It was every adoptive parent’s worst nightmare. After four months of working with a birth mother, attending a labor, cutting the umbilical cord, and five days and four nights of caring for a beautiful baby boy in their home, Trudy and Lyle LaBonte learned that their child’s birth mother had changed her mind.
Trudy was devastated. “I was not pregnant, I did not carry him, but for four months, in my mind, I was a mom. Even though I wasn’t physically a mom, mentally, I was a mom. I was ready,” she says. And when he was taken away, she was grief-stricken. “It hit me so hard. I bawled every day for a good two to three weeks. I just felt so empty. That is not a feeling that I would wish on anybody, ever.” The pain was acute. “I lost a child. My child was literally snatched from me. And the reality of it– having him, and then not having him– being there for the birth and having that whole experience– and then to have nothing to show for it but an empty crib– was awful.”
Ultimately, the LaBonte’s baby’s young, teenaged birth mother decided that adoption was the best option after all– but instead of returning the baby to his original adoptive family, she placed him with her aunt’s family. And while Trudy does find comfort in the fact that he was placed with a good family, she remarks, “For me, not to be able to see him or get pictures of him or know how he’s doing…that hole has never healed. That sorrow has never healed. I know he’s in a good place, but I want to see it. I know that God is taking care of him and that he’s in a great home, but I’m not at peace. I don’t know that he’ll ever know who I am. Will that story ever be told? It’s hard to think about that. I loved him. He was my baby! I loved him. And he’s never going to know that. I think that’s the hardest part.”
LaBonte says that this experience helped her cultivate a deep empathy for birth mothers and the grief they experience after placing a child in an adoptive home. She and her husband have since been able to adopt two children– and have worked hard to ensure that their birth parents have as many opportunities to connect with their children as they desire.
That wasn’t the first time the LaBontes had come close to adopting– but then had to cope when the birth mother chose a different option. In one situation, they had heard from the birth mother a week before the baby was due—and then never again. They later heard through mutual friends that the birth mother had been approached by an adoption agency that had persuaded her to utilize their services instead of following through with the private adoption she had already arranged with Trudy.
“You come to find out that there are some people out there who are pursuing young, pregnant women. They’re not all attorneys, they’re not all a certain agency, but they are out there. They find out these young girls are pregnant and are going to give up their baby for adoption and they pursue and pursue and pursue that girl– or that family– and really put the pressure on.”
But LaBonte says she believes everything happens for a reason. “I try not to think so much about the negative. And I think the negative is God’s way of fixing the situation if it’s not the right situation for you, of making sure you have the right match.”
So what did the LaBontes do after losing their baby?
“We ended up taking a few months off. Christmas came around and my husband and I sat in our house–by ourselves on Christmas morning– and we were just sobbing. Here we were and we didn’t have the baby we’d thought we’d have and we wondered where to go from here.” Up until that point, Trudy and Lyle had been trying to adopt privately, through family and friends, but that morning they decided to move forward with trying to adopt, this time strictly using an adoption agency. So they put together a profile and began to wait.
After eight months of waiting, they finally received a phone call. A birth mother was interested in placing her child with them. Trudy was able to talk to her on the phone. She relates, “We talked for probably four hours. It was just an instant connection.” Right after their conversation, Trudy went out and began buying baby clothes. She had never done that before. She says, “I never, ever had the ‘right feeling’ until I talked to my daughter’s birth mother.”
Later, they met at a coffee shop. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘Well, you’re the one! You’ve got freckles!’ (I had fair skin and freckles and she had fair skin and freckles). I sat down and we had the best conversation– we didn’t walk away thinking twice about anything. We talked on the phone, and I went to doctor’s appointments with her, and we did ultrasounds…all that stuff.”
When their daughter was born, the birth mother insisted that Trudy be the one to cut the umbilical cord. “We left with a beautiful baby girl,” says Trudy. She recalls that the evening the adoption agency called to tell her the adoption was final, she photographed the sunset to commemorate the event. “It was a beautiful night with a beautiful sunset and I just appreciated everything that God had given me. I sat down and cried and cried and cried. It was overwhelming to know that all that pain and hard work– and finally meeting our birth parents– was all worth it.”
This “instant connection” happened again when Trudy and Lyle first met their second child’s birth mother. They received a phone call from the adoption agency saying that a birth mother was interested in them as a potential placement and requesting that they drive to the city where the agency was located to meet with her. Just from that one conversation, Trudy knew this was it. Again, she headed to the store and started buying baby things– this time for a baby boy. “My husband, who is more leery, and more conservative, was worried I was going to get hurt. He said maybe I shouldn’t be buying things yet. But I was like, ‘Well, I have to be prepared!’ I just knew in my heart it was going to happen.”
During their in-person visit, the LaBontes chatted with the birth mom for two hours. Shortly after, their son was born and the two families—birth and adoptive—spent some quality time together. “We hung out. At her church there we had a little private blessing service with close family. Her mom and dad were there and and some of her good friends who knew she was pregnant. And it was just beautiful. It’s beautiful just to have the pictures of that whole event. The whole three days of just bonding with them…it was really nice.”
She adds, “And that’s the story you really want to hear. That’s how you want it to be. And it can be. It’s such a beautiful process, you know, the whole thing. I can’t imagine my life without adoption, and without these people in it. What a blessing adoption is! And what love!”
So despite her rocky start, Trudy LaBonte is a fervent advocate of adoption. Today her children are 3 and 5 and she loves being a mother. “Every day I wake up and thank my birth parents for the sacrifice they made,” she says.
So her advice to hopeful adoptive parents? “I’ve talked to lots of adoptive parents who are struggling, who are wondering if they’re ever going to get a baby, and I’ll say, ‘You will, you will! It’s just not the right time or situation or family for you. But when it presents itself, you’re going to feel a peace– you’re going to just know.’ And when it happens to them, they tell me, ‘You were right!’ It’s humbling to be selected as a birth parent– it’s a joy–it’s amazing. Just amazing.”