The Birth Mother Who Shaped My Life

By Shanna Bake Gwilliam

Before my parents married, they bought two leather journals and engraved names on each. One boy. One girl. They wanted and planned for more than two children, but they had two names picked out, so they bought the journals with each inscription. They both came from large families and planned the same for their own family. But the Lord had another plan and for half of my childhood I was an only child.

I can’t remember a time where my family wasn’t praying for a baby to enter our home. After two stillborn babies and a full hysterectomy, my parents decided adoption was in our future. So, for what felt like an eternity, we waited and prayed and prayed and waited for a child to be placed with us.

One night, after a four-year wait, we got a call. My mother was told that we were getting a baby boy the following day. She and I didn’t sleep at all that night. Needless to say, we were incredibly excited! I remember it like it was yesterday (even though it was almost 27 years ago). I remember the building, the office, the restlessness and the volunteer noticing I was having a hard time waiting as my parents signed paperwork. She asked if I wanted to meet my baby brother. I leapt up, saying I did! She took me into a room and had me sit in a rocking chair and placed him in my arms. I was beaming. For some reason, she left me alone with him. These were very sacred minutes (about fifteen) and I rocked him and sang to him. I got to meet him first!! I knew he was meant to be in our family. I finally had my brother!! I loved him so much!

Within the next few months, I came to the decision, at nine years old, that I wanted to work with adoption someday. We thought of his birth mother often, knowing she had to be hurting and wishing we could at least let her know that we were grateful and that he was loved. Even then, I had such a great desire to meet her and thank her. Instead, our whole family prayed daily for her, hoping she would know of our gratitude and that she would be blessed for her selfless decision.

My brother and I were extremely close. Yes, I tormented him and we fought, but we adore(d) each other. I was extremely ill in my late teens and it had to have taken a toll on him, but he took good care of me. He would set up my dialysis machine while I was out with friends and never, ever embarrassed me in front of the current boy I liked, even though he was at the very age most boys would have. Leaving for college was extremely difficult for me and I missed him terribly. I’d imagine the same was true for him. 


Due to the need for health insurance, I RACED through college. By the age of twenty-two, I had my masters degree in social work. I knew this was what I wanted and didn’t even take one credit more than needed. A few months later, I was surprised to be hired to work at my dream job, LDS Family Services. I had the incredible privilege of witnessing the most selfless women and men of all time. . . my heroes. . . birth parents. As those birth parents were able to prayerfully select and meet the adoptive family their child would be placed with, I thought of my brother’s birth parents (especially his birth mother) EVERY SINGLE TIME! I was so grateful that policies had changed, that these birth parents could PLACE their baby in the arms of the parents they chose. Watching those children grow and relationships between birth and adoptive parents flourish was incredibly satisfying, but I admit a tinge of jealousy…. I ached to have that type of relationship with my brother’s birth parents, especially his birth mother. I knew she must be the most amazing woman of all time. I held her to a ridiculous standard. But was it? 
My brother met his first love in high school. It seemed to be love at first sight for him. They married several years later and I couldn’t believe he beat me at getting married! 
 But, I worked hard. I saw working in adoption as a calling rather than a job. I would look at each adoptive parents’ file to see if they had a sibling around my age. I asked my bosses, coworkers, etc., if they knew any great men. I worked so much that I knew that if I were to marry, I’d have to meet my spouse through work. 
Drew & Debbie Bake, Spencer & Shanna (Bake) Gwilliam,
and Alden, Maren & Isabella Bake
 After six years at LDS Family Services, I transferred to their Headquarters’ office, primarily focusing on adoption. One of my responsibilities was marketing and who better to work with than adoption.com in marketing for adoption? The first time I visited, Nathan Gwilliam, co-owner of adoption.com and brother of my future spouse, pointed at me and said, “Spencer,” wanting to set me up with his brother. Spencer lived in Arizona, so I didn’t think it possible for us to actually date. This made it much easier to not worry and be ourselves. A year later, he moved to Utah, and we were married six months later. . . because of our adoption connection!

Last year, at the age of twenty-five, my brother called me and said, “Guess who I found?” I STARTED BAWLING, which is not in my nature for happy events. I asked him all sorts of questions that he didn’t yet have answers for. He found his birth mother on a forum on adoption.com and he had just sent a message saying that he believed he was her birth son. They emailed for a while and then decided to meet. Their first meeting went incredibly well and I was extremely jealous that I couldn’t go! Luckily, a few days later, he felt ready for all of us to meet her. As was fitting, she and her husband came to my home the day before Thanksgiving, 2011, and that high standard I had held her to was not only met, but exceeded! What a gift to finally meet her and thank her! My parents and I had a long-awaited meeting that night and we all adored her! 


Her children did not know about my brother. When she told them, her ten-year-old said, “Well, you know what this means, mom?” She said, “What?” And he responded, “You’re a grandma now!” She is an incredible woman and I am so glad she entered my brother’s life when she did. It was perfect timing. She was even able to attend my brother’s graduation for his bachelor’s degree. She has been an important force for good for him.

Watching my brother go through this practically perfect reunion has been captivating. Most reunions will not be so incredible, and yet, he has had some pretty intense positive AND difficult emotions. Those who were adopted need to carefully consider how and when to look for their birth parents and how to proceed with a relationship. Even though it was perfect timing for my brother, it was still an incredibly confusing experience. As an adoption expert and psychotherapist (and a sister that dearly loves her brother who was adopted), I suggest that those who were adopted in a time where adoptions were closed seek professional help as they deal with unexpected emotions, possibly unmet expectations, and the confusion that will likely accompany the process. 

Alden Bake at the 2012 Adoption Walk With Me with his wife & daughters,
his birth mother, and his birth half-sister.

I love adoption. I love birth parents. I LOVE my brother and his sweet, sweet wife and daughters. And, I have LOVED the opportunity to slowly add his birth mother’s family to ours. I am grateful for the years that I got to be a fly on the wall and witness heroism. I am grateful for one very selfless birth mother, in particular, who shaped my life and led me down the adoption path where my most sacred experiences were had. Without her, I doubt I would have pursued a career in adoption or found my sweet, wonderful, eternal spouse! We plan to fost-adopt or adopt in the future and because of her, I have a firm hope and peace that all will be well. She is one of my greatest heroes and I believe her decision will continue to shape my life!! The couples, the birth parents, the children – an incredible triad that will have an eternal connection, one way or another. Let fears go, and know that you can handle what comes your way, no matter what part you play in adoption. For me, there is no denying God’s role in the process and I am so grateful to have this incredible perspective. If you don’t have it yet, trust those of us who do. It will come and you will count adoption among your greatest blessings! I certainly do!
Do you have an adoption story to tell? Send it to us and we’ll share it here.

4 Responses to “The Birth Mother Who Shaped My Life”

  1. November 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for making me bawl like a baby.

  2. November 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Beautiful. How can we thank a mom that so selflessly allowed her child to live and offered her child a loving family instead of choosing abortion? God bless birth moms who have a heart for their child and chose life <3

  3. December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    awesome, Shanna!

  4. December 29, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    I am the grandfather of two sweet adopted grandchildren. Both adoptions are open and have brought so many additional people to love into our family. Open adoptions have been an exceptional link for us to some remarkable birth mothers, a birth father, and their families. What a marvelous way to increase the amount of love in your life. We will be forever blessed.