By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
The straightest path from Houston to Lake Jackson is 288 South. The road cuts into the flat, open fields like a piece of black ribbon, racing along for miles. When Kristi Weaver drives that road in her white Plymouth Horizon -- the one with no radio and the driver's-side door that sticks -- she passes the time by talking to herself. There's certainly not much to look at, she says. But there is probably a lot to think about. Because Kristi Weaver takes this trip every few months to visit her son, Ryan, who lives in Lake Jackson with his adoptive parents, Jill and Bill.
Kristi has known the soft swell of pregnancy and the sharp pain of childbirth. But she did not get up for middle-of-the-night feedings. She does not jump and turn to look when someone says "Mommy" in the supermarket or the library. Those are things that belong to Jill and Bill. But unlike birth mothers of the past, Kristi is not shut out from two-and-a-half-year-old Ryan's life. Instead, she is welcomed into it. She attended his baptism and is invited on trips to visit Santa Claus. Jill and Bill want her there at Ryan's high school graduation. So whenever she can, 25-year-old Kristi Weaver gets into her car and begins the long, quiet drive to Lake Jackson.
This is the story of a family who took a journey together down a road that was neither straight nor boring. At the beginning of that road there were obstacles and sacrifice. And at the end of it there was love.
Kristi says she always falls for the way men from Texas say "darlin'," and when it rains, she always prays that homeless people will find a bridge to crawl under. She adores Harry Potter books and keeps a journal, and goes to Saturday-evening Catholic Mass and a Sunday-morning Baptist service, just to be sure. Her voice still grows half-dreamy when she talks about Troy, Ryan's birth father, with whom she lived for three and a half years and who recently left Houston for California to pursue dreams of becoming a race-car mechanic. She is getting used to living on her own for the first time in her whole life, and she lives just a short walk from her job as a receptionist at Nassau Bay City Hall. The outgoing message on her answering machine ends with the chipper reminder, "Have an outstanding day!"
If you had asked her a few years ago what adoption meant, Kristi would have guessed it meant being shuttled away to a convent and having your baby taken from you by a bunch of nuns the second after it was born. And when she got pregnant at the age of 22, the concept of open adoption was foreign to her. But she knew one thing: She didn't think it would be fair to keep this baby.
Troy was working as a technician at Compaq, and she was a cashier at an H-E-B grocery store. Her endometriosis and her habit of forgetting to take her birth control pills on time meant her periods were never normal. So when she was late, she wasn't too worried. But then one night she dreamed that two clear voices were talking to her, "a huge voice and a little bitty voice." Kristi woke up, rolled over, rode a wave of nausea and knew.
"In the dream the voices told me to take care of myself because I was pregnant," says Kristi. She thinks the big booming voice in her dream was God's, and the tiny voice she heard was Ryan's.
She took a home pregnancy test and it was positive. She went to the doctor for a urine test and it was positive. She hoped hard and demanded a blood test. And of course, it was positive. When she told Troy, he suggested an abortion. So did her mother. But Kristi didn't even consider it. She had had one years earlier, with a different boyfriend, and it had left her feeling numb and strange. She had prayed to God for forgiveness, she says. Getting pregnant a second time, getting sick and having that dream -- it made her realize she couldn't handle doing something like that again.
"Physically I could not do that; it would kill me," says Kristi. "And I wanted to live."
She thought about keeping the baby, but didn't know how she would do it. Troy wasn't ready to parent, and she was working at a grocery store making maybe $8 an hour. She didn't want food stamps and WIC (women, infants and children) assistance, she says, because she just knew she would be the type of person to get dependent on them. And parenting alone would mean day care -- something she really knew she didn't want.
"I hate day cares," she says. "They spend eight hours a day there, and who's teaching who what? Are they changing their diapers on time? What's the ratio? I was freaking."
She spent a lot of time in day care as a child. And some in foster care too. Kristi's childhood was tumultuous. Her mother had Kristi at 19. Kristi has never met her birth father, and even though she knows his name, she won't call him. "Rejection," she says. That's what she's afraid of.