This past October, as my first daughter’s 18th birthday drew near, I was reminded of the amazing ways God works in our lives. She has grown happy, healthy, and strong, and though my heart aches to know mine are not the arms that raised her, I am grateful for the guidance from God that has given her a wonderful life.
Eighteen years ago I was 20 years old and living in Spokane, Washington. Having somehow survived an adolescence marked by alcohol and drug abuse, I was drifting in and out of one dysfunctional relationship after another. I did manage to complete a program to train as a dental assistant, and after breaking free from an abusive relationship, was making it on my own.
Mark and I had dated on and off, and had just started dating again. When we first met, Mark was shy, sweet, and attentive, but during the few months we had been apart, he had changed. He had begun working out and had built up a lot of bulk in a short time. I noticed he was often surly and argumentative; I wasn’t so sure our relationship was going to work out.
One weekend, I was feeling especially moody and just wanted to see Mark and be held. After checking with his mom, I found his pickup parked outside a bar downtown, so I went in. My stomach lurched when I saw him sitting at a table with his brother and two women. Sitting in the far corner, I asked the waiter to send over a beer and say it was from me. He looked up, glared at me, and went back to his conversation. I left the bar devastated, thinking, “Well, I guess that’s over.”
A week or so later, the reason for my moodiness became apparent when a home pregnancy test was positive. After the initial emotional roller coaster subsided, I knew what I had to do. You see, I had never been the kind of girl to daydream about a big wedding, kids, a house in the suburbs, and all that stuff of fairy tales. One thing I knew in my heart was that when I did have a baby, it was going to have a mom and a dad and a roof over its head. I had learned already that life is hard enough even under the best circumstances.
If I chose to keep this baby, we would live hand-to-mouth. What about my plans to return to college? Either I had to forget them or plan to have someone else watch the baby while I worked full-time and went to school. My mom had faced so much hardship already; I couldn’t bear to burden her more. None of these alternatives felt right to me.
I made the call and set up an appointment with an adoption counselor, Nancy Johnson, who, at the time, worked for a Seattle-based agency. I also knew I had to tell Mark.
When I think about that phone call, I still get a knot in the pit of my stomach. When he answered, I told him there was something he should know—that I was pregnant.
After a long pause, he simply said, “I think before we talk any more I should contact my lawyer.”
Any wishes I may have been harboring about a happy family or even a supportive father for the baby went out the window then and there. The moment I decided to relinquish was the moment I began to see God at work in my life. Up until then, I hadn’t paid much attention. My family had never been regular churchgoers, so most of what I knew about God was from the occasional trip to Sunday School with a friend.
Things started to fall into place as I reviewed synopses from a pool of prospective parents. Nancy had asked what I was looking for in a family, and my requests were simple: college educated (like my parents), and outdoorsy (like me). At first I thought it was important that the baby go to a childless couple, but then I realized that I wasn’t out to do anyone a favor—the important thing was to find the right family for this baby.
That’s when their synopsis arrived—Bob and Susan, both psychologists (a helping profession, just like I hoped to do!) and their daughter, Maya, whom they had adopted as an infant. Something in my heart told me this was the right family, especially after I received a little folder with pictures and a letter from each family member.
A quote from Bob read, “When the moon is out, all of us go outside just to see it and ourselves in the moonlight.”
Nancy was happy for me and thought I had made a wonderful choice. Even better, this family was willing to exchange letters and pictures before and after placement. Although only about six months pregnant, I was beginning to experience the grief of letting my baby go, and couldn’t imagine not getting word that she was growing up happy and healthy. Otherwise, I felt I would be haunted by images of a newborn frozen in time.
Nancy, my counselor, was invaluable during the final months. She found me a family to stay with, took me to birth mom meetings, and helped me in the process of “anticipatory grief,” dealing with the feelings that accompany an impending loss. I felt very close to the baby. (I had a feeling she was a girl and called her Randi Allison, the Allison after my mom, Alice, who goes by Allie). I would spend lunch hours in the park, caressing my growing belly as she kicked (and kicked!), with me crying and telling her all the hopes and dreams I had for her and for myself.
Bob and Susan were overjoyed when they learned I had chosen them. They sent a beautiful card, followed by an incredible letter. I still cry when I remember their promise to me:
–Your baby will never cry without being heard and cared for,
–will never feel fear without being held and comforted,
–and will always go to bed knowing love and happy, strong feelings.
We continued to exchange letters, getting to know each other. Although they were older than I was, the parallels in our lives were amazing. We all come from close, loving families, Sue’s mom was a teacher. The fit just seemed right.
I brought Randi Allison into the world on a Sunday afternoon, with my mom and two sisters beside me. It was incredible; what a miracle a baby is! I chose to spend time with her in the hospital, as it was important to me to get to know her before having to say good-bye.
After spending one night home in Lewiston (where I’d moved by then), Mom and I picked the baby up at the hospital and took her to Spokane. God was really busy then. He saw to it that the place we stayed was only two houses away from the temporary foster care where Randi Allison stayed until her parents arrived.
After going to court and completing the heart-wrenching process of relinquishing my parental rights, I was allowed to continue visiting the baby until her parents were in town. We planned a meeting on neutral ground, so Mom and I checked into a hotel and waited.
Bob and Susan arrived with the baby in a beautiful wicker bassinet. (“Oh”, I thought, “I could never have gotten something that cute for her.”) After initial introductions between Bob, Susan, Mom and myself, Bob and Susan exchanged meaningful glances. They explained that on the plane ride over, they had been discussing baby names. They had decided on either Katie or Alyson, and if they chose Alyson they would call her “Ali”. When they met my mom, Allie, they felt it was meant to be.
We spent two hours visiting, with them telling us about themselves, how they felt children should be raised, and how infertility had been difficult for them but they were overjoyed with their adopted children. My mom and I tried to fill them in on all the things kids who were adopted often don’t know—ethnic background, family history, family talents, etc.
The end of that visit was the most painful moment of my life. I’ll never forget her little sleeping self in that bassinet with red quilted lining, thankfully oblivious to the terrible pain in my heart. The next few weeks passed in a blur of tears. I had no idea I would love her so much, miss her so deeply! My mom, although grieving herself, was a rock for me. Gradually, as I returned to work, then college, time eased my pain. Birthdays continue to be emotional times, especially this one, the 18th.
My experience with Ali proved to be a turning point in my life. Through it, I learned to listen to God by finding what feels right in my heart and by trying to be aware of when He is opening doors for me. Oh, I’ve stumbled a few times (my first marriage ended in divorce), but have arrived at a place in life where I feel He means me to be, blessed with a loving husband, two great kids, and a rewarding career as a registered nurse.
The letters I received through the years gave me peace of mind that the Lord truly guided me in the decision to place Alyson with Bob and Susan. I don’t know how she feels about me, if she’s curious at all, or wants to meet me (I hope she does). All I know is that in my prayers I ask God to send her my love, always.