“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” ~ Rumi
A phrase that is all too often heard after a hardship or death is typically, “you’ll get over it.” Or, “time heals all wounds.” Yet, those who have endured true loss know that this simply isn’t true. There is no getting over a loss — particularly of a child. For a mother, especially, losing her baby is not something she ever forgets. The memory of them stays with her for the rest of her life. Often, the days of her baby’s birth and death are either celebrated or become moments where she honors them in a different way.
For Katie Olney, her journey to adoption began with a story of grief. A week prior to the birth of her baby girl, she went to the doctor because something felt wrong. Two days after a routine checkup, she was told her baby girl no longer had a heartbeat. Alaria Evelyn was then stillborn twelve hours later. Over cups of coffee, I was honored to hear my aunt share her experience. Much of the detail was masked as I grew up, but hearing the full story brought healing and encouragement to both of us.
The following interview is used with Katie’s expressed permission, including the use of her own name and those of her children. Other names of friends and family, however, have been altered for the sake of privacy. There were so many details shared that not everything was able to make it into this article; however, Katie wrote a story about her adoption journey, which she hopes to have published one day.
RR: What was your path to adoption like?
KO: I was devastated [after losing Alaria]. I kept thinking, “If I could just get pregnant again, I could get her back!” In moments like that, you just don’t think rationally at all. I had two miscarriages after I lost her. Then I finally got pregnant with Jack. When I found out I was having a boy, I was just a mess. And everybody was mad at me. My husband, dad — they were like, “Why aren’t you happy that you’re having a healthy baby?” Nobody understood that component that you need the same sex of the child that you lost.
My husband said, “We aren’t going to keep having kids until we have a girl. This is it.” That’s like cutting off a dream, and that was very difficult for me.
My doctor said I should go see a grief counselor. He said that she had lost one of her babies, and that she could help me. She had eight kids, and her fifth one died. Stillborn also. She was in Canada at the time, in a maternity room with another woman who was putting her baby up for adoption, and she took that baby home. She told me, “Don’t pay attention to anything he says. You know, things happen. Go and get a hope chest and put all of Ali’s things inside. Then hope that someday you’ll have a little girl. Keep that picture.”
I was strong at goal setting, so I did.
Also around the same time, a good friend took me to see a medium. It made me a little squirrely, I’ll admit it. But, we walked into this woman’s house — I was six and a half months pregnant [with Jack]. The first thing she says is, “There’s a woman here who wants to speak to you.” I started to cry. She asked, “Do you want me to stop?” and I said no. She said, “She wants me to tell you, ‘Momma, I’ve never left your side; but, if I would’ve come, I wouldn’t have had a good life. But I will walk with you from the other side.’”
[Doctors] didn’t know why Ali died. But I carry the gene for Lupus, so they suspected it had something to do with that.
I said to this woman, “Will I have another little girl?” And she said, “Not of your own, but you will raise another woman’s little girl, and it will ease the pain in your heart.” I said, “How will I find her?” She said, “You don’t need to look. When the time is right, the universe will open up and she’ll be right in front of you. You can’t miss her.”
I hung onto that picture tightly.
[Doctors] induced me early with Jack, because of what had happened to Ali. My doctor was just screaming at me, “@!#% Katie, why don’t you push harder?” and I thought, Why are you screaming at me? I’m pushing as hard as I can. Finally Jack came out, and his umbilical cord was tied in a knot. The doctor looked at me and said, “It’s a good thing we did this today.” Like tomorrow would’ve been too late?! I was shaking so much, I couldn’t even hold him for like half an hour. His heart rate was dropping significantly, and that’s why the doctor was screaming at me.
Jack got to be about two or two and a half years old, and I said to my husband, “I don’t want to get to the part — the time — of my life where I didn’t have a daughter.” I didn’t want to miss out on that. I was close to my mom, and I wanted that same thing. I said, “Would you consider adoption?” and he said he would think about it.
RR: Had you ever been interested in adoption in the past?
KO: Not really, no. So, I researched it to learn everything I could. I went to a seminar and heard the main attorney for the state of Washington, who wrote the adoption laws, speak. Met some social workers — I was just kind of figuring out my little plan. Also, when I was pregnant with Jack, I had Post Traumatic Stress severely. If I went in, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat in about 30 seconds, I would start crying. I knew I couldn’t do that again. Mentally.
Every few months I’d ask my husband, “Have you thought about it?” and he’d say, “Not yet.” That went on for about nine months.
Then, one day, I was talking to Ali in Heaven and said, “You gotta get your dad off the stick here because I’m not getting any younger.” It wasn’t ten minutes later that he came upstairs and said, “Ok, let’s start the process.”
Next day, I called everyone I knew and said, “The hard part is over! He said yes!” People looked at me like I was crazy, Because some look for years for a baby to adopt. But I told everyone I saw anyway. In the dentist office, the grocery store — “I’m looking for a baby girl! I’m looking for a baby girl!” (Laughs)
Somebody knew somebody whose son-in-law worked in a bakery in Duvall with a girl who was putting her six-month-old — blonde hair, blue-eyed baby girl named Hope — up for adoption. Remember the hope chest? So I wrote a letter, and she called me. This was six weeks from when my husband said, “Let’s start the process.”
RR: When did you first meet with the birth mother / parents? Describe experience.
KO: They came to see us on Valentine’s Day. I opened the door, and the birth parents were both there. The birth father looked at me and thought, “Oh my god. She looks just like my dead sister.” When I took his coat, I put my hand on the back of his shoulder — just like she always did. So for him it was a sign.
The birth father was a little awkward. He was twenty years older than the birth mother. She was 19, and he was 38. Something like that. He had a big landscaping business that he worked all the time, and so he just hadn’t wanted Hope to be in daycare all the time. Hope’s birth mother seemed really young.
RR: What was the transition time like, after Hope first joined your family?
KO: I had met Hope’s birth parents on Monday. They brought Hope on Friday. We put her to bed in a cradle next to my side of the bed. All week I felt like, “Oh my goodness! She’s gonna come here with people she knows, and then wake up with strangers!” That sounded awful, and it made me cry. But, the next morning, she just looked up at me, smiled and put her arms up. I picked her up. She never once cried, she never wasn’t supposed to be mine, and it eased that pain in my heart just like the medium said. It was so amazing!
For awhile, things went smoothly. But then I started to learn more about the birth parents. Hope’s birth mother had thought about abortion and decided against it. When she was going to put Hope up for adoption after she was born, her family said, “Maybe you should see, so that you’ll know. You can give it a try.” She couldn’t handle it. She would be really happy to come and see Hope, but she would be even more relieved when she could leave.
Then it got to the point where the birth parents couldn’t stand each other. I tried so hard to include everyone. I even had two birthday parties. One with each side. But I couldn’t keep doing that. They needed to be adults about this, and not put me in the middle. The birth mother had given me the greatest gift she could have given me, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
She promised to never come to my house high, but that didn’t last. We’d go through periods where she would be more on the straight side and things would be good. Then she’d be a mess. A few years ago, she had a new boyfriend — he’d been in jail for dealing cocaine. And…they wanted to see my son, Wyatt, play with his band. So, I took them up to see a show and…they were pretty hammered when they got to my house. At one point, during the concert, I saw her give him some pills out of a pill bottle and pretty soon he could hardly stand up. They started fighting. Wyatt was trying to sing on stage, but saw this and forgot the lyrics to one of the songs he’d sung a million times. He thought, “I’d better cut this set short, because my mom needs to leave.”
Her boyfriend showed me pictures of six-foot pot plants that they were growing to sell, and I thought this was inappropriate because the kids were so young. I didn’t need this in my world, and they were not good influences. So, I decided this wasn’t a good thing.
There was also a time when I told the birth mother to knock it off, after she sent me pages and pages of text messages, and her boyfriend called and threatened me. The birth mother even contacted my ex-husband and made up lies about me, saying I swindled him when we sold our house in the divorce. But that’s not who I am. I would never do that.
RR: How did all of this affect Hope?
KO: I let Hope read the text messages, listen to the voicemail and read the email. She was 16 at this point. And I told her, this needs to be your choice.
Afterwards, she sent a note to her birth mother saying, “I’ll always love you because you gave birth to me and got me the best family I could ever have, but I won’t have you talk to my mom that way. I don’t want anything to do with you until you get your life together.”
I never tried to keep Hope from whatever relationship she choose to have with her birth parents. She’s old enough to make those decisions.
RR: Does your daughter know that she is adopted? Why or why not?
KO: I thought we’d tell Hope together, but then it was so nasty [between my ex-husband and I] that there wasn’t a good time. Wyatt had this girlfriend, and she was a piece of work. She took it upon herself to tell Hope. Hope’s grandma, my ex-mother in law, lives in Arizona and the kids wanted to go on a trip. Wyatt’s girlfriend’s mother also lived there, and she happened to be there at the same time. When she and Hope were in the swimming pool one day…she told Hope.
So Hope calls me and says, “You need to tell me.” And I said, “Well, honey, what are you talking about?” And she said, “You need to tell me, Mom. What is it you’re not telling me?”
I didn’t want Hope to find out that way.
RR: What was the original agreement between you and the birth parents?
KO: On the initial adoption, the agreement was that they got to see her three times a year. Around her birthday, around Christmas and around Easter. That’s how it was set up. We did that until Hope was probably 12. Then it was her decision from there. I wasn’t going to push it. If she didn’t want to see them or if they didn’t make an effort — that was up to them.
RR: How has adoption impacted your life?
KO: Anytime you lose a child, no matter which way it is, it’s just horrible. I admire women who go through this, and are able to keep moving forward. One of the things that helps you heal is if you can help someone else through what they are going through. I think that’s a very important aspect of all of this.
I wanted a baby girl, no matter how she came to me. The open adoption part was just how it landed in my lap. People who know me will say I’m like a dog with a bone. When I set my mind to something, nothing will stop me.
For me, the whole journey was incredible. It was just amazing how it all happened, and I’ve always felt very blessed and lucky.
RR: What was the most challenging aspect of your adoption journey?
KO: There wasn’t anything challenging. Because as soon as Mike said yes, I took off running. I had already researched, and gone to the seminar. I contacted the attorney that I heard speak and he took the case. I contacted the woman who I’d spoken to there as well, and said, “You know, this is Tuesday. We are taking her on Friday. I haven’t done a home study.” So she rushed it through. I mean she came out and it was over so quickly. She even said to me, “Do you think you could come and talk to some of my clients on how to do the world’s fastest adoption?” (Laughs) Because it was so fast.
Everything fell in line perfectly. So I didn’t have any challenges. I felt glad I knew who to go to…that I’d already gotten my ducks in a row. That’s the goal setting side of me.
It’s like the medium said. Sometimes the universe just comes together, and everything happens how it’s supposed to happen. I know some people may be skeptical, but in the middle of grief, you will do anything for answers.
RR: What advice would you give other adoptive mothers looking to start their journey?
KO: Do your research. Go to adoption fairs, hear the speakers, learn about where you can meet the people you need to. Talk to a social worker, so you have your little network of who you want to contact and have working for you. That was really helpful for me.
I think, too…not getting discouraged and setting that goal and believing you can make it happen. When you set the goal strongly enough, the resources all work together and the universe works in the way it’s supposed to. Also, because your spirit of intent is right and you’re doing this for a worthwhile reason.
Even though life’s path is difficult, and at times overwhelming, hold tight to your dreams and your heart’s desires… I am beyond grateful I didn’t give up on mine.
This is not how every adoption journey goes. There were very specific circumstances that led to what Katie experienced, and she bares no ill will towards Hope’s birth parents. She, unfortunately, had to make a difficult decision for the sake of Hope and her two other children. Hope has grown into a beautiful young woman, and she’s truly loved and cherished.
If this article brought up any new concerns or questions, and you are considering an open adoption, please discuss this with your adoption agency and lawyer. They are there to guide you through all potential pitfalls, and will help you make an agreement that’s best for you and your family.
About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.