When Michelle Thorne found herself unexpectedly pregnant, her world suddenly fell apart. Lost and alone, all she could think about was killing herself or, “at the very least,” miscarrying. Calling her pregnancy a “mistake,” she was convinced that God was punishing her.
But over the course of the next few months, as she waited out her pregnancy in a maternity home, she came to realize that there was another plan in store for her — one that involved adoption, God, freedom and an adoptive family.
In her honest and inspiring new memoir, Delivered: My Harrowing Journey As A Birthmother, Michelle recounts the story of how she went from an unplanned pregnant to the happily married mother of two she is today. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about her journey and how adoption has changed her.
Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. What did you know about open adoption at the outset of your pregnancy?
About what the average person knows, that you give your baby to new parents. I had no idea all of the things that adoption encompasses and just how beautiful it can be. This is part of why I felt so stuck and was looking for alternative ways out.
You describe yourself at the time as selfish, but not stupid. And yet you still resisted open adoption — why?
Fear. I had such fear of going through with the pregnancy. I knew that being pregnant and not married was a social stigma. Less so today, but at the time I didn’t want anyone to perceive me as anything other than perfect, which of course,. I wasn’t.
So what made you change your mind?
I had a moment in the car alone when I felt like God spoke to me and said, “This baby is not for you.” That may seem harsh or overly intense to some, but I was somewhat relieved. The weight of the burden for raising a child is not something I took lightly. I knew then I would definitely choose adoption no matter what.
I thought there might be a formula, but when I started to do the research and went into Mercy Ministries, I found that adoptions are as unique as the individuals involved in them. My experience and my hopes for this little person could be tailored to fit my desires.
Your thoughts and feelings about open adoption are directly tied to your relationship with God. How did one help you understand the other?
I think placing a child for adoption has helped me understand the father heart of God. I fell in love with my little boy from the first moment, and not because he had done anything. I loved him simply because he was mine, and I believe that is how God loves us. His love for us is before a good or bad performance, and we can have confidence in that.
This revealing lesson revolutionized my view of God, and now I can live my life in response to that love. In all, my experience as a birthmother has been a catalyst for healing in all areas of my life. Without my journey to and through adoption I would not be who I am, I would not see God the way I do, today. Adoption is part of my freedom, part of my abundant life.
Finding a family for your baby, you said, was fun but draining. I understand the draining part. But the fun part? Tell me about that…
It was fun to get to know so many different people through the parent profile books they had, no doubt, methodically put together. To me, it was like visiting a beautiful house of a friend’s friend and being aloud to look inside all the rooms. I would imagine my baby there in those houses and with that dad’s interests.
I would think about the siblings, if there were any, and consider the mother’s involvement on a daily basis. It was like I got to create his story, which was sure to be much more rich of an experience than I could give him.
As you went through the parent profiles, you worried that you were being too picky. Was there ever a time when you felt that you wouldn’t find the right family or that you were being forced to make an unnecessary compromise?
No. Mercy Ministries was exceptionally accommodating. I was told to take my time, look through as many books as I needed, and if I still couldn’t agree on one, then they would find a family that suited me. So, I didn’t feel like I compromised at all. Dylan is still thriving in his home with his lovely parents 12 years later.
One of your fears about placing Dylan for adoption was that you thought it would scar him for life– that “he would not feel loved because the woman who gave birth to him had given him away.” How did you eventually conquer that fear?
Honestly, I kept that one hidden for a long time. It was on a visit to my friend Lindsay’s house that God revealed to me that Dylan was okay. Here is an excerpt from the book recounting the event.
I was recently at my friend Lindsay’s house with my children for the afternoon. Lindsay and her husband adopted their son, Grayson, at birth a few weeks before Cadence was born. He is a bright, happy boy, full of life and mischief. I love him.
When it came time for us to leave, Cadence did not want to go.
I looked at her and said, “We have to go home and see Daddy.”
To which she responded, “Daddy!” with such delight that I had to smile as she ran for the door.
Grayson looked up at me with his beautiful baby blues and said, “Up.” I immediately bent down and picked him up.
“Ah! Do you want to come home with me?”
He vehemently shook his head yes, and then he said, “Daddy.”
I am not sure if I can describe for you the feeling I felt at that moment. I believe the earth shifted under my feet. I couldn’t speak.
After a moment I kissed him twice and then looked at my friend and said, “That is the sweetest thing I have ever seen.” He heard the word daddy and he wanted to go to his.
I think you can learn very big things in very small moments. In that moment, I felt like Dylan’s daily joy and pain would have little, if anything, to do with me. I was one part of who he was, and because his parents were honest and open with him about his adoption and why I chose that for both of us, I felt in my heart that I no longer needed to fear that I had permanently damaged him.
The subtitle of your memoir is “My Harrowing Journey As A Birthmother.” Looking back on it today, what was the most harrowing part?
It was the day and following two weeks after I saw Dylan for the last time. Hands down. The grief was so intense and so constant that I couldn’t move without feeling its sting. I describe in the book a moment when I told myself to simply breathe. This is the part that everyone fears, but looking back, it was so brief compared to all the time since then, the time spent in joy and thankfulness for his life.
You write that when people hear that you’re a birthmother, they have no idea what to do with the information. What are some of the some of the typical reactions you’ve gotten and how do you respond to them?
I have had people ask me how I could give my baby away. I have had people tell me I shouldn’t talk about it, or that they could never do what I did. My reactions are mostly scripted now.
“I placed my child for adoption because I wanted his upmost good as far as it could be obtained, and I knew I could not provide for him the way he deserved to be provided for.”
“You are only as sick as your secrets.”
“You don’t know what you can do until you are faced with that choice,” or “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”
That’s for the Bible reading folks out there.
The most prominent reactions I get are stories of adoption. Anything from the most amazing story of a baby longed for to horror stories of birthmothers changing their minds after the parents have bonded with the baby seems to be fair game. Because I am talking about it, others feel the freedom to talk as well. I like that. I think we need to talk more about adoption and demystify what is a beautiful way to have a family.
And yet, even in this age of social media, you point out that it’s hard to connect with other birthmothers. Why is that?
In my 12 years since becoming a birthmother, I have only met a few women who were willing to talk about being a birthmother, and almost always their openness is in response to mine. However, since publishing Delivered, women are coming out of the woodwork to connect with me.
I believe that birthmothers are the forgotten, or perhaps hidden, piece in the triptych of adoption, and I think that we all have a story to tell, a voice. I am hopeful that more birthmothers will begin to speak out and tell their side of the story. I know that every time I talk about my experience as a birthmother I get to celebrate life, and that is a very freeing thing indeed!
You spoke to a gathering of birthmothers earlier this month. What was your message to them?
My message at the Birthmom Buds’ retreat was one of hope. I have found that placing a child for adoption is like the death of a child. It is a process to grieve the loss and then, move into a celebration of that life. Grief is so intense at first, but as it wanes it makes room for joy. I thought for a long time that if I was not in the throws of depression that I was forgetting my baby.
However, when I began to rejoice in the life that he has now, the life that I gave him, I found that I remembered him more often, and that it brought me a lot of freedom and joy. I talked about how we, as birthmothers, must grieve and we must also celebrate.
What lessons do you want expectant parents who are considering adoption and waiting adoptive parents to take away from your story?
For expectant parents and waiting parents, I would hope that they read my story and see the heart of one birthmom, how adoption can be healthy and beautiful, and that they should feel free to really celebrate their child. Perhaps the last one is the most important. Because Dylan’s adoptive mother, Noel, was so excited and so in love from the first moment, it really helped me in my grief and healing. I knew I could trust her. I knew she loved him the way I did, and that was a very powerful thing.
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