On a sunny, mild afternoon about a year ago, twenty-nine-year-old Linnea sat in the courtyard of the hospital where she’d given birth 52 hours earlier. She cradled her baby girl, preparing to say goodbye to her. The adoptive couple she had chosen sat nearby, as did Linnea’s own parents and two Amara social workers. They talked quietly, taking photos of Linnea with her baby, no one in any rush. When the baby fussed Linnea walked her around, bouncing her slightly, a few tears running down her own face. With the help of her Amara Choices social worker, Jenny, Linnea had spent months choosing between parenting herself or placing her baby for adoption.
It had been a challenging 52 hours. When Linnea met her daughter for the first time she wasn’t sure she could part with her. “There’s no way to prepare for falling in love so deeply,” she says.
If she parented her baby it would probably be on her own, while she finished school and worked—which would be okay, but wouldn’t give her child the amount of time and attention Linnea felt she deserved. Linnea wanted her daughter to grow up in a family like she had, with lots of new experiences—books everywhere, trips to museums and the outdoors. Linnea felt that she could adequately parent on her own, but the ideal circumstance would be with the right adoptive family. In the beginning she worked with a different adoption agency, but she didn’t click with the social worker and she never found the right family.
At about seven months into her pregnancy, Linnea came to Amara. She immediately felt comfortable with Jenny, one of Amara’s Choices counselors, who supported Linnea with whatever she chose-be it parenting or placing her baby for adoption. Linnea recalls in their meetings Jenny would ask her, “What percentages now?” That is, what amount of you is leaning towards parenting, and what amount towards adoption? They talked about both scenarios. Linnea continued to lean towards adoption.
Linnea told Jenny her preferences for a type of adoptive family, and Amara pulled a stack of family profiles that fit her desires. At the second to bottom of the pile was the profile of Liz and Rob and their two young sons. Linnea says she knew right away they were “the one.” When she met them in person to see if they were indeed a good fit, she was even more sure. “I felt really confident and at home with who they were,” Linnea says.
But after the birth, before those hours in the courtyard, she wasn’t so confident. Linnea remembers sitting in her hospital bed at one point, holding her baby to her chest, sobbing. Could she part with her? She felt stuck. Jenny told Linnea any way she felt was okay. And Linnea felt just about everything: “Pain, grief, joy—everything acute but muddled,” she recalls.
“What’s the deepest part of your wisdom saying?” Jenny asked. Despite all her emotions, Linnea thought, her deepest wisdom still said adoption.
Linnea had reason to feel especially comfortable with adoption. She herself was adopted, via a private relinquishment at birth. Though she didn’t have any contact with her birth family when she was a child, her adoptive family was always open with her about her adoption. When Linnea was eighteen, she connected with her birth mother, and they have a close relationship today. Linnea also remains close to her adoptive parents.
Soon after Linnea met Liz and Rob for the first time they discussed an open adoption. They knew that they wanted to keep contact because they felt it would be in the child’s best interest. They agreed to visit at least four times per year and stay in contact by email, which Amara helped them put into a written communication agreement.
After the baby went home with Liz and Rob, who named her “Willemina,” Linnea cocooned at home, recovering physically and deeply missing her daughter. Linnea knew Willemina was well cared for, she just felt a strong sense of loss. A few days in, Liz sent Linnea an email with photos of Willemina. Linnea was thrilled. She started composing a reply, but felt nervous. Was it too soon? Was she being too forward? She jokes that it felt a little like the beginning of a dating relationship. Linnea forwarded her email draft to Jenny. “What do you think?” she asked Jenny. She remembers Jenny replying, “This looks great. I think you should go ahead and send it when you feel comfortable.”
Musing on the early stage of an open adoption, Linnea puts it this way: “Can we walk on this tiny thread we’ve built and make it stronger?”
Liz and Rob responded to Linnea’s email, and they keep responding. They send photos and videos of Willemina. They’ve captured her first teeth, first steps. One video was of Rob singing, “Where is Thumpkin?” to Willemina, and her peels of laughter in response. Linnea has visited with her daughter four or five times over the past year. For Willemina’s first birthday last month, Linnea and Liz and Rob threw a party. Liz and Rob invited some of their extended family, and Linnea brought her two sisters, her aunts and uncle, her parents, and her birth mother.
Linnea reports that Willemina is healthy, active and determined, maybe in part because she has two older brothers to follow around. She seems to feel secure.
“She knows her world is safe. I knew from the start, she had more people to love her! She’s got an explosion of love and care.”
At Linnea’s one-year anniversary of motherhood, she and Jenny had a plan for how they would honor the occasion. They met at the hospital courtyard, just the two of them, where Linnea said goodbye to Willemina after the birth. This time it was morning. Again, it was sunny and mild. They sat in the same spot. They drank coffee. They talked about their memories from that day and over the past year. They looked at photos of Willemina. Linnea realized she felt more at peace with herself than a year prior, as if she understood herself better, and could envision her future.
Linnea reflects that making this decision for her daughter is the hardest thing she has ever done. Yet she has no regrets, and she feels stronger.
For anyone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, Linnea offers this advice: “Throw ‘normal’ out the window!”
That is, forget conventional notions of who or what makes a family and trust that anyone can, with love and commitment. Finally, “Deeply be assured that you are considering Baby above all else. Dream big for her. Know that miracles can happen.”
About the author: Sarah Crane O’Neill is a former Amara social worker and freelance writer. When she was contacted to write this story, Sarah could immediately picture Linnea. Sarah was the home study caseworker for Liz and Rob, the adoptive couple Linnea chose, and she joined Liz and Rob’s very first meeting with Linnea. Sarah loved reconnecting with this story, and she feels honored to now know two sides of Willie’s family.
Amara thanks Dennis Wise for working with us to capture this special day in the park.