Teglene Ryan and her husband had plans to adopt a child long before they even got married. Two of Teglene’s four siblings are adopted, so the notion of not loving a child who wasn’t biologically hers as much as one who was didn’t scare her for a minute. Teglene gave birth to two beautiful sons, but when the time came to consider a third, her doctor advised her not to get pregnant, as it would put her health at stake. It was a no-brainer what they were going to do: Adopt.
Initially, Teglene and her husband assumed they’d adopt a child from foster care. They went through the classes, the homestudy. “We knew that there are lots of children in foster care waiting to be adopted and it felt like something we wanted to do,” says Teglene. “We never considered any other kind of adoption. We figured we would have a child or children placed with us who were already in foster care, and that the parents would be known.”
But, as with many plans, that’s not how things panned out.
On Monday July 6, 2009, Teglene and her husband made the two-hour drive from their California home to South Lake Tahoe to meet with a social worker. They were being considered to become the parents of a "safe surrender" baby. A safe surrender baby is a child who is placed in a "safe zone," such as a hospital or a firehouse, after they're born, should the mother not be able to care for it. (It's basically an alternative to abandoning a baby in the woods.) The baby, a tiny preemie girl who was born weighing 3 pounds, 2.8 ounces, was resting in the NICU at a hospital in Reno after being born at a campground in the mountains. She was exposed and unreachable by rescuers for 30-45 minutes after the birth, and her birth mother, who Teglene never met, claimed she didn't know she was pregnant until she heard the baby cry while giving birth.
This was Teglene's baby. Ainsley.
"I cried. A lot," says Teglene of the moment she held her girl. "The minute she was in my arms, my heart was as full as if I had just given birth to her. She was my daughter from the second I touched her." It was a far cry from Teglene's plan to take in a foster child. But there was no doubt that this was her baby.
When they brought Ainsley home, it proved to be a relatively smooth transition with her sons, who were 7 and 9 at the time. "They were very involved in the whole process. They were thrilled to be getting a baby sister," remarks Teglene. "My one son had just had a birthday a couple of weeks before and we wondered if perhaps she was born on his birthday, so he wanted to know what her birthday was. My other son wanted to know if she had any hair. Before we came home with Ainsley, we called to tell them that they were getting a sister and the answers to their questions: Her birthday was the day before her brother’s, and she was completely bald. I’m not sure if they were more excited about the new sister or that they would now need to spend the night at the friend’s house as we would not be home until the next day."
Next on Teglene's list? Getting her daughter to breastfeed. Yep, that's right. Teglene nursed her adopted daughter.
One of the reasons why I like to tell people about the fact that I breastfed her is because so many people do not know it is possible. I want other adoptive parents to know that it is an option. Breastfeeding was important to me for several reasons. First, it just seemed like the thing to do, as I had nursed my other babies. Bottle-feeding is a feeding method, but breastfeeding is a relationship. I knew I wanted that relationship with my daughter, they same way I did with my sons. I also knew that the physical connection and skin to skin contact involved in breastfeeding is important to brain development and my daughter had a lot of strikes against her. We know that her birth mom had no prenatal care because she did not know she was pregnant. She also said that she smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol throughout the pregnancy and tested positive for marijuana at the hospital.
It had been over six years since her son had weaned, so the process was a slow one. Inducing lactation takes time, and you don’t see results right away. As a result, Teglene felt frustrated and had difficulty staying motivated.
Every time I wanted to give up, I would look at my baby girl and think about all she had been through in her life and I would keep going. I had done some research on adoptive breastfeeding when we started looking into adoption. Since we were adopting out of foster care, and said we would take a child or children ages 0-5 years, I did not know if we would have an infant placed with us. Through books, online articles, and online forums, I learned all about how to do it and knew that if the right circumstances came along, then I would be ready. I also looked into the issue of breastfeeding a foster child, and how that might work, and if it would be allowed.
Teglene got her milk supply up by some pumping and lots and lots of nursing. Although her daughter was not strong enough to at first, eventually she was able to get all of her feedings at the breast through an "at-breast supplementer," the Lact-Aid. "She got the small amounts of milk I was producing at first and mostly formula [and some donor milk] at the breast, which stimulated my milk supply. I was lucky because she really liked to nurse, even if she was getting little or no milk and would nurse a lot to stimulate my milk production. She was 6 months old when I could stop supplementing."
Despite having explicit approval from the social worker that it was okay to breastfeed her daughter, Teglene was still nervous to tell people about her decision. But as it turned out, people were very supportive of her decision to breastfeed. "I’m sure some people thought I was crazy to do it, but for the most part, people were both curious and impressed," she remembers.
It's been almost five years since Teglene first held Ainsley in her arms, and she hides nothing about her adoption. In fact, if she ever wants to find her birth parents, Teglene will be more than happy to help. "She knows she is adopted," she says "We have always been very open about the fact that she is adopted. One day she said something about growing in my belly, and I explained that she grew in another mommy’s belly. I am lucky to have a sister who was adopted, and actually two of Ainsley’s closest friends are adopted. I know she does not completely 'get it' at only 4 years old, but she will grow up knowing the true story of her life."
What's your adoption story?
Images via Teglene Ryan