Closed Adoption: Susan’s Story

I met Susan through church. At the time, I was in my twenties and struggling to get pregnant. She was older than me with stepchildren that had already grown up and left the home. She was caring for her ailing mother and had a no-nonsense way about her. Susan is not a super emotional woman, but she is one of the most caring women I have ever met. She is the type of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets to work with whatever needs to be done. She never mentioned children and, when asked, she simply told people that she did not have any biological children or she would talk about her stepchildren. No one knew about her closed adoption.

After over one and a half decades of knowing Susan, it came as a surprise to me one day when she mentioned that she had recently connected with the biological daughter that she placed through adoption years earlier. When she told me this, I wondered why I did not know previously. Then I thought about Susan and how she was not one to wallow in the past or focus on the sad parts of life.

I recently spoke with Susan about her experience and was able to continue learning from her example. Here is her story.

Susan was twenty-four and working at GE when she found out she was pregnant. The biological father of her child was a good acquaintance. When they drove to a country road to talk, the father said how sweet babies are and mentioned their tiny little fingers. Susan asked him if he wanted anything to do with the baby and he responded that he did not. They broke up, and she continued with life planning to have her child and raise it by herself. Later on, Susan didn’t even put the birth father’s name down as the father on the birth certificate.

Susan never considered abortion, but always planned to deliver her child. As Susan’s pregnancy progressed, she sat down with her family to discuss the future of her child. Her grandmother had known just looking at Susan that she was pregnant even before Susan told her family. During this family meeting, Susan realized that she did not have the necessary support to care for the baby on her own. Her family suggested that Susan consider adoption and so she did. 

When Susan went to the doctor to start prenatal care, she discussed her plans after the baby was born. Susan expressed that she was considering placing the child through adoption. Her doctor mentioned that another doctor from a different county had recently called saying that he had a family looking for a baby to adopt. Susan’s doctor called the other doctor and the process began for the family to adopt Susan’s baby. 

The adoptive parents had been trying for years to become pregnant without success. They decided to adopt, and their doctor contacted Susan’s doctor in the hopes of fulfilling their dreams. Meanwhile, Susan worked as much and as long as possible and continued to exercise throughout her pregnancy. Susan and the adoptive parents never met or had any contact.

While Susan was pregnant it was suggested that she go to a home for unwed pregnant women. Her aunt even drove her to a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Illinois. Susan did not want to be there because she wanted to be at home with her family and folks. So, they got back in the car and drove home. Susan spent the rest of her pregnancy with her family supporting her. 

Jokingly, Susan would call the growing baby Herbie, and she would laugh when she thought that if the baby was a girl it would be Herbina. The day of delivery came, and Susan was able to give birth to a healthy baby girl. The custom of adoption at that time was to immediately take a baby that was being placed away from the birth mother to the nursery. So, after Susan delivered her daughter, the baby was immediately taken to the nursery. 

Susan did go to the nursery twice to look at her daughter and saw her from a distance the first time and could not find her the second time. Since it was a closed adoption, Susan did not hear anything about her daughter or see her again after seeing her in the nursery at the hospital. 

The closed adoption also meant that there was no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents at all. In the case of closed adoptions, the birth parents and/or the adoptee can only research to find each other after the child turns 18 and is legally an adult. Often, this research entails money and legal forms to access sealed legal documents and records. Sometimes it can be quite challenging to get the information and it takes a good deal of time. Closed adoption was the common type of adoption during the time that Susan placed her child. Today, there are many more options available to expectant parents that allow them to know their biological child and his or her adoptive parents throughout their child’s life. 

After the closed adoption, Susan went on with her life. She got married and helped raise three boys. She never had any other biological children. She took care of her ailing mother until her death, her husband as he battled cancer and eventually passed away, and she continues to bless the lives of many people with her service. She is constantly thinking of others and helping them just as she thought of her daughter and wanted the best for her.

For years, Susan’s grandmother would talk about how she wished she could find Susan’s baby. When Susan’s brother adopted a child, he started to ask Susan about her adopted baby as well. Over the years, people close to Susan wanted to know what happened to her daughter. Susan didn’t want to do anything because she considered the matter was done and didn’t want to dwell on the past. 

However, in the 1980s she broke down and wrote a letter to the adoption center. She was informed that all the records were sealed and that she couldn’t access them. Susan accepted this answer and didn’t try again until just a few years ago when she moved close to her brother. Once again, he asked her what happened with her baby and wanted her to find out. At that time, she contacted an agency to find her daughter. They said it may take some time to find her but after three months, they gave Susan a name: Elizabeth. They also provided Elizabeth’s contact information. 

Finally, over 50 years after Susan placed her child through adoption, she learned her name and could meet her. Susan contacted Elizabeth through messenger on Facebook in September of 2019 and waited anxiously for two or three days for a response. Susan felt like a message was the best choice because it allowed Elizabeth to decide if she wanted to talk to Susan. Susan started to wonder if Elizabeth wanted to communicate when she didn’t contact her back right away. Then she finally got a response. “OMG are you my mother? This is wonderful.” Their first telephone call was long and informative as they discussed their lives and got to know each other. After that, they started to talk regularly or about two or three times a week. Susan has continued to keep in contact with Elizabeth and even spent time around Thanksgiving with Elizabeth and her adoptive family.  At one point, Elizabeth asked Susan what she wanted to be called. Susan knew that Elizabeth already had a mom and she didn’t want to take that title, so she suggested “Momma Sue.” This is the same name that Susan’s step-grandchildren use for her.

Elizabeth had a lot of questions for Susan during their conversations. She wanted to know if she was healthy, went to church, and her political beliefs. The reason Elizabeth wanted to know whether Susan was healthy was that she does not have good health herself and wondered if her health issues were inherited. This is a common issue for closed adoption children. They often do not have their own biological family medical history, and so they have no answers for all those health questionnaire forms. The health concerns did not come from Susan’s side of the family, but Elizabeth has learned the name of her biological father and she may be able to find out if the health issues come from that part of her DNA. 

This past summer, Susan visited with Elizabeth and her parents. They sailed together and had dinner. Thankfully, the meeting and experience were great. After meeting Elizabeth, Susan learned that Elizabeth’s adoptive mother, Laurie, was able to get pregnant after adopting Elizabeth. Laurie had two boys after adopting because the pressure to have children was lessened in the joys of raising her daughter. In some cases, this is what happens. People are unable to conceive because they feel pressure and stress about the situation. Then, they adopt, suddenly the stress is removed, and they can conceive. It doesn’t happen in all cases, but sometimes it does happen.

Susan also learned that Elizabeth is an artist and likes to draw wildflowers from the forest. She also likes cats. Most important of all, Elizabeth’s adoptive parents are good people. Seeing the relationship that Elizabeth and Laurie have has helped Susan. They have a good relationship and that confirmed to Susan that she made the right choice in placing Elizabeth with her adoptive parents. Over the years she hoped and prayed that she had made the right choice, but now she knows that she did.

Susan has felt a lot of closure and peace about the adoption experience after reuniting with her daughter. She never dreamed that she would see or know her daughter. After placing her daughter through adoption, she moved on and refused to dwell on something she could not change. However, being a part of Elizabeth’s life is a treasured blessing for her, and she is grateful for their relationship. 

Adoption can be a challenging experience for everyone involved, but the expectant parents who decide to place their child through adoption are often selfless, caring people who want the best for their child. In a perfect world, every expectant parent would be able to raise their child. However, life doesn’t work that way. Many women become unexpectedly pregnant and they do not have a way to support their child. Some do not even have support for themselves. 

When an expectant parent decides that they want the best life for their child and realize the sad, hard fact that they cannot provide that life at the moment, then adoption is a great alternative. Susan wanted the best for her daughter and although she wished that she could provide it, she knew she couldn’t. Susan placed Elizabeth with her adoptive parents hoping that Elizabeth would have the kind of life that she deserved. She made a loving choice to put the needs of her daughter before her desire to keep Elizabeth. 

Closed adoptions were more common during that era and many of the selfless birth mothers that placed their child through adoption at that time did not see or know their baby. They were not allowed to hold their baby. Instead, the baby was whisked away to a nursery and cared for by nurses until the adoptive parents came for the child. This is not the case today. Even in closed adoptions that happen now, a mother can spend a minimum of three days with her child before signing over the parental rights and finalizing the adoption. 

Closed adoptions have become increasingly rare because many adoptees like Elizabeth would like to know their biological medical history. These adoptees face medical issues and wonder if it is genetic or if there is something they need to know about their medical history that would help in their treatment. Some adoptees feel a sense of loss and wonder about their biological parents their whole life. They make up stories about their birth parents or on occasion adoptees feel like they were abandoned. These feelings are normal, but most birth parents place their children through adoption because they love them and want the best for them. They are not giving them up, but they are giving them a better life.