More than one million U.S. teenagers and 4,000 Utah teenagers find themselves pregnant each year. Some are married. Some get married. The rest are faced with a dilemma that's not theirs alone to solve.
When a teenage girl is having a baby, her parents are having a grandchild." `I think I'm pregnant.' When our daughter said those words to us, the news was shattering," said Judy and Jim Glynn, of Axtell, Kan., in a book published in January. The book is called "Parents, Pregnant Teens and the Adoption Option," by Jeanne Warren Lindsay.
It addresses a long overlooked segment of the population: birth grandparents. They are grandparents who have watched the birth of their first grandchild and then watched that baby be taken out the door and out of their lives forever.
Birth grandparents agree adoption is best for the baby. They are usually opposed to abortion and believe their daughters don't have the maturity or marital status for raising children. Still, their hearts ache.
Despite the pain Judy Glynn felt when she learned her 15-year-old daughter was pregnant, she said, "The baby was real to me from the beginning, my first grandchild, precious and beautiful." She was glad, for the baby's sake, that her daughter chose to carry it and let it be adopted. But now she grieves for her daughter's loss and her own.
Nationally (and in Utah, too) fewer than 5 percent of teens put their babies up for adoption. Twenty thousand couples experience the thrill of parenthood through adoption each year, but another 20,000 families are left grieving - 40,000 families, counting the father's.
When a youngster is having a baby, her parents can feel terribly isolated.
"We never thought this would happen to us," says one Salt Lake father whose 19-year-old daughter had a baby a few months ago. "At first we felt dishonored. We are of an older generation. But we learned this is fairly common. We were not alone.
"You do feel angry, but then love takes over. You have to give your daughter a lot of loving care."
His daughter had already decided on adoption before she told her parents she was pregnant. She was going to counseling, seeing a doctor. All that was left for her parents to do was to offer emotional support, which they did. Her mother says, "I made sure she had good nutrition, tried to keep her spirits up and took over for her when she was dragging."
Jane Langford, director of the YWCA (which has a young mothers program), says, parents don't always support their daughter through difficult days. "When a pregnant teen and her parents have different ideas about what should be done - if they want her to put the baby up for adoption and she wants to keep it, or vice versa - there is so much stress during the pregnancy."
Some teenagers' parents believe strongly that if a baby is born into a family, it must be raised in that family.
Lindsay quotes a birth grandmother, the father's mother, who said, crying, "I'm 34 years old. I'm younger than the adoptive parents who are getting the baby. I feel terribly guilty, like I should be raising that child. I'm giving away my flesh and blood."
Pam Wacker, pregnancey counselor at Children's Services Society of Utah, says she sometimes meets a birth grandmother whose oldest daughter is having a baby and who has always wanted another child of her own. "You better believe this girl's not gojng to place the baby for adoption," she says. "It's not until years down the road that there's a real conflict, when the girl wants to move out and the grandmother doesn't want the child to leave."
She says, "I don't know if parents understand the influence they have on a girl." Legally, the choice about what to do with the baby is hers. "I have had parents tell me, furiously, that their daughter is only 14 and not very mature at that, so how can she possibly be allowed to sign adoption papers?" says Wacker. "I tell them, 'That's Utah law, as I understand it.'" If she wants to keep the baby, Langford says, grandparents invariably come to accept their child's decision after the birth. But in the case of adoption they sometimes try to talk her out of it even if the've been supportive up until then.
"I didn't see my daughter's baby because a friend had told me I'd take it home with me if I saw it," says a grandmother. "And I would have, too. I don't know how she kept him for two days. But she says those were the most wonderful days of her life, an experience she'll never forget."
This woman isn't grieving for herself right now, she's grieving for her daughter. "Last night she didn't eat her dinner. She dinn't say anything, but I knew what she was thinking about. I've been told to never tell her to forget this and get on with her life. So I never say that, and I won't even if she is still grieving in five years.
"This is like a death. No one realizes that. The thing that makes her the happiest is when she hears from the adoptive parents or just hears through someone else that her baby is well and the family is thrilled to have him."
Grandparents agree that in one respect agencies are better than doctors or lawyers for handling an adoption. "Agencies heve counseling," says one grandfather. "My daughter might need that for years to come." But in Utah only a few grandparents get counseling, too.
"We find that birth parents tend to get on with their own livees after the first year," says a counselor who believers the grandparents' fellings surface later, after their children have gone off to college or a job. "A year or two after the adoption, I get this timid call from a grandparent, asking if I know how the baby's doing."
"I never thought of the boy's parents before, but we are as much grandparents as the girl's parents are. We are hurting, too, although time does help," says another woman.
Sally and Jim Coffey bring a different perspective. She says,"My daughter had a baby on Sept. 15, 1988, and placed the llittle boy for adoption. We cried for a month. But she's doing wonderfully. It was very diffucult, the most sacrificial gesture a person can make." They echo the pride every parent feels for the daughter who carries through with a difficult decision.
Sally Coffey has coped well because, "I never let myself feel that that was my grandchild." Nor did Jim. They adopted their own children. Now, the Coffeys have a new gratitude toward their children's birth families and a unique appreciation for the joy their daughter's baby can bring. "I pray for this little boy and his family all the time," says Mrs. Coffey.
Another grandmother explains, "I hope our baby will always know how much he has been loved, how often we think of him. He's my grandchild, my first grandchild. I hope I'll have others in the future with whom I can share my life. I have to love this one in secret."
When Pam Wacker, Children's Services, counsels the pregnant mother she also tells the father his legal responsibilities should he want to sign paternity papers. (He'll pay child support and share medical bills and reimburse the state if his child is on welfare.) If the mother is planning on adoption and the father has signed paternity papers, the adoption can't go ahead without his signature, too.