By Nikki Payne
Jeanna Gill is a busy mother of two “littles.” It’s not unusual for her to have one or the other of her kids pulling at her sleeve for attention while she’s on the phone. That happens to most moms. What makes the Gills’ situation unique is that it may be her son’s birth mom on the other side of a phone call.
I got the chance to hear about that relationship when I gave Jeanna a call one afternoon when our kids were all napping.
Early in our conversation, she said, “I thought I could never provide foster care or adopt a child.” And she surely would have thought it impossible for an adoptive mother, like herself, to have a loving relationship with the child’s birth mother. But she and her husband, Glenn, are now caring for children as both foster parents and adoptive parents, and they have a growing relationship with Tori, the birth mother of their adopted son.
God has changed Jeanna‘s heart about foster care and adoption over the past five years, and Jeanna now wants to share their story to encourage others. Like Jeanna, many people cite the fear of having to give a foster child back or of an adoption falling through as the reason they won’t get involved. And those scenarios do happen. The Gills provided nearly two years of foster care to a little girl who then returned to her birth parents, and they’ve had three separate adoptions fall through. The heartache and loss they felt were great, but even in those dark times, they experienced God’s sufficient grace. “And being open to God’s grace,” Jeanna says,” allows wondrous things to happen.”
And the relationship the Gills have developed with Tori, their son’s birth mom, is one of the way’s in which God’s grace is most evident.
When Tori found out she was pregnant, she knew that adoption was the best chance her baby had at the life she wanted for him. She sought out an adoptive family, and moved forward toward an independent adoption. But when she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, those plans fell through.
Tori tearfully explained her situation to a friend. Her friend’s mom, who had joined in the conversation, contacted her nephew, Glenn Gill, and told him that Tori’s baby needed a home. Because of their previous experiences, the Gills were cautious but willing to talk to Tori. They had chosen the route of independent adoption, as well, so a phone call would provide some preliminary screening. Tori agreed to talk with Jeanna, which lead to a face-to-face meeting that ended up lasting three hours.
Glenn’s aunt acted as a liaison and asked Tori some hard questions. “Tori said it wasn’t her first go ‘round with giving a child up,” Jeanna said. “She was distancing herself from the baby. But we shared that we wanted a relationship with her as the birth mom.” The Gills had decided that, if it were safe, they would keep an open adoption. They would want their child to have the security of knowing where he or she came from.
Soon after that meeting, Tori made her decision to place her son with the Gills, and Jeanna started going to Tori’s doctor appointments with her. The car rides to and from the appointments allowed to the women time to discuss how they would navigate the future.
Jeanna broached the subject of what her son would call his birth mom. “I learned through foster care that it’s okay for both of us to be called ‘Mommy,’” so Jeanna asked Tori if she would like to be called “Mommy-Tori.” Tori teared up and said that’s what her other kids call her. “She wouldn’t have asked for that, though,” Jeanna said.
The women talked about naming the baby, as well. Tori told Jeanna that she would put the name they chose on the original birth certificate. “But we had decided that we wanted her to be part of naming him,” Jeanna said. “We wanted to honor her as his birth mom.” The Gills also wanted to have the same name on both the original birth certificate and the amended copy, believing that would help in giving their son a firm sense of identity.
Tori was touched by their decision, but she didn’t really like their first suggestion. “We liked the name Samuel because it means ‘asked of God,’ but Tori didn’t.” Jeanna later shared their second choice, Theron, which means “hunter,” and Tori really liked it. Theron is a name with some history in Jeanna’s family, and it is also a nod to his birth father, who is an avid hunter.
These are just a couple of the instances that make Theron’s story so amazing. And Jeanna said that those doctor visits were good for Tori. They assured her that her son was going to the right home, and they also gave her a chance to ask for advice in other areas of her life. Eventually, they gave Jeanna the chance to share the Gospel with Tori.
At Tori’s final check-up, her blood pressure was dangerously high, and the doctor determined that she needed to go to the hospital for induction. Tori had previously asked Jeanna if she wanted to be there when he was born. “Of course I wanted to be there!” Jeanna said. But she knew that it would be a bitter sweet experience. She couldn’t wait to meet her son, but she was aware that she would be witness to one of the hardest things a person could do.
Jeanna wanted to be sure she was sensitive and inclusive of Tori. To that end, after Theron was born and handed to her, she immediately took him to Tori so that they could both touch him for the first time, at the same time. Jeanna had also previously asked some ladies in her church to help her put together a gift basket, filled with lots of Tori’s favorite things. Then, when Glenn came into the room to see Theron for the first time, Tori could open the gifts and not just be left to watch the new family.
The Gills continue to open their hearts to Tori. Jeanna took her home from the hospital after Theron‘s birth. They remain connected on Facebook, giving Tori the chance to see plenty of pictures of Theron. They talk on the phone about their son–or anything Tori may need some advice about. And they’ve gotten together twice so that Tori could see Theron. Jeanna says that those get-togethers have blessed her in a surprising way. “I think I was more excited for her to hold Theron than she was! And Tori feeds him, changes him. And we say ‘I love you‘ when we leave.”
Fear and insecurity are the enemies to being able to build a relationship with birth parents. Jeanna said that, “Especially during the three days after Theron’s birth, prior to the termination papers being signed, selfishness made me want to hoard him, but selflessness drew us all together. Being self-centered doesn’t work if you want to successfully adopt.”
To others, Jeanna says, “This could only be done by God. He is the only one that can put this story together as beautifully.”
Images courtesy Jeanna Gill