Kelsey was two months away from high school graduation. Soon, the 17-year-old would be stepping across the stage in her cap and gown marching into her future. She was quickly becoming a young adult, but not in the way she had planned. Kelsey was pregnant.
“I was surprised and really scared,” said the Durham resident, who is now 30. “I came from a good Christian home, I went to church every Sunday – you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Frightened of disappointing her parents and not wanting to do anything to derail her graduation, Kelsey kept her secret except for confiding in close friends.
“All my girlfriends were saying, ‘You don’t have to tell your parents,’” she said, “They were willing to take me to an abortion clinic, but in the back of my mind, I always felt God saying, ‘I have another plan for you.’”
The teenager did conceal her pregnancy from her family. When she told her parents, the conversation was difficult. Kelsey had a younger sister and brother and her parents were concerned about how a baby would impact the dynamics at home.
“They were not ready to be parents to my child, and my mother felt I was not mature enough to be a mom,” Kelsy said. “She was right. I was young and immature, but I did know that I needed to take care of myself and this baby.”
Kelsey began to educate herself. The process included an appointment with a staff member at an abortion clinic – simply to ask questions.
The same week, Kelsey was introduced to Christian Adoption Services (CAS). Now a ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH), CAS offers domestic, international and foster-to-adopt services. CAS staff members work with expectant parents who have decided to place their baby for adoption as well as those who are already parenting but have decided to place their child(ren) for adoption.
What she learned from her visits remained on her mind, but Kelsey’s journey took her to another important place – Lois’ Lodge. The family-style maternity home, unaffiliated with BCH, was familiar to her family as its residential program had successfully helped the daughter of friends. Reluctantly, Kelsey made the difficult decision to move in with the other expectant girls and caregivers.
“I’m very close to my family so when I left for the maternity home, it was very hard,” she said.
Kelsey credits Lois’ Lodge for helping her grow and learn essential life skills like cooking and basic home finances. They also helped her to begin courses at the community college. These opportunities were needed as she considered the possibility of being a young parent.
“My viewpoint on the world changed while I was there,” she said. “I lived with girls from all walks of life. Some had been living on the street who never had their parents’ support. I learned so much from those girls.”
It was during her time at Lois’ Lodge that Kelsey’s path came into focus. Instead of parenting, Kelsey chose adoption. More specifically, the teenager desired an open adoption where the adoptive and birth families have contact with each other during and after the adoption process.
With the guidance of Gretchen Goers, her caseworker at CAS, Kelsey began the process of choosing a family who would potentially be her unborn child’s adoptive parents. CAS works with families who want to adopt by helping them find a child for adoption. Prospective families create albums that share photos and information that give a glimpse into their lives. As Kelsey sifted through album after album, she was drawn to one in particular.
“I picked out Joy and Todd’s book. I felt connected to them immediately.”
Gretchen arranged for the three to meet the next day. After spending time together, Kelsey decided Joy and Todd, who were unable to have children, would be her unborn daughter’s parents.
“We all cried,” she said. “It was special.”
Joy and Kelsey drew closer together over lunches and attending doctor appointments together. Joy was there for some of the sonograms and the couple included Kelsey in the baby’s naming. Joy and Todd determined two things: their daughter’s middle name would be “Grace” and her first name would begin with “K” in honor of Kelsey. Together, the three chose Kaylee Grace.
When the long-awaited day arrived, Kelsey invited Joy and Todd into the delivery room for Kaylee’s birth. Todd cut the umbilical cord and Joy held their newborn daughter immediately afterwards.
“Watching that moment – watching them become parents – is something I will absolutely cherish for the rest of my life,” Kelsey said. “They were meant to be parents.”
In the weeks and months ahead, Joy and Kelsey would text. Photos of Kaylee would pop up on Kelsey’s phone so she could see the growing little girl.
“Joy would just send me photos. I never had to ask,” Kelsey said. “It was like she just knew when I needed to see a photo of Kaylee.”
The relationship between birth mother and child has not been limited to only photos.
There have been regular visits including birthday parties, recitals and special occasions. Kaylee was told about her adoption when she was five. According to Kelsey, the decision to tell her when she was young has proven to be right for Kaylee. “It’s always been about Kaylee and putting her first.”
The two have grown close through the years, and Kelsey sees some fascinating similarities. “We both have a love for theater – Kaylee’s a very good singer and she loves going to church and hearing the Word.” Then Kelsey laughed, adding, “She also is bad at math like me.”
Today, Kaylee is 12. In addition to receiving communications from Joy, Kaylee occasionally texts Kelsey.
“Just yesterday, I received a text from Kaylee,” Kelsey said.
“It read: ‘There are no words in the world to describe how thankful I am for you.’”
Kelsey says CAS was not only a resource and support system for her as a pregnant teen, but they continued to support her through CAS’s annual “Birth Mothers Retreat.” At the retreats, Kelsey connects with other birth mothers who have chosen adoption for their children.
“In some ways, birth moms can be forgotten after the birth,” Kelsey said. “Part of CAS’s mission is to assure us that our feelings matter.”
“So many Christians say not to get an abortion, but they aren’t able to tell you the resources that are out there,” she explains. “CAS is not only about being pro life, but they offer this really great option. I’ve thrived from being a birth mom.
“Abortion and parenting shouldn’t be the only options that come to your mind – adoption is a beautiful thing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Blake Ragsdale is the director of communications for the Baptist Childrens’ Homes.)