by Nancy Valko, RN
In 1998, I wrote an article in the National Catholic Register titled “A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home When it’s your own unmarried daughter facing a staggering ‘choice,’ are you still pro-life?”1 with the permission and encouragement of my daughter Marie, who was 18 years old and pregnant at the time. A Washington Post columnist had just written yet another Roe v. Wade anniversary article that repeated the old canard that pro-lifers were only pro-life until their teenage daughters became pregnant. We were both offended.
At that time, Marie was wrestling with the choice between keeping her baby and adoption. Abortion was never an option because, as Marie said at the time, “I could never kill my baby. I know too much.” I told Marie that the most important question was what would be best for the baby and I assured her that I would totally support her decision to either keep the baby or release him or her for adoption. But the decision had to be hers since she was an adult and she would be the one to live with her decision.
I always intended to write a follow-up to that article but it has taken me almost 15 years to write about what happened later. I do so now in the hope of greater understanding and compassion for all involved in the crucial and emotional issue of adoption. There are many kinds of adoptions and each situation and decision is unique. This is our experience.
Open Adoption as an Option
Around 1.2 million US babies are lost yearly to abortion while only an estimated 18,000 infants are adopted by non-relatives.2
At the same time, there are large numbers of couples, usually experiencing infertility problems, who are desperate for a child. Some unfortunately choose in vitro fertilization or surrogate motherhood because of the difficulties finding a baby to adopt. Some turn to international adoptions or foster care. Some open their hearts to older children or children with special needs. Some are never able to adopt for various reasons.
In the meantime, adoption practices have changed radically. Unlike the routine closed adoptions of just a few decades ago where the birth mother would never know the adoptive parents or usually ever see her child again, now there is the newer practice of open adoption, which allows the birth mother to choose the adoptive parents and have updates or even contact if the adoptive parents agree.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article,3 today about 95% of adoptions involve some degree of openness, according to a study published in March by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, a nonprofit focused on adoption policy and practice. Some of these arrangements involve legal contracts but the expectations and arrangements are still evolving. Despite the potential problems, some new reports show positive results for birth parents, adoptive parents, and the children themselves.4
Marie never hid her pregnancy as she explored her options. We discussed the challenges of being a teen mom trying to work and finish college as well as the pain of not raising her child herself. For Marie, what finally tipped the scales toward adoption was the heartbreak of finding out that the father of her baby had some severe, unresolved problems and Marie didn’t want to take a chance on the father having unsupervised access that could put the baby at risk. At the same time, Marie also wanted to make sure her baby had the best life possible with two loving parents. This was an incredibly hard decision to make and Marie’s resolve was tested many times, even up to the very end.
Surprisingly, although many of Marie’s friends would describe themselves as “pro-choice,” they were uniformly opposed to her aborting her baby. However, most of them were equally opposed to adoption, which they considered tantamount to abandonment. Marie remained determined but privately, I wondered how many babies are aborted due to such misguided attitudes about adoption.
When we explored the adoption options, Marie was adamant that she would only consider open adoption. She couldn’t stand the thought of always wondering where and how her child was.
My first choice for adoption information was the Birthright organization, where I knew their policies and integrity. However, Marie had fallen away from religion during her teen years and decided to explore other agencies and options, including online profiles and classified ads.
When Marie let it be known that she was looking for a couple to adopt her baby, I was flabbergasted by the attitudes of some of the couples who contacted her or even me. One couple promised a pony for the baby if she chose them. Another promised to give the baby back in three years if Marie wanted. But the most astonishing plea was from a couple who wrote that they had great success with their “fur children” (animals) and now felt ready to try a “skin” child! I had to wonder what happened to the traditional view of a child as a blessing and a privilege rather than a commodity.
Marie decided that using an agency would be safest. She settled on one and reviewed their prospective couples. One couple was “John and Mary” (not their real names) but Marie rejected them for being “too religious” even though she really liked them personally. She instead chose another couple, “Tiffany and Josh” (not their real names).
Personally, I preferred John and Mary if Marie went through with adoption but Marie was impressed with the other couple’s views and lifestyle. Marie refused any money even for medical expenses from the agency, telling me that she never wanted her baby to think that he or she was “sold.” Instead, while living at home, Marie worked two jobs and attended college part-time until a couple of weeks before her baby was born. Naturally, I worried, but I so admired Marie’s spirit and sacrifice!
However, shortly before Marie gave birth, Tiffany and Josh backed out. They told the agency that they had second thoughts about the problems of the birth parents and didn’t want to “take a chance on a possibly imperfect baby.”
I thought Marie would be devastated but she said she was glad that this couple’s real attitudes had come out before it was too late. As she said, “they probably would have aborted my sister Karen” who was born with Down Syndrome. I brought up John and Mary but, once again, Marie was reluctant because of their religious devotion. I told her that instead of labeling their views as religious, Marie might consider something else. “What kind of values do you want your child growing up with?” I asked.
Ultimately, Marie chose John and Mary, who turned out to be exceptional people, who not only let Marie’s brother, sister, and I see Marie’s beautiful daughter occasionally but who also welcomed Marie into their lives as little “Sue” (not her real name) grew up. Sue and her older sister (also adopted) were even Marie’s flower girls when she married in 2005.
John and Mary’s generous spirit started long before they met Marie. Twice before, a birth mother had changed her mind about adoption at the last minute. I asked John and Mary how they coped with such heartbreak but Mary told me that they accepted these decisions as God’s will and reassured the young mothers of their support. I thank God everyday that it was John and Mary who became Sue’s parents.
We lost Marie tragically almost three years ago5 but one of my favorite memories is when she gave birth to Sue and I was her labor coach. As a nurse, I had seen births before but watching my first grandchild enter the world was overwhelmingly special. I had tears in my eyes when I had the honor of cutting the umbilical cord and finally holding this amazing little person for the first time. It had been a long, often hard, nine months, especially with some of the attitudes we encountered, but we all had finally made it to this extraordinary moment.
There were tears and last-minute cold feet that September weekend in 1998 but for Marie, there was a real feeling of peace when she finally placed little Sue into the arms of John and Mary.
Over the often difficult years that followed, Marie told me that Sue was the greatest joy of her life even though she missed not raising Sue herself. Being able to watch her daughter grow and bloom was a blessing that Marie never took for granted. At the end, her most prized possessions were her photos and Sue’s Mother’s Day cards to her.
A couple of months ago, I attended my now-14-year-old granddaughter’s community play and I marveled at her talent as well as her beauty and grace. She looks so much like her mother although with my freckles and even has some of Marie’s mannerisms.
I was so proud and grateful for this young girl and when I hugged Sue after her performance, I hugged her for Marie also.
1 “A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home” by Nancy Valko. National Catholic Register. March 22-28, 1998. Online at: ncregister.com/site/article/8454.
2 “Domestic Newborn Adoption.” The Adoption Guide. Online at: theadoptionguide.com/options/domestic-adoption.
3 “One Baby, Two Moms: a Rise in Open Adoptions” by Mara Lemos Stein. Wall Street Journal. August 14, 2012. Online at: online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444184704577587150909159234.html.
5 “Mary, Marie, and a Mother’s Love”. Voices. Advent-Christmas 2009. Online at: wf-f.org/09-04-Valko.html.
Nancy Valko, a registered nurse from St. Louis, is president of Missouri Nurses for Life, a spokesperson for the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses, and a Voices contributing editor.
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