Jessica* was the first…

*name has been changed
by Michele Fried

I’ll never forget that day in September. The agency was barely six months old and apparently my cell phone was ringing and ringing but some how I missed the calls. Apparently hours later, I noticed I missed several calls and went into a frenzy realizing that a local hospital was trying to reach me. The messages were friendly at first. “Hello, remember me? We met at the in-service you conducted recently. We have a young woman who would like to meet you.” Then the messages got a bit frantic (similar to how I was feeling by then) saying, “Are you out there? Are you for real? Are you going to visit our patient?” Well, something like that, forgive me if I can’t remember it all… just know that it felt intimidating. I finally went into action and made the appropriate calls to the hospital and the patient. “My apologies for the delayed response; of course I will be there. I am on my way.”

We were a new agency with just a few employees… who were ALL at an adoption conference one-hour away! Oh, that just can’t be! Not that I needed them that very moment. So why did I call them on their cell phones in the middle of the conference and say, “Leave the conference now. Come back. We have a birth mother. We have a baby. Healthy baby. Born. In the hospital. Needing to be picked up. Now!” I ran another agency for many years. I worked with hundreds of birth mothers. I have been in situations with birth parents that would make a better story then this one… but for some reason… the “first” Adoption STAR birth mother was just so exciting… that I was bursting!

Her name was Jessica. She was strong. She knew what she wanted and what she didn’t want. What she didn’t bargain for though was the pain she was feeling and that got in her way. While I wanted so much to call a family and make some couple the “first” Adoption STAR parents, my experience knew better. Though I have never been a fan of foster care, I knew that this young mother needed some more time and counseling before entering into a forever commitment to parent or make an adoption plan. The baby went home with what we call today a “Cradle Care” family who took such unbelievable care of this newborn for one full week. During that time, Jessica met with me four times. We broke the meetings into constructive counseling sessions breaking down Jessica’s priorities, personal goals and wishes for the baby. We investigated her support system of family and friends. Jessica remained confident that adoption was in her baby’s best interest and already had a host of preferences to discuss regarding a forever family for the baby she called Emily.

Surprisingly to us at the agency, Jessica had already heard about “open adoption.” Though it didn’t seem like she made a plan while pregnant, she in fact worked hard to do so, but was not content with what she found. The agencies in her local phone book did not offer her the type of adoption she wanted. Why was it that talk shows spoke about open adoption and why was it that the Internet boasted about openness in adoption and she could not find it locally? She wanted more than the pictures and letters the others promised her. She didn’t want to just meet the family and off they went. She wanted their names, address and phone number. She wanted to visit the baby in their home.

Jessica shared these strong desires with the hospital social worker and the social worker told her about a new agency in town, called Adoption STAR. It was easy for Adoption STAR even as a brand new agency to identify five couples who fit the preferences Jessica was looking for.

These were new clients who all finished the Adoption STAR home study process and its “first” set of educational classes! While they were new to our agency, they were not new to the pain and loss of infertility and many experienced failed adoption attempts at other adoption agencies. They came to Adoption STAR believing in the agency and its commitment to offer support, training, advocacy and resources to birth families and adoptive families.

Easily, Jessica narrowed the selection down to two couples and it rested on some unanswered questions. I called both couples and allowed them to respond to the thoughtful questions and returned to Jessica with the answers. She liked them both. I encouraged her to speak on the phone or meet the couples independently but she didn’t want to. She wanted me to choose. Jessica needed to make the plan, not me. I was routing for both families, knowing full well that was impossible. They were both wonderful candidates, yet only Jessica could know which family was the family for her. To all of us at the agency, both couples were worlds apart economically and educationally, yet these were not the motivating factors for Jessica.

Getting just a tiny bit stressed, I finally said while on the phone one day, “Jessica, you need to go with your gut. I have learned that year’s ago. Go with your gut.” With that, she said, “Carrie* and Mark*.” I almost didn’t hear her and I may have even asked her to repeat it. I know I did. “Good for you.” I said. I was so proud of her!

Jessica began to plan. She was ready to meet Carrie and Mark and that she did. The visit went beautifully. The match was perfect… and she did it herself. If you are wondering, she did not pick the couple who had the most money or more education. Rather she picked the couple that spoke to her gut.

The next day with way too many onlookers, she handed Carrie and Mark their baby. We all cried. I remember walking Jessica out of the building on that day, wondering if I am ready again for birth parent work… as the memories of all the years of adoption came back to me. I hugged Jessica reminding her that the agency was here for her always. We said good bye. And then she hugged me and said, “Michele, thank you for everything.” She thanked me. We all know that those little words mean so much and still today when a birth mother thanks us it brings me to tears with a multitude of emotions. It is not a feeling of euphoria, or “Yeah, I did a great job…” It is more like, “And she thanked me? Look at all she has accomplished? In all her grief, she found the time and words to say, thank you?”

Jessica kept in touch for a few months after placement and despite my attempts to reach her afterward, she did not respond. I don’t know if Jessica knew then how much she taught our new staff or how much she touched me personally after I had been away from birth mother work for a few years. But I know she knows because just two years later she called me, asking for help, which confirmed she knew I would be there. When we connected again, we were both able to reminisce about our “first” adoption experience together.