When Lindsey Redfern and her husband were told they would never be able to bear their own children, Lindsey wondered why she was denied the opportunity to be a co-creator with her Heavenly Father. But because of her husband’s professional experience and a number of miracles along the way, Lindsey discovered the joys and challenges of open adoption and now helps others to navigate that same path.
Tell us how you gained a testimony of adoption.
I’ve known of my husband, Josh, since we were in junior high school, and we got married in college. Josh was getting his master’s degree in social work, and at this point we’d been married for four years and had been trying to have a baby for two but weren’t having any success. Josh got an internship on the East coast with an adoption agency, and saw miracles happen from all sides and had a profound education that I didn’t get on the subject. He shared bits and pieces, but many of the experiences were confidential so he couldn’t get into details.
We came home from that internship and did some fertility testing, and I remember being nervous about the results but thinking there had to be some sort of medicine or solution and voila – everything would work fine. People have been making babies for centuries – they must be able to solve infertility now with all the modern medicines, right?
Our doctor sat us down in the exam room and gave us our results together – she told me some of my hormone levels were a little wonky, and told my husband that he had some issues also, so together these issues meant that there was zero chance – despite medical intervention – for us to be able to create life.
I was pretty stunned. I felt so bad for that doctor who had to come in and give us the news. There we were, older BYU grad students, in Provo, which felt like the baby-making capital of the world. I’m sure that doctor felt horrible. When it sunk in, I started to weep and I asked, “Well, what do we do?” The doctor turned to me – I still get emotional about it, and it was years ago – and said, “You need to pray.” Who knows why she said that – she probably wasn’t allowed to say it – but it made an impact on me.
We walked out of the doctor’s office totally devastated, wondering “Why are we on earth if we can’t make a family?” We stood in the parking lot and sobbed and then drove home. I called my mom and my mother-in-law and told them what was happening and they wept with us. We were exhausted when we got home and tried to do a bit of research on other medical options. I remember we’d stupidly planned to go to dinner that night with three other couples, all of whom were expecting, so I’m sure that was an awkward dinner for them when we let them know what was going on.
We didn’t know what to do. Josh didn’t approach the adoption issue yet, but he did get some information from local agencies and just happened to leave them out around the house while he was at work. I wasn’t at that point yet, wasn’t ready to think about it – but he was, since he’d had that experience with the internship.
I’d been told my whole life – in the temple, in Young Women, growing up – that being a mother is the highest calling, and that bearing and rearing children is a gift that the Lord gives women. I was told that I’d spent my whole life preparing to be a mom and that there was nothing more important than having a righteous family that could be with you in the next life. All I could think now was, why me? If that’s what I wanted to do, why would Heavenly Father deny that? Why wouldn’t He let Josh and me experience becoming co-creators with Him? Obviously you don’t have to be worthy to become parents–there are plenty of horrible parents out there – what was wrong with us? I’m lucky that I never got into the “Why is God punishing us?” mind frame because those are really dark thoughts, but the Heavenly Father I know doesn’t want to punish His children – He wants to bless them.
We were struggling and my in-laws came to visit. My father-in-law gave me a powerful blessing; my husband gave me a blessing – I remember my father telling me, “You get as many blessings as you can right now – there is no quota.” I questioned my whole worth as a woman and my role here and how I could fill the measure of my creation if I couldn’t have a family.
In one of the blessings, I felt Heavenly Father tell me, “Lindsey – sometimes I create people who cannot have children so that there are homes for my children that need them.” That was so profound for me. I’d had this idea that I was broken – if my husband and I couldn’t reproduce and have a biological family, that meant I was less than the norm – but coming to realize Heavenly Father created me this way, created my husband, knowing we’d be together and that we couldn’t create life – that was His plan all along. It was empowering. I have bad “infertility moments” where I still think why me, this isn’t fair, but most of the time I feel empowered to know I was created this way, for whatever reason.
We decided to investigate adoption and my whole persona changed. I’d been in a daze and depressed for a couple weeks, but the idea and hope of adoption and the love I already had for my future children and for the future birth mothers we’d work with gave me hope and the strength to get out of bed in the morning. I was teaching elementary school and the first few days after finding out we couldn’t have kids were rough since I was looking at kids all day, but after that it was really exciting. I knew I could love a child that wasn’t related to me. After all, I was teaching at the time, and I loved my students; they weren’t biologically related to me. I loved my husband; he’s not related to me. I love my college friends with all my soul. I could love these children just as much even though they wouldn’t be biologically related to me.
We did more research and decided to talk to our bishop. He didn’t know why we asked to meet with him, but we told him our plan and that we were going to look into other medical options but also explore adoption. Our bishop was looking down while we said this, and then he looked directly at us and said, “No. The Lord does not want you to waste your money on other medical procedures – He wants you to adopt. I feel really prompted to let you know that there’s a young woman out there who just found out she’s pregnant, and she’s scared. You need to start praying for her.”
We just stared at him. We knew this was something Heavenly Father felt strongly about for us, so we went forward with adoption. We got cleared with an adoption agency in record time – only three or four weeks to get approved – and we made an online profile with the agency. Six weeks later we were chosen by a young woman across the country, who had found out she was pregnant around the time we spoke with our bishop. Over the next six weeks we fell in love with her and her entire family; we flew out to visit her, we got to learn all about her. She even recorded her baby’s heartbeat on her phone and let us listen to it over lunch one day. A couple weeks later we got a phone call from her mom telling us to get out there immediately because the baby was coming. I love that our oldest son, Tyson, can tell people his parents were on an airplane when he was born.
With our second, Gavin, the birth mom had been a close friend of my husband’s brother. They’d kept in touch and had a conversation about her finding herself in an unplanned pregnancy, and my brother-in-law shared the testimony he’d gained of adoption after watching us and seeing Tyson’s adoption unfold and meeting his birth mom and knowing what our relationship with her was like. Because of that talk, the friend looked into open adoption and said, “It’s too bad Josh and Lindsey aren’t hoping to adopt again, because I’d really like to place with them.”
I got a phone call from Josh’s brother who said, “Remember that friend I had who was pregnant? She decided to place the baby for adoption and she’s really only interested in placing with our family. With you and Josh.” We said we’d get to know her and her family, and it took off from there.
Now we’re working with a new birth mom who had read my blog for the past few years, and when she found herself in an unplanned pregnancy she called some adoption agencies but nothing felt right. Then she left a comment on my blog that she needed help. I sent her a message back and it snowballed from there. Our third baby should arrive in early 2012.
You’re obviously huge advocates for open adoption – why is that important to you, and how do you help other families through that process?
To us, open adoption means you open your home, heart, and family to your children’s biology. My children’s’ biological families are part of our family and are always welcome in our home. If you contrast that to closed adoptions, which were the norm even as recently as fifteen years ago, agencies would take care of everything, even cut adoptive parents’ faces out of photos before giving them to the birth parents. The child may never know anything about their biological family other than race and height and maybe a few other details.
I love that it’s changing now, because in our religion we put so much emphasis on knowing your roots and your genealogy – we even have these huge resources in downtown Salt Lake City to help us trace our lines. I think knowing where you came from is so important to your spirit, and I wanted that for my children. They’re more than welcome to adopt our biological lines, and we have adopted their lines. When we do our genealogy, we actually do an additional set – we do their biological line and our biological line, so their family trees are very large. Our boys are sealed to us and we know in the eternities they’ll get to be with us and that’s awesome — but I also feel like there’s a connection you can’t deny within your DNA and where you came from. I don’t know how that will all work out in the world to come, but I have faith that they’ll be part of my family.
My husband decided to make a career change and we opened our own adoption consulting firm as a way to help others going through the adoption process. My husband had always been drawn to social work and felt like it was the right path for him, even though I tried to convince him to go to law school like everyone else in my family. He’s very passionate and knowledgeable about what he does.
So we opened this firm not knowing it would snowball into what it is now. We work with adoptive couples to help them have a good experience, whether it’s with an agency or a private adoption. We’ve also worked with birth parents and adoptive parents in helping them figure out what they want out of an open adoption. There’s a huge scale on what exactly open adoption can mean to parents, so we talk to both sides about their options. Do they want pictures once a year; do they want to visit a couple times a month – what will make both sides happy?
What challenges have you experienced with open adoption?
Our kids are young (ages three and four, plus one on the way). The kids haven’t had any problems so far – adoption was never a big revelation to them because we’ve been so open about it, and it’s normal for them. Both boys have a framed picture of their birth mom in their room. They have a box with letters and pictures and scrapbooks. But, since open adoption is just another type of relationship, of course there have been ups and downs and miscommunications. We try to be open with our feelings and emotions and trust – hoping that the biological parent has the same love for us that we have for them.
One of our birth moms needed a break once – she told us she wasn’t ignoring us and she wasn’t mad, but she needed a break from us. I asked if I could still text her and send encouraging messages and she said that’s fine but she probably wouldn’t reply. Because I know her and love her, I believed her – if we didn’t have that open line of communication, that could be hard. I could think she really was mad at us, or misinterpret her words and think she regrets her decision or whatever – but in reality, she’s grieving. She has made peace with her decision, but she’s grieving the way others are seeing her.
When Tyson’s birth mom first placed him with us, she had friends who didn’t agree with her decision to place him for adoption. On Mother’s Day a few years ago, her friends staged an intervention and told her she was a horrible mother for giving him up. Because she knew she could trust us and that we loved her unconditionally, she felt comfortable calling us and explaining what was going on. Her friends didn’t understand open adoption and how it is now. That kind of stuff is hard to hear because I hate that she is hurting, but I’m glad she feels close enough to us that she can be honest with us.
How has your blog, The R House, influenced your experience with adoption?
I love to write; I’ve always loved to write since I was in elementary school. My parents signed me up for writing camps during the summer.
The R House blog technically started in 2006, but the idea came about in the year 2000 when I was living with my best friends in college in an old 1920s house. My dear friend Laura decided to name all the houses on our street – and we named our house the R House. All the roommates and I started collecting giant R’s that we’d use to decorate throughout the house.
Eventually all the roommates got married, AND I was the only one to end up with a last name that started with R – so I inherited the R’s. I went to visit one of the roommates a few years later in Chicago — she was a pretty accomplished writer and I admired her. She set up a blog for me and said, “You can call it The R House for old time’s sake,” so for the first year I kept this blog for those college roomies who had lived in the original R House and they were the only ones who would read and comment.
Then my husband and I found out we couldn’t have children biologically, so I wrote a little about that and a lot of people started to comment. Once we decided to take the adoption path for our family, more people started reading and wondering about that.
When we were chosen by my oldest son’s birth mother to be his parents, I wrote about those feelings and how intense they were. I was really gaining a testimony of adoption and more people could relate to that. We started to have some snags with his adoption and I guess everybody likes to watch a train wreck, because as I wrote about the problems we were having I also got more and more readers and they’ve just kept coming. It’s been really neat to watch this community grow organically – it wasn’t designed to be a business or anything, it all just started with that trip to Chicago.
Through your blog, you’ve been instrumental in helping other families adopt babies. How did that come about?
I believe in paying it forward. For me, there is this mentality that adoptive couples are competition for each other, but the way I see it, it’s not a race or a business – it’s a family. For me, adoption is all about an expectant mom who decides on an adoption plan and gets to choose the life she wants for the child. She picks what the parents do, where they live, where the child will fit in the family – she can design the life she wants for her child. Every adoptive mom is different and wants different things. I don’t see other couples as competition – they want to be parents and have their own special circumstances.
I have places on my blog where people can put links to their online agency profiles or adoption blogs to share info more easily. I have empowering articles and resources for members of all sides of adoption. I guess, these are ways I feel I can pay it forward and help other parents hoping to adopt.
When we started our consulting business, the first thing we did was invite about ten friends over who were birth moms. Some had placed babies for adoption a couple months before, some a few years before – we got together and talked about what they looked for in adoptive parents. They gave us pointers on things they wanted and didn’t want from looking at potential parents, and that’s something we share with our clients now. What catches their eye and what doesn’t, how you can truly present yourself the best way.
If I found myself in an unplanned pregnancy and was putting together an adoption plan for my baby, I would want to know what the potential adoptive parents look like – what they look like on a regular day, when they’re not all dolled up. I want the real them, not a polished version. A blog is photo heavy, and I’m a visual person, so my adoption blog is photo heavy. I encourage other adoptive families to have lots of photos – not just snapshots, but photos that tell about your family, your animals, your extended family.
Do you think adoptive parents face stigma in the Church?
I grew up in a very diverse area outside of Washington, DC, in northern Virginia. It didn’t occur to me until years after I’d moved away that I had lots of friends growing up who had been trans-racially adopted – they were a different race than their parents – and it never crossed my mind that those were adoptive families. I don’t know if that’s because I grew up in a huge melting pot of cultures and races, or if the Lord was preparing me, but I just always thought it was no big deal. I realized I’d been in Young Women and all through church growing up with multi-racial families. Even later, when we were finding out about infertility, I thought I didn’t know anyone to turn to for advice who was an adoptive family, but I realized I actually knew a lot.
Throughout the Bible, there are women who suffered through infertility – Hannah and Sarah and other core pillars of our religion – and they prayed and had enough faith and eventually were able to conceive. I’ve had people who I’m close to, and even some people I’m not close to, tell me that if I had more faith, I’d be able to get pregnant. People say things under the guise of “I’m just trying to help,” but really what they’re saying to me is that how my family was and is formed is not enough.
For me, the faith and miracles ARE there. Miracles are in the experience we had with our bishop that day, how I’ve felt in the temple, the feelings I have when I share our story even now, five years later. The miracles are there when I look into the faces of my childen. The faith is learning not MY will be done, but Heavenly Father’s will. My plan for my family may not be what my Father’s plan for my family is. And when I realize that I can let go and let Him tell me what His plan is, then I can get rid of my sadness and be happy.
I think that’s true for all of us in any situation. If your plan for your life is turning out different than Heavenly Father’s plan, and you try to discover what Heavenly Father’s plan for you is, life will be easier and smoother.
I do think that sometimes we, as LDS people, are so rooted in the faith we’ve had since our pioneer ancestry that we forget to open our eyes and realize the way we think a miracle should unfold is not the way that miracle has to happen. These people who say hurtful things don’t understand that I DID get a miracle — the miracle was that there are three women on this planet who got pregnant and decided they’d put themselves aside and have their baby and then place that baby with my husband and me. That’s a miracle. Sometimes it seems like more of a miracle than conception to me.
I choose to have a positive point of view about adoption and infertility. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard things about it – there ARE hard things about it. But I think the Lord has asked us and expects us to take the trials we are given and turn them into something beautiful. He tells us in Isaiah that He will give beauty for ashes; out of the fire and pain of my infertility and from these struggling expectant mothers in an unplanned pregnancy – who choose heartbreak for themselves when they place that child with us – out of all that pain can come beauty.
At A Glance
Location: West Jordan, Utah
Marital status: Married since 2002
Children: 2 kids, both were adopted, ages 3 and 4 …and one on the way scheduled to arrive in February.
Occupation: MommyCast’s Community Manager, Blogger, Co-Owner of The R House Couture jewelry, Mom
Schools Attended: BYU
Favorite Hymn: “Where Can I Turn For Peace?”
On The Web: www.therhouse.com and www.therhouse.etsy.com