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Event salutes moms who gave the gift of a child

Jolene Kress already had two children and was a separated parent when she discovered she was pregnant again. Financially and physically exhausted, the 33-yearold Niagara Falls resident found herself at an abortion clinic with more than a half-dozen other women.

"I stood in the room with all those other moms crying," she recalled.

Whenshe couldn't stand it any longer, she got up and talked to the receptionist.

"I can't do this," she confessed,"but I can't raise one."

The receptionist told Kress she was in a position to give someone else a gift and handed her a pamphlet.

That was two years ago. On Saturday, Kress sat at a table with 17-month-old Maxwell,whoplayed with his plastic fork as he passed between his adoptive parents, Ben Griffin and Chuck Cook.

Thegay, suburban couple from Rochester had been together for 14 years and were married in Canada in 2010. They were among more than 140 birth parents and adoptive families to celebrate "Birth Mother's Day" in Amherst's Randall Baptist Church, part of an annual celebration hosted by the Amherst-based Adoption STAR agency.

This annual event has grown every year since its inception as more birth mothers become comfortable with the idea of celebrating Mother's Day, said Adoption STAR founder and CEO Michele Fried, whose agency has placed more than 535 children.

"You're a mother even if you aren't parenting," she said.

Griffin and Cook, both working professionals, had submitted portfolios to Adoption STAR for birth mothers to consider. It wasn't long before Kress chose them to be the parents of her baby.

She deliberately chose a gay couple, she said.

"As a mother, I couldn't stand to have my child call someone else 'mommy,' " she said.

Cook and Griffin, meanwhile, started taking parenting classes, suffered through the lectures on breast-feeding and prepared to get the call saying they'd been chosen. They only waited two months. Then they met Kress.

"The first time we met her, I was terrified that she'd change her mind," Cook said.

As soon as Kress met the couple, she said, she was instantly reassured. They clearly loved each other and would be devoted parents. She invited them to join her at prenatal doctor's visits, to view the ultrasounds and be with her during delivery. And she chose Maxwell's middle name.

Kress looked sad as she thought about the moment she gave birth to Maxwell. Giving him to Cook and Griffin was painful, even though she had grown close to them through the adoption process.

Before the Rochester-area couple knew it, they left the hospital with a newborn son -- Maxwell Sebastian Griffin-Cook -- strapped into the back seat of their car.

On Saturday, the happy toddler stood in his light-blue, striped jumper, opening empty cabinets, shaking his Cheerios snack cup and playing with a reporter's hairbrush. Kress and her other children interacted with Maxwell the way fond relatives would.

Kress sees Maxwell every few months now and goes through the same cycle of emotions -- anticipation, joy and sadness. But she doesn't ever regret the choice she made.

"I think most people feel it's a hard decision," she said, "but when you find the perfect parents, it doesn't feel so much like you're giving something up, but giving a gift."

The story of Brandy Clear and the Smiths was different. At 19, Brandy already had a 1-year-old son as a single parent and didn't know she was pregnant with another until she went into labor and started bleeding in her bathroom.

She kept having periods throughout her pregnancy, hadn't gained a lot of weight, and a recent doctor's visit didn't pick up on the pregnancy either, she said. Her judgment wasn't made any clearer by the drinking and drugs she was doing at the time.

"I was not in a good place in my life," she said.

When a social worker told her she had the option of giving her child up for adoption, Clear was all for it. She didn't want an open adoption, either. She didn't try to name her baby after birth or see what the baby looked like, or even determine the child's sex.

"I didn't think I could handle it," she said.

But the nurse pointed to her ID bracelet and said she had the right to see her baby if she wished. The bracelet would identify the child.

Within a few days, Clear found herself in the hospital nursery. She held her son and stayed with him for more than seven hours straight.

Meanwhile, near Springville, Dana and Wayne Smith had spent 11 months waiting for a birth mother to choose them as adoptive parents. The couple had spent four years trying to have a child of their own, and after an unsuccessful in vitro fertilization treatment, Dana couldn't tolerate the emotional pain of going through it again.

Clear remembered looking through a stack of adoptive parent profiles. The Smiths' profile was the first one she read, and the one she returned to over and over. She chose them to be the parents of her son.

That was six years ago.

On Saturday, Jacob Brandon Smith stood tall and lean, with piercing green eyes. He happily sported a beard painted on his face that resembled his father's.

Despite his birth mother's risky lifestyle and lack of prenatal care, Jacob was born healthy. The Smiths came to the hospital to get him, but it wasn't until three months later that the birth mother met the Smiths and saw her baby again.

"I wasn't ready," she said.

Dana Smith, meanwhile, regularly called the agency to inquire after the birth mother, knowing that she had given up the child for adoption without any kind of family support.

"The very first meeting was the most terrifying experience of my life," Clear said.

"We were terrified, too," Smith added.

They cried and talked.

These days, Clear visits with the Smiths and her son several times a year. Even now, so many years later, tears fill Clear's eyes as she recalls the very first time she saw her son in the Smiths' arms. She remembers how they looked at him, she said.

"It was heart-wrenching and kind of comforting, too," she said. "They loved him."