I had the world by the tail. Life couldn’t get any better than this.

I was 24 and had just gotten a job as an associate producer for Phil Donahue, only the most brilliant man on the air and host of the hottest show on daytime television. I wasn’t sure how I had hit this lottery; I only knew I was so grateful for this chance to prove myself in my chosen field.

I moved to a great new apartment, and nine months later, added a cute, fun boyfriend to my seemingly charmed life. As a born and raised Catholic, I had gotten the “no sex before marriage” message drilled into my head, so there was a lot of guilt about the times when my boyfriend and I had sex “unexpectedly.”  That guilt, however, did nothing to protect me from getting pregnant, which I did… four months into our relationship.

The next nine months were profound. And by profound, I mean confusing, terrifying, scary, sorrowful, heart-breaking and emotional. I went back and forth between hopeful and despondent, and I examined thoroughly every possible option that involved a live birth.

At first, I thought my boyfriend and I could maybe make this work. We had nine months to figure out if we were the real deal, and I hoped we were. That way, the baby would just be an early addition to our family. When it became clear that he would not decide about our future by starting with a baby, I desperately began looking at single motherhood with a realistic eye.

I knew, with my particular job, my baby would be in daycare from morning until night, and I’d still have work to do nights and weekends. This was no ordinary 9 to 5. I had no family in Chicago, so I researched moving home, getting other jobs; I even considered my sister’s offer to adopt my baby.

And I researched adoption, with a heavy heart. Instinctively, deep inside, I felt like I knew that was the best choice for my baby, but I kept hoping for another solution to present itself.

When Aimee (my name for her — now Kate) arrived, I had decided adoption would give her the best chance at a great life. I loved this precious baby, and although my heart would be broken, I knew a full-time mom and dad were better for her than a single mom, with no support system, who would hardly see her.

It was the hardest decision of my life, and the years that followed were tough ones. Adoptions were closed at that time, but after several years of miscommunications and lots of letters with my adoption agency, I started getting photos and updates on my daughter. I helped pioneer the open adoption movement at my agency, The Cradle.

Meanwhile, my life went on. After four years of trying, I broke up with Kate’s birth father. I met my soulmate almost immediately, moved to NYC with the Donahue show, and had two more beautiful daughters before losing a son in my fifth month of pregnancy. Although Kate was never far from my thoughts, that loss brought back a lot of the pain I experienced with her placement in a very tangible way.

A year later, our last daughter was welcomed with much joy and relief, and we moved to Naples, Fla., to slow our lives down and enjoy our family. I began writing so I could work from home.

Meeting My Birth Daughter

It was around this time, when Kate was 13, that a letter arrived from her. She had some questions that needed answers, and although I’d been receiving updates and pictures from her adoptive mother over the years, nothing prepared me to see a handwritten letter from her. I answered her questions, encouraged her to contact me anytime, and over the next couple years, began to correspond more regularly with her mom. Then another letter — she wanted more of a relationship. We began emailing, sharing phone calls, and then, when she was 16, we decided to meet.

She and her mom arrived for a long-awaited, emotional, and fun-filled weekend. Two families came together that weekend. Kate and my three girls bonded immediately, my husband charmed everyone with his love and sensitivity, and Kate’s adoptive mom Anne and I felt like we’d known each other forever. No words for the magic between Kate and me.

That weekend led to more weekends, bringing Kate’s adoptive dad and sister into the fold, then extended family, then vacations together. We began celebrating all the milestones together — graduations, weddings, funerals.

We became one family, and we still are today. As a writer, I had to tell this amazing story: a story where everyone acted out of love and compassion for each other. A story about two mothers who joined together to do what was right for our daughter. Me, to make the impossible choice I made, and to let Kate always lead on our path to each other, and Anne, to enthusiastically and generously support Kate’s decision to bring us together.

I felt our experience was meant to be — that I conceived Kate so that our unique family would evolve just the way it did. We are all blessed to have each other, and all our lives have been enhanced by that unplanned pregnancy and the choice made to give my daughter the best life possible.

Lorri Antosz Benson is an award-winning television producer, writer, author and former internationally syndicated columnist. Most notably, she worked for DONAHUE, the acclaimed show hosted by the legendary Phil Donahue, for fifteen years, eight of which were spent as Senior Producer. Among other awards, Benson received two Emmy Awards and ten Emmy nominations for her work with DONAHUE.

Benson’s first book, Distorted, was a memoir co-authored with her daughter Taryn, which delved into Taryn’s struggle with an eating disorder and the effect on the family. Her latest book, Adopting Hope, is published by Familius Publishing and was released September 2018. A tremendous resource for any parent, but especially for those in the adoption world, it is a collection of stories, lessons learned, tips and words of wisdom from birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees from all over the country. This book follows To Have And Not To Hold, her memoir as a birth mother, the first in a series of three books for those involved in adoption.

Benson’s work has led her to become a family advocate, and a speaker/expert on eating disorders, adoption and resources for parents. She is Founder and CEO of Family Matters, her family advocacy organization. She also maintains a blog for empty nesters, Feathering My Empty Nest at www.FeatheringMyEmptyNest.tumblr.com. She and her husband Steve reside in Santa Monica, Calif. They have four children and five grandchildren.