How I Broke Another Woman’s Heart

An adoption story of tears, sacrifice, and lasting joy.

I stood in the parking lot of Cedar’s Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and loaded my one-day-old baby girl into the back seat of our car, headed to our other daughter’s preschool graduation. Yes, we took our 24-hour-old baby to a preschool graduation. Totally normal, right?

Less than 20 feet away sat a young woman in a wheelchair, sobbing. Her beautiful red hair, stained dark with wet tears. Her hands were shaking, and her arms were empty. Her body frail and unwilling to move toward the car that would drive her in the opposite direction, toward a place she called home.

We were two moms standing in that parking lot. One grew this precious baby inside of her body, protecting and nourishing her. The other mom was chosen and entrusted to raise her from this day forward. Both loved her even before she took her first breath.

Less than eight weeks earlier, we were strangers. This sweet baby brought our lives together, but in that moment, we both were both overcome with feelings of guilt, fear, and insecurity. I wondered if I would love this baby girl as much as I loved her older sister, a child that I carried and birthed. I worried that she too might not love me the same; would she grow up to choose the woman who birthed her over the one who raised her? Would she feel thankful for this family? Would her birth mom call us later today or tomorrow or in 29 days to say that she changed her mind?

Meanwhile, her birth mom, Becky, feared that she might be misunderstood for choosing adoption. Would this baby grow up resenting her? Would she really be allowed to be involved in this baby’s life? Would we raise this child, her child, the way we promised to?

Was this really the best decision — for Becky or for any of us?

Looking back, it feels like a miracle that we survived that brief hospital stay. When a baby is born, we think of it as a celebration. Those sweet first hours shouldn’t be bathed in fear, hesitation, and awkward conversations. But what if they are? What if the hospital doesn’t know which woman to call mom? What if they ignore the adoptive family or the birth mom? What if the birth father is hovering and everyone is on edge?

But possibly one of the hardest things to grasp is that all of this is the result of a choice that led to a series of choices. It began with a courageous woman who chose to continue a difficult pregnancy under less than ideal circumstances. She chose to silence the voices of those who said she couldn’t do this. She chose to invest in looking at all of her options and was brave enough to admit that parenting might not be the best option for her, right now. She chose to search for a family to raise her and to find a new future for the both of them — not because she couldn’t or didn’t want to care for her, but because she wanted more than she could offer at that moment.

“She chose to invest in looking at all of her options and was brave enough to admit that parenting might not be the best option for her, right now.”

Those difficult choices would inevitably change my family’s life for the better. My choice, the seemingly easier choice–to say yes and to admit that we desperately wanted to parent this child, would become the very thing that would break another woman’s heart. How would I look this beautiful mom in the eye as I carried her child away from her? How could I tell her she made the right choice or even a good choice as it left her arms empty and mine full?

It is true that adoption is a beautiful choice, but it’s also largely a choice that is based on an assumption of trust. Presumed trust that may later become raw, authentic trust. Our birth mom chose to trust that I’d honor our commitment to an open adoption and that I’d speak positively about her in my daughter’s life. I chose to trust that she wouldn’t change her mind in 30 days and that she wouldn’t resent me.

“It is true that adoption is a beautiful choice, but it’s also largely a choice that is based on an assumption of trust.”

This adoption experience was especially complicated because I’ve been on the other side. As a doula, I’ve served as the birth mom advocate in the delivery room. I’ve fought for her wishes, and I’ve cried as other adoptive parents have left with “these women’s children.” As the CEO of Claris Health, I’ve counseled hundreds of women who have contemplated adoption, abortion, and parenting. I deeply understand the pain, the loss, the grief associated with adoption, and I never imagined that one day I’d be the one inflicting this pain on another person.

Perhaps this is actually a beautiful, raw, honest depiction of life and of parenting, all parenting, regardless of how we “earn” that title. Whether the child is biological or adopted or fostered, we fear that we will fail and we worry that we won’t be perfect. The truth is we do fail and we aren’t perfect. The heart of adoption simply reveals the heart of parenthood.

Yes, I broke another woman’s heart, and it changed us both forever. That very breaking experience was the beginning of the most vulnerable and beautiful relationship I’ve encountered, with a birth mom and her family. Adoption brought a new baby into the world, but it also grew both of our families as we’ve embraced new aunties, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Every adoption story is unique and often complicated, but every story has the potential for deep connection and ultimately the opportunity to choose joy.

The December before our daughter was born, I was given this Giving Keys necklace with the word “joy” inscribed on it. It included a prayer that the coming year would reveal a season of new joy and a challenge to pass it along when I felt someone else needed that same prayer for joy. At the time, I had no idea how precious this would become.

Just a few months later, as we met with Becky and started discussing baby names, I glanced down and saw the promise around my neck. We ultimately chose the name Adelyn Joy and prayed that she would be filled with the very definition of joy: “delight, joyfulness, jubilation, and exultation.” In the most grueling moment at the hospital, when Becky handed Adelyn to me, I knew that I was supposed to pass that key along to her, with a steadfast promise that this decision, this grief, this moment of heartache, would eventually turn into a season of newfound joy. As our relationship continues to grow and our little smiley girl loves her momma and her Becky, we are seeing a fulfillment of that very promise. It brings us all so much joy.

talitha phillips this is us too

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Talitha has been leading Claris Health as CEO for the past 18 years. She first came to Claris as a client and witnessed the organization’s life-changing work firsthand. Talitha and her family live in Los Angeles, and in her spare time you can catch her moonlighting as a doula.

How I Broke Another Woman’s Heart was originally published in 2017 in Clarity Minute on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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