With my dad being an adoption attorney, adoption has always been a happy subject in our home. We were raised to be proud of being adopted. We learned to honor and love our birthparents, regardless of the fact that we didn’t know them personally. We were taught that they made a great sacrifice on our behalf, and to always be grateful to them. Birthmothers were revered in our home. When my parents came to pick me up, my mom asked for any information about my birth that she might be able to share with me. The only information offered to her by LDSFS was that my birthmother was between 16 & 20, was LDS, and was musically talented.
My dad had an excruciating experience early-on in his career. During an adoption a baby had been placed with its new adoptive parents. Shortly afterward, the birthmother changed her mind, forcing my dad to take that sweet baby away from two broken-hearted new parents. He told me it was the most horrific experience of his life, and from that day forward, we kept the babies at our home until any potential problems were resolved and everything was absolutely official. Usually we would only have the babies in our home for a day or two, and while these babies were staying with us we would give each of them a little name that we could call them.
During my sophomore year in high school, I had a life-changing experience of my own. In April of that year, we had a beautiful little baby girl come to our home. So of course, we temporarily named her April. I swooned over this beautiful baby. I would skip work (sorry Dad!) and race home after school to play with her, hold her, love her, and hug her. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. As it turned out, April stayed with us for 10 days. It was such a fun time for my family, and for whatever reason, especially me. When the day came for her to be placed with her adoptive parents, I was a wreck and cried all morning before leaving for school. My mom offered to let me come home and be present for placement. I hurried home, and found April lying on my bed, dressed in the most beautiful outfit. She smelled so sweet. She was absolutely perfect. I held her, hugged her, kissed her, and cried over her. I didn’t want to let her go.
The new adoptive parents arrived, and I was devastated. They were so happy, and although I was happy for them, my heart hurt in a way that I’d never experienced before. As I continued to think about the feelings I was having, I discovered that I only had the very slightest idea of what my birthmother may have experienced. I had grown attached to this precious little infant in just ten days. I hadn’t even carried her inside of me for nine months. Her nine months. My ten days. How could I even compare the two? And although I often prayed for my birthmother already, I began to pray more fervently for her. I prayed that the Lord would protect her. That he would help her. That he would bless her to know that I was grateful for her and loved her. I asked him to allow me the privilege to meet her and tell her myself one day.
Although I knew I was adopted and understood what that meant, I never asked my parents for more information, or talked with them openly about it. I was completely content with my family and my life. I didn’t feel an overwhelming feeling to take that next step right then. I loved my parents too much and didn’t want to hurt them by asking about my adoption. When I was a senior in high school, my dad finally sat me down and made me talk. He explained that he and my mom were concerned that I had never spoken with them about my adoption. They knew not to push the issue as I was growing up; I needed to do it in my time. But now they were concerned that I might have negative thoughts about my adoption, and soon I would be leaving for college. I explained to my dad that I just didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I was happy with my life and loved my family more than anything. It wouldn’t be worth it to me if my curiosity would hurt them. I was content, and didn’t need to know anything further right then.
My dad was glad to know that I was happy, but did offer some advice: If I wanted to find my birthmother, I should wait until after my mission, or until after I was married. Through his profession he had learned that in most experiences, when adoptees (in closed adoptions) look for their birthparents immediately after they turned 18, most often everything went badly, leaving all parties hurt in the end. The birthparents were usually in a period in their life when it just…wasn’t a good time. Either the birthparent’s children were at the wrong age to have this all ‘come out’, or sometimes even their spouse didn’t know, etc. He advised me to wait until after my mission or after I was married, and told me he’d help me anyway that he could when the time was right. (Have I mentioned that I love my parents??!?!)
So time went on, and I married my fabulous husband, Derik. After five years, Derik and I decided that we wanted to get off the infertility ride for awhile. In the fall of 2005 we began our paperwork and homestudy for adoption. Part of the requirement for our homestudy was to take a series of adoption education classes. One of these specific classes is dedicated solely to birthparents and their stories. The night of the birthparent panel changed everything for me. Suddenly, I had a desire to know my birthmother. It was time to tell her personally that I loved her and was grateful for her.
Before I could officially begin, I needed to be sure my parents were on-board with me. I would never proceed with this if it bothered either of my parents. So I called and visited with my dad. I explained that I was in no way trying to replace him or find a new family. I just needed to do this for me. He was completely understanding (I think all of the adoptions he has done over the years have helped him understand the adoption triad so well). I knew a simple phone call wouldn’t be what I wanted for my mom. I needed her to completely understand that she was my mother. She raised me. She sacrificed so much for me. I could never replace her, nor would I want to. I wrote her a letter, and found as I wrote that I was very emotional. I related experiences that I had as a child that made me recognize her sacrifices and love. I told her how much I loved her, and that I hoped she could understand my needs to do this. And (of course!) my mom gladly gave her blessing. I called LDSFS (the agency I was adopted through) and asked what I needed to do to locate my birthmother. They gave me a form for their agency, and told me about the state’s registry (Health and Welfare Vital Statistics).
The form for LDSFS informed me that I could only get the information that was allowable by the laws governing adoption during the year of my birth. That meant that I would not be given names or addresses, just basic health information and a physical description. The form for Vital Statistics told me that my information wouldn’t be given freely to the other party (birthparents or siblings) without my consent, but if a mutual request was filed, we would be matched. I filed each form, and waited.
In January 2006, I received a phone call from LDSFS. They had received the requested information regarding my adoption. I am a crier by nature, but this was an emotional experience I had not prepared myself for. I spoke with Stephen Dahl, the office director, and through my tears asked, “Is it normal that I am so emotional about this? I don’t even know what I’m feeling.” He assured me that I was still normal. I just sat there looking at the file that I had been given. I couldn’t even open it there in front of him. I just stared at the cover. I wanted to be by myself, cry and just soak it all in. Brother Dahl asked me if I could at least just read the last page while I was there in his office; he wanted to visit with me about something. This is what I read:
Time with birth mother: The birthmother expressed love for her baby, and that love was apparent as she gazed at and examined her. She could not believe the miracle of birth and the tremendous joy and love she felt for her baby. She had prayed about the decision and had a special blessing prior to the birth of her baby promising her “peace of mind”, and she definitely felt this and knew it was right to place her. She felt no pressure regarding this decision.
Time with birth father: The birth father was able to hold his baby and was relieved to see that she was healthy. Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked at her. His parents also saw and held the baby. The birth father indicated that he knew it was right for her to be adopted. His parents were supportive of his decision.
As I read these beautiful words, I was in shock. It had never occurred to me that my birthfather could be involved. I had no preconceived hopes that that there would be any information about him at all. I couldn’t grasp everything. I felt like my brain couldn’t keep up with my heart and my emotions. Suddenly it was all moving too fast, and yet, I wanted to keep moving. Brother Dahl wanted to let me know how unique my case was; that it was an incredible blessing that my birthfather played such a big role in my adoption. He explained that in the over 30 years of his career, he had never seen a case with a birthfather so positively involved with the placement of his child. He told me that times were changing, and that he didn’t think I was the exception, but that he had never read anything so beautiful before.
What a special treasure I held in my hands. A piece of who I was. My story.
I cried all the way home, and as unsafe as it was, I tried to read it the entire drive as well. I finally pulled over, and called my dad to read it to him over the phone. He was ecstatic for me. My mom had the exact same reaction (which only sweetened the experience even more).
I now prayed even more fervently. And now, I also prayed for my birthfather. I had prayed for him before, but he wasn’t at the forefront of my mind like my birthmother had been all along. And now, I could only wait. There would be no contact unless somebody else came forward through the Vital Statistics registry.
Fast forward five years. It’s February 7, 2009. I walk in the door from work, and Derik tells me I have a letter. “Why do I have a letter? Just for me? That’s weird.” I look on the counter and see a certified envelope lying there. The return address reads, Health & Welfare; Bureau of Vital Statistics.
I already knew. I didn’t even need to read it, but I did anyway. I felt so calm. The letter explained that a potential match had been made, and unless I replied with a notarized letter to opt-out, we would be matched in 30 days, which is the state law requirement.
I looked at it silently for a long time and then said, “Wow…that’s cool”, as I looked up at Derik. He was watching me very intently. We were both surprised at how calmly I was reacting, especially after my emotional experience with the information I had received from LDSFS three years earlier. It was a very exciting moment, but I felt complete peace & comfort that everything was going to be fine. History has shown that whenever I feel peace and comfort in needing an answer to a prayer, etc., that I’m moving in the right direction. It is a tender mercy that the Lord has bestowed upon me. I may still have nervous feelings once in a while in the midst of something, but the peace, comfort and calm are always there.
Hindsight is always 20/20. As I look back on my life with Derik, I realize I have been led to this very moment. Everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for what is about to happen with meeting my birthmother. Derik and I have experienced countless infertility treatments, and joyously welcomed the precious adoption of our son, Nathan. His adoption is a miracle in and of itself.
With our little Nathan on Placement Day.
Nathan’s Placement Day, with Mandi’s family. (July 31, 2006)
I am amazed at how those beyond the veil can have great influence in our lives, as I would again learn in meeting my birthmother. Heavenly Father truly loves us. He is extremely aware of us. He is too often willing to bestow his tender mercies, for which I am grateful.
Also as I look back, I realize that although I had such a great desire to meet my birthmother early-on, I wasn’t ready then, and Heavenly Father knew it (thankfully!!). I needed these experiences to help me develop emotionally and spiritually. I needed to love and hurt for baby April. I needed to grow. I needed to mature. I needed to discover infertility. I needed to ache to be a mother. I needed all of the amazing spiritual experiences (and tender mercies) of our Heavenly Father with Nathan’s adoption. I needed to become even more passionate about adoption. I needed the experience teaching adoption classes to hopeful adoptive couples, and share my own adoption story over and over. It was every bit the same as when you bear your testimony of the gospel; the more I shared, the more passionate I became. Now, I was finally ready for the next step.
Each of my family members (including in-laws) were super excited for me, and they were waiting on pins and needles for any and all information I could give them. And still, I was calm. The 30 days passed perfectly. I wasn’t anxious. It just felt…right. Good. Happy.
Toward the end of the business day on Friday, March 13, 2009, Derik walked into my office at work and without a word, handed me an envelope. I guess I was expecting to see an envelope from the IRS (we were waiting for our tax return), so when I saw that it was a certified letter from Health & Welfare, I gasped loudly and slapped my own hand over my mouth. I just stared at the envelope. Everybody at work knew that we had our homestudy done and were approved for our 2nd adoption, so they thought the letter was regarding another baby. I ignored everyone around me and opened the letter and scanned it quickly, looking for a name.
Oh. My. Heck.
She lives less than 10 miles from my house.
And her name is Lori.
I look at it for a minute, and again say, “Cool,” and hand the letter to Derik to read, while explaining to my anxious co-workers that I wouldn’t be quitting my job just yet.
The next day I decided that although I still felt calm about everything, I needed to go to the temple to prepare for actually meeting Lori. Derik and I attended the temple with our family friend, Craig. While I was inside the temple, I missed a phone call from an unidentified number. I knew it was Lori. And still, I was calm. I looked at the number and told Derik & Craig, “I think she called me while we were in the temple.” Craig got really excited and wanted me to call the number back. I decided to wait. I was so happy, and ready to finally talk to her.
Lori called me later that evening. I looked at the number and recognized it as the one I’d missed earlier. This was it!
Lori asked, “Is this Amanda?” I replied, “Yes it is.” There was a short pause, and then, “This is Lori.” And then she just waited. I ‘embraced’ her as best as I could with the words – “How are you?!!?!” She replied by asking, “Have you had time to wrap your brain around this yet?” I asked her what she meant. She said, “You know, shopping at the same grocery store, possibly seeing each other on the street…”
We talked for an hour and a half. It was like talking to an old friend. You know the kind; when you can just pick up right where you left off. She gave me a brief outline to my birth story, and told me my birthfather’s name. I told her about my happy upbringing, and that it was because of my parents that I had such a passionate love of adoption. She simply said, “Then Heavenly Father kept His end of the bargain.” I would learn more about that later.
She is still an active member of the church. She told her husband, Kirk about me on their third date, and he’s been by her side ever since. Kirk has welcomed me with open arms from day one. I adore him.
But today, as it would turn out, she was currently visiting family in
We made arrangements to meet in two days, on Monday at her home for dinner. She and Kirk have four daughters. She asked if I wanted anyone else to be there, and I said, “Sure! Bring it on!”
I finally got nervous for the first time as we pulled in Lori’s driveway. As I walked in the door, she came around the corner, smiled and placed her hands on my face and said, “Look at you!” I was completely unaware of what to do or say, so I just smiled. I was received so warmly, with hugs all around.
Lori & I
From left, TeNeal(19), Keisha (23), Lori, myself, and Jirelle (27). Brynn (25), lives in
I felt very comfortable being in Lori’s home. After dinner, I showed her the scrapbook of my childhood. She didn’t linger too much on the pictures of my younger childhood, but she became more interested as she reached my high school photographs. She noticed a lot of resemblance between us, and went to get her own high school scrapbook so we could compare. As Lori continued to glance through my photos, I began looking through her scrapbook. I came across a page of her and a young man. They appeared to be going to a dance together. I looked at the young man. I wondered if this was him – my birthfather, Don. And yet, I knew him. I can’t explain it, except that I knew him. He wasn’t a stranger to me somehow. Lori looked up and said, “Oh…oh…that’s him…that’s Don.”
Since we didn’t really talk about him in our telephone conversation, she said, “I need to tell you about Don. “Your [birth] father is a hero. He died saving other’s lives. He died saving eight people’s lives. He’s was a hero. He died 15 years ago. You were 15 then.”
Lori and Kirk explained that Don was a smokejumper (a firefighter that parachutes into forest fires). She asked if I remembered the fires in
Lori told me that Don had left two children; a daughter, who turned 6 the day after Don’s death, and a son, about 3 or 4 years old. So now I had two more half-siblings. I was blown away. And so curious about Don. Not only did I have a wonderful birthmother who was active in the Church, but now I had even more good to correlate with my birthfather.
I learned later that night while doing research, that Don was the lead smokejumper that day. He was in charge of those men and women, and had actually led several of them out of the fire to safety. He went back in to try and get more people out, and he never came out.
We visited until 10:30 that night, but I could’ve visited with them for the entire night, through to the morning. On the way home I told Derik, “I don’t look a thing like them.” He said, “Are you kidding me? It’s obvious she’s your birthmother! You need to look at those pictures again.”
Lori sent me home with a quilt she had made while she was pregnant with me, as well as the baby doll she played with as a child, and a letter that talked about my birth and her experiences with me. I went home, and as I read the letter, I just cried. I was deeply touched by it. Derik went to bed, leaving me with my thoughts. I was so exhausted, but I couldn’t make myself go to bed. I wanted to stay awake forever, and just feel what I was feeling. I don’t know how to explain those feelings. I was feeling such deep gratitude for my parents, for Lori & Don, and especially for my Savior and Heavenly Father. My Heavenly Father is so aware of me. He loves me. He loves Lori. And he helped us come together to complete the circle. I just stood in my kitchen, held the blanket up to my face, and cried. I was so overwhelmed – in a good way. I didn’t want to go to bed. I had too much to think about.
A couple of weeks later, I asked Lori to contact Don’s family for me. I didn’t want to just “show up” out of nowhere. I had no idea how I would be received, and I felt I owed them some time to let things absorb. She called Don’s mother, Nadine, right away and explained everything that had transpired over the last few weeks. Nadine wanted to call me right away, but Lori explained that I would be calling them the next evening. When I called, I was very warmly received. Both Nadine & Bob (Don’s father) were on the phone at the same time, talking about Don and how much he loved me. We made arrangements for Derik and I to come to their home in
Susan (Don’s sister), myself, Lesliann, and Jessica (Don’s niece)
This memorial is a few miles up the mountain from the Mackey home.
This is my birthfather Don, in his smoke jumping gear. This picture was taken only a few weeks before he died. (It is a picture-of-a-picture. Sorry!)
While visiting Don’s family, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Don’s bedroom. His parents have pictures, plaques, and awards all over that have been given in Don’s name. There are even letters from Congress and Senate…ribbons for Valor…I was in awe. It was a very sacred time for me. I could have spent hours in there. I wanted the whole world to just go away and leave me there for the day. There was so much to read and take in, and I didn’t want to leave that room.
We went to dinner with Bob, Nadine, Susan, Jessica, & Lesliann. It was nice to hear the wonderful things that they had to say about Don. Jessica remembers Don taking her everywhere with him. He would just scoop her up and let her ride all over town with him. Don’s sister, Susan told me that my adoption was very hard on Don, and that he never really got over it. I like to think that perhaps Don has been watching over me and helping me over the years.
My parents, as well as Derik’s parents have met Lori and Kirk as well. It’s such a beautiful feeling for me that these people that I love so much to come together and have such an instant friendship. These photos make me so happy!
Lori and I continue to keep in touch. I am discovering fun similarities that I have with her (as well as Don’s family). Lori, TeNeal, Brynn, Lesliann, and two of Don’s sisters do hair, just like I do. So funny. Naturally, Lori does my hair done now! J We talk at least once a week, and get together from time-to-time as our schedules will allow. She was even with me on my birthday this year.
I am blessed beyond measure. Adoption is my passion. I know that when we come together for one purpose (adoption), that our lives are continually blessed and our hearts are knit together forever through these beloved children. Derik and I also adopted our 2nd son, Eli in July of this year. He is every bit as precious as our Nathan, and we treasure every minute we spend with these boys. I love open adoption and am so grateful for the wonderful relationship we have with Nathan & Eli’s birthmothers. They are our angels, and we are so glad that our sons will grow up knowing them personally.
I love being a stay-at-home mom. It brings such joy and satisfaction to my life. I am so excited to be with my family forever. My dad once asked me if I realized how long forever was. My reply to him?… “Not long enough.”