Open adoption -- bringing families
Shauna McNeil holds Maleina. /
Photo by Amy Macavinta
December 1, 2008 | Mark McNeil struggled down the hall
to the conference room, nudging his 6-year-old son,
Tyler, every step of the way, with an infant-loaded
car seat in each hand.
He had arrived at the meeting before his wife, Shauna,
but in the conference room were three young women who
were more than willing to help him with the babies.
The baby boy, his nephew, was quickly unbundled and
19-year-old Lynn was fussing over him, making him smile.
Just a few short months before, the sight of a baby
made her burst into tears.
Six-month-old Maleina, the baby girl, was sound asleep,
so Skyler and Jean admired her from a distance so her
nap wasn't interrupted.
As soon as Shauna arrived, they all gathered around
the table to share their stories as part of an education
Adoption Awareness Month.
Mark and Shauna knew from the very beginning that
conceiving a child would be difficult for them at best,
so they were thrilled to learn they were expecting their
first child. However, when they decided they were ready
to expand their family a little bit more they needed
a helping hand so Shauna began taking fertility pills.
"It was like having her pregnant for two years," said
Shauna said the hormone pills were horrible. She was
happy one minute, angry and frustrated the next. She
frequently blamed herself for their inability to come
pregnant, even with the pills.
They considered in vitro fertilization, another option
that would have allowed her to carry a biological child.
But, Mark didn't want to put Shauna through that, physically.
And financially, it was not a good choice for them.
So, in October 2005, they went to
LDS Family Services -- an agency operated by the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they
started filling out the papers for adoption.
While the McNeils were wading through the process
of becoming adoptive parents, Lynn, Skyler and Jean
all learned they were going to be mothers and were trying
to decide how they were going to care for the infants
they were carrying.
Lynn said she cried for a long time when she learned
she was pregnant. Her own mother had been single for
five years, so she knew it wouldn't be easy to raise
a child alone. And she knew the baby's father was not
stable financially or mentally.
Skyler, who did not live in Utah at the time, found
out she was pregnant last year, on the day after Christmas.
Her boyfriend, whom she had been dating for a year,
rejected her and the baby immediately.
"He wanted me to go away so he would be OK," Skyler
said. "And he isn't even the one who is going to show."
Jean became pregnant in the fall of 2007, right after
she started college. Unlike Skyler and Lynn, Jean is
still with her baby's father. They considered marriage,
but decided against it.
"We knew we weren't ready to be parents," she said.
All three of these young women delivered healthy babies
this year, and after a lot of thought, they all made
the heart-wrenching decision to place their infants
in a home with both a mother and father.
Meanwhile, a year ago at this time, another young
woman needed a place to stay until her baby was born.
Mark and Shauna took her into their home, although she
had not yet decided whether she was going to raise her
child or place her for adoption.
"She was going from friend to friend, living on couches,
not always eating, not seeing a doctor," said Mark,
"and at six months, she was barely showing." During
this time, Shauna said this young woman got to know
them the good points and the bad. And in time, she
did decide to place her baby with the McNeils.
On Feb. 6, Shauna was able to be the labor coach when
Maleina was delivered. She was able to give the newborn
her first bath in the hospital a task most new moms
don't get to do. And then, the birth mother took the
baby home for four days, something that was sheer panic
for Shauna. Today, with Maleina on her lap, the immensity
of these events is not lost on Shauna.
"To sacrifice something so beautiful and so perfect
it's incredible," she said. And yet, the McNeil's
family grew more than they ever imagined it would. While
they had insisted upon an open adoption from the very
beginning, they never anticipated the bond that would
develop between them and Maleina's birth mother.
"She's family to us," said Mark. "She's not just a
friend, or someone we know, she is part of us now."
LDS Family Services is located in Logan, but serves
Box Elder, Cache and Rich Counties. Church membership
is not required. According to Sandra Barbourough, 67
moms, including Lynn, Skyler and Jean, went to LDS Family
Services during their pregnancy. Of those, 16 placed
their babies for adoption. However, the help doesn't
A caseworker helps the mother through the process
of making the decision, but then there are group sessions
as well, for both the birth mom and the adoptive family.
These group meetings help the birth moms through the
grieving process and provide them a network of support
comprised of others who have experienced what she has.
Skyler moved to Utah to attend Utah State University
just two weeks after her baby was born. She doesn't
talk about her son to anyone outside of group, ever.
"It is my personal trial," she said. "I don't want
judgments or opinions. I keep all my pictures in my
car, and I cry in my car, by myself. It is very sacred
and personal to me."
But even now, with her pain still fresh and raw, she
says she would still counsel other young moms to consider
And Lynn, who said she was initially excited about
being a mom, said making the decision to place her baby
with a family was a huge weight off her shoulders.
"It's for the baby, she said. "It's not even about