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Double Bind

In 2006, Coleman and her husband, Ken, were eagerly preparing to bring their adopted son home from an Oklahoma hospital. They had signed the papers and had spent two days in the NICU caring for him. When a nurse entered the nursery to find them waiting eagerly, she suddenly grew uncomfortable.

"The social worker didn't tell you?" the nurse asked. "The state has taken custody of the baby, and they're no longer allowing visitors."

The words didn't make sense. As the Colemans quickly gathered information, suddenly nothing made sense.

Facing a childless return home, sitting on the edge of a hotel bed, Stacy's heart was suddenly filled with love for the birthmom of her child—a love that she believes could only be the work of God. Through the haze of pain, Coleman realized that she'd be returning to a rich network of support. The birthmom of the child they'd just lost would not.

"I don't know what happened in that moment of deep pain—pain that was indescribable," she says. But through it, "a great passion was born."

Three children later (two via adoption and one homegrown), Coleman continues to support birthmoms and invite the church to celebrate the generous gift of life they've given. She believes that when Christians oppose abortion but don't consider supporting a woman after she gives birth, they can create a double bind. "We want her to choose life. We say, 'This is the choice you need to make, but once you make it—whether you choose to parent or place—you're on your own.'"

Since her own experience in the Oklahoma hospital, Coleman has discovered how many birthmothers need care and support. Often the father of the child has left. The mother's family and friends usually don't know what to say. So when they leave the hospital without their baby, most birthmoms find themselves very much alone.

One of the ways Three Strands is alleviating the isolation is by giving birthmoms, and the whole adoption community, a new vocabulary. When one birthmom repeatedly referenced "giving up" her son, Coleman says, "You didn't give him up. To 'give up' means to forget. 'I give up. I quit.' You placed him in a loving environment."

Coleman doesn't hesitate to call birthmothers "heroes." "Two birthmoms made me a mom," she gushes. "They gave me a chance to fulfill a dream that I couldn't have done otherwise on my own."

More Open to Open Adoption

Three Strands' first initiative took place on National Adoption Day 2013 at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where staff spent time with birthmothers and nurses. In 2014, they will return to give high-end swag bags to birthmoms who would otherwise leave the hospital empty-handed. The Lands End bags include necklaces, Mary Kay shower kits, and a frame with paper to capture the newborn baby's footprints. After one birthmom said she just wanted a sweatshirt to cuddle up in after delivery, they added a thick, cozy sweatshirt to the bags.

Coleman, Russo, and Hundley recognize the bags are a means to an end. "We are just offering up our little sack lunches," says Coleman. "Jesus is going to feed the 5,000." As it was with Jesus, the really good stuff happens through relationships.

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Birthmothers, the Unsung Heroes of the Adoption Movement