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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009

Breakneck:

"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Open adoption -- bringing families together

Shauna McNeil holds Maleina. / Photo by Amy Macavinta

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 campaign for 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 Mark.

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 stop there.

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 adoption.

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 you anymore."

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