By Renae Kranz
Adoption is a beautiful choice that gives two families exactly what they need: one side has the ability to give their child a safe and loving birth, while the other side adds a new and eagerly awaited member to their family.
November is designated National Adoption Awareness Month to recognize the heroic role birth mothers and adoptive parents play in this process.
Christy Vander Woude, pregnancy and adoption counselor for Catholic Family Services, understands intimately the decisions, heart ache and joy involved with adoption. She always speaks with her birth mothers in a way that respects the dignity of the child they carry.
“When women come in, we always say it’s an unplanned pregnancy, not unwanted. We really try to keep positive words there,” Vander Woude says. “Women come here scared and need someone to walk with them. That’s what we do here.”
Though adoption can be a difficult process, it offers women and families a path filled with faith, trust and letting go of expectations. It’s not an option to be feared or dreaded, but an option that gives life to a child and hope to all involved.
Vander Woude says birth mothers come from a variety of life circumstances and backgrounds. Some are single mothers who want a home with two parents for their child. Others can’t afford to raise their child or are not ready to be a parent right now. It’s critical that these mothers have the option to place their child with a couple who’s ready for a baby.
“Couples always say without a birth parent, we wouldn’t have a family,” Vander Woude says. “But without those couples, what would a birth parent do? Who would they place with? What would they choose?”
Vander Woude works closely with birth mothers and adoptive couples throughout the process. She encourages them, helps the birth mothers through the grieving process, and assists in making all the decisions needed. She’s their advocate.
She does this work because she’s been there herself. As a teenager, Vander Woude placed her own child with an adoptive family. Her son was never unwanted. She just knew she wasn’t ready to be a parent yet, and it was vitally important to her that he be placed with a great family. Her experience helps her in her work with birth mothers.
“With any of the birth mothers I work with now, I want to make sure they know what amazing women they are for making this hard decision and the importance of openness in their relationship with the adoptive couple and child,” Vander Woude says. “The more we as a society understand what it means to place a child and the process that both birth parents and adoptive parents go through, will help women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy to reach out and not only explore the idea of adoption, but to potentially place that child.”
Helping women and families understand the process can make choosing adoption over abortion more likely. That’s a good goal to pursue.
“Women often choose abortion out of fear, feeling they are not at a place in life to raise a child,” Emily Leedom, director of Marriage, Family and Respect Life for the diocese, says. “Though certainly still clouded in grief for many mothers, adoption offers an option which combats the fear and even offers a sense of purpose for the mother to choose life.”
Leedom says if we want to be authentically pro-life, we have to work to empower and strengthen the mothers who feel ashamed or afraid because of an unplanned pregnancy so they’ll see options outside of abortion. She says they need to know they are strong, courageous, and powerful, and they can do this.
“Adoption is intensely beautiful, but I think we must remember that something is always lost in the process of adoption,” Leedom says. “I think we see photos on social media of delighted parents holding their smiling adopted child and forget that behind the scenes there was perhaps immense suffering on behalf of the birth mom, or infertility in the adopted parents, or trauma for the child. It’s a severe beauty and a reminder to us that God wastes nothing.”
This is where counselors like Vander Woude come in. Their job is to do exactly what Leedom suggests. They are the support birth mothers need at a time of great uncertainty.
For adoptive couples, finances can sometimes seem like an obstacle to adoption as well. Catholic Family Services uses a sliding fee scale based on the couple’s adjusted gross income. And with grants, financing options and tax credits available, many couples who thought they couldn’t afford to adopt might be surprised by their options.
Vander Woude encourages a birth mother or prospective adoptive couple to come in and talk to her anytime. Her door is always open for a chat or a bit of encouragement.