Holt-Sunny Ridge Offers Unique Services and Support for Families in Illinois

When Holt International merged with Sunny Ridge Family Center in May of last year, both Holt and Sunny Ridge were excited by the unique history, expertise and services that each agency could bring to our new branch office in Illinois, Holt-Sunny Ridge Children’s Services. By joining with Holt, Sunny Ridge can now place children from many more countries — countries where Holt has long-standing programs, including Korea and Vietnam. For Holt, assuming management of Sunny Ridge has created a new chapter of serving children in the U.S. as we have continued the agency’s long history of providing domestic adoption services in Illinois!

Since May, the Holt-Sunny Ridge staff has also continued the exceptional post-adoption services and adoption-competent therapy that Sunny Ridge provided local families for many years. These include support groups for birth parents and birth grandparents, parenting workshops and adoptee discussion groups as well as private family therapy.

At Holt, we are overjoyed to work alongside the exceptional staff at our branch office in Illinois, helping children grow up in stable, loving homes and supporting families — by birth and by adoption — throughout their lives.

As an insight into the wonderful services available to families in Illinois, we thought we would share with you a story from one woman who participated in a Holt-Sunny Ridge support group for birth grandparents.  To learn more about support groups and other post-adoption services at Holt-Sunny Ridge, visit www.holtsunnyridge.org.


No One Can Do This Alone

After her son places his child for adoption, one woman finds the help she needs at a Holt-Sunny Ridge support group for birth grandparents.

Hello, my name is Sherry.  I am a birth grandparent.  A little over two years ago in late February, my son, Tim, sent me an email requesting a family meeting.  As this was out of character for Tim, I began the “mom” panic mode.  There wasn’t any way for me to prepare for what was coming next.

The family gathered on a Friday evening, my husband Don, my daughter Alyson, Tim and myself.  Tim proceeded to tell us that he was notified several days earlier that he was going to be a father to a baby boy, due in early May. My son and the baby’s mom, Stephanie, had not had any type of communication for several months.  You can imagine the shock that rippled through us.  Many questions flooded our conversation — primarily, wanting to know if it was possible that this baby could be my son’s.  Tim confirmed that it was certainly a possibility.  Why did Stephanie wait so long to inform you?  Has she been seeing a doctor?  And so on.

Next, our family met with Stephanie. We all talked about options that we thought could possibly work. Looking back on that time, it all seemed like a blur to me. Trying to stay strong for my son, trying to maintain a normal routine — at work, with other family members and dear friends.  To balance this was next to impossible while my mind was racing out of control.

Our next family meeting was the first time I heard about Holt-Sunny Ridge Children’s Services, and the words “open adoption.”  Just exactly what kind of place is Holt-Sunny Ridge?  How could outsiders possibly help us? Tim and Stephanie conducted their own research, surfed the Internet, made phone calls and eventually decided on Holt-Sunny Ridge Children’s Services and an open adoption plan. They met with a counselor, discussed important considerations and learned how Holt-Sunny Ridge could provide professional services and practical planning during this unplanned pregnancy.  For the next several weeks, Tim and Stephanie brought home stacks of profiles of prospective adoptive parents. Independent of each other, the same profile kept coming to the top of their piles. They chose Paul and Sara Brown.* Through Holt-Sunny Ridge, Tim and Stephanie had their first meeting with their prospective adoptive parents.  The next few months, Tim attended birth classes, accompanied Stephanie to doctor appointments and continued to meet with Paul and Sara as much possible before the birth of the baby.

Noah Christopher Brown* was born on 4/28/11 at 1:39am at Valley West Hospital in Sandwich, IL. A perfect, healthy baby boy.  7lbs, 8oz and 19.5 inches long.

The first time I personally met Paul and Sara was at the hospital after Noah’s birth. I remember that I was quiet, tired and emotionally drained. I could barely speak, afraid I would not be able to hold it together. I’m sure I came across as unfriendly.  I was sure Paul and Sara could have cared less if they got to know me. Why would they? At this point in time, I didn’t even like myself. The realization hit me. I’m just a birth grandparent.  We are giving our baby boy to perfect strangers. Who does this? What had I done wrong to allow this course of events to take place? I had a thousand questions, but no answers. This pain was so raw. I thought the worst. What if I never get to see Noah again? What if Paul and Sara don’t want Tim and his family to be a part of Noah’s life? Will Tim survive this? Will I survive this? This is not how I pictured it would be when I had my first grandchild. I am supposed to be able to brag, and show photos and brag some more. Instead, there was only silence… and the “if onlys” had set in.

May 2 was placement day at Holt-Sunny Ridge. I remember sending Tim out the door with gifts for Noah, without knowing how to ease his pain on this very bittersweet emotional day.  The days that followed began my spiral down to a very dark place. I remember thinking, it’s already Friday, what happened to M-T-W and Th? How did I get from one day to the next? I remember screaming that this can’t end this way. Give our baby back to us! No one could possibly love him the way his ‘real family’ can. I could hear nightly tears coming from my daughter’s bedroom. Tim became withdrawn. He didn’t communicate, he never saw his friends.  In my unimaginable pain, I couldn’t begin to comprehend how my son must be handling this situation. Our home had become a place where everyone walked on eggshells. Every day, you could feel the tension.

I have a picture that I took of Tim holding Noah at the hospital, kissing his forehead. I remember just after I took that photo, Tim looked up at me and said, “Now I know exactly how much you love me.”  What was left of my heart broke into a million more pieces. This new little person who came into the world had taken our breath away. Noah had changed our lives forever.

Tim informed me that Holt-Sunny Ridge conducts support groups for birth parents and birth grandparents. Of course, I thought, I don’t need any help. But for a mom, not being able to help her child work through his pain and emotional stress, that should have been my first clue that I needed that support group.

I had no idea what I would walk into at my first support group for birth grandparents.  There were three other birth grandparents at the meeting, all eager to share wonderful stories about their grandchild and open adoption. Each seemed happier than the next one. I was thinking to myself that they must all be on some sort of medication. I was definitely not in the same state of mind as these birth grandparents. I felt like someone had died. This is when I learned about the grieving process. While my counselor assured me that grieving is a normal reaction, it sure didn’t feel that way. Although I am sure that I was still in shock, there was no denial that I needed help. Through the coming weeks and months, I continued to attend the birth grandparent support group. I went through sorrow, depression, anger, guilt and other emotions that I couldn’t even attach a name to. My counselor helped me recognize all of these passages, and we worked through them together.  Never once did I feel that Holt-Sunny Ridge was judgmental. I was finally able to think clearly about the future, one that would include Paul, Sara and Noah through open adoption. I came to learn that open adoption meant that we could choose to keep in touch with the adoptive family throughout our lives. We would know how Noah was growing up — safe, happy and healthy.

As short as a week after placement day, we had our first photos of Noah. It was wonderful to think that Sara and Paul had already begun to reach out to my son and our family. I wore those photos out looking at them over and over. As the weeks went by, more and more photos arrived.  Sara uses Snapfish via the Internet and it’s awesome! Every month, we receive at least 50 photos.  Sara kept us up to date with all of Noah’s doctor appointments, places he went, and even when the rest of his umbilical cord fell off. Then something very special happened. Paul and Sara invited Tim to be at Noah’s baptism. That’s when I knew in my heart, that Tim would always have a place in Noah’s life. I am so thankful, that’s all I can ask for. I thank God each day.

Back at support group, I needed an answer to that all-important-question… When do I get to see Noah again? Although there is no set time-frame, the adoptive parents and the baby need to bond and learn to be a family. This is a very special time for them. Hearing nothing from Sara, my counselor suggested that I reach out and inquire about a visit. I had to think about that for a while. I wasn’t certain that I could handle the rejection of being turned down. Eventually I did reach out and sent the email, hoping for a visit in the last part of summer or early fall.  I was pleasantly surprised that Sara said “yes.”  We decided it would be best to have the visit at our home, which was much more informal and relaxed than meeting at a restaurant.  Our first Brown/Hower visit was on 8/21/12.  As you can imagine, I was not to be denied using my camera that day! Tim was sure that no one could take as many photos as I do, but to set the record straight… Sara does.  Noah wasn’t even a year old yet and I had five photo albums filled with photos Sara had taken.  Tim now refers to both of us as the “mommarazzis!”

Since Noah’s birth, we have started a routine of getting the Browns and Howers together during late summer or early fall, at holiday time and on Noah’s birthday. Other occasions have come into play as well. Sara and Noah have come out to see Tim play rugby, though Noah was more interested in playing in the mud. I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to Sara and Paul’s home for brunch when Sara’s mom came for a visit from Portland. Tim has an open invite to come by any time. I don’t feel like the door is shut on me any longer.

Where would I be without the unconditional support that I’ve received from Holt-Sunny Ridge?  It is frightening to think about the outcome of this situation had I not had the support of my counselor and the other birth grandparents. No one can do this alone. Our family has had to reconnect, and reach out to each other.  As I look back on the past years, I see how my son has had to labor over painful and life-changing decisions, learn to live within those boundaries on a daily basis and grow and mature from his selfless choice of giving Noah up for adoption.

Now, Noah has two special families — his birth family who love him more than he will every know, and his adoptive family that was specially chosen by his birth parents to love, educate and guide Noah through life’s journey. Without Holt-Sunny Ridge, I don’t know where this story would begin or end. Thankfully, I will never have to find out. If I have a bad day, I simply make that phone call to one of the counselors. It’s that simple. Holt-Sunny Ridge is my safe place.  There is no secret to the success at Holt-Sunny Ridge Children’s Services.  It’s the dedicated professional employees that have a passion for bringing loving families together.

Sometimes, the strongest people are the ones who love beyond all faults, cry behind closed doors and fight battles that they feel nobody else could understand.  It takes that same strong person to reach out for help and support.  I am very thankful that Holt-Sunny Ridge was there when my son and I needed help.

Life goes by entirely too fast. Our time is short. There are no replays or rewinds. We have to learn to appreciate each and every moment as it comes. In school, we learn lessons before we take a test. In life, we take a test before we learn a lesson. I won’t stop trying to learn and enjoy the wonderful family that God has given Noah. This family touches my heart.  Paul and Sara truly know how much we love Noah, and want the very best for him.

I have an emotional connection with Paul and Sara.  I think of them as and extension of our family.  I’ve come to love them as if they were my own two children.  I now accept that Paul and Sara are Noah’s “real family.”  But Noah will grow up knowing his birth family as well.

I see first-hand that my son has a great capacity to love. He knows what it is like to have that special “father’s heart.”  I pray that this loving experience is again in his future and he will be able to give Noah a half-brother or sister one day.  Until then, I can tell you that many hearts beat as one.

Sherry Hower | Naperville, Illinois

* Names of adoptive parents and adoptee changed at their request.

To learn more about support groups and other post-adoption services available to families and adoptees in Illinois, click here. For post-adoption services available to families in every state through Holt International, click here.

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