I have a dear friend named Stephanie who has been through a great deal of heartache, trial, and loss, and has handled it all with such grace. She has kindly accepted to allow me to share her inspiring story on my blog. Here it is in her own words:
You know what conclusion I've come to lately? Life is bizarre. Nobody has a perfect life and nobody is exempt from tragedy. We all make mistakes, we do stupid things, and sometimes stupid things happen to us. In an attempt to be more genuine about who I am, I would like to openly share something about my life. I have given a lot of thought into why I am not more open about this part of my life. Am I scared? Am I ashamed? No. Far, far from it. For many years I have not been open about this because I consider it to be sacred, not secret. I'm choosing to share it now because I'm tired of feeling like it is a secret, I want to be better understood, and I want to be courageous enough to share who I really am. I'm proud of the things I have overcome and the person that they have helped me to become. So here it is...
This is Mason. Mason recently turned eight years old. He is one of the greatest people I know. He's smart, he's the best big brother, he's super awesome at sharing, he's fun, he's a superstar athlete, and he's just an all-around really good little person with a very good heart. I may be a bit biased because I am Mason's birth mother. I placed Mason for adoption a little over eight years ago. This is a very real and very special and sacred part of my life that I'm very proud to be a part of.
There are few things more shameful, embarrassing, and blatantly on display for all to judge than being a pregnant teenager. It was a very hard time in my life and my family's life. A lot of feelings were hurt for everyone involved. It was a very fragile situation, with no seemingly perfect solution. In the end, a decision was made that would be best for Mason and that was to place Mason for adoption. For anyone to think the decision I made to place my child for adoption as selfish is a fool. I can't begin to describe the anguish I experienced coming to this decision and even coping with the decision years after. If anyone questions whether I was pressured into this decision- I will never forget my supportive, strong mother by my side in the recovery room when post-delivery hormones, tears, and emotions were at their pinnacle saying to me, "Stephie, I support you one hundred percent if you want to take this baby home with you." And I knew she meant it. The EASY thing to have done in that moment was to take Mason home with me and to raise him as my son with the help of family. Instead, I made the difficult but correct decision to place Mason for adoption.
Placing Mason for adoption was one of the most heart-wrenching things I've done but also one of the greatest blessings of my life. I got to be part of a real-life miracle! (I could literally write a novel about the whole experience and how freakishly well-orchestrated it all was, but I'll keep it brief.) It really is the coolest thing to be a part of. I know open adoptions aren't for everyone, but it has been the best thing for me and for Mason's sweet family. I feel very blessed to be part of their lives and for them to be part of mine. It's the most unique relationship you could ever find. I don't know if there is anything more special than finding a couple that you trust so much to hand over your child and accept that he is now "theirs." There is no jealousy, no guile, no awkwardness. Only love. So much love! Mason's parents are literal angels to me and I couldn't be more blessed to have them and his cute siblings in my life and I know Mason feels the same. I am SO proud to be Birth Mom Stephie!
To make this story even more interesting... I moved to Salt Lake City the second half of my senior year. Guess who else [miraculously] moved to that high school his senior year? My husband, Bennett. For the record, we maybe said three words to each other during that time and it wasn't until later when we were both freshmen at college that we became good friends. It really says a lot about Bennett's character for him to see me day after day going through this strange situation, not pass any judgment, and extend a hand of friendship to me. As that friendship eventually grew to love and marriage, Bennett has opened his heart to this unusual and special part of my life and has been very respectful about me keeping Mason and his family in my life—now OUR life. I am lucky to be married to such a kind and understanding person and I'm grateful that these unusual circumstances brought us together. For years, when people have asked how Bennett and I met, we have awkwardly brushed over it and have given a vague "we met briefly in high school," when the truth is that we have a very unique and remarkable story!
Fast forward to 3 and a half years into our marriage when Bennett and I were expecting our first child—a son of our own. For reasons unknown, our sweet little baby passed away just two weeks shy of his due date. Ralph was born on October 27, 2015, 5 lbs 8 oz, 19.5 inches long. It was heartbreaking to hold our perfect little son, wanting so badly for him to wake up, knowing he couldn't.
I share this sacred picture of Ralph because I want the world to know just how perfect he was—his cute little nose and ears, his replica of Bennett's lips, his soft skin, his monster hands and long toes, and his head of dark hair—and how seemingly unfair it is that he is gone. We have been so sad and devastated wrapping our minds around this reality, but our hearts are in the process of being healed.
Throughout this tragedy, I couldn't have asked for a better companion. I couldn't do it without Bennett. He has been constantly concerned for my well-being and a rock of faith the entire time. We cry together when we need to and we laugh together when we need it too. My heart bursts with love for Bennett and aches in pain to watch him tenderly mourn the loss of his son. He is the most incredible father to Ralph already.
We've experienced a roller coaster of emotions and I know that this emotional ride is far from over. As unfair as it seems and with so many "why?"s, Bennett and I still have found peace knowing that Ralph is safe and happy in the arms of our Heavenly Father. Families ARE forever and we will be reunited with Ralph someday.
And now when people ask "how many children do you have?" you can imagine how stumped I am. I have carried and delivered two baby boys and I have nothing to show for it. Yes, that is very confusing and downright depressing sometimes. BUT having Mason made me realize that not all tragedies are the end of the world and that they end up being major blessings (which, as hard as it is to imagine) makes me think that losing Ralph could somehow, some way bless my life. And losing Ralph makes me appreciate Mason's life that much more. It doesn't matter how Mason got here. He's here now and he belongs on this earth with his beautiful family.
If nothing else in this life, I've gained a lot of empathy AND apathy at the same time—nothing shocks me anymore. There's no need to be ashamed of who you are or what you've had to endure in this life. I am also a major advocate for adoption. It's a wonderful thing. By sharing my story I hope I can have more courage to unapologetically be who I am, and if I'm lucky, help someone else along the way.
I'm sure I will forever be awkward answering simple questions from strangers about my children, but that doesn't mean that Mason and Ralph don't cross my mind every time someone asks. Each of these sweet children hold a very special place in my heart and I want to honor each of them by sharing both of their stories and always loving them the best I know how. And for now, the best I know how is to thank them both publicly for helping me become the person I am today. In their own ways, I have handed each over to God and have trusted that everything will work out in the end.
I am a birth mother, I am a bereaved mother, and I am honored to hold both of these sacred titles.
***Note from Mae: After Stephanie wrote out her story, she gave birth to another son, Albee. Though his birth in no way minimizes the tragedy of losing Ralph, Stephanie and Bennett have found so much joy in welcoming Albee into their family. They are the best parents and they couldn't love their rainbow baby more! I am so thrilled for them and their sweetest new addition!