Rock Center   |  May 31, 2013

Woman’s struggle over adoption leads to modern family

Callie Mitchelll, A photojournalism student at the University of Iowa, chronicled her unplanned pregnancy in a poignant photo essay that inspired a nationwide conversation. She speaks with Dr. Nancy Snyderman about the unique family she has created.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

our next report involves a young woman who went public with what is usually a very private decision -- what to do about an unplanned pregnancy. this young woman kept a detailed and rather remarkable journal of her pregnancy in words and photos. when it was published in her college newspaper , her story quickly went viral. and that's just the start of a remarkable journey that's still unfolding. dr. nancy snyderman reports.

>> reporter: callie mitchell looks like a typical new mom doting over her son leo born last december.

>> mom, i'm flying.

>> reporter: but 25-year-old callie is not like every new mom. she's forging a new path to create her own kind of modern family. a photography student at the university of iowa , callie attracted national attention when she went public with a series of intimate self-portraits published in her college newspaper . the photos, taken during her pregnancy, went viral. they show callie agonizing over whether she should keep her baby or put him up for adoption .

>> just waking up in the morning, i would start crying.

>> reporter: because you felt so alone?

>> yeah, you cry a lot. i mean, it was a daily, daily thing. it was an hourly thing.

>> reporter: her pregnancy came as a surprise, and it wasn't long before she and the birth father broke up and he suggested adoption .

>> at first i was like no, that's ridiculous. of course i'm not giving my child up for adoption . i'm not giving my baby up for adoption . and he was like, i know that you love him. and i know that you want your son. but callie you need to think about him. you can't give him the life he should have.

>> reporter: as much as she wanted to keep the baby, callie , who works as a waitress, worry ed she wouldn't have the money tore time to give her child the life she wanted him to have. torn, she agreed to call an adoption agency. she studied the profiles the agency sent her of couples hoping to adopt and found herself drawn to kristen and brian dowd, both college educated, both 32. what was it that made you think, i like these guys?

>> one of the things they said in their article or in their profile was, we're going to give him everything that he needs and not everything that he wants, which is the most perfect parent sentence in the world.

>> reporter: the dowds, who live in cleveland, ohio, and couldn't have biological children, told the agency they were willing to have an open adoption where the birth parents have some contact with the child to increase their chances of getting picked.

>> we were open to anything because we wanted, you know, a child.

>> reporter: when they learned that callie had chosen them, they tried not to get too excited. they knew she had the legal right to change her mind. were there any moments when you guys thought, my god, what if this doesn't happen?

>> every day.

>> yeah.

>> every moment of every day. i would be at work and sit in my office and cry.

>> reporter: and they were right to be afraid. more than 500 miles away in iowa, callie repeatedly changed her mind about the adoption . the ideas of giving up her baby was tearing her apart.

>> it started becoming more real that there is a baby in there. and that's my child in there. you know, you get anxious about meeting him. what's he going to be like? and then you start thinking about, well, i'm not going to know what he's like.

>> reporter: but by the time callie got to the hospital, she had made up her mind to give the dowds her baby. she gave birth on december 6th , 2012 . she asked the dowds to come to the hospital, too, to meet baby leo . the three of them had chosen the name together. what did you think when you first saw him?

>> that he was amazing, and so beautiful. he was such a beautiful baby.

>> reporter: who held him first?

>> i did.

>> reporter: that was callie 's choice. she held him later in the day. under iowa law, she had about a week after leo was born to change her mind about the adoption . were you scared, oh, my god, she's going to want him back?

>> you do feel vulnerable because anything can happen, but at the same time you're also looking and saying, we need to relax, we need to let this happen. this is -- this is our new life. and she's part of his life, too.

>> reporter: callie didn't change her mind. she signed the adoption papers, but here's what's different about this story. callie has stayed in their lives far more than any of them could have imagined before leo was born. i think you guys have taken open adoption to a whole new level. you talk or skype or text every single day.

>> every single day. and they want me to be this involved, which is awesome.

>> reporter: the dowds invited callie to come visit for a weekend when leo was about 3 months old. she hadn't seen him in person since the adoption .

>> hi there, baby. how are you?

>> reporter: didn't take long for leo to warm up to callie . and by the following day, he seemed perfectly happy to have three doting parents, all of whom were invested in his future. how does this work going forward? are you tri-parenting?

>> i think it's hard to define the relationship. she loves leo , and she is so proud of him, and she calls him her son.

>> reporter: but it's your son.

>> but it's her son, too. she carried him for nine months. she loves him.

>> reporter: callie and the dowds describe their relationship as a blended family . can you feel delineation as to who the biological mother is versus mom mom?

>> its taps same thi's the same thing. it's co-parenting. we're both moms.

>> reporter: do you see up as meshed together as that, too?

>> yeah, i don't think of him as my baby. even though he's my baby.

>> reporter: let me play devil's advocate. something's going to happen when you're not going to think that she's doing the right thing. and the day's going to happen when you think why doesn't she butt out.

>> i don't really think that that would happen. i mean, we talk about everything and we're both really supportive of each other.

>> yeah.

>> if there's a disagreement, kris and i, his parents, have to at some point be the ones to make the choices in his life.

>> reporter: as this relationship proceeds, is there any reticence on your part that leo 's going to think, well, to whom do i belong?

>> i don't think so. when they're young and there's an open adoption , they adjust. this is their life. they don't know anything different. it's very normal to them.

>> reporter: callie 's visit lasted two days. seeing how happy leo was with the dowds, she says she feels at peace with her decision to give him up for adoption .

>> there's no regret or second thoughts. every part of me knows that i did the right thing.

>> reporter: when leo grows up and says, mommy, why did you give me up for adoption ? what are you going to say?

>> i'm sorry, i couldn't give you what you deserved, and so i picked people who could.