Growing a Family: An Adoption Story of Love & Loss

January 15, 2014

turquoise angel wing necklace

By Gabrielle. Necklace by Lake Shore Creations on Etsy.

Today, I’m pleased as can be to be re-launching the Growing a Family Series. When I asked about this column several weeks ago, your response was overwhelmingly: Yes, Please! And it’s no surprise to me. The stories in this column are about joy and pain, about growth and loss, about life and death. It doesn’t really get more universal than that, right?

For now, I plan to share a new story in this series twice a month, or maybe every third week. We’ll see how it goes. And for those of you who aren’t connecting with stories like this at the moment, please I know I plan to publish a second post on the days I share a piece in the Growing a Family series — so you’ll still have something fresh and new to read.

Now, to the first story in the relaunch. You’re about to meet Melissa. Her birth story isn’t the fairy tale that exists in most hopeful mothers’ dreams. There were no ultrasound photos with that “Hi Mom!” caption drawn on by the sonologist, no cute belly shots posted to Instagram, no nursery mood boards in varying shades of blues and pinks on Pinterest, and no joyfully anticipatory baby showers. Honestly, there were no real assurances that the ending would be happy for anyone involved. Especially not their first time around.

But that’s the way with adoption, isn’t it? As Melissa so aptly describes it, “I can’t ignore the reality that adoption is always about both loss and gain.” Such a glorious gift when you look at the process from an adoptive mother’s standpoint, but such a heart-crushing act of goodness when you consider what the birth mother is giving up.

Friends, I hope you enjoy Melissa’s story. More than that, I hope it inspires you to see things a little differently today – maybe from someone else’s perspective. Welcome, Melissa!

Melissa’s Story

The experience of meeting my son for the first time is not the typical birth story. My story began on a cold winter afternoon when I watched a young woman, who I had met only a week earlier, take her son in her arms and tell him all of the reasons why she was choosing adoption and why she chose me to be his mother. She said goodbye to her child and placed him in my arms. It was a moment I’ll never forget: beautiful and gut-wrenching and soul shaking all at the same time.

My son’s birthmother was a single woman living in an impoverished city, raising a six year old child, and struggling to maintain a full time job while going to school. Her mother and grandmother passed away unexpectedly before the birth of her second child, and she found herself alone in so many ways.

Without a steady income or a support network, she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising and caring for a second child. She didn’t have a place for her and her daughter to sleep every night, let alone the nursery she envisioned for her newborn. Despite circumstances that would have paralyzed most of us with fear and frustration, she decided to reach out to an adoption agency and learn what it meant to make an adoption plan. While I will forever be thankful that she gave us the gift of our son, I can’t ignore the reality that adoption is always about both loss and gain.

She was not the first birthmother I met and fell in love with during our adoption journey.

A month before the birth of my son, a different woman chose us to be the adoptive parents to her unborn daughter. We met twice in a Starbucks to share life stories, discuss dreams for her child, shed some tears over the circumstances that brought us together, and talk about names that had special meaning to her. She loved the name Angelica because her daughter was going to be her guardian angel that would watch over her even if another family were raising her.

In preparation for the birth, I purchased a delicate gold necklace with the letter ‘A’ and an angel wing to give to the birthmother. It represented our decision to honor her name choice and use Angelica as the baby girl’s middle name. When her daughter was born, she called me three hours after the birth and invited my husband and I to come and meet the baby.

In the hospital room she stroked Angelica’s head and told her daughter that she was lucky to have two mommies. I watched her proudly introduce Angelica to two of her other children, and I saw firsthand how wonderful of a mother she was.

The following day, when the baby was ready to be discharged from the hospital, I sat anxiously in the waiting room as the birthmother prepared for our adoption ceremony, which would include the signing of the legal adoption documents. It was soon explained to us that the birthmother could not say goodbye to her child, even in the face of fully realized financial burden. I felt so ashamed as I walked out of the hospital with an empty car seat, avoiding the excited glances and congratulatory wishes from hospital staff who assumed we were proud new parents.

Throughout our adoption journey I always knew we would meet the child we were meant to raise. If you don’t believe that in your core, I am not sure how you endure the emotional roller-coaster that adoption journeys inevitably are. We embarked on our journey when we both realized that adoption was our first choice for growing our family.

Perhaps it was because of this that the adoption experience always felt refreshingly uncertain. As painful as the change of heart with the first birthmother was, my husband and I were so empowered by the depth of love we discovered we could feel for a stranger and her child, that it reaffirmed our belief in the beauty of adoption. We couldn’t wait to meet the beautiful baby that was actually meant for us, and we were so thankful for getting to know and love Angelica even if just for a few days.

I guess I feel like my experience is similar to that of a biological mom. I find spit-up stains on my work clothes when I finally arrive and sit down at my desk. I hide away my jewelry and cleaning products to protect them from prying hands. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes from nights spent soothing a restless little peanut. My son is an extension of myself the same way that a biological parent’s child is a representation of who they are. When he laughs, I see my sense of humor. When he focuses on a task, I see my husband’s knack for detail. But we don’t forget that there is another mother who loves him as deeply as we do, and we tell this to our son often.

We talk about his ‘tummy mommy’ and how lucky we are to have her as a part of our life. We tell him that he is strong and determined like his ‘tummy mommy’ and I hope as he gets older we can continue to give him an understanding of who she is and the choice she made…and one day I hope she will tell them these things as well.


Oh, Melissa. Congratulations on your son. I so admire your resolution to keep his birth mother’s memory so vivid in his mind. Assigning some of his best qualities as traits directly from her seems to be a wonderful way to keep the thought alive that he was a gift, from her to you. So, so sweet.

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 val January 15, 2014 at 12:40 pm

What a beautiful story! It’s so well-written that I felt your heartache at walking out of the hospital without Angelica. Thanks, Melissa, for sharing part of your journey to motherhood.


2 Christa January 15, 2014 at 1:07 pm

That left me with tears in my eyes. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on the verge of adoption and have to walk away or to be the birth mom in that scenario – she must have felt such a mix of feelings. It’s incredible to think about giving a child a new family and how powerful a kind of mothering *that* is on top of the amazing mothers who choose adoption!


3 Barchbo January 15, 2014 at 1:11 pm

What a beautiful story. I think everyone involved in adoption stories is so brave.

So glad this series is back! I always enjoy reading about families.


4 Lynne January 15, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Melissa, thank you for sharing that. What a beautiful and heart-wrenching story. Wishing you the best of all the best with your wonderful son.


5 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay January 15, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Thank you for your story Melissa. I relate to so much of what you have shared. We have two kiddos through adoption too. You expressed the mix of emotions we feel so well.


6 Shannon { A Mom's Year } January 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Melissa, you have me in tears. When we attended our first adoption workshop, the very first thing the social worker told the group was that “adoption begins with loss.” As much as I believe that Lily was meant to be with us, there is always, as you so beautifully put it, an awareness that “that there is another mother who loves…as deeply as we do.”

Okay, off to find a tissue and get back to making dinner….


7 JulieKP January 15, 2014 at 9:26 pm

I love that there are adoption stories as part of this series. I especially love that they are very real and truthful about what happens in adoption. Everyone thinks that adopting is all sunshine and roses and nothing negative happens. There is far more positive than negative. But the negative is still there.

It is an honor to be my two daughters mother. But there are also two mothers out there who are missing their daughters too. I remember feeling very melancholy on my older daughter’s first birthday. She is one of the rare Chinese children who are adopted to know their actual birth date. While we were celebrating all I could think of was what her birth mother was feeling. I wish there had been a way to let her know that her daughter had a family that adored her and loved her more than she could imagine.

Adoption will always be worth it. The good far out weighs the bad. Thank you Melissa for sharing your story.


8 mandi@herbanhomestead January 19, 2014 at 9:13 am

I felt that same way on our daughter’s first bday. We are one month out from her second, and that reality is setting in again.


9 surb January 16, 2014 at 2:18 am

I am so happy that you shared your story with us – thank you. :)


10 Christy@SweetandSavoring January 16, 2014 at 8:29 am

Such a heartbreaking and heart-warming story all at once. Thank you for bringing this feature back, Gabrielle! And thank you to Melissa! Your strength and love come through in your writing :)


11 Betsy January 16, 2014 at 11:59 am

I’m so glad you’re starting this series again. Thank you for sharing an adoption story. After dealing with infertility, that’s the path my husband and I are on, and it both excites and terrifies me.


12 Christine D January 16, 2014 at 9:09 pm

What a beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing it!


13 Mrs. A January 17, 2014 at 12:18 am

Thank you so much for your story. My husband and I have 2 children – one biological son and one adopted daughter. I think every day about how our daughter is both a gift to our family, and a loss to her birth mother. She, too, had very unfortunate personal circumstances and made the ultimate parenting decision to make a birth plan for her little one.

Our daughter turned 1 year old a few months ago and I put together a photo book for her birth mother – all the time thinking that I could not even comprehend how she must feel at missing so much. It’s the one thing that she wanted – a letter and pictures each year. Our daughter is too young to even understand yet, but I really like the idea of referring to her as her “tummy mommy,” it sounds so much sweeter.


14 Mimi January 19, 2014 at 6:40 pm

This story touched my heart. Thank you for sharing it. I love your compassion and think it is wonderful that you tell your son about his tummy mommy


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