Birthmothers, adoptees, and Holy Family Adoption Agency share stories
On Wednesday February 19, Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) welcomed Mary L. Ball, founder of Holy Family Catholic Adoption Agency, two birthmothers, and an adoptee from the agency to share their experiences of love through adoption. Founded in 2001, Holy Family is a non-profit, pro-life organization headquartered in Minnesota. It embodies one of Mother Teresa’s missions: “adoption was her answer to abortion.” Holy Family has been in South Bend for seven years to support the women of Notre Dame.
As Ball introduced the two women who placed their babies in adoption through Holy Family, she emphasized, “They focused on what is in the best interest of their child. And I know that’s what SCOP is about too. That’s actually the national standard,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s applied very often or enough. But that is the national standard: what is in the best interest of the child.”
Jennifer was the first birthmother to share her story. She put her son with an adoptive family 16 years ago. She explained how her loving family and faith-filled upbringing impacted her decision. Jennifer was taught by her mother that “every human being has a purpose, was made on purpose and for love, and was wanted.” During a particularly difficult time in college, she became pregnant. She desired privacy, but found it difficult to find; she served regularly at the nearby crisis pregnancy shelter and was involved with her school’s Right to Life club. So, she went to Planned Parenthood to take a pregnancy test “because I knew I wouldn’t know anyone there.”
At Planned Parenthood, the only option Jennifer was given was abortion: “she [a nurse] handed me a folder with a big packet on the benefits on abortion, a half sheet on adoption that talked about the grief of adoption, and then there was a worksheet to add up the costs of parenting. So that’s what I walked away with that day, and I was terrified.” She scheduled an abortion but was also considering adoption.
Fortunately, the child’s father told Jennifer to call her mother. When given the news, her mother responded, “Oh thank God! Hold your head high, and don’t shed one tear over this baby. This baby is a gift from God.” Jennifer is still deeply moved by this moment with her mother. Her family’s love and selflessness was what allowed her to choose life and adoption.
The second featured birthmother, Cesili, entered college bearing a secret child, and for four months loneliness and anger lay heavily upon her. Like Jennifer, in a moment of courage Cesili went to her sister, was received with great love, and had the support she needed to do the next right thing: tell her parents. Through family friends she was introduced to Mary Ball and saw that a door had opened: “I knew what I wanted my kids to have in a perfect world. I knew what I could provide, and there were things that didn’t match up. And I told myself there was a way my son could have everything.”
Meeting Ball and the adoptive family brought her great consolation. “I didn’t need any more confirmation that what I did was right, but the parents looked at him [her son] like I did. They didn’t have to tell me how much they loved him—I could see it and feel it and it’s what I felt with my family growing up.”
Both mothers made a great sacrifice not only in choosing adoption but also allowing the adoptive families to decide when—if ever—they can meet their sons. They reminded us that all parents are called to make sacrifices, which come with fear. “No matter what, when you become a parent, you experience fear. It just looks different,” said Jennifer. Their choice is evidence that they wanted what was in the very best interest of the child.
Audrea, the panel’s adoptee, was placed for adoption as an infant and raised in South Bend. At age four or five she was sat down and told she was adopted, and the next day she ran into kindergarten, shouting, “I was adopted! Isn’t that cool?” Audrea said that she’s been pro-adoption from the beginning and has never experienced shame or pain because of it: “It’s never been something I wanted to keep a secret.” Another thing her adoptive parents told her that has been important to her all of these years was that they loved her, as did her birthmother. “There was no lack of love in any of this going on. And never once did I feel like I wasn’t part of my adoptive family.”
Growing up, Audrea was often asked if she was curious about her birth family, and she said she wasn’t. “I didn’t feel any part of me missing. I had a wonderful childhood. I had a wonderful life.” When she became a mother herself and saw how rampant abortion was, she decided that she did want to reach out to her birthmother— “I didn’t need anything, she had given me everything”—but prepared herself to not hear back. She wanted to give her birthmother the freedom and respect she had acted with in choosing adoption on her daughter’s behalf. Audrea wrote a letter thanking her for choosing life and adoption, told her she loved her, and held no expectation of a response. She shared: “Two days later I got a text from her. My story has a happy ending in that regard. We still see each other on occasion, even monthly.”
This sweet relationship is neither standard nor expectation, and the panelists and Bell agreed, “There is no manual or handbook for how these relationships develop, and we’re okay with that.” Their stories of consolation since their decisions are innumerable, and adoption has been a great gift to all of them.
When asked what students at Notre Dame can do to support women in crisis pregnancies, Bell answered that they need accompaniment. They need to be accompanied emotionally and physically and hear that they aren’t alone. “Mothers change their minds because of adoption,” Bell said. “They might not choose adoption, but they choose life… Keep the baby alive. Every life is precious.”
Lizzie is a sophomore studying PLS, theology, and Constitutional Studies. She’s probably moving to the new Johnson Family Hall by Stepan, so she needs to get a bike, scooter, or some other set of wheels. If you wish to help her decide, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.