Molly Engebretson was adopted from birth through the Lincoln-based Nebraska Children’s Home Society. Her case, however, was an open adoption, meaning her biological mother was known and periodically involved in her life.
Nationwide, communities alike are celebrating November as National Adoption Month. This initiative is used to raise awareness about the growing need for permanency among children in the United States.
According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the number of adoptions in the state has steadily increased. This year, there have been about 430 adoptions in Nebraska, with an annual average of around 500.
Engebretson, a senior global studies and Spanish double major in the pre-health program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she cherished the open adoption process and never felt repercussions of it.
“Ever since I can remember, it was completely normal,” she said. “[My parents] would always be like ‘This is mom and dad but you grew up in her tummy like you were in her tummy.'”
Her biological mother, Tammy, was addicted to drugs and alcohol during pregnancy. With a heavy weight on her shoulder telling her she couldn’t take care of another child, Tammy chose to explore other options. Engebretson’s biological father was unknown.
“The moment she [Tammy] realized she was pregnant, she went to Planned Parenthood to have an abortion but didn’t have enough money,” Engebretson said. “So she thought right away about adoption because she said that, at the time, I already had two older siblings, so she had two children that she was struggling to take care of and raise.”
When it came to choosing Engebretson’s adoptive parents, Tammy looked through a binder of potential families with a variety of qualities. According to Oliva Biggs, an adoption and permanency program specialist at DHHS, the qualities of adoptive parents depend more so on the child’s needs.
“[It’s] really looking into what are the child’s needs and do my strengths match with that child’s needs because every child’s needs are different,” she said. “It’s difficult to say one quality; the qualities of one parent may work for one child, but it may not work or may not be the best fit for the next child.”
On the day of the birth, Engebretson’s parents were contacted and told the news that there was a newborn baby available for them to adopt. However, there was a risk for potential birth defects due to the drug addiction carried on throughout the pregnancy.
“My parents were like, just always really positive, like there were some challenges obviously of their own with adopting a child and raising a child,” Engebretson said. “When they adopted me, their profile for adoption was open to mental defects, birth defects, like special needs kind of things. So, they really didn’t know, they just went into it with open minds, open hearts.”
The focus for this year’s National Adoption Month is on why family matters. According to Briggs, adapting to a child’s needs is a key factor when being integrated into a new family and throughout the remainder of their lives.
“They could have medical needs and behavioral health needs and physical health and all of those things we have to ensure that those needs can be met for the children, both now and forever,” she said. “Not just for the next two years or five years or 10 years, but it’s a forever commitment. A family doesn’t end at a certain age; it goes on forever.”
The rekindled relationship Engebretson has formed with her biological mother through open adoption is something she cherishes, and she acknowledges that other adopted children may not have the same experience as her.
“I just feel like extremely lucky because with my situation, despite coming from extreme negatives of like a lot of unknowns, there was positivity in the outcome of it,” she said. “Like people think it’s a miracle, you know, people see it as like a miracle. But every case is different.”
According to Briggs, Nebraska will host several communal events to celebrate all month long. On the actual National Adoption Day, Nov. 23, she said judges hold court hearings to finalize adoptions in the state.
“A lot of communities do celebrations, host events with all kinds of activities for the children to celebrate, with face painting and carnivals, just everything you can possibly imagine,” she said. “A lot of family photos are taken that day and we get so much support from the communities.”
Although Engebretson doesn’t plan on participating in any National Adoption Day celebration, she said she is grounded in her roots and recognizes how her story as an adoptee has made her the woman she is today.
“I love being adopted,” Engebretson said. “It’s part of who I am.”