By Karen O’Shea*
Q. Karen, tell us about your unplanned pregnancy.
A. I was 19 years old and living at college when I became pregnant. I had been dating my steady boyfriend for some time, but we broke up right before I found out I was pregnant.
Q. What did you do when you found out you were pregnant?
A. At first, I couldn’t face the idea. I pretended it wasn’t true. By the time I admitted that I was pregnant, it was too late to have an abortion. After telling my family, one of the first things I did was go to a doctor. He gave me information about a local adoption agency and a pregnancy care center. The local adoption agency paid all doctor and hospital bills. I attended childbirth classes at the pregnancy care center with other women who were in unplanned pregnancies.
Q. How did you handle things with your family?
A. It took me a while to summon the courage to approach them. I was about 14 weeks pregnant when I finally told my mom. She had suspected that I was pregnant. My family’s support fluctuated. Mom was consistent that keeping the baby was not an option that she advocated. My brothers and sisters sometimes supported the adoption option, yet also expressed their support for me keeping the baby and parenting on my own. I realized that I did not have an unbiased individual with whom to discuss the implications of being a single parent at 19.
Q. Did you tell the baby’s father about the pregnancy?
A. At first, I wanted to keep my pregnancy a secret from everyone, including the baby’s father. But Virginia adoption law at the time stated that both birth parents must sign the adoption papers. I called the father, we discussed the situation and he said that the decision was up to me. He was willing to support me if I decided to keep the baby. Marriage was not an option. I realized that keeping the baby would mean raising her in a single-parent home — which was very negative, in my eyes.
Q. How did your friends react?
A. I kept my pregnancy as much of a secret as possible and lived a reclusive lifestyle. I told only told a handful of friends. Each had their own opinion about what I should do. I had no job, no husband, and no way to support myself or the baby. I felt quite unqualified as a mother. I had no one to talk with like a Birthmothers Friend — someone who was non-judgmental, who would listen to me, and help me decide what was best for me. I wish I would have been able to discuss the many conflicting feelings I had.
Q. What was your experience with the adoption agency?
A. It wasn’t positive. The adoption counselor was preoccupied. I felt like I was a burden — an inconvenience — just one more number to her. Instead of making me feel better, I felt worse. Because of poor communication at the agency, I believe I was not well-informed about adoption parameters. For example, I later learned that I could have requested pictures of my baby at specifics junctures in her life. I wish that I had had an advocate like a Birthmothers‘ Friend to go with me to the agency and explain the resources that were available to me.
Q. Did you meet the adoptive parents?
A. No. I got a very brief sketch of them. I didn’t understand what my rights were or what I could ask for. At the time, I thought that it
would be better for me to not know the specifics about the adoptive parents — where they live, for example. I see now that information like that would have helped me.
Q. How did things go after you gave birth?
A. I was able to be with my baby girl while I was in the hospital. After that, she was placed in a foster home for 25 days. By law, I had those 25 days to change my mind about the adoption. During that time, the baby’s father and I coordinated several visits with our daughter at the adoption agency. On Day 25 I cried and cried. I knew that this was the final day that I could change my mind about the adoption process, but I was convinced that I couldn’t fully raise my daughter like I thought she deserved. Yet I didn’t want her to think that she was placed for adoption because she was not wanted. It was a horrible time for me. For the next several years at the anniversary of her birth, I became very depressed and miserable, often questioning my decision. People around me couldn’t understand the mixed emotions that I was experiencing. I wish that I had had someone to call who would listen to my feelings and help me work through them.
Q. Is it still difficult?
A. Over the years I have come to deal with it better. I think of my daughter more on her birthday than on other days. While I will always feel the loss, I am more convinced that I made the right decision. I think of her as having a good life, and that she is with a family who loves her and can provide for her better than I could have.
Q. Why did you decide to share your story?
A. I have always been careful to whom I tell my story. But recently, I have gotten more comfortable sharing with others that I’ve been a birth mom. Being in Christ makes me feel safe that I can get “out of the boat” and share my experiences. I think God is going to use my situation somehow to help others.
Q. How did you become a Christian?
A. About a year and a half ago, I had a “chance” meeting with an old friend. We talked about our lives, she shared about knowing Christ, and she gave me some literature. I began to read and think about God. About a week later, I was on a business trip and a coworker also began talking to me about God. I decided that God was trying to tell me something and that I should take the hint. The following week I asked God to come into my life.
Q. Why did you decide to be a Birthmothers’ Friend?
A. I’d like to help other birth moms, and perhaps soften what they are going through. I can relate to them, share my experiences, and let them know what it was like for me. I’d like to let them know that their lives don’t end after they have their babies and place them for adoption. I would like to give them hope and to help them not feel so alone.
*name changed for confidentiality