My Choice: Placing My Baby for Adoption with LDS Social Services
I’d like to thank Louise, my little sister and best friend, for sharing this guest post with us.
I graduated from law school this month near the top of my class. As I was walking across the stage at (hopefully) my last graduation, I couldn’t help but consider the fact that only 8 short years ago I was walking across a substantially smaller stage, 8 ½ months pregnant, at my own high school graduation. Most people who know me today would never believe that I was a Mormon teenage mother.
I found out I was one month pregnant in September of my senior year in high school. I have never been so afraid in my life—I could not believe that I had been so stupid. My consideration of the choice of abortion was very brief. The night I took my pregnancy test, I considered and rejected this choice because I didn’t think I could live with that decision long term. I knew that the best way to ensure that I honored my choice not to have an abortion would be to tell my parents who would be opposed to such a choice. My boyfriend was older and he could get me to a clinic easily and pay for it. My parents wouldn’t have to know, no one would have to know. I was embarrassed and part of me felt like this was the best choice—but a feeling inside me and probably my good girl Mormon upbringing told me that I would not be happy with that decision in the end. Looking back it is surprising that I rejected that choice so quickly, but if I am honest with myself, I also made my final decision that night in the bathroom. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I knew I didn’t want an abortion, I knew there was only one other option—but it was several months before I told anyone else what I had decided.
As soon as I had rejected the choice of abortion, I told my parents that I was pregnant. I know that they were disappointed in me, but their reaction was truly amazing—no anger, no yelling, just a frank discussion of what I was facing now (having two therapists as parents can be useful in some situations). They told me from the start that they would support whatever decision I made. However, I was STRONGLY encouraged to attend an unwed mothers support group at LDS Social Services where my mother was at that time volunteering to get her licensure hours (although she was not involved with the unwed mothers group). The leaders of this group were definitely focused on the adoption choice, but most of the unwed mothers in the group (in fact, all of the mothers at the time I attended the group) decided to keep their children. I was the anomaly in this group in many ways—I was one of the only girls to finish high school, I was absolutely the only girl to graduate with an A average and take mostly AP classes, I was the only girl that didn’t talk about the option of marrying my child’s father, and I was the only girl who made the decision to place a baby for adoption and actually stick with that decision after the baby was born.
Although I found the group leaders to be thoughtful and caring, attending the group was a frustration to me. We had classes about taking care of babies and how much it costs to feed and cloth them. This all made sense to me, but my main frustration was that I could not relate to the other pregnant women. Sure—we were all unwed teenage mothers, we all belonged to Mormon families, but I was not the typical teenage mother and I found that I had even more trouble relating to pregnant teenagers than I did to the teenagers I attended school with and generally didn’t want to be around. Some weeks women who had decided to keep their children spoke to the group about their decision and the trials of raising a child when you are still a child. For me, the worst group meetings were when women who had previously placed their babies for adoption would talk to the group about their decisions. Fortunately, none of these women who had made the same decision I was planning on making had much of an impression on me either. Most were still very tormented by their decision and I did not want to be tormented for the rest of my life. Essentially the message I got from the unwed mother group sessions is that all women who get pregnant in high school are miserable regardless of the ultimate decision they make. I know that this wasn’t the intention of the group and I don’t think this was the impression that everyone else got—but for someone like me, the group terrified me, made me feel like getting pregnant would be the end of my life. Either I’d have a baby and be poor and stressed, or give up the baby and be tormented because my baby was not with me.
After several months attending the group, I informed my parents that I wanted to place my baby for adoption. I had been discussing this with my parents along the way, and they were not surprised at this decision. A part of me knows that my mother was disappointed—not because it wasn’t the best decision for me at the time—but because she wanted the baby, her first grandchild. Sometimes I think it was harder for my mom to give the baby up because she didn’t get to make the decision. She was there for all the crap, puking, getting fat, whining, and tying my shoes for me when I couldn’t reach my feet—but she didn’t get to make the choice of whether or not to keep the beautiful baby at the end. I know today my mom knows without a doubt that I made the right decision, but I think a part of her still hurts every time one of my cousins or friends from high school is pregnant with a new grandbaby and she still has none. I was an oppositional-defiant teen, so knowing that my mom would have been happy if I kept the baby probably actually helped me to make the decision to place for adoption. It is hard now to really say why I knew adoption was best, even in those first few seconds after I found out I was pregnant. I honestly don’t know how a kid who was dumb enough to get pregnant in high school could have been smart enough to make a decision that was really hard but resulted in a great life for the baby and a great life for her after the initial heartaches.
I am happy with the family who adopted my daughter; I know that they are the right family for her. I was not happy with the “choosing the family” process at LDS Social Services. I told them my number one priority for the parents was that they both have graduate degrees. I was shocked when they came back to me with only two families where both parents had graduate degrees and then several more where the father had a graduate degree and the mother had either a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree. Sometimes I think this factor was an arbitrary one made by a hormonal 17 year old who grew up in a happy family with two parents with graduate degrees. Looking back, though, I think that if you are going to make some sort of decision about parents this is probably one of the only objective factors you can use to pick people who are probably smart and probably hard workers. I know that there are smart, hard workers who don’t have graduate degrees, but there are not as many stupid lazy people with them. It was of the utmost importance to me that the mother of the family was as educated as the father. My feminist self was only beginning at that point, but I knew enough to know that a baby would be happiest if she had a strong and smart mother.
I had a cesarean section and so I was in the hospital with my new baby girl for 5 days. I decided I didn’t want to take her home before the placement because it would be too hard to see all those places at home where she had been. The time at the hospital felt like an instant—I couldn’t believe 5 days had passed. The day when I left the hospital and went to LDS Social Services to sign papers and give them my baby is a total blur to me. I can’t really remember reading and signing the papers, and I can’t really remember what anyone said. The only thing I remember is handing my social worker my baby and walking down the hall away from her. I couldn’t look back because I couldn’t stand to see her again. I remember the drive back home with my parents. It was completely silent except for my sobs. Even then, I didn’t second guess or regret my decision, but I hurt in a way I have never hurt again. I hope I never have to feel that way again.
My choice, to place my baby for adoption, only worked for me because it was truly my choice. I am strongly pro-choice and I would never judge a mother who decided her best option was to have an abortion. I would also never judge a mother who decided her best choice was to raise her child herself even though she wasn’t quite prepared to do it. My strong belief in a woman’s right to choose (abortion, adoption, or keeping) is grounded in my experience. I’m not sure how to say what I’m trying to say here, but basically what I want to say is that being pregnant before you are ready is a complicated and difficult situation and that I think as women we should support other women’s decisions to deal with that situation in a way that works for them. I want to encourage other women not to try to make decisions for their sisters, daughters, or friends—but to let them make the choice themselves because that is the only way the women will actually be at peace with their decision.