The most important person on Capitol Hill one recent weekday was not Paul Ryan or Mark Zuckerberg or anyone with a position of political or business power. He was a ten-year-old boy, whose hand I shook, before his birth mother told the story of how he is in the world today. Sitting in the front row with his adoptive mom, he was the most powerful speaker who didn’t have to say a word to make the most important statement of gratitude.
The star speaker was a radiant Kelly Clemente, who told her story of being a pregnant teenager in 2008. She had a family who supported her as she faced some of the most intimate, frightening, emotional challenges. Because of this — and she also gives a lot of credit to Bethany Christian Services, which helped her in the adoption process and in her own personal and spiritual growth throughout it — she was able to make an actual choice, which not every woman with an unplanned pregnancy can do.
Still, Clemente admits, in a just-under-20-minute video with a reporter from the Daily Signal, “The hardest day of my life was driving away from that hospital without a baby.” Even with people walking with her in love, she came to a point in her pregnancy when she was tempted to take her own life, after the birth of the baby.
That baby is now an articulate boy and has, as it happens, made a little video of his own, thanking Clemente for placing him for adoption. And as Kelsey Harkness points out in the piece accompanying the video interview she did with Clemente, according to the latest data available, 18,329 women in 2014 in the United States chose to place their children for adoption. In the same year, more than 900,000 chose abortion. She adds: “According to the National Council for Adoption, a nonpartisan group that advocates adoption, for every 1,000 abortions and births to unmarried women, there were only 6.9 adoptions.”
Whatever your politics on abortion, it’s hard to look in the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, a birth mother, and an adoptive mother and see anything but courage and gratitude and love — and the life-and-death situation that Kelly and that innocent unborn were facing. And it’s not to want “choice” to be about people. And to want “choice” to be about life and love and helping people embrace.
As important as the abortion debate itself is, adoption can be a meeting ground for people with different labels in that debate. At an event at the Heritage Foundation where Clemente spoke, Ryan Bomberger, a fellow panelist, declared both that we cannot talk about abortion without talking about adoption and that “we’re failing as a nation in rising to the challenge of finding forever families for children in foster care.” This should be a nudge to the conscience of most of us, again, whatever our politics on abortion or anything else. Bomberger himself was adopted and has, along with his wife, adopted.
The occasion for the Heritage panel was some recent controversies — and laws and lawsuits — involving choices in foster care and adoption. As if these issues weren’t difficult enough for giving families and scared mothers (“I’ve never met a selfish birth mother,” Clemente shared, just a small reminder of what heroism this whole topic involves), there’s a danger that we let necessary, undervalued awareness and support for adoption, and for keeping children from languishing in an overburdened unsustainable foster-care system, get swept up in the polarization we’ve become all too comfortable with.
The most important person in D.C. this week is no one who will be a household name. The most important person in the life of a child is those who love him most.
During that same Heritage Foundation panel, Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption said, “We need to keep children first” in the adoption-policy debate. And in our daily lives.
The testimony of the likes of Kelly Clemente — and presence of that young boy and his adoptive mom — is an invitation to take a deep breath as a culture and a few steps back. Let’s not lose sight of a little boy saying “Thank you” to a woman of courage who, as a teenager, made a choice that was hard but so tremendously loving. He was clearly a living, breathing “Thank you” to his adoptive mom, from the looks of them walking together into the Heritage Foundation the other day.
There was so much news out of D.C. this past week — that the speaker of the House, for example, was not running for reelection. Coupled with the presence of the young one Clemente gave birth to and so generously handed over to a married couple to raise as their own, the message of the week seemed quite clear: The most important person in D.C. this week is no one who will be a household name. The most important person in the life of a child is those who love him most. There’s such power in this country, so close to home, that we don’t always appreciate and celebrate and support. That’s typically the case in life. It challenges us to look around more and see where are the Kelly Clementes in our lives and where are the families stepping up to the plate to be family and home to a child. Whether we are policymakers, Church leaders, or neighbors, we should give them love and support.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.