Romanticizing Adoption: My Time with a Teenage Birth Mom
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The first time I ever walked into Mrs. Ava’s house, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
A negligent, unstable ox of a woman, ready to shred me to pieces for having taken her daughter to the Crisis Pregnancy Center without her?
A steamboat of emotions launching a bag of clothes through the door as she kicked out both me and her 15 year old?
A tired soul having raised more than her fair share of children and grandchildren, wondering why in the world I’d be bothering her with this?
It was none of the above, thank God. However, it was far from normal. The TV and radio blared soothing RnB into the living room. The space remained dark as soot since Ava had ignored the light switches when she invited me in to sit. The 8pm summer dusk light crept through the screen door just enough to let me know by her profile that Ava was upset. She didn’t say a lot that night. None of us did, I guess. What words are there when there’s a baby on the way, and its father is unknown, and you’ve witnessed just earlier in the year a similar circumstance that led to desperate people stuck in desperate cycles doing desperate things to survive?
Life was not easy for a sophomore in high school growing new life within her.
I’d asked Reagan a couple of months ago, privately in my home office, if she could be pregnant. Her tall tiny body had begun to bulge egg-like from her abdomen, and neighbors were talking. “There’s no way, Mrs. Britney,” she assured me time and again.
One afternoon during a volleyball game with some kids from our street, I watched her strenuously reach for a ball bolting her way. And a feeling sunk in my gut—she was pregnant and didn’t know it. That evening we agreed that she would take an at-home test. I sat watching her color shapes with crayons while the two pink lines surfaced.
I learned more about the layers of the system as her mentor during that last trimester than I ever thought possible. For starters, I learned to laugh at the phrase “work the system.” Friends, if someone can figure out how to work this complicated, time-consuming, shame-piling system…they might deserve all the aid they can get. Life was not easy for a sophomore in high school growing new life within her.
Secondly, I had my over-romanticized idealism of adoption brought into the light of reality. I had started walking with a birth mother who would put a face with the other side of surrender papers, and that would change things.
I’d wanted to adopt from a very early age. I wanted a multi-racial family that could shatter some of the ever-present racism lingering in our towns. When I was younger, I probably also wanted a multi-racial family to be different, to push the envelope, to make a statement. I wanted adopted children because I had grown up with an incredible demonstration of home. I wanted to give babies who didn’t have families a family. I wanted to ease hurt and loneliness. I wanted to honor the theology of God’s adoption made manifested among us.
…But what I didn’t expect was the sadness.
I had looked forward to it for years. In some moments, I had built it up to be an honorable act that my husband and I would do for “the least of this world.”
So when Reagan sat at my kitchen table and decidedly announced that she would not be single-parenting, I was almost (and too quickly) giddy for the possibilities. My husband and I knew that this was not our child, as keeping the baby would mean losing the mom who was requesting an absolutely closed adoption. But we knew that it would be someone’s child. And the baby would get a better chance. And the mom would finish school. And they would both have an opportunity to break some predictable cycles. Adoption was the answer. Adoption was the way. Adoption was the best choice, the only choice. I expected relief for everyone involved…
…But what I didn’t expect was the sadness.
I didn’t expect the neighborhood to fight against her decision.
I didn’t expect her to be accused of unloving choices. I didn’t expect those in her circle to support her dropping out of school rather than having another family raise her child.
I didn’t expect Reagan’s depression.
I didn’t expect her to be torn between several voices.
I didn’t expect her to feel hopeless and helpless and without resources.
I didn’t expect her to shut-down.
So, feeling without options myself, I moved ahead with the adoption appointments (per her request), reminding Reagan every step of the way, “We can stop this whenever you want.”
But she’d nod, “No, let’s keep going.” Though her heart was beginning to love the second heart beat inside of her, though she agreed with the accusations, though she was spiraling into a dark place of passivity, she felt she had no other choices.
We considered bringing them both under our roof, however Ava had not spoken to Reagan in weeks except for to tell her that she would neither allow her to live elsewhere nor permit the child to be raised in their home. She’d heard mentions of common words like WIC and Stamps and Medicaid, but even if rearing the baby in her mother’s house was an option, there was no one knowledgeable enough to instruct her in the ways of social services, least of all me. She wanted to finish school and go to college. She wanted to be a kid going to birthday parties. She wanted to eat fast-food and earn money babysitting and go to her new boyfriend’s house. She wanted to live at home. And now she wanted to keep her child.
We had made it all the way through to the family-choosing level of the adoption process. And every rung to get there was painful and filled with complexities. But after the meeting where she was presented profiles of families from which to choose, Reagan mustered up enough resolved in her hopeless and depressed state to tell me, “I want to raise my baby.”
I canceled her agency appointments.
I planned a baby shower.
I called an organization who was willing to walk her through the piles of aid papers.
And I celebrated them both beneath three tons of grief and apprehension.
But now, a few months after delivery, both momma and baby are surviving. Reagan has entered Junior year with the crib and the diapers she needed. And they are doing what it takes to be a family.
It is not easy. Her mom finally approved her staying, though lines of communication remain rough. Neighbors must coordinate the doctors’ appointments as Reagan’s family has no car. She and I have had to tackle the embarrassing first round of WIC purchases together. And we have sat beside her in the lobbies and the living rooms where she fills out hours worth of paperwork. But she is making it. And she is in school. And the baby is getting fed by the mother who wanted to keep her.
This experience has not changed my hope and desire for adoption. However, it has shown me clearly that the story leading up to surrender papers is often one of grief and loss. Adoption was not the initial and intended path—for God and his people or for his people and their children. It is the redemption that was offered when the path intended became broken, seemed hopeless.
It is powerful. It is healing. It is hopeful.
But it is not romantic. It cannot be romantic.
We can not put it on a polished shelf beside the picture of our multi-colored family and look upon it with pride and honor. We must approach it with fear and trembling, seeing the grief that has led to the loss and bravery that a birth mother experiences. We must see the chasm of loss that adoption’s bridge crosses in order to irradiate hyper-romaticism and embrace the full healing made possible.
Those of us who love adoption: Would we move a teen mom into our spare room to guide and support her? Do we grieve deeply a birth family’s wounds in surrendering a child due to under-resourced circumstances? Do we celebrate their bravery in going against the voices of accusation when they choose to do so?
Unless we see the sadness that the need for adoption brings, we cannot know it’s power.
One day, when we adopt, if we are able to adopt, I will approach the journey differently because of the road that I walked with Reagan. Because of her sadness. Because of her pressures. Because of her bravery. I will love our child’s birth mom fiercely. I will honor her in my heart. I will pray for a world where children can be raised by the parents who conceived them. I will celebrate the joy and the miracle that adoption’s redemption makes possible.
And I will do so with new eyes.
***All names and some details have been changed to better protect the friends and neighbors I love dearly.