In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents. Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.
Pain Among Beauty
By Gretchen Helgeson
Hope was born on the most spectacular Arizona October day in 2005. The sun was bright. The air was cool. It rained once, creating a full vibrant rainbow.
I helped deliver her. The midwife surprised me at the last minute, calling me down to her and asking me to hold the baby, my daughter, as she exited the birth canal and entered the world. But in the “birth plan” that Hope’s birth mom, Jenny, had previously put together, Jenny wanted to be the first to hold the baby.
So I lifted up the baby, still covered with blood and fluids, and placed her on Jenny’s chest.
I walked back up to my husband and we stood at the end of the delivery table by Jenny’s head. Hope’s eyes were wide open and her head was turned right toward me. We stared at each other. I will never ever forget that moment. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. I could not stop crying.
That night, all night, I dreamed of her face with open eyes, staring right at me. She was amazing.
The next three days were horrible.
Jenny cried for forty-eight hours straight and didn’t want to let go of the baby. She had just turned eighteen years old the week before, and she seemed almost unaware that she was about to deliver a baby until it happened.
My husband and I had developed a good relationship with Jenny and her parents three months prior, and until the moment Jenny delivered the baby, all three of them had felt so certain and positive about the adoption plan.
But after Hope was born, it was devastating for them. They were filled with a crushing grief.
When you opened the door to the maternity hall, all you could hear was the loud, hard wailing of an eighteen-year-old girl. Nothing else but sobbing echoed through the halls. Despite their angst, Jenny and her parents wanted to continue with the adoption plan, so my husband and I anxiously waited to see what would happen.
On day three, the hospital counselor came in and said, "We need to say good bye here. Every second we wait now is a second too long.” I was relieved, but I was also grieving for Jenny and her family. I was uncomfortable expressing my happiness about finally becoming a mother in the face of their terrible sadness.
In the months before she gave birth, Jenny had planned a ceremony in the hospital chapel to say good bye to the baby. First, she would hold the baby; then her parents would hold the baby; and then they would formally pass Hope to us. It is called "an entrustment ceremony". The ceremony went as planned, but nothing prepared us for the unbelievable pain that seemed to seize Hope's birth family's every breath. Yes, they were committed to the adoption, but they were not at peace with it.
They videotaped every second. We said our goodbyes, and with Hope in our arms, my husband and I literally ran down the hospital corridor to our car. I am ashamed to admit that, but we did. Jenny’s pain was stifling, and we needed to breathe and adjust to the magnitude of becoming new parents. It should have been a joyful time.
We drove the two hours back home, heavy with sadness and tremendous guilt. It was so confusing – Jenny wanted to place Hope for adoption with us. But at the same time, she didn’t have any idea how hard it would be, and it felt like we were taking someone’s baby from her without her blessing. It was heartbreaking.
After Hope was home with us, the days and months of time, and -- we believe, God -- have all helped Jenny to come to terms with the adoption. We have an open adoption, and Jenny and her family are able to see that Hope is loved and cherished, thriving and happy.
We still keep in contact with Hope's birth family. Jenny just delivered a baby boy she has chosen to parent, and she seems happy. Even so, I can still feel her and her parents’ sadness when we do talk or see each other.
I love Jenny for placing Hope with us. I love her and her family. They are a part of our daughter, and I am forever grateful for that. Because of them, my daughter is alive and here with me. My daughter, who I love more than myself, more than life.
In the years since Hope’s birth, we have adopted two more beautiful children. They are all the best things to ever happen to my husband and me.
I know my friends have felt sorry for me that we could not conceive. At one point, I felt sorry about it too. Unexplained infertility is such a mystery! Luckily for my husband and me, the mystery is solved every time we look at our children.
They are the answer. Nothing could be better. But with adoption, there is very real pain that accompanies all the beauty. A true mirror of how life works.
By Gretchen Helgeson
This guest adoption post is being published on 11/11/11. It is Veteran’s Day, and the author of the post, Gretchen Helgeson, lost her only sibling – Brian Matthew Kennedy – when he died at age 25 in Kuwait while serving our country. Please join me in remembering Gretchen’s beloved brother on this day. He never lived to see the beautiful children that Gretchen and her husband adopted, although one of them has been named after him. Thank you to all Veterans and Fallen Heroes for your service to and sacrifice for our country.