In the summer of 1996, shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I went to Atlanta to work at the Summer Olympic Games. In August, I became pregnant. The birthfather and I were not in a serious relationship, and I did not feel we would develop one. I faced two choices: becoming a single parent, or placing my child for adoption.
My first real challenge was telling my parents. I knew that they would be disappointed, but I also knew that I needed their love and support. Upon returning home to Charlotte, I began researching the adoption option through the local chapter of a national faith-based adoption agency. I wanted to have something constructive and positive to offer my parents along with the shocking news.
My parents had raised me to feel a strong sense of personal responsibility, coupled with strength and resilience. To me, adoption had always seemed a natural solution to an unplanned pregnancy, if birthparents were not ready, for whatever reason, to become parents. When I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents that I was pregnant, they were indeed upset, but they also made clear their unconditional love and support for me and for my choice, whether I decided to parent or to place my child for adoption.
Before graduating from college, I had planned to move to Washington, D.C., where I could pursue an interest in public policy and also continue rowing competitively. I saw no reason to change these plans, so I continued my job search and moved to D.C. in October 1996 after accepting a position with a nonprofit organization.
Other young people I met in the city did not know I was pregnant, and it wasn’t something I wanted to share with them. Later they told me they just thought I was a very quiet stay-at-home, since I constantly went to bed early or turned down opportunities to go out at night. It was in many ways a lonely period, despite frequent phone calls to my parents and close friends, but I did feel a sense of peace, knowing that I was taking care of myself and my child and doing the right thing.
My new job meant that I had insurance to cover my prenatal care; however, the combined pressure of starting a new position and not being able to tell my employer that I was pregnant was very stressful, particularly as I was arriving late every morning due to morning sickness. With each month that passed I struggled to hide the physical evidence of pregnancy, wondering when would be the right time to inform my boss, and worrying about what the response would be. Eventually I wrote a letter, informing my employers of my pregnancy and my intent to place my child for adoption. To my relief, they were more than supportive. They also confirmed that I was entitled to the same maternity leave as a woman who planned to parent.
Another worry I had was whether a medical provider would treat me differently, knowing my adoption plan. However, I worked with a fantastic group of midwives who were a crucial part of my support network and became my friends during pregnancy. I developed a birthing plan, which included keeping my child with me for several days after the birth, allowing me to breastfeed my child while giving me and my family a chance to know him or her before we parted. My adoption counselor fully supported me in this plan, despite any doubts she had over whether I would go through with the adoption, because it was an important part of my decision-making process; she knew that if I felt options were being closed to me, I would not feel empowered, and would not feel at peace with my ultimate decision.
Over the fall and winter months I worked with my adoption counselor to make sure I had thought through my decision carefully. She asked me to develop a parenting plan, just in case I changed my mind. I was at first reluctant to do so, not wishing to be dissuaded from my adoption plan, but this proved to be a valuable exercise. As I researched child care, transportation, costs of living, etc. and developed a budget, I saw that I could afford to parent. I was not being pushed financially into placing my child for adoption. However, I also saw how tight that budget would have been; there would have been nothing left over for piano lessons, swimming lessons, vacations, or many of the other valuable experiences which I had growing up and which I wanted my child to have. Most importantly, there would not have been a father truly present in the day-to-day life of my child, and my child would not have the chance to witness a loving adult relationship.
My parents also offered me a third option, letting me know that they could care for my child while I pursued a career, helping me to provide him or her with a loving family. I knew that their offer to take on a parenting role at a time in their life when they had already raised two children was a generous one, which comes only from true love. However, they also understood my concerns about what would happen when I eventually met and married someone, and what that would mean for continuity in the life of my child.
My birthson was born on May 15, 1997. My mother came to D.C. for the birth, and we subsequently traveled to Charlotte, where I spent the next two weeks with my parents, my little sister, and my birthson. This time was special to all of us because we were able to take him out to meet family and friends, and to acknowledge and celebrate him. When he was two weeks old I went back to work in D.C. and my mother came with me, caring for him during the day and bringing him to my office at lunchtimes.
The adoption placement ceremony took place when my birthson was four weeks old. I remember crying during the ride to the ceremony in the back seat of my parents’ car, and I remember my parents’ anguish at seeing my pain. I also remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as we watched him sleep peacefully in his new mother’s arms.
During the days and weeks that followed I experienced peace, punctuated by periods of intense pain. I missed my birthson’s smell and his little toenails scratching me in bed and his wide-eyed expressions. I felt guilty for having deprived my parents of their first grandchild, even though I knew they fully supported my adoption decision. I also struggled with depression later on when I was confronted with the sense that my activities and pursuits, which had seemed so valuable to me before I became pregnant, now paled in comparison with the joy and satisfaction of raising a child. I would see other young mothers with children the same age as mine and wonder what my life would be like in their shoes.
But as the years have passed and my life has followed its own full course, my family’s relationship with my birthson and his family has blossomed, and my confidence that I made the right choice has never wavered. When I speak with him and hear the excitement in his voice as he relays his latest accomplishments in swimming, or Odyssey of the Mind, or county choral society auditions, I know that he has a wonderful life, When I speak with his parents and hear the warmth and honesty of friendship in their voices as they describe their summer family vacation, I am grateful to have found such perfect parents for my birthson. When I see him and his little sister, also adopted, bounding around together in their living room while their parents watch amused, I am reminded of the joy that is adoption.
When I married in 2003, my birthson was our ringbearer, his little sister our flowergirl, and both his parents were presenters. My husband and I are now expecting a baby, and my 10-year-old birthson and his family are sharing our joy and looking forward to welcoming another child into this growing family.
Adoption has enabled me to provide a wonderful life for my son while giving me the opportunities to pursue my own aspirations, and I will always feel that my own life has been made richer through choosing adoption.