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When I listened to “Listening Beyond Life and Choice” on the airplane the other day, I found myself furiously scribbling down ideas like “listening for common values” and “understanding the other’s side”. More than a few times I’ve felt the discomfort of another person’s walls pushing against me, all the while holding on to belief that by staying present, staying honest, and staying open, we won’t necessarily agree, but we all grow in understanding, acceptance and compassion. My story begins with my unplanned pregnancy. Nearly six years ago I stood in my bathroom staring at a plastic divining rod which read “PREGNANT”. I dropped to my knees to beseech any God that would hear me. From some subconscious well within bubbled up my hearts deepest wishes for this growing life. Aloud, I blurted my pregnancy mission statement: “I will choose what provides the most loving and stable circumstances for this baby”. Women stared incredulously at me when I’d confide that I didn’t know whether or not I would raise my baby or give him up for adoption. After all, combine society’s still prevalent gender expectations with a (now “Jack”) Mormon upbringing where procreation is deemed my highest earthly duty, and I should have been elated. Instead I was terrified. A year before, I'd moved from San Francisco to a small resort town in Idaho to be "a mountain girl". Steve and I had been hiking buddies for a year before we engaged in a romantic relationship. He was ten years my senior, bright, adventuresome, loved the outdoors, hard working and kind. I, on the other hand, was struggling with my identity, my faith, and my long term goals. Quickly I realized I wasn’t ready for a relationship, but the train was moving, and I was having trouble getting off. When people found out I was pregnant, they would first ask me questions about my use of birth control, which I'd stopped taking after our breakup, but we had an unprotected “we feel lonely” reunion. Then they’d ask, “Did you ever consider an abortion?” The truth is I didn’t. It appears I contracted a responsibility bug ex-post-facto; I was 30 and healthy, had a job with benefits, and felt my original negligence could and should be countered by my choice to remain pregnant. I explored every other option, however. I hadn’t seen many successful long-term shotgun weddings, I saw lots of people using their kids as pawns in their own relationship struggles, and after working with a couple of pregnancy support groups, being a single mom did not match my ambitions for my baby. So what did Moses’ mom do with her son when she knew his future circumstances weren’t looking so good? She sent him to the Raft-of-Reeds-Adoption-Center in hopes he’d find a better life. This solution settled in like an irrefutable fact; finding a family to adopt my son was indeed the best choice. Two months into my diligent decision-making process I’d arranged a meeting between Steve, me and my therapist where I would announce my desire to seek adoption. My solution was met with adamant disregard. With equal conviction, Steve informed me HE would adopt our son. I later learned a parent doesn’t adopt their own child; rather, they exercise their parental rights. “But this is My body, My child, My choice”, I proclaimed. Already exasperated by shocked and shaming looks from moralistic neighbors who learned I got knocked-up, I’d now lost a say in my son’s future. I felt trapped. So began our joint-decision-journey towards my due date. Countless discussions (and dollars spent) with attorneys and mediators produced a co-parenting agreement promising a quasi-normal upbringing for our son. Before the ink could dry, however, I knew this was not “our final answer”. As the pregnancy progressed, I’d frequently awake from dreams where I would give birth and my son would then disappear, while intuitive nudges telling me I was not to raise this little boy were becoming more frequent. I kept praying I would fall in love with Steve enough to marry him. Instead of that happening, a deep sense of trust and confidence in his ability to raise our son settled upon me. I didn't know why, or for how long, or how things would all work out, I just knew I needed to step out of the picture, and all would be well. After childbirth, and three wonderful days with Steve, Dawson and I in the hospital together, I walked away from the two most significant men in my life. I cried until I almost threw-up, and then I cried even more. I rented a U-haul, packed up, and with tears blurring my view, I drove to a new state to start a new life. “Let’s see how things work out”, we agreed. I speculated Steve would meet a woman, marry, and they would raise our child. Instead, Steve was diagnosed with a tangerine-sized kidney tumor 9 months later, which would determine our next steps. During Steve's first week of chemo, I brought Dawson to my home. I’d taken off work so that we could spend time together. Each day we would go to the park and lie on blankets under trees and snuggle, but by night, him nestled in his crib, I would cry. Damn, this was still not the answer. Cancer was taking its toll; Steve's frail figure was wracked with pain and we knew time was short to make important decisions. I admitted it still didn’t feel right for me to raise Dawson. I asked Steve if based on his acquired experience as a single dad he felt it was the best option. This time, he answered “No”. At this point, we opened to broader solutions, which were met willingly by his sister and her husband, who share a great marriage and a fun-loving daughter and wanted to adopt our son. After 5 days in a morphine induced coma, I flew to Steve's bedside. Holding his hand, I assured him our son would be well-cared for, that his family and I would fulfill his wishes to cultivate relationships with one another, and I would be part of our son’s life. Sadly, the following morning he passed on. Our son turned five this summer. He lives in California, and I am a resident of Utah. My first three years of visits were painful and awkward, after all, a couple of times a year I would willingly reopen my deepest wounds and revisit my hardest losses. Yet, when I’d see him surrounded by all of that love and stability, I knew we’d made the right choice. Today, it’s much easier. A short plane ride takes me to building train sets, dancing and laughing with him. He knows he came from my tummy but calls me “auntie” and that his first daddy got sick and went to heaven. Pictures of Dawson and Steve during their few special months together decorate his home. I emailed Dawson’s mom (in adoption speak, she is his mom, and I am his birth-mom) a couple of weeks ago to tell her about an adoption conference I’d attended and how helpful it was for me to talk with other women who had given their children up for adoption. In her reply, she said she sometimes takes a step back to think about all that has happened over the past couple of years. She said, “We never even think that Dawson is adopted, it all just seems so natural. I guess that’s just how it is when you love someone so much”. When Steve and I were coming to our decision I spoke with his uncle, a social worker focused on family issues. He told me that the legal adoption documents people spend so much time and money to draw up are really only as good as the people involved. The best adoption plan may render an absolute disaster, while little to no plan may meet a healthy and positive outcome. Without a template, without a plan, we our successfully forging our way ahead. Frances Kissling's piece made my think of a phrase I tell myself when I am in a situation, and I can’t see the forest through the trees, when I’m stuck, at an impasse with ideas, or people. It’s a reminder to “Trust the Process”. In hindsight, this captures my experience with an unplanned pregnancy. Because I choose to move forward with carrying my child, to stay in my job and in my small town community, mine, ours, was no longer a private affair. As broad as I was growing, so too was the reach of the circumstances. Through the process, Steve’s family, my family, and our respective communities in Idaho, Utah, California and beyond, had to grapple with our notions of motherhood, fatherhood, responsibility, acceptance, life, and love, and we each chose to grow and expand. (The photo attached is one of Dawson, Grace (his sister) and me goofing off in Sonoma, California. If it does not show well, I can get another one) Britta Nelson 801-865-4366