" I shannell Stewart, hereby voluntarily and irrevocably relinquish, permanently and completely, all of my parental rights and interests in the guardianship, custody, care and control of the female child born to me on October 5, 2017 at 4:40pm."
This is the part of the story that hurts my heart a little bit to tell.
There is no easy or quick way to explain that experience in the hospital. Twenty four hours to the minute after bringing my sweet baby girl into the world I was going to do the physical act of placing her with her parents. This part is the one you cannot prepare for or know what to expect and even though people say that, I thought I knew what to expect from myself. Let me tell you, my reaction even shocked me.
After giving birth at 4:40pm I just wanted to be alone so I asked everyone to leave for a while so I could sleep. I still hadn't really tuned in to everything. I mean yeah, I just had a baby and I was well aware of that but I just felt outside myself. I felt almost too calm, too much of a lack of emotion. I hadn't even cried yet except that short moment when my doctor embraced me.
So as the night went on, even though I wanted to be alone, I had no plans of thinking. At all! I continued to block out the reality of what I was about to do. I avoided thinking about any of the joys that motherhood brings. I forced myself to ignore the natural desires to hold her and snuggle her. As horrible as it sounds I don't think I even let myself feel the amount of love I had for her. I mentioned in my last post that I didn't want to hold her and I still hadn't yet. I knew I needed to gain more confidence in my tough outer shell before holding her. I almost wanted to be sedated until I could sign at 24 hours. I never once questioned if I would go through with it but it was a way to self medicate. It was me choosing to minimize the agony between now and the point of what was resolve for me.
Chelsey and Christian had a room down the hall where they had taken Juniper, which was how I wanted it. I knew I would not be changing my mind so why not let them have every second with her. I just put myself in the frame of mind that she was their baby, she should be with them.
Now I just had to wait.
Wait to sign my name on the line.
Wait to feel the unpredictable whatevers.
I longed for the moment I could just breathe knowing it was over.
I fell asleep intentionally numb minded.
I woke up multiple time in the night and just tossed and turned mindlessly hoping 4:40 pm would just come before I went crazy. Once morning came I couldn't believe how I was in the very center of this whole experience and still hadn't really pulled a classic "Shannell," which, if you ask my family, is an emotional wreck over a half bare Christmas tree and how that tree must feel knowing no one wants an asymmetrical Christmas tree. This was a baby! How was I not hysterical over a baby!?
I felt my wall built up high and strong around mid morning and when Chelsey asked if I wanted time with her I finally said yes. In my mind I was doing my due diligence. It almost seemed irresponsible not to spend time with her before the relinquishment. I was merely going to appear to have a heart for the sake of the masses. I was more worried that everyone would worry about me if I didn't, so I pumped my mental/emotional muscles up for some heavy lifting.
I watched from my hospital bed as Chelsey rolled this tiny little girl into the room wrapped in pink.
The wall came down. Hard.
As she was placed in my arms every ounce of emotion came rushing in. An array of sadness, happiness, contentment, jealousy, confusion. The works! I remained calm but inside lost my composure. She was absolutely beautiful and precious and perfect and I didn't get to take her home. I had to ramp up the logic. My mind was going into overdrive remembering why I was doing this, why I couldn't keep her and how my circumstances had not changed from the first day I decided on adoption.
I had about an hour alone to just stare at her and in that time I went through the hills and valleys of it all. I went back to the way my life was when I found out I was pregnant and all the events that brought me to this moment. The being that was just a reminder of my mistakes and a trial I had to overcome was now here in her angelic grace as so much more than that! She was now the precious blessing that gave me the strength to be able to do the right thing for her. She carried the power of angels that gave me the ability to love her so much and yet still hand her to her mom and dad.
After that time with her I got up and I faced the rest of the day.
We gave Juniper her first bath together later in the day and as Chelsey and I stood over her itty bitty body I felt such a bond as mothers of this sweet little girl. I am grateful she shared that experience with me and I am glad I let myself risk the heavy feelings to share that experience with her.
4:00pm was here and it was almost time. My case worker came and we all settled in for the reading of the legalities. My wonderful dad was there to be with me for this very unpredictable challenge. I was holding Juniper when Christian and Chelsey left her in my arms and hugged me before leaving the room. Legally they could not be present for the signing.
This is the part I'm not quite sure how to put into words.
I was sitting at the end of the bed, light streaming in from the window, looking down at white papers covered in black words, all eyes in the room on me. I was hearing every word, every legal definition, restriction and explanation to what I was about to sign but all I really saw or understood was that this was it. I am here. The moment that makes all of this real.
My support system was strong with my dad there, my case worker, my nurse, the witness, my sweet Haven and oddly enough my ex husband's mother who had become a huge support as she adopted all four of her kids.
It felt like days before I put that pen to paper. It was such a slow motion experience that I know couldn't have been more than 10 minutes but felt like an eternity.
"I fully understand the legal significance of the Relinquishment of my Parental Rights. I understand that this Relinquishment of Parental Rights and, Consent to Adoption and Consent to Termination of Parental Rights will be effective upon signing this instrument and may not be revoked and that I cannot change my mind about surrendering my parental rights at any time."
I read and reread that paragraph. In response to the natural anxiety that would be building I just said once in my head, "This isn't about you Shannell. You know this is right for her and that is all you need to know. Now sign the paper."
And I did.
I just signed it and didn't look back. I lifted my head from signing and dating to six sets of eyes, six stoic faces ready to cradle me in their arms while I finally broke down.
Yet again, nothing.
I smiled for the pictures, I laughed at the light hearted jokes and I kissed that perfect girl on the cheek before she went home with her mom and dad. Then I packed my bag, my gifts, my copy of the relinquishment and I walked to the edge of the hospital room knowing it was done, and I turned off the light.
October 5, 2017
We were one for nine months and now we were about to become two.
There is so much to say about the day I brought my second precious baby into the world. I get overwhelmed when I remember all the emotion! All the fear, the pain, the peace and the uncertainty seems to bring a haze to the details of the labor and delivery. I knew with my first step into the hospital that I was leaving there empty handed. I knew with that first step that there was something bigger than all of us at play. I knew that there was no knowing how I would feel or how things would go but I had no choice but to keep taking those steps. It felt like it was over for me, it was time to welcome the experience ahead whether I was ready or not.
I had taken the months from March to October to get ready for this day. There were millions of times I thought about every possible scenario, every thing that could go wrong or right or change everything. Truth is, you can never prepare for something like this. It was truly a unique experience.
It was October 4th, a typical Wednesday. I worked a regular day at my 9-5 job and as I walked, more like waddled, out of the office I just felt unexpectedly calm that I would be back to my desk a week and a half later as if nothing had happened. I wish I could say this was a "high action, my water broke, everything in the world revolved around me," type of story but it's just practical. I scheduled my induction for midnight and so when I got home from work I showered, packed my bag and waited at my front room window for time to pass. My mental self discipline was working overtime to avoid any deep thinking.
My adoptive couple, Christian and Chelsey, pulled in at 11:00 pm so we could ride to the hospital together. It was moments like this one that kept me unusually calm. I just knew they were family to me and would be the most amazing parents-- and that was even before we stopped to get hospital snacks! ;) We had a long night ahead of us and they knew how to do a sleepover!
We arrived to the hospital in the silence of the night and as we walked through the main doors to the labor and delivery wing my dad and step mom were waiting there for us. I can't tell you how incredible it felt to see familiar, loving faces there to support me in this delicate time. I checked in and they showed us to the room where this amazing event would happen. I felt a little on display and my natural response to that kind of attention is an attempt at humor. The uncomfortable moments were followed by some awkward joking and a prayer that someone, anyone would change the subject! As I got settled in my older sister and her husband came in with big smiles and looked like they were ready to camp out all night with the rest of us. The bigger part of me was so happy to have so many supporters but I had a small corner of myself that wanted to just be alone. I chose to ignore that corner and enjoy the thankful feelings that so many amazing people were in my life to be there for me.
To spare the medical details, I was not close to ready for induction yet and so the night looked as if it would drag on for weeks! My entourage put up a good fight but the survivors were Chelsey, my older sister and her 4 month old. It was warming to look over and see the mother of this baby I was about to have sitting patiently and attentively. I had the sincerest feelings of resolve that this little spirit was coming down to her and not me. I think in a time of great unknowing, adoption gets double, maybe even triple duty on the angels.
The night passed with good snacks and even better conversations as my family got to know the couple I would be placing my baby with. I know that time meant so much to all of us. I am grateful now looking back that I wasn't ready right away.
Fast forward to 8am and I was finally ready for the pitocin and the real labor to begin. Over the next 6 hours family was in and out, nurses were in and out and I was surprised to feel enjoyment in the whole experience. I am no hero so I did get the epidural as the labor progressed. I remember the anxiety I felt leaning over to get that large needle put in my back and Chelsey holding my hand as I tried not to move one centimeter. There wasn't one time I felt alone or unsupported. I know I am very blessed as that is not always the case in these situations.
The sweet experience continued when my sweet Haven, my 3 year old daughter, came to see me. I remember being in and out of sleep when she walked up to me and kissed my cheek. My heart melted to know she was there and was in the good hands of my family and the family of my adoptive couple.
It was FINALLY time!! I was having similar feelings as I had leading up to Havens birth. I buzzed the nurse in and she confirmed it was time! At that point everyone was scattered getting lunch and stretching their legs after a long 16 hours of waiting.
My brother-in-law took Haven and the room was cleared out while the doctor came in to check up on my progress. I can't even put into words the feelings I was having. Somewhere in my overly poised appearance was a girl screaming in anxiety and fear. By some miracle I remained very calm and just repeated in my head that this is what was meant to happen.
With all the frantic preparation I reminded the nurses and the doctor of what I wanted to happen. I wanted both parents in the room and she go directly to her parents when she was ready. I promised myself I was not going to hold her for a while. I just felt that I am entrusting this couple with my baby and they deserve to experience each second of her life.
I am blessed with easy deliveries so after only 3-4 pushed Juniper Renae entered the world at 4:40 pm weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces and 20 inches long. She was perfection. Christian cut the umbilical cord and the nurses took her. I knew Chelsey and Christian felt torn about whether to stay by my side or follow their new baby girl. I looked them in the eyes and let them know it was okay. I wanted them to be there for her. Chelsey's mom stayed with me and kept me calm. I just felt very stoic and observant as all that followed unfolded like a movie before my eyes. Once Juniper was ready to be held Chelsey held her in her arms for the first time. I just watched as tears of joy rolled down both their cheeks. I felt a strength in place of jealousy. I felt contentment in place of heartbreak.
Everything had gone just how I pictured and wanted it to. Chelsey was so sweet to ask if I wanted to hold her. I turned her down. I think she was inspired to keep asking and with each time I denied.
That was when I finally broke down, I knew I didn't want to hold her yet and I was okay with it but I also felt guilty that I was so okay with it. My sweet doctor embraced me in that moment as he saw the calm unravel.
I did finally hold Juniper the next day and I am so grateful I did! I cherish that time I had with her and I am grateful Chelsey felt the prompting to let me know it was okay to have some time with her. The rest of the day was just surreal. I was surrounded by so many but felt so empty. This tiny spirit that changed my life grew and became someone within me and now she was gone.
I asked to be alone for a while so I could commence staring at the wall in disbelief. I was proud of myself and how I held it together but now needed to rejuvenate as the next 24 hours would hold a whole new set of challenges. Legally I could not relinquish my rights until 4:40 the next day so I knew I needed to stay in the right frame of mind until then. After that I knew I could lose my mind. I wish I could share more but I have already made this unreadably long. So much happened in a short amount of time and I feel very blessed to be able to share and receive the love and support I have so far. I plan to share the relinquishment story soon! It is one of great significance and I look forward to putting it into words.
To wrap up this first section I just want to say how incredible October 5, 2017 was. It will forever hold a tender place in my heart as I watched my baby be welcomed and immediately adored by her parents. The parents I know God intended for her. I am grateful for the way my needs and wants were honored that made it a healthy transition for me. My sister took photos and I wanted to show a few that touched me from that day so I made a GALLERY tab with just a few photos from the journey that I want to add to as my open adoption blooms which it so beautifully has.
I have been trying to write my birth story for weeks! I want to share the sweetness that was that experience, but I still can't seem to put it in words. So as I am staring at my blank draft that I keep opening, closing and reopening and again closing, I think it is time to actually put words down.
The birth story will have to wait. I believe that part of this journey will unveil itself when I am ready. Until then I want to share a short letter I wrote to my baby before I had her. In the moments making this difficult decision I didn't think anyone would understand. The only spirit I wanted to talk to about it was the precious child growing inside me. Once I wrote to her I had an extra degree of peace. Deciding something this huge is personal and not meant to be understood by everyone. You cannot expect or wait for anyone to understand. You just need to know you can trust your heart and look to yourself for confirmation. I had to develop the trust in myself to pursue my feelings. I believe this letter helped me feel the understanding I needed in that time.
Here is the letter I wrote in May before I even met the couple I chose to adopt my baby.
May 2, 2017
You are coming to me in an unexpected time. I know you are special and deserve the best life. It breaks my heart to know I cannot give you that right now because of my mistakes that created the circumstances I am in. I don't know what will happen. I don't know if I can do this or if I even want to try. I know what I need to do and I'm scared. I hope you can feel my love for you and know the option I am going to choose is what will be best for you. God has a plan for each of us and as the person honored to bring you here I feel that I am just that.. the person who will bring you to the family God intends for you. I haven't found them yet but I feel God showing me the path to find them!
Years will pass and you will always be a part of me. I want you to know I am not making this decision lightly or without Heavenly Father by my side. You are perfect sweet angel and I will be strong for you through this. Just grow healthy and strong and when I meet you I know I will feel a comfort in this choice. You deserve the world!"
After writing this I pressed on with my promise to my child. Now that she is 2 1/2 months old I reread that with a peace for how it all became what I prayed for.
I have been in touch with other birth moms who are too seeking the strength and understanding to press forward. I want to say that our Heavenly Father does not, and will not mess around with the tender process of adoption. He will guide you and make sure you are taking each step you need to take. I pray for you in this difficult time. Each situation is unique and you deserve to feel validated! If you find yourself in need please reach out! This is a time of great stress. Give yourself the time to listen to your instincts.
This letter made me feel that my baby knew I was doing this out of love. I felt that she would understand and appreciate my sacrifice for her. I continued to write to her throughout the pregnancy and I know it turned those lonely moments into times of strength. I can look back to those letters and know I made the choice I was meant to make.
To my fellow birth moms: Keep faith that you will make the right decision! You will be lead to peace in the plan. My heart is with you!
I look forward to writing the upcoming posts! Thank You to all the readers and supporters! Adoption changes so many lives and I am intensely grateful for the way it has changed my life!
This post has been by far the hardest to write. I dread that I vowed to tell the truth about each phase of the adoption. This phase isn't all rainbows and unicorns. I intended to describe the beautiful birth of the perfect baby girl I placed for adoption one month ago. Here I am describing something much less heart warming.
Remembering and expressing the beginning of this journey was sweet and healing but now as I try to describe the special experience that was in the labor and delivery room I feel that I am kicking up certain dust that wants to remain settled. I really felt that I was taking each day and facing what came and processing each uncharted feeling. I wanted to believe the hard part was over when I turned the light off and left that hospital room. The things that have unveiled in the last week can't really be explained, but I will try.
November 5th. One month to the day since the biggest event of my life so far.
And I completely forgot.
I have been intentionally, emotionally checked out for days. Every time I try to put all of this into words all I come up with is haze. I have really been blessed to have felt so normal up until the first night I sat down to write the next chapter! I came to terms that I was not ready to tell the experience for what it really was--a very joyous 48 hours. One month has passed and for both me and the spirit I brought into this life, we are still in a state of uncertainty. However, I feel my uncertainty growing as hers lessens.
This isn't the post where I say I am depressed, regretful and struggling. I mean yes, I am struggling but not for the reasons you would think. I actually have great days, and those great days come with a strange guilt. Those great days are the days I forget. I let myself forget her, the nine months I carried her and the tender moments that she changed my life. I just wake up in the morning, pour my daughters cereal, put on my regular jeans and it's as if it never happened. I think I expected the waves of emotion to even out and manifest into a perfectly happy, brand new me. I hadn't considered that one month post adoption would carry more weight than in that hospital room signing the relinquishment of my parental rights.
You always hear that time heals all wounds but I never felt that this was a wound. Time had been passing! It is a complicated emotion to not feel I have wounds that even need healing. But feeling like that creates its own wounds of guilt for not being broken by this. I never let it be anything but a face forward journey. I didn't have doubts or even a question that I was doing the right thing and I still don't... so then what is this? What is the pain and haze? Why can't I just tell the birth story?
This is what I wanted right?
When I found out I was pregnant this was all I ever hoped for--to forget and just be able to go back to life as I knew it before. I wanted to just pour my daughters cereal and put on my non-maternity pants! Now that I am, it's followed by a grey cloud of "how could you?" How could I just go each day laughing and smiling? How could I think of dating, of work projects, of my life after her? How could I have great days less than a month after choosing not to parent the most angelic gift I could ever receive?
I think one of the strangest parts is the physical reminder. I went into the hospital 192 lbs. and unable to see my feet to less than a day later left alone in my body. Now a month later I am back to normal and as excited as you would expect me to be from this I have actually had moments of legitimately forgetting it ever happened. No stretch marks, no lingering weight, no baby to prove the last nine months actually happened. And again it's the guilt. My reality for nine months was leading up to this. My reality was a growing belly and being the mom preparing to place my second baby for adoption. It was my mission to be strong and make this sacrifice for her. Yet, I have days that she doesn't cross my mind anymore. There is such a conflict in my head of whether this is good or not. Can I just take the next steps without her? Should I allow myself to move on? How will she feel someday knowing only a month had passed and I was already okay with this? Shouldn't I be miserable for a while longer?
In the last thirty days I have let, rather forced her to consume my heart and mind just to ease the natural happiness. I have tried to reach deep within and dig up the pain, the heart ache, the anger that this had to happen and all I come up with is how a beautiful flower grew from the thick mud. All I can find in myself is an O.K.-ness that this is how things are. Yeah, I question if that means I have no feeling, no capability to really love, or if I am really that selfish. Am I seriously letting the idea of moving on mask the very real weight that is this adoption? How am I imagining the life I can now have without her? Will I forever have to choose between the guilt for being happy over this, or the sadness that I have to create to not feel the guilt?
I wish I could say this post was going to end with the perfect answers to these questions. But it's not.
I pray that whoever reads this does not worry! Don't worry that I am suffering. Don't worry that I have any regrets because I do not have a single one! What I do have is an unexpected, raw, open and completely normal wound. This adoption, when I allow it, brings me a strength and self esteem I didn't really think possible. So in spite of the confusion I feel now, I am choosing to use those convictions I have found through this to be my guide. I am choosing to remember how I have grown to love my adoptive couple and the baby girl that brought us together. I have faith, as I have had through this whole year, that I will figure these things out and come to a better understanding. As another month passes, six months, a year.. I am now counting on the roller coaster. I will continue to face the truth of how I feel whether it be good, bad or ugly. There will be clarity in time. The life I live post adoption will come with the wounds I didn't expect to have to heal.
I want to see her, hold her and be around her the days I remember her. I guess now I will just be living in fear that those days will disappear completely as I mold my life into what I wanted before I got pregnant.
I apologize for the negative tone of this post but what would any of us benefit from a layer of sugar. These things are hard and I was naive to think they would always feel easy.
One of God's tender mercies happens when I lay my head down at night and I think of my blessings.. She is at the top of the list!
She is perfection in every way! Seeing her brings more peace than I could have imagined.