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Jeanine (VerSteeg) Benson, center, with her birth mother, Nancy Houghtalin, her daughter, Alexis and mom, Theora Ver Steeg.

Adoption has been a positive process for Ver Steegs

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Adoption can be a frightening, painful and difficult decision. It can also be a gift given by one mother to another. One mother giving the gift of birth. The other mother giving the gift of a life with love, nurturing and caring.

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This is how Nancy Houghtalin described a decision she made in 1972. A choice she made to give up her baby girl and give another family a priceless gift. Little did she know at the time, but she would eventually come to know that daughter and become an extended part of her adopted family.

Nancy’s story

At the age of 21, Nancy was faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Abortion was never an issue for her and in those days, raising a child as a single parent was not easily accepted. Instead, Nancy and her parents, looked into giving the child to another loving family through adoption. The institution they went through was Bethany Christian Services located in nearby Grand Rapids, Mich.

Nancy gave birth to her baby girl in November and the nurses allowed her to hold the baby for a brief time before she had to say good-bye. As she left the hospital crying because she had given up her child, she saw another woman crying because she had lost her baby during birth.

Nancy realized then that there were two sides to her decision, one that influenced herself and the other that affected the baby and adoptive family.

She went on with her life, her baby constantly on her mind. She got married and had a daughter and son who she told at an early age that they had an older half-sister.

One day Nancy was on the computer looking at websites that help birth parents and adopted children find each other. In 1972, adoptions were considered closed and no information was allowed to be released unless both parties gave their consent.

On this website, she ran across a post from a girl who said she was born in November of 1972 in Grand Rapids, Mich. and was looking for her birth mother. Nancy knew immediately that this was her daughter. She contacted Bethany Christian Services to give her consent for the release of records, not realizing that Jeanine Ver Steeg, her baby, had given that same consent years earlier.

Jeanine’s story

Jeanine’s parents,  Sonny and Theora Ver Steeg of Hancock shared with her at an early age that she was adopted. She was the younger of two children the Ver Steegs adopted through Bethany. Jeanine always felt very loved with her adopted family and says they will always be her “mom and dad.”

Sonny and Theora received some information with the adoption, most of which gave general health and family background for the children. A fire at their home destroyed these records so Theora reached out to Bethany to see if they kept copies.

She was pleased to learn that they had and they also sent along a letter Jeanine’s birth mother had written to her when she gave her up for adoption. Jeanine received and read this letter when she was 15 years old.

Shortly after that, the family made a trip to Michigan. While there, they stopped at Bethany House in order for both Jeanine and her brother, Tim, to get a feel of their very earliest years. With the encouragement of their parents, Jeanine decided to give  her written consent in case her birth parents wanted to look for her. She also followed up by posting things on websites designed for this goal.

Theora’s story

There are always three sides in the story of adoption. The birth mother, the child and the adoptive parents. Theora  viewed her two children as a blessing and a gift from the parents who gave birth to them. After learning that they could not have children, Theora and Sonny started the adoption process by contacting the christian based agency in Michigan. It was always a very positive thing for them despite the long and sometimes agonizing wait.

After adopting their son,  Tim, they waited the required amount of time to ask for another child. In the fall of 1972 their prayers were answered and they were holding their new baby girl before Christmas, a gift of unbelievable magnitude. While Nancy was sitting in the home of her parents feeling very sad about the baby, the Ver Steegs were having the best days of their life.

Sonny and Theora made the decision to share with their children as much as they could about their birth and the adoption. They explained to them that their birth mothers made a very difficult decision but it was one made with love and hope for a better life for them.

It was a joy for the Ver Steegs when both children learned more about their birth families and were eventually able to be reunited. Sadly, Tim’s birth mother passed away shortly after they met.

“It was like the pegs that were floating finally found the right spots,” commented Theora after Jeanine talked to her birth mother. “There was a sparkle in Jeanine’s eyes that wasn’t there before. So many things made sense to her now.”

Reunited

The story of their reuniting involves some missed opportunities, changed email addresses, consents finally granted and determination on both sides. Nancy and Jeanine finally connected through a phone call and Nancy knew immediately that it was her first-born. Her first words to Jeanine were “Oh my goodness, honey, is it you? Just hold on a second, I have to cry.”

The two talked for about 30 minutes and shared their life stories. Nancy learned Jeanine was married and had a son, Nickolas. Jeanine learned that she had siblings. They stayed in contact and finally got to meet a short time later. At that first meeting, they had to laugh because they both came dressed in a gray t-shirt and blue shorts.

The similarity in their looks was obvious but the genetic connections have astounded them all. Actions, likes and dislikes, and career choices have all been very similar. They walk the same and even talk the same.

Soon after meeting, Jeanine and Theora gave Nancy a special gift. Jeanine was expecting her second child. Theora had been in the operating room for the birth of Nickolas so she suggested that Jeanine ask Nancy to be there for the second birth. Nancy was thrilled to be able to hold Alexis shortly after her birth. Her first thought was that she was able to hold her granddaughter longer than her first-born daughter.

The entire adoption process has been such a positive thing for all involved. Nancy has become a part of the extended Ver Steeg family where she is always greeted warmly. Jeanine has been able to get to know her birth mother who she calls “mother” and keep a close relationship with her “mom.” She has also gained a sister and brother along with a niece. Jeanine’s children have three grandmothers. Theora describes Nancy as her “soulmate mother.” They are very different but also very much alike.

Theora stated that she always knew Jeanine came from someone very special. It was a priceless gift for a mother to give and a gift from God that changed and blessed so many lives.

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