Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, “How I Got This Baby” is a series that invites parents to share their stories.
Jenna became a mother at 19 and by the time she was 23, she knew her family was complete. She and her husband, Michael, who live in New York, had a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son — “one of each,” she says — and felt content. Plus, though she had an easy time conceiving, her pregnancies had been riddled with complications (extreme nausea, hemorrhaging in labor), and she wasn’t eager to face those or similar challenges again.
But Jenna’s older cousin and close friend, Danielle, then 36, was in a very different predicament. She and her husband had been struggling with infertility for about 14 years, and most of their extended family had been following along as they tried and failed, repeatedly, to start a family. One evening, Danielle took Jenna out to dinner and reiterated her desire to have a baby. She explained that they were on a waiting list to adopt an infant but didn’t expect to get off of it, because competition for babies (as opposed to older kids) is fierce. The couple couldn’t afford to hire a surrogate.
Then Danielle popped the question: She asked Jenna if she would be willing to get pregnant and let Danielle adopt the baby after she gave birth. Because Danielle and her husband had a history of fertility issues, they didn’t want to provide an embryo. Instead, Danielle asked Jenna to use her own egg and Michael’s sperm to naturally conceive a baby, and then let Danielle adopt this child that was biologically theirs.
Jenna loved Danielle and understood her need to be a mother. She shares what transpired next.
On agreeing to carry a baby for Danielle to adopt
Danielle’s ask of me was a really big one. Part of me felt nervous because I had had complications with my prior pregnancies. But Danielle also didn’t have anyone else in our family whom she could turn to. I was her youngest cousin. Everybody else was in their mid-30s or 40s, so I was really the only younger person she knew whom she could ask.
When I told my husband, he wasn’t sure how he felt about having a baby and having somebody else adopt the infant — about knowing that we had a kid out there who was ours but wasn’t. We discussed it for more than a week, weighing the pros and cons. There were people in our family trying to talk me out of doing it, saying it would be too difficult for me to watch my child growing up in somebody else’s home.
Ultimately, the deciding factor for me was that I love being a mom so much. I figured if anybody wants to be a mom so badly that they’ll try for over 14 years to become one, clearly they should be a mom.
On telling Danielle she would give her a baby
Michael and I agreed to go for it and let Danielle know. There were no legal documents. It was a verbal agreement. Danielle and I discussed taking care of the adoption papers later once the baby was born. Within two months, I became pregnant. My husband and I planned a surprise to tell Danielle the news. We met at a park and sat inside a gazebo along with a photographer I had asked to capture the moment; Danielle’s husband decided to stay home. I read her a poem I had written about coming into motherhood and then handed her the first ultrasound. It was a really tearful moment for all of us. Danielle was ecstatic and cried happy tears. She was so excited she was finally getting her chance at being a mother.
On carrying the pregnancy
Danielle drove me to doctor’s appointments. She picked out baby names and started working on a nursery at her house. She bought a crib, a car seat, and all the stuff that she was going to need. She was thrilled.
She would take me out to lunch after appointments so that we could talk about the baby. On the few occasions that her husband was around, he seemed very reserved about the entire situation. He didn’t really want to talk about the baby. In fact, he didn’t seem like he was on board with having a baby — more like he was doing this because it was what Danielle wanted.
At the 20-week mark, Danielle and I went to an ultrasound together. The ultrasound tech said that she thought that I was having a girl, though she couldn’t be 100 percent sure. Danielle was so excited because she had always wanted a daughter.
Through all of this, I never stopped to really think about how giving up the baby would affect me long term. I avoided the majority of big family gatherings anyway because I had an unpleasant history with a couple of family members, and I’ve been uncomfortable at family events for a long time. I guess I just convinced myself that this baby wouldn’t be in my face very often, so it wouldn’t be an issue.
On learning Danielle was adopting another baby
Two weeks later, Danielle texted me to say she’d just received a call from the adoption agency: A baby boy had just been born at a local hospital and the mother had passed away. The baby’s mother was addicted to drugs and the baby was going to need a lot of care as a result. No one in the woman’s family was willing to take the baby, so the adoption agency had reached out to Danielle to see if she would. Of course, Danielle agreed right away because she wanted a baby so badly.
At that moment, it felt like my whole world kind of fell apart. In my mind, the only reason that I was putting myself through another pregnancy, the only reason that I agreed to do it, was because Danielle didn’t have any other way to become a mother. So when she told me, “Hey, now I have this baby,” it was like she took away the only reason I had for doing this.
The pregnancy had already been incredibly hard on me. My choice was putting a lot of strain on my marriage and I had hip dysplasia, which made any movement excruciating. The pregnancy was also extremely difficult on my mental health because I was constantly questioning if I had made the right decision. But now I was hit with the epiphany of “I’m growing this baby inside of me that is genetically my baby and then I have to hand it over at birth.” I could have gone through with it if this baby was truly her only option for motherhood. But because it suddenly wasn’t, I no longer felt like I could do it.
I had a lot of reasons for changing my mind. For one, she’d just adopted a baby who was in withdrawal and she had no idea what the long-term needs of this child were going to be. Caring for two newborns at once is already a lot. But when you add in the complications of drug exposure in the womb, it’s that much harder.
Also, her adoption of this second baby felt like a conversation we should have had face-to-face. Instead, she had just sent me a text letting me know that she was moving forward with the adoption and made an offhand comment about being excited that she got to have two babies now.
On telling Danielle she changed her mind about the adoption
I took a few days to respond to Danielle’s text because I needed to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to approach the situation. I sat down with my husband and we talked about it. Neither of us felt comfortable continuing with the adoption. I wrote her a long reply explaining my reasons for not wanting to do it anymore. I told her that if things didn’t work out, if the adoption fell through with the other baby and she was back to square one, then we could still go through with the adoption. But because it looked like she had another option, I didn’t feel comfortable continuing.
There was no reply to my text. Instead, she showed up at my door a few hours later. I was alone with the kids since my husband was at work. She started yelling at me in front of my children, telling me that it wasn’t fair for me to take this away from her and she felt like I was just scamming her the entire time and never had intentions to give her the baby.
Part of me understood where she was coming from. But the other part of me felt like she was being selfish. I tried to remain calm and expressed to her how I was feeling: “You chose to adopt a different baby. You are now a mother. This isn’t a viable option for me anymore.”
She told most of our shared family what happened before I had a chance to tell any of them why I had made this decision. They heard her story first — how I had screwed her over by going back on our deal. I took screenshots of our text conversations and showed them to family members to explain how the conversation between her and I actually went. After that, it seemed like most people, aside from her mother and sisters, agreed that I was making the right choice for myself and for the baby. They could really see where I was coming from with this.
On pivoting her pregnancy mind-set
There I was, 22 weeks pregnant, and suddenly I realized I had less than 20 weeks to prepare for a newborn. I had so much to get ready for the baby, yet I still thought about Danielle often. I held some resentment toward her because of the choice she had made, but Michael was relieved. After I changed my mind, he told me that he had had reservations about the adoption the entire time but had wanted to support me and my decision.
Luckily, a couple friends of mine had had babies within the past year so they gave us some hand-me-down newborn clothes and we still had the crib from our youngest child. We just needed to buy a car seat and some other essentials. Mentally preparing for a third child was the bigger challenge. That was difficult because I was not expecting to ever have more kids. During that short window of time, I was so focused on physically preparing that mentally preparing was just too much. And I don’t know that I ever fully mentally prepared — it didn’t feel real until I was holding the baby in my arms.
I found out a couple of weeks later that the baby wasn’t a girl after all — I was having a boy. Because Danielle had been so set on a girl, and she had set up a room for a baby girl, with a name picked out and everything, finding out I was having a boy somehow made it feel less like I was carrying her baby. It was like a clean slate.
My 4-year-old daughter had known that we were planning to give the baby to my cousin. Thankfully, she was too little to fully understand the situation and so when we changed our minds, we were able to have a simple conversation and just say, “We’re going to keep the baby now.” She was very excited to have another brother.
The rest of the pregnancy was great. I was in physical therapy for the pain in my pelvis, I didn’t have any major complications, and I was relieved that I wasn’t going to have to handle any of the big feelings that I knew were going to come along with giving Danielle the baby. Things with my husband also started to improve a bit.
On giving birth
Since my first two children were born via C-section, I decided I wanted to try for a vaginal birth (or VBAC) and everything went smoothly. There were no complications this time.
When I finally had my son in my arms, it just felt right. I didn’t feel any differently than I had with my other two children. It was that immediate bond of love. It felt like: This baby is part of me.
As he started to grow bigger and I began to see him experience all his firsts, I would have these moments of Thank God I didn’t go through with it. Now I always have that feeling that I’m so glad I kept him.
On her relationship with Danielle now
I heard from other family members that after adopting the baby boy, Danielle had severe anxiety when it came to parenting. She kept the baby at home all the time and wouldn’t allow visitors. She isolated herself and the baby, and I don’t know the details of why. But I do know that the adoption took a toll on her marriage. Her husband ended up leaving her six months later because he couldn’t take the stress of a newborn. He said that parenthood was too much responsibility for him.
Two years after my husband and I decided to keep our son, I became pregnant again, accidentally, with a girl. At 36 weeks — full term — I lost the baby. She ended up being stillborn. One week after that horrible and tragic day, I received an unsigned letter in the mail. It was a handmade card. The front of the card said something along the lines of: “Do you ever feel like everything in your life is going wrong? Do you feel like bad things keep happening to you and you can’t figure out why?” And then I opened the card and the inside said: “Because you’re a terrible person and you deserve every bad thing that’s ever happened to you.” I felt sick to my stomach, knowing there was only one person who would have sent it or had the motivation to send it. I kept the card for a few years. I eventually threw it away because it was painful to hold on to.
My son is 8 years old now, and Danielle still holds tightly to her resentment. Over the summer, she saw me walking through a parking lot and she actually tried to hit me with her car. She screamed out her window at me that I was a nasty bitch and then drove away. I had to call the police and get a restraining order.
The experience made me stop wanting to help people. It made me feel like many people are in the situations they’re in for a reason, and I no longer step in to help. I don’t trust people anymore, because you could literally give someone the world and it still won’t be enough at the end of the day. They’ll always want more.
On raising her three kids today
I’m thankful every day that I didn’t go through with the adoption and that my son is in my life. Of course, my life has its challenges. My husband and I are now divorced, and he has 50 percent custody of the kids. While I believe this situation with Danielle contributed to us breaking up, the end really came about because our marriage couldn’t withstand our daughter being stillborn. We grew apart after losing her and we never managed to repair our relationship. But our marriage had been fragile ever since the pregnancy with our second son.
Now I work full time, plus I have my own business on the side so there’s a lot to juggle. And I don’t have a relationship with my parents, most of my siblings, and my extended family anymore. The only person I speak to is my younger sister. A big part of my decision to walk away from my family was related to childhood trauma that I started working through. I decided it was healthier for me to go no contact with them. I’ve chosen to do this all on my own. I definitely have the confidence to know I can make it through anything, to the point where most things don’t faze me anymore. But it’s been very difficult.
The experience with Danielle put a lot of stress on me and changed me in many ways. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for motherhood. It made me realize that not everybody can be a mother and not everybody should be a mother. But I feel like motherhood was just kind of meant for me.
The subjects’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
More From This Series
- The Mom Who Left Her Husband at 20 Weeks Pregnant
- The Mom Who Lost Her Home the Day Before She Gave Birth
- The Mom Who Had Three Babies with Cystic Fibrosis