May 8, 2014

There's More Than One Way to Be a Mom - A Birth Mother's Story

Melissa and I became friends through various Bible studies and activities at our parish. She and her husband are both wonderful, hilarious people with three wonderful children, age 8, 6, and 3. Melissa writes:

My husband and I have also lost three children to miscarriages (two last year) and struggle with that loss continually. I am currently a stay-at-home Mom and love it. I have a degree in Zoology and enjoy birding, running, family vacations, hiking, and singing in our church choir. We also garden and can or freeze as much of our food as possible and I enjoy baking. I am a survivor of thyroid cancer and have been without a thyroid for 5 years now.

I am a birth mom to an adopted child. 

I have never been ashamed to speak of my experience but sometimes, I feel as if I am speaking about someone else’s life. Maybe the only way my mind has been able to deal with the pain of giving up my first child was to treat it like a story I am telling, rather than my own past.

I was eighteen and starting my second year of college when I discovered I was pregnant. My boyfriend of three years was the father and he was my first real boyfriend and the only other man I have been with besides my husband. I thought he was “the one” and that we were “meant for each other”…boy was I naive.
It was overwhelming news to find out that I was pregnant and unmarried. I was ashamed and scared. I know this will sound terrible, but in all honesty, I just wished (at that time) I would have a miscarriage. I felt trapped and knew it was only a matter of time before EVERYONE would know. I was also accepted to SIUC (Southern Illinois University - Carbondale) the next fall and my boyfriend was going to be attending a culinary school in Chicago. How were we going to raise a child from the opposite ends of the state while going to college?!

My Mom started having suspicions as my belly started to swell slightly - I was already 6 months along by that time. She scheduled my first appointment with an OB-GYN thinking I had endometriosis like my older sister. I think she suspected I was pregnant, but didn't want to admit to herself that her daughter was living in sin. When they took me to the exam room, the nurse came in and said I tested positive for pregnancy. I burst into tears and blurted out that I already knew and that I didn't know how to tell my Mom. The nurse was comforting and arranged for the doctor to meet with my Mom and myself in her office and break the news. My Mom seemed relieved to finally have it out in the open but my Dad didn't speak to me for days. My boyfriend’s parents weren't too thrilled either.

One thing that came to my mind immediately after that appointment (and seemed to be the only concrete thing to hold onto) was the decision to give this child up for adoption. This decision gave me peace. I really feel that it was God helping to make something good from something so bad. It was like that part of the poem “Footprints” where there is only one set of footprints in the sand, because God was carrying me. I also have three adopted cousins and knowing how much my aunts and uncles wanted those children and love them as if they were their own helped me to feel even more certain that this was the right thing to do.

My parents accepted and supported this decision but my boyfriend’s mother was against it. She wanted to raise the baby for me while I went to SIUC and if I insisted on going through with the adoption she said that no one in their family would ever know that I was pregnant. So, I didn't see his family for the next four months and basically felt like a “dirty little secret” and a whore. My boyfriend’s brothers kept asking why I wasn't coming to any holiday celebrations and we had to lie and say the roads were bad, etc. As if the situation wasn't bad enough, she had found a way to make it worse.

We met with a Catholic lawyer that was a friend of my Grandparents. I asked that the parents be Roman Catholic and that I receive pictures and updates at least once a year. We decided on a closed adoption because one of my aunts had been afraid for a long time that the birth Mom would try to come and take her baby back. I didn't want this couple to ever feel that way. I wanted them to be able to just give him all of their love and never have those fears or worries. The lawyer then took our family medical history and arranged all the details.

I had an easy pregnancy and I think it was God’s pity for me, knowing what I faced. I went into labor the night before I was going to be induced and gave birth to a healthy baby boy on February 2nd, 1999. The labor and delivery nurse was really rude to me when we first arrived. I think she just saw me as another teen mom. When she found out I was giving him up for adoption she really softened towards me and she told me that she herself was unable to have children and had adopted her child. Looking back, it is obvious that God puts certain people together to help each other through a tough situation.

They gave me a private room because I was in OSF (a Catholic hospital) and I was giving my baby up for adoption, perhaps a non-religious hospital would do the same. I spent the next two days just trying to memorize everything about him. We had his infant pictures taken and named him Timothy Jason.

Then on the third day the lawyer and his wife came to take him. They stayed for a little while, as if they weren't sure when the right time to take him was. It was like torture…I just wanted to scream “Just Do It Already!!! I Can’t Hold On Any Longer!” I waited until they left the room and the door closed before I collapsed sobbing. I didn't want to do this in front of them, knowing already that they felt terrible about taking him, being parents themselves. I collected my stuff and we left the hospital. I felt hollow. I felt like I was drowning.

The next day as I was sitting on the couch crying and looking at pictures we had taken in the hospital, my Dad sat down and put his arm around me and told me it was going to be alright. If you knew my Dad, you would know that this is totally uncharacteristic of him, but it was just what I needed. A few days later I went to the Peoria courthouse and stood before a judge declaring that I was giving up my parental rights to Timothy.

It was incredibly difficult to be around anyone who was pregnant or had a new baby for the first year or so. I felt so jealous of all of them. This was my first experience with motherhood. I felt robbed. Those feelings eased as time went by and my boyfriend and I grew apart and broke up. Our breakup was hard after being together for 5 ½ years and I had started to resent him for what I had gone through. We never spoke again and went our separate ways. As time passed and the pain subsided, talking about the adoption became much easier.

I received pictures and updates in the form of letters from his birth parents every year and learned that they had changed his name (I will continue to refer to him as Timothy for his privacy). I would send Timothy a birthday card each year and as my life changed (marriage, thyroid cancer, three half-siblings) I would send these updates along as well.

For the first fifteen years we continued to exchange information through the lawyer, but about a year ago we decided both families felt comfortable enough to exchange addresses and phone numbers to send things directly. Then one day last summer I answered an unexpected phone call from Timothy’s Mother saying that he was interested in meeting me. I was really surprised that it happened so quickly; I guess I had this idea he would wait until he was an adult and on his own to try to find me. We chatted for about fifteen minutes on the phone and exchanged a few emails working out the details of the meeting.

I was nervous, anxious, scared, relieved that he wanted to meet…you get the idea...a bundle of crazy emotions! I was also worried that I would disappoint him or he would become angry with me. Something else that happened unexpectedly was that all of those feelings I had buried, resurfaced with a vengeance and I have struggled with them off and on since. In fact, in the hours before that first meeting I experienced a horrible anxiety attack. All of that said, the meeting went very well and I couldn't have picked any better parents for Timothy! He asked me many questions and I apologized for my decision, but I also told him I know that it was the best thing I could have done for him, that I was not ready to be a mother at the time I had him, and how different his life would be if I had decided to keep him.

Timothy is now in his freshman year of High School at my alma mater! One other thing I should talk about is how difficult it has been to feel a connection with a 16 year old son, since the last time I saw him and held him he was only a few days old! I know that I received pictures all these years, but I still felt this strong connection to that newborn I had given birth to and held in my arms, and I have had a difficult time jumping from that to a teenager. He also closely resembles his birth father (with some of my features mixed in). This is something that I struggle with, due to the rocky breakup his birth father and I went through and the resentment I felt toward him. I now know I probably should have gotten some therapy to get past some of these emotions or to learn how to handle them better. 

We met again on his birthday in February of this year. It is a struggle for me, but I want to do this for Timothy and to help myself heal as well. I want him to know that he is where he should be and that he has a really great Mom and Dad! I hope that he has forgiven me for the decision I had to make and not feel some kind of an emptiness or void from all of this.

One last hurdle in all of this is telling my three kids about their half-sibling. I have waited to tell them until they were old enough to understand and I think the older two are now old enough. I am terrified of how this will change their view of me and their trust in me. I also don’t want this to affect how they feel about their future relationships. I don’t want them to think it is OK to participate in sinful acts because “Mom did it”.

I have also learned that with each lost child the pain is different. Even after going through the loss of Timothy to adoption, I had a hard time truly empathizing with someone who had lost a child to miscarriage until I had felt that pain first hand myself. Sadly, I have experienced this first hand through comments said to me when talking about my past. Some examples of things people said to me are: “I could NEVER give my child up for adoption!” (gee thanks) and “You never know WHAT (don’t you mean “WHO”?!) you are going to get.” (when referring to possibly adopting a child). Yes, these are exact comments that were said to me by friends or family. In fact, most of the most hurtful things that have been said, were said by people that are close to me and I think that is what has hurt the most. Therefore, I deeply regret any callousness I may have shown towards others who lost a child to miscarriage or adoption before me.

I didn't realize those 16 long years ago how this would affect the rest of my life. I was only able to see the short term outcome, the “solution” to my dilemma and I really couldn't imagine what this was going to feel like as a mother of three young kids. Now I can begin to see how far the ripples of my past have traveled and how many people it has/will effect…whether good or bad. I know that I gave someone a precious gift and it changed me forever. There is good and bad in everything and I am trying to find a balance again in all of this.


  1. Melissa, thank you for sharing your story. It's not right that people make comments like "I could NEVER give up my child," because each situation is different, and what is right for one person is not right for the next. You were so courageous in standing firm on your decision on adoption.

    I know you regret giving up Timothy, but my prayer for you is that you can slowly move away from regret and towards healing. We can't change the past, but we can live Now. You are amazing!

    (And I do recommend seeing a counselor, it did me wonders! Just to keeps things real, you know?)

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Melissa. It cannot have been an easy road, but you gave your son so much through your decision. Bless you.

  3. Beautiful story! Birthmom to birthmom, thank you for sharing. :)

    Our stories are very different (I placed my son when I already had a 2 year old daughter. My husband and I later reunited, and so our son has 3 full-blooded siblings, ages 9, 4, and 2, and I'm pregnant with the fourth! My son is 7 and it is an open adoption - they live states away and I have seen them a few times. I never, ever regret placing him with his parents. It is hard at times, but God's grace is so uplifting and forgiving, and guilt doesn't weigh me. But I do regret the circumstances and situation that led to me having to make that very difficult decision in the first place).

    But though our stories differ so greatly, we do share a commonality that I rarely find... the true feeling of what it means to love someone so much that you are willing to let him go.

    I pray hope for you. I pray guidance and direction, most especially with talking to your other children about their half brother. Please give your fears up. Children have a much greater understanding than we give them credit for. Perhaps they will be excited. Perhaps they will defer from bad decisions in the future because you were open with them about how difficult yours made parts of your life. Don't fear. God is still carrying you. And He would have never walked you through that journey just to let you flail and fall apart, or fear or regret, or worry or speculate, later in life. That knowledge keeps me going, and peaceful.

    My son will ask me someday why I gave him away. And I don't know how I'll answer (as much as I've gone over it again and again and again). My daughter will probably scream at me in teenage angst someday "I wish you would have given ME away instead of my brother!" I'm preparing for that, too.

    But God is good. And He won't let us fail.
    Peace be with you.


  4. P.S. Happy Birthmom's Day, a couple days in advance. It's Saturday. I don't celebrate it, per say, but I do spend just a little time thanking God that I gave my son life, even I don't really get to be a big part of it. He will never fully understand what it meant, what it means, or that it was the greatest act of love I could ever have given him at the time.


  5. Melissa, I'm so touched by your openness and honesty. I can't help but believe your first son sees this sincerity in you to. Thank you for sharing!

  6. What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing. What a precious gift you gave your son and his parents. Also, not being able to empathize properly about a miscarriage until you have one yourself is very common. I realized when I lost my baby over a year ago thta I had no clue what people went through who lost their babies. At first I was shocked at myself for not having proper empathy, but then I realized it is a limitation of our human condition...we should definitely try, but I think it will always be imperfect.

  7. Bonnie and Melissa - Thank you for sharing these beautiful stories! I am sure you will be blessed by sharing these witnesses of love. We have 6 children and by the grace of God we have had 3 of them after my husband's vasectomy reversal. I often grieve the children we could have had if we had not sterilized our marriage for 4 years. You gave your son life! Blessings to you all!

  8. What an amazing and powerful story. Thank you for sharing this sacred story of strength with us...I am in awe.
    And Bonnie, what a wonderful series for Mother's Day - I'm loving each one.

  9. I don't know if you'll answer this, but I wonder if you can give me some advice. I just found out my 18 year old grand-niece is pregnant. She's not married, and the relationship with the father is kapoot. She wants to keep the child, but she has no job, still lives with her parents (who have always had a struggle financially) and doesn't plan to get married, at least not to the father. We're not close, but what I am wondering is, when I do see her, what is the best thing to say or do? I feel great joy that she did not abort, and I am ambivalent about her keeping the child. I don't know how she feels about adoption, but one of my other nephews adopted, so she is familiar with the process. I don't want to suggest to her that this is a great thing she did, but I don't want to say or do anything to hurt her either. Any advice on how to approach this in the most kind way? What does she need most from me, in terms of attitude as a family member?

    1. I'm not the author and I've never been that situation, but I think what she needs most of all is support in whatever choice she makes (adoption or raising the baby). I think the worst thing anyone can do is pressure her to go one way or the other.

    2. I'm not the author, either... just wanted to say that when I was unmarried and pregnant at 21, and kept my child, my family's greatest support and gift was LOVE. And when I was 24 and pregnant, and placed my son for adoption, my family's greatest support and gift was LOVE. Make sure she knows she is loved. It is best to keep the child if there is any way possible. In several years, her situation will have improved (hopefully, and generally speaking) for herself and her child. But if there is no way for her to parent at this point, adoption is the loving option. She just needs to be loved. And that baby needs to be loved. And then, of course, support in any other way that you can provide - information about adoption agencies, crisis pregnancy centers that will help her through her pregnancy and first months of parenting, monetarily, with a baby shower, etc. She will get on her feet. Pray for her. Love her. Let God handle the rest. <3

  10. Thank you for sharing your story...beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

  11. My mom gave up two babies for adoption when she was in college, before ever meeting my Dad, her husband. She had a very hard childhood and came from a troubled family. I am so proud of my mom for choosing life for her babies, my half-siblings! One of them, we are now, 45 years later, recently in touch with. She is happy and has a family of her own. I hope the birth mom from this post finds peace- she is in my prayers.