The Selfless Choice: Michelle Guykema
“A birth mother puts the needs of her child above the wants of her heart.”
~ Skye Hardwick
When it comes to making a plan for adoption, birth mothers face a lot of pushback. Stigmas surrounding their choice claim they areirresponsible or just looking to take the easy way out. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Choosing adoption is an excruciating and selfless journey. It is not something that can be decided flippantly, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.
For Michelle Guykema, she’d always wanted to be a mother. It was her ultimate life goal. But, when she became pregnant unexpectedly at eighteen, she didn’t have the resources or lifestyle to adequately make her dream come true. Hence, her path to adoption began.
The following interview is used with Michelle’s permission, including the use of her name and that of my birth father. Names of others involved have been left purposefully nondescript for the sake of privacy or legal reasons. There were so many details shared that not everything was able to make it into this article; however, Michelle has voiced the desire to write a book about her adoption journey, which she hopes to have published one day.
Disclaimer: Please note that the following worldview illustrated in this interview is a reflection of my birth mother’s beliefs and her experience. Adoption Choices Inc. is a non-faith based adoption agency, and ensures clear communication with all parties from beginning to end.
RR: What was your path to adoption like?
MG: So, when I found out I was pregnant, I was very surprised because I was on the pill. Your birth father and I had a good relationship for a while, but then when he got into drinking and doing drugs, it changed the dynamics of our relationship. He became abusive. He didn’t want you, so I asked my mom and my stepdad if they would help. They were just newly married, though, so they couldn’t do anything about a new baby coming.
I was only working part time and still living with my mom and stepdad. I talked to the pastor of my church — I was working in the daycare, working Sundays and Wednesdays — and he said that he knew of somebody that could help me through the adoption process.
We hired an attorney. I can’t remember who recommended the attorney. If she was recommended by my pastor or not, but through the course of my pregnancy, I was having a really hard time because I didn’t want this. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. That I didn’t have the means to take care of you, and I was still living with my parents. Bob wasn’t any help; he didn’t have a job, no money and still living with his parents.
The attorney said she would help us find a family. My pastor was active in the process as well, and said that he would also help us find a family. We met with the attorney several times and she encouraged us to sign the adoption papers right away, but I wouldn’t.Bob signed the papers a couple months later, in March,but I was still holding on for some kind of miracle that I was going to be able to keep you.
RR: How did you select the adoptive parents?
MG: I was given several packets of biographies from different families — I think either seven or nine, but can’t remember — and I read through each one of them. I was like, “I don’t know how to do this. I have no idea how to make this decision.” But I remember sitting on my bed and just praying and crying…I was so overwhelmed. It’s like, how am I supposed to pick who I’m going to give my child to? I don’t know any of these people, and people can put anything down on paper.
So, I turned all the profiles upside down and shuffled them around on my bed. I prayed over every single one and said, “Ok, Lord. You’re picking the family, because I don’t know who they are and You can see what’s going on. I have no idea, so I’m putting my total trust in you.” I closed my eyes, reached down, and took a deep breath. In that moment, I was thinking, “Ok, if I don’t like the person or their name, I can just throw them back in the pile.” (Laughs) But no…I trusted God and chose the packet I picked up, and it was your adoptive parents, Mark andPatty.
After that, I contacted my pastor and he contacted the attorney, and then…I honestly don’t remember a lot of all the moving pieces because it was so emotional for me. This was the hardest decision I have ever made. But we went through the process of what it was going to be like.
RR: Was it your choice to have a closed adoption?
MG:When I talked to my attorney, I told her that I would like to get pictures of you, see who you were, watch you grow up from afar and to have a relationship with you. Stuff like that. I asked her if that would be possible. She told me that your adoptive parents — the interested party — didn’t want to have an open adoption. It needed to be closed. I guess closed adoptions were popular back then, but anyways…I didn’t really feel like I had a choice. It was something I had to agree to.
RR: What did you know about adoption starting out?
MG: I didn’t know anything about adoption. My brother was adopted, but I didn’t really understand what that entailed and it never mattered. He was my brother and I loved him like he was my natural brother. I hadn’t researched ahead of time because frankly, I really didn’t know where to start. Because of that, I hadn’t educated myself to the degree that I should have to understand all the ins and outs. Adoption also wasn’t talked about back then as it is now.
RR: Did you ever feel stigmatized or judged for your choice?
MG: So…not many people knew. There was my mom and stepdad, and a few family members, Bob’s family and a few of his friends but for the most part, I kept it quiet and hidden because I didn’t want people to know. What would people think of me? The thought of people not liking me because I gave my child up? Yeah, that was scary to me because you get judged as, you know, you don’t love your child or whatever…those people don’t understand what birth parents go through. I loved my daughter more than I loved myself. I wanted her to have a better life with parents who could afford to give her the best life possible, employed, a stable and loving home, who would have more children and older than eighteen years old. That is why I had to do what I did, to give her the best life possible.
So yeah…I think that I was pretty nervous to tell people. Not only nervous but it was going to be painful to relive my decision over and over when people asked me, “Well, I thought you had a baby. Where’s your baby?” It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
RR: How did you keep your pregnancy hidden?
MG: When I was with Bob, my circle of friends didn’t like him too much, so that was easy not telling them, because I didn’t see them anymore. We mainly hung around Bob’s friends and family. Bob had his own group of friends that he ran with, and I sort of incorporated myself into that. He was like the leader, and all of his friends were very protective of me.
I lived with Bob at his parents house for a few months and when we weren’t camping, we stayed in a lot. We were always at his house or at his best friends’ house. Then, during the 2nd term of my pregnancy, we rented our own house on Education Hill. We were only there, though, for probably two or three months because we couldn’t pay rent.
RR: Were your parents supportive when you told them you were pregnant? What was their reaction?
MG:Their first reaction was shock. They started asking me all these questions, like: how are you going to do this? Do you know how much a baby costs? You don’t even have your own place yet. You know, typical things like that. Next was concern. Saying, “Ok, you’re pregnant. You’re going to have a baby. You need to move back home with us. You need to start eating healthy. You need to start taking prenatal vitamins.” Stuff like that.
They did not like Bob. They tolerated him towards the end of my pregnancy because I kept hoping he’d change his mind and want to keep you
At one point, though, after the shock wore off, I think I was 3 months along when I told them I was pregnant, my mom and stepdad became very active in my pregnancy. They went to Lamaze classes, they went for walks with me every day, made sure I was eating healthy and taking my vitamins. Went to my doctor appointments with me and even sat me down and said that they wished they could help. That if there was any way they had the finances, they would take care of you. But, because they were newly married and had just bought their first house, they were financially strapped.
I was 6 months pregnant with you when Bob signed the papers. I started hanging out with my parents more. I moved back in with them, and they were there for me through everything.
RR: How did you process and grieve after the adoption?
MG:After I signed the papers, on the day you were born, my attorney told me I had three days to change my mind. No one ever told me that it had to be in writing. Just that I had three days after I signed the papers. So, on the third day, I called my attorney. I was freaking out, and told her I had changed my mind. She basically told me that I had run out of time and that because it wasn’t in writing, there was nothing she could do. Calling her was a knee-jerk reaction. I didn’t actually know what I was going to do if I got you back. All I knew was that I hurt so deeply, missed you so much and I had to figure out a way to stop the pain.
I spent three months in my room at my parent’s house. Sobbing uncontrollably, and rocking myself like I was holding you on my bedroom floor. I got really depressed. Saying goodbye to you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I isolated myself, and didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t even talk to Bob or make an attempt to see him. My heart broke when he signed the papers 3 months before you were born, and broke again when I had to give you over to the nurse so she could take you to your new family. In my heart, Bob and I were over then. Although, we didn’t officially break up until the December after you were born.
I couldn’t work at the church nursery for a good three or four months. My pastor told me that the adoptive parents he’d found for you were part of his church, so when I did start at the daycare again, every single baby…I wondered if it was you. I asked my mom if I would be able to recognize you. If I would know I was holding my own child. She told me that we wouldn’t have the same connection, but that it was probably possible that I would. So, I never stopped looking. Every time I saw someone pushing their baby in a stroller, or walking down the street with their daughter. I would always wonder if I’d catch a glimpse of you. I thought about you every day. Prayed for you. Celebrated your birthdays with you. Never gave up hope that one day I would meet you.
RR: How have you found healing?
MG:No one tells you the amount of strength you’ll need to get through this…to continue to go through life. It’s like a death. But, in some aspects, death would be easier. Because while I was grieving the loss of not having you, I knew you were out there with somebody and I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t know what was going on in your life. It was hell.
There’s no way I could have done this without God. He was my focus. My center. He was the reason that I was able to put you up for adoption. I didn’t believe in abortion. That wasn’t even an option. It never crossed my mind. I encompassed everything in my life around God. Listened to Christian music, started going to church a lot more, and became even more active than I had been before. I also read my Bible, and grew my relationship with Christ. Without Him…I didn’t want to be here…so, He is how I got through it.
RR: What was the most challenging aspect of your adoption journey?
MG: I feel that my attorney didn’t give me all the information I should have had. I feel like because I was young, she didn’t think this was any big deal for me. That I wasn’t given the full picture of what things were going to look like. Also, that she was doing this more because it was a job. She wasn’t looking out for my best interest.
Because this affected me so deeply, I really believe that this is why I have a difficult time with trusting people. Why I have to ask a bazillion questions first. Giving up a child is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to go through, and you want to have people that you can trust. Your attorney should be the one person you can trust the most, because they are supposed to be representing you. I don’t feel like she did that for me.
RR: If there was one, what would be a highlight of your adoption journey?
MG: The Lord honored His promise. He put you with the best family, and they took care of you and loved you as their own. So, in my mind, that makes them amazing parents. And, you’re beautiful! You are just so amazing, and I’m so blessed that I can have you and your parents as a part of my life. The Lord is faithful! He promised, and He took care of you.
RR: What advice would you give to other birth mothers looking to place, and other adoptive parents looking to adopt?
MG:For birth mothers…seriously, do your research. Get as much information as you can. Absolutely make sure what the laws are, and your rights. If you have questions, ask. Don’t leave any holes open. This will affect you the rest of your life.
To adoptive parents…protect your heart as much as you can until you know the child is yours. The risk of falling in love with the child, and things falling through is there. Whether the birth mother changes her mind or something else happens. Always be prepared.