Erica Wick, adopted at 1 month old and now a married mother of three, speaks as part of a panel sharing personal experiences with adoption Oct. 10 at St. Kunegunda Church in Sugar Camp. Other presenters included an adoptive parent, a birth parent and a pregnancy care center director. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

On Monday, Oct. 10, at St. Kunegunda of Poland Catholic Church in Sugar Camp, members of a panel shared their perspectives and experiences on adoption.

Four presenters gave testimonies: Tammy Dallmann, director of New Dawn Pregnancy Resource Center in Woodruff; Pam Cira, birth mother who placed her child with an adoptive family; John Stoehr, adoptive father of two; and Erica Wick, a woman was adopted as an infant.

While the gathering was small, with about a dozen persons in attendance, it was intimate and engaging. After a refreshment break, the group reconvened for questions and the event ended with presenter John Stoehr performing a pro-life song he wrote called “I Cry” as he and his wife began the process of hoping to adopt a child in fall of 1992.

Stoehr’s mother was the last to speak that evening. She commented how her son, about 10 years old when Roe v. Wade first legalized abortion, was very upset by the initial pro-choice reactions and how from such an early age the pro-life cause was so close to his heart.

“God works in mysterious ways,” she said and iterated her son’s testimony that he and his wife had no medical reason for not conceiving their own children. “They were meant to adopt,” she said, adding that seed of love for children born from crisis pregnancies had been waiting for its fulfillment in her two grandchildren.

Tammy Dallmann, Pregnancy Resource Center director

Tammy Dallmann began by asking, “How can we walk with moms?”

Addressing the frequent criticism that the pro-life movement only cares about babies, Dallmann made clear, “Not true. We care about the women who are carrying the babies.”

Dallmann noted that the average client seeking their center out is 20-25 years old. These young women are “distraught and needing something to listen to.” She clarified that with any unplanned or crisis pregnancy, there is “no easy choice.”

What their center’s counselors seek to do is to fit their resources with the client’s needs. Primarily that is educating them on their options – abortion, adoption and parenting – and helping them think through the longer-term consequences of their decision while their minds and emotions are caught up in trying to figure out the quickest way to get out of their “problem.”

“Adoption is such a beautiful piece,” Dallmann said. “We live in a world that doesn’t recognize the beauty of watching it happen.”

She added that since the overturning of Roe, the adoption option has “come alive” again in recent months. While they don’t play a direct role other than making referrals to further explore adoption, Dallmann concluded that prayers really are one of the best things the center’s employees and volunteers can offer.

Ultrasounds can make a difference, and often the young woman will follow the decision made by the baby’s father if he is involved, she said. Often the final decision is never known.

Pam Cira, birth parent

At 24, Pam Cira was starting graduate school at Marquette University and found herself pregnant, “not happily so.” In the early days of the pregnancy, she found herself wondering if she had turned from her pro-choice viewpoint too soon. She figured she would end up parenting, as she had friends who had also had babies.

Once she began feeling the baby more, Cira felt the wake-up call. “There’s actually a whole other person that’s going to need a lot of care,” she started to realize.

Adoption became a consideration as Cira knew both adopted persons and adoptive parents, but she struggled in not knowing other birth parents who had placed children for adoption. After calling Catholic Social Services, she was connected with a social worker.

Cira shared how this “incredible” social worker would challenge her to address all the situations related to her various options, to critically look at all the angles rationally and not just through an emotional lens. Those conversations and the personal reflection helped convict Cira that adoption was the right choice for her child.

She confessed that the night she left the hospital alone, after going in with that little person inside her, was the “worst night of my life.” Cira had asked for a closed adoption with direct placement into a family rather than an interim foster home.

Her choice for a closed adoption was based on the self-knowledge that if she knew where her child was, she would have a hard time really letting the baby go. She felt it was the child’s best chance for an intact family.

“I knew it was the best choice, but definitely the toughest, hardest decision I ever made,” Cira stated. She also said it is a decision she has not once regretted.

Even when several friends ask how she could “give that baby away,” Cira made very clear her feelings. “It’s not as if that child was not loved or wanted. I felt like I was the best mom I could be for him.”

Her mother’s heart never completely let go, and after 28 years of praying for and wondering what kind of life her son had been given, Cira was able to search for and find her baby’s adoptive parents.

“They are wonderful people,” Cira said. They put together a picture album so she could see her son growing up.

When he was in his early 30s, mother and son did meet in person. He is now 46 years old, and he has met Cira’s other children. They get together a few times a year.

Cira’s experience has given her a great passion for breaking down social stigmas attached to adoption. While she was still living in the Milwaukee area, Cira started a support group for women who had or were considering placing their children for adoption. For more than 12 years, between five and 30 women would gather to share their stories. For many, they were stories they were never allowed to talk about.

“You don’t ever forget that child,” Cira clarified.

She continues to hope that these stigmas will fade and adoption will become more understood.

Her final thoughts were about the language used in regards to adoption – something she is very intentional about. No one “gives up” a child, she said as “We don’t own anybody.”

“We still have relationships with those children,” she added. “Our connection (as mothers) isn’t any less significant based on the amount of time we had with that child.”

John Stoehr, adoptive parent

After embarrassing and expensive fertility tests left them feeling like a science experiment, John Stoehr and his wife never did discover why they couldn’t have their own children.

“Enough of this,” the couple decided, and attended a seminar in Green Bay to learn more about the adoption process.

As part of a lottery system with an adoption agency out of Wausau, the Stoehrs’ name was selected, and they started the long process of classes, background checks and relationship building as they chose to move forward with an open adoption.

“It felt like selling ourselves,” he shared, speaking about the photo album they created to show their lives and interests for parents looking to place their children.

Unfortunately, their first experience – while they were grateful to have helped the mother – ended with heartbreak when, after being chosen as adoptive parents, the Stoehrs brought the new mother and baby home for the transition.

She decided to raise her child.

Jumping “right back on the horse,” they were surprised to have their name chosen again that same summer. This time, they were matched with a 16-year-old mom and met both her and the father separately, as well as the baby’s grandparents.

Stoehr said it was amazing how many things the birth mother and his wife had in common.

At four months old, after those first months with a foster family, the Stoehrs welcomed their son home and raised him, never hiding the fact that he was adopted. The birth mother has stayed in contact with their son and especially with social media, she has had the peace of mind of seeing her son raised in a loving home.

“I have the deepest respect for her,” Stoehr stated. “She did something I can never repay her for.”

Four years later, the couple was again engaged in the process, this time working with a birth mother who already had two children. The baby’s father had left, and knowing she couldn’t raise another child on her own, she chose adoption. The Stoehrs received the gift of their daughter two weeks after her birth.

Stoehr said his son was old enough by that point to understand something of the adoption process, and it helped him understand his own situation.

“Every time I see my daughter, I see her mother,” the adoptive father said. “How can I not feel love for her? We are one big family.”

According to data Stoehr had seen from Planned Parenthood’s own Guttmacher Institute, he said there are more than 2 million parents wanting to adopt children.

“If every child was adopted, there would still be parents waiting,” he said, “and people need to know that.”

Stoehr concluded that he and his wife’s lives have been enriched forever through their adoption experience.

Erica Wick, adopted child

Forty-two years ago, at just over a month old, Erica was adopted by her parents in a closed adoption.
Growing up as an adopted child, Wick shared, “I can’t say my life was any different from my friends’ (lives) … I never felt different.”

Even after her adoptive parents went on to have two other children, “They were my sisters. There was no different relationship there.”

Growing up “truly blessed,” Wick admitted she had always wondered about her birth parents, although because she looked like her adoptive parents, most people wouldn’t have known she was adopted. That said, she still had questions: Did she have other siblings? What nationality was she? What was her birth parents’ story?

“It was like I was missing a piece of the puzzle,” Wick said.

At 18, she got the paperwork needed to start looking for her birth parents, but then filed it away. It sat there for 10 years, hidden away with the fear that by seeking out her birth parents, she would hurt her parents or sisters. During those years, her middle sister died in a car accident.

Reassured by her parents, Wick moved forward with the process of discovery, although she was surprised by her youngest sister’s reaction. She got upset and was afraid she would lose another sister.

“Blood is not what makes you family, at all,” she said to comfort her sister. If anything, she added the experience and subsequent connection with her birth mother has strengthened their sibling bond.

Wick’s birth mother was 17 when she got pregnant and was left alone with the situation. Coming from a Catholic family, her parents were supportive of the choice for an adoption. Even confirmed in the decision, Wick said her mother told her she had always wondered if she made the right choice for her baby.

It only took five minutes after meeting her daughter, a grown woman who now has three children of her own.

Meeting her meant so much, Wick shared. Although the two are not close, they have maintained a relationship.

Wick said she often thinks about how choosing an abortion is not just ending a life, “You are eliminating an entire future … Every person touches another person in some way, big or small.”