When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with baby dolls. I loved taking care of them, changing their clothes, and pretending to be the best mom ever. For my seventh birthday, I got a really special (and much too expensive) Lee Middleton doll that I named Ashton. She had blue eyes, light brown hair, and her features were so realistic that you could see the dimple marks across her little fingers. She went everywhere with me and looked so convincingly real that people would do a double take in the grocery store while I had her slung over my shoulder when shopping with my own mother. I still have that doll to this day, and although she lives in the closet now, she reminds me of the innocence that I had as a young girl, imaging how my life would play out.

All I ever wanted to be was a mother, so when I found myself pregnant at 17 years old, I was initially ecstatic. Finally, I was going to have my own real-life doll. The instant the pregnancy test showed that unmistakable positive-plus sign, I closed my eyes and saw myself holding a little girl in my arms. I could picture her smile, feel her weight in my arms, and smell the sweet brand-new baby smell in my nose. I rode that high for as long as possible, trying to shut out the very real facts of life before they came crashing down upon me. I was a 17-year-old child with no job, no education, and no resources to be responsible for another human being. After many months of denial and thousands of tears shed, I made the decision to place my baby for adoption. It was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, and I will continue to deal with the effects for the rest of my life. But I would do it all over again in order to give my child the life she deserved to live. Every adoption story is different, and many women make the choice to place their child for adoption that have all of the things that I will list below. This is only my story, the raw and real version, that for me, led me to knowing that placing my child for adoption was the right decision.

#1 – Age Factor

Let me first start by saying that I know there are plenty of completely capable teenage parents out there. Just watch a few episodes of any of the countless TV shows that document the journeys of teenage pregnancy and parenting. Those women faced unexpected pregnancies and made the very best of the situation in order to provide for their children. I, too, could have made the decision to parent my child. But I want to paint a picture of the life I was living when I was 17.

At the time, my boyfriend and I were living with my oldest sister, sharing a twin mattress. My parents had gotten divorced four years earlier, and when that happened, the cookie-cutter life I was living crumbled apart faster than the blink of an eye. The impact of my parents’ behavior was devastating to my mental health, and I suffered multiple breakdowns that required years of intense therapy to overcome. My boyfriend was struggling with his own demons, and together we were madly in love and completely naive. As much as my know-it-all teenage attitude wants to rebel against it, there is something to be said that comes with the maturity of age. I lacked the life experience at the time to see past the immediate future of my child in my arms and into the reality of what comes along with that. All I could see was the happy moments that I had always dreamed of, the glamorized picture that MTV paints for you of teenagers turning their stories into six-figure salaries. I fought as hard as I could, but eventually, with a seven-month pregnant belly literally weighing me down, I was able to understand that just wasn’t going to be my reality.

#2 – Two-Parent Home

Unfortunately, madly in love doesn’t always conquer all. My boyfriend succumbed to his demons, and he was out of the picture by the time I was three months pregnant. Now, not only was I still a teenager, but I was also looking at parenting alone. Remember that cookie-cutter family I grew up in before it all came to an abrupt halt? That is the life I wanted for my child. I wanted a mom who was going to be there to make snack plates at any hour and give kisses right before putting a bandage on a barely visible scratch. I wanted a mom who would be taken for granted for how reliable she was to never disappoint. I wanted a dad that would teach the rules of every sport known to man, cry when he saw how beautiful his daughter looked in her prom dress, and threaten the lives of any boy who asked to take his daughter out. It was a hard pill to swallow for me to admit that at 17 years old, I wasn’t going to be that mom, and obviously, there wasn’t even a dad in the picture to attempt to fill those shoes. I wanted my child to have everything, and that—for me—started with having two people there for her to lean on. As time went on and I began to consider adoption as a real option, the Parent Profiles the agency presented me with showed countless families of all shapes and sizes that were desperate to provide the security and stability that I lacked. I started to understand that it wasn’t just a home with two parents that I dreamed of for my child. My child deserved to have two adults, people who had experienced enough life to help their child navigate through whatever obstacles were thrown her way.

#3 – Lack of education and job

Even before I saw that pink, positive sign on the pregnancy test, I had already dropped out of high school. My disintegrating mental health after my parents’ divorce took over any motivation I had to show up for school, let alone attempt to excel in it. My working resume included less than six weeks at a Forever 21 and babysitting my little sister against my will, for free. I didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time. Even with my astounding ability to believe I was right about everything, I did understand that raising a child required money. Babies, toddlers, teenagers, at all stages of life, children require a lot of ‘stuff.’ One trip to the store to see the cost of formula and diapers was enough of a slap in the face to see there was no way I would be able to find a job to obtain enough money in time to prepare for the baby that was inching closer and closer to entering the world. Car seats, strollers, diapers, cribs, clothing. I did not even have the experience to think about how much it costs in hospital bills to deliver a baby. It was all spinning around my head each night as I laid in bed trying to figure out how I was going to make this work. I had the equivalent of a 10th-grade education at best. Yes, I could have walked to the closest McDonalds and worked overtime every day until the baby was born and each day after until I could get something more lucrative, but at what cost? Did I want my child to live a life in which she struggled to eat, have clothing, or even have a parent around to give her the love and attention she required? I am completely aware that I grew up in privilege; I am not too ignorant to see it. I lacked for absolutely nothing as a child, and it was my own choices that led me down the path which ended in me pregnant and unable to provide for my child. Like any parent though, I wanted my child to grow up with a choice in every aspect of life. Some people say that babies choose their own parents, and if that’s true, I knew the best choice I could make for my daughter was giving her parents that could be everything I couldn’t.

#4 – No family support

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that is absolutely true. Late nights with a sick baby crying endlessly is enough to drive a person over the edge, and everyone needs to have someone to give you a hug and tell you everything will turn out okay. I had plenty of people in my life willing to give me a hug, but none that were able to provide the support I needed in order to successfully parent. After years of therapy, I can look back and understand that my parents were trying to make the best choice for me, just like I was trying to make the best choice for my own child. The undertaking of raising your child’s child and supporting both of them financially isn’t a decision that most make willingly. As parents, we dream of watching our children get older, seeing them make mistakes but learning from them and developing into adults with their own lives. My family was trying their best to make sure that both my child and myself would have a life worth living. I did not forget that this is my raw and real story, however, and the pain I felt when I saw that not one member of mine or the birth father’s family were going to jump in and save me was devastating. I felt even more alone and abandoned than I thought was possible. I was also angry, and I carried that anger with me for a long time.

Sometimes, even now in my grief process, I feel that anger again. Thankfully, I have learned that those feelings are just temporary, and I can see the bigger picture behind the reasons why things needed to be the way they were. I had nothing to give my child but love, and I knew enough to understand that the only way I could prove just how deep my love for her ran was to admit that the best life possible for her was not one that included being parented by me.

#5 – I wanted more

The most substantial reason why I placed my baby for adoption is because I wanted more for her. I wanted her to flourish in life. I wanted to give her the world, and I finally realized that no matter how old I was, no matter if I had a partner, a job, an education, or support from my family, I could give it to her. I could give her the world, just not my world. I had to place my dream of finally having my real-life baby doll aside in order to give my child the opportunity to thrive. Honestly, there was something else though, something that I didn’t realize I even wanted at the time, and something I believe a lot of birth mothers don’t always think they deserve, but they do. I wanted more not only for my child, but for myself. I had always dreamed of being a mother, but I also dreamed of having a career, owning my own home, and letting madly in love actually conquer all. This feels selfish to say—especially when mothers everywhere sacrifice so many things for their children—but choosing to parent when I was not ready, or able to, would have taken away not only the chance for my child to thrive, but for myself to thrive also. Making the decision to choose adoption was painful, and of course, there are times I wonder what-if? But I know, at my core, that by making the decision, I gave my daughter a life she never would have had if I had decided to parent. And I got to live mine too.

Adoption isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s full of complications, self-doubt, and is a life-long journey. There is no handbook on how to manage. It isn’t always pretty, and what you see on TV or read about in books doesn’t always portray the most accurate picture. For me, it was the best decision I could make at the time for both me and my child. As a little girl, I never could have fathomed placing my daughter into the arms of another family and walking away, but there are many reasons I chose to do so. I did it because I love her. I did it because I wanted her to one day look back and feel proud to tell her story and feel proud to call me her birth mother. I am now living my own life to the fullest, and when I think back to myself as a little girl, dreaming of being the best mom ever, I believe I became my own version of the best mom I could be the day I placed my baby for adoption.

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.