As we walked into Mrs. Ava’s house, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
A negligent, unstable ox of a woman, ready to trample me for having taken her daughter to the Crisis Pregnancy Center without her?
A cannon of emotion launching a bag of clothes through the door as she discharged both me and her 15 year-old?
A tired soul, having raised more than her fair share of children and grandchildren, wondering why in the world I was here?
The radio blared soothing RnB as Ava invited me to sit. She didn’t turn on the lights. Summer dusk crept through the screen door just enough to let me see that Ava was upset. She didn’t say a lot that night. None of us did. What words are there when there’s a baby on the way, its father unknown, and no one knows what to do?
I’d asked Reagan a couple of months ago, privately in my home office, if she could be pregnant. Her tall, skinny body had begun to bulge egg-like from her abdomen, and neighbors were talking. “There’s no way, Mrs. Britney, ” she assured me.
One afternoon during a volleyball game on our street, I watched her reach for a ball bolting her way. Her body didn’t do what she expected it to, the ball passing her by. That evening she agreed to take an at-home test. And I sat by her side, watching as the two pink lines surfaced.
Reagan’s last trimester was my first semester of education in the system. I learned to laugh at the phrase “work the system.” If anyone manages to work the complicated, time-consuming, shame-piling network of social services we navigated those months, they deserve whatever they can get. Life wasn’t easy for a sophomore in high school growing new life within her.
In my Christian imagination, I had idealized adoption as a beautiful reflection of God’s love for each of us. But after walking with a birth mother as she considered signing surrender papers, I knew in my gut how much grief is behind every adoption.
I’d wanted to adopt from a very early age. I wanted a multi-racial family that would shatter the racism that lingers in our society. I probably also wanted to be different, to push the envelope, to make a statement. I wanted adopted children because I had grown up with an incredible demonstration of home. I wanted to give babies who didn’t have families a family. I wanted to ease hurt and loneliness. I wanted to honor the theology of God’s adoption made manifest among us.
I had looked forward to it for years, building up this honorable act that my husband and I would do for “the least of these.”
So when Reagan sat at my kitchen table and announced that she would not try to raise this child on her own, I was almost giddy for the possibilities. My husband and I knew that this was not our child, as keeping the baby would mean losing the mom who was requesting an absolutely closed adoption. But we knew that it would be someone’s child.
Through adoption, the baby would get a better chance. Reagan would finish school. They would both have an opportunity to break the predictable cycles. Adoption was the answer. Adoption was the way. Adoption was the best choice, the only choice. I expected relief for everyone involved.
But I didn’t expect the sadness.
I didn’t expect the neighborhood to fight her decision.
I didn’t expect her friends to support her dropping out of school rather than giving up her child.
I didn’t expect Reagan’s depression.
I didn’t expect her to shut-down.
Feeling without options myself, I moved ahead with the adoption appointments, reminding Reagan every step of the way, “We can stop this whenever you want.”
But she’d nod, “No, let’s keep going.” Though her heart was beginning to love the heartbeat inside of her, she felt she had no other choices.
We considered bringing them both under our roof, but Ava insisted that she would neither allow her to live elsewhere nor permit the child to be raised in their home. Reagan had heard words like WIC and Stamps and Medicaid, but even if rearing the baby in her mother’s house was an option, no one knew enough to instruct her in the ways of social services, least of all me.
She wanted to finish school and go to college. She wanted to be a kid going to birthday parties. She wanted to eat fast food and earn money babysitting and go to her new boyfriend’s house. She wanted to live at home. And now she wanted to keep her child.
We had made it all the way through to the family-choosing level of the adoption process. Every step of the way was painful and filled with complexities. But after the meeting where she was presented profiles of families from which to choose, Reagan mustered up enough resolve to tell me, “I want to raise my baby.”
I canceled her agency appointments.
I planned a baby shower.
I called an organization that was willing to walk her through the piles of paper.
And I celebrated beneath three tons of grief and apprehension.
But now, a few months after delivery, both momma and baby are surviving. Reagan has entered her Junior year with the crib and the diapers she needed. They are learning what it means to be a family.
It is not easy. Ava finally approved her staying, though communication remains difficult. Neighbors help coordinate the doctors’ appointments as Reagan’s family has no car. She and I tackled the first round of WIC purchases together, only to find hours more paperwork. But she is making it. And she is in school. And the baby is getting fed by the mother who wanted to keep her.
This experience has not changed my hope and desire for adoption. However, it has shown me clearly that the story leading up to surrender papers is often one of grief and loss. Adoption was not the initial and intended path—for God and his people or for his people and their children. It is the redemption that was offered when the path intended became broken.
Adoption can be powerful, healing, even hopeful.
But it is not romantic.
We must see the chasm of loss that adoption’s bridge crosses in order to embrace the healing God offers. Those of us who love adoption should ask: Would we move a teen mom into our spare room to guide and support her?
Do we grieve deeply a birth family’s wounds in surrendering a child due to under-resourced circumstances?
Do we celebrate their bravery when they choose to keep their child?
Are we willing to work for a world where poverty doesn’t take baby’s from their mommas?
Unless we see the sadness that the need for adoption brings, we cannot know it’s power. One day, if we are able to adopt, I will approach the journey differently because of the road that I’ve walked with Reagan. Because of her sadness. Because of her pressures. Because of her bravery. I will love our child’s birth mom fiercely. I will honor her in my heart. I will pray for a world where children can be raised by the parents who conceived them. I will celebrate the joy and the miracle that adoption’s redemption makes possible.
And I will do so with new eyes.
Adoptive mother Jody Landers says well what I’m only beginning to learn: “Children born to another woman call me ‘Mom.’ The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”