I Once Called Him my Son

By Kristen Hershey

It was the summer of 2015. We received a phone call from a family member, sharing that they knew of a situation where a young lady was pregnant and looking for a family to adopt her child. We were interested. 

Just five years earlier, we had the privilege of adopting our first child, our daughter, and we hoped to grow our family again. We connected with the young lady, who lived in another state, and in ways only the Lord could orchestrate, we were able to meet up with her and the biological father. We were cautious. We had to put ourselves out there and take a risk, but as we prayed, we felt the Lord leading and guiding us. 

Our meeting with the young couple went well. So well that they wanted to move forward with a private adoption. Their baby—our baby—was just weeks away from being born. As we returned home and began to prepare, both physically and emotionally, we sought the counsel of adoption professionals, family members, and even an attorney to help guide us on this new journey. With our daughter’s adoption, she joined our family through the help of a local adoption agency; choosing the private adoption route for our second child meant educating ourselves and the biological family. 

We continued to move forward.

Within just a few weeks of meeting this young, soon-to-be mom and getting to know her, we received the call that she would very likely be going into labor soon. We packed our car, closed up our home, and prepared to be away, living in another state for several weeks.  Our family walked alongside us each step of the way. Our parents sustained us. Our friends checked in with us daily. Our daughter brimmed with excitement as she anticipated becoming the big sister she had often dreamed of being. We were scared. We were excited. And we were every single emotion in between. 

We traveled a thousand miles through the night, unpacked and briefly settled into our guest home, and again waited for one more phone call, telling us the baby was coming. We got that call and raced to the hospital a few days later. We sat with the biological family. We spent time getting to know them. We paced the halls of the hospital and visited with the expectant mom who would sacrifice so much to give us our hopes and dreams. It felt right. 

Late at night, our son was born. We met him. We held him. We cried over him. We watched the nurses weigh and measure him. It was emotional for everyone. 

We cautiously continued to move forward. From time to time, there were small signs that we weren’t out of the clear just yet. The biological father and his family were second-guessing their adoption decision. Their uncertainty produced fear in us. We leaned hard on the Lord for his steady guidance and unfailing love. We prayed. The biological mother was released from the hospital, and our son was placed into our arms and into our care. He traveled with us to our guest home. Our daughter met her brother; he was squeezed and hugged and loved. He was ours. We cared for him through the nights. We cared for him through the days. We bonded with him. 

The journey was not easy. Legally, it took days…almost two weeks…until we were allowed to return to our home in Pennsylvania. It took hours of phone calls, Internet searches, and emails to bring us home. It took multiple phone calls to our attorney, former adoption agency, and local officials to get the answers we needed to return home. We were our own advocates. It meant missing weeks of work for my husband. It meant transitioning from a family of three to a family of four and all that that means with sleepless nights, finding baby formula that worked, doctor visits, and settling into new routines. 

We battled through the long nights of the newborn phase. We found the formula that worked. We saw his first smile. We dressed him up as a lion and his sister up as a cupcake for Halloween. We celebrated his big sister’s birthday. We were together as a family for Thanksgiving and unwrapped gifts together for Christmas. We loved him. He was ours. 

Then the day after Christmas, we received the phone call that changed our world forever. 

A legal battle had begun between our son’s biological mom and dad. The biological father threatened to gain full custody of the baby back. It cornered the biological mom. She so desperately wanted what was best for her son, making the difficult decision to place her baby into the arms of another family. And again, she was faced with now needing to do what was best for him, by taking him back into her care. Our son would no longer be ours. 

I cannot even begin to articulate the pain we felt. Seeing our daughter sob. Being around people who just didn’t know what to say. Not being able to control our own sadness and helplessness. Feeling caught up in the legal system of having very little rights, since our son’s adoption had not been finalized legally, giving his biological family the right to take back their child. 

Being parents to a baby and sustaining a family in deep pain, while counting down the days, knowing there was this strange, life-changing end, with lots and lots of “lasts,” was an experience we never went through before. 

The last time at church with a son. The last time bathing him, feeding him, changing his diaper, being spit-up on, dressing him, playing peek-a-boo with him. And watching so many people around us wanting to hold and kiss and say goodbye to him…one. last. time. 

One week after receiving the phone call, our son’s biological family traveled a thousand miles to our home to take back custody of him. Seeing their car pull up to our home, being surrounded by close family and friends to support us and our pain, briefly and awkwardly visiting with his family, and seeing them drive away (our son, their son) in their car—this will forever be an image I hold in my memory.

The pain we felt ached so deeply that it felt like we had experienced death. And in a way, we did. We experienced the death of many dreams—dreams of having a son, dreams of having a sibling for our daughter, dreams of watching our son walk, run, start Kindergarten, play sports, get married. 

From the beginning, we went into the private adoption, saying we wanted what was best for our son. We had to lay aside our own desires. We had to give it all to the Lord. We had to remind ourselves of this same truth—wanting what was best for him—even in the midst of our pain. We had to lean hard on the Lord and trust that giving our son back to his biological family was somehow the best for him. We had to trust this was all part of God’s plan, even though it seemed so, so wrong. We had to fight bitterness daily.

The little boy, who we once called our son, turned four this August. Today, I am deeply thankful to be able to tell you that we are in a much different place—a much better place. We are at peace with the hardship our family once faced. We don’t regret having to go through that. We learned from it. We grew from it. We have moved on, with the help and grace of God. 

It’s in difficult times that we so often see and experience the Lord in amazing ways. The people around us became the tangible “hands and feet of Jesus.” I cannot even begin to recall the many ways people blessed us in our pain and tragedy. People prayed. People made meals. People sat with me and cried and just listened. People let me hold their babies, so I could accept and grieve through my empty arms. People left groceries and notes and flowers and gifts by our front door. People heard our washing machine broke and delivered a new one. There were too many blessings to list. 

I felt God in ways I had never felt Him before. I learned how to better love those around me.  I learned grace towards people who have to make hard choices in life, even when they directly hurt me. I learned forgiveness. I learned to be a better mom, working through hard emotions with our daughter. 

I learned how much I truly need Jesus. 

Sometimes our journey in life is yucky and hard. My hope and prayer for you is that you are able to experience God, like I did, in the midst of your pain. 

PC: Brian Smith

Kristen Hershey was born and raised in Lancaster, PA. She is a Preschool Teacher at Lancaster County Christian School and an active member at Faith E.C. Church. She loves going on adventures with her family and thrift shopping whenever she can. Adoptions holds a very special place in her heart.  

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