Kristi's Gift

She gave up her infant son to two strangers who became her friends. Now, more than two years later, she's still in his life, visiting regularly. In an open adoption, they're all doing their best for Ryan.

There are so many sweet things from her growing-up years that she says she values, like the way her mother could tell stories or pretend to be the "Tickle Monster," and would take her to see her grandfather on his farm in Dayton. There, Kristi would get to ride on his four-wheeler through the woods. But she had the stinging memories, too. Her mother was always taking her to live with relatives and family friends, always moving to different parts of the city. Kristi thinks she must have attended at least ten different elementary schools. At one point her mother lost custody, and she and her sister were sent to live with a stepfather -- the man whose last name she still carries. There, she was beaten. Three days shy of her eighth birthday, her stepfather dumped her in a tub of scalding water. Her ankles and feet still show the scars of her third-degree burns. When Kristi talks about this, her voice is even and calm and shocking in its forgiveness. Her stepfather was not a well man, she admits. He didn't know what he was doing. She says a thank-you prayer out loud that it was she and not her sister who was hurt.

"He'll meet his maker on his own terms, and he's set those terms, and I just hope he's asked for forgiveness," she says.

So Kristi had survived. But she was 22 and pregnant, and she wanted only the best for that baby. She went to Barnes & Noble and bought everything from baby name books to books on single parenting to books on adoption. When an aunt who had been adopted suggested the Homes of St. Mark, one of the oldest adoption agencies in Houston, Kristi contacted Pam Lucas, the Homes' director of adoption. After talking to Pam, she began to understand a different kind of adoption. One that was legally binding, like the ones she had imagined. But one that would allow her to know her baby, see his pictures as he grew up and even visit him from time to time. The Homes selected adoptive parents who were counseled, went to meetings, learned about openness and wanted it too, Pam told her. If Kristi wanted to place her child, she would have counseling, one-on-one attention and support. It was the first option that made any sense to Kristi.

Jill and Bill Clark battled infertility for 13 years before deciding to adopt.
Deron Neblett
Jill and Bill Clark battled infertility for 13 years before deciding to adopt.
Pam Lucas of the Homes of St. Mark says open adoption is healthier for everyone involved.
Deron Neblett
Pam Lucas of the Homes of St. Mark says open adoption is healthier for everyone involved.

Pam came out to meet her, and the day after that first meeting she sent Kristi a Homes of St. Mark "résumé book" complete with pictures and letters from families hungry to adopt a child. Pam told Kristi to look it over and see what she thought.

Kristi started reading. At first she tried to get Troy to read, but he wouldn't. He only wanted to sit on the couch and watch football. Every time Kristi would try to make him look at the pictures he would tell her he really didn't want to. Maybe tomorrow, he would say. But not today.

"Okay," Kristi finally told him, "if you don't read this now, you don't have a choice, and I don't care."

Finally, Troy agreed to look. After sifting through 30 résumés -- all complete with smiling photos and heartbreaking letters -- Kristi and Troy found Jill and Bill Clark. Troy, who had taken classes at the University of Texas at Austin, wasn't thrilled with the fact that Bill was an Aggie. But Troy and Kristi, both Catholic, liked that Bill and Jill were Catholic. Bill had a great job as an engineer, and Jill wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. The couple had been married for 19 years and had spent 13 of those trying to get pregnant and another three waiting for a child to adopt. They had gone through round after round of infertility treatments and Jill had lost two pregnancies. They had nieces and nephews who loved them, and Jill and Bill loved them back. But they wanted a baby of their own, too.

"Aunt Jill and Uncle Bill are really nice people," wrote the Clarks' eight-year-old nephew, in a recommendation Jill and Bill had included in their letter. "They serve really good food and they talk to me. I want to know when they are going to get a baby."

Kristi can't quite explain it, even today. But it wasn't any one thing about the couple. It was more like magic. Just like she had known she was pregnant, she knew Jill and Bill were the ones for her. Right before Thanksgiving Kristi called Pam Lucas. She wanted to make sure Pam called the Clarks before Thanksgiving Day, so they'd really have something to be thankful for.

"Oh, I was just floating around that day. "We've been chosen, we've been chosen,' " says Jill.

Soon after, the two couples met at the Homes of St. Mark, with Pam facilitating. Those meetings are almost like first dates, Pam says. Everyone wants everybody to like everybody else. Kristi, a self-proclaimed chatterbox, filled the empty spaces with stories of her grandfather's farm and things she liked to do when she was little. She wasn't nervous, she says, but excited. After the meeting, as they were getting ready to go, the baby moved for the first time.

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