COLUMBIA — Anna Kleinsorge didn't expect to receive many responses when she posted an ad last spring on Craigslist: "Hopeful adoptive parent searching for baby to adopt."
She stared at her computer and struggled for words that described her best. Loving. Caring. Outdoorsy. Adventurer. Teacher.
At the end of the post, she provided a link to an inbox created specifically for inquiries. She also listed a number connected to the pay-as-you-go phone she had purchased for direct contact.
Anna clicked "submit." The ad posted. All she could do now was wait.
One week passed. Then, on a Tuesday in April, the phone rang. Not her normal phone, but the cheap pay-as-you-go phone. The phone with the number tied to Craigslist.
She remembers that it was a warm day. The summerlike air was blowing through the open windows as she sat on the couch watching her two cats spar on the floor.
Her heart seemed to skip a beat when she realized what this call could mean.
"Hello, this is Anna."
A woman on the other end of the line began to speak. The sound was faint; Anna pressed the phone harder to her ear and fumbled with the volume. She had never used this phone before, wasn't even sure it worked.
She still couldn't hear. Jumping up from the couch, she grabbed a pen and a slip of paper and ran into the bathroom. The door shut behind her.
Crouched on the floor, she began to scribble. Her hands were numb and shaking, almost as if she had been caught in a winter storm without gloves.
The conversation didn't last long. Five minutes. The woman told her she lived in Kansas City. They decided to meet at a restaurant there. On Saturday.
Anna hung up and sat, dazed, on the tile floor.
Not waiting to start a family
Growing up in the St. Louis area, Anna majored in elementary education and then earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction at MU. She has always loved children; she teaches fifth-grade at Blue Ridge Elementary School.
Even as a little girl, she knew she wanted her own kids. But when she hit 29, she still hadn't found the right man. So it was time. She wasn't going to wait any longer to start a family.
"If there is something professionally I want, I can work toward it," she said. "It was frustrating that this was something I wanted, and it just hadn’t happened.”
A year ago, Anna was driving to St. Louis to attend a cousin's wedding when she called a good friend. As Anna talked to her about the longing to start a family, the friend suggested adoption.
It took a while for Anna to warm up to the idea. It was pretty bold, and she wasn't sure it was right for her.
“When I first started thinking about it, I wasn’t quite sold," she said. "It's not exactly the American dream to be 30 and a single mother.”
After considering all of her options, including fostering a child, she decided she wanted to pursue adoption independently, without using an agency. Using an adoption agency to locate birth mothers is typically much more expensive than doing so alone.
An independent adoption can also be complicated and expensive. Anna would have to pay for a social worker, a home study, attorney's fees and possible paternity tests for the birth mother. She would need to "market" herself to potential birth mothers without an agency network.
“It’s crazy involved, and I didn’t know until I got into it," she said.
The first thing Anna was required to do in January was complete a home study. An independent adoption process requires potential parents to file an application for a private home study to ensure they are suitable prospects for adoption.
The home study is intentionally thorough and usually conducted by a licensed social worker, who also determines whether parents can provide adequate care for a child.
The process involves at least three face-to-face interviews, one in the adoptive parent's home. Anna was expected to supply a birth certificate, a notarized affidavit, monthly budget statements and copies of her income tax statements for the past two years. Almost every facet of her life, from bank references to the health status of pets, was to be scrutinized.
"It's a really interesting relationship," she said about the social worker involved in her case. "She's a relative stranger, but she knows everything about me. There's no stone unturned. There's a lot of trust that goes into it."
She then began to spread the word by creating a book full of photos and stories about her family, friends, hobbies and experiences. She shared it with everyone she knew. She put a digital version on Facebook and asked everyone pass the information around.
She hoped someone would come forward if enough people saw it.
Meeting the mother
After Anna switched off the phone, her head was spinning. In a few days, she would meet the woman carrying a child, maybe her child.
She called her friend Becky in Kansas City with giddy excitement to share the news. They concocted a plan. Anna would drive to Kansas City on Saturday to meet the woman and then stop at Becky's afterward to share what happened, good or bad.
Anna and the woman had arranged to meet at a Five Guys restaurant. When she arrived, the woman was already there, and her boyfriend and their two children were with her.
Anna showed them her book full of pictures of her family and friends, her cycling trips and even photos of a nursery she had set up in her apartment weeks before.
"The baby is going to be so spoiled," the woman exclaimed when she saw the picture of the wooden crib, the green polka-dotted rocking chair and the shelves full of toys and children's books.
They talked for nearly an hour and a half. At the end, the woman told her she had talked to three other prospective parents, but only Anna felt right.
Anna was elated. The meeting could not have gone any better. They said goodbye, and Anna walked to her car, sat down in the driver's seat, buckled up and began to cry.
Later, on the couch at Becky's house, shivering with a mixture of joy, shock and nerves, the two friends joked about how surreal the situation was.
"Craigslist? Really, Anna? Craigslist?" Becky asked.
As it happened, Becky was also pregnant with her first child and was due to give birth in July. Just a few months before Anna would finally be a mother herself.
A paternity hiccup
Supporting a birth mother through pregnancy can be emotionally complicated. The birth parents can change their minds at any time before signing over their parental rights. In fact, according to Anna's attorney, Kevin Kenney, it is not uncommon for birth parents to decide against adoption moments after a child is born.
In Anna's situation, the birth mother wasn't exactly sure who the birth father was. Potentially, there could be two — her boyfriend or a man she had been briefly involved with.
The woman's boyfriend said he wanted to keep the child if it was his. The other man had encouraged her to get an abortion or give the child up for adoption. A paternity test was the only way to find out who the actual father was, and Anna would have to pay for it.
If a paternity test determined that it was the boyfriend's child, he was likely to refuse to sign over his parental rights. If the test determined that it was other man's child, he would have six months to reject the adoption under Missouri law before his parental rights were terminated on the grounds of abandonment and neglect.
This is assuming that the birth mother still wanted to pursue adoption after she gave birth to the child.
A growing distance
Anna and the birth mother met twice more in Kansas City that spring — once with her attorney and once to attend a birthday party for the woman's boyfriend where Anna met many of their family and friends.
In June, fitful doubts began to slip into Anna's mind. The 20-week ultrasound appointment had been set for the second day of summer school. It would be the first doctor's appointment Anna and the birth mother would share.
She planned to drive to Kansas City, pick up the woman and see the doctor. They would find out together whether the baby was a boy or girl.
It was a Tuesday. The appointment was at 1 p.m. Anna left her apartment at 10:30 to make sure she would be on time. During the drive, she sent a text to the woman to confirm that the plan was still in place.
The woman texted back. She told Anna she couldn't leave until 1 o'clock. Anna sent a series of texts to redirect the plans, but the woman took longer and longer to reply. Eventually, the woman ignored Anna's texts altogether.
It was becoming clear to Anna that something was seriously wrong. Driving around Kansas City, distracted and upset, she called her attorney. He assured her that this kind of thing was not uncommon. Everything would be OK.
Anna knew better. Over the coming weeks, the woman would grow more and more distant. Texts came less often.
Anna's excitement shifted to dread, and she was left just hoping her suspicions were wrong.
Hanging by a thread
Weeks passed. A few awkward texts were exchanged. Anna was holding onto a scrap of hope.
The week before Labor Day, the birth mother began to feel contractions. The scheduled due date was still two weeks away.
Anna's lawyer and her social worker were set to meet the woman on Saturday and get her final decision about the adoption. At this point, no one was certain what that decision would be.
Once again, Anna had to wait for a phone call.
On Thursday, her fellow teachers at Blue Ridge Elementary could tell something was wrong. They could tell she was upset. They decided to split her class for the rest of the day so she could leave early.
At home, Anna lay in bed. Crying. She was at an all-time low. Her hopes had quickly turned into a hideous nightmare.
She decided to walk the trail behind her apartment complex. She put earphones in and listened to one of her favorite songs, "Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machine.
The song reminded her of a happier time, when she was living in California after college, exploring the West Coast. She thought about the lovely Monterey Peninsula.
"I could just run away for the weekend," she thought to herself. "I could buy a plane ticket and just go."
On impulse, she went online and booked a seat.
Expecting a call from her attorney on Saturday with the woman's decision, Anna flew to California on Friday afternoon. On Saturday she drove up to Mount Tamalpais to catch a view of San Francisco, then decided to drive into the city.
Stuck in San Francisco traffic, Anna's phone began to ring. Although nearly at a standstill, she remembered that California has a hands-free law.
Looking out the window, she saw a police car. She couldn't answer.
She drove a bit farther, stopped the car and called her attorney. He told her the news. The woman had decided to keep the baby no matter who the father was. A paternity test would not be necessary. She had changed her mind.
Anna hung up the phone, dropped it in her lap and sat perfectly still inside her car. Sobbing.
Heartbreak and hope
Anna returned from California and ended all contact with the woman. To this day, she doesn't know when exactly she gave birth. Over the next few weeks after hearing the devastating news, Anna didn't know how to cope with the heartbreak.
"It was tough," she said. "At that time, I really wanted a job where I could sit at a computer and just let life suck."
Nearly two months after the heart-breaking experience, Anna has begun to take a few positive steps.
“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason," she said. “It puts the little daily things into perspective. Things you might have the tendency to worry about seem a lot smaller.”
Her attorney says nearly 25 percent of adoption cases like hers result in birth parents changing their minds. He agrees that social media has become an effective tool in independent adoptions, but he had never encountered a request on Craigslist.
Anna says she plans to keep trying but she is a lot more cautious. Her ad is still on Craigslist, and she has kept the pay-as-you-go phone. She's hoping it will ring.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.