Very early on the morning of December 11, I was awakened by a telephone call from Marla Allisan. “Your bags are packed, right?” she asked. Of course they weren’t, but with that call the final leg of our journey had begun.
Less than 18 hours later my husband and I were in a Des Moines hospital talking to doctors about our new son’s delivery. His birth mother was right there beside us after having met us at the front door of the hospital, IV still in her arm. It was a scene I never could have imagined we’d be a part of.
As the parents of an adopted 3-year-old, we thought our second experience would be similar to our first. We had received the telephone call that time only after all the termination papers were signed and the revocation period had expired. We had not even known that we had been “matched.” We never met or had any contact with our first son’s birth mother or father. Although we have relatively extensive medical records and notes from social workers, we have no photographs or firsthand information to share with our son. From our point of view at the time of that adoption, as a couple fresh off the infertility treatment merry-go-round, the scenario couldn’t have been better.
When we decided to adopt a second child we found that the world of domestic adoption had changed over the previous three years. We also found that the agency we had used was experiencing some difficulties. Our search for a new agency brought us to Northampton on a referral from friends.
From our first meeting with Marla she had our trust. Unlike other agencies we visited, Marla gave us her undivided attention for as much time as we needed. She answered our questions honestly. When she didn’t know an answer, she told us. She sometimes told us things we weren’t ready to hear, especially when she explained her philosophy about contact between birth and adoptive parents. We walked away from that meeting with our heads spinning, but with a realization that we had found a woman who not only knew her business, but also cared about the people she worked with.
We were matched very quickly with a birth mother in Iowa who was early in her pregnancy. We were excited, but quite honestly the last thing I wanted to do was call this woman. I was nervous about what I would say and nervous about what I would hear. Marla helped put things into perspective for me, giving me tips about what to say and what to stay away from. She said simply, “just have a conversation.”
It was great advice. That first conversation was a bit awkward, but a bond had been formed. We talked periodically through the pregnancy and each time was more comfortable. By fall it was clear that the birth mother wanted to meet me. I was a nervous wreck. Would she like me? Would I pass muster? And after the tragedy of Sept. 11, I had even more pressing concerns. I called Marla; “Do I really have to get on an airplane?” Deep down I already knew her answer. “Yes, you really have to.”
It was an important moment for my husband and me because it really drove home for us what Marla is all about. She cares for and respects birth mothers. Sure, it would be scary for me to get on a plane and it would be uncomfortable to meet the birth mother, but would it be any more uncomfortable than what the birth mother was going through? Of course not.
I flew to Iowa for a day trip a few days after Thanksgiving and the meeting couldn’t have been better. It was an emotional experience that I can honestly say was life altering. It also gave me a first hand look at how Marla and all the people at Full Circle Adoptions had helped this woman. In the several months that I have known our birth mother I have seen a woman who was in a very low and difficult place go to a place where she is confident and ready to begin college and start a new life. It was because of Marla’s counseling and the services and support provided by her agency that his woman was able to gain the self-confidence she needed to take a forward stop in her life.
I know that the last agency we worked with could not have performed such a service. It is Marla’s willingness to be available and to make herself a resource that allows birth mothers to trust her. I know that when a few difficult incidents happened after our son’s birth, Marla was the first person our birth mother called. She was able to diffuse the situation so the adoption could move forward only because she had built a trust with our birth mother over the previous several months.
While I have singled out Marla, I don’t want to leave out Meredith Davies, Megan Richardson or any of the other women at Full Circle that we had the pleasure to work with. On Thanksgiving morning Megan gave us 45 minutes of her time, talking to me about my impending visit to Iowa and our birth mother’s current state of mind. And on countless other occasions I spoke with the others in a state of panic about one thing or another, always to be calmed down by the voice on the other end ready with just the words I needed to hear.
We would recommend this agency to anyone ready to explore adoption. At each step of the process we were counseled about what to expect, what could happen and what would not happen. We were never surprised, not an easy feat in the unpredictable world of domestic adoption. We have a beautiful new son and we can feel good about how his birth mother was treated. She was treated not only with respect and dignity, but we honestly believe she was also treated with tender loving care not because she had a baby to surrender, but because she is a human being who needed some help.
Ellen and Rick