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Minot birth mothers reflect on adoption choices

Birth mothers reflect on right choices

Submitted Photo Katie Ressler and the son she gave birth to nearly 18 years ago, Kieran Sinnott, have maintained a relationship through an open adoption.

Choosing adoption was one of the most difficult decisions they ever made, say local women who walked that road. Years later, whether having reconnected or having stayed connected with those children placed in adoption, they look back with satisfaction in having made the right choices.

Peggy Overton of Minot placed a baby girl through a closed adoption, in which no information about the adoptive family was shared. Dolores Pilch of Minot experienced a semi-open adoption, in which she had some contact with the adoptive parents of her baby girl through the adoption agency in the early years. Katie Ressler of Minot met and became like family to the parents who adopted her baby boy through an open, or identified, adoption.

Message

of grace

Peggy Overton recalls reconnecting in January 2007 with the young woman she had released to adoptive parents more than 22 years earlier. One of Overton’s deepest questions was answered when she learned her child had the good life she had hoped for her.

Submitted Photo Adoptive parents Julie and Scott Sinnott stand on either side of 17-year-old birth mother Katie Ressler and the pastor who conducted the transfer ceremony for baby Kieran nearly 18 years ago.

Overton and her boyfriend were juniors in a South Dakota high school when she discovered she was pregnant. They had no means to care for a baby and felt adoption was their best option.

“I did get to hold the baby after she was born. There’s part of me that wanted to love her myself. But I also felt that she needed a mom and dad to be able to love her and provide for her and take care of her. And so it was the hardest decision of my life,” Overton said. “We got to take pictures with her, but then, that next day, her parents picked her up.”

As an adult, that child, Courtney, began the search for her birth parents at the local courthouse. She located and contacted her biological father, who still lives in his hometown, and he and his wife and children welcomed her with open arms, Overton said. Courtney located Overton’s mother, who called Overton to alert her.

“I just felt very excited and very hopeful,” Overton said. She recalled she was at home making supper when Courtney eventually called. Courtney had grown up with a younger brother, also adopted, in the same South Dakota town in which she had been born.

A couple of weeks after that phone call, Courtney walked into the Bismarck hotel where Overton awaited their scheduled meeting. When Courtney asked if she had been waiting long, Overton replied, “22 years” and gave her a big hug.

Submitted Photo Dolores Pilch, center, is shown with her son, Kody, and the daughter she had placed for adoption, Hannah.

The next month, Courtney visited Minot and met other family members. It’s been a joyous revelation to have her meet other family and identify familial similarities, such as how Courtney’s handwriting is as well scripted as her own, Overton said.

Courtney, who now has a daughter of her own, also stays connected with Overton’s two daughters as well as three siblings from her birth father’s side. Overton met the adoptive parents last summer.

“All you can do is thank them – thank them so much for what they were able to do,” she said.

Overton views adoption as giving a baby a chance at life, with the opportunity to still have a relationship. It took 22 years to begin that relationship, but Overton said she thought about her daughter all the time.

“I just prayed that God would be taking care of her,” she said. “It probably couldn’t have turned out any better. It’s a message of God’s grace – for how he gave us second chances, because I said my greatest pain in life had turned to joy when I got to meet her. I didn’t get to know her for 22 years but now we have the rest of our lives to be a part of each other’s lives.”

Strategically placed

Dolores Pilch said she sees God’s hand all over the life of the child she placed for adoption in the mid-1980s. She had been in her mid-20s and in a dating relationship when she discovered she was pregnant, but she didn’t feel she could raise a child alone on her income. She was counseled at the Oppen Home in Minot and felt drawn toward adoption.

“In the end, God provided the right decision for me,” she said.

Reviewing prospective adoptive parents, she chose a couple who were raising a 5-year-old daughter with special needs.

“I just felt at peace in the things that they had written, too, about their faith,” she said.

She spent time with the baby in the hospital before the child went to a foster home. She said the pastor and his wife from her small Minot church supported her through that particularly difficult time and helped confirm her decision for adoption.

For the next two years, she sent cards and handmade gifts through the adoption agency but later honored the anonymous adoptive family’s wishes to end correspondence. She went on with her life, marrying and raising a son.

When her family went through a period of a few years in which four family members died, she considered how quickly life can be gone and opportunities missed. So a couple of years ago, she reached out to the adoption agency. She wrote a letter to the daughter placed for adoption. Less than a week later she received a call from the adoption caseworker, who held a reply letter that Hannah, then 32, had asked be immediately read over the phone.

A meeting was arranged between the two and other family members.

The most remarkable thing was uncovering numerous, previously unknown connections between Hannah and Dolores. Two of Dolores’s friends had known Hannah from their church and in one case had served as her youth sponsor. Another friend once lived next door to Hannah’s family. Dolores’s sister had worked with the family’s older daughter as a physical therapist. In addition, Hannah had been enrolled in the same Christian school in Moorhead that Dolores’s son was attending when the family lived in Fargo. Now a teacher, Hannah discovered a student with whom she developed a friendship is actually a cousin.

“Everyone that knew her were dear people to me at a point in my life,” Dolores said. “It’s a really big deal that all of these people were strategically placed in her life, because that’s what I had prayed for. It just gave me more and more peace that I had made the right decision because over the years, you just hope and pray that she’s in the right family.”

She also discovered Hannah’s mother, Joyce Yexley, once had spoken at a meeting of the Minot Christian Women’s Club, hosted by one of her sisters.

“It was God’s plan and not mine,” she said. “I could not have guessed this ending at all.”

Family forever

Katie Ressler recalled that when her son was 16, he thanked her for her adoption decision and told her he loved her.

“It was such a beautiful moment for him to really understand why I did it and to say thank you and know how great of a life he really has,” she said. “It’s because he’s had such amazing parents.”

Ressler met the parents, who were friends of her family’s Fargo apartment manager, at the time she had been considering adoption. Ressler remembers receiving a packet of photos and information from the Minnesota couple and getting the sense that they were meant to be her baby’s parents. Still, she recalls how scared both she and the adoptive parents, Scott and Julie Sinnott, were when they first met.

“But it just clicked as if we had been family forever. We just knew,” she said.

Julie Sinnott said she and her husband felt comfortable with an open adoption because of that instant connection. They also wanted their son to know his birth mother and birth family because they are great people, she said.

“It’s just more people to love him,” Sinnott said. “For us, it was just awesome. His birth family is like our family.”

Ressler had been 16 years old, with her life on a negative trajectory, when she changed course for the sake of the baby growing inside her.

“God was literally saving me at that moment,” she said. “I got on the right track.”

Her family moved to Minnesota, where she was close enough for the Sinnotts to attend her doctor’s appointments. She said Julie Sinnott bought her the pregnancy outfits she would have purchased for herself under different circumstances.

“She wanted to literally walk with me from the moment that we met – the entire journey. And it was so fun to see how happy she was,” Ressler said, adding she could see God’s work in the process. “As he’s helping me turn my life around, he’s going to help somebody else’s life too, and he’s going to help grow their family. So it all just fell into place.”

She gave birth with the Sinnotts at her side. Ressler asked for a few days at home with the baby to say hello and good-bye. The adoptive parents agreed and visited throughout that time. The transfer of baby Kieran to his new family occurred in a moving adoption ceremony conducted by a local pastor.

“It was the hardest day of my life,” Ressler said. “But it was beautiful.”

Her sorrow was profound for days until the adoptive parents called one day to say they couldn’t stop Kieran’s crying so could she please talk to him.

“So I talked to him on the phone, and he immediately stopped,” she said, noting it brought a peace to her as well..

“Was it hard still? Absolutely. I cried every single night for the first year. It was hard, but I just knew,” she said. “He was meant to be with them.”

Initially, Ressler saw Kieran, who turns 18 this month, a couple of times a year and received regular letters and pictures. The families have attended important events in each other’s lives, including Kieran’s first communion and her college graduation and wedding. When Kieran was 3, the Sinnotts adopted a daughter, who has been part of the extended family that now includes Ressler’s two daughters.

Ressler said she felt it important to talk about her adoption experience after becoming a volunteer at Dakota Hope Clinic, Minot’s pregnancy support center.

“I wanted to give him a chance, and my gift to him – the gift that nobody else could give him – was the gift of new life,” she said. “As a mom, is it the hardest choice you’ll ever make? Absolutely. And you’re going to cry over it 18 years later. But they’re happy tears because, truly, the situation that I have could not have ended up any better.”

Birth mothers group meets monthly

A birth mothers group has been meeting in Minot every fourth Saturday of the month, either virtually or in person.

“It’s an opportunity for birth moms from any agency, from however long ago,” said group facilitator Jeannie Nasers with Christian Adoption Services. “Everyone’s welcome to be a part of it because it’s a community support, where you’re able to meet other women who have made the same choice.”

Information about the meetings can be obtained by calling Dakota Hope Clinic at 852-4675.

“They really thrive being able to actually share their story, because it’s something that our society doesn’t really acknowledge,” Nasers said. “Having that opportunity to just have other women around to listen and to hear and to be on the journey with you is really important.

“They are kind of the unrecognized heroes of the story,” she added of both birth moms and birth dads. “It’s the most selfless choice that you can make.”

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