One of the first things people say to me after hearing my story is that I’m a strong person. I’m not strong. I’ve never been a strong person.
People who haven’t gone through this heartbreak don’t understand the helplessness you feel, the loss.

Story and photos by Callie Mitchell
callie-mitchell@uiowa.edu

March 25, 2012

I am a day late with my period and woke up in his bed, worried I was pregnant. I got up, walked to the store to get a pregnancy test, and immediately took it when I got back to his apartment. As I sat on the toilet with the pregnancy test on the counter, waiting for the results, my mind raced. I was excited at the thought of being a mom and loving my own child. I had the perfect boyfriend who I was in love with, and we had talked about getting married and having children someday — someday just came sooner than we expected.

When the test showed a positive reading, I sat on the toilet and started crying. All of a sudden I was worried about how he would respond. After I told him, he and I talked for hours. At times, we just sat in silence. He was thinking. At that time, we decided to keep the baby and start the family we had talked about.

March 26, 2012

We told our families today. All of our parents are excited about a new grandchild. I think my dad almost started crying he was so happy. After the father told his mom, she called and talked to me for an hour. Everyone has been very supportive.

May 18, 2012

He left me. It’s no one’s fault but my own. The lies had caught up with me, and he couldn’t stand the thought of raising a baby that might not be his. He couldn’t start a family with a girl that gave him every reason not to trust her. I’ve never hated myself so much in my entire life.

May 21, 2012

He wants me to give our baby up for adoption. He says I won’t be a good mother. He says he’s too emotionally damaged to be a good father, and it’s my fault. Everything is my fault. I don’t want to give our baby up. Abortion was never an option, in my mind. I can’t carry a child for nine months, feel it grow, and feel it kick. I can’t have a baby be a part of me and give it up. I can’t give up a piece of me. I can’t give birth, be in labor for hours, and feel the pain of my baby. I can’t give all of that love and just give it away like nothing happened.

May 29, 2012

I can’t do this alone. I can’t be a single mom going to school and work and still having the time and energy to take care of a kid. It’s not fair to bring a child into this situation. He’s right. I need to give our baby to a couple who will be able to give it everything I can’t.

June 6, 2012

My mom got me the number for Graceful Adoptions. I called them today and spoke to owner Karen Nissley. I told her I wanted to give my baby up for adoption. She asked me about my situation and what led me to decide to call Graceful Adoptions. I cried as I told her everything. I explained to her I really didn’t know anything about adoption. I just knew that if I was being completely honest with myself, my baby deserves better than what I can give him at this point in my life.

June 13, 2012

Last week, after our talk, Karen sent me information about Graceful Adoptions and the adoption process. Karen asked me questions I’d never thought of before. She asked if I wanted an open or a closed adoption. She said research shows the more involved the birth mother is with the child, the better life the child lives. The child doesn’t grow up wondering about his “real” family. Karen asked what my hobbies are, what my life is like, and what my family is like.

She spent hours on the phone with me, getting a sense of who I am as a person so she could pick the right families to show me. She asked me what I was looking for in adoptive parents. I didn’t realize that when putting your baby up for adoption, you got to pick who your baby went to.

Obviously, I want my baby to have parents who have good morals and family values. I want people who are hard-working but also know how to enjoy life. I want people who are active and outgoing. I had to fill out a long packet on my medical history, my drug and alcohol use, and the history of disease and health risks in my family.

July 25, 2012

Today, I have decided I am going to keep my baby. I never wanted to give my baby away. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I want to look at him every day and tell him that I love him. I can feel him fluttering around in my belly, and I want to meet him so badly. I can’t wait to see the amazing boy he grows up to be. Already, I’m so proud of him, so proud to be his mom. I have so much love for this little being. I can figure out a way to make my schedule work so that he is the center of my life. I can still work part-time. I can take online classes so that I can be at home with him more. I’m not telling the adoption agency yet. I want to get everything set up and be absolutely sure I can keep my baby.

Aug. 2, 2012

I told him I wanted to keep our baby. We fought. I then promised him I’d put our baby up for adoption. I just want this constant fighting to end.

Aug. 14, 2012

Karen sent me three parent profiles a week ago. I like a couple named Kristen and Brian. I think they would be perfect for my son. They both have college degrees. They are very active and like to spend time outdoors. They are both very hard-working, but how do you judge what makes a good parent? What kind of questions do you ask that would make it easier to decide if these are the best people to raise him? Is it reckless of me to trust two complete strangers with my baby based on a four-page profile and an hourlong phone conversation? What if they don’t like me?

Aug. 20, 2012

I texted Karen today and told her I wanted to choose Brian and Kristen as parents for my baby.

Sept. 16, 2012

Today is my day off. No work, no school. It feels so good to just lie on the couch and relax. I’ve been running around every second of the day since quitting the Press-Citizen and starting my job as a photographer at The Daily Iowan. School, The Daily Iowan, and working my second job as a waitress leave little time for studying, let alone sleep. During every class while I’m trying to take notes, he is kicking me and moving around. It’s quite distracting.

Oct. 17, 2012

Karen drove from Des Moines to see me. We went out to lunch and discussed my birth plan. She asked me if I wanted to hold the baby when he was born. This was a question I thought a lot about over the last few months. I said no, I wanted the first person to hold him to be his parents because that first touch is so important. It is the first and most powerful moment when a bond is formed between parent and child, and I didn’t want to steal that from Kristen and Brian. I was also terrified of getting too attached to him and then not being able to handle it when he is gone.

Oct. 22, 2012

I have no energy anymore, and my photography is suffering. I took a leave of absence as a waitress. There is no way I can be on my feet, running around a restaurant for hours. I’m tired the moment I step out of bed in the morning. Every day now, when I walk anywhere, or when he moves, there is sharp pain. I’m hoping that’s a sign he wants to come out soon.

Oct. 25, 2012

Alone and pregnant, I took a hard look at my life and the choices I’ve made. I have never felt so low in my life. I spend hours daily lost in depression, curled up in the fetal position with my body wrapped around my growing belly, drowning in my endless sobbing. Wadded up toilet paper litters the floor of my apartment. I’ve lost complete control of my emotions. I missed classes because I can’t stop crying. I constantly leave lecture and hurry to the bathroom just so I can cry for 10 minutes. My heart has never felt so heavy and hard to hold. I really want to meet his parents. After a two-day conversation with his parents, we have settled on naming him Leo Arthur after his adopted grandpa.

Nov. 14, 2012

This last month has been torture. I’ve never been so continuously uncomfortable and in constant pain in my life. In the last two weeks, I’ve gained the weight I was afraid I would. He is getting so big my back hurts. I think my ribs are permanently bruised from his kicking them so much. Now, every day, I focus on the end and with it, my ability to diet and exercise again. I miss exercise. I miss being skinny. I miss energy and social connection. I’m excited to get my life back.

Nov. 30, 2012

Well … today is my due date. I’m still pregnant. Every day I wake up, thinking, “Today is a good day to have a baby.”

Dec. 5, 2012

8 a.m.

I didn’t sleep well last night. This morning I woke up more uncomfortable than I’ve ever been. There is pressure from my stomach pushing down. The doctor said I don’t need to come in until my contractions are three to five minutes apart.

10 a.m.

I’m starting to feel slightly uncomfortable pain. I think it might be the start of my contractions, but I’m not really sure.

2 p.m.

These are definitely contractions. I can’t breathe, the pain is so bad. I don’t care if the hospital sends me home, at least they will send me home with something to dull the pain. I sent him a text to tell him I was going to the hospital. We’ve been in contact throughout my pregnancy but continually fighting.

Dec. 6, 2012

My beautiful baby boy Leo was born this morning. The hospital admitted me around 6 p.m. After the epidural, it was a waiting game. I didn’t sleep. He lay down on the couch by my bed and fell asleep. Kristen and Brian got to the hospital at 2 a.m. I said I wanted to meet them right before I started pushing. I wanted to meet my son’s parents before I gave them this amazing gift. I started wondering what they were like, what it was going to be like meeting them. I thought about what it was going to be like hearing my son cry for the first time. What would it be like to not have him anymore? The moment I saw her, then him, enter my hospital room, a big smile came across my face. They both rushed over and each gave me a hug. Soon they left, and it was time to push.

I held him today. I was so scared to hold him. I have held so many babies before, but holding my baby was different. I was amazed that just a few hours ago this being was inside of me. Even living through the process of giving birth, I still couldn’t understand how he was finally here. I just stared at him thinking, “This is my baby.”

Dec. 8, 2012

The first night, we all had dinner together in Kristen’s and Brian’s hospital room. They were given their own room so they could stay in the hospital with Leo. We spent all night getting to know each other. I hadn’t spoken to them directly since the interview a few months ago. I feel comfortable with them. I don’t think any of us are nervous around each other. We all get along so well, it’s like spending time with friends while taking turns holding the most precious child in the world. All of us standing around with nothing but endless love to give to our son. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of. Kristen and Brian love Leo so much. Brian holds Leo every second he can; it’s precious.

Dec. 9, 2012

The birth father and I met Kristen, Brian, and Karen to sign the final paperwork, giving up parental rights of our son. Graceful Adoptions has temporary custody of Leo until the court hearing in a few weeks. After we signed the paperwork, we all went to lunch. He and I spent time holding Leo. This was one of the last moments we got to spend with him.

Dec. 10, 2012

It’s finals week, and I can’t focus.

Luckily my finals schedule isn’t too bad. It’s nice, because last week I was not able to get anything done due to being miserably pregnant. I find it hard to care about school right now.

Dec. 13, 2012

Leo went home with his parents today. We all met at the Hamburg Inn and had breakfast together. Kristen started crying when we were all saying goodbye. I could tell she was devastated to be taking Leo from me, but there was also such deep gratitude in her eyes for giving them this precious being. I could not have picked better parents for my son. I’m excited to see what the future brings for them and for all of us. I can’t wait to see them again. I miss him already.

Feb. 24, 2013

Leo is almost 3 months old now. Since leaving Iowa, he’s grown so much. Kristen and I talk at least once a day. She tells me about their lives, and I keep her updated on things going on in my life. She sends me at least one picture of Leo almost every day. She sends a video of Leo and a list of all the new things he is doing at least once a month. He is really strong and is already trying to sit himself up. He loves being held up on his feet but hates “tummy time.” We anticipate he will be walking in no time. He makes squeaking noises and babbles a lot. Kristen says he sings and dances to music. He smiles a lot.

I’m very thankful she takes the time every day to let me into their lives and keeps me up to date on Leo. Life is busy and stressful enough with a newborn baby, but adding to it taking pictures and keeping the birth mom updated every day — it’s a lot of energy. I miss him a lot.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake and that I should have my son with me. I cried a lot for the first month he was gone. Even now, I cry every once in a while because I miss him. In all honesty, this is the best thing I could have done for my son, and I did it completely out of love for him. He now has the perfect parents that give him so much love. I have no doubt they will raise him to be the best person he can be, and they will also be able to provide him with every opportunity to reach any goal he has for his life. I’ll always be there. I’ll always be involved and always be cheering him on and loving him from a distance.

I am going to Ohio in March to spend a few days with Kristen and Brian and Leo. I’m so excited to hold my baby again. I’m excited to spend time with Kristen and Brian. We have decided that while I’m there, we are going to get matching tattoos in honor of our son. It was Kristen’s idea.

From the Parents: Kristen and Brian

We chose Graceful Adoptions because someone that I (Kristen) had grown up with had adopted through it. Creating our profile was terrifying and frustrating. You’re trying to write a document in which, in a paragraph and a couple of pictures, you try to explain your entire life and personality. You’re writing a document that, for better or worse, someone is going to judge you for.

I would say that once we were matched with Callie, we were excited, but waiting for Leo to arrive was always stressful just because with adoption, it’s never a sure thing until well after it happens. We had just gotten home from work, and Karen said, “Callie’s been admitted to the hospital.” I (Kristen) started yelling “RED ALERT, RED ALERT.”

It was totally surreal. You spend a year getting ready to adopt a child, and when you finally get matched with someone, there is so much around not knowing if it’s going to happen. Then when we finally got to the hospital, it was like, this is it. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for forever.

We first saw [Leo] in the transition room. I think we were both crying. We thought he was beautiful. It was a big relief. It was the first time where you really felt everything come to a closure and that everything was going to work out.

He’s a part of our family, and we involve him in everything we do. It’s hard to remember life before he was here. I hope that we have an awesome relationship with Callie that lasts a really long time. I think it’s been pretty amazing so far. I always say to Brian, maybe we should stop with Leo. I don’t think we will get this lucky again. I already feel as though Callie is my family, and I see that just growing and merging more.

>> Click here to view an interview with the author on Daily Iowan TV.

Birth photos by Rachel Jessen
Multimedia by Adam Wesley and Callie Mitchell

 

Callie Mitchell’s story is one of many. Demographically, women aged 18 to 24, low-income women, and cohabiting women account for the highest unintended-pregnancy rates in the United States.

According to research published in 2012 by the Guttmacher Institute, the highest rate in 2006 was among women aged 20 to 24. As a result, 43 percent of those pregnancies ended in abortions, and 48 percent ended in birth. The other 9 percent accounted for spontaneous fetal losses and stillbirth.

In general, women who correctly use contraceptives only account for 5 percent of unintended pregnancies. In 2007, the National Council for Adoption Survey reported 33,502 adoptions by private agencies and individuals in the United States and 763 in Iowa.

Several resources are available throughout the state and nation to help women and couples get informed and make decisions about their future.

 

University of Iowa Family Services: Adoption resources
University of Iowa Counseling Services
Planned Parenthood
Emma Goldman Clinic
Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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