“Living an experience is to know it. For the birth mother, however, living the experience and understanding the totality of the experience may take a lifetime journey.” — Donna Portuesi, from “Impact of the Birthmother’s Experience, Then and Now”
You’re 16. Six months pregnant. No one knows. You had done your best hiding the reality of a new life growing inside you. Even from your parents. The due date was quickly approaching, and you know you want to make a plan for adoption, but nothing’s prepared yet. You don’t feel like you can tell anyone because of the shame, but soon you won’t be able to hide anymore. What do you do?
For Amy Hammack, this was the beginning of her adoption journey. The moment in her life when everything changed. I had the privilege of hearing Amy’s story, and marveled at her strength and bravery. What she went through to give her son the best life possible is a rich example of a mother’s love.
The following interview is used with Amy’s expressed permission, including the use of her name. Her son, Robb Dow, has also given consent to the use of his name. Other names of friends and family, however, have been altered for the sake of privacy.
RR: When did you decide to make a plan for adoption?
AH: I was doing a lot of babysitting at the time. I babysat for this woman named Caitlyn. She had her child at a young age, too…she had had her first kid at 16, and her second three years later, and I saw her abuse them from time to time. I was more of a mother to her kids than she was…they used to call me “mommy.”
I babysat for another woman, and I could see she was a very loving mother. That’s when I decided I wanted to choose adoption.
I hid my pregnancy for the first six months. I didn’t tell my parents because I was ashamed. For your first pregnancy, it takes a while for you to show. I was just starting to show a baby lump, and I started wearing baggier clothes. My mother worked a second shift — both my parents, actually — so they didn’t see me much. Then, on the weekends, I tried to stay at friends’ places.
RR: How did you go about telling your parents?
AH: How I told them was through a friend of mine. I hadn’t been to the doctor because I was so freaked out, and he confirmed it there. He said, “You are this far along” and started to give me options. Did I want to keep the baby? I was Catholic, so I didn’t believe in abortion. He talked to me about adoption, which I kinda already knew about.
So, after that, I ran away. I didn’t go to school, and moved in with my friend. My parents didn’t know. I called and said I wasn’t coming home. They told me that no, I needed to come home so we could face this together.
I didn’t tell them on the phone that I was pregnant. My dad had told me once that, “if you ever get pregnant, I’ll kill ya.” And, you know, that sticks in your mind. He wouldn’t really, but I was still scared.
My friend was the one who ended up telling them. She said, “We went to the doctor today, and Amy is six months pregnant.” Just like that. Matter of fact. I had already decided I was going to move out and give the baby up for adoption. My dad said, “No, we need to talk about what the next few months are going to bring. If you want to give the baby up, that’s up to you. I understand the situation you’re in, and I kinda know what you’re going through.”
My mom and I were curious about this, so…I’m thinking maybe I have other siblings. My dad played around on my mom a lot.
Then my dad cried and said, “I’m glad you’re doing this.”
RR: Did you ever feel pressured to choose adoption, or was it completely your choice?
AH: It’s something I always wanted to do. I felt like I had nothing to offer. Once you have a kid, you’re responsible for a kid in so many different ways, and I was just a high school student.
I had nothing to offer. I was a high school student. I hadn’t even begun to live my life. I had to get through graduation. I had finished my junior year and still had senior year.
RR: Did you feel stigmatized for your choice?
AH: I was afraid I was going to be labeled as “slut,” or any of those other ones. I hid my pregnancy from everyone. Only three friends knew, and one of them didn’t even go to my school. They didn’t say anything.
RR: What was your path to adoption like?
AH: I babysat for a lady, Vicky, who had adopted a child. She knew my son’s adoptive aunt. She saw me walking one day, and wondered why I wasn’t in school. She hadn’t seen me in a while, and asked me what was going on. I was within six to eight weeks of delivery at this point. She said she knew of a family who was trying to adopt, and asked if she could make a phone call to them.
Within a few days, the adoptive parents took me out to lunch, and that’s the one and only time I met them. I can’t remember the place, but it was somewhere downtown Seattle and they brought their attorney. They wanted to make sure I understood that this was going to be a closed adoption, and that I was going to be taken care of. They offered to buy me a car so I could make it to my doctor’s appointments. (Laughs) A car. I didn’t even have my driver’s license, so that wasn’t going to work.
Closed adoptions is just what you did in 1981. If there was a choice otherwise, I wasn’t aware of it.
RR: What was the hospital experience like?
AH: When I got to the delivery room, I was crowning. Then they put something in my IV and told me to start counting backwards from one hundred. They put me completely out for the birth. Back then, they didn’t want you to remember anything. I understand why now…all the emotions…it makes it harder to give the baby up. Doctors didn’t want women to experience the birth. All they wanted was to get the baby out.
The same thing was done to my mom, even though she never gave a child up. It was believed then that it was best for you and the baby, but I think it had a lot to do with the doctor you got, too.
Afterwards, they put me in a different area of the hospital entirely. I was put in the burn unit. This was so I wouldn’t have any chance of seeing or being close to my baby. They said it wouldn’t have been safe to bring my baby there anyway, because the burn unit attracted bugs.
“I want to see my baby girl,” I told a nurse. I didn’t know what I was having, actually.
“It wasn’t a baby girl,” the nurse said. She was very nice. “It was a healthy baby boy.”
Another nurse came up. “Shh! It’s an adoption! You’re not supposed to say anything!”
They said I wouldn’t remember anything, but I remember that part.
RR: After the adoption, how did you process and grieve?
AH: I went numb. I can’t explain it. You know you’ve had a baby, now you can go back to school. And then…going back to school…everyone is like, “Where have you been?” But what do you say? I just told them I was sick, and didn’t want to talk about it.
It was hard on my parents, too. They were losing a grandchild. So, we didn’t talk about it. We acted like we completely forget about what happened. I think it was harder on my mom, because she had wanted me to keep him. Dad had made it clear from the beginning, “It’s Amy’s decision. It’s not up to you. We need to respect her decision.” This made me feel like they really accepted me and respected my choice.
Because my friend had been getting me my homework, I didn’t fall back behind in school. The only thing I had to do when I went back was earn extra credits so I could graduate. Every day after school, I would take the bus and stay at an elementary school for an hour to an hour and a half. I would grade papers, take kids out a recess, read to them — whatever the teacher wanted me to do.
To keep my mind off things, Vicky said that joining a pageant would help. So, I was part of the Miss Auburn Pageant. It didn’t make me forget, but it helped keep me distracted. The thing about being in the pageant was that you have a very strict schedule you have to abide by. You have to act in a certain way, there are events you had to go to…you had to be a good girl. Four days a week I was learning how to walk in heels, how to model, the proper ways to do makeup and hair — all the stuff I wasn’t into.
I had four brothers. I was your typical tomboy. My mom would put me in a dress, and by the time I got to school the curls and bun were pulled out. I played in dirt. My nickname was Mugs. If there was dirt, I would find it.
So, the [Miss Auburn] Pageant helped, but when it was done I had time to think. Everyone tried to keep my mind off it, but I thought about him — especially on birthdays and holidays.
RR: Tell me a bit more about your son’s adoptive parents.
AH: Rob’s mom was never able to have kids. She had something happen when she was 20 years old, and she had a hysterectomy. But, she’d always wanted children. She was in her early 30s, and her husband was much older.
She was a hairdresser, and he owned a boat company. I knew what they did, and their names. When I babysat for Vicky, I found pictures of Robb, and I took one. I knew it was him, because I recognized the mother holding him and the father and his big smile.
RR: Did you pick Robb’s name, or did his parents name him?
AH: Robb was named after his father’s dad, Robert. This is ironic because, if I had kept him, I was going to [pick the same name, and have his middle name after his birth father].
RR: Did Robb’s birth father know that he had a son?
AH: His birth father knew about him. He called me a “dirty little slut,” then completely disappeared. He was in the army, married with two kids. I thought I was in love, but I had just turned 16. I didn’t know what love was. Here I was with daddy issues, and my dad was drinking. When my dad finally paid attention, it was too late.
I had never had someone pay attention to me in that way. He gave me attention, bought me clothes and dropped me off at school. Even offered his credit card, but I never took him up on that. It was a lot like Pretty Woman.
Years later, I found out he got kicked out the army and did what he did to me to someone else. He had picked up a friend of mine to take her home, and then I found out that he’d had sex with her that day, too. She ended up marrying a woman. I realized then that I had been pretty much raped by him. That he had groomed me. He got what he wanted, and then he moved on.
The attorney that came with Robb’s parents published an announcement in a newspaper just to go through the proper channels. They knew that Robb’s birth father would never respond. He had told me he didn’t care, and to never contact him again. When I signed the papers at the hospital, the attorney explained that they had chosen a newspaper nowhere near us, because they were trying to protect me. Since they knew his birth father wasn’t going to come forward, the distance kept anyone at my school from seeing it.
It was a no brainer to me. I trusted Vicky, and knew that she would make sure I was well taken care of.
RR: How have you found healing?
AH: I went back to school in 2003 and took a Psychology class, where I learned how much I had been punishing myself over the years. In high school, I explained that I chose adoption because of all the things I wanted to do. I was going to go into the military, but never did. I had good intentions, but — honestly — my biggest fear was getting pregnant again. One thing I always did was with every relationship…I was very open and honest about [Robb’s adoption]. I felt like that was the right thing to do. Being baptized and doing Bible study helped, too. It helped me not be afraid to admit who I was. But, inside, choosing adoption was still the hardest thing I ever did.
Until my Psych class, though, I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself. That I never gave myself time to heal. That’s an important process. Healing. One of the ways I learned I could do that was to write about it and let it out. So, in either 2004 or 2005, I found Donna’s article on the website, “Silent Voices Unheard.” It touched me and started the healing process. I tried to not think of Robb’s adoption. It hurt too much not knowing him or if I would ever meet him again, and thinking about it made me very emotional. This article is what inspired me to educate myself, and is what woke me up.
RR: What advice would you give birth mothers or adoptive parents looking to adopt?
AH: (Pause) You brought up a memory when you asked that. Going back to the Miss Auburn pageant…there were other girls who were pregnant and wanted to talk about it. I didn’t think I was the best person for them to come to, and said they should go the counselors. But I told them, “Here’s my story. This is what I did.”
It’s a big decision, and a life-changing one. It will change who you are all the way around. Make sure you do your research. Only you can make this decision for your life.
Having Robb and choosing adoption was a blessing. I’m glad I decided to make a bad choice into a positive decision. He has even told me, “Thank you for giving birth to me.” This makes everything worth it.