Our lives can change in an instant. One decision can lead to a path you had never imagined walking. During my freshman year of high school, I was facing one of the biggest and most difficult decisions I would ever have to make. I was pregnant, and I was about to embark on a journey that would change my life forever.

I grew up on a 400-acre farm with very few neighbors. I had lots of room to run, trees to climb, and creeks to swim in. My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and my brother was 2. Our dad raised us primarily as a single father. Our mom was around, but she wasn’t in a position to care for us at the time. We attended a private school. I was a pretty good student. I never got into any trouble and had a close-knit group of friends. Towards the end of middle school, we moved to a new neighborhood. For the first time in my life, I had neighbors that were around my age.  Ninth grade year, I was set to start public school for the first time. To say it was a culture shock would be an understatement.

When I attended private school, the kids were all fairly well-behaved. The class sizes were small, and everyone knew everyone else. Public school was immediately different. There were hundreds of students from all types of backgrounds. Kids were smoking cigarettes in the back of the bus.  They were fighting in the parking lot. Lots of the people my age were already drinking, partying, and having sex. I felt like I had been thrown into the wilderness…and I absolutely loved it.  For the first time in my life, I was getting attention from boys. I was extremely flattered when even the older boys noticed me. I was young and naive, and I didn’t know much about the birds and the bees.  What I did know is that I wanted the boys to like me.

While spending time at a neighbor’s house, I met a guy named Mike. I was instantly attracted to him. He had big blue eyes and a pretty smile.  We started flirting and talking on the phone pretty regularly. There was only one problem. I had just turned 14 when I met him, and he was 21. There was no way my dad was going to let me date a grown man no matter how infatuated I was.  So we set up a date, and I told my dad I was spending the night with a girlfriend of mine. I spent the night with Mike instead. Within weeks, I suspected that I might be pregnant and confided in Mike who suspected the same.  We were both pretty excited. Hiding the pregnancy from my dad was like trying to hide broccoli in a glass of milk; he could see right through my failed attempts.

Needless to say, my dad wasn’t nearly as excited about the pregnancy as Mike and I were.  Once he found out how old Mike was, he threatened to have him thrown in jail for statutory rape.  I was adamant that we would raise this child and live happily ever after. There were a few flaws in my plan: At 14, I wasn’t old enough to drop out of school or get married.  I wasn’t even old enough to drive. Mike had a job detailing cars, but he wasn’t making enough money to raise a family. He risked a felony charge by continuing to date me. Still, he came by the house one night to talk to my dad “man to man.”  He explained that he loved me, and that he was ready to help me raise the baby. My dad chased him out of the house. I was distraught.

As a single father working full-time, my dad didn’t have the resources to bring another child into our home.  Not only would it be difficult financially, but with me attending school, no one would be home to watch the baby.  He still saw me as a child—incapable of raising another child.  He presented me with my first option: abortion.  This was an option that I dismissed immediately. I wouldn’t even consider it.  He then told me that my other option was adoption. The only adoptions I had ever heard of were the completely closed adoptions of the past where girls were sent to unwed mothers’ homes only to give birth to children they would never see or hear from again.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of it. I was incredibly opposed to the idea, but, at 14, you don’t have a lot of legal independence from your parents. So when he set up an appointment with an adoption counselor, I had to go.

From the first meeting, I told the counselor that I wasn’t interested in adoption and that I planned to keep my baby.  She tried everything to convince me that I didn’t have the time, resources, or the maturity to become a parent, but I was stubborn, and I wouldn’t listen. As time progressed, however, the realization sunk in that I had no way to do this on my own. Without the support of my father and being forbidden to see Mike, I had no choice. Adoption was the only option available to me.

My counselor reassured me that adoptions had changed for the better in recent years. They were becoming more open. I could choose the couple who would parent my child, and I may be able to receive photos, letters, and updates regularly. While this eased my mind a bit, I still wasn’t completely on board. The agency had a birth mother who had already placed her child for adoption come to talk to me. She didn’t have much to say except, “You’re so young.” It wasn’t much of a comfort. I wished that she would have had some magical advice or words of wisdom to give me, but she didn’t know what to say.

I was given a big stack of blue folders, each one containing the profile of a hopeful adoptive couple.  Inside there were details about their careers, their homes, their hobbies, and their personalities. There were “Dear birth mother” letters and stories about why they wanted to grow their families through adoption. There must have been 20 folders. It was a bit intimidating, knowing that the future of my child would be determined by which folder looked best to me. I browsed them with my mom. We read every detail, hoping to find the very best couple in the group. We narrowed it down to two or three, but one couple stood out among them all. Let’s call them C and V. They had a beautiful home, were financially secure, and had careers that they enjoyed. They had pets, and they loved to travel. They had been trying to start a family for some time, but V had unfortunately experienced three miscarriages. Her “Dear birth mother” letter touched me very deeply as I felt that she could understand what it might be like to lose a child. I could literally feel the love pouring out of their profile. So we set up a meeting with them through the agency.

It was a bit awkward at first.  My mom, my dad, my brother, and myself met C and V at the agency.  We talked about our hopes for the adoption and for our child. I found out that my due date was actually V’s birthday.  C was a nice guy with a sense of humor and a good head on his shoulders, but it was V that I felt a connection with almost immediately.  We both cried and hugged each other, and I knew on that day that they would be the parents to the child I was carrying.

Meanwhile, at school, all of my friends knew I was expecting.  In fact, pretty much the whole school knew that I was expecting.  I would frequently have people come up and ask to touch my belly. People wanted to feel the baby kick.  On the school bus, I had one girl that would sing to my belly daily. Other students were constantly trying to give me food and carry my books.  I felt like a celebrity. However, some people whispered and gossiped about me behind my back. They called me names. They would ask, “Why are you giving your baby away?  Don’t you love it?” Of course I did! I loved that baby more than anything else in the world. The insensitive comments were difficult for me, but for the most part, people were kind.  I had some amazing teachers who supported me and always made sure that I was taken care of when I was in their class.

I was one of about five pregnant girls in my freshman class (looking back, that number still seems incredibly high to me).  Out of the five, I was the only one placing my child for adoption. A well-meaning guidance counselor suggested I go to these meetings for young mothers during our advisory period.  They taught life skills and parenting tips, but all it did was remind me that I couldn’t keep my child while the other girls got to be moms. It felt incredibly unfair. In theater class, we had to present a speech to the class for a grade.  I chose to share a poem I had written for my unborn child which talked about the emotions I was feeling knowing that I had to let him go. I would skip my 4th period class most days to call Mike from the payphone in the gym. It was the only time I really got to talk to him.  I was convinced that I was in love with him, and regardless of what anyone said, we would be together one day.

The morning I went into labor, C and V came into town, and we all waited for the baby to arrive.  The nurses said that the epidural they gave me was the best one they had ever done. Even though I was so young, I was blessed that I didn’t feel much pain at all with the delivery. I had my mom and a close friend in the delivery room for support. Mike came to the hospital and was able to hold his son and say goodbye. I was grateful for that, but I began to see his true colors when he showed up at the hospital with hickeys on his neck from another girl. When my granny saw him, she basically chased him out of the hospital. I can’t say I blame her.

When I held my son for the first time, I felt a love like I had never known.  I wept for joy and for sorrow. I sang “Amazing Grace” and quieted his cries. He was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen.  When C and V held him for the first time, their love lit up the entire room. Through V’s tear-filled eyes, I could see an outpouring of gratitude and awe.  They were holding their son. When it came time to fill out the birth certificate, I named him David Michael after my best friend and after his father. C and V changed his name on their copy of the birth certificate.  They named him Matthew, which means “gift from God.” I thought that was wonderfully fitting. For years, my mom would still call him David, but I would find it easier to call him Matthew since that was his actual name.

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*Photo of my mom holding Matthew

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*Photo of my dad holding Matthew

For two weeks, I got to visit with Matthew in interim care.  During this time, he stayed with a temporary foster family while the legal paperwork was taken care of.  From my understanding, interim care is no longer commonplace. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with him.  For an hour or so every other day, my family and I got to hold him, feed him, and bond with him. He was perfect. My heart broke every time we had to leave.

At the end of the two weeks, there was a placement ceremony at a church.  This was to symbolize the joining of our families as I placed Matthew with C and V.  The priest spoke, and when the time came, I tearfully placed my baby into his new parents arms.  There was a reception afterward with cake and punch. C and V had many loved ones in attendance, all of whom were laughing and celebrating.  My family had a much more somber tone; I tried to force a smile, but it didn’t come easy.

C and V gave me three gifts that day.  A leatherbound journal with gold-rimmed pages, a lavender eye pillow to reduce stress, and a heart-shaped gold locket.  Inside of the heart was a lock of Matthew’s hair. It meant the world to me, and I never took it off until the clasp broke some years later.  That was the last day that I saw Matthew face-to-face. I kissed his tiny head, and I told him I loved him, and I said my goodbyes.

For several years, I received photos, letters, and even video updates about Matthew.  I sent presents to him for his birthday and Christmas. All of the kids at school were eager to see new photos of him, and I proudly showed them off to anyone who cared to look.  The grief was real, though, and it manifested in negative ways. I cried myself to sleep often. My grades suffered. My behavior was terrible. I became promiscuous and wild and didn’t really care much about anything.  What I really needed was counseling. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the help that I needed, and I worked through my grief in my own way. The importance of counseling after an adoption placement cannot be stressed enough.

Over the years, contact with C and V dwindled.  People get busy with life. I understood that, but it was still difficult to lose something that brought me so much joy.  If I wanted photos, I had to send a request through the agency. I would send cards and gifts intermittently, and I would wonder if Matthew knew who I was or how much I loved him.  While my life was moving forward, not a day passed when I didn’t think of him.

At 19, I became pregnant with a daughter.  I gave my all when it came to parenting her because I knew what a privilege it was.  I felt the need to prove to myself and to the world that I was capable of being a great mom.  I got married, and my life began to move very quickly.

A few years afterwards, I had an amazing opportunity.  A new counselor at my adoption agency asked if I would speak to a group of hopeful adoptive parents.  As a part of their adoption education classes, they were able to meet a birth mother. This would give them the opportunity to hear an adoption story from a birth mom’s point of view, dispel common misconceptions, and ask questions.  I was terrified. The first time I spoke to a group, I was shaking. I’m sure they could tell that I was nervous, but they were pretty kind and didn’t ask too many questions. I had the opportunity to speak to groups several more times.  Each time, I became more confident, and sharing my story became a bit easier. I was eventually invited to speak at an adoption banquet which felt like a grand achievement in my life. I found that each time I spoke, each time I shared, I became stronger.  Not only was I educating others by doing this, but I was also taking an important step towards my healing.

One day, the agency contacted me to let me know that V (Matthew’s adoptive mom) wanted to see me.  I hadn’t seen or heard from her in a long time, so I was excited for the opportunity. When we locked eyes, it was like being reunited with an old friend.  We embraced each other and cried. She gave me updates on Matthew, and she sat in with a group as I shared my story that day. It was such a special and heartwarming experience.  She told me that she didn’t think Matthew was ready to meet me yet. Her husband, C, wasn’t ready for that reunion to take place either. However, she was hopeful for us to connect in the future.  V and I decided to stay in contact via social media.

Months later, I faced a difficult truth. V had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  It’s one of the main reasons she had wanted to meet with me. She and I were in touch fairly often.  We shared photos of our families and kept each other updated on our life’s major events. A year or so later, the cancer won.  I got the phone call that V had gone on to a better place. My heart sunk. This woman that I had such a bond with was gone. The son whom I blessed with an amazing family had lost his mom.  I wanted so badly to reach out to him and to wrap my arms around him, but I knew that it wasn’t me that he needed at the time. I did not attend the funeral, but I lit some candles at home and remembered her with love and with prayer.  I sobbed. I felt my only connection to Matthew, my only chance to know him, was lost forever.

In addition to being a birth mother, I am now the proud mama of three amazing children.  They are intelligent and kind children, and they continually make me proud. I have always believed that God has blessed me because I blessed another family.  I have a husband who loves and respects me. My soul is happy and peaceful. I have a degree in social work and a heart for helping others. I have a passion for educating others on adoption: the benefits as well as the hardships.  I advocate for honesty and openness in adoption. I strongly support counseling for birth mothers before, during, and after the adoption takes place. I long to give others the help and the hope that I so desperately needed. When we encounter difficult situations in our lives, we have the opportunity to come out of the darkness and shine a light for others.  I feel blessed that I am able to do that.

As hard as I fought the adoption when it occurred, I know as an adult that it was probably the best decision for both of us.  I had a lot of growing up to do. While I had all the love I could possibly give him, there was still so much about the world and about myself that I still needed to learn.  I know that by placing him with his parents, I helped their dreams of becoming a mom and dad come true. Matthew was blessed with so many opportunities that I never could have given him.  He grew up in a happy and stable home. He attended a private school. He was involved in sports. He traveled often. He pursued hobbies that he enjoyed. His life is all that I could have hoped for.

Matthew is now 21 and currently attending college.  We still haven’t reunited, but I feel that the time to reach out is near.  If I can build the courage to send him a letter, I hope the agency can deliver it for me.  I’m not sure what (if anything) he knows about me, but I have been his biggest cheerleader from behind the scenes.  I still think of him daily. His siblings know about him and about the story of his adoption. They look forward to meeting him one day as well.  His birthday week is tough for me, even now. I listen to songs that remind me of him. I allow myself to cry. I remember how much I love him and how much it hurts, and then I remember how amazing his life has been, and I smile—because I was able to give him that life.  When and if we reunite, I don’t ever expect to be a “mom” to him.  He already had the best mom he could hope for. I just want him to know that he is loved.  He has ALWAYS been loved. And wanted. If he has any questions, I hope to answer them. If he wants to learn about his roots, I will be more than happy to share what I know.  I sometimes worry that he will resent me or that he won’t understand why I had to do what I did, but I also have faith that everything will work out as it should. I know we have an advocate in Heaven.

Placing a child for adoption isn’t easy.  It requires strength and courage that few can fully understand.  It involves loving a child so much that you are willing to put his needs above your own.  Facing this reality as a teenager can be even more difficult. In the midst of normal teen angst and emotions, I faced a life-changing decision.  It was single-handedly the hardest thing I have ever done. As much of a negative impact as it had on me at first, it also had so many positive effects in the long run.  I can see blessings abounding in all areas of my life and of Matthew’s.

As teenagers, we think we have it all figured out.  At 14, I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted.  I was “in love” with a man who got in trouble with the law many times over the years.  I thought I was ready to raise a child, but I was still working on raising myself. My heart and my intentions were golden, but reality smacked me in the face pretty quickly.  I had just started high school, and I had planned out how I thought my life would go, but I believe God had other plans. Plans to prosper me and not harm me. Plans to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

I look at my life now, and I realize that I am exactly where I need to be.  I am so proud of the person that I have grown up to be. I am proud of the mother I am to my kids.  I look at Matthew’s life, and I realize that he has had the opportunities and the family he needed as well.  I am proud of his accomplishments, and I know that he will continue to do great things. I pray that one day our paths will cross and that we will develop a wonderful relationship between families.  Until then, I remind myself that I did the best I could for him at the time. While I can’t hold him in my arms, I will always hold him in my heart, in my mind, and daily in my prayers.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.