“Would you like to see the baby?” asked the sonographer.
Kate Gillen was 18 years old, in her first semester at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn., nearly three hours from home. She had no car. And she was 19 weeks pregnant.
“When I was dropped off at college, I still hadn’t told anybody. I used to wonder about those stories where women would say they had no idea they were pregnant – but now I know how easy it is to just block it out of your mind.”
She broke the news for the first time to her roommate, about a week after school started. Almost immediately her roommate jumped into action, offering a sympathetic ear, encouragement and logistical support.
Kate’s plan was to avoid looking at the ultrasound image. She was looking for information, not necessarily a baby. But the question hung in the air.
“Would you like to see the baby?”
Kate hesitated, then turned to look.
It was a boy. Now what, she wondered?
After holding this secret for far too long, Kate shared the news with her parents, who asked Kate if she had considered adoption. Kate wasn’t sure about this option, as she knew very little about it. Her mother helped connect Kate with a social worker, who immediately became Kate’s trusted advocate. The two of them worked together to sort out possible next steps. Before long, Kate began to receive inquires from well-meaning friends of the family and others in her life who wanted to adopt the baby. Kate felt overwhelmed with the prospect of having to choose among people she knew.
Then Kate learned about open adoption. She could choose from a list of pre-approved families, stay in contact with the parents and have a relationship with the child through the years.
Kate began the formal process of adoption when she was about seven months pregnant. She was given a couple of heavy three-ring binders to page through in what Kate said felt like about 20 or 30 minutes. She looked for families that resembled her own in many ways, including lifestyle, interests, thoughts on discipline, faith and financial stability. Her social worker arranged a meeting with the first of two families selected by Kate.
Kate felt a connection almost immediately. She loved that the couple, Joe and Lori, had already adopted a little girl and that her son would have a sibling. The family’s choice of a name, Michael, also resonated with her. Kate read the letters Joe and Lori had written to the adoption agency. This felt right to Kate. Shortly after meeting the family, Kate chose them to adopt her son.
Over the next two months, Kate’s relationship with Joe and Lori grew through phone calls and letters. One day, Kate went into labor at 4 a.m. on a Monday, during a snowstorm. Her mother had been visiting that weekend, and luckily was forced to extend her stay due to the weather.
Despite the weather, Joe and Lori made the three-hour drive to the hospital and patiently waited. Throughout the birth experience, Kate’s social worker managed logistics. Once Michael was born, she never wavered as Kate’s advocate, providing her with all the time she needed with the baby.
Kate, Joe and Lori continued to stay in touch. Photos and letters were exchanged through the years along with carefully planned visits. Michael’s birth father also stayed connected, although to a lesser degree. Michael, now 15, loves hearing his birth and adoption story. He talks openly about it with his friends, and his own questions are welcomed by Joe, Lori and Kate.
Today, Kate is president of Bellis, a multiservice nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing adoption awareness and education into schools and community groups. Founded in 1983, Bellis has no political or religious affiliation or agenda. The organization also provides support to birth mothers, with services including a healing weekend retreat, emergency grants and educational scholarships. The nonprofit was formerly known as Adoption Option Council of Minnesota.
Learn more about Bellis.