In 2013, a 26-year-old Delina was enjoying her much needed vacation visiting friends in San Diego, CA. Her stay in the Southern California city was supposed to be fun and carefree but physical trauma and life-changing news soon put a halt to her happy holiday. One moment during Delina’s vacation, when she was in bed, she went into a seizure and hit her head on the headboard. The next moment she remembers is waking up in a hospital room.
Delina, naturally caught off guard by her surroundings when she woke up, vaguely remembers her seizure spell happening. The twenty-something woman was relieved to hear from the doctors that her head did not suffer from any permanent damage due to how badly she banged it against the headboard. But the doctors had some other serious news for her, Delina was 25 weeks pregnant.
Hearing this unexpected and unfathomable truth was a shake to her system. “I didn’t have one sign [of pregnancy] no weight gain, I was on the Depo shot [and] I was on my period. I thought wrong test results,” said Delina. In that moment, her vacation ended and a new world of unknowns began. Racing thoughts of “what do I do next?” were the only thing on her mind.
Delina immediately booked the first plane ticket home to tell her family and then-boyfriend/child’s father Chris*.
Chris did not take well to the pregnancy news. His shock manifested itself into anger. “Get rid of it” was his exact response. If she did not terminate the pregnancy, he threatened to make things more difficult for Delina. “[Chris] told me, ‘I will quit the air force, so you won’t get as much child support,’” said Delina. The racing thoughts of “what do I do next?” sped even faster inside her mind and body. She was devastated she did not have Chris’s support.
Delina knows all about the struggles of a single mother, she was raised in a single-parent household. Growing up, Delina witnessed her mother overwork herself to provide for their family in their new country on her meager income. At this point in her life, Delina knew she was not financially ready to provide for herself and a child. Ready or not, Delina felt raising her child alone was her only option. That is, until she saw something on her Facebook newsfeed… an Adoptions From The Heart advertisement.
Adoption was never on the forefront of Delina’s mind. The AFTH ad was yet another pop-up ad she had no interest in, so she kept scrolling. A few days later, Delina was relaxing and casually watching TV when an Adoptions From The Heart ad aired. Seeing an AFTH ad for the second time left an impression on her.
Delina decided to do her research on the Adoptions From The Heart agency. She took the time to visit the agency’s website and read about their history. On the website, the agency referred to itself as an “open” adoption agency. What was an “open” adoption? Delina continued to read that an adoptee founded the agency in 1985 during the groundbreaking movement of erasing the anonymity and mystery that took place in adoption. An open adoption allows a birth parent to remain a part of their child’s life, that aspect really touched Delina.
After some initial hesitation, Delina decided to call AFTH’s Central Pennsylvania office and schedule a meeting with an Adoption Social Worker named Marilyn Rich, MSC. She felt this would be a good way to get answers to her questions in person. Marilyn was very thorough in explaining her role at the agency and what open adoption entails. The more Delina learned about open adoption in her first meeting with Marilyn, the more comfortable she became in exploring the idea. At her second visit with Marilyn, she started looking at prospective adoptive parent profiles. As Delina was looking through the profiles she did not see herself connecting with anyone to the point where she would want to meet them. At that moment, she dropped the idea of making an adoption plan completely and believed that being a single parent was in her very near future.
Her mother raised her alone and loved her and her brother with a heart as big as two parents combined. Unfortunately, with double the love came double the stress. It was hard on Delina to see her mother come home late at night from a day of working two and sometimes three jobs to afford the necessities for her family, primarily her children. Delina loves her mother, but she would not wish experiencing or witnessing that type of stress on anybody. It was at that point, she then decided to give Marilyn another call.
Looking at prospective adoptive parent profiles this time was a completely different experience. Everything changed when she saw the profile of a married couple named Jason and Jaime Sterner. Jason and Jaime were already loving parents to a little girl named Julia, whom they adopted through Adoptions From The Heart. Delina told her social worker Marilyn about the connection she felt with the couple and so they set a date to meet.
For Jason and Jaime, the possibility of having an ongoing relationship through open adoption would be something new for them, yet something they always wanted. “We were blessed to introduce Julia into our lives; unfortunately, we did not have contact with her birth parents,” said Jaime. The couple wanted a new experience with their next adoption, they hoped for their child’s birth parents to be a present figure in their lives this time around.
After meeting with the couple, Delina was certain she wanted the Sterners to raise her baby. She got along with the couple and says, “You can feel their love.” As for Jason and Jaime, they felt a strong connection with Delina too. “We hit it off with her from the beginning,” said Jaime about the first time her and her husband met Delina. The couple was blown away by Delina’s poise and “warm personality.” The next time the couple met with Delina, it was in the delivery room.
Delina was in labor for 17 painful hours at Women & Babies Hospital. Aside from her mother, her social worker Marilyn was there as well. Marilyn was there the whole time to offer Delina the emotional support (and mint chocolate chip ice cream) as Delina’s body worked hard to dilate past seven centimeters.
Marilyn’s support throughout the bittersweet journey is something Delina will always cherish. “She’s my life savior. Marilyn is my angel who someone sent to me. She has always been there for me. She is very nurturing and patient,” said Delina.
On May 27, 2014, Delina gave birth to a 9 ½ lbs. baby boy named Jackson. Jackson was such a big boy that they had to put him in a three-month-old baby outfit. The nurses placed Jackson on Delina’s chest, a bonding moment with her son that she cherishes to this day. She remembers when Jason and Jaime came to the hospital and held him for the first time, so much love and care for this little person they just met. In that moment, Delina knew that Jackson, Julia, Jaime and Jason were meant to be family.
For nine months, Delina had Jackson all to herself as he grew inside her womb. She loved her son unconditionally before she met him in person, and now, after all that time together, he would go home in the nurturing arms of someone else. The first two weeks postpartum she spent physically healing from her C-section. The mental and emotional healing process post- placement took much longer.
In the state of Pennsylvania, a birth mother has within 30 days to revoke her consent to terminate her parental rights. Delina decided to distance herself from the family during this time.
It did not matter where she went or who she was talking to, there was always some unintentional reminder of her son. After two weeks of recovering from her C-section, she decided to go out to the store. A simple trip to get out of the house turned out to be a traumatic event due to a simple yet thoughtless question from the cashier. “The cashier asked how far along I was! I was so emotional.” After having some time to cope, Delina found herself in a place where she was able to embrace open adoption for all its benefits. Jason and Jaime knew they needed to just hold on to their faith and give Delina the space she desired.
Within the past two years, Delina and Jaime started texting more frequently. Delina praises Jason and Jaime for the way they are parenting Jackson and Julia. The pair have become more than just siblings, they are each other’s best friend. They are not children who are “glued to the TV” as Delina puts it. “Both of them are very into arts & crafts and board games. They love to play and share.” Delina has an incredible amount of love for Julia too. “I treat her like she’s my daughter as well. Just because she’s not my blood does not mean she’s not my family. They are all my family.”
Delina is affectionately known as “Mommy Delina” to Jackson and the rest of the Sterner family. Despite the distance between both parties (Sterner family lives in Delaware; Delina lives in Central Pennsylvania) they often travel to or meet each other halfway for family time. Delina’s mom and brother have been able to spend quality time with Jackson as well. A few years ago, Delina invited the family to come up from Delaware for a fun weekend in Central Pennsylvania. She booked the family a hotel room while her Mom helped her tidy up the house. During their prep, her Mom went from yard sale to yard sale within her area to stock up on toys for both Jackson and Julia to play with in the basement of their home. When Jackson and Julia went down to their basement their eyes lit up as if they were in literal toy land. Open adoption has provided Delina and her family with every opportunity to be present and create these memories with Jackson.
The amount of love and support Delina gave and received since Jackson was born led to all she’s thankful for today. “Jackson is the most important thing that ever happened in my life. It’s a miracle to have children. He’s a miracle to me and a miracle to the Sterners,” said Delina. Not only did the Sterner family grow by the blessing of Jackson, but by the blessing of Delina becoming part of their family. “As we got to know her we realized that she is such a smart, caring, sweet and genuine person. We are so lucky to have her in our lives as well as our children’s’ lives. Her family knows us and welcomes us into their homes for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. She is our family because she helped us build ours,” said Jaime.
Delina has a lot of love and support to share with her family as well as other birth parents who struggle emotionally post-placement. For one thing, Delina is adamant about telling birth parents not to hold in their feelings about adoption. “Honestly, the best way is to reach out and tell your story. The longer you hold it in it sneaks up on you,” said Delina. She adds that reaching out to talk to your social worker and writing out your thoughts helps too.
Life has a way of throwing challenges at people when they least expect it. Delina was not ready for motherhood. Whether or not she felt ready to become a mom, the reality was that she was six months pregnant. In the role of a loving parent, it is one’s job and instinct to make the hard decisions to do what is best for their child. Placing Jackson for adoption was not an easy decision, or a decision made without its share of grief, depression, judgement and trauma.
Although this was a hard decision to make, a lot of love and happiness came out of it. Delina sums it up by saying, “Open adoption is one of the greatest gifts to give, and one of the best ones to receive.”
*Name has been changed.