New program brings joy and hope of adoption to eastern Tenn.

New program brings joy and hope of adoption to eastern Tenn. (Catholic Charities of East Tennessee)

The tagline for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee (CCETN) is Providing Help, Creating Hope, which the organization does through its many programs, including pregnancy resource help. Last summer CCETN began a new adoption service and leaders look forward to that program growing this year, helping pregnant women, babies, and adoptive parents.

“We've been busy since we opened the program with a lot of outreach and education,” said Paul Ritter, CCETN’s director of programs.

“We want to educate those who come into contact with moms who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies so that they know how to approach them in conversation,” Ritter said.

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Such outreach to medical clinics, churches, and other organizations is a significant part of Kelsee Gomillion’s job as the organization’s adoption birth parent case manager. She joined the CCETN in November 2022.

“I’ve basically spent a lot of time on the front lines trying to get connected with people who would be the frontline people to talk to these women who might have unplanned pregnancies,” Gomillion said. 

She has been working on education materials to teach the everyday person about how to speak to a person who either has faced or is facing an unplanned pregnancy. 

“I've put together a curriculum how to show compassion, how to be less judgmental,” said Gomillion, “show less bias to a person who you don't know but could be sitting beside you, and she got a positive pregnancy test this morning and she's looking for options.”

Many people, including those in pregnancy help, can feel uncomfortable talking about adoption, Ritter said.

“I think a lot of times conversations are avoided because you have a discomfort or lack of knowledge or you're afraid to mess something up so some people who need help end up going without and kind of feeling isolated,” he said. 

“One thing that we have heard from several different sources, whether it's been folks that we've spoken with at churches or in clinics, is the desire to know how to speak to a friend or somebody who's sitting in church who is experiencing that unplanned pregnancy,” Ritter said. 

Need for conversation

Many studies show one percent or less of unplanned pregnancies result in adoption. 

“Adoption is not widely talked about,” said CCETN Program Manager Ada Hernandez-Bell. 

“We talk about the difficulties of single parents, we talk about what abortion looks like in our country, what we believe about it in the church, what families feel about it, what activist groups believe about it,” she said. 

“It is the conversation at every table one way or another,” Hernandez-Bell said. “But adoption is still the hush hush word that no one wants say out loud.”

“Adoption is never going to be the easy thing to do, but there are a lot of things to consider,” Ritter said, “where you're at in your life, what are your goals for your life, what do you want for your child and can you offer that for your child.” 

Hernandez-Bell, who was adopted as a teenager, added, “Our hope is that, as we begin to talk about adoption in our community, providing support groups, and sharing the idea that adoption is love, we can greatly reduce the shame and ‘hush-hush’ that is associated with making the decision to place a child for adoption.”

She said the adoption services program, A Loving Option Adoption, will work closely, not only with various medical services, churches, and other community organizations, but also with pregnancy centers operated by CCETN and others in the state. 

“We hope to continue to be the voice that presents domestic adoption as a reliable resource for women in crisis,” she said. 

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Not always an easy path

Although some organizations and individuals view last year’s Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Association ruling as an easy path to increased adoptions, making and following through with an adoption plan can be emotionally challenging. Grief and self-confidence for those who do make that decision often come in tidal waves. 

The Ritter family/Paul Ritter

Ritter and his wife adopted a baby girl nearly two years ago, and experiencing the adoption process has helped him understand the courage women need to place a child for adoption.

“It takes so much bravery and courage for a birth parent to place a child with another family for adoption,” Ritter said. “I certainly never comprehended what an extraordinary sacrifice and blessing this was until I was able to witness this firsthand.”

“Regardless of why the decision to place for adoption is made, the decision to place for adoption is an expression of a level of love that is hard for many to understand,” he said.

Advocacy, empathy, and support are necessary for birth mothers. Gomillion, who experienced an unplanned pregnancy during college, serves as such an advocate.

 “I will walk with her, and for any questions that she has, I'll be a support person,” she said. “I will gladly attend appointments with her, go to any meetups that she has, any mommy and me classes, any of that that she needs, I will gladly be her person.”

Such advocacy includes developing a plan.

“We'll start with creating a birth plan for her, making it as customized as she wants it because this is her story about her journey and her situation,” Gomillion said. “We want her to feel empowered that she can make these choices for the future of herself and her child.”

Support for all involved

Support for the three parties involved in an adoption - the birth mother, adoptive parents, and the adoptee - align with CCETN’s desire to offer help and hope for people.

“It’s called an adoption triangle, and there are three sides to that triangle,” Hernandez-Bell said. “On the one hand you're providing a resource for the mother who's experiencing this unplanned pregnancy – we provide that mother support …. the other side is our adoptive parent families, … and then (the last side) is the next generation – many of them have experienced struggles in their life. 

CCETN just started an adoptee support group, and Hernandez-Bell shared how a woman came and shared her struggle with working to reconnect with her mother and the desire for a safe place to talk about it. 

“We’re taking into account every person that's involved in the adoption triad to make the best placement plans and provide the best support we can,” she said.

While there can be struggles and uncertainties for the parties involved with adoption, including for Ritter and his wife, through that option they are now parents. And Ritter is grateful.

“Now that my wife and I are adoptive parents, I cannot imagine adoption not being available as an option,” he said. “Adoption has brought a level of love and joy to our lives that we did not even know existed.” 

The adoption experience was not easy and there are many roadblocks, he said. 

“The road is often times filled with disappointments and setbacks,” Ritter said. “But the joy that our daughter has brought into our lives, into our entire family’s lives, I would not trade the experience for anything. I praise God daily for the miracle that is adoption.” 

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