It was probably 15 years ago, while in conversation with my friend Elise, I wondered aloud if I was ever going to become a mother. Elise was among the first to suggest that perhaps motherhood would come to me by way of adoption. I assumed she was just being a supportive friend, reassuring me that miscarriage would not have the final word in my story. However, her recommendation was deeply personal. At that time, very few people, including myself, knew Elise had placed a child for adoption when she was a teenager.
At 17 years old, Elise discovered she was pregnant. She hadn’t even graduated high school and was expecting a baby. She shared with me that she was able to hide the physical signs of the pregnancy for a very long time. When her mother finally did discover her secret, she suggested an abortion. Adamantly against that option, Elise lied about how far along she was in order to avoid it.
In the remaining months of her pregnancy, Elise felt God’s hand was at work. Eventually, a connection was made with a young married couple hoping to adopt a child. When Elise’s baby boy was born, she insisted on seeing him, holding him, counting his fingers and toes and taking two polaroids marking his first few hours of life.
In the years that followed, she held her secret closely. Every year on his birthday, she cried. Quick to say it wasn’t because she was worried for him, she knew who was raising him and was comforted in that. She cried because she knew she was missing everything. Elise would later have four more children and, as each became old enough to understand, she would share about their oldest brother.
After meeting her adult son for the first time a few years ago, Elise finally shared her adoption story publicly with her friends. I remember reading every detail of their meeting and feeling a new closeness with her. In the 15 years that had passed, I had become an adoptive mother. As such, I struggled periodically with how to frame the role of my children’s birth mother in my own mind. I would likely never have the opportunity to know or have a relationship with her. I reached out to Elise and asked her to share some insight with me, especially assumptions too easily made about birth mothers who placed a child for adoption.
Probably the most heartbreaking was hearing that she was asked, “Why didn’t you want your child?” Elise explained that not being able to provide for a baby, while a teenager herself, certainly didn’t mean she didn’t want her child. She shared that it was the hardest decision she ever made. However, it was one she never regretted because she didn’t want to bring an innocent life home and not be able to do it right. Later, knowing who would adopt her son and their desire to adopt gave her enormous peace that her son would be loved.
The adoption triangle, or triad, is a term used to describe the three-sided relationship that exists in an adoption story between birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptee, each of which is interrelated and inter-dependent on the others. It’s true that when we don’t know the totality of the adoption story, whether it’s the circumstances surrounding the birth or the adoptive parent’s choice, there is room for judgement and inaccuracy on all sides.
As Elise shared with me, no one knows the road the birth parent is walking. To make assumptions isn’t likely to fill in the holes of the story accurately and could potentially harm any future hope of relationship. In her case, she is grateful that her son’s adoptive parents did reassure him through the years that he was placed for adoption out of love.
After 30 years, Elise’s son located her. The first thing he said to her was that she had, in fact, given him a wonderful life. After their initial meeting, Elise was able to meet her son’s family and flip through photo albums of the years she’d missed. While scanning the albums, Elise realized she had something extra to offer her son and his family. She was the only person with two polaroids taken at the time of his birth. That Christmas, she would surprise each of them with a copy.
Elise no longer cries on her son’s birthday. Meeting him, for the second time, has been one of the greatest joys of her life.