Historically, I have always been someone who has to learn things the hard way. I need to experience it, feel it, and most of the time hurt from it before the lesson really takes effect. I like to believe those days are behind me and now as a 30-something-year-old adult I know better. Now I can take the time to learn from the advice of others, especially from those around me who have walked similar journeys. I have a long list of things that I have personally survived and sharing my own experiences is therapeutic for me. Placing my daughter for adoption is one of those difficult things and I am passionate about speaking and educating others about my experience. My story has been long and bumpy, but it has shaped me into who I am more than anything else. Reflecting back on the person I was when I started my adoption journey, I was clueless. I thought I knew what adoption was and what I was getting into, but it wasn’t until after placement that I even began to gain an understanding of what a beautiful complex ride I was stepping onto.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was 17-years-old. At a time when I should have been thinking about college applications, homecoming dresses, and making cherished memories with the people I had known since kindergarten, I was living in another world. My entire goal each day was to spend every second with my boyfriend and work together to scrounge up enough money to fuel as many addictions as possible to keep us from facing the harsh reality that was our lives. No jobs, no stable place to live, and absolutely no drive to do anything to make things better for ourselves.

Most sensible people who find themselves pregnant during such a turbulent time in their lives would be terrified, but because of my tendency towards stubbornness and extreme naivety, I was excited. I did not even think about abortion or adoption as an alternative to parenting. Even when I was three months along and my boyfriend suddenly stopped sharing a desire to raise a child together, I did not immediately start thinking of other options. Only when my father sat me down and explained to me that I would not be able to live with him while pregnant did I start realizing that things might not end in me raising a child with the support of family.

The option I was presented with was moving into a dorm for expectant mothers at The Gladney Center for Adoption. I use the term “option” loosely because if I did not go, I had no other options remaining. I was facing being homeless, an option I had faced before, but the added complication of being pregnant caused me to think about someone other than myself for the very first time in my life. I had no idea what adoption really was outside of a Lifetime movie where a teenage girl was forced to give her baby away to a family and then secretly spied on them for years as she planned for getting the baby back (I am hopeful that I do not need to waste my time explaining the whys and hows of the inaccuracy of this portrayal!).

When we first arrived at The Gladney Center for Adoption, I was very surprised to learn how inaccurate that Lifetime movie was about adoption options. I learned about the different types of adoption such as closed, semi-open, and open. I learned I would have full control over the type of family I chose for my daughter and what our communication post-adoption might look like. I decided right off the bat that if I was not going to be able to parent my daughter, I wanted my adoption plan to be as open as possible. I wanted a family that was going to be able to provide my daughter with all the things I was unable to at the time. Stability, a two-parent home, and access to education were my top priorities.

Time moves differently when you are pregnant as any woman can attest. The days tick by like a slow-motion clock. Yet somehow, nine months fly by faster than you thought possible. I stayed true to my old habits of attempting to learn things on my own terms and no one else’s until the weight of the child growing inside was like a literal slap in the face that it was not only about me. When I had just weeks left to go, I finally choose the people who would be my daughters’ family. We had a good plan for what we wanted our post-adoption agreement to look like and after reluctantly attending a class they make all the girls at Gladney take called Loving Decisions, I believed I was prepared for the emotional journey that would come after placement.

This is the part of the story where I let you guys in on a little secret. Every single thing I thought I knew about adoption changed after I placed my child. I realized that you can spend hours planning and preparing for something only to have a completely different experience. At first, the post-adoption plan I made with the adoptive family went even better than I thought. We quickly moved into an even more open arrangement that originally planned. I was elated at how much better things were going for me than I thought possible.

I went back to my father’s house to live while I worked at a title company with my sister. I was feeling great about my decision to place my child and I was able to quickly stuff and lockdown any negative feelings that tried to creep up late at night. Things continued on that way for several months until one day I received a phone call from the birth father. We spoke, agreed to meet up, and discuss all the things that had been left unanswered. Leaving all the details of that story for another day, I will tell you that we were able to mend our relationship and start seeing each other again.

That decision along with the pressure from months of letting my grief build up quietly inside of me is what led me to change the post-adoption agreement to a less open arrangement to letter exchanges only once per year. Making that difficult choice was one I never imagined making or even knew I was able to make for myself pre-placement. The entire reason I made an adoption plan for my child was to give her the best life possible and I started to see that I needed to be able to live my life without daily pain as well. When I decided on adoption, I wasn’t doing it for myself. Every single choice I made was made for my daughter no matter how painful it was for me. Placing her into the arms of another family and walking away was like ripping my own heart out but being expected to continue living with no problems. I thought I had to put on a brave face and represent the adoption community with positivity and strength at all times. I kept everything inside, even how painful it was for me to make the choice to alter our post-adoption agreement.

I continued to live my life for several years sending my yearly letter and anxiously awaiting to see if I would receive a response back. I kept up my charade of being overly positive regarding my adoption plan. One day I received an email about a brand-new support group that Gladney’s post-adoption department was putting together for birth mothers. Something kept it at the forefront of my mind and although I was extremely nervous to attend, I can now confidently say that going to that first group changed everything for me.

I removed my mask and was completely honest for the very first time about the pain I was quietly suffering through inside. I walked out of that meeting a lighter more honest version of myself and could not wait to attend the next one. I continued to attend and look forward to the group for a very long time and learned so much through listening and connecting with the other birth mothers I met there. Hearing their stories, although different in many ways from each other, taught me so many things. We were all walking through this journey together having no clue what we were doing, but able to find solace in the fact we all had one thing in common. We were a society of women who made the choice to put the wants and needs of their children before their own. That is something powerful that only another birth mother can understand.  I do not believe that anyone aspires to place their child for adoption, but finding yourself there is made exponentially easier with the support of other women who made that choice as well.

That support group no longer exists, but I have been able to find many other opportunities to connect with other birth mothers both in-person and online. I continue to learn and grow in my own adoption journey and am excited to see what will happen as my daughter gets older and older. The biggest thing I can take away from what I learned after placement is that there is no handbook on placing your child for adoption. Every person’s experience can look or be completely different from the next and that’s okay.

The journey isn’t always linear and isn’t filled with only happiness. It is a bittersweet journey full of love, sorrow, joy, and pain. For a long time, I felt guilty about making the choice to alter my post-adoption plan. I felt selfish in doing something that lessened the amount of contact I had with my daughter, but I have learned to give myself some grace and understanding. Yes, I made this plan completely for my daughter and not for myself but that does not mean I do not matter. It does not mean that I do not desire to live my life in the healthiest way possible for myself too. I am not the clueless girl I was fourteen years ago when I started this. I am now married to the birth father with a family of my own and I try to share my story as much as possible in an attempt to help others, but I do not have all the answers. I still have so much to learn, and I believe my journey will continue to evolve. I will always continue to try to not only educate others but educate myself on the adoption world.

In the last few months alone my knowledge of the adoption world has expanded so much. I recently, along with another birth mother, started an online support system. It’s a way to spread the knowledge I have gained to others by utilizing social media and eventually providing in-person meetings. Just by starting this group, I have learned so many things about the use of proper adoption terminology, how grief and loss affect each birth parent differently, and something I am the most excited about getting more insight from adoptees and adoptive parents on their perspectives.

After all, we are a triad. The birth parent, adoptee, and adoptive parents are all essential for an adoption to occur. Learning about adoption means gaining insight into each member’s story. If you take anything away from my lessons post-placement, I hope it is the fact that adoption is a powerful thing that changes lives. I will always be grateful for the community that helped heal me, and I will continue to keep my heart open to new lessons and experiences as I grow through my journey.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.