Adoption Coordinator and Office Manager
Susan grew up in Baltimore, Maryland with her parents and 3 sisters. As number 3, she was “the shy one”. Often people thought there were only 3 daughters because of her painful shyness. Susan’s mother was a stay at home mom and her father worked for the government. This was a one car, one telephone, one television & one bathroom family with no air conditioning! Susan’s family attended the Lutheran Church. Her extended family was large with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. She enjoyed roller skating & ice skating, playing dress up, paper dolls, building pretend houses, climbing trees, playing in the snow, and a yearly family beach trip to Ocean City, Maryland. As strange as it may seem Maryland steamed crabs were also a huge part of Susan’s childhood. Gathering around a large table covered in newspaper and having a crab feast was and is a Maryland “SACRED PASTIME”. Hours were spent eating crabs and listening to the Oriole’s baseball game on the radio. But Susan’s favorite pastime was playing with baby dolls. Not Barbie’s, but life-like babies that she could dress and care for and take for walks in a stroller.
After graduating from high school in 1967, Susan began Harford Junior College hoping to transfer after two years to a larger college and pursue a career in art. While attending college, she began to train with a local florist. At the end of two years, Susan’s full time job as a florist flourished and her dream of college was sidelined.
As her two older sisters married and began starting their families, Susan assumed she would follow in their footsteps. Susan married in 1969, and her dream of becoming a mother began. During her 5 year marriage, countless tests and numerous surgeries never produced answers for her inability to conceive a baby. In 1974 her marriage ended.
Susan met Rick on a blind date. It was love at first sight! Rick and Susan were married in 1976. Rick had also been married for 5 years and had two children. Rick and Susan built their dream home on Logan Martin Lake in Pell City. She continued to work as a florist. They became active members of St. Simon Peter Episcopal Church. She loved her every other weekend “bonus children” Craig and Natalie. Her dream of becoming a mother however never stopped. More testing and surgeries still produced no pregnancies and no answers. Following her last surgical procedure, an infertility specialist at the University of Pennsylvania told her to “go home and plant a garden” she would never have children.
One Saturday afternoon Susan read the following poem and realized it was time to let go.
“As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him, in peace to work alone
I hung around and tried to help, with ways that were my own
At last I snatched them back and cried, “How could you be so slow”?
“My child,” He said, “What could I do? You never would let go.”
Author: Lauren P. Burnes
A friend suggested that Rick and Susan consider adoption. Neither Rick or Susan knew anyone who had adopted a child, but were willing explore the idea of adoption, and so the journey began. About the same time Susan read a magazine article about private adoption. Together with their doctor, priest, family and friends, Rick and Susan put together a packet that contained letters of reference, a letter from their priest, Susan’s doctor’s evaluation of her infertility, a resume of themselves and a personal letter. In April of 1982, three hundred and fifty packets were mailed to family members, friends, church members, doctors and lawyers in Alabama and throughout the United States… but not before Rick and Susan took the packets, envelopes and even the stamps to church, laid them on the altar and had them blessed.
Days after the letters were mailed, phone calls and “baby leads” started. Over the course of the next several months Rick and Susan were contacted about 12 “possible adoption situations”, none of which worked. One Saturday evening in August of 1982, at a Mexican restaurant on Logan Martin Lake the phone rang and it was Rick’s dad, who had received a phone call from a former parishioner from Montgomery, a doctor, who knew of a young woman who wanted to place her baby for adoption. After “baby lead #13”… the “baby leads” stopped.
As quickly as possible Rick and Susan sent a copy of their resume to the doctor and days later, they were chosen. The baby was due on January 15th, 1983. Two of Susan’s best friends were pregnant and as they prepared for their babies, Susan did too. Buying clothes, diapers, bottles and preparing the nursery, Rick and Susan were confident of God’s promise in Psalm 113…”He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children”.
On January 23, 1983 at 6:18 pm a baby girl weighing 7pounds 7 ½ ounces with dark brown hair was born. Hannah was the exact baby Susan had prayed for, exactly nine months after the letters had been mailed. Thirteen years of waiting, Psalm 113, baby #13. On January 28, 1983 Rick and Susan became a family of three. God granted them their hearts desire. That meant that a young woman had given them her child, and also a part of her heart. Rick and Susan have never lost sight of her sacrifice.
Susan knew the pain of giving the gift of a child. One of Susan’s sister’s had placed a baby boy for adoption at the age of 16. Although young, Susan never forgot the day that baby was born. Her sister was her hero. Little did she know that life would come full circle. God would give back to their family the gift her sister had selflessly sacrificed so many years ago.
The week after Hannah was born Rick started law school, five nights a week for 2 ½ years. Working during the day and going to school at night was hectic, but life was wonderful and those 13 years of waiting for a child all made sense. God’s timing was perfect.
In August of 1985, a friend of Rick and Susan’s, who was a lawyer, called them and asked if they were interested in adopting another baby. This was beyond their wildest dreams. One blessing and now the possibility of another? The baby was due in October. On October 9, 1985 a 9 pound 6 ounce baby boy was born. However instead of Rick and Susan bringing him home from the hospital, his mother took him home. The shock and grief was overwhelming. The next day Susan sat in a chair attempting to pray… she was empty, heartbroken and sad, there weren’t any words. She knew there were times to pray and times to listen. This was a time to listen. God was very clear when he said to Susan “Soon, Soon, Soon”. Susan didn’t question what that meant, she just knew that the pain was gone and was replaced by God’s amazing peace. Three weeks later, on October 29th, Susan received a phone call from their lawyer, the mother had changed her mind, did they still want the baby boy? Grant was brought to their home hours later. As difficult as those three weeks had been, Rick and Susan realized that this young mother needed to say hello before she could say goodbye. She needed to be at peace with her decision.
For the second time, a woman had given them the gift of a child. How do you thank someone for making that kind of selfless sacrifice? Rick and Susan knew that holding their baby meant they were holding a piece of his mother’s heart.
On October 31, 1985, Rick was vested in the Alabama State Bar Association. The first case Rick handled when he began practicing law was an adoption. Over the next several years, adoption became a major focus of Rick’s law practice. Many of the couples Rick worked with became Rick and Susan’s close friends. Due to a change in Alabama’s adoption laws, in 1991 Family Adoption Services was born. Partnering with 3 women, Rick was the legal partner of the agency.
In 2002, after being a stay-at-home mom for 17 years, Rick asked Susan to come to work with him at the law firm. Susan answered the phones, filed, opened the mail and slowly learned her way around a computer. Ordering medical records for Rick’s Social Security Disability cases and how to balance 5 checking accounts was on the job training! Susan LOVED working with Rick. She didn’t have to talk face to face with anyone, she was safe. Her painful shyness had never gone away.
In 2007, when the last partner in the adoption agency decided to retire, Rick and Susan had to make a decision. How do you close an adoption agency? Years and years of files existed. People’s lives filled filing cabinets. It didn’t take long to prayerfully decide to move Family Adoption Services in with Rick’s law firm. How hard could this be? Two new employees were hired, additional phone lines were installed, an ancient website was updated, advertising was increased and before long the phones started to ring! They were shocked! There was a LOT to learn…quickly. All of a sudden, painfully shy Susan had to begin TALKING to people. She began encouraging, supporting, advising, educating and comforting people and surprisingly, she had something to say. She had a story to tell. She had HER story to tell. She had walked in these people’s shoes and she had felt their pain. What once made her feel hopeless, was now giving hope to others. Showing childless women & men “The Walls” of pictures in her office, the cradle, the pink & blue car seats, and the changing table allowed them to see the reality of hope through adoption.
Walking in the door each morning at Family Adoption Services means anything can happen that day! With only four employees at the agency, everyone must wear several hats. One of Susan’s jobs is updating the waiting “forever families” by email on a regular basis, keeping them updated lets them know they haven’t fallen through the cracks. Susan has also begun connecting waiting “forever families” who want to meet and talk and support each other. Family Adoption Services has also started a public and a private Facebook page. Everyone in the waiting process knows that they are always welcome to call Rick, Susan, Mandy or Bekah at any time with any question. Having Rick as an adoption lawyer and the owner of Family Adoption Services allows everyone access to accurate, expert legal adoption advice.
When women considering adoption for their child talk with Susan, first and foremost, she thanks them for not aborting their unborn child. She believes that the baby they are carrying is A GIFT. At Family Adoption Services there is no place for judgment. How a woman becomes pregnant is not the issue. Doing what is in the best interest of the child comes first. Forming a friendship, providing a ride to the doctor, texting for hours, reassuring & encouraging a woman during her pregnancy, holding a mother’s hand as she pushes her child into the world and standing by a woman in the operating room during a C-section are just a few of the things Susan does to help women through their pregnancy and birth. Women need to know adoption is not abandoning their child, but a selfless act of courage and love. Susan can look a woman in the eye and say “I am a Mother and a Mimi, because two women loved their child enough to carry their baby to term and give their baby to Rick and me to cherish, love, and adore.”
As a woman who has received the diagnosis of infertility, Susan feels she has the unique ability to connect to adoptive women and men who desperately want to become parents. Adoption is uncharted territory for most people, full of myths and fears. It is Susan’s job to help calm those fears and to do her best to make the journey of adoption one of hope. There are so many hearts to protect, so many hands to hold. There are tears of profound sadness and tears of indescribable joy. As each “forever family” is created, Susan never loses sight of the fact there is also a woman, her friend, who made a selfless, brave, loving decision.
It is an honor to be asked to travel the journey of adoption with each mother and each adoptive parent. Susan does not take that responsibility lightly. She is thankful every day for her gift of infertility…what once broke her heart is clearly the plan God had for her life…being Hannah & Grant’s mother and Jeremiah, Finley, Jackson, Wyatt, Chance & Fisher’s Mimi.
“Go home and plant a garden, you will never have children”…What an amazing garden God has produced!