Women at Work: Adoption is a wonderful story

Written by Kristen Asleson

My parents, Vince and Mary Herring, had been married for a year when they announced they were going to have a baby.

Complications arose, and in 1969, when babies were born three months early, their chance of survival was slim. They never were able to change her diaper, rock her to sleep or kiss her forehead good night as she slept. The doctors also advised that attempting to have a child by birth would be next to impossible.

In 1970, they decided to look in to foster parenting. In June of that year, they received a phone call letting them know there was a baby ready for fostering, but rather than fostering, would they be interested in adopting? I am not sure there was much discussion before they said, “yes!” That baby they adopted was me.

I have known I was adopted as far back as I can remember, and as I grew up, I came to cherish the concept even more. My dad always said, “You weren’t expected, you were selected.” It made me feel pretty darn special.

Valerie Strauss Cunningham

Valerie Strauss Cunningham

In 1988, I made the decision to create a loving adoption plan for my first-born daughter. At that moment, the most amazing (and I thought glamorous) woman entered my life. She held my hand through this entire adoption process and became my rock for the next 10 years. Her name is Valerie Strauss Cunningham, of Catholic Charities.

Valerie has been with Catholic Charities for 39 years. For a number of years, she provided direct service with the Pregnancy, Parenting and Adoption Program, but for the past 22 years, she has been the director of the program.

She states, “During the years that I provided direct service I journeyed with many pregnant women who made a very loving and unselfish decision to place their child for adoption. Being a part of that journey has been such a privilege. I have also worked with many childless couples, and the joy of placing a child in their arms has been such a gift. I feel so very fortunate to have been a part of such a wonderful outcome for children for so many years.”

Cunningham has made a huge impact in many lives, not just mine. In 1998, Valerie entered the life of Elissa Robinson, who also needed help in creating an adoption plan for her first born. She states, “There is no way I could have made it through without all the help from Valerie. She was a shoulder to cry on while I was preparing my mind, body and soul for the emptiness I knew I would feel. She listened to my fears and was like a mother figure to me when my own mom was miles and miles away. Most importantly, it was her hand I held as I left the hospital. My story is just one of many which Valerie is involved in. Her heart is overflowing with compassion and love.”

Many times the negative of adoption is up front and center, but if you listen, you will see that the positives far outweigh the negatives. My child found me about seven years ago, and is now a part of our family. My birth parents located me as well, and I discovered I have two sisters! The only difficult part of all of this? Trying to draw a family tree!

My daughter, Lindsey, made the selfless decision when she was not ready to raise a child. This decision gave my own sister and her husband the chance to have a family they could not have had otherwise. Edith is very much part of all our lives and already knows how she came to be with Kendra and Aaron is pretty special.

I should add that my parents went against doctors’ warnings and proceeded to have my younger sister, Kendra, two years after adopting me, and my amazing brother, Kyle, was born seven years later.

The month of November is Adoption Awareness Month, and adoption can be celebrated in so many ways. Along with Elissa and I, Valerie believes, “that adoption is the loving creation of two families who share the decision to provide the very best for their child. Adoption is a wonderful outcome for the babies, their birthparents and for the adoptive families.”