Hannah Allen’s life has been filled with love and support. Growing up with five siblings, she stood out with God-given talents — excelling at soccer, playing the saxophone, cheerleading and growing to know the Lord.
“She is just an amazing, smart, talented young woman,” said her mother, Kathy Allen, adding “She’s had a compassionate heart for the Lord. She learned to play guitar and leads worship at her church.”
Today, Hannah, 26, is engaged to be married in December and working at Families, Inc. counseling agency in Searcy for children with behavioral issues and mood disorders.
Her parents Ray and Kathy Allen raised her to be the woman she is today.
“I think they’re just about the coolest people I’ve ever met. They really are,” Hannah said. “The older I’ve gotten, I’ve realized they are who I want to be like.”
While she is forever grateful to her parents, in 2009, Hannah also got to thank the woman who made the courageous decision to give her a chance at life.
Hannah was adopted as a baby through Catholic Adoption Services, a licensed nonprofit agency of Catholic Charities of Arkansas. Her reunion with her birth mother, Melissa, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was one of joy.
“It was amazing. I will say I know that not every reunification was like mine. Mine was very blissful, beautiful — neither one of us has any addictions, we’re both Christians, it was the most ideal situations. It was a really awesome experience,” she said.
Melissa experienced heartbreak early in life. As a young child, her mother abandoned her and her siblings, leaving her dad to raise them. When she was 13 years old, Hannah was conceived. The birth father was 19.
“Unbelief, disappointment, probably a lot of shame,” Melissa said she felt when she found out she was pregnant. “Just not really happy with myself at all.”
Instead of having an abortion, Melissa chose an adoption plan.
“When I think about that I just get emotional,” Hannah said, knowing that society would have supported abortion. “… Being the human life that was given life, chosen not to abort, I can’t stand behind the idea of abortion for any reason. That’s my whole existence.”
Melissa said she had “big dreams” and goals for not only herself, but for her daughter.
“I knew that I couldn’t raise her. We grew up poor, my grandmother also lived with us and we weren’t in the position to take care of a baby … She should be raised in a family that they can have everything they need and that would not have happened,” she said, adding that when Hannah was born, it was still “tough.” “But I just knew that it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I ever had any second guesses.”
Kathy and Ray Allen, of Russellville, had three biological children and because of their desire for a large family, chose adoption. They joined a statewide adoption group, learning of the great need for interracial adoption, adopting a child of a different race. They adopted their son Isaac, mixed Apache and black, from Arizona. They adopted Hannah, who is also biracial, and later had another biological child.
Hannah and Isaac both grew up attending the adoption support group meetings and the family had honest conversations about adoption.
“It’s like God sends you kids in all different ways and this is how you came to be our daughter … God sent her to us so that was just kind of matter of fact,” Kathy Allen said of Hannah.
“They loved me and Isaac,” Hannah said. “They just loved me so much and treated me exactly the same.”
Throughout the years, the Allens and Melissa exchanged letters, photos and gifts through Catholic Adoption Services and when Hannah turned 18, she knew she wanted to meet her birth mother, something her parents were both excited about.
“I felt secure in being Hannah’s mother. We have a heart-to-heart connection, nothing would change that; we are mother and daughter,” Kathy said.
Meeting at the Catholic Adoption Services office, Hannah heard her laugh and saw her smile on the face of Melissa.
“People have commented my whole life on my laugh and how unique it was … and when I met her I saw in her the same thing … that was kind of cool,” she said.
“She’s the most (dedicated) human rights activist I know, a fiery person,” having worked in social work and now teaching, Hannah said. Knowing Hannah is also passionate about social work “is really cool,” Melissa said.
Hannah will visit Melissa, who is married with two children in another state, at least once a year. Her adoptive and birth families have also met.
“Eighteen years, you wondered what was she going to be like and what she would think about me. At the time I met her I was pregnant with my son. It was exciting,” Melissa said. “It made me even more proud of my decision that she turned out to be this light. She’s God’s light and she shines wherever she goes and I’m thankful I was able to be the person, even though I think in the beginning there was a lot of shame, I’m happy I was able to give birth to her and she is … doing Christ’s work helping other people.”
While reuniting with her birth mother forged a lifelong relationship, Hannah said meeting her birth father was “very different.” He contacted her through Facebook while she was a college freshman and at the time, she was “pretty resentful,” telling him to contact Catholic Adoption Services.
She also did not want to upset her brother Isaac, whose birth parents did not want contact.
Isaac died in 2014 at age 24 and the loss made her “realize a lot of things about life. One that it is short,” Hannah said.
So in 2015, she took a friend with her and met her birth father in a public place.
“If I could help someone else feel closure or whatever else he was looking for, I was going to do that,” she said. “… It was not bad at all. He actually has a cool story of his own” about recognizing Christ and now serves as a church elder.
They do not keep in touch, but Hannah said, “I’m glad I forgave him.”
Ray Allen said he was never threatened when Hannah met both Melissa and her birth father.
“Hannah was raised in a family with a lot of love and a very stable environment,” he said. “… I wasn’t threatened, I played with Hannah growing up and did all the things a dad would do … we all loved each other.”
While each adoptee has different feelings about meeting birth parents, Hannah said in her life, it was just another piece of the puzzle that makes up the story of her life.
“They’re my mom and dad, they raised me. Nothing can change that,” she said of her parents, adding that meeting birth parents, “… I think it does provide some understanding and self-awareness. I had more insight on areas of my own life that I didn’t know before. Just seeing her and our similarities I realized things about me that were unique and beautiful.”
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