Now was the time.
Eve Ellinger had always been drawn to children, and wanted to have a family of her own one day. But focus on her career had been a priority throughout her 20s and 30s, as she worked hard to establish the life she wanted.
Finally, at age 43, she was ready to start her journey towards motherhood. She wanted to adopt a baby.
“I decided I wanted to be a mom. I think I’d always known that adoption would be part of my life in some way. So when it came down to it, I decided to start the process,” she said.
But navigating the world of adoption can be bewildering, stressful and expensive, particularly for a single mother like Ellinger. She found vital support through the process in Greenwood’s Courageous Hearts Adoptions, a nonprofit organization working with adoptive parents and birth mothers across the country.
With their help, Ellinger and her son, Johnny, are now a family.
“I couldn’t have done this without them. They are just a tremendous group of people,” she said.
For the staff at Courageous Hearts, the Ellingers’ story illustrates the important role adoption can play in society.
“Our services are needed, because we want to help people who are struggling with having a baby get a child in their home. In order to get a child in their home, they need to work with a birth mother.
The day Johnny was born, Ellinger stood in the room with him, his mother and his father. The parents had asked to speak with her — they wanted to know about his name.
A ripple of nervousness washed through her, but she agreed. They asked her what they planned to name the baby.
She answered truthfully. She was considering a name that started with “J,” the same letter as the birth father’s and his brother. Ellinger’s father in named John, so she told them she had decided on naming him after her dad, calling him Johnny.
The birth father started crying.
“I was like, did I say something wrong? He said no, the only thing he’d ever called the baby was ‘John,’ and the only thing the mom had called him was ‘Johnny.’ All of the sudden, everyone was bawling,” she said.
That moment marked the start of Ellinger’s family.
Ellinger, an executive with State Farm Auto in Columbus, Ohio, decided in April 2018 to start the adoption process. She went through a consultant, who would help her match with any adoption agency across the country. She opted on that route, because as a single mom, it would give her the most exposure to potential matches who would see her profile.
More than two years passed before she found success. In 2020, a birth mother in Indianapolis, who was going through Courageous Hearts Adoptions, chose Ellinger’s profile.
Sara Baker, along with Franklin couple Greg and Julie Menefee created Courageous Hearts Adoptions with a primary goal of making the adoption process as affordable as possible for people, while giving guidance as necessary during the lengthy process.
“They realized how costly adoptions can be and wanted to take a different approach with adoption. So that is why our mission is to provide competent and transparent adoption services which meet the unmet needs of the birth parents we serve, while reducing the financial risks to potential adoptive parents,” said Laronda Southworth, adoptions coordinator for Courageous Hearts.
At the heart of their mission was not only providing the resources and support between birth parents and adoptive families, but finding ways to lessen the financial strain.
Private adoptions can cost between $30,000 to $60,000. Those costs include fees for a home studies, document preparation, agency and legal services, as well as providing counseling and assistance to the birth mother during pregnancy.
It can be particularly devastating when an adoption fails, Southworth said.
“Clients pay the living expenses for birth parents and when they have had a failed adoption it is those expenses that are at risk, meaning a birth parent is not going to pay back the living expenses to the family,” she said.
“We focus on meeting the unmet needs of the expected mothers, while at the same time making sure that when we work with adopted couples, we are trying our best to not make it as expensive as it is,” Southworth said.
For the birth mothers, the agency provides lifetime counseling, not only during the pregnancy but after the adoption is complete. Help is available 24 hours a day. They help to understand that the choice they’ve made is one of courage, not one of abandonment, Southworth said.
“We chose the name Courageous Hearts Adoptions to help change the notion about “giving up your child for adoption;” really it is placing your baby or child. She is putting her needs before her baby or child, and has the utmost courage,” she said. “It is with her courageous and selfless heart that helps to be successful with her adoption plan.”
From the start, Ellinger was impressed by the dedication of the Courageous Hearts team.
“One of the things right off the bat that I thought was different was, they took the time before I interviewed (with the mom), I had an understanding about who they were, what the process was, who the mom was — I wasn’t just going in cold,” she said.
At the same time, Courageous Hearts was fully focused on the needs of the Johnny’s mother. They made sure she was properly housed, had enough food, made it to her doctor’s appointments in case she couldn’t find a ride. If she needed counseling services, they arranged it.
At one point during the pregnancy, the mother was evicted. Courageous Hearts caseworkers immediately figured out a way to get her into new stable housing.
“You could tell, they cared deeply about her and her well-being,” Ellinger said. ‘They went out of their way for her.”
Throughout the process, Ellinger was concerned that the birth parents would change their mind. She understood that this was a decision to give their baby the best life possible, one they could not financially provide.
But what if the bond between baby and mother was too much?
“From the time I signed to go through this process until the date the parents sign their release, they can change their mind any time. That’s their legal right to do that,” Ellinger said. “There were times when I thought they would, until that moment in the hospital room, when we talked about his name.”
Johnny was born in October of 2020 in Indianapolis. In the height of the COVID pandemic, Ellinger was concerned if she would get to be in the hospital when he was born.
Again, Courageous Hearts made the arrangements and ensured that she would be there when her son came into the world.
“It was very much mapped out. They made sure we were both fully supported throughout the whole process,”
Ellinger was at the hospital 14 minutes after Johnny was born, as his birth required an emergency C-section. But both baby and mother were healthy.
Since that time, Ellinger and Johnny have bonded while forging a family. Two months before Johnny was born she reconnected with a previous partner. Scott was divorced and was raising three boys of his own.
Ellinger felt an obligation to tell him about her adoption plans, but he didn’t hesitate to support her and stand with her. Later this year, she and Scott are getting married. After that, he will officially adopt Johnny as well.
They’ve maintained a relationship with Johnny’s birth parents, as well.
They had an open adoption — Johnny knows he is adopted. They talk about his birth parents, and he knows about his brother. Ellinger sends his birth parents letters and photos. They’ve done video chats and phone calls.
As Johnny grows older, Ellinger wants to be sure that he knows how much of a sacrifice his birth mother made for him, and feels positive about his adoption.
“We talk a lot about that, how do you explain it to Johnny. I want him to know that he was so loved that someone made a choice to make sure he had a better life. And she allowed us to become a family,” Ellinger said.
That thinking has influenced her desire to share her story. By showcasing the love that came from this decision, she hopes to help others who may be in similar situations.
“I would do anything to help someone else who was in my situation, because I treasure those people that were willing to share their story when I was going through it,” she said. “The more you can share, the more opportunities you give others to ask questions and experience the process beforehand.”