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How Adoption Changed Everything for this OB-GYN

Apr 09, 2021

How Adoption Changed Everything for this OB-GYN

Two lines that aren’t parallel will intersect—a basic rule of geometry. Even when light-years apart, if they continue to extend, they’ll meet.

A basic in geometry, it’s also a fundamental in life that different timelines on different trajectories may—and will—intersect. Unlikely strangers will eventually meet. And in 2006, Dr. Kelly Risner learned this was true for her timeline.

Crossing paths

Dr. Risner was seeing patients at the hospital where she worked in Seattle, Washington—just as she did every Monday morning. Mallory, however, was out of her routine; she usually didn’t start her day walking through hospital doors. Today she did.

Mallory was 19. Just shy of eight months into a pregnancy with no prenatal care, she arrived at the same hospital ready to give birth—preferably in time to be home for dinner. Because no one knew she was pregnant.

Dr. Risner’s best friend and medical partner, Dr. Lori Channell, was the physician who would deliver Mallory’s baby. She spent time with Mallory, preparing her for delivery, talking with her about what she was going through.

In the back of her head, though, Dr. Lori Channell thought about Dr. Risner. A chance for lines to cross.

Within hours, Dr. Risner learned of Mallory and the pregnancy. And she knew why her friend told her. After growing accustomed to waiting and persevering, Dr. Risner may have a chance to adopt this child.

Meant to be a mom

Dr. Risner and her husband had struggled to conceive the prior year. They reached a point when it was clear Dr. Risner would need fertility treatments to become pregnant, but she felt that path wasn’t for her.

“Being in the field I am in, for me, pregnancy wasn’t this magical, mystical time,” Dr. Risner said. “I felt the calling to have a child, not a pregnancy.”

In 2005, the couple began their journey with adoption.

After 10 hours of parenting education, finding an adoption agency, getting FBI clearance, and sitting through countless social worker visits, they turned in their paperwork.

“All of the sudden, the process came to a screeching halt, and we were told it could be a couple of years before we could adopt,” Dr. Risner said.

Knowing good things take time, Dr. Risner persisted with patience she didn’t know she had. With one year of her estimated two-year wait behind her, Dr. Risner had fallen back into her routine: working at the hospital, helping women become mothers, and waiting.

Her quiet resolve to become a mother never faded, but she knew it needed to take a backseat. So now, in June 2006, with this potential opportunity laid out in front of her, she was stunned. Could Mallory, this 19-year-old stranger, give birth to her future adopted child?

It’s really happening

“I don’t know if we can do this,” Dr. Risner said. Her husband felt the same, but he left work and met Dr. Risner at the hospital.

For the rest of the day, Dr. Risner tucked her hope and “what ifs” away, focusing on her patients. In the meantime, she found a lawyer, called her adoption agency, found a new adoption agency that handled domestic adoptions, and planned to meet with Mallory the next day. It was a long day.

The following day, Dr. Risner and Mallory met. Mallory told her, “I want you to raise my child.”

Thinking parenthood was miles away, Dr. Risner and her husband had planned to accumulate baby things. The furthest they’d gotten so far was a stroller. Now they may be taking a baby home.

Meeting Katy

It was time to meet the baby.

Cradled in the NICU at 5 pounds, 3 ounces and refusing to eat, the infant looked up at Dr. Risner from her crib.

“It was surreal,” Dr. Risner recalls.

Mallory left the hospital. And Dr. Risner and her husband spent time with the new baby. They stayed with her while she slept, attempted to feed her, and started to create the mother-baby bond Dr. Risner had longed for. Mallory’s timeline intersected Dr. Risner’s for just a moment, and it changed everything.

By the end of the week, Dr. Risner had custody of this fragile, tiny baby: Katy.

A growing family

Custody turned into full adoption, and Katy turned into a full-fledged member of the family. Dr. Risner was now a mother.  

Dr. Risner found her “happily ever after” in motherhood. But another timeline was soon to intersect with hers and Katy’s. She never changed anything with the adoption she applied for in 2005, and that paperwork made it to the top of the pile in October 2007. Dr. Risner was thrilled to discover she was matched with a 10.5-month-old girl in China.

Katy, now a year-and-a-half old, would become a big sister, just seven months older than the sister she would soon meet.

With love in her heart left to give, Dr. Risner boarded a plane to Asia with her husband. After spending two weeks in China, they adopted their second child, Evelyn.

The two girls, now 14, may be the same age, but they’re characters all their own.

Katy is a spunky, free-spirited high-school freshman who’s larger than life and the taller of the two sisters.

Evelyn, or “Evie,” operates best with rules, never letting obligations slip through the cracks. An 8th grader, she’s already completed three college-level courses. And her go-getter drive rivals her reserved personality.

They “hate” each other how siblings often do: the kind of hate that leads to sitting next to each other, heads pressed together, sharing secrets, and giggling about things no one else would understand. The kind of hate that looks a lot like love.

“I could not have picked more different children,” Dr. Risner says. “There are many times that I feel like, because these are the children God gave me, do I need to learn something or do they? It just feels like this is how our journey is supposed to be.”

Falling into place

Dr. Risner could have never predicted the turns her story took, but she knows it was right for her and her family. That hasn’t changed to this day.

“I never had regrets about not becoming pregnant,” Dr. Risner said. “Katy has taught me patience, understanding, acceptance, how to be different—things I wouldn’t have learned without her. With Evelyn, we work together on being more open and letting emotions show.”

The loving family Dr. Risner found reinforced for her the idea that adoption is the right path for some women.

“I think everyone’s journey is different,” she says. “Sometimes you turn to God, spend some time, and see which way is right for you. Your plan might not be His plan.”

Life in practice

Dr. Risner learned the power of what happens when two people’s lives unexpectedly come together. Armed with this experience and a photo of her girls on her exam room wall, she makes the most out of each patient interaction—sharing her story when helpful.

Especially when a patient’s journey to motherhood might be contingent on that one moment where timelines intersect.