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Family First

What adoption—my own and my son's—taught me about love and sacrifice.

I was sitting alone on the bathroom tile in the quiet of the night, the pregnancy test beside me. I”d crept into the upstairs bathroom while he slept, there was no way I could let him know this was happening.

Over the previous few months I”d worked hard to save enough money to move out of a homeless shelter and rent a small garden apartment, although cold and poorly lit it was a place to call my own.

At the time I was 18 years old, working overtime at a mall in suburban Philadelphia as an assistant manager in a jewelry store for teens. My 27-year-old boyfriend lived with me but didn’t have regular work. When he did, his money would disappear as soon as he made it. He”d take whatever cash I left him for bus fare—so he could buy groceries or attend a job interview—and spend it on beer and whiskey. Most nights I ate ramen or chips and Wonder bread sandwiches. He never did use the money I left him to buy food, yet I still left some every day because I was terrified of what his reaction would be if I hadn’t.

After a few minutes of waiting, I picked up the test: Positive. I sank into the cold tile and quietly sobbed for hours.

How Did I Get Here?

But who are your real parents? The question always put me on the defensive, as if someone was telling me the parents raising me weren’t legitimate. From an early age, I had a strong understanding of words like “biological” and “adoption,” and I constantly felt as if I had to prove my place in my family to others. My simple explanation of why I’d been adopted—for the same reasons most kids are—tended to minimize the role of love. But as a high school religion teacher memorably told us on our first day, “Love is to want what is best for another.”

My adoptive family raised and loved me the best they could, but my childhood had its tensions. There were many years of arguing between my parents and I, mostly normal issues. I was an emotional teenager who suffered from depression and anxiety, and I know that at times I was too much for them to handle. I”d occasionally been reckless with my own life, something my parents either couldn’t deal with or didn’t want to.

When I turned 18, my parents told me they would no longer support me and I was asked to leave. By the time I left home, we were no longer a healthy part of each other’s lives, and I’m not sure we ever will be.

Breaking the News

After the positive pregnancy test, I waited until I got to work the next day—a safer place—before I called and told him the news. He was so delighted that he immediately said we should get married. Of all the reactions I”d expected him to have, this wasn’t one of them, and by now I”d learned not to trust his intentions.

That night I came home to the sound of his music blaring half a block away. He was on the couch, drunk, his earlier happiness vanished. He mentioned marriage again, but this time it had a more possessive and controlling edge. “Blood should stay with blood!” he said, and my noncommittal silence provoked him. He threatened me, he threatened ‘this thing” growing inside me. He smiled the taunting smirk that always appeared when he was angry. I locked myself into a room and did the only thing I could think of: I called my family.

Even after all we”d endured, they protected me by trying to do what was best for me—what my old high school teacher had described as the very definition of love. They helped me move out of my apartment and allowed me to stay with them until my son was born, then I would be on my own again.

My now ex-boyfriend began making threats daily, sometimes hourly. His harassing phone calls, emails, and social media attacks continued throughout my pregnancy. The authorities told me that because I was carrying his child, the law protected him unless he acted on his threats. It ultimately took five years before he finally let me move on so I could start to heal—and forget.

My Choice

Despite my rocky relationship with my adoptive family, I still knew adoption was the best decision for my child, and I never considered terminating the pregnancy. As an adoptee, I keenly understood how meaningful every life is. But by the end of my first trimester I realized I wouldn’t be able to raise my son alone or give him the quality of life and stability he deserved without being selfish. He was born on June 27, 2007, exactly a month before my birthday, and I immediately released him to his new parents, family friends who I knew could give him the stable home I couldn’t.

My son is now nine years old. His family loves him more than I could”ve hoped for and welcomes me into their home whenever I can make the trip. I spent this past birthday with him, celebrating how special he is to so many people. The way his grandparents looked at him reiterated how truly loved he is.

In the past nine years, people have come and gone from my life—mostly friends and the occasional boyfriend. Some questioned my decision and have been judgmental about whether I truly loved my son, or if my birth mother ever truly loved me. Over time, I”ve learned to let go of whatever pain these remarks cause. I”ve found strength in surrounding myself with only genuine and positive people who try to understand the depths of my decision.

My heart will always ache with the memories of the day I left the hospital without my son in my arms. The three days we spent together, just him and me for the last time, is all I had to hold onto. I”ve never once regretted my choice. He’s been loved and supported by his adoptive mother from the moment she joined us in the delivery room. I wanted her to be there for the first moment of “our” son’s life. I’m grateful for the unique ability, as a birth mother, to ease my mind with photos, phone calls, long visits, and quick texts to see how he is, to know he’s okay.

I know that when he’s older there may be times when he”ll be unsure about what kind of relationship he wants to have with me, and I”ll never force anything on him. When he’s old enough to make decisions about me, I”ll support whatever he decides. I need to prepare myself for the chance that he may not want to continue our relationship and as painful as that would be, I will accept it. What’s most important is that he’s okay, and that I did everything I could to ensure that.

The pain of “losing” my son will never fully heal and I’m not sure how my life would have changed—or if I would”ve even fought to stay alive—if I hadn’t become pregnant. But from the first sound of his heartbeat I knew I had to start taking better care of myself for him. Whenever self-doubt arises and the painful void of his absence swells in my heart, I remember those words from my high school religion teacher. I take solace in the awareness that by having my son adopted I was loving him the best way I could—and that by simply being born, he was saving me.

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