A 21st Century Adoption

Megan is a woman full of surprises. She looks young, no more than 15 or 16 years old, but she recently celebrated her 21st birthday. She has a goofy sense of humor, a posse of equally goofy friends, and an obsession with Harry Potter. She is a serious student with big plans for her future. Perhaps the most surprising thing about her, though, is that she is a birth mom, and proud of it. Her daughter, now 18 months old, lives with her adoptive parents just a few cities away from Megan’s home town.

Today, Megan is sitting at a little café, picking at an oversized croissant and sipping an enormous mocha latte. She sweeps her long honey blond hair up on top of her head, secures it in a messy bun, and smiles at me self-consciously. Her serious expression and natural scowl magically disappear when she smiles. She has warm brown eyes behind nerdy-chic black frames, and perfectly white teeth. Her blue polo shirt has the YMCA logo embroidered on it—she just came from her job there as a childcare provider—but she carries a lanyard with a hospital ID on it, and a Vera Bradley tote bag ladened with textbooks. I spot an Anatomy & Physiology tome next to an equally dense-looking Biochemistry book.

“I try to study on my breaks,” she says, slipping a stray strand of hair behind her ear. I notice a delicate black tattoo peeking around the back of her neck.

“That’s my phoenix, rising from the ashes, she says. “It’s about starting over—a fresh start.”

That is what adoption has offered Megan—a fresh start. She doesn’t hesitate to tell her adoption story to anyone. There is no sense of shame or guilt as she talks. On the contrary, she seems at peace with her decisions and proud of the progress she has made over the last two years.

“People have this idea that adoption is this traumatic experience, or that the only people who choose adoption are drug addicts. Or teenagers with no other options. Or trashy. That’s not me. I did the right thing for my daughter, and the right thing for her parents, and the right thing for me. I want people to know that adoption is a good thing. There’s nothing embarrassing about it.”

On top of an active social life, Megan is a nursing student at a local college, a volunteer in the hospital ER, and a newly certified EMT. Her schedule is full and she likes it that way. “I have goals,” she explains. “I want to finish my degree in the next two years. Then I want to work, get some experience as a nurse, so that I can move to London and live there. How else am I going to meet Daniel Radcliffe? I might try and become a midwife, too. I think I’d be good at it.”

Megan’s life was not always as full and focused as it is now. She suffered from depression and anxiety that started in middle school and steadily worsened through high school. She was an honors student at school, “But only because I’m totally obsessive about grades,” she says. Her friendships suffered, and then ended. Things at home were particularly rough.

“I think my parents thought I was just being a teenager. I was angry all the time and really emotional. I felt like everything was falling apart all the time. I really hated myself, too. I felt like nobody could help me. It was scary. So I yelled a lot and cried all the time. I was just so stressed out, but I didn’t know how to explain it to anyone.”

After graduation, Megan went to college out of state, “As far away from everyone as I could go,” she says. “I just wanted to go start over someplace.” But being away from home increased her anxiety, and she came home again after just one semester. Lonely and depressed, she turned to a new boyfriend for comfort. Then she discovered she was pregnant.

“I was so upset. It was, like, the worst thing that could happen to me right then. I had failed at school, I was living at home again with no job. My boyfriend was even younger than me, and he was freaked out. My parents were so disappointed. I knew I couldn’t take care of a baby. There was just no way.”

Abortion was not an option for Megan. “I’m totally pro-choice,” she says, “But it wasn’t the right choice for me. I knew I couldn’t. And I knew I couldn’t keep her. My parents… they would have helped me, but I didn’t want to do that to them. I knew almost immediately that adoption was the right thing for me to do.”

She began researching adoption agencies right away. In the end she chose a state-run organization. She met monthly with an adoption counselor to discuss the adoption process, how she was feeling, and her plans. “[The counselor] was really sweet. She talked about how it was a really beautiful thing I was doing for someone. She said I was making a brave choice. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do, but she made me feel like I was making the right decision.”

Megan started seeing a therapist, too, to work on her depression and her anxiety. “I had all this support all of a sudden. I was afraid that the adoption was going to be really hard and lonely. That’s what you see on TV and in the movies. But it wasn’t. Everyone sort of rallied around me. It ended up being the thing that helped me work out all sorts of problems.”

As Megan’s due date approached, she and her counselor began to look for an adoptive family. “I had like eight or ten profiles at a time to look through. Some of [the families] made these whole bound books about themselves, and these really professional-looking brochures. I had three that I really liked, but there was this one that was just two pieces of paper stapled together that I kept coming back to. I called them my two-paper family.”

Meg decided to make the “two-paper” family her first choice, and her counselor arranged for them to meet. “It was just me and my mom and this couple. At first it was really awkward, but then we started talking about stuff that was like totally unrelated to adoption and everything, like The Lord of the Rings. We were all just a bunch of nerds, and it was kind of great. They asked me why I chose them, and I said it was because they mentioned Harry Potter in their profile, and [the adoptive mom] was all excited because she was the one who decided to put that in there. We bonded over Harry Potter.”

Megan’s labor and delivery was not easy. A week past her due date, she was admitted to the hospital and her labor was induced. She labored for 48 hours before her doctor decided to perform a C-section. She finally delivered a healthy 6-pound 8-ounce baby girl. The adoptive parents were waiting outside the delivery room. The nurses told Megan to take as much time as she wanted with her daughter. When she was ready, they would bring in the adoptive parents.

“I didn’t have to see them at all, but I wanted to be the one to give her to them,” Megan says. “She was my gift to them. It wasn’t hard. I thought maybe I would be all emotional and sad, but it wasn’t like that. It just felt right. I guess I knew all along that she wasn’t mine. It was so great to see how happy they were.”

Megan stayed in the hospital for another two days, and so did the adoptive parents. They spent that time together. “They let me hold [the baby] and we talked. It was really nice.”

Megan pulls out her iPhone and shows me dozens of pictures of a chubby toddler with a head full of wispy brown curls. She has Megan’s serious expression in many of the pictures, and her shy smile in many others.

Megan chose to have a semi-open adoption, which means every six months she receives a package from the adoptive parents with pictures and a letter. Megan and the adoptive family also stay connected through social media and e-mail.

“I love knowing how she’s doing, and I love her family. They’re great. But I don’t want a whole lot of contact,” Megan explains. “Like, I don’t want to visit her or anything. I need to stay focused on my life. Some people think I’m selfish, but I don’t think I am. I couldn’t give [the baby] everything that her parents are giving her. She’s going to have a better life with them than I could give her. And I get to do all the things I need to do so that someday I can be a good parent.”

Megan’s hand strays to the tattoo on her neck. Her fingers run down the curling black lines of the phoenix there. “I want to have kids someday. I just wasn’t ready then. I’m still not ready now. But someday I will be. For now, I got to make some people really happy and give them this awesome gift. Adoption let me do that, and it gave me a fresh start.”

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