Pain Among Beauty

Pain Among Beauty

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.


Leave a comment
  • As a birthmother myself I want to thank you for portraying Jenny's emotional pain so eloquently. Relinquishing a child, especially a newborn, is often the best thing to do for everyone involved ... but it isn't without a great deal of pain and emotion for the birthparent and and adoptive parents. We don't really know the entire affect on the child.

    For years, people have asked me how I could possibly have "given up or given away" my first child. There is no way to explain that in words that anyone can understand. I didn't do it because I wanted to do it. I didn't do it because I didn't already love that baby. I didn't do it without pain. I didn't do it and move on and forget about it. Nobody does.

    I loved my son before anyone else even knew about him, I loved him for the 18 years we were separated, and I continue to love him during the 20+ years we have been reunited. The raw pain of relinquishment is with me today as I read your article here and on Facebook. Along with that pain is the thankfulness for your honest words and depiction of what Jenny felt at the time and will continue to feel all her life. We learn to accept all of it and live with it, but we never forget.

    Bless you and your husband for being parents to those three fabulous children. I know they are being raised to understand they are a gift to you (as are all our children) and the women who gave birth to them are mothers in their hearts who loved them enough to break their own hearts to give them a better life. All mothers understand that feeling, don't they?

  • In reply to lauriegayle:

    Very poignant comment - thank you so much for sharing your perspective as a birth mother. The points you raise remind me yet again that children, be they natural-born or adopted, are never "of us," even though they may come "from us." They are each their own person, and our role as adults is to guide that person within and provide the best possible physical, emotional and spiritual nurturing we are able to give. And, of course, the love - as you say, in the end, their strength and sustenance is the sacrificing, all-consuming, ever-giving love of a parent.

  • In reply to jiyer:

    Thank you for your reply and your understanding.
    Too often the birthmother is thought of in a negative way. I so appreciate this particular article because iy shows that we made the ultimate sacrifice that a woman can make and we never forget. The children who are adopted should learn that from their parents who raise them. I hope open adoption helps with that, for the sake of the children. You can never give them too much love.

  • In reply to lauriegayle:

    I agree with you that no birth mother ever forgets and, as Merrin said, we as adoptive parents should convey to our children how important it is to honor and respect their birth families.

    I also believe open adoption can be a very good thing, but sometimes it is not possible - like when you don't know who the birth family is, or when the birth mom does not want to write or visit, or the birth family is in prison, etc.

  • fb_avatar

    I don't know how many times we've repeated the phrase "Without grief and loss there would be no adoption", and you've illustrated that beautifully. We, as adoptive parents, have a responsibility to honor our children's birth families, and it's not always something that people outside of our immediate circles understand. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story.

  • Gretchen, thanks for your brutally honest, emotional portrayal of the pain that accompanies the beauty of adoption. You are showing remarkable empathy for someone who is not in Jenny and her family's shoes, and I have no doubt this will benefit Hope tremendously in the long run.

    When my husband and I first talked about adoption, I so desperately longed for MY child after years of infertility that I naively thought I would conduct myself as though the child was "completely" mine and pretend the birth family didn't exist. How wrong I was, and how much I have learned and grown from our experiences. Birth families are inextricably connected with our adopted children, and it is something to be appreciated and cherished.

    Last but not least - Gretchen, your children are beautiful. I am so sorry your brother didn't get to see them. Today, Veteran's Day, I will think of him and all others who are brave enough to stand up and fight for our country.

  • fb_avatar

    Brett and Gretchen, what a beautifully personal story to share today in memory of your beloved brother. The most wonderful gift is the gift of compassion which your family demonstrates by example by the life you lead every day- this story is an example of your deep care for others during a personally challenging time. Your constitution and beauty as human being are remarkable and are at the core of what makes you (and Brett) such wonderful parents. Your brother is honored today and every day by the family you and Brett have created; he is with you and proud. Thinking of you today as you remember Brian and his bravery to serve us all. I love you.

Leave a comment