After placing her newborn son for adoption in 2013, Hope O. Baker struggled with depression, addiction, and overcoming the stigma that surrounds birthmothers. In her first book, Finding Hope: A Birthmother’s Journey Into the Light, she shares her story of a successful, open adoption—and all the heartache and light that came along the way. Hope is a passionate advocate for those on all sides of adoption. Hope visits her son regularly, and she currently lives with her loving partner and her wonderful stepkids.
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- How Hope found out she was pregnant while her Mom was fighting cancer.
- Why she chose to place her newborn son for adoption.
- Hope’s experience of living with the woman who ultimately adopted her baby.
- How Hope dealt with depression and addiction in the process.
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Well, Hope, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.
I’m excited to be here, David. Thank you for having me.
Yeah. So people have already heard about your book, Finding Hope: A Birthmother’s Journey into the Light. And before we get into your story, I want to know what motivated you to write the book and share your story in a public way in the first place?
That is probably the question I get the most. Because as you’ve read the book and others who have, it is very, very open, and all the details of life. I think the main reason I wrote it is because I spent so much time feeling like I was alone, feeling like nobody else understood what I was going through, and nobody could help me through things. I always used to feel like I didn’t have the right to be sad, or to speak about my problems and my depression because I made the conscious choice to place my son. I made that conscious decision, so it was just always such a struggle for me.
So I think once I started to realize that I am not alone. Even if it’s not birthmother’s, everybody in this world has pain. You do, I do, everybody has pain and is struggling with it. Struggling to get through it, struggling to talk about it. And we’re all having all these problem in our lives because we’re not speaking about it. So there was just this driving thing inside me that said, “This story has to be told, and it has to be told fully and completely. And even the stuff I may not want to put out there, I have to. Because it’s all a part of the journey and it’s important.”
That’s powerful. Yeah, super powerful. It’s powerful. It’s also powerful for you as a writer to write something that’s so, I would assume, cathartic in some way. To tell that story in just a raw, “Here’s who I am. Here’s what I’ve gone through.”
Absolutely. It’s interesting, while writing it you think you remember everything and you think that certain things happened a certain way. And then you go back, and as I was writing chapter after chapter and sitting in different scenarios all over again, and realizing all of these other pieces existed during this time. Certain things that maybe my mom did for comfort. For example, like when I was giving birth, I completely forgot about all the beautiful things she did in the labor and delivery room, because of other things that happened. My dad reaching out afterwards, there’s all these little pieces that I completely forgot about when I was going through this depression. Ad then while writing, it was really healing to just be able to go back and remember all those pieces and tell the story. I still pinch myself sometimes.
Now this was not your first pregnancy. Is that my understanding?
Yes. So I did have an abortion when I was in high school.
Yeah. Take me back to that moment. Because that experience was so profound reading about that. Would you mind? You were sixteen, is that correct?
I was right between sixteen and seventeen. I might have been right around seventeen. Yeah, I was starting to have all these morning sickness type symptoms and I had my mom pick me up early from school. That was one of the first things she said to me. And for some reason, right when she said it, I had the same feeling that this could be it. For my personal life and my family life, we decided that that was the best option. And much like my pregnancy, when I was twenty-one, I’m clearly fertile, although I was told at one point I wasn’t. But we made the best choice we thought that we could for myself, and also for our family at the time.
And so then at twenty-one, you start to experience some challenges, some health challenges. Take me through that process.
So I found out that I was pregnant when I was further along. And it’s interesting because once again, much like when my mom, right when she said, “Are you pregnant?” in the car, going back to when I was in high school. I had all of these feelings and all of these different issues with my body, and I knew something was different. I had been told when I was a freshman in high school, there was a lot of tests ran that I might not be able to conceive children, it was going to be hard. And I was on birth control. So the morning after I got pregnant, obviously I didn’t know that night, but I was told that my mother had breast cancer.
The morning? Wow, okay.
Yes. I mean, it was hours after the act. Probably within twelve hours, I drove home.
You didn’t know you were pregnant, but you just knew that was the night. Okay, I get.
Yes, exactly. So I had no idea. But right when I got home, my mom and dad sat me down and told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I mean, it was one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever had to hear. My mom and I always had such an interesting relationship, and I remember thinking, “We’re not where I wish we were. This can’t be happening.” So I went into caretaker mode with my mom, and tried to everything I possibly could to be there for her and support her with her surgeries, and with my little brother. And so interestingly enough though, I obviously didn’t know I was pregnant, but I was having all these problems. So I felt something is not right in my body. And probably a month after I got pregnant, I went into the doctor – said something wasn’t right. I think I got an x-ray of some sort. And they said, “This could probably just be phantom pain.”
Probably two and a half months later, I went back and I said, “Something is wrong with my body. I don’t feel right.” And the referred me to a psychologist because they said, “This is very common. You’re going through a traumatic experience. I have breast cancer all over my family.” And I should have advocated for myself, and taken a damn pregnancy test. But I didn’t, and so here we are. So I ended up getting very sick during finals week in college, and came back home. And I mean, I was extremely ill. I was meant to be checked into the hospital. They were running tests on me, they knew it was probably my kidneys. And by chance, the x-ray technician who was walking out. The first x-ray technician didn’t see anything. Because they did give me an x-ray.
Because you were having some kind of abdominal pain of some sort?
Extreme. Yes. Yes, extreme. My skin was grey. This is TMI, but it’s in the book. My urine was thick. It was no liquid. It was thick. It was very bad. So the x-ray technician, the head technician was walking out at the end of the day and she said, “That’s a skeleton.” There’s a skeleton in her abdomen.” And that was how. And they then tested my urine. Once again, they did not run a pregnancy test on me.
They were concerned about your kidneys?
Now who says, “That was a skeleton”? Who says that? What the heck, Hope?
David, I still cringe. There’s random days where I would cringe about that. I mean, I will never forget the nurse telling me, “They found a skeleton in your abdomen.”
Like you had swallowed something. Just so weird.
I mean, it was a traumatic experience.
Finding out the way I did.
And there was an x-ray.
Who says that?
You just had a baby x-rayed. That’s not healthy, right?
Absolutely not. How many times did I have to go to the doctor? But once again, I think I’ve learned a big lesson through all this. I should have advocated for myself. I should have said, “Hey, something’s not right. Maybe the doctors won’t listen to me, but what can I do on my own?” Right after my mom was diagnosed, I was not sexually active. I was very dedicated daughter. So I think that thought just never crossed my mind.
That you would be pregnant?
Exactly. So that itself was traumatic to say the least.
And you find out you’re twenty-weeks pregnant. Is that correct?
So now you’re twenty-weeks pregnant, your kidneys have some issues. What did they end up doing for your kidneys?
So they had me on constant IV drips. They wanted to check me in. I was meant to be checked into the hospital because my levels were so low; some were high, some were low. And soon after I found out that I was pregnant, when the nurse told me, I started to experience different terrible situations at that hospital. I just wanted to know my options, and I am completely a woman of pro-choice. I wasn’t saying, “I want to do this,” or “I want to do that.” But I wanted to know, “What are my options here?” And I think because I was asking that…
This is just a profound section, and it’s early on in the book. A lot of our listeners, there’s a faith component to their life, or they may even be really dedicated Christians. I found this section of your book so painful to read, and yet I think it’s so important for you to share this story. Do you mind just walking through it? I don’t even remember when it happened. It was after the x-ray, or they were going to do an ultrasound, the lady was talking to you. Take me through that section.
Yes. So this was after the x-ray. Right when they found I was pregnant, they shortly after sent me down to ultrasound. And this is where there was a woman, she was doing the ultrasound. I obviously support all faiths and walk my own faith as well, but she was being very much like, “This is a gift from God.” And telling me her personal stories about her son who had a child out of wedlock. They had to disown him, but he ended up making the right choice and marrying the woman. And they let him back in the family. All of this, “This is a gift from God.”
I had never once said, “I want an abortion, give me an abortion.” I just need to know my options. It was a very fearful experience. And then shortly after that when I was back upstairs, once again, this is was when my mom got there and we were asking for my options, and they’re saying, “It was brought up to me that there was a woman in the hospital who worked in the clinic, who was looking to adopt a child. And would not care about any of the deformities or birth defects with the child for not having pre-natal care for all of this time.” This was something that came out their mouth to my mother and I. That there was a woman waiting to me.
A lot of assumptions. So many assumptions in both parts.
Absolutely. It was just traumatic. I mean, I think about it and I cringe. And my mom and I even still talk about it and just, “How could that happen? How could they allow that to happen?”
So challenging. So challenging. So as you heard about your options, what were those options and how did you begin to process those? Were you a junior or a senior in college?
I was just finishing up my junior year of college.
Yeah. So you’ve got another year of college in front of you. What were the options that you had presented to you? And how did you go about making the decisions?
So once we finally got the options out, in the state of Minnesota, you can only do abortions up to a certain time. And once again, I still did not know what I wanted to do. It wasn’t like I was deciding on abortion or not. But after our research, we discovered that there were certain states that allowed for late term abortions. My family and I made the decision that that was the route that we were going to take. We had a little bit of troubles getting the information from the hospital once again. I just think they didn’t want me to make that decision and they were trying to make it for me. I understand where they were coming from. I get it, but it’s not their decision to make.
So I ended up going down to Kansas City, where they will perform them up to, I believe it was twenty-two weeks or twenty-three weeks. My sister drove me down there. It was an interesting part in the book because my sister was trying to get pregnant. And while we were driving down there, originally, my mom was taking me. And while my mom was driving, she was supposed to have a hysterectomy as part of her treatment for her cancer. And they called her, her spot a Mayo had opened up. You wait, you wait for these spots to open up, and it had opened up.
So she had to go get her hysterectomy. And it was such an interesting dynamic, right? And this didn’t even hit me until I was writing the book. My mom, and I wrote this in the book, she was losing those reproductive rights. Whether she wanted to have a child or not, she would never have that choice. And I’m exercising mine to get an abortion. And my sister is trying to conceive and having problems. It was just this trifecta. But my sister and I went down there, and when it came down to it, I could not do it. Once again, I’m so pro-choice. I would never judge another woman for a decision she made, but it was just something that I felt like for myself, I couldn’t do it.
And why not? Take me through that moment. What were you thinking? What were you feeling?
Yeah, I think when I saw my son on the ultrasound screen, and there was just something in my body that told me that he needs to be born. Whether he is with me or somebody else, I just felt this strong motherly instinct pull. That if I couldn’t do it, I knew somebody else could. And I think it was that moment of seeing him, that really just sealed the fate that that was not the choice that I could make. And even after I made that choice, there was still rumblings, “Well, Hey,” because New Mexico does it even later term. So there was still all of these options. But I’m pretty much a woman, when I make a choice, I stick to it. I’m pretty strong-minded and strong-willed in that sense.
And so you drove all the way down there. What was the car ride like on the way back?
I was interesting because I think that there was a moment where I finally was like, “Oh, I am pregnant. Wow.” Look at my stomach. I was wearing a little bit tighter of a shirt and it was an odd moment, but it was a moment that I was kind of excited to have. And I think the whole car ride, my sister and I, I was calling my dad and one of my friends recently had had a baby, and just trying to make sense of what was happening. I think I was feeling in my head, “Okay, if I just say it. How many times do I need to say it for it to be real?” But I only told a select couple of people. I told obviously my mom, my stepdad, my dad, my siblings, and a couple of my friends. So the car ride was making those calls. And at the same time, once again, I didn’t know if I was ready to be a mom and if I could give my child a life that he deserves. So we’re stilling having that conversation, my sister and I, about adoption. And we’re bringing up all of these options. My sister saying her and her husband could adopt the child. Or what would that look like at thanksgiving? My sister’s always been my person and she was just, “What can I do for you? How can I help you? We’re in this together.” That was just always the mentality.
Right. So you get back home, walk me through the process of making this decision. Why did you not choose to keep your son and be his mom fulltime? What was that? I don’t even know how I would process something like that. You know what I mean? There’s just so many variables, so many thoughts, so many feelings. Help us get into your world for a minute. What were you thinking and processing in the midst of all that?
Absolutely. I don’t wish this type of processing on anybody. Man, woman, I don’t wish it on anybody. It was just, can I be a good mom? I was living in this sense where I had very little money in my bank account. I was in college. I just didn’t know if I could give my son the life he deserved. I went back and forth, and there was a couple moments where I was like, “Okay, I’m keeping my son.” I went to Target and I got this baby blanket for him. I was just such a surreal moment where I’m like, “I can do this. I can do this.” I had a friend who had a baby and she was doing it. She’s such a good mom, and I just felt like I could do this. And I had that sense in my mind.
And then when I got home, there was a little bit of an argument of sorts with my mom. And I would never blame my mom because I think that we’ve always had this relationship. Where we say things to each other, we get angry and then we yell. We may say things we didn’t mean. Even like right before this podcast, we started talking. I’m like, “Oh, sorry. I should not have said that. I didn’t mean it. I love you.” So I think we had one of those moments where she just had said, “You can’t do this.” I think once I heard that, my mind shut off and I went to that mindset. And I instantly went to the mindset that he deserves better than me. I started to feel that.
What was your dad saying and thinking at this time?
So my dad was very much, he had offered to have me move in with him and all of these different things. Which just didn’t sound like an option for me based on the type of life that he lived and the type of life that I lived. And my stepdad as well, he’s been a part of my life since I can remember. He was very much supportive of, “Do whatever is best for you. I’ll support you and your decision.” He just didn’t want to see me hurt. I think no matter what choice I would have made, he would have supported me on. It was interesting because he had known somebody in his past who placed a child for adoption by force, where they didn’t have a choice. And she searched, and has searched for child, and she’s never been able to find her child. So I know he didn’t want that for me. So it was a lot of dynamics going on, David.
Yeah. And why did your mom think that you couldn’t do it?
I don’t think that she thought I couldn’t do it. I think that she said something in the heat of a moment.
It lodged in your brain though?
Absolutely. I think this could be just me, but I think a lot of us, there’s certain things you hold onto. Something that someone said about you, or you hear it, and you just hold onto them. And I think hearing that, I think it broke my heart. But at the same time, I know now that my mom knows that I would be a good mother. And I think sometimes at the end of the day too, it’s kind of like, was that my defense mechanism or was that me trying to say, “You made the decision for me”? But maybe it was me who made it. There’s a lot of dynamics here.
Right. Right. So as you’re vacillating back and forth. “Yes, I’ll keep him.” “No, I’ll go through adoption.” What was your process like? take us through the process. Because obviously the listeners haven’t read the book, take us through the process of your sister versus another option. The lady the hospital. I’m sure you didn’t find her.
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Yeah, so my sister, we decided right away that that was not an option for my sister to take the child. And I think we all knew that, but she’s a good sister, so she would do anything to help me.
And why was that not an option?
I just think it would have been too hard. Who am I? Am I his mom? Am I the cool aunt? Who am I, and what am I? And it’s interesting, because once I decided on adoption, my first thoughts were, “I’m going to pick a family who’s on the East Coast or the West Coast.” I just thought that being too close would be too hard. Being so close that I could see him, but not being able to.
And I think in the end, that is absolutely true and one hundred percent valid. And the adoption path that I took, I went through a lot of struggle. Moving very close to him and realized that my intuition was right, being far away was better. Yeah, I talked to a couple families, I searched online, looked at adoption books. Hundreds and hundreds of adoption books. I came across this woman, and it’s so crazy. You know when an ad pops up on Google on the side? Or even on Facebook, something pops up on the side and it’s related to what you’re searching, right? So her adoption book showed up that way. An adoption book is what families put together for birthmothers, birth families to look at, to pick a family. And it talks about who they are and what kind of parents they’re going to be. I saw hers, she’s a single mother, single mother by choice. I saw hers and I was like, “This is who I would want to be when I grow up.”
“This is the type of woman I want to be.” We had a lot of these weird, this is too crazy that it’s true, type situations. And when I sent her an email, I swear my son was just kicking me. And I wrote that in the email. I’m like, “Something feels right here.” So I sent her an email, sent her lawyer an email. I never talked to another family after I met her.
Wow. So you connected with her. Did she live near you? Or was she a distance?
She was in California. So she was far away. At this time I was living in Minnesota. It was summer break. And remember, I hid my pregnancy. So I was actually still working. I was bartending, waitressing at this coveted deck bar. If you’re ever heard of Alexandria, Minnesota, Arrowwood Deck Bar is the best place to work in the summer. You make the most money. It’s hard to get a job there. So I was working there while hiding my pregnancy. I was with a couple of my good friends this week and we were talking about it, how I was wearing the big, overly sized green shirts. I would tie my apron up and I would wear this black zip up Arrowwood hoody, in the summer heat outside, covering up the fact that I was pregnant. Madness.
But she was in California, so we spoke on the phone a couple times, we did Skype. And we both decided that I would go out there and meet her. So I went out there for a couple of days. I just knew that if anybody else in the world was going to be his mom, it was going to be her. We just instantly clicked.
What was it about her?
She has this presence about her. When you’re around her, you feel calm. I just felt like when I was around her, I felt calm, I felt safe. And that weekend I was there, she tried to show me the life that my son was going to have. I mean, we went to the beach and I kept thinking, “This could be his life.” Growing up by the ocean, and I loved that she was a single mom by choice. She had decided later in life she wanted to have a baby, and she was just going to do it. And I knew that she could do it. And she just had her head on straight, yes. But she just felt so right. She felt like home to me, even though she was nothing like my family or my homelife. She felt like what I what I envisioned my feature home looking like.
Sure. Sure. So I haven’t been in a conversation like that, but were you staying with her? You were staying at a hotel in that first initial trip?
So I did stay with her actually. Yes, I stayed with her.
So you’re now staying with somebody that you kind of know. I mean, I hate to use the word stranger.
You kind of know her. And you’re talking about those conversations. I would feel so awkward being in her situation going, “So let me sell myself to you.” You know? And at the same time, I’m wanting to be authentic. But it sounds like you really felt like she wasn’t selling herself, it just was this natural relationship. Is that right?
It always felt like just this natural relationship. Maybe she was trying to sell herself. I’m sure, because she wanted a baby, right? But I always from the very beginning, I felt like she was just a genuine person. And I felt that we clicked in a way that I don’t think I could have found somewhere else. And I think she felt the same way, that we just felt like we were meant to be a part of each other’s lives. And really when I did choose her to be my son’s mom, I ended up going up and living with her.
And why is that?
So I was hiding my pregnancy at the time because honestly, I think I was scared of judgement. And that even was years after my son was born. I didn’t come out to the world that I had had a child probably until he was two or three years old. I felt fearful for the judgement that could be placed on me, and the ridicule and anything that would come. So I said, “Okay. Where am I going to go live?” Do I live with my grandma? She didn’t even know I was pregnant. One of the attorney’s suggest that I go live in a maternity type home. And I still to this day, I don’t remember who brought up originally, “Well, you should just go live with my son’s mom.” Maybe she did. Maybe I did. I really can’t remember. But once the idea came out there, we decided that this was what we wanted to do. The lawyers said we were crazy.
By the state of California law, she had to provide me with an attorney to protect my rights as a birthmother and whatnot. So my attorney and her attorney both said, “Uh, no. You should not do this.” On my side, my attorney, in her mind it was, “The more you get to know her, the less you’re going to be able to make your own decision based on your own needs. Because you’re going to get to know this woman and you’re not going to want to hurt her.” And her attorneys are saying, “What if she sees things that she doesn’t like about you?” What if she doesn’t like the way you cook, or do this?” But we both were strong-minded women and said, “We’re going to do this.”
Wow. So you moved in. How many weeks or months did you have left in your pregnancy when you moved in?
I had two months.
Two months left.
I was out there for a full two months.
Talk to me about the birthing process, the moment. I’ve seen two kids getting birthed. I don’t need to know that. I don’t need that picture again, okay?
I’ve seen them both ways. But who was with you? What was that process like? Take me through the delivery, and the moments, and the days after.
Yes. So my mom had flown out the day before I actually went into labor. I went a couple days early. My son’s mom was flying out. The actual day I went into labor, her flight was.
Now when you say your son’s mom, she was flying out.
She was flying in to Los Angeles for the birth.
Got you. Weren’t you living with her?
My son’s mom, her mother.
Got you, my apologies.
So it would be grandma. Yeah, there was a lot of moms in the room.
A lot of moms here. Four moms actually.
Yes, literally four moms. We had agreed my mom was going to be there. I was entitled by law to a support person, and so I had my mom there. And then my son’s mom chose to have her mother there, of course. She wanted her in the room and that’s lovely. So we had all four moms. I mean, my mom was holding one of my legs, my son’s mom, the other one. He mom was taking pictures and videos.
It was a party.
I mean, it was a party, yes. I don’t know, I think that there was a lot of things I thought would happen that didn’t happen. I thought that I was going to feel certain ways and not certain ways, and I did. And I think the moment he came out, my whole world just stopped, and I just remember pushing my head away. I couldn’t look at him, because in our birth plan, for bonding purposes he was going to straight to her chest. And I think that is a moment that’s haunted me the last six years. Not every day now, because I’m really working on healing and whatnot. But for years, it was all I could think about. I mean, I woke up thinking about it. Thought about it during the day. Just how scared he must have felt. And how as a mother, I was all he ever knew and he went to somebody else. I re-live that moment in my head so many times. Just how scared he must have been going to a whole other person.
But on that same token, living together, part of that was, he will know her voice. He’ll know her voice. He’ll know her scent. He’ll know the dogs barking. He’ll know to some degree. Right after he was born, I couldn’t look at him. I had this sense of responsibility to calm the room at all times. I had this sense that it was my job to make sure that everybody was getting along. My mom and my son’s mom had a couple of things. This is high stress situation. This isn’t like meeting your son’s girlfriend’s mom. This is high stress environment. So I just felt like this responsibility to calm everybody all day. And because of that, I let that hinder my ability to speak up and say, “I’d like to hold my son too.”
So I actually didn’t end up holding him until the very next day. He was born around nine o’clock at night and I didn’t hold him until that next morning. I think that’s been a really hard thing to work through for myself, because I didn’t use my voice when it’s the most important time for myself and for my son. I should have used my voice and spoke up. But once again, you have this sense of responsibility because I was feeling like I don’t want my mom to be angry at me. I don’t want my son’s mom to not want my son because of this. It was just all of this stuff that I was trying to manage.
Extremely. And then add in there that when I first got out of the hospital, I had to take an exam for school. It was just too much. School, everything, it was just a lot in one room.
And so you now have given birth. She goes home, your son goes home. Where do you go?
So we ended up checking out of the hospital in my eyes and in my mom’s eyes, and I think even some of the nurses, extremely early. I think it was because we didn’t want him in a hospital. You can get sick and whatnot. The less time you spend in a hospital, the better. That was maybe the thought. So I was already checking out early afternoon. So before noon that day, everybody was getting ready to check out. The very next day.
And I think there was a lot of different things that happened. I know that there was arguments between my mom, myself, my son’s mom. Everybody thought that I had this look on my face. And partially this was the first time I was able to hold my son alone. And everybody was feeling like I was maybe bonding with him too much. I don’t know, but there’s this high-strung moment where the hospital social worker had to come in the room. This was somebody from the hospital to make sure that everybody was being nice, and the nurses weren’t pressuring me one way or the other. It had nothing to do with anybody else but just, “How is the hospital staff treating you?” And I think that everybody in that room just all of a sudden hit this high emotions, and started panicking.
I think maybe somebody thought that they saw a look in my face that I needed things to slow down. And at the end of the day, my mom had said that. And I think she was right. I did need them to slow down. I needed a minute to hold my son and to be with him. And I needed that, and I deserved that. And I think back then I was so angry at my mom that she caused this big argument. But at the same time, she was right. And it took me writing the book to realize that she was right. I did need a moment. I did need things to slow down. I needed that time and I deserved that time to be with my son and to hold him. To hold him and love him, and to smell him, to kiss him and to do all those things. I didn’t get that. And I think that’s part of the same thing as holding him after he was born. It was just a really traumatizing experience.
So there was a big argument and my son’s mom, my son went home. My mom went back to the hotel, and at this point, we had argued, so we were put in separate rooms. I spent that evening and that next day by myself in a hotel room trying to figure out how you take care of yourself after you give birth. Sorry, I’m just getting a little emotional. It’s hard to even explain the feelings you feel. I was by myself in Los Angeles in a hotel room, not knowing if this was too much blood, or not enough blood. Or am I supposed to do this? Or am I supposed to do that? Should I be walking? Am I supposed to eat a certain thing or not eat a certain thing? Because I checked out of the hospital a little over twelve hours after I gave birth. And I was by myself because of the fight between my mom and I. It was just a rollercoaster. Shortly after that I was on a plane back to Minnesota. Traumatizing.
And in the days and months after that, how did you process all that had gone on?
Not the right way. I think that there was probably a month after I had left Los Angeles, I couldn’t get out of bed and I couldn’t function. I felt like I couldn’t breathe without crying, and there was a moment where I called my son’s mom and said, “Can I please just come there?” Because remember, I literally had probably less than five minutes with my son. A little less than five minutes alone I would say. And I think that I just needed him. I needed to smell him. I needed to feel him. What faces is he making? Is he okay? Is he laughing yet? How is he doing? How are his checkups? I needed to feel him, and smell him, and hold him.
I think that that was the beginning of these moments. Because we had an agreement that said I was able to visit him two to three times a year, and I was to get pictures. And she’s been very great about that. She sends picture books and I do get my visits, but I think that was one of the first moment where I realized that this is a decision I made and I don’t have the right to see him when I want to see him. So even though right now I need him, I can’t have him. And I didn’t see him until January. I think the first time I saw him after that was January, for my birthday.
How many months after was that?
He was born in September. So for me it felt like a lifetime, right? And I think when I look at how I process things, I turned to drinking, and to partying, and to men. That’s what I turned to. I didn’t know how to cope with things myself, so it was easy for me to go out and drink, and meet a stranger, and talk to them about my son. But I didn’t want to talk to anybody else about it. I talked to strangers about it, and I just wanted to really feel numb. That’s how originally I started processing things. And I even remember a moment my senior year of college, where I called both my mom and my son’s mom and I just was like, “I feel like I’m going to die. I’m making bad decisions.” There was a moment where I didn’t know how I got home. I had no idea. No recollection of the night. How did I wake up? Who took me home? Where did I go? I had no idea, and I got scared.
I remember calling them and saying I need help. I went to a couple counseling sessions at my school, but it never was really healed. So I just really lived in that pain and sadness, and really just had that hidden away for four years. And it escalated from just drinking to using drugs. It was interesting because I have an incredible friends, but they can go out for a weekend and just drink on a Friday night or a Saturday night, have a party on the weekend and be done. But I was living in this numb state. I needed to be numb and I was depressed, and so I would just keep it going. I couldn’t just shut if off like they could. And I couldn’t necessarily speak out because my life looked so together.
I think we think about that about a lot of people. Out in the public domain, you see people who commit suicide, and overdose, and all of these things. And you’re like, “It doesn’t make sense. They were such a happy person. They had their life together. They’re successful. They’re all these things.” It’s because people hide things. We just suppress things deep down, and I think I lived in that state for four years. In a state of, “I’m just going to suppress it.” And some people spend twenty, thirty, forty years in that state. So I feel lucky to have been able to get out of it after four years, but it was difficult and it was something that I like to reflect on because I like to see where I’m at and where I’ve been. But it’s hard.
And what was the breakthrough moment or experiences that led you to get out of that pattern of soothing yourself in that way?
There was a couple different moments. There was a couple things that just all blended together on the same time frame. But one of the big ones was, I came home after being away for two days on a little drinking binge one weekend, and I ended up on the floor in the fetal position in between my bathroom and my bedroom and I was shaking. I thought I was going to die. Sometimes we’re dramatic about that, but genuinely I was like, “Is anybody going to find me? What’s going to happen? Is this what I want my life to be?” When I survived that and came out of that, I just decided that I have to make a change. I can’t do this to myself. I deserve better. My son deserves better. There has to be a better way. This cannot be the only way to live. There has to be a better way to go through pain and to work through your pain. There has to be another way.
You describe that so powerfully in the book. When you talked about shaking uncontrollably on the ground and wondering who would find you, who would care. It’s just rock bottom.
It is. And for me, it was. But at the same time, on the outside my life looked great. I was living in California at this time. I had a good job. I was good at my job. Good friends. I had a nice car. Looked like all the things, but yet here I am, shaking on a floor thinking, “Is anybody going to care if I die today?”
How did you get help?
It’s interesting because I’ve always loved Reese Witherspoon, but for some reason, she gave a speech. It was a Glamour Woman of the Year show, and I think it was even a couple years before this happened. But I watched it one day and I just was thinking, “I am a capable woman and I’m a strong woman. I am not what I’m telling myself. I have the ability to change my life.” And it’s weird because my mom and I used to watch Legally Blonde and Reese Witherspoon’s always been my idol. And hearing her say something just flipped something in my brain and I think I started to get out in my community more. I was in sales and Silicon Valley, so I started to get out in the community. I started to really speak to my friends and be open with, “God, I’m not okay. I feel depressed. I feel sad. I’m feeling these ways. I need your help.” And even just using that statement, “I need your help. I’m not okay. I’m in pain.” It was really just transformative even to say it out loud.
I had all wonderful friends, but I had a really good friend who on the balcony one night, she just told me, “God, you’re full of light. There is so much light around you.” And it was hearing those things that it really clicked in my head, “You are right. I’m not an addict. And I’m not somebody who’s not worthy of forgiveness. And pain is actually just pain, we all have it. I am not alone. I may feel it, but I’m not.” And it all goes back to that feeling of, I made the conscious decision to place my son for adoption. And I used to think that that meant I wasn’t worthy or I didn’t deserve to speak about my feelings because I made the decision.
And I think even with the drinking, I’m making the conscious choice to drink. But I wasn’t. I think addiction is a sickness. Once I started to get counseling, and I started to get out in my community and find a purpose. What is my purpose in life? I do truly believe that I carry a light with me, and I tell myself that every day. Some days when I’m having a hard day, I have to tell myself over and over again, “You’re strong. You’re intelligent. You are light. You’re a good person. You’re a good mother. You are all of these things and you will prevail. Your life is great. Your life is beautiful.” Even on days it doesn’t feel like it, I just have to tell myself that. And I think even just that change of believing in that higher power really supporting me and having that light in my life, it changed my life. Those I am statements, they’re lifechanging. Something so simple as, “I am intelligent and I am beautiful.”
“I am wonderful.” I mean, it literally changed my life. Something so simple.
For sure. And I think at times, society is always – you’re full of yourself if you think you’re beautiful, and you say you’re successful, and all those things. But we have to feel those things about ourselves. That was really something that helped me through. All of those things combined helped me see that light.
Let me ask you this, one last question. What do you want someone to experience or get out of your book? What do you want them to feel, or experience, or believe about themselves? What is it?
For sure. I think the biggest point is that pain is pain. We all have pain, every single person. And it’s okay to feel that pain, and it’s okay to speak about it. We all do have light. No matter who you are, everybody’s a beautiful person, everybody has light even if we don’t feel it. Or maybe we don’t have somebody who’s telling us that. Maybe we don’t have somebody who’s been that person in our life like I had a Jeanie who told – my friend’s name is literally Jeanie. Who told me, “You are light.” We are those things, and I think I want people to know that they’re not alone. And to always remember that your pain is validated, and you can always come out on the other side. You don’t have to be your destruction. We all have the power, maybe not within ourselves, but with a little bit of help, we can find it in ourselves. Maybe we do need that extra help or counseling, and that’s okay to need that. But we have to be safe and speaking up and asking for it.
On the front of the book, you have – I don’t know if these are your actual feet. But a representation of your feet, with the world tattooed upon the tops of your feet. Tell me about the meaning of that tattoo? Why is it important to you?
Yes. So those are my feet. That’s actually my feet. That is my feet. So interesting enough, I had saw somebody once upon a time many years ago with some type of world tattoo on them, and I just felt so strongly about it. And I just thought, “That is what I want to embody in my life.” I want to always have the world at my feet quite literally. I always want to feel that I have endless opportunities and can go wherever I want in the world. Now in my life, I’m traveling and I’m doing all these things, and it just feels so perfect.
And you have a partner now and a couple of step kids, is that correct?
I do. I do. So my partner, we’ve been together almost two years. He has children. That’s been an interesting experience. We’re always talking about having children, and if it happened today, I’d be happy. If it happened in a year, I’d be happy. I’m not on any schedule or anything, but I feel so safe in my life and in my past choices, that I would be ready to be a mom again. I feel lucky to have a partner who’s been so supportive, and really been there for the journey, and helped me also find hope. You don’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone. You’ve got to have people around you who are helping you. So I feel lucky to have his support.
Well, Hope, I appreciate your vulnerability in writing this book. And I know what it’s like to have pain and experience pain. Different than yours, but it is pain. I appreciate your vulnerability and I think this book is powerful. Obviously for someone who is considering, or who’s having a child, is pregnant and trying to figure out what their options are, I think this book is a powerful view into your decision-making process and your life. And I also think that this book is powerful for anyone who wants to get a birthmother’s perspective on the process. So I think it’s really powerful for anyone. And people can obviously get on Amazon, and they can learn more about you at www.hopeobaker.com. And you’re on Instagram @HopeOBaker as well.
I just appreciate you sharing your story today, Hope. I really do.
Well, I really thank you for having me on. I’m excited to get the feedback from your listeners, and keep listening to your podcast.
That’s great. Thank you, Hope.
Thanks so much.