Vanessa McGrady is a freelance writer and mom to Grace. The views expressed here are her own.
Here’s what I knew from the social worker’s call that Friday afternoon nearly five years ago: Her name was Bridgett and she was 23. His name was Bill and he was 38. They were musicians who wanted to concentrate on their careers. He made enough money so they could live in a small residential hotel in Downtown L.A. Bill and Bridgett Sheffield were so close to their financial edge that they were falling off it. And they were about to have a baby any day.
Only four days later, Bridgett went into labor. I raced back from a business trip in Northern California, feeling cautiously hopeful. Then, in the instant Grace took her first breath of life, I became her mom, after a nearly interminable two-year roller coaster of waiting and hoping to be matched with a birth mother.
What I didn’t know was that once the hospital staff learned of Bridgett and Bill’s plans to place the baby for adoption, the couple said staff leaned on them — hard — to change their minds. The other thing I didn’t know: They had been saddled with $5,000 worth of bills, they said, and the adoption agency was no help in navigating this. They felt, in essence, like baby machines. (A hospital spokeswoman declined to talk about their case, citing patient confidentiality, and also declined to explain the hospital’s general policy in regards to counseling for birth parents.)
Jennifer Pedley, a birth mother who helped to found the On Your Feet Foundation
as a way to support birth parents after adoption, said that Bridgett and Bill’s experience is not uncommon.
"Agencies say they provide post-placement [support] — most really don't provide much, but those who do, although well intended, usually struggle to make it successful," Pedley said. Part of the issue, also, is that birth parents don’t always use services available to them from the agency. "There are probably several reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is birth parents' reluctance to return to an organization who is seen as being a primary advocate for the adoptive family. They often also have mixed feelings about returning to the people who are associated with their relinquishment, a primary source of their grief."
On the way back from the hospital, my then-husband and I dropped Bridgett and Bill off at their place, then went home with our baby. We kept in touch through Facebook, and would occasionally meet up at a playground. Then, in the fall of 2013, I learned that my daughter's birth parents had become homeless through a brutal combination of factors. A bedbug infestation in their apartment, Bill losing his job at Pizza Hut, and Bridgett's unsuccessful search for work in L.A. drove them to move to Texas, where Bill had roots, in search of an easier life.
But nearly three years later, they are still essentially homeless. Bill is a Navy veteran, but things didn’t work out with Veterans Affairs housing. Bill and Bridgett say they don’t apply for state benefits like food stamps or unemployment because they don’t want to get caught up in the Texas "system" — they want to come back to L.A. as soon as they can. But they just can’t seem to catch a break.
They are the biological parents of my only child. My gratitude toward them is boundless. I have debt that cannot be repaid — and yet I don’t know how to help. Except by telling their story, which is what they asked me to do.
Ahead, Bill, Bridgett, Grace, and I share our story in photos.
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