Labor of love
|Video: The adoption experience|
Story by Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
Story by Zenaida Serrano
A handful of family and friends surrounded a Kailua woman as she rested in her hospital bed at Castle Medical Center. Other than hushed conversation and the cooing of a newborn baby, the cool room was quiet and dim; the woman was sensitive to light and sound, exhausted a day after giving birth to a son she would place under adoption.
Sitting close to Beth who did not want to reveal her full name to keep her decision private was her social worker, Sally Okura Lee. Lee placed a reassuring hand on Beth, 24, who returned the gesture with an easy smile.
"(Sally) is awesome," whispered Beth, twirling her long, wavy brown hair with her index finger. "She really cares, and she's really sensitive."
The young mother was one of many who have had positive adoption experiences thanks to Lee, who has been selected by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye to receive an Angel in Adoption Award at a ceremony of recognition on Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C. It is the highest accolade given by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute to individuals who work toward positive adoption, foster care and other adoption-related services.
"Sally Lee's humility, combined with her love for others, has made her a friend and confidante to many in the community," Inouye said in a written statement. "She has blessed the lives of countless individuals through her work with adoption."
For 25 years, the social worker and former director of Latter-day Saints Family Services in Hawai'i has worked with birth parents and adoptive couples, placing hundreds of children in Island homes. The agency is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Al Malupo, director of LDS Family Services, who has known Lee for about 30 years, said she is known for her hard work, and is loved by her clients.
"I think part of it is Sally is a very positive person," he said. "She's always warm and friendly. ... She's a kind person."
Beth, whose mother has known Lee for nearly 35 years, said she understands why Lee received the award.
"She's always perky, happy and gushing," Beth said, smiling. "She's always excited and supportive. She's just Sally."
'I LOVE MY JOB'
After spending several days with Beth through her labor and delivery, and hours afterward to help comfort her Lee took a quick break away from the mother's room to talk about the work she has come to cherish.
"I love my job," said Lee, a petite woman with a soft voice and infectious smile. "I wake up in the morning and I am so thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in somebody's life every day."
It's an attitude shared by others who work for LDS Family Services, said the Manoa resident, 57, who also does clinical counseling.
"It has far-reaching, deep meaning for us to work with our clients," Lee said. "It's not just a job. We feel more like it's a mission."
Lee often takes calls from clients in the early hours of the morning, and opens up her home to them in times of need.
"It doesn't matter, the work hours, it's about enhancing (our clients') lives," she said.
That was Lee's goal for Beth, a single woman who began working with Lee about three months into her pregnancy in February. Beth's case is similar to other adoptions Sally has worked on over the years.
"We look at all the pros and cons for all the options, and we discuss it for weeks with no pressure whatsoever," Lee said. "If she decides to keep, I fully let her make that decision, but if she decides to place, then I fully help her to do this."
"I knew from the beginning that I couldn't keep him, but I'm not the aborting type," said Beth, bundled in a purple robe and cushioned in her bed with pink and white pillows and blankets.
Beth decided to go with adoption and worked closely with Lee to find the right adoptive parents.
"I want him to have every opportunity," Beth said. " ... I'm very confident and happy with my decision."
'MEETING THE IN-LAWS'
The next day, still resting in bed at Castle, Beth started to prepare herself for the moment she would place her son into the arms of his new mother to send him off to his new home.
"I'm going to cry, but it's what I've been waiting the whole nine months for," said Beth, cradling the little one in a blue blanket she bought for him. ... "I'm happy. He's got a great family."
The adoptive parents Beth chose were Waikoloa residents David and Jeanette Beadle, both of whom work for Jeanette's family-owned software company.
"This is how I got to pick them," said Beth, holding a letter she received from the couple several months ago. "I had a good feeling."
The Beadles introduced themselves to the prospective birth mother they didn't know it would be Beth in a four-page letter including photos that portrayed a fun-loving couple sharing a passionate kiss on their wedding day, boogie-boarding at the beach, carving pumpkins on Halloween and playfully peeking into Christmas presents.
"We recognize the selfless love you have for our child, and admire you for the strength you are putting forth," the Beadles wrote in their letter. "Though we cannot begin to understand how difficult this decision of yours is, we are so eternally grateful for your choice of adoption."
As the social worker assigned to this case, Lee traveled to the Big Island to meet with the Beadles, individually and together; visited their home; and checked all their references, among other things.
The Beadles, Beth and their families met for the first time about four months ago.
"I was joking with (Beth) that it wasn't feeling like any sort of adoption was taking place," said Jeanette, 29. "More like a marriage and meeting the in-laws and everybody's families just merging."
Over the months, they developed a close relationship so close that they arranged for an open adoption, allowing Beth to visit her son whenever she pleases, and the Beadles were present during the delivery. They even named the baby together. Beth asked the Beadles to give him his first name, and she chose his middle name. Together, they decided on Elijah David Makana Beadle.
Back in Beth's room, as the Beadles gathered their belongings to leave, tears welled up in Beth's eyes as she said goodbye to Elijah, the Beadles and Lee, kissing and hugging each of them.
"OK, sweetheart, we'll keep in touch," Lee told Beth, as they embraced.
"Thanks again for finding such a good family," Beth replied.
CREATING A FAMILY
Less than half an hour later, the Beadles all three of them pulled into the driveway of Lee's Manoa home, where the couple had been staying for several days. Before flying back to the Big Island that afternoon, the Beadles spent some time unwinding in Lee's living room.
"We're really excited and at the same time, we're really relaxed," said Jeanette, taking Elijah out of his car seat to cradle him. "It just all feels right, you know?"
Over the couple's nearly 10-year marriage, they lost seven pregnancies; because of their love for children, they chose to become foster parents.
They contacted Lee in November. Lee said she served as a "matchmaker," connecting them with Beth a few months later.
"It was really great because when we found out when (Beth) was due, it was actually about nine months after we had started the whole process, so it was like a pregnancy of nine months," Jeanette said. "We kind of felt like the 'spirit' that was trying to get (to us) just found a different direction."
The Beadles said Lee has helped in every way. "We're just really grateful for Sally," said David, 36. "She's been great."
The adoption is a typical one for Lee. While the process is nearly complete, she is working with several other birth parents.
"My empathy overflows and many times I have suffered from seeing my clients grieve and worry," Lee said. "So my job is to love them, encourage them and give them hope. I see them as the most selfless people in the world."
The job may be difficult, but it has its rewards, said Lee.
"The greatest thing is to see the creation of families," Lee said. "To see children find wonderful, loving and kind parents who totally open their arms and hearts, and accept this child into their family forever, and to see people who have yearned to become parents have their dreams come true."
Reach Zenaida Serrano at firstname.lastname@example.org.