Through Pain and Grace Toward Redemption: Part Three
The Decision is Made
As the weeks of her pregnancy turned into months, our attention slowly turned to Shelby’s growing midsection. I had a hard time with her changing body. The transition from my little girl to mother had happened too quickly for me. I didn’t like the idea of hugging her and feeling the bulge of the baby, so I unconsciously avoided contact with Shelby, even turning away from her when she came close. Jeanene noticed and said, “You’re not making eye contact with Shelby. And you need to hug her.”
I hadn’t realized what I was doing, but I saw the truth in her words. Thank God for spouses who are partners in parenting and can speak truth to each other in love. We all need help sometimes.
That evening I shyly reached out to place my palm on the roundness of Shelby’s tummy. I looked at her, smiled, and stated the obvious.
“Wow, there’s a baby in there.”
After that hugging her was just like the old days. The baby I felt between us became something tender and sweet. Something I could love.
But still, the decision she had to make was out there in the future, getting closer with every passing week. In truth, the facts of her situation left her with very few choices. She shared with us that she did not want to get married and didn’t feel ready in any case. But when a sonogram showed us the baby’s heart, fingers, and gender--a girl--the decision only became more painful.
Early in the pregnancy, Jeanene said something to Shelby that proved to be both prophetic and wise counsel.
“Shelby, whatever decision you make, we are going to be facing a lot of pain. Being a teenage mother would be painful in ways you can’t even know. And giving her away is also a terribly painful thing to consider. Sweetie, you do not have a choice that won’t hurt.”
These were good words for Shelby, and she was able to hear them. I think knowing she would not be able to avoid pain helped her to consider the welfare of her child first. The day of decision came, and Shelby shared with us that she and her boyfriend had agreed that an open adoption was the best thing for everyone. Once these words had been spoken aloud it was no longer possible to live in the peaceful place between decisions. The pain came upon her and she cried. So did we.
In the weeks following her decision, I was surprised to discover how harshly she was judged for making this choice. We never felt much moral disapproval from people about the pregnancy. The harshest judgments came from other teenage girls, some of whom had been pregnant themselves and kept their babies. Some of the comments were cruel, almost beyond belief.
“What kind of mother could give away her own baby?”
“You must hate her to think about giving her away. I could never do that.”
Shelby ended up skipping her high school graduation ceremony because she just couldn’t face the girls at school.
Looking for a Family
With one decision behind us, we were facing another hard choice. Most adoptions done through agencies these days are open adoptions. The biological mother actually selects the adopting family. In our case the father was also involved, but that is a very rare thing.
I was skeptical about this at first. I didn’t like the idea of families who have gone through years of infertility and sorrow facing more stress and grief as they waited for a teenage mother to choose them. But the people at the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio helped me understand that while the process is certainly filled with pain and trauma for all involved, it is the best way to honor the parental rights of young mothers. And they said it was surprising how often a mysterious connection forms between a mother and an adoptive family, a connection that no case worker could have predicted or planned.
I accepted the wisdom of their experience in this, but it was two days before I could open the folder full of family profiles we were given. And when I finally worked up the courage to look, every one of them broke my heart. These wonderful and hopeful people had poured their hearts onto these sheets of paper, hoping that a young mother would be touched by their stories and choose them. I read one or two profiles at a time and had to turn away because the sadness would overcome me. I wish they could all have children.
Shelby and her boyfriend agreed to look through the profiles without speaking to each other, pull out the three that most interested them, and compare their selections. Shelby wanted input from her family, so her mother and older sister did the same thing.
What a surprise it was to find that all four selected the Patterson family as their first choice. I tend to be skeptical about claims that God is handling the details of our lives. Perhaps this is because so many of those details turn out badly. But I am humble enough to acknowledge that the Good Lord hasn’t asked for my opinion or approval on these matters. In this case, even I had to admit something was going on here that was bigger than all of us.
Shelby and her boyfriend were astonished to find everyone so enthusiastic about the Pattersons. They made a decision that in my mind redeemed the process of family selection for us. I was never more proud of them than when they said,
“We don’t think it’s right to look at more than one family at a time. If we feel so positively about the Pattersons, we’d like them to relax and not feel the pressure of thinking that we’re looking at a bunch of families and picking from among them. We want them to know that we’re just looking at them, and we want to get to know them better.”
Honestly, I don’t know if that was more or less pressure for Robert and Heather Patterson, but I appreciated the spirit behind their words. Shelby and her boyfriend were looking beyond their own feelings and considering how the Pattersons were feeling as well.
I leave you with feelings of excitement and curiosity, wondering about the mysterious Patterson family. Because that's how we felt at the time.
Everyone whose name was used in this story was consulted and gave permission. Photo by Kelly Sauer.