FAIRMONT - Debate still rages 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
More young women are opting to raise their babies as single parents, even as statistics bear out that children in single-parent households are more likely to live below the poverty line.
Often forgotten in this equation are tens of thousands of couples who are physically unable to have the children they so desperately want. This is the story of one local couple who faced infertility:
HAPPY?FAMILY?— Rich and Steph Johnson’s sons, Jayden and Jaxon, were adopted, which Steph calls a “huge blessing.”
Rich and Steph Johnson of Fairmont were not able to conceive a child, so they turned to adoption.
"It's the most selfless act you can ever do," Steph said. "We are so thankful. We wouldn't have a family if it wasn't for that gift of adoption."
More than a decade later, the Johnsons have two children and a firm belief that they know why God chose adoption as the way to build their family.
When the couple got married, they were in their late 20s and saw no reason to put off parenthood, but, "It didn't take us long to realize it wasn't happening," Steph said.
Seeking answers, they "spent some time in Rochester," as Rich put it, and tried a number of means to conceive.
"So sad every Mother's Day," Steph said. "Anyone who has gone through infertility knows it's an emotional rollercoaster."
"We were bummed out about it," Rich said.
Adding to the hurt: many of their friends were having babies and the Johnsons also got advice delivered by well-meaning people.
"The worst thing you can say is 'It was easy for me,'" Steph said. "It made us more caring. You never know what people are going through. You don't want to say things that are funny to you, but hurt people."
Maybe most difficult of all:?the doctors couldn't find a reason for the infertility, giving the Johnsons hope month after month that they might conceive.
After a couple of years, the couple's thoughts turned to adopting.
"We both loved children and knew we wanted to have a family," Steph said.
"Luckily, we knew enough people who were adopted, so we were open to it," Steph said. "Our motto is 'There's a reason for everything.'"
Steph worked for Frost Benco Electric, which had a satellite office in Frost. Frost also had New Horizons Adoption Agency, now located in Blue Earth, and the couple turned to the agency to help them through the process.
"We spent the weekend filling out the portfolio; tons and tons of paperwork," Steph said.
The couple was visited by a social worker, had their fingerprints taken and made recommended updates to their house so they could be certified as foster parents.
"If you want to adopt a child, you have a lot of work to do," Steph said.
It paid off.
"I'll never forget that phone call," Steph said. "The adoption agency called and said, 'You've been picked.'"
The Johnsons feel the timing was not a coincidence.
"The biggest thing, God definitely had this plan for us and our family," Steph said. "We filled out the paperwork between Christmas and New Year's and Jayden was born nine months later."
The Johnsons met Jayden's birth mother when he was born.
"She wanted us to be there and wanted us to have that experience," Steph said. "Have the baby hear our voice and know we were the parents."
Being certified as foster parents meant the Johnsons could take custody of Jayden when he left the hospital, but his birth mother had a certain number of days to change her mind.
"Jayden was born in South Dakota and we couldn't leave the state for a week," Rich said.
Even in that, Steph saw a divine sign. A high school friend of Rich's was on vacation and offered her home to the Johnsons instead of them having to stay in a hotel, a fact Steph really appreciated with an infant to care for.
Although the couple had the baby, there feared the birth mother would change her mind before the legal deadline, especially since the woman spent a lot of time with Jayden in the hospital.
"She held him a lot," Steph remembered.
Their social worker put it in perspective for them.
"She said 'She gets to hold him for three days of his life, you get to hold him for the rest of his life,'" Steph said.
Steph came to appreciate the gesture.
"It's good for the baby to know she spent as much time with him as she could," she said.
In the end, the birth mother signed the papers and the Johnsons brought Jayden home as their son, welcomed by their families.
The Johnsons have a semi-open adoption with Jayden's birth mother and send e-mails and pictures.
Deciding "we didn't want an only child" and knowing it could take longer to adopt a second child, the Johnsons filed paperwork with New Horizons to adopt again when Jayden was 2 years old.
Things happened quickly.
They were supposed to be on vacation when they got the phone call they had been chosen again. It was six weeks before the baby was due and the birth parents wanted to meet the Johnsons, who made plans to head to Fergus Falls immediately.
"We got a call back; she'd gone into labor," Steph said.
Jaxon was born six weeks early, weighing just under 5 pounds. He was transferred to the neonatal unit so he could grow bigger.
"Five weeks of driving back and forth," Rich said.
Although it all was a bit scary, Steph said the wait was another part of God's plan.
"His birth mother would have to bring us [to Jaxon] because we didn't have parental rights," Steph explained. "We built a relationship with her and the birth father. Spent a lot of time with them.
"It made us see the other side more because we did get so close to her," she added.
"She's a really good writer and wrote him a really good letter," Steph said. "She wanted him to have an older brother; it's why they picked us. They loved that he would have a brother who was adopted also. They'd have that bond."
The bond between Jaxon's birth mother and the Johnsons has endured.
"She comes to visit, calls on his birthday," Steph said.
"We often refer to our birth moms as angels on this earth because they gave us such an amazing gift," she added.
Jayden is now 11 and Jaxon is 9.
"They're best friends, love to play together," Steph said. "They really love each other."
Rich and Steph said they have never kept secrets from their boys.
"We've always talked to our kids openly," Steph said, "They've known for as long as they can remember they are adopted, their birth families loved them and they picked us to be their parents. It's important we raise them with honesty in the most loving way so they know where they came from."
"They don't bring it up, don't talk about it at all," Rich said.
Well, actually, they do.
"The boys want us to adopt a girl," Steph said.
"We have a dog that's a girl," said Rich, adding they are "not actually pursuing it at [our] age."
"You never know what God has planned for us," Steph countered.
She has always believed there was a reason she couldn't get pregnant and thinks she found it out in February 2012 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was fed by hormones," Steph said. "Had I ever gotten pregnant, they said it could have been a totally different cancer. If I'd had all those [pregnancy] hormones, it could've exploded."
The good news is the cancer was non-aggressive and caught early.
"It's given us peace about why we were never supposed to have biological children," Steph added.
It's still tough to hear some things, though.
"I don't like it when people say, 'You never had children of your own,'" Steph said. "These children are our own. God definitely intended us to have these children.
"We believe adoption is a huge blessing in our lives and very thankful we were blessed with these boys," Steph said. "We encourage anyone in an unexpected pregnancy to consider adoption because it's the best gift we could have gotten in our lives."
For more information about becoming adoptive parents, call New Horizons Adoption Agency at (507) 526-3518; if you are considering adoption for your baby, call the New Horizons' birthparent hotline at (800)?314-3370, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org