The birth mother has an unexpected reunion with her daughter’s adoptive family.

“In July 2005, I was 15 years old when I found out I was pregnant.” My parents found out soon after when I accidentally slipped a note intended for the birth father into their hands.

In this note, I expressed my fears and concerns and why abortion was not an option for me. My father and stepmother were both sitting at the kitchen table when I got home from school that day.

‘Do you have anything to tell us?’ they inquired.

‘No,’ I replied.

They asked again, and I gave the same answer. ‘Are you pregnant?’ they inquired directly. I remember laughing because it took me by surprise. That nervous laugh that you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try. That night, we talked about different scenarios for what a 15-year-old pregnancy might look like. They expressed a desire to place the baby for adoption rather than keep it. This was not an idea that appealed to me in the least. When I found out I was pregnant, I had this storyline in my head of how it would play out. It would be a difficult journey, but it would be a happy one. Giving my baby to strangers was not in my mind’s eye as part of the storey.

My parents informed me that I would be moving to Virginia a few weeks after this initial conversation. I’d be staying in a maternity home until the baby arrived in February. Adoption was the decision made for me. There would be no other debate. I was dissatisfied with the decision to adopt or be sent away. They had many different classes at the Virginia home on choosing to parent or choosing an adoption plan. When I realized I wouldn’t bring this baby home, I began looking through the ‘life books’ created by the awaiting families to tell the story of their lives. As an expectant mother, it isn’t easy to flip through those pages, see the pretty pictures, read through the excellent stories while also knowing the weight of this decision. After days of searching, I had finally found a family.

Courtesy of Brittany Whatley

The following week, before meeting the family I had chosen, my father called to notify the home that he would be arriving to pick me up. He had found a family for me to give my baby to, and I was not going back to the maternity home. I was heartbroken. Everything was out of my hands, and I felt utterly helpless. On my 16th birthday, I met my adoptive family. I don’t remember much about that night. We looked through some of their family photos, and they told us about their lives. They appeared to be pleasant, sweet, and loving people. I didn’t see them again until after the birth of ‘J.’

To ensure their presence at the hospital, I was induced in January 2006. That day was filled with the most profound sadness I’d ever felt. She was such a lovely baby. I wasn’t allowed to hold her, but I finally met her that night. The adoptive family was terrified of me bonding with her and changing my mind, but they had no idea that my mind couldn’t be changed.

Courtesy of Brittany Whatley

We all cried and prayed when we left the hospital a few days later. Before they drove away with my baby and my heart, I was able to kiss her on the cheek. The weeks and months that followed were a complete blur. I was readjusting to life at home, being homeschooled, and struggling to figure out who I was. I couldn’t see any of my old friends or have any social life, which was difficult for me as a person and a teenager. They decided to send me away to a Christian boarding school for a year because I suffered. They probably thought it would help me refocus.

After they told me the news, I left early the following day. This time away was difficult. I was far away from my family and everything familiar to me as home. I was the oldest girl in the house, so trying to be positive and encouraging amid my 17-year-old self’s many emotions was a difficult task.

I ended up staying longer than my intended year, graduating from high school there in 2008 and then going to college for a semester in Pensacola, Florida, in 2009. I ran out of money, motivation, and enthusiasm. I was constantly attempting to gain acceptance from others. I eventually moved to Texas to live with my mother, who was heavily addicted to prescription pills and alcohol, which progressed to crystal meth. It was difficult to transition from her order to her chaos. I lived with her for nearly three years before I could save enough money for a car and a place of my own. I then began nannying on the side, which quickly expanded to full-time. One of my close friends moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and after pleading with me every day for about a month, Fayetteville, Arkansas, became my new home. I’ve been here for seven years and consider myself extremely fortunate. This was the first time in my life that I had indeed been able to make decisions for myself. I discovered a wonderful church with a beautiful church family. For a few years, I was able to work at a large church in Springdale, and I was finally able to see what Jesus’ love and grace can look like in your life. I realized that everyone was in a state of disarray. Everyone is forgiven. Everyone has the opportunity for a fresh start. God has blessed me with many people in Northwest Arkansas who have allowed me to be a part of their families, and I will always be grateful to them.

Gareth Paterson Photos

I was recently able to share my story on a Colorado radio programme. That interview sparked a conversation between my father, stepmother, and me that I am sure would not have occurred otherwise. This was the first time in ten years that we could sit down and talk about what had happened all those years before. We all cried, and we were able, to be honest about our feelings, where we were then versus now, and where we ideally want to be. I genuinely believe we are all on the path to healing and a genuine relationship, which I have been missing for a long time. My mother is still battling addiction, but I am hopeful that she will recover completely one day. I’m hoping that the jail time and rehab stays will serve as a real wake-up call for her and that she will be able to begin living a clean and healthy life.

I’d always wanted to go to cosmetology school – something on everyone’s “one day” list. I began the year-long journey in 2017. I made some of my closest friends, and even better, I was present for the next chapter of my adoption story.

A few months before graduation, I was browsing social media when I came across a post from ‘J’s adoptive mother. We’d only recently become Facebook friends, and I was cautious not to like or comment on anything. I wanted to observe from the sidelines. I was so grateful to see all of ‘J’s’ pictures and funny stories, and I never wanted to mess up or abuse this privilege. I saw a post about their family preparing for a family vacation. I laughed because I was also preparing for a family vacation with a close family member in Arkansas. Every year, we go to Disney, and we are only a few days away. After that, I didn’t think much more about it and went about my business. I saw another post a few days later. This time, it brought me to a halt. This post discussed the weather where they live and the weather in ORLANDO… where they would be vacationing with their entire family. You know, the same place I’ll be going to… I just sat there, staring at my screen, unable to blink my eyes open. I was taken aback. I was just a few days away from embarking on the SAME trip, and I was filled with excitement, nervousness, and a plethora of questions.

When I tell you that we went to the same place simultaneously, I hope your heart is as quick as mine. I could write a book about how everything turned out, but I’ll say it’s nothing short of a beautiful miracle. The family I’m close with decided to send a simple message exchanging the craziness that we were going to the same place at the same time. I had no idea she was doing this because I was always too afraid to speak to them! We were all able to meet. Of all places, Disney World… Jesus can be amusing at times. It wasn’t quite the right time or place to surprise my ‘J,’ but it was the perfect reunion between her parents and me. I hadn’t seen these people since I was 16 and was leaving a hospital, and now, at 28, I felt like a completely different person. Let’s face it: I’m another person.

Courtesy of Brittany Whatley

In the few hours we sat across from each other, we experienced a wide range of emotions. I burst into tears as soon as I saw their expressions. Our meeting lasted only a few hours, but it felt like an eternity after all these years. We were able to go back in time to the beginning of our journey and ask/answer questions we had over the years. They told me such lovely stories about my daughter and her person. It’s a strange sensation to realize there’s another mini-version of yourself out there that you’ve yet to meet. In January, ‘J’ will turn 14 years old. She’s in eighth grade and is said to be brilliant… literally. She enjoys crafting, and her parents say she has a natural talent for music. She adores Jesus and anything sparkly, which makes my momma’s heart sing. Her parents are the most incredible, generous, thoughtful, and Jesus-loving people I’ve ever met. They have gone above and beyond the closed adoption agreement by sending me updates, pictures, and even phone conversations. They had no idea what had happened in the days leading up to the adoption. It all happened so fast – and we’re only now learning about each other as people, rather than the birth parent/adoptive parent relationship. This is inexplicable happiness. She looked at a photo of her and saw my eyes or grin in her. It makes me so happy to see how happy she is with her family and to hear sweet updates on her life.

Courtesy of Brittany Whatley

They assured me that they are committed to introducing us when the time is right if that is what she desires. That statement makes my heart swell, but it also fills me with doubt. I am so grateful to them, and I am thankful for the role models for her. I meet a lot of adoptees who don’t want to meet their birth parents for a variety of reasons. I have to trust Him and have faith that I’ll see my ‘J’ again one day because of their commitment.

Her family and I have communicated a little more since this day in November 2017. I’ve even liked a few posts on social media here and there – baby steps! I recently completed my cosmetology course and launched my hair salon. As with any new venture, the first year has had its ups and downs, but I’ve loved being able to give back to the community. It’s been a dream come true to combine my passion for making my clients look and feel beautiful with volunteering and giving back in Northwest Arkansas. I have truly enjoyed my time here for various reasons, but most notably for the abundance of resources. There are crisis pregnancy centres, shelters, birth mom support groups, and huge hearts of men and women who consistently give so well in this area – there is truly so much support around every corner.

So many beautiful people have been introduced to me here. Lukas, my boyfriend, is one of those people! He has been incredibly supportive of my storey and has always made himself available, even on the most difficult of days. It isn’t accessible to date after reading a story like what you just read. Will they treat you differently this time? Can you put your trust in anyone? Will they be supportive if a meeting day is ever scheduled? Only time will tell, but I know that some stories are complicated and messy, but they are also beautiful and unmistakably written by Him. I’m grateful for my ‘happiest sad’ and its ongoing journey.”

Courtesy of Brittany Whatley

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