From one mother to another, adoption is a selfless gift
By Michelle Matthews
For Erica Pounder, the reality of motherhood hit her for the first time when she was in the operating room where her son Ollie was delivered on Nov. 20, 2014.
Ollie was having difficulty breathing. Erica, the adoptive mother who would take him home, was sitting beside the mother who had carried him and given birth to him prematurely, by emergency C-section.
As the baby was taken away, the birth mom said, through her tears, "Can she at least see him? He's her son, and she needs to see him. She's his mom."
Erica said she began to cry, as well, "because it was the first time I heard my new name: mom. I was a mom. No one had ever called me 'mom.'"
The two mothers bonded for life at that moment, Erica said. "Adoption brings two mothers together."
When Erica and Zach Pounder married five years ago, they both hoped to have a big family one day. "I always wanted to have seven children," she said.
Just a couple of months after they married in October of 2009, Erica thought she was pregnant. Though an at-home pregnancy test was negative, she went to see her doctor, still convinced she was expecting. She couldn't wait to surprise Zach with the news, so she went alone.
Instead, her doctor told her she was not pregnant. In fact, she had polycystic ovarian syndrome. Among the other things it would cause – weight gain, thinning hair – PCOS would also mean she would be unlikely to have a baby on her own. She was devastated.
The couple had already been talking about adopting children down the road. "Adoption was part of what would create our seven children," Erica said. When she was growing up with a brother and a sister, her parents had fostered 50 to 60 children in their home over the years. And Zach had an aunt who was adopted.
But before they could adopt their first child, Erica said, she had to accept the fact that she would never know what it feels like to carry a child, to have a baby kick inside her body. The couple spent about two years undergoing infertility treatment.
"I think this is part of the infertility story that people don't ever really discuss," she said, "the fact that every potential mother has to grieve the loss of her ability to conceive, and if you decide to adopt, you have to come to terms with your infertility problems."
Erica describes herself as "a huge planner, organizer, researcher." She looked online and found Adoption Rocks, a nonprofit organization in Mobile that helps inform prospective adoptive parents about the process. There's a lot of information to digest, she said – for example, choosing between an international and a domestic adoption – and a lot to do, including preparing a profile book for birth mothers to flip through, and preparing their home for a social worker's visit.
An adoptive mother herself, Donna Ames, founder and board president of Adoption Rocks, is passionate about the subject of adoption. The former personal injury lawyer has experienced the heartache of not being able to have a child on her own, as well as the frustration over how to go about adopting.
"It took five years to get Jonathan, and five more years to get David," she said.
During a leave of absence from her job, Donna volunteered as a defense lawyer at the Strickland Youth Center, where every day she encountered "the saddest stories," she said. She was representing people whose children were being taken away – a depressing cycle of high school dropouts without the skills to become a parent, babies given to grandmothers who are too old to handle the job, kids going into foster care.
"It could have all been prevented," she said.
Knowing how many couples, like herself and her husband, were longing to have children and eager to adopt, she decided to take action. "I called every lawyer I knew who did adoptions, every judge and agency," she said. About a hundred people met in her living room. "We decided to start an agency to market adoption."
That's how Adoption Rocks came about, seven years ago. The organization exists to increase awareness of the adoption option, and to connect families who want to adopt with birth moms who don't want to end their pregnancies but also aren't ready for the responsibilities of motherhood, for one reason or another. Adoption Rocks volunteers guide couples and birth mothers through about 20 adoptions per year.
The organization places information in doctor's offices and other places where pregnant mothers are likely to see it.
In the office, the walls are lined with photos of happy families who have been made complete through adoption. Profile books made by each family currently hoping to adopt a child are displayed on bookshelves. Pregnant mothers can flip through the books, each of which subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) urges the moms to "pick me."
"You literally have to market yourself," said Erica. "That's why it's so hard not to take rejection personally."
Erica and Zach's profile book is filled with pictures of the two of them, their families, their home and their dogs. It provides personal information about their backgrounds and interests. Zach is originally from Utah; Erica is from Mobile. They live in Erica's childhood home, which they've completely renovated, doing much of the work themselves. Zach was an Eagle Scout who wrestled throughout high school. Erica won "Alabama's Best Smile" in a beauty pageant at age 15.
They seem likeable, fun-loving and even a little goofy. They want a prospective birth family to know that dinnertime is going to be important in their future -- that's when they plan to sit down with the children and talk about their day.
Their book makes them sound like they would be perfect parents.
"We were not prepared for what it would feel like each time a birth mom selected our profile book and then decided she wanted to go with someone else," Erica said. "It felt just like a lost child to us."
'Let's have a baby'
After a couple of years, Erica and Zach had almost given up on adoption. "I never thought it would take as long as it did," she said. "We were finally ready to come to terms with the fact that we may not ever be parents."
They seriously considered moving to Costa Rica and changing their lives altogether. And that's when they received an email from their adoption attorneys, Donna Ames and Danielle White, that would change their lives.
"I found myself just staring at this email, and before I knew it, I responded," said Erica. That was on a Tuesday. On Thursday, she was sitting in a corner booth at Ruby Tuesday, talking to a woman who was nearly five months pregnant. They realized they had a lot in common.
"Before we knew it, she looked over to Danielle and said, 'I don't want to meet anyone else. I like them, and if they like me, let's have a baby!'"
As they continued talking in the parking lot, the birth mom pulled a folded piece of paper out of her pocket and said, "I think y'all might want this." It was a recent ultrasound photo of the baby, "the first picture of our son."
In hindsight, Erica sees that she might have been a little impatient. "I think that is when God decided we were finally ready, because we were no longer trying to make our family fit into our timetable but instead give it up to God and let him decide," she said.
The next week, the Pounders went to the doctor with her and heard the baby's heartbeat for the first time. "Never did I ever think I could love someone I had never met as much as I did right then," Erica said.
She also felt overwhelmed with love for the birth mom, for choosing adoption. "The adoption process isn't something that anyone can really understand until you experience it," she said. "It is hard, even when you've been placed with a birth mom. You grow to love a child and prepare for him, knowing that things could still change, that the birth mom can change her mind and keep him. Every day we prayed that the Lord would continue to build the relationship that we had with our birth mom, and that she would see us as his parents."
In that delivery room, moments after Ollie's birth, his birth mother did just that, when she referred to Erica as his mom.
'So thankful for this little blessing'
Erica said that she and Zach wanted their baby's name to be perfect – after all, he might be the only child they'll ever have the opportunity to name. So they decided on a combination of both of their fathers' names – Ollie Brett – and planned to surprise them when he was born. "We kept the name a secret throughout the pregnancy," she said. "It was the one thing we had control over."
Both dads cried when the baby's name was revealed to them.
Now Ollie is 6 months old, with big blue eyes and chubby cheeks. He's officially eating baby food and teething, said Erica. She and Zach take "about 300 pictures a day" of him, and spend hours "memorizing him," she said. "We're so thankful for this little blessing."
Erica quit her full-time job in public relations to become a stay-at-home mom – something she never thought she'd do, but "I want to be home with my children," she said. She volunteers at Adoption Rocks, where she compiles the newsletter and handles social media.
"It's my way of saying thank you," she said. "I am eternally grateful for Adoption Rocks. This organization put us in contact with the best attorneys and social workers and helped our birth mom in making the decision to place her child for adoption."
Executive Director Jane Allen, also an adoptive parent, runs Adoption Rocks. Most of the members of the board of directors also have gone through the adoption process.
In the past, Mother's Day was a painful reminder of what Erica didn't have. But this year, she said, she'll be "engulfed in love for and appreciation of our birth mom who made the most selfless sacrifice in helping me become a mother. This is something that will stay with me for life."
Though her path to motherhood was a different one, Erica said she cherishes her own unique experience. "I think everything that we went through up until we met our birth mom was preparing us for our son," she said. "Looking back, I can see God's hand guiding us to this moment because Ollie is perfect."