Before my husband and I started the adoption process, I can admit that I was very naive about a lot of things. I want to blame it on just being 24 but, while that was a factor, a lot of it could be explained by being naive to the emotional spectrum that adoption involved. I had no idea the emotional roller coaster my husband and I would go on, and I definitely didn’t know or understand the bravery and turmoil our future birth mom would incur.
When we first started our journey in the adoption world, I read so many stories. They were always these beautiful ballads of how easy and carefree adoption was. I was under the impression that, yes, adoption more times than not takes a little time and some money, but it was so easy when you finally got that yes. Birth families and adoptive families just fell into this beautiful ebb and flow of peace and calm. There was never any doubt, hardship, or miscommunication. But I was so wrong.
Adoption is extremely beautiful and the most selfless thing someone can do, but just like life, adoption comes with emotional hardships, hiccups, growth in your feelings, and development of who you are as a person.
I recently interviewed Danielle Ward, a full-time business owner and adoption advocate out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her story is moving, and it touches on all the hard decisions that come with placing a child for adoption and how things change as time goes on. I hope this story explains how even though life can be unpredictable and sometimes messy, everything works out for the best in the end.
How did you come to the decision to place your child?
At the time, I was 18 and would turn 19 in June, and Kaleigh was due in March of 2011. The pregnancy was not created by “plan” or by “togetherness” with her biological father. I can remember vividly having a conversation with my mom once she found out I was pregnant. To sum it up, it went something along the lines of, “You are welcome to make your own decision here and keep this child, but if you do, you are going to parent her; not me.” I just knew at that point in my life that a child needs and deserves consistency and stability. I felt that I couldn’t provide those things for myself at that point so how would I ever be able to provide it for a child? Placing just seemed to be the smartest choice.
What type of feelings were felt? Was there a grieving process, peace, or mixed emotions?
During pregnancy, I was actually really emotionless. I know that sounds crazy and cold, but I think it was just a defense mechanism to get me through those tough nine months. I would say the first week after I placed was tough. I can remember just crying a lot and not really having the drive to get out of bed for anything. I did a lot of thinking and there were a lot of mixed emotions. Things like, “what did I just do?” and “what if I would have just kept her and parented her?” But I would also have moments of total peace and think things like, “wow, pregnancy is over and she is in the best place.” There’s not really a word to describe what exactly you feel in that first week because it’s a huge jumbled up mixture of all types of emotions.
About three months after I placed, I started publicly speaking at local high schools that had a high population of teen pregnancies. I spoke about adoption and how it works, and why I chose that route for myself. Starting to speak publicly about my story was the first of many steps through grieving. It helped me work through all the emotions that came with placing a child for adoption. My grieving process took years, and I still have off-moments even nine years later.
How did you go about choosing your agency and/or adoptive family?
I placed through Deaconess Adoption Agency in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They give birth moms family profile books to review and choose an adoptive family. Me being the black sheep, I didn’t do that. I actually just gave a few key qualities I wanted. Things like the [adoptive parents being in their] late 20s to early 30s, Christian family, and no other children. My adoption specialist actually picked my family for me. Sounds super crazy, but I think it was just another one of those things that allowed me to stay emotionally clear.
Do you have an open adoption? Does it consist of visits and/or pictures?
Deaconess Adoption Agency encourages open adoptions. Their entire process for parents looking to adopt is centered around having an open adoption. But for me, that wasn’t what I wanted at the time. I chose to have a closed adoption for the first five years. The adoptive family was super supportive of my decision. In those first five years, we did exchange emails here and there, but through my own choice, they [were] few and far between. They would send pictures and Mother’s Day gifts to the agency every year. The agency kept everything they sent in a box for me to get when I was ready to open the adoption up.
I needed to take those first five years to figure myself out and kind of create a consistent personality to provide for Kaleigh. In June of 2016, I decided to move to open adoption. This consisted of a few meetings here and there. The first meet-up was at the agency. I met Kaleigh there with her mom and dad. We did a few restaurant meet-ups, and I even took her to Build-A-Bear for one of her birthdays.
Life got a little complicated; Kaleigh’s parents went through a pretty nasty divorce. I also went through a divorce and it felt like I was back in an inconsistent place. So our meetings slowed way down.
My mood towards an open adoption shifted as my life changed. Every time I would get a text to plan a meet-up, my anxiety would sky-rocket. For me, it started feeling like a chore more than an exciting thing. It got to a point where I would schedule something out of a feeling of obligation, but then I would cancel the day of. After I had my daughter, Ridley, it got worse. I was feeling thousands of emotions. I was obviously joyful to be a mom and to be parenting my daughter, but there were feelings of guilt. Lori, Kaleigh’s adoptive mom, was watching me parent Ridley via social media, yet I had no interest in seeing Kaleigh. Finally, I confessed all of my feelings to Lori, explaining my feelings of disinterest to meet up and that I just wanted to focus on parenting Ridley. I explained that I was okay with text updates, pictures, and remaining friends on social media, but meet-ups were just something I didn’t want to coordinate or work on coordinating right now. She understood and we moved into a semi-open adoption agreement.
What is your relationship like with the adoptive parents? What about your child?
When I first met Trent and Lori, I actually felt more bonded to Trent. Of the two parents, he was more lax, more talkative, and seemed less strict. I related to that because that was close to my personality. But things took a turn; unfortunately, they went through a divorce because he was having an affair, and my view on him obviously shifted. I felt a lot of anger towards him. I chose to place because it was a form of stability I couldn’t provide as a young mother, and I felt like Trent had destroyed that. Lori and I bonded over our hurt feelings. We started talking a lot more.
As time has gone on, my relationship with Lori hasn’t necessarily lessened, but we definitely don’t talk as much. I’ve grown older and started a family of my own; priorities have shifted in both of our lives.
For my relationship with Kaleigh, we have never been close or really bonded with each other. I think I have always purposely distanced myself to emotionally stay strong. I don’t really look at Kaleigh as mine. I believe God gave me the opportunity to carry and place so that Lori could be a mom. It may sound cold or heartless but it comes from a selfless and at-peace place.
What does your life look like now? How do you feel now when you look back?
My life now is still chaotic but a good type of chaotic! I am a full-time, business owner in a relationship with my best friend of 12 years, parenting an almost-7-month-old baby girl. I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. Reflection on my adoption story happens almost daily. Some days are super easy; they’re full of peace and comfort in knowing I did the right thing. It’s rare, but sometimes I have days where I still question my choice and ask the “what if” type of questions. As my place in the world as an adult develops, I do feel moments of guilt. Especially now that I am parenting a child comfortably and successfully. I have moments where I think about how I could be a mom to two girls, and I feel astounded by that thought. But at the end of the day, I know it was part of a bigger plan. God had a plan, and I am 100% at peace with my adoption choice and story. Placing is by far the most selfless decision, but it was also the most challenging experience of my life.
If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
Gosh, there are so many things! Be smart. Listen to your mother. Don’t put yourself in unsafe situations because you are not invisible. Know your self-worth. Focus on positive things that boost your future.
Is there anything you want to say to birth moms considering adoption?
If there is any doubt in your mind about parenting, please research and get educated on placement. I think a lot of girls think terminating a pregnancy is the answer—the easy route. But the emotional repercussions of ending life are never-ending. Choosing to not only maintain a life but place a life in the hands of someone or a family who are struggling to make a family is forever-giving. Placing a child for adoption is an emotional route but in the most positive, self-growing way possible.
Is there anything you would want to tell prospective adoptive parents?
Placement is an emotional challenge for the birth mom/birth parents. Keep an open mind and an open heart. Don’t have expectations about how your adoption story may look. Be open to the idea that the wants, needs, emotions, and boundaries of the birth mom/birth parents may change and they may change often. Please be patient, and try to prepare for all things: emotional chaos, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
If there was one thing I learned after our first adoption, it was that it isn’t a neat little story that you can just wrap up in a pretty package and stick a bow on. As I’ve grown older in life and spent almost six years in the adoption world now, I’ve learned that everyone’s story is unique and different and that life and adoption are complicated. Adoption is full of big emotions, messy stories, and, luckily, a lot of grace. I think Danielle perfectly encapsulated that in her story as well. She displayed that it’s ok to change your mind and opinion on things. And with most things in life, your feelings change and situations and relationships evolve, and that’s okay! Thank you, Danielle, for sharing your story and displaying the hard corners and the bravery of placing a child. Your growth is inspiring and encouraging.
If you are pregnant and thinking about placing a child, visit the Gladney Family Association for resources that can help you in that selfless decision.