There are many women who become pregnant, but aren’t able to care for their child for a myriad of reasons. This is a story of one those women. A long time ago, my friend Emily placed her baby for adoption.
I don’t think it’s an easy decision for most moms who choose to place their baby for adoption but it sure is selfless — to grow and birth a baby, then step back and allow someone else to provide for that little person in a way that she isn’t able to. It is the ultimate act of love and surrender.
I knew my friend Emily was a strong woman — after she and her husband struggled through five years of infertility and four failed rounds of attempted IVF, they finally welcomed a baby boy into the world in January 2017 with the use of donor sperm. We are connected in a special way, as I was able to donate breastmilk to her baby after the loss of my third son at 37 weeks, as Emily felt she had some supply issues and needed a little extra help in the beginning.
What I didn’t know until recently was that Emily became a mom for the first time at the age of 19 — only a freshman in college. Knowing that she wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready to provide for a child, she came to the decision of placing her baby for adoption.
Emily began seeing a handsome lacrosse player in the beginning of her freshman year, excited to re-invent herself from the “bookish, nerdy girl” she was in high school. She began taking birth control pills, skipping the “reminder pills” in hopes of avoiding her period altogether. By Winter, she and the lacrosse player were no longer together and she was feeling sick and exhausted.
Emily chalked it up to a busy schedule, the dining hall food, or possible mono.
In February, at her roommate’s suggestion, she began taking the birth control reminder pills and awaited a normal period. When nothing happened and her roommate encouraged her to take a pregnancy test, Emily was shocked at the two lines indicating pregnancy. She made an appointment with a gynecologist and wondered whether she could have an abortion at the office or if she’d need to go to Planned Parenthood.
Emily knew that she could not have a baby at this point in her life.
Since it was unclear how far along she was, the gynecologist sent Emily for an ultrasound. As soon as she saw the baby on the screen, she knew it wasn’t as early as she thought — the tech estimated she was about 15 or 16 weeks along. It was then that Emily knew abortion was not an option. Crying, hyperventilating and numb, she was in shock that this could be happening to her.
Emily’s future plans included finishing college, joining the Peace Corps and becoming a researcher who would change the world — certainly not being a mother at the age of 19. She contacted the “father”, who had nothing but horrible things to say, and even threatened to have his fraternity brothers push her down the stairs. He made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the baby.
With the support and encouragement of her roommate, Emily searched the Internet for information about the adoption process. After receiving some brochures and information in the mail, she spoke with an adoption counselor about her options. Emily wanted to know who — what demographic — had trouble being matched with birth moms.
The answer was same-sex couples and single people. After pouring over numerous profiles, a couple from California (2 dads) jumped out at her. She called them with a shaky voice and they talked for over an hour. When Emily hung up, she knew this was the family she wanted to place her baby with. Wearing a wardrobe of baggy clothes, she finished the school semester and kept to herself. Only a couple friends knew about her secret.
While she threw herself into schoolwork, the adoptive dads worked on the baby’s nursery.
On a hot night in July, Emily gave birth to her sweet boy — barely making it to the hospital in time. Afraid of feeling too attached, she didn’t want to hold him. At the urging of a kind nurse, who didn’t want to see this young mom feel regretful for this time that wouldn’t come again, Emily decided to hold him. Though it was only a few minutes, it felt like hours.
She told her son that she loved him and that though he was unplanned, he was not a mistake. With tears, kisses and apologies, Emily signed papers and placed her son into the care of the dads from California, whom she felt were amazing.
Emily’s postpartum time was a blur and as the weeks went on, she fell deeper into a dark depression. Not wanting to socialize and drowning herself in schoolwork and unhealthy habits, the sight of pregnant women made her burst into tears. Emily attempted therapy, but found it difficult to connect with the male therapist provided by the adoption agency and felt very judged by a female therapist at her school.
At the urging of her friends, she saw a medical doctor who prescribed medication and connected her with a great therapist. The next year, Emily dated a nice guy for awhile who told her the words that comforted her more than anything at the time: “You feel broken, but you’re not. It’s hard to see from where you’re standing, but you’re a pillar of strength.” He remains one of her closest friends.
Emily graduated magna cum laude and served in the Peace Corps in the South Pacific and worked in Europe and the Middle East for several years. After moving back to her hometown, she eventually met the man who would become her future husband. Emily told him her adoption story early on, and he was nothing but supportive. The adoptive dads even helped Emily choose her wedding dress (and they’re still close today).
Emily has thought about her first son every single day for the past 16 years. They speak on the phone, Skype and email, and he knows that Emily gave birth to him (though she sees her role more as that of a “big sister”) and he calls her “M.”
When asked how she feels about motherhood at this point in her life, the word she used was “lucky”. She feels so fortunate that she has the chance to experience motherhood and care for her son. Her confidence as a mom has grown over time, but she does experience feelings of guilt sometimes because there are so many women who desperately want a baby but it doesn’t happen for them.
Motherhood has also helped Emily to put what’s important in life into perspective and to be grateful for every day.