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Around The Fleet

Adoption - It Makes a Difference

There's Something Special About a Family that Chooses You

For some people, family consists of blood relatives. For others, the Navy is the only family they've ever known.

Being surrounded by a blend of different people from all walks of life can be strangely soothing especially when they're all you've got. It's a fact; you can't choose who you're related to, but like a Navy family, there is something special about a family that chooses you.

Legalman 1st Class Abigail Allen remembers the moment she chose to be a parent.

"I look back now and I kind of think of it as one of those out-of-body experiences," said Allen.

Allen's close friend and shipmate was stationed in Bahrain when she called Allen for advice. She had just found out she was pregnant and didn't know what to do. She asked Allen if she would take her baby.

"I said yes," said Allen. "It just clicked."

When Allen's friend came back to the states after her 20th week of pregnancy, both women started the process to have Allen legally adopt the baby. Both women said the process was expensive and stressful.

"At the time, command legal couldn't do anything for us," said the Sailor who did not want to be identified. "They were able to recommend outside legal resources, but they couldn't do a whole lot for us since it was a civil matter and not a military matter."

The experience was different for Cmdr. Thurraya Kent, who was inspired at a young age to adopt a child.

"There was this Punky Brewster episode where she befriended a kid who had to go to an adoption fair where, basically, families were going through and trying to match themselves with kids," said Kent. "I just remember seeing that and thinking, kids shouldn't be shopping for families. Since then, I knew I wanted to adopt."

Kent and her husband waited for a year to be selected by a birth mother. She said the process that followed was a roller coaster of emotions. Kent was worried about the birth mother's pregnancy and if she would have a change of heart.

Even though contracts are signed on both sides, in most states birth mothers are given a few days after the baby is born, during which time they can change their mind.

Different from a normal pregnancy, where the woman experiences the changes to her body alone, adopting affects both adoptive parents equally.

"When you have that roller coaster and you are pregnant, your spouse does not have that same roller coaster because the chemical change is not happening in them," said Kent, who also has a younger son by birth. "When you're on that roller coaster and you're adopting, you're going through it together."

And then there is the birth mother who is riding that coaster right along with you.

Allen's shipmate, who is now a chief, said the choice to give her son up for adoption was simple and difficult at the same time.

"I felt so bad for giving him away, but I knew I couldn't give him what he needed," said the chief. "I knew he would have a perfect family with Abby."

Kent said the toughest part for her was the waiting. People told her that keeping busy would ease her mind and help pass the time before the baby arrived. During a long period of waiting, Kent developed a point paper about why there should be a policy granting military members uncharged leave to assist with the bonding process after an adoption

"I made a one-page point paper and I kept it in my pocket, and then any time I saw someone who was kind of influential, I would give them [the] point paper. I was at a chamber of commerce meeting and Senator Ben Nelson was there," said Kent. "I spoke to a staffer and I said, 'Would you pass this point paper to the senator?'"

Two days later Kent received a call from the staffer to talk about the point paper. The result was an amendment to Title 10 of the United States Code in March 2005, which grants military members paid leave in connection with adopting children.

Six years after giving her baby up for adoption, the chief is pregnant again and plans to raise her son on her own. Although she's nervous, she said she's also excited to have another shot at being a mom. There is one thing in particular she's looking forward to.

"[I'm looking forward to] teaching him stuff," she said. "Teaching him the way the world works, why the leaves change colors and how to make a snow man."

The chief said she's not really close to her biological family and she isn't married, but her son will have a support system in place.

"I have lots of friends and good people around me," she said. "The people I've deployed with have seen me at my best and my worst and vice versa. [They're] my family so I know they'll be a family for my baby. The Chiefs Mess will help too. I know they will."

Many parents agree that the best part of having kids is enjoying the simple pleasures of everyday life, as proven when Kent saw when her youngest son spot a tomato he had planted, sprout up from the family's garden.

"When that first tomato came in, [Matty] saw it before anybody else did," she said. "That pure joy and excitement for something so very basic ... Sometimes you get so caught up in the rat race, the next assignment, the next [fitness report.] Having [my sons] reminds me to slow down and look for the little tomatoes."

Anyone interested in adoption should know that it is a lengthy process. The Navy offers 21 days of non-chargeable leave for Sailors who are adopting. There are also tax credits available to help subsidize legal costs. For more information refer to OPNAVINST 1754.4 or contact your local Fleet and Family Support Center.