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Words by Hattie Gladwell
When Sierra Watts was 15 years old, she became pregnant by a man four years her senior.
Little more than a child - a minor under Missouri law, in fact - Sierra felt overwhelmed, scared and totally unprepared for the prospect of raising a child.
"In school, we were only taught abstinence, so I didn't know much about safe sex," said Sierra, now 23. "I was very sheltered as a child so it wasn't something I could talk to my parents about at all.
"When I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified and confused. My parents didn't even know I'd had my first kiss yet, and I knew they'd be disappointed in me."
She was right; and with mounting pressure from her family to go through with the pregnancy, Sierra came to the difficult decision to give her child up for adoption.
"I still don't know if it's the best choice I made for myself, but I didn't know my options at the time", she said. "I think I did the best I could for both me and my birth child in my situation."
Sierra says her birth was the "saddest moment" she has ever experienced. She didn't get to hold the baby straight after the birth - which she says is one of her biggest regrets.
"I did get to hold him hours later about the delivery," she said. "It was extremely difficult. I knew the more time I spent with him the harder it would be to sign the papers.
"I was told if I changed my mind it would be selfish to the birth parents, so I held him even less out of fear of getting too attached.
"Looking back I shouldn't have been worrying so much about the adoptive parents and should have done what I truly wanted to, which was to spend more time with my son after his birth."
Sierra can still remember the gut-wrenching pain of saying goodbye to her little boy, compounded by being 'cut off' by friends and family in the weeks that followed.
"I grew more depressed and, because I didn't have the support or treatment I needed to heal, I went off the deep end," she said. "Although I think even if I had kept him I would have felt much the same - and in a lot of ways even more helpless."
Eight years on, Sierra has had no contact with her little boy who is now living under a different name.
"When I look back my heart still aches," she admits, "But I'm so proud of myself for putting my child's wellbeing first even if it meant my wellbeing would never be the same.
"People like to say choosing adoption is the 'easy' way out, but it's actually the opposite. There is no greater pain than handing the child you so desperately long for over to another family.
"Part of me is angry looking back because the system failed me. I wish I'd known more about the adoption process. I wish I'd had more time to choose a family, known my rights, and went with an adoption agency that made sure my hospital bill and other medical expenses, like therapy, were covered after delivery.
"However I'm so proud of myself for being willing to put myself through so much, so young, so that my child could have his needs better cared for than what I could have given him at 15. It could have been better, but I truly did what I needed for my son and that matters more to me than any feelings or experience I've had with it."
In 2018, Sierra welcomed another child. Leo, with her now-husband, Drake, who she has been with since she was 17.
She said: "I think about my firstborn every day. There isn't a day that goes by where my heart doesn't hurt that he's not with me.
"The truth is a birth parent never stops feeling pain from the moment they are separated from their child.
"It's just something you learn to live with. I pray for him every day and hope that I did my all that could do as his mother.
"He has the tools to grow up and be whoever he wants to be. He can live out his dreams and I think that's what every mother truly wants for their child.
"All I want for my children is a better life growing up than what I had, choosing adoption meant my child wouldn't grow up in the same home I was growing up in and that's what he deserved."
This year, Sierra decided to start sharing videos of her experience as a birth mum on TikTok, to raise awareness and comfort other women who have been put in her position.
She wanted to show the 'raw parts' of her life, to raise awareness of the life of birth parents and adoption.
"Being a birth parent is lonely as many don't share the pain and sorrow it is to experience what we have," she said. "When a parent chooses adoption, they put themselves through the most difficult emotional, spiritual, and physical tribulations a person can undergo.
"I wanted to be the voice for all birth parents that struggle in private. I knew what it is like to feel alone while others passed judgement without ever once experiencing such profound loss and sacrifice a birth mum endures.
"There is a lack of awareness when it comes to adoption. I wanted to spread light about being a birth parent and all the good and bad that comes with it because it's not how it's painted out to be by society."
Sierra's videos have received millions of views, and she was shocked to discover a whole community of women in similar situations.
"It's so crazy that I once had to search the internet to find anything on other women who've been through what I have, to all of a sudden popping up everywhere on the for you page," she says.
"It makes me so glad that enough women feel brave enough to open up whether it's through a video or a comment.
"There's truly something special when I can talk to others like me or even help them in ways that I've healed."
Sierra believes her videos have helped to change the way people view adoption and to reduce the judgement faced by so many women.
"Sometimes it's mind-blowing seeing so many come together to support all roles of adoption in the comments, and educate those who don't know better," she says.
"I hope my videos continue carving the path for how adoption is viewed and treated. I'm glad I can make a change and inspire others, it's the whole reason I started making them to begin with.
"There are many misconceptions about being a birth mother. Some misconceptions are that it's the easy way out or that life goes back to normal after. I always fight back by educating them and sharing the truth of being a parent.
"Before I became pregnant I thought such misconceptions about birth parents myself before experiencing it firsthand. These misconceptions aren't just hurtful in the eyes of birth parents, but both adoptees and the parents of adoptees as well."
As Sierra's second born he does not know about Sierra's first born - but she insists 'always be straightforward' about him, and will respect however her son feels about it.
"Being a parent means putting your child's needs first," she say. "So for those with misconceptions, imagine the heartache of becoming a parent and the desire to mother your child but at the same time knowing the best way to meet their needs is placing them into the arms of another family.
"The truth is many people think they'd never be able to choose adoption - but I promise any good parent would do so if it meant the best possible life for their child and their needs being met."
Featured Image Credit: Sierra Watts
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