Pregnant at 14, Macy & Liam Made a Loving Open Adoption Plan

Macy and Liam were 14 when they found out they were pregnant. They felt scared and lost. But Holt in Wisconsin helped them make a loving open adoption plan for their daughter. 

Right after she turned 14, Macy found out she was pregnant. She felt scared, stressed out, sad and lost.

“We didn’t know what we were supposed to do,” she says today through a video call, sitting in her backyard in Wisconsin with Liam. It’s nearly a year later from this time she’s describing — the beginning of their unplanned pregnancy and adoption story.

When Macy got pregnant, Liam was also just 14. For him, money was one of the biggest obstacles  — he had no clue how they would financially support a child.

It was late May and they were just finishing their freshman year of high school. Liam was excited to play football over the summer and in the fall, and Macy couldn’t wait for school to be out so she could spend more time with friends and family.

But suddenly, instead, they had a huge decision to make.

With the support of family and friends, they decided to go to a pregnancy center that referred them to Holt in Wisconsin. Here, they met Sheri, an adoption social worker, who talked them through all of their options.

Over the course of five months, Sheri met with them to talk about how they were feeling, about their hopes and dreams for high school and beyond, and about what they wanted for their baby. She helped them process their thoughts and questions, and never pressured them about their final decision.

“[It’s] kind of like counseling because it was a lot to handle — but kind of in a good way,” Macy says. “We learned about options.”

One of these options was open adoption. Open adoption is when the birth parents choose the adoptive parents for their child, and remain a part of his or her life as they grow up. Birth parents and adoptive parents make this unique arrangement together, and it can change over time if the birth parents wish. Birth parents’ involvement in their child’s life can be anything from receiving regular photos and email updates to occasional visits to regularly attending birthdays and holidays and soccer games throughout their child’s life.

Macy and Liam decided to move forward with an open adoption plan.

“We just kind of realized, like, we’re 14 and have our whole lives ahead of us to have kids,” Macy says, “and there’s so many families looking to adopt, so we should give them a chance.”

Their next step was to choose their baby’s adoptive parents.

Holt Wisconsin presented them with the profile books of several different adoptive families. In these profile books, potential adoptive families share about themselves, their jobs, what they like to do, why they’re adopting, and anything else about themselves that they think is important for the birth parents to know.

This step in the process was a bit different for Macy and Liam because Macy’s parents knew of a couple that wanted to adopt — Sarah and John. Macy and Liam’s parents met with Sarah and John several times, then Macy and Liam decided they’d like to consider Sarah and John in addition to some of the other families whose profile books they viewed. Macy and Liam decided to meet them.

“It was at a restaurant,” Liam says about their first time meeting. “It was a little awkward at first.” But by the end the conversation felt easy, and they all left smiling. Macy and Liam had a good feeling about this family.

Even though they had already met, Sarah and John still put together a quick digital version of a profile book so that Macy and Liam could learn more about them.

“They like to travel,” Liam says about what stuck out to him from their profile. “The biggest thing we liked about them is that they’re younger, they like to do fun stuff with friends.”

Macy and Liam saw that if they placed their baby with Sarah and John, he or she would have an active, fun and full life.

“Reading their profile book gave us a good feeling,” says Macy, “like, these are the type of people we would want to be when we’re older and having kids.”

Throughout Macy’s pregnancy, she and Liam continued to get closer to Sarah and John. Although, they still had some doubts.

“We were 95 percent sure about it,” says Liam, about choosing adoption. He and Macy still wondered what it would be like to meet their baby, to hold her. They wondered if they would be able to go through with their decision.

Then one day in early February, the time finally came. They all rushed to the hospital, and after a very quick delivery, Macy gave birth to a baby girl. Sarah and John joined Macy and Liam in the delivery room just minutes after she was born. They named her Chloe.

“They had their own room in the hospital right next to us,” says Macy about Sarah and John. “So we got to spend the whole two days together, we were in each other’s room a lot of the time.”

Macy and Liam got their own special time with Chloe while in the hospital, too. They loved her, but knew that they weren’t ready to be parents.

“For me, I don’t think there was an exact moment I realized it was 100 percent what I want,” Macy says. “It was more like we took little steps, like the step meeting with Sheri and her teaching us about adoption, that was a good step. Meeting [Sarah and John] definitely made us feel better about the whole adoption process. Then, actually having [Chloe] and having her in the hospital, seeing her with them now, seeing them raising her so good… There were definitely times that I was like, ‘This was definitely our best decision.’”

Now, Chloe is a happy and healthy 6-month-old and Macy and Liam see her every three to four weeks. They often meet over dinner at Sarah and John’s house, and will usually stay late — talking long into the evening. Sarah and John also send them photos and updates about Chloe all the time.

“She knows we’re her biological parents,” Liam says about Chloe. “Not second parents, but mutual family.”

Seeing Chloe thrive with her adoptive parents continues to affirm the decision for Macy and Liam. And they’re so thankful they get to be a part of her life.

She’ll grow up a loving, supportive group of family and “mutual family” all around her. This is what’s most important for any child. Similarly, it was a strong support system of family, friends and Holt in Wisconsin that helped Macy and Liam along their adoption journey as well.

“I think if people, like high schoolers, are going through this, it’s definitely really hard,” says Macy. “[But it helps to] open up about adoption and accept the fact you’re young and you’re pregnant and you have to deal with everything that comes with that. So I would say, be positive, and there are so many people out there and talk about it.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing unplanned pregnancy in Illinois or Wisconsin, Holt is here for you. For confidential, compassionate and free options counseling, please call us at 800-Baby-Mom or text 630-205-5117.

*Names changed for confidentiality

Empowering Women, Strengthening Families Life Coaches Help Women Find Purpose

Meet Life Coaches Cindy Hank Stark and Sue Casey

After earning her undergraduate degree at Notre Dame and her MBA at Northwestern, Cindy Hank Stark ran her own business. But she soon realized how many financial, mental health, and relationship challenges people face, and even though she was well-educated, she wanted to enhance her skills in order to help her staff and clients tackle some of these issues.

“Even though I had an MBA, I wanted to add some tools to my skill set to help empower others,” says Cindy, who alongside her husband, Paul, has been a Holt adoptive parent for the past 25 years. For 24 years, Cindy and Paul volunteered as temporary caregivers, providing short-term care and full-time love to newborns waiting to be placed into their adoptive homes by Holt.

Sue Casey, a mother of three and grandmother to three, is Cindy’s longtime friend. She has been a teacher for 25 years and currently teaches special education at an elementary school in the Chicago Public School system.

“Sue and I decided together to get a life-coaching certification where we learned how to help others identify their strengths and weaknesses, and create a plan for their life,” says Cindy.

As trained life coaches, Sue and Cindy now lead monthly workshops for the women in Holt’s Empowering Women, Strengthening Families (EWSF) program, where they work alongside program supervisor Beth Ilnyckyi and social worker Loann Tan.

The comprehensive EWSF program provides case management support for eligible pregnant and parenting parents who seek to strengthen their family and are willing to work towards the goal of self-sufficiency.

The idea for the life-coaching workshop series came about a couple years ago during a brainstorming session between Holt Domestic Adoption & Birth Parent Services director Nancy Crouch, Loann, and Cindy.

“It was Nancy’s vision that got this going,” says Cindy.

In-person workshop prior to COVID

As they talked about what types of skills they wanted women to learn — such as self-esteem, budgeting, and healthy relationships — Cindy soon realized their ideas aligned with what she and Sue do as life coaches.

Sue recognized a skills-based workshop program would utilize both her life coaching and teaching strengths, and she came on board as the second facilitator alongside Cindy.

“We started working on this project and it became a passion,” says Cindy. “Even though we’re the facilitators, every time we do this, we learn something new.”

Tools to Create A Purposeful Life

Together, the EWSF team organized the life skills into eight modules and developed educational content such as worksheets and group exercises—all built around a tool called a “life wheel” that Cindy and Sue use as life coaches.

Image from Personalexcellence.co

A life wheel is a tool that allows a person to rate key areas of their life, such as family, spiritual, and career, with 1 being the lowest score and 10 the highest.

In the first of eight modules, a woman in the program creates her initial life wheel, which sets the foundation for the remaining workshops. Seeing these areas mapped out gives EWSF clients a clearer, visual snapshot of the areas of their life, so they can focus on specific areas of improvement.

”Hopefully we can help others through asking open-ended questions, finding their passion and purpose in their life, and [help them] become more confident in their daily living skills by putting more tools in their toolbox,” Cindy says.

SMART goals are another key concept of the workshops. Through this framework, women in the EWSF program develop specific, measurable goals, then work with Loann to take steps to meet those goals.

“Helping clients set SMART goals makes it easier for them to focus on being productive and motivates them, giving them a better chance of being successful,” says Loann. “It’s a thrill when they finally achieve their goals.”

Setting Women Up for Long-Term Success

After running a full session of in-person workshops last year, the team was able to reflect on the content presented and soon realized a comprehensive workbook would be an ideal tool to complement the workshops and organize the modules. The workbook would allow the women to refer back to the lessons and worksheets as they work on their goals, even after graduating from the program.

The team was thrilled with how the workbook turned out. “It’s a very thoughtful process,” Cindy reflects. “We begin in the perfect place, and we end in the perfect place, and everything in between has meaning.”

Transitioning to Virtual Workshops: “Our biggest fear was that nobody would participate.”

When COVID-19 hit last spring, and the workshops shifted to a virtual format, Sue was concerned they would lose some of the interaction and camaraderie the attendees experience in person. To keep the women engaged, she and Cindy spent extra time preparing the first module, modifying content and slides to present virtually.

While holding the workshops remotely eliminated health fears and issues like transportation, it did create new challenges such as technical glitches. Still, they persevered. The participants were committed to and engaged in the workshops.

“They asked superb questions.” Cindy says.

Sue recalls asking if anyone needed help with a section and one woman, Kiana, spoke right up and said she was struggling and needed help. “That allowed all the other women to be open,” adds Cindy.

With no end to COVID-19 in the near future, Cindy and Sue will continue to adapt the modules to present virtually and are also working on a facilitator’s guide to accompany the workbook and workshops.

When Nancy asked them what their number one hope is for women in the program, Sue said, “To be the best version of themselves as possible.”

For more information about the Empowering Women, Strengthening Families program eligibility, please contact Loann Tan at loannt@holtinternational.org or 630-754-4510.

Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are expected to be the most joyous time of the year. But for some families, it is the time of year that most intensifies both sadness and stress. Families who have been waiting for a child often feel additional grief and loss during the holidays. These feelings of emptiness can be overwhelming. The emphasis on children is highlighted during this season, often leaving childless families feeling isolated. I remember well the pain after attending countless events with my family and friends at which we were the only couple without children. I could barely escape without either crying or screaming, “Why me?” and “Where is my baby?!” My husband had to drag me to holiday parties and events. I would put a plastic smile on my face and say “I’m so happy to be here,” when in reality I wanted to hide in my bed and wait for the holidays to be over!

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From Trauma to Triumph: A Single Mom’s Story of Empowerment

When you look at Nina, you see a woman who has her life together. She’s a single mom to three thriving kids: Gemarion, Geniah and Gemir. She lives in a decent apartment in a quiet Chicago neighborhood. Her family always has food on the table, and her kids go to school. Moreover, she runs her own events planning business, fully incorporated and with its own office. And she has plans for the future of her business.

You wouldn’t think that a mere couple of years ago, Nina was jobless, near-homeless and desperate. She was so desperate that she found herself on the verge of placing all three of her kids for adoption.

Escaping a violent neighborhood

Having lived most of her life in one of Chicago’s inner-city neighborhoods, Nina was no stranger to violence. She lost a brother in a shooting incident. She herself was shot in the leg while just sitting in a parked car. Gun violence has become such a deep part of her life that she taught her kids a gun drill just in case a shooting happened.

Her turning point happened one morning a couple of years ago. Her cousin, who she considered more like a brother, was shot right on her porch. Inside the house, Nina was preparing breakfast for her babies. In that moment, she decided she couldn’t raise her family in a dangerous neighborhood. A short time after that, they moved to a neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs.

Hitting rock bottom

In moving to a quiet suburb, Nina and her children were safer. But in uprooting her family, she also pulled herself away from her source of income and her support system. She had been running a party planning business, and most of her clients came from the neighborhood she left behind. She was away from her family and friends, and she was pregnant with her third child.

Life for Nina became a struggle. She barely had the money to feed her family, much less pay her rent. She felt helpless and alone. Things got so bad that she couldn’t take care of herself, let alone the children who depended on her.

“After my third child was born,” Nina said, “I was in the hospital and I was talking to this nurse. I was telling her that, you know, ‘I’m kinda depressed. I’m feeling like I don’t want to do this, that I can’t do this. I don’t have nobody to help me.’”

Turning her life around

The nurse that took care of Nina at the hospital told her about Holt-Sunny Ridge. Holt-Sunny Ridge is a branch of Holt International and provides adoption services in Illinois and Wisconsin. Nina got in touch with the organization with a view towards placing her three children for adoption. What she didn’t know at the time was that Holt-Sunny Ridge had a new program in the works called “Empowering Women, Strengthening Families” (EWSF).

At Holt-Sunny Ridge, Nina was introduced to Loann Tan, one of Holt-Sunny Ridge’s case workers. Upon meeting Nina, Loann immediately saw that the bond between Nina and her kids was strong. She didn’t really want to place her kids for adoption.

“We have to do something about this,” Loann recalled thinking on the day she first met Nina. “I just feel you can have options, that you don’t have to feel that regret.”

With Loann’s help, Nina joined the EWSF program. Through the program, she received counseling and medical care, which helped her address her struggle with anxiety and depression. EWSF also gave her the tools she needed to get her life together. These included access to training on nutrition, personal finance, career development and many other areas that would help her build stronger life skills. She even received funds from the program to help with her rent, groceries and clothing for her kids. Loann was with her every step of the way.

From desperation to inspiration

Nina said that she enjoyed attending EWSF’s workshops and looked forward to them every month. She considered these meetings a much-needed break from the grind of everyday life. And she didn’t just receive training and resources at the workshop. She also got in touch with other women in similar situations as hers.

Soon enough, Nina regained her energy and drive through the program. She learned to manage her business, to set goals for herself and her kids, and to manage her day-to-day affairs by preparing ahead. Nina has restarted her business, formalizing it with incorporation papers, a physical office space, and employees. She has plans for expanding her business and having her own events venue. She also intends to go back to school and earn her business management degree. Most importantly, she is independently providing for her children, and able to give them the loving, devoted attention that all three of them deserve. She is a very hands-on mom.

“Nina has grown so much. It’s just amazing to see that. And I think that’s a blessing for me to feel that I’m a part of that,” Loann said.

Nina actively grows her business on Facebook. When she shares her story there, she often gets surprise reactions. People who heard her story couldn’t believe she was homeless, and people who know her couldn’t believe she’s running her own business.

“I’m not ashamed of my story, so I didn’t mind doing this,” said Nina. “I wanted to do it because I wanted people to see my strength, and I wanted people to know I’m not perfect.”

Nina also wants to inspire other women who find themselves in situations like hers. As a graduate of the EWSF program, she is now returning as a resource for other women in the program. She wants these women to see for themselves that, with support and tools, it’s possible for them to turn their lives around.

“I want them to remember to be strong,” Nina said. “And I want them to reach whatever it is in life that they’re trying to do. Don’t let anything hold you back from doing it and just step out on faith. And have a good support system if you can. Reach out to Holt-Sunny Ridge because they can definitely help.”

Learn more about Nina’s story in this video.

 

originally published by Linda Wilson, December 17, 2019

Welcome Home! Fall 2020

We’re celebrating with our Wisconsin and Illinois families as they grow!

Best wishes to Ben and Annie, and their son Matthew, who was born in November through our domestic program.

 

Sweet Claire was born in February through our domestic program and is already enjoying adventures with her parents Justin and Samantha.

 

Elliott was welcomed home by brother Gavin and parents Nathan and Kimberly in February through our interstate program.

 

Proud parents David and Christina welcomed home their daughter Raelynn in March through our interstate program.

 

Congratulations to Tom and Tina on the arrival of their daughter Michaela, who was born in March and placed through our interstate program. She joins proud big sister Adeline.

 

Elated big sister Ella and parents Maggie and Bill celebrated the arrival of Will, who was born in March through our domestic program.

 

Enoch and Katie welcomed their son Jonathan in May who was placed through our domestic program. May the force be with you!

 

In June, Rebekah and Oscar joyfully welcomed their daughter Elena, placed through our domestic program.

 

Matt and Kate delight in their daughter Ella, placed into their family in July through our domestic program.

 

Overjoyed parents Steve and Meghan finalized the adoption of their son Grady through our domestic program in July.

Congratulations to all our families!

For more information about Holt’s International Adoption Programs, click here.

For more information about Domestic Adoption, visit our website.

If you are pregnant and want to speak to one of our options counselors, please call 800-Baby-Mom 24/7.

Empowering Women: The Key to Strengthening Families

For many women, impending motherhood is a momentous event, often filled with laughter, joy, baby showers, nursery decorating, and bright hopes for the future.

But for women going through tough times who don’t have family or friends to support them, being a mother can be incredibly overwhelming — just to get through each day. They don’t think they can take care of themselves, much less their children. And sometimes, to give both their child and themselves the best chance to survive and thrive, they make the decision to place one or more of their children for adoption — even if they don’t really want to.

Over her 30 years’ of experience in social services, eight of them with Holt International, Nancy Crouch has seen more than her share of heartbroken mothers, sitting in her office in tears, facing this same dilemma. And as the director for domestic adoption and birth parents services at Holt-Sunny Ridge, Holt International’s Illinois and Wisconsin branch, Nancy is in the position to help empower these women and change their lives.

Holt-Sunny Ridge aims to change women’s lives through empowerment

“Providing hope to others has really become my life’s work,” Nancy says, “starting with empowering women — helping them learn the tools to become self-sufficient and to keep their family together. Giving them hope that things will improve in their lives, that they will have more self-esteem and feel capable of taking care of themselves and their children.”

Through her work, Nancy helps mothers who want to place their children for adoption to find peace in their decision. She also helps them cope with the grief and loss associated with adoption. But mostly, she tries to help women see that adoption isn’t the only option they have — that they can learn to take care of themselves and their children on their own.

This idea is the seed behind Holt-Sunny Ridge’s “Empowering Women, Strengthening Families” (EWSF) Program. According to Nancy, mothers who came to us who were considering adoption for their children are in crisis mode. They’re often out of work, homeless and alone. They don’t have family or friends or any form of support in place to help them.

Through a generous foundation grant, Nancy and her team were able to start EWSF. The fund is used to help struggling mothers and their children by providing everything from housing, food and transportation to childcare and clothing until they can get on their feet.

More importantly, the EWSF fund helps women become self-sufficient and able to independently parent their children through a range of programs. These programs include therapy and counseling, as well as workshops covering a wide array of topics, from career development to personal finance, from nutrition and healthy lifestyles to developing healthy relationships. The program takes a holistic approach to empowering women and paving a way for them to find success in their lives.

The EWSF program has provided services to mothers in crisis for over two years, with plans to grow as new partnerships form — providing additional funding and support through volunteerism. Nancy said there are many ways that corporations and organizations can get involved. One way involves teaching EWSF participants the nitty-gritty details of personal finance.

“Mainly, we teach our moms basic budgeting and opening a checking and savings account,” shares Nancy. “But some of our moms are ready for a higher level. They really want to analyze and build their credit, so they need more one-on-one support. They may want to learn about different types of savings programs and other ways to gain financial progress. We’re hoping to have volunteers with expertise in this area to be able to help them one on one with learning about different ways to manage finances.”

Empowering women does change lives

Nancy emphasizes that the EWSF program is structured to teach participants the life skills they need to have long-term success, not just offer short-term solutions. And through the program, Nancy has seen many women’s lives change for the better.

Nina, a single mom to three children, joined the EWSF program in March, 2018. Nina had a traumatic past, losing her mom at birth and growing up in a dangerous downtown Chicago neighborhood. Despite her difficulties growing up and having to raise two kids on her own, Nina managed to graduate high school and start her own party-planning business.

Things came to a breaking point shortly after she gave birth to her third child. Her cousin was shot and killed right on her front porch, forcing Nina to move her family to a quieter suburban neighborhood. However, the move put a stop to her business and took her away from her family. The pressures of having to provide for her children and herself without any income or family support made Nina desperate. It came to the point where she considered placing all three of her kids for adoption.

That’s when she learned about Holt-Sunny Ridge and the EWSF program. Through EWSF and the consistent help of a Holt-Sunny Ridge social worker, Nina saw that her situation wasn’t hopeless. With counseling and guidance, she slowly got back on her feet. The program helped cover childcare and provided tools she needed. By the time she graduated from the program in September, 2018, Nina had more self-esteem as a woman and as a parent, and she returned to her business with more skills to help her succeed.

As of this writing, Nina has a growing events-planning business, with her own office space and employees. She’s renting an apartment, has her own car, and is taking college courses. More importantly, she’s emotionally stable and feels more capable of successfully parenting and providing for her kids. Additionally, Nina gives back to Holt-Sunny Ridge by volunteering as a mentor for other moms in the EWSF program.

“What we’re trying to do is to remove all the barriers so that women can succeed,” says Nancy. “We’re looking to give women long-term solutions and tools to continue with their success.”

To learn about EWSF eligibility or to make a referral to the program, please contact Loann at loannt@holtusa.org.

 

 

Originally published by Linda Wilson on Nov 12, 2019

 

 

“My favorite part is holding and snuggling the babies!”

These Wisconsin families provide loving temporary care homes for babies awaiting permanent adoption placement

Occasionally newborns stay with one of our licensed temporary care families briefly before joining their families. Two Wisconsin families share their stories about why they became temporary care homes and what they love most about caring for the babies.

Meet Lucy

Who are the family members living at home?

I share my home with my dog Lewey.

What inspired you to become a temporary care home?

I have always loved babies and caring for them. I worked for 27 years in the school system helping children with fine motor skills. Being retired now allows me to stay home to help babies by taking care of them until they are placed in a new loving home.

How long have you been a temporary care home?

I have been a temporary caregiver for six years and have cared for nine sweet babies during that time.

What is your favorite part of helping the babies?

My favorite part of being a temporary caregiver is holding and snuggling with the babies. It also warms my heart to see the look on the parents’ faces when they see and hold their baby for the first time. It’s always a pleasure to continue to see my little ones and how they have grown and changed after they move on to their new home. Some I see in person, some by Facebook, emailed pictures, or a photo in a Christmas card. I always enjoy seeing them.

Meet Pete and Deb

Pete & Deb experienced years of infertility and know first hand how much every baby is wanted.  Deb also serves on the board of the local pregnancy resource center and has a heart for birth moms.  They long to provide a safe haven for the baby while the birth parents make decisions and adoptive parents wait, and for all to visit.

What inspired you to become a temporary care home?

We strongly believe God uses our past to prepare us for what He has for us in the future. Deb has 2 sets of cousins that were adopted.  Both joined her family when the babies were several months old. She always thought what an amazing job that would be to care for babies awaiting adoption.

How long have you been a temporary care home?

We were a temporary care home for 3 years.  We stepped down for a while to care for our grandchildren and are now back.

What is your favorite part of helping the babies?

Deb loves babies!  Her favorite part is holding & rocking them.  Ultimately, the best part is to see each baby grow up in a loving, nurturing home.

Do you have a special memory or story about one of the babies who was in your care?

We have cared for 7 babies. Each one is special and will always be in our hearts!  We have a wall with their pictures in our home.

Thank you, Lucy, Pete & Deb for providing loving care for the babies awaiting placement.

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