Amee Wittbrodt
Amee Wittbrodt
Amee Wittbrodt always knew she was adopted. "It was never a secret," she said. "I don't remember a time I didn't know. My adoptive parents used to read me a book called 'The Chosen Baby.'"

"I was curious about my birth parents," she confessed. "As a kid, I probably thought about them every other day. Something was always coming up in school that made me think about them. I'd be in health class and we'd talking about ear lobes and how it's hereditary whether or not they're connected to your head. I did wish I knew who I resembled, but I wasn't consumed by the thought. My life was fine."

Wittbrodt grew up in Morgan, an agricultural community in southwestern Minnesota. Her adoptive parents were chicken farmers; throughout her childhood, she participated in the local 4-H program showing rabbits, sheep and pigs. She was also raised to lend a helping hand. "My adoptive mom and dad taught me to open my house to others. They never said, 'Do unto others.' They taught it by doing. Our house was the safe house and local kids were always at our door. My adoptive parents did a very good job of teaching me not to judge others, but to value people for who they are," she said.

Wittbrodt took these lessons to heart and even though circumstance, marriage and career have carried her far from the family farm, she has put them to work time and again. As an in-home day care provider, then a Lamaze coach, and now an online high school English teacher, Wittbrodt has found her calling by accepting and providing safe haven for young, single moms.

Lucky call
When she was 17 years old, Wittbrodt approached her adoptive parents with the idea of finding her birth mom. "My case had been a closed adoption and I'd heard stories of it taking years for adopted children to find their birth mothers," she explained. "Really, I went into it thinking this was something I was just starting to explore." Imagine her surprise when a few phone calls and six hours after her search began, Wittbrodt held an address in her hand that would put her in touch with her birth mother.

"Carol [her birth mom] and I started corresponding by mail right away," Wittbrodt said. "She had moved to Arizona and we sent letters just as fast as the postman could turn them around. One of the first things I asked her to send was her baby photos. In all my life, I'd never looked like anyone and I was eager to find a resemblance. I remember her first grade picture. I put it up next to my own from first grade and the two were identical."

Beyond this resemblance, their correspondence revealed other things. The decision to place Wittbrodt for adoption had been dictated to teenage Carol by her parents, who also chose to send Carol to a group home for unwed teens until her baby was born.

Meeting mom
After corresponding for a few months, Carol invited Wittbrodt to her Arizona home. Wittbrodt accepted and made the journey with her adoptive mom. "We had an address and when my mom pulled up to the house, I remember saying, 'I want you to leave me here.' And she did! I got out of the car and she drove away! I stayed there for a week," Wittbrodt said. "I can't image putting myself in my adoptive mom's shoes. I've never asked her what that was like for her. Just the thought, though, now that I'm a mother, gives me goosebumps. I can't imagine what must have been going through her mind, except that she must have trusted me."

When Wittbrodt entered her birth mother's house, she encountered a new world. "It was surreal. She [Carol] must have been nervous because she had invited her best friend over. I remember sitting at her kitchen table and just staring at her and her house while her six kids, my half brothers and sisters, ran around. The youngest was 2," Wittbrodt said. "I was a farm girl with one brother and I was overwhelmed. I was 17. I wanted to sleep until noon, but they were all up every morning, screaming. I remember thinking it was cool that they could function with so much chaos."

Wild ride
Unfortunately, in the coming years, this chaos didn't temper. It grew worse. Wittbrodt discovered Carol was growing marijuana in her attic. After re-establishing their mother-daughter contact, Carol sought out Wittbrodt's birth father, left her husband and relinquished custody of their six kids to reunite with him. One day, Wittbrodt opened up her mail to find an invitation to the wedding of her birth mother and birth father. Wittbrodt turned down the invitation, but she did maintain contact with Carol. "I felt like I was reading two books at once. One was my life in Minnesota that was following this very calm road, the other was this wild ride. I don't think I would have been able to follow that second book if the other hadn't been so stable," Wittbrodt said. The wild ride all came crashing to an end when her birth father ended up in jail and Carol died of emphysema at the age of 42.

"I am grateful I kept up with that crazy book. Carol and I did become best friends," Wittbrodt said. "Carol was a strong woman who could take care of herself. I think she passed that on to me. She liked to write, so do I. She wrote poetry. I do more technical stuff. She had a twisted sense of humor. She liked the dark side, and I definitely got that from her."

Wittbrodt also learned that Carol was a staunch supporter of a pregnant teen hotline. She donated $25 each month to the organization and volunteered her time on its phones. "Carol struggled financially and I asked her once why she gave money when she didn't have extra to spare," Wittbrodt said. "She told me that it meant something to her to give. This impressed me, and I think it's where my desire to help young mothers comes from."

Her own niche
Back in the Midwest, Wittbrodt's own life followed a more traditional path. After college, she became an English teacher, married and had three children. And then her husband's work took them to Iowa. Instead of finding a new teaching job, Wittbrodt decided to stay home with her kids. To earn money, she opened an in-home day care business.

"Because I was new and wanted business, I kept telling people I was flexible," Wittbrodt said. This flexibility ended up attracting single moms who were working long days and fitting in school too. Soon, these moms started asking Wittbrodt for advice. Their questions started over diaper rash but quickly progressed to their personal lives. She realized that while her efforts to help these young moms had started innocently, their needs were crowding her own. "Their questions made me feel like I was a good parent. If they were coming to me for advice, they must have seen me as a capable mother," Wittbrodt said. "But I had to start laying down the law. Some of them would have stayed at my house all night talking. "I started to understand how important it is for a young mother to have an older woman in her life, like her own mother, that she can turn to for help. This experience really brought it home just how much support a new mom needs, especially if she is young and especially if she is alone," Wittbrodt said.

Guidance counselor
This new understanding, coupled with her own adoption experience, led Wittbrodt to co-teach a child abuse prevention program for teens. "It was a teen Lamaze class for girls who were 15 to 19. I played the nurturing role, talking to them about the realities of motherhood," Wittbrodt said. "They knew I was adopted and they loved to hear my story. They would ask to hear it again and again."

"I am pro-adoption, 100 percent, although I'm careful never to push it," she said. "I have learned to stay objective. If I can do this, chances are greater a young woman will seek me out." Indeed, many women have come to Wittbrodt for guidance dealing with their pregnancies. Even though she gave up her teen Lamaze class when she returned to Minnesota and settled near Fergus Falls in the small town of Elbow Lake, Wittbrodt continues to attract troubled, pregnant women.

"Women seem to have a lot of questions about adoption," Wittbrodt said. "Adoption has gotten a lot of bad press and many women worry their babies will suffer not knowing who their birth moms are. What I hear the most, though, when women talk about adoption, isn't so much about the baby's struggle as it is about their own. They question whether or not they can go nine months and then give the baby up.

"Abortion seems to be a preferred solution. Adoption feels too open-ended. It leaves doors open and you never know when or if someone might come knocking. Abortion might be a decision that is hard to live with, but at least it is one that puts the mother in control and shuts the door," Wittbrodt said.

Online career
Teenage mothers are at risk for dropping out of school, which increases the likelihood they will struggle with poverty. With the rise of the Internet, however, many teen moms have turned to online education as an option for pursing their diplomas. Wittbrodt, too, turned to online education. For her, though, this was a career move. She now teaches high school language arts through Blue Sky Online School, a public, Minnesota charter school based in West St. Paul that is the oldest online school in the state. Legally, the school cannot ask its students if they are parents; however, it estimates that roughly 10 percent of its 850-count student body have children. As an English teacher, Wittbrodt said, she often knows which of her students are parents because she learns the details of their lives through their journal entries and essays.

"I love online teaching. It is everything I believe in when it comes to education," Wittbrodt said. "I don't see my students face-to-face, so I don't have any preconceived notions about their abilities based on how they look or are dressed. The only thing I can judge is the quality of their work," she said. "It's very individualized. I email and call my students, and we talk one-on-one about their work. They appreciate this private attention, which is something that's hard to come by in a classroom."

Working with teenage moms is one of the most satisfying parts of her job. "My students who are parents are so motivated," she said. "They have this little person they need to take care of and they want to do the right thing, and I feel I'm doing the right thing by offering my support."

editor@womenspress.com.