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Birth Mother Matters in Adoption Episode #61 – Pregnant & Homeless

 Welcome and thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption with Kelly Rourke-Scarry and me, Ron Reigns, where we delve into the issues like the homeless pregnant help of adoption from every angle of the adoption triad.

Do what’s best for your kid and yourself because if you can’t take care of yourself, you’re definitely not going to be able to take care of that kid, and that’s not fair.

I know that my daughter would be well taken care of with them.

Don’t have an abortion. Give this child a chance.

All I could think about was needing to save my son.

My name is Kelly Rourke-Scarry. I am the executive director, president, and co-founder of Building Arizona Families adoption agency, the Donna K. Evans Foundation, and the You Before Me campaign creator. I have a bachelor’s degree in family studies and human development and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on school counseling. I was adopted at three days, born to a teen birth mother, raised in a closed adoption, and reunited with my birth mother in 2007. I have worked in the adoption field for over 15 years.

And I’m Ron Reigns. I’ve worked in radio since 1999. I was the co-host of two successful morning shows in Prescott, Arizona. Now I work for my wife, an adoption attorney, and I can combine these two great passions and share them on this podcast.

Placing a baby for adoption while pregnant and homeless. Last year, an estimated 9,865 people experienced homelessness in Arizona. 792 were family households, 893 were veterans, 638 were young adults, and 1,774 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Okay, that does not equal 9,865 people.

Family households, though. That would increase if you’re talking about an entire family, I’m guessing. I don’t-

Obviously, I think being homeless can be very difficult, and being lost and pregnant is just so much worse. That’s adding absolute insult to injury, in my opinion. Having been pregnant four times, I think that being homeless, one, is, in my mind, just almost incomprehensible how hard that would be to not know where you’re going to lay your head that night and not have a place to put the things that you have and do not have a place to go or a place to belong. There are so many aspects of it that, to me, are so awful. I really wish that we really focused more on homelessness and hunger as a society than we do.

And how to fix the problem, not just mask it.

When I was young, I considered my mom and our family to be not poor, but definitely not even middle-class, but we did always have a home. We knew that place as home. We never were in danger of losing that stability, and that’s a huge thing.

I think that is a huge thing. When you’re pregnant, you’re even more vulnerable. Pregnant women nest. They try to prepare for the baby. It’s this natural instinct. To be homeless seems so hard.

I really struggle with homelessness. Many of the women that come to us are homeless or have been homeless. In talking with them, to me, it is heartbreaking. Because I haven’t experienced that, and I’m so grateful that I haven’t, the questions are probably so everyday to them. What do you do when it rains? Where do you put your things? How do you stay warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm?

When you are not in a position of being homeless, and you’re not working with homeless people, it may not be in the forefront of your mind. I know that some of the trends, even in Phoenix, are these tents. When people say tent city, I think of Joe Arpaio and prison tents. Now the tent cities refer to the homeless setting up these camps. People are saying it’s not a good idea. I don’t know and have enough research into whether it’s good or bad for society. I know that they’re trying to find a sense of belonging, and they’re trying to find their own home without having a home.

Right, a community.

Right. It’s hard being homeless. Being pregnant and being homeless is hard too. If you are homeless, birth control is probably not at the forefront of your mind, which is perhaps one of the reasons that many homeless women wind up pregnant because birth control is not a focus. Eating, sleeping, and staying safe are.

I am the one who answers the birth mother line, and many of the women who come to us are homeless. I define being homeless as anywhere from couch surfing, knocking on friends’ doors until you wear out your welcome, to staying in shelters, living on the streets. Many women will tell me that they walk all night long because they’re so scared to lay down and go to sleep, and they sleep during the day. That’s why they say when you are driving around, and you see people laying down around the corners. They’re sleeping; it’s not because they’re lazy or they’re not doing anything. It’s because they’ve been up all night.

Right, because of the fear of what could happen to them when they’re sleeping in the dark when no one’s looking.

When no one’s looking. One woman I worked with very closely was homeless a few years prior. She started out as a homeless teenager and was homeless for a few years before she actually came into our program and placed a baby for adoption. She said that her parents had kicked her out, and she really didn’t experiment with drugs until she was on the streets. She would stay at a local park.

She sometimes said strangers would bring her a sheet to cover up with, but she became a walker. She would walk all the time. She had a dog with her, and that dog was her lifeline. That was what would protect her wherever she laid down to go to sleep. I’ve heard a lot of people judge homeless people, saying, “Oh, they have a dog. They’re taking care of this dog.”

“Look what they’re doing to that poor animal.”

Right. But it’s their only… We have a door to shut and lock, and a homeless person-

It’s their preservation-

… doesn’t have that.

… to protect them.

Right. When you’re alone and on the street, they say it’s so hard to trust other people. It’s so hard because they’re all in survival mode, so they will do whatever they have to do to survive. When women come into our program after being on the street and homeless, they’re in survival mode.

When we first start working with them, when we find out later, okay, they weren’t 100% honest about this or this, again, they’re in that survival mode. They’re trying to stay alive. They’re trying to survive. To step back from that survival mentality and start to trust somebody that’s a process. That’s where, we’ve talked about before, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really comes into play.

I’ve often, as a social worker, thought about it. Okay, if I was homeless and it was raining, what would I do? I always think, well, I would go into the banks. At night, you can go in and-
Into the foyer or whatever you call it.

Right. How come more homeless people aren’t doing that? I’ll ask some of our women why, and I haven’t ever really gotten an answer on that one. Remember the story, and then they did a movie with Will Smith, about the guy who-

Pursuit of Happyness.

Yes. He was homeless, and 02he had a son. He-
Slept in a bathroom and-

On the subway. Yeah. He would shower him in the sink. In my mind, again, that’s so brave.

I think, again, these women that are on the street and are pregnant and placing their babies for adoption, I think we need to, as a society, really look at them differently than we are. Again, they’re somebody’s mother, and they’re somebody’s daughter, and they’re somebody’s sister, and they’re somebody’s friend. And they’re in this place because of one decision that led to another. We don’t know what happened in their lives.

I would like our listeners to really think about whether these women are still human beings. They’re choosing adoption and making a selfless choice that people who are not homeless are not even driving.

How brave and strong that is.

Right. They’re in their own survival mode, but yet even being in the lowest of low places, they’re still strong enough to say, “I’m going to make it to the finish line, and I’m going to hand my baby to a family because I believe in the preservation of life. I want my child to not ever have to worry about where they’re going to lay their head at night, or if we’re going to make rent this month, or if there is anything in the cupboard for dinner.”

My biological brother had spoken about when he did the podcast with us about how sometimes there would just be a can of vegetables, and that’s all that would be for dinner. That’s so hard to even think that there are families out there living like that.

There are people on the streets who couldn’t make rent, which is why they’re on the street. Maybe they lost their job. Maybe their loved one got sick and passed away, and they were the breadwinner, and they have nothing left. But these women are coming into our office, and they are placing their babies for adoption; through the aftercare program, our goal is to help them find and sustain long-term housing. Our goal is to have them leave in a better position than they came in.
I think that’s why it’s hard for me, as an agency director, to look at how, one, the women are viewed, and two, we have to work so hard to ask the community for help. It’s so hard when we ask the community for things like GED study guides or clothing for interviews. I guess I don’t think we should all have to work so hard to help others.

Does that make sense?

Yes, it does. I don’t know, you think about the whole… We’re a considerable nation, first of all, but just if everybody pitched in a little, then-

It would help a lot.

It would help a lot. Those few that seem to be carrying that burden would have to take a lot less if more people were pitching in.

Yeah. For example, how many times have you seen the women in Africa carry those vast things on their head of water? They’re walking it back to their family or where they live, their tribe, what have you. I can’t even imagine how heavy that is because water is heavy. In my opinion, a gallon of water is not light, and they’re carrying more than a gallon on their head.

Oh yeah, probably two, three gallons, at least, maybe five.

I would say yeah. That would be my guess. How long did it take, and how many trips before their neck muscles and everything was strong enough to carry that kind of weight? What did they have to go through to be able to do that? That’s like pregnancy and placing a baby for adoption. How much are these women going to have to endure before we step in and say, “Okay, let’s help.”

We got you.

Yeah. You’re not going to be on the street again. You have a chance to rebuild your life. That’s why I think that adoption aftercare is absolutely the most essential thing that any adoption agency can do, is providing that assistance after they place their baby, because why would you take somebody who did something so amazing and-

And just discard them when they’re done, like, “Okay, thanks. We appreciate it. Have a nice life. Good luck.”

We can do so much more to help them not be in this position again.

As an agency, we actually will fund and pay for birth control if they choose because we want them to get themselves to a place in their life where they can have a family and have their own children and parent those children.

When you are homeless, financial instability is one of the number one reasons women choose adoption over parenting. Finding yourself pregnant, sleeping in a park or a shelter, or under a bridge, it can be overwhelming. Being disappointed that you’re not able to be in a different place in your life to parent your baby can be absolutely devastating emotionally. Being homeless is very parallel with being…

They’re scared all the time. They’re scared of what’s going to happen next, where they’re going to go, and what’s going to happen to them.

Sometimes I’ve heard people say they’ve been homeless, they’ve been incarcerated, and some of them say it’s easier to be incarcerated than to be homeless.

Right. At least they have shelter.

And food.

They have a roof and food.

And clothing.

Wow.

Many times, just the depression and sadness of not having your life be what you dreamed. Nobody as a child thinks, “I want to grow up, and I want to be homeless. I want to struggle. I want to really struggle in my life.” That’s nobody’s dream.

When you’re pregnant and… A couple came to us, and they were 18 19. They had aged out of the foster care system. A couple of years ago, it was still cold during the winter months here in Arizona, especially at night.

Right. We’re not freezing, but I’ll tell you what if you don’t have a house-

It sure feels like it.

… and you’re out all night, even in Phoenix, on January whatever, it is cold.

Yeah.

Well, this couple was… She was in shorts. They came in, and she was probably about four to five months pregnant. They had been sleeping underneath the little alcove in an apartment complex in the stairs, where there was a little cover in case it rained. What the boyfriend would do is at night, he would take off his coat and put it over her legs and try to keep her as warm as he could that way, then lay around her. They were at our agency because they knew that they couldn’t bring a child into this lifestyle and feel good about themselves or their baby. Just to watch the sheer relief when they were given food and clothing and a place to stay-

And a roof over their head. Right.

… it was like giving them the world. Again, that’s something that I think that we as a society should really look at, that we need to do more for those that need the help.
For the homeless women that are pregnant and considering adoption, you don’t have to be alone. That’s what adoption agencies are for. Suppose you’re pregnant and thinking about placing your baby for adoption, especially in Arizona. In that case, we have a 24-hour line that you can call, and we’re there to help you and support you, not just when you’re pregnant but after you place your baby. Know that what you’re doing is a fantastic thing. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to or dream of, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t change the road to your destiny.

I was placed for adoption in 1973. My mother was 16 years old. She made the selfless decision to choose adoption for me. I was adopted by a wonderful adoptive family. Because I was placed for adoption, I was able to go to school, I was able to go to college, and I was able to get my master’s degree.

My name is Kelly Rourke-Scarry. I’m the director and co-founder of Building Arizona Families and the Donna K. Evans Foundation, nicknamed SWAP, Supporting Women After Placement. After co-founding the agency, I looked for my mother, and I found her in 2007. My mother struggled with her adoption choice. Had she had help, assistance, and counseling, she might’ve had a much better experience in her struggle. She might not have struggled with depression, anxiety, or guilt. So we developed the Donna K. Evans Foundation.

The Donna K. Evans Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that helps women after placing a child for adoption. We want to give women the services and the support that women like my mother did not receive. Our goal is to let women know that women matter, that they made the right choice when they chose adoption. What we’ve learned as we’ve done adoptions for over 14 years is birth mothers need help, and we want to be the ones to help them. We know about selfless choice, and we support them. We support their choice.

When a woman comes into our agency, we can immediately give them an emergency food box. A woman can come into our office and receive a food box even if she is not pregnant. Our food pantry is funded through private donations, both financially and through food donations. We have a clothing closet right here at our facility. We have maternity clothing for women in our adoption program. We are looking for clothing the minute they walk through our door. We have in all sizes.

These are all donated clothing. We have clothing appropriate for job interviews for regaining their self-esteem.

We do have GED materials onsite for women interested in obtaining their GED. We also have computers that you can use for practice testing to help obtain your GED. We also have domestic violence services. We can help with restraining orders. We can also help with emergency housing through hotel vouchers.

We’re looking for monetary donations, so you can help support this fantastic program that’s going to help hundreds of women after they have placed a child for adoption. We want to give them a hand up, not a handout. Donations could include clothing for non-perishable food, GED study guides, and temporary bus passes. We need you to help us help them.

Be part of the solution. Make a difference in all of these women’s lives. The adoption community is significant, and you’re part of it. You are part of the solution.

We chose angel wings for our logo because angels were essential to my mother. Angel wings are symbolic of being able to fly. The goal of the Donna K. Evans Foundation is to help women find their wings so they can fly. Please contact us through the Donna K. Evans Foundation on our website at thedkefoundation.com.

We have a pregnancy crisis hotline available 24/7 by phone or text at 623-695-4112, or you can call our toll-free number, 1-800-340-9665. We can make an immediate appointment with you to get you to a safe place, provide food and clothing, start on creating an Arizona adoption plan, or give you more information. You can check out our blogs on our website at azpregnancyhelp.com.

Thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption, written and produced by Kelly Rourke-Scarry and edited by Ron Reigns. Rate and review us wherever you listen to podcasts if you enjoy this podcast. As always, thanks to Grapes for letting us use their song I Dunno as our theme song.

Join us next time for Birth Mother Matters in Adoption. For Kelly Rourke-Scarry, I’m Ron Reigns, and we’ll see you then.

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