Happy Mother's Day, Jenna
Guest columnist Christina Darden Hjort reflects on a Mother's Day that was not to be for her, but one day could be — for her and countless others like her.
Special to The Times
SUNDAY will be Mother's Day for Jenna.
I met Jenna when she was 17 and 10 weeks pregnant. My husband and I flew over to see her in an idyllic part of northern Idaho when we heard she wanted to meet us and discuss an adoption.
Despite the awkward "hellos," we hit it off instantly. Armed with a tenacious spirit, Jenna was smart but emotionally guarded after years of being bounced between relatives when her parents weren't around. The baby's father was no longer in her life and her emotionally fragile mother didn't want any more responsibility.
"I can't raise a kid at this point," Jenna explained. "I have no education, no job and I'm way too young. I just want something better for my child."
We kept in close contact with Jenna after returning home. She adamantly insisted she'd made up her mind and told everyone that this was "our baby" she was carrying. So my husband and I began — with cautious reserve — to plan for a long-awaited arrival due in April.
But a couple of months before the birth, we got a call. Jenna had changed her mind.
We knew the odds. This had happened before. But because Jenna had seemed so certain, I had slowly begun to close the door to doubt. Surprise and disappointment now rushed in.
What I didn't know was that the pressure from Jenna's friends and her own oft-absent dad had begun to build. She told me that most of her classmates "thought it was cool" to be pregnant. Others cruelly jabbed, "If you were going to give the kid away, why didn't you just abort it in the first place?"
They all missed the very brave and loving thing she was trying to do for this baby.
Eventually, the pressure from all those voices became too much. When we talked about it over the phone, Jenna offered with a hopeful tone, "My friends and dad have said they will help me if I keep the baby ... . So maybe I really can make it."
I hope she was right. Jenna and her daughter, now one year and two weeks old, deserve a chance. But once high school's over, and everyone goes their separate ways, I have serious doubts her eager friends and ambiguous family will continue to be much help.
Still, I sympathize. I understand a mother's desire to raise her own child — to hold him or her in the night, to comfort them when they cry, to love them 'til it hurts. That's the way it's meant to be.
I have a harder time understanding the cultural sentiments that surround adoption and teen pregnancy in this country at the moment.
TV shows like "Teen Mom" and "16 & Pregnant" make pseudo-celebs out of teen moms and their offspring. And for many people, adoption is a last-ditch effort instead of a wonderful chance to redeem an imperfect situation.
When my husband and I decided we wanted to adopt — a discussion that began before we were even married — I never dreamed it would be this difficult to make that happen.
We aren't alone. There are so many families, who would make fantastic adoptive parents, willing to put everything on the line for a child that would otherwise be a stranger to them. But whether because of cultural attitudes, ridiculous costs or an often-overwhelming bureaucratic process, many of those would-be families reluctantly walk away.
When that happens, everyone is a loser ... but none more than the children.
I'm going to hope that tomorrow is a wonderful Mother's Day for Jenna.
She and that beautiful daughter deserve it.
And I sincerely wish them the very best.
But next year ...
I really hope I'll be celebrating Mother's Day, too.Christina Darden Hjort is an award-winning TV and radio producer, now living in Seattle. The mother's name was changed for this column.