together. It was very sweet.
According to the delivery plan, the adoptive family would get a call when she went into labor and travel to the hospital (they lived several hours away from the maternity dorm). When labor actually started, she called her mom, freaking out (because she was just a teenager and had no real idea what was happening). The adoption agency helped her. She called the adoptive parents and they came to see him right as they got to the hospital.
Part of her plan was to keep him for a week. For that agency, there are transitional care families. Once birth mothers left the hospital, a transitional care family would take the babies home overnight. The birth mothers go back to their dorms, and then in the morning, they stay with their babies all day long in a special room. The transitional care family would then return to take the babies home overnight.
The adoptive family stayed in a hotel that week. Katie was incredibly kind while describing them. She shared that these hopeful parents had been chosen twice before by expectant parents who decided to parent at the last minute. The adoptive parents had also been trying to have biological children for 12 years. As a way to make her son’s adoptive parents feel better, as soon as she was able to, she signed away her rights.
She felt at peace with her decision but wanted to make memories with her son that first week. She took so many videos and photos and talked to her son. Her parents flew in to hold the baby. His parents came and visited. (I tear up hearing her call them “his parents” with such confidence and love.)
The birth father was not involved at all. However, she wanted him to be there for placement day. Her parents convinced his parents that he needed to be there. He flew in on placement day. The adoptive parents, the caseworkers, her parents, the birth father’s dad, and the birth father were there. She described placement day as fun and relaxed.
It is pretty special that the adoptive parents got to meet the birth father and take pictures. Kids who are adopted can wonder who they look like, so having photos of both parents is helpful. Katie didn’t feel sorrow that week, just joy because of how at peace she felt with her choice.
At the end of the day, everyone got to hold the baby one last time, and then they passed him back to Katie. Her caseworker told her, “sometimes it can be hard to let go.” She remembers holding him and trying to remember the way he felt and the way he smelled, and then she walked over to his mother and gave her her son. His adoptive father was standing there and just held her and let her cry. “I gave a piece of my heart to somebody else that day,” she said. The adoptive parents gave her a beautiful gift and note. Everyone told her how proud they were, and they went home that night.
The post-placement agreement was that they would send letters and pictures every few months the first year and then once a year on his birthday. She loves the summer because she looks forward to seeing the updates.
She got to see him when he was 6 months old. The post-placement agreement was basically the standard semi-open adoption. She feels like it was really important to respect the boundaries of who his mom and dad are.
She still says “I have three children,” even though one is adopted. “Every year we get a cake that says “happy birthday” and celebrate him, she explained.
There is a whole discussion about respecting boundaries with all the family members. I am so touched to hear her talk about her son’s adoptive parents with such respect and tenderness. It is so beautiful that she cares so much about her son and his parents. I came to adoption through foster care, which is so different from placed infant adoption. I didn’t even know adoption could be this beautiful, and I am a big adoption fan.
The 18-year mark: What was the past summer like? “It was super hard. 18 years happened so fast. It ended the formal post-adoption agreement. It was super hard. It was tough to realize it was the last update.” She registered for the Texas adoption registry, which can help birth parents and adoptees get matched up. There was a little rejection and hurt over the fact that she set up an email address and the adoptive family didn’t respond to that.
One of the best things Katie said was this: “It’s all for the adoptee. If all parties are trying to do the best for the adoptee, it is the best thing.” I don’t imagine that anyone can always be this selfless and kind, but wow. I’m beyond impressed with her compassion and selflessness here.
There was a discussion about the twofold component: contentment with the decision and then a wave of grief over the loss.
There is this perception that birth mothers are selfish when they choose adoption, but it is really a selfless act. She had to give away her firstborn. Someone else got to walk away with a physical piece of her heart that day. There are so many feelings. Just because you’re okay with the decision doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Other examples of similar paradoxical feelings include the mother of the bride crying because her daughter is getting married. Of course, she is happy for her daughter, but she is sad that her little girl is all grown up. Another example may be empty nesters being excited for the next phase of life but sad that all of their kids have left home.
This episode was just lovely. It was also sad. I don’t know Katie, but I wish I could give her a hug. I hope for her sake that her son contacts her and she can get to know him a bit as an adult, but I love that she has so much respect for the adoptive parents and her son that she won’t be the one to pursue the contact.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about Katie and other birth mothers in future episodes of Birth Mothers Amplified.Are you ready to take the next steps on your adoption journey? Visit The Gladney Center for Adoption to learn more.