By Lisa Fischer
“‘You’re gonna forget about him,’ I was told. But you never do. You ache. I wanted him to have the life he deserved.” Those are the pain-drenched words of a mother who bravely gave her 6-day old son up for adoption in 1992. Times were different then. She was a high school senior living in a small town in Texas, pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby. He was a junior. The issue wasn’t their ages. It was their races. She was white. He was black. Her father was approached at the local gas station where someone said, “Say the word and that boy will be hanging from a tree tomorrow.”
Stephanie Sharpe grew up in a very small town in Texas. The proverbial “everyone knew everyone.” The graduating class at Hughes Springs High School was 64. If she went to the Dairy Queen unaccompanied, her parents would get a call notifying them of her whereabouts. There were no town secrets. She began dating Adrian Holloman “behind the scenes,” she reminisces. “I would never say my parents were racists, but they really were. They weren’t blatant. They wanted us to be nice to the black people at school; they just didn’t want us to bring them home with us,” she says. Adrian’s parents knew about their romantic interests and warned him he would “get in trouble.” She found out she was pregnant not long before her high school graduation. “The people we confided in wanted to take me to get an abortion,” she explains. It was out of the question. But then the church got wind of her news.
Stephanie’s father was a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Hughes Springs. He was a well-respected man who made a good living for his family. And when word got out about the pregnancy, the pastor called a meeting. She hadn’t yet told her parents, but they were at the church when she showed up. She says, “They were devastated.” And they had a plan. Mr. Sharpe had a job with Nucor Steel in Blytheville in 1992, and they would move there to get her out of that small town and to a place of anonymity. “They wanted to get me away from Adrian,” she says and was told “you aren’t to see him. He’s not welcome in our home.” Then the clincher. Her parents wanted her to put her baby up for adoption. It wasn’t something Stephanie really considered, but they threatened her with no place to live and on her own financially if she decided to keep the baby. And if she complied and put the baby up for adoption, “I could go to SMU and keep my car.”
“[Adoption] was being shoved down my throat. I wanted to have the baby and go back to Hughes Springs and live with someone.” Yet at a doctor’s appointment a month before baby Jaron was due, she had an emergency delivery. “I loved him. I sang to him. Adrian and I both wanted him very badly. The minute he was born everything changed. Yet, I looked at him, and I knew I loved him so much that I wanted the best for him, and I knew I wasn’t the best for him.” Stephanie remembers that Jaron’s hospital stay allowed her some time to love on him and say goodbye. She says, “I knew God was giving me that time” to prepare her heart for the difficult separation.
Now came the hard part. If adoption is the best solution, to whom does she give the baby? She says, “I had looked and looked at families to adopt him. I was looking for a mixed-race couple to raise him. Nobody stood out.” She learned that he couldn’t be adopted immediately and that he needed to be fostered for six weeks which was a time legally she could change her mind.
Then, the day arrived she dreaded. The day to give him up. She says, “I had asked my parents again but no. So me and my mom went to give him up. He and I had a great morning. He was so happy that day. I had rocked him, and he had fallen asleep, and it was time to put him in the car seat to go home. I thought, if he wakes up and cries then I’m not doing it. I wiggled him. He wouldn’t wake up.” A Little Rock family heard about the need for a foster family and was able to take him home. Donna and Bill Head had two other children and were new to foster care. Since Donna was a registered nurse, she was the perfect person to take care of Jaron since he had some health care needs that only a medical professional would be able to monitor.
Stephanie says, “I met Donna when I was holding Jaron, and she hugged me and cried before she even held him. She told me she loved me, and she didn’t even know me.” His eyes opened the minute Donna arrived in the driveway at her home. The Heads eventually adopted him and named him John Joseph Head.
Life in Blytheville had then come to an end. She and her family moved back to Hughes Springs. But the hole in her heart just got bigger. “The Heads sent pictures of him. And I went a little overboard when I sent a ton of Christmas stuff, and they lovingly told me to back off.” Stephanie sent him letters and other things to keep in touch until the day many years later when they might be able to meet. The Heads faithfully sent yearly updates.
Stephanie and Adrian had another child; this time they were college students at Stephen F. Austin State University. They were unmarried, and there was still no real warmth from her parents about a mixed-race relationship until they got to know Jaidyn, their daughter.
The two finally married. But got divorced not long after. Stephanie says, “Those were the struggles of a young couple. Yet we reconciled and remarried and then had our son Jackson.” Adrian’s grandfather would say, “Adrian, go to Little Rock and get our boy.” He wanted to meet him and the family to meet their firstborn before he died. But that did not happen.
Fast forward to 2009. The caseworker gave the Hollomans a letter from the Heads saying it was time they could meet their son. John Head had turned 17 two months earlier. “There were some tears. He came right to both of us, and we were hugging him. He went to Jaidyn and Jackson, too. It’s like we were going to pick up our kid from summer camp. There were so many things that just fit. They talked alike. They looked alike. They connected.” The caseworker told Stephanie, “I have never seen a situation like this.” One where the birth parents married and were able to be reconciled with the child they put up for adoption.
A Mother’s Gift
“I am so thankful I was able to watch her change his diaper for the last time because it etched in my memory. I know it was hard for her to let him go,” adoptive mom, Donna Head, reminisces about Stephanie Holloman’s brave decision to give up her 6-day old baby in 1992. Donna and her husband Bill were planning just to foster the beautiful baby boy who had some medical needs. Donna is a registered nurse and decided a temporary foster where she could provide some medical care would be fine. They already had a nursery set up because the Heads were on a list of people waiting for a child from Guatemala. But government red tape and what Donna calls “the Lord’s hand … because He was sovereign over the circumstances, and we followed His lead” slowed down their international adoption pursuit just enough for her and Bill to realize this infant they were temporarily caring for would be their son. John Joseph Head, born Jaron Slade Holloman, officially joined their family at an informal placement ceremony held in their home a few weeks after taking him in.
The Heads already had two children, ages 9 and 11. But with John’s arrival, a biracial boy, the Heads knew that they wanted someone who “looked like John.” So they welcomed infant Grace two years later. She is of the same racial makeup as John. The Heads fostered some 20 children in the last 25 years. Most of the children were of color, she says; a few were biracial. “Transracial adoptions were not that common when we were fostering.” After Grace’s adoption, the Heads chose to go to church with people “who looked like” both John and Grace. They were looking for black role models for their children.
She quotes Isaiah 58:10-12 when recounting their fostering journey.
“10 Work hard to feed hungry people.
Satisfy the needs of those who are crushed.
Then my blessing will light up your darkness.
And the night of your suffering will become as bright as the noonday sun.
11 I will always guide you.
I will satisfy your needs in a land baked by the sun.
I will make you stronger.
You will be like a garden that has plenty of water.
You will be like a spring whose water never runs dry.
12 Your people will rebuild the cities that were destroyed long ago.
And you will build again on the old foundations.
You will be called One Who Repairs Broken Walls.
You will be called One Who Makes City Streets Like New Again.”
She says her “family wanted to stand in the gap for kids who needed homes; that’s our calling.” They were already grandparents in recent years when they fostered so those days are behind them. They have 11 grandchildren now yet still keep up with the ones they helped raise. She says, “Adoption is good and beautiful and biblical. But it’s not perfect. We weren’t perfect parents. We didn’t understand the loss that John felt [as an adoptee]. He often asked when he could meet his birth mom. My fear was, ‘Will he still consider us his family when he does?’” Donna thought, “Because he’s my baby.”
Donna says the final statement passionately, “I couldn’t love him more if I gave birth to him myself.”
John Head, nee Jaron Holloman, started to grasp his unique adoption story when he was 8 years old. “I always heard, ‘we wanted to give you a better life,’” John remembers Donna and Bill Head fondly telling him. Yet he says he wondered as a young child about his family because he looked different. “Around 3 or 4 years old, I started asking questions because my skin color was different. My sister, Grace (also adopted and two years younger), was like me [in skin color].”
As some teens might rebel or act out in those often temperamental years, John didn’t. But he was curious about his biological family. He pestered the Heads to meet his birth parents before he would turn 18 when this type of adoption would have been open. They had only communicated via the U.S. Postal Service so a meeting would be new territory.
Things changed on December 4, 2009. Head had turned 17 a couple of months earlier, and the big day had arrived. The anticipated meet up for John and the parents who gave him up for adoption along with the parents who raised him was scheduled at Bethany Christian Services in Little Rock. Bethany is the same location where he was surrendered in 1992. John says about their first meeting, “I was a bit shell shocked at first. I mean, you see them in pictures, but then you see them in person, and we look just alike.” There were no real tears on his part because he didn’t want to seem disloyal to either side. “I didn’t want to show too much emotion for the Heads’ sake; too little for the Hollomans’.” Their first meal together with his biological family showed the weight of DNA. “Adrian (biological father) and I ordered the same burger and put the same things on it. We even both pulled our burgers apart and put French fries on them,” Head says. It’s obvious to onlookers that their mannerisms and facial expressions are very similar.
John is 27 now and married with two children. He says he’s grappled with the issue that his birth mother had to leave the hospital empty-handed. For years he thought it was for selfish reasons but realizes now it wasn’t that at all. More than ever, he can see what pain it must have brought her.
Helping Waiting Kids
Christie Erwin is the founder and executive director for Project Zero, a faith-based organization that matches families with children in foster care. She says, “We have 363 kids waiting [in Arkansas] and if Christians were doing what they should be doing, there would be zero up for adoption.” Though it’s the lowest number she’s seen since she and her husband devotedly started standing up for foster kids 27 years ago, she says it’s still too many.
“Teenagers and large sibling groups are our greatest needs. Some teens wait for years before they get adopted.” That’s a very lonely thought for a child who’s waiting. She adds, “Kids come into foster care through no fault of their own. Things like abuse, neglect, educational neglect and environmental neglect are some of the reasons” that the state has to intervene and break up a family. She and her husband, Jeff, are going to celebrate their 60th birthdays this year and have grandchildren but are adoptive parents through foster care to two beautiful African American children ages 16 and 11.
The only cost to adopt through foster care is the cost of a new birth certificate. The state of Arkansas takes care of the rest. If a faith-based path isn’t your preference, you can contact the Department of Human Services.
She says, “Watching someone’s rights get terminated is painful but watching God take the broken pieces and mold them into something beautiful and redemptive” is why she has committed her life to help waiting kids.