A mother’s choice

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Rachael Knox in her home on Tuesday in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Almost 30 years after making the decision to place her son for adoption, Rachael Knox of Whitefish received a message that has given this Thanksgiving new meaning.

At 17 years old, Knox was a high school senior in central California when a three-month relationship with her co-worker ended.

The couple went their separate ways until two weeks after the breakup when Knox made a life-changing discovery. She was pregnant.

Her first thoughts, she said, were “Oh no. My parents are going to kill me.”

Knox, the oldest of five children, came from a strict, religious household. But before she could consider telling her family, she had to tell the father.

His response, “Well, I’m not marrying you.”

“And I said, ‘That’s OK. I don’t need you for this,’” Knox said.

She needed proof, though, and as she sat in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood, she said the reality of her situation began to set in.

“In the hour that I waited for my test results from them, I watched five women go in for their appointments to have abortions,” Knox said. “And I just remember being really stricken by that, just the sadness that was there and by what people tell themselves … that it’ll ruin my life, that it’ll take all my choices away.”

Her results came back, confirming what she already knew.

Scared and alone, she knew she had to tell her family, but it took her nearly two months to do so.

“Finally, one day I just broke down and said, ‘I have something I have to tell you,’” Knox said.

They were shocked and disappointed, Knox said, but eventually they calmed down. Then came the question of what she should do.

Thoughts of what her life would look like, where she would raise the baby and who would watch it while she went to school crowded her mind until she was left with the one answer that gave her peace.

She wanted a home for her baby with two loving parents, ready and wanting to bring a child into their family — something she knew she could not provide except through adoption.

“And that’s when I really decided, ‘this is the best thing for my baby,’” Knox said.

Three months along, Knox contacted her church’s social services and met with a social worker, who, over the next six months, would become one of her greatest sources of support.

The high school senior isolated herself, telling only a select few friends of her situation and decision. One of those few, Knox said, could not believe she could give up a child she loved, telling her surely an abortion would be easier.

They didn’t understand, Knox said.

“I just think that love is never a bad thing,” she added.

By the end of her senior year, the first visible sign of Knox’s condition began to show, prompting her to skip her last week of school.

Knox moved from her home in central California to southern California, got a job and started praying.

Throughout her pregnancy, Knox said she would ask God to send someone to take care of her and allow her to keep her baby.

“I felt God’s comfort in a way I had never felt it before and his peace, but I still would ask that in prayer every night,” she said.

Despite her prayers, her “knight in shining armor” never came, and without the option of open adoption available today, Knox chose her baby’s family from a list of anonymous profiles.

She decided on the couple she felt seemed the most stable, who had been married the longest and, as a bonus, shared her love for music.

The father was an engineer, the mother a piano teacher.

All Knox could do then was wait and prepare, doing her best to be a good mother.

She watched what she ate, attended Lamaze classes and spent the last few months of her pregnancy crocheting a little blanket to send with her child.

“I struggled with it in the sense of my desires versus what I knew was best,” Knox said. “It’s like you know you’re going to have this great loss in advance … and so there was this grief all throughout, even in the midst of the assurance that this was the best thing.”

Knox said a poem by Kalil Gibran titled “On Children” gave her comfort.

The poem begins, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

“I clung to that poem throughout my pregnancy because that’s how I framed my experience with my child,” Knox said. “Yes, he’s mine, but he’s also theirs.”

Then, on Oct. 10, 1988, Knox gave birth to a baby boy.

“I remember just being in awe of how perfect he was,” Knox said.

“Boy, you go back there in a moment, don’t you?” she added, wiping away tears.

To this day, Knox remembers the type of bottle her son preferred, his general contentment and the mix of joy and heartbreak she felt as she held him.

“At the hospital, I was grieving because I knew I was going to have to say goodbye, and here I was just meeting him,” Knox said. “Even though I had him, I was grieving what was to come.”

Knox spent two days in the hospital before her social worker arrived to take her home while nurses performed tests on her son.

“How does one leave a baby behind?” she said. “I sobbed the whole way out of the hospital because there is nothing natural about leaving with empty arms.”

Her friend had been right. Letting go of the child she loved did not come easily. But in the days before the adoption became official, Knox said that love kept her from changing her mind.

“I knew I wasn’t going to do that because I couldn’t do that to his parents, and I couldn’t do that to him,” she said.

Knox found comfort in the days after when her social worker told her of the joyful tears and excitement with which her son’s parents received him.

Knox said she returned home a different person, determined to live a life that would make her son proud.

“I wanted to make my decision for him worth it,” she said. “Not that I lived perfectly. I’ve made several bad decisions since then, but I love who I am today and who I am today has a lot to do with his part of my story.”

She left her contact information with social services and kept it updated over the years in hopes he might want to find her someday, but decided that choice had to be his.

Last month, Knox awoke one morning to a text from an unknown number.

A few sentences down, her eyes lingered on the words, “Hi Mom, it’s [me].”

Weeks before, on Oct. 10, a man received an Ancestry.com DNA kit from his wife for his 29th birthday after having expressed a desire to find his birth mother.

Two weeks after sending in the test he got several matches for potential relatives, the first of which was Knox’s mother.

He sent her an email in hopes of a response.

Filled with excitement, Knox’s mother forwarded the message to her daughter, and within a few days, Knox was able to read the email he’d sent.

“I was placed for adoption in October 1988. I’ve always wanted to know who my birth mother was, so if you know anyone in your family who placed a child for adoption at that time, I would love to talk,” he said.

Knox began weeping and the next night sat down to email her son.

“The one thing I want you to know is that you were and always have been deeply loved,” she wrote. “My desires are to meet you, get to know you, get to know who you are, if that is what you want as well.”

The next morning, as Knox read his message, she found that he wanted to know her too.

Knox told her husband and her two sons about the message, and over the next couple days made plans video chat with her “first baby.”

When he picked up the phone, she said, there was a moment of disbelief and awe before she started in on the questions.

“He has my eyes,” she said. He plays piano and has a 4-year-old son with his wife of seven years, both of whom she also got to meet.

Before hanging up, Knox said she finally got the chance to tell him what she’d longed to say for the last 29 years.

“You helped me experience a love, even before you were born, that was beyond myself, and I had never experienced any kind of love like that before,” she told him.

“I wanted him to know that he was not released to his family from me for any other reason than love,” she added.

The experience of seeing her son, Knox said, was one filled with mixed emotions of sadness, excitement, fear and joy.

“It was nerve racking,” she said. “It was awkward at moments, and it was beautiful.”

In the weeks following their conversation, the two families made plans to meet face to face.

This Thanksgiving, Knox will reunite with her first born and share a table with her whole family for the first time.

A range of options exists today for birthparents, including both closed adoptions, like Knox’s, and open adoptions where birth parents can communicate with adoptive families and decide what kind of relationship would best fit them.

According to Krista Hellem, a birth parent adoption counselor with Lutheran Social Services in Missoula, many birthparents find that “a lot of healing is possible with openness.” However, she said, the most important message is to chose what’s right for them.

“I don’t regret at all placing him with the family I placed him with and giving him that opportunity,” Knox said.

To others facing the decision of what to do in a situation like hers, she said, “Choose love. You will never regret choosing love.”

For information about all available options in regards to an unplanned pregnancy, contact http://hopepregnancyministries.org/.

For information on adoption or to contact Lutheran Social Services, visit http://www.lssmt.org/.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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