Miracle at 40: A Journey of Triumph, Love, and Motherhood Through Adoption

Our “Moms at 40” series continues with this tale of love and resilience. Below, Sara Schreiner shares her remarkable story of never giving up on motherhood despite the emotional and financial costs.

SPF: Thank you for speaking with me!  Can you share a bit about your journey to motherhood?

SS:  I never wanted to be a mom, or so I thought. I wanted to travel and see the world- I was a free spirit and I thought motherhood didn’t fit into that narrative. But in 2018 I was working as a travel nurse in a critical access hospital in a border town in California as a labor and delivery nurse. I was present for the delivery of a baby I ended up falling in love with. I took care of her every day for 3 months while she withdrew from drugs.

During this, child services (foster care) asked if I would consider fostering her. I said yes (it wasn’t that simple, but I’m keeping it short). I ultimately tried to adopt her. After 19 weeks with me, a judge gave her back to her birth mom. I was left with a huge hole in my heart- and $50k less in my bank account for legal fees. I fought hard!

Shortly after, I found a young couple through a private adoption agency. They were 15 and 17 years old, living in Iowa. I video chatted with them and all seemed on track for adopting their baby. Another $20K  and 9 months later, they changed their minds and decided they were keeping their little boy. I was heartbroken again.

Trying for a biological child.

Next, I decided to do it myself. I paid for 9 rounds of IUI/IVF out of pocket. All failed- each and every round. I was devastated; an emotional and financial wreck. I had nothing left emotionally or financially. My sister was convinced I should still be a mom. I was 40 years old and ready to give up. For what? To be an old mom? This seemed futile, I was tired of the waiting and endless disappointment. But that sister of mine is relentless…

Back to fostering /adoption.

She pushed and pushed. I attended the parenting classes required to be a foster parent in Massachusetts, where I was then living. I got on the Department of Children and Families (DCF) list for a foster to adopt situation*. In August of 2020 I got THE call… but uh-oh it was for 2 kids! Are they crazy? I only wanted one, but enter the persistent sister stage left- “you can do this!”.

Sara’s son. Photo property of Sara Schreiner.

SPF: What apprehensions did you have approaching motherhood as a single woman?

SS: Apprehensions- well considering when DCF called, they told me “the girl” is autistic, developmentally delayed, and possibly mentally retarded (none of this was true) and “the boy”- “well we don’t know much because he was just sort of kept in a closet”. To say I was apprehensive was an understatement. My mom said to just love them. What? Just love them? I don’t even know them. It was a big financial risk- I had burned through my entire savings just trying to become a mom- that was ironic. I was mostly scared I would fail them. They had already been through so much. What if I did more damage? Was I good enough for them? What if I couldn’t give them what they needed? I had big apprehensions, along with all the normal little doubts and worries. Apprehensive is the understatement of the century!

SPF: Are there advantages to being the only parent? 

SS: Definite advantages- I love being able to make all of their medical and educational decisions on my own. I am confident in these decisions and don’t need help when it comes to these things so having complete autonomy and no discussion or arguments is a win! I also love being able to make all of our family’s financial decisions on our own.

SPF: Did you have an age cutoff for becoming a parent?  If so , how did you decide that?

SS: I suppose I did, and I was getting close. But since I adopted, I likely would have adopted an older child. I still struggle with being the oldest mom… but it has its advantages! 

Picture of author's daughter on a pony.  She was adopted after her mom's long journey to parenthood.

Sara’s daughter. Photo property of Sara Schreiner.

SPF: How does your experience parenting compare to what you thought it would be like?

SS: It’s harder, much harder. It’s little things though. I was prepared for the big things with my kids, the trauma, the nightmares, the difficult behaviors. I had done my homework and my training. It’s things like the amount of trash they produce -why does no one prepare you for that? It’s the constant need for snacks, never peeing alone, no privacy- ever, the Legos in my bed, the hanging on my body, the incessant questions, the 5:30 am wake-ups. I miss my me-time. I need space and I never get it. With two kids, one mom and no help, order and cleanliness are hard to accomplish

SPF: What’s a typical day like for you?

SS: Kids wake up around 6 am and climb into my bed. I get up around 6:30 am. Everyone up and dressed, teeth brushed, etc. My son is delayed so he still needs lots of help. My daughter is very independent. Out of the house by 7:45 am, daughter catches the bus, son gets dropped off and I’m off to work. The babysitter picks my son up at 10:30 am and transports him to daycare. At 3:30 pm, I Ieave work to take my son to his 4pm therapy appointment. We are in therapy until 5 pm. Then we go and pick my daughter up by 5:30 pm. Come home- dinner, showers, prep for the next day. By 8pm the kids are in bed and I finish working since I never get in a full day at the office. I usually work until 10:30 pm. During this time I am multitasking- doing laundry, making lunches, or cleaning while I am working. Then I shower and I’m in bed around 11:30 pm. 

SPF: How do you balance meeting your personal needs with working full time and solo parenting (like seeing friends without kids in tow, pursuing non-kid related interests, dating, etc?)

SS: I generally don’t see friends without kids in tow. I have a really good friend who takes my kids about once a month for a sleepover. She is also a single mom, but her kids are grown. This is my salvation. She is amazing. She fills my soul. I treat myself to fancy take out and sleep late. It’s wonderful! But I do try to sneak out for mid-day lunches or coffee during my work day.

I try to get a baby-sitter and have a girls night every other month or so. But that carries a lot of guilt, those nights end up costing me upwards of $300 and I struggle to justify them. I don’t really date, though I would like to. I have yet to find anyone worth time away from my kids. When I do I’ll definitely do it! The pickings are slim… it’s rough out there. 

SPF: Any words of encouragement you want to give to readers considering having a baby over 40, especially single women? 

SS: You can do it! It’s worth it. The rewards are ten-fold. I am convinced it’s harder than doing it in your 20’s. But it’s because in your 20’s (and I know I’ll offend some people here) you don’t know any better. Sort of the ignorance is bliss philosophy. You are so much more ready to parent in your 40’s. You will make better decisions, you won’t sweat the small stuff, you will prioritize more effectively. 

About the author: Sara Schreiner is a Registered Nurse and Legal Nurse Consultant with a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. Sara has spent the majority of her twenty year career focusing on Women’s Health and more recently, on Nursing Education and Professional Development. She is a Certified Bereavement Counselor for Fetal Loss and Infant Death. Sara finds helping and supporting families through the loss of a newborn to be the most satisfying and fulfilling part of her career. You can read more of Sara’s story, along with other single moms in Shattering the Stigma of SIngle Motherhood: A Collection of Stories Redefining Family Norms.

Born and raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, Sara settled on Boston’s north shore and became a single mom by choice after a long battle with infertility. At 40, she adopted two siblings at age two and three. She is passionate about travel and is raising two little savvy travelers. Sara has three amazing siblings and two awesome parents all in the Philadelphia area that manage to be wonderfully supportive from afar and shower her little family with love and blessings! 

Did you become a mom at 40 or older? We would love to hear your story. You can share anonymously, if your prefer. Just send an email to sharon@nurtured-well.com and put “mom over 40” in the subject line.

*Please note that, typically, foster care is intended to ultimately reunite children with their biological families. Some states may have “foster to adopt” tracks when that is not possible.

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