Giving up a child for adoption is probably one of the hardest decisions a mom has to make. What's that like, and do these women have any regrets? For some perspective I spoke to Vicki Hoefle, 57, a parent educator in East Middlebury, Vermont, and author of Duct Tape Parenting. Hoefle decided to give up her child for adoption after getting pregnant at the age of 18. Here's a look at the hard-won lessons she learned about the nature of love, public attitudes toward moms who give up their kids for adoption, and a surprising twist that allowed her and her son to meet 32 years later.
What were the circumstances that led you to giving up your child for adoption?
I met the father of my child when I was 17. We dated for a while and eventually decided to move in together when I was 18. That's when I realized I was pregnant -- actually, it was my mother who informed me I was pregnant when I told her I was feeling queasy in the morning and couldn’t figure out why. Instinctively I knew she was right, but intellectually I couldn’t imagine that it was true because by that time, I was taking birth control pills religiously at the same time every day, but apparently that hadn't worked.
How did your boyfriend react once you told him?
He told me to "take care of it." So I knew he was out of the equation. I prayed, I contemplated, and I finally decided that I would have the child and give him up for adoption. I knew I could not take care of a child, because I was still a child myself. I knew that this child deserved more than I could give him, so in some ways, it was an easy decision. But it was also the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. It confirmed for me who I was as a person and it influenced almost every decision I made after that.
How did your family and friends respond to the news?
My entire family was supportive. They trusted me. Why, I do not know, but they did. Yet when my friends heard that I was giving the child up for adoption, they told me how heartless I was -- which was ironic, since many of them had multiple abortions through high school. This became a central theme for me for the next few years -- the idea that abortion was legitimate, but adoption seemed heartless.
How did you find the people who ended up adopting your child?
I worked through a Catholic adoption agency and they were amazing. I got counseling, they were supportive, and of course, they were certainly pro-adoption verses abortion. I was also allowed to write my baby a letter he could read once he was older, where I explained the circumstances of his adoption and what compelled me to do it. I was even included in narrowing down the prospective parents. They gave me profiles on three possibilities and I was able to choose which family I thought would be best suited -- not that I had any idea of what that meant -- but a strong faith and family bonds were important to me. Although I did not meet the parents then, I felt as though I knew them slightly.
During your pregnancy, did your feelings about giving up your child vacillate at any point?
Never. I knew that when I made the decision for adoption that I gave up the right to flip flop or claim any kind of attachment to the child. I knew, at least for me, that the truest form of love was to completely release the child into the hands and hearts of his new parents. I refused to be one of those people who gave a child up for adoption and then lamented about how much I missed him. The decision was made and I never once reconsidered it. Once the baby started to move in my belly, we became a team. I talked to him every day, all day, and told him how much I loved him. It became a quiet comfort to me to have him with me for those last few months.
Did you have any second thoughts about giving up your baby once he was born?
After the birth, the plan was to take the child immediately and place him in the nursery. But a new nurse came in at the end and, not knowing the circumstances, placed the child on my breast. The birthing room was still. I looked up and said, "You have three seconds to remove this child, or I will not be releasing him to anyone." It was the only moment of hesitation. They removed him and I knew that it was the right decision, but it confirmed for me that I was able to love in a way I never dreamed I was capable of. It was a turning point in my life.
How did you feel in the days, months, and years afterwards?
Did I think about my child? Every day. But I never regretted my decision, since it was the most loving decision I could make. I eventually married and I had three biological children and then remarried and adopted my husband's two children.
Have you had any contact with your birth child since then?
Through the Catholic adoption agency, he was allowed to ask about me, but I was never allowed to ask about him. So I waited to see if he'd try to contact me. I figured that if he was going to try, it would be between the ages of 16 and 24. So in my head I waited every single day from 16 to 24 to get a phone call. But no call came. After that, I figured, "Okay, he's not interested or he hasn't survived. I'm never going to hear from him." Then one day 32 years after his birth -- just five years ago -- I got a call from Catholic services saying my birth son was trying to contact me, and if it was all right for them to give him my phone number. I said, "Absolutely not!" By then, I had five other small children. I didn't know anything about this man. The agent said, "But you're his mother! He's your blood!" My response was "Even Jeffrey Dahmer had a mother." The agent was appalled, but I figured there were only three reasons he'd contact me: He needed a kidney, he was a drug addict and needed money, or he was gay raised by Christian fundamentalists and had nowhere to go. My husband pointed out, "Gee, there's also a fourth option that he just wants to meet you."
So what did you do?
We exchanged letters. He said the reason he finally got in touch was because he'd started wondering if I ever worried about him, and thinking that if he never contacted me, I'd never know if he was okay, and that he had a great life and great parents. I said I was so glad he'd reached out. From there, we started talking on the phone, then met in person. We have some uncanny similarities, like the fact that we both eat licorice from both ends, and use the word "epiphany" a lot. We both decided to start a long-term relationship and be a part of each other's lives on a regular basis. So we spend holidays together. I fly out to San Francisco to spend time with him and his wife and two babies. My husband and kids, who'd always known about my adoption, have met him too. It’s a fairy tale really. It was perfect. And it is still perfect.
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What did you learn from this experience?
I learned that we are capable of anything when it is in the best interest of someone we love more than we love ourselves. I understand that adoption is a kind, respectful, and loving decision.
What misconceptions would you say some people have about women who give their kids up for adoption?
That we are lazy, uncaring, and irresponsible people. Some folks will see the power and love and commitment it takes to give our child to someone better able to provide a secure home. My story is a love story that changed the lives of so many people that it is impossible to name them all.
Would you ever give your child up for adoption? Why or why not?
Image via Vicki Hoefle