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Published Monday June 29th, 2009 at 1:21pm

Original Article by Anna M. Tinsley

Melinda Martinez, 21, has three children at home. She's awaiting thebirth of her fourth child, whom she will give up for adoption throughthe Gladney Center.
Fort Worth, Texas -- Melinda Martinez knows she'll never watch her son sleep, take his first steps or be there to comfort him when he cries.

Shortly after he is born, sometime around July 23, she will hand him to another woman, who lives in another state, to be raised in another home.

In turn, her yet-to-be-born baby boy is giving her a chance to change the rest of her life.

"I fought with myself about this for a long time," said Martinez, a 21-year-old single mother with three children under the age of 5 at home. "People put me down for it at first. 'How can you keep three and give the fourth away?' I thought the way they thought.

"But when you know you can't do it, and you want the best for your kid, [adoption] is the right thing to do," she said. "I love all my kids. I love this one enough to be here."

Here is the Gladney Adoption Center. Here, Martinez is working through the center's new Next Steps pilot program to finally earn a high school equivalency diploma. And she has already taken a test that, if she passes, will allow her to work as a nurse's aide.

"What I'm doing here makes my future better, which makes my kids' future better," she said. "I am definitely at peace with everything."

Birth mothers

Martinez is part of the pilot program that puts extra emphasis on a birth mother's future, after she delivers the baby.

Birth mothers at Gladney, for instance, may range in age from 14 to 35, and may have different needs after childbirth.

Like Martinez, maybe they need to further their education. Some birth mothers move back home and return to high school. Others may need help in setting up an apartment for the first time.

Gladney caseworkers have long worked to provide birth mothers with emotional support through the process of pregnancy and delivery and for as long afterward as needed, officials said.

Now they're taking it a step further, through this pilot program, by helping birth mothers take the next step to make better lives for themselves.

"Next Steps teaches girls how to dream, and even more importantly, how to achieve their dreams," said Beth Cox, caseworker for the program. "It's about teaching women how to empower themselves."

Martinez arrived at Gladney earlier this year. "I was not in a good place at the time," she said. "I was working at $5.25 [an hour] jobs, working three days a week and taking care of my kids."

When she got there, she planned to work on a life plan for her baby, deciding who would adopt her child. Somewhere along the way, she started working on a second life plan as well.

Her own.

Looking ahead

Until now, Martinez said she never had a chance to earn her high school diploma because she was too busy having and raising babies — a son, age 5, a daughter, age 2, and her second son, age 1.

As a single mother without a high school diploma, Martinez was locked into low-paying jobs, barely earning enough to help with the cost of raising three children. She was fortunate to still be living with her mother, who is taking care of her three older children while she prepares for delivery and the adoption process.

After moving into Gladney, and getting help through the Next Steps program, she now has dreams that even last year she wouldn't have had.

"Aug. 4 is my official graduation date, when I get to go and walk across the stage," Martinez said. "And I'll have interviews for jobs.

"I think that if I wouldn't have come here, I would have been stuck working my $5.25 job and living at my mom's house," she said. "Now I have a lot to look forward to."

Helping others

The goal of the program is to help birth mothers get a new start, just as they gave a fresh start to their babies, said Fiona Richards, development chairwoman for the Dallas-based Council for Life.

"This interest we have for life isn't just for the baby — it's for the birth mother, too," Richards said. "We want to help her, stay with her, fill her needs, whatever the need is."

Council for Life donated $25,000 to Gladney this year to begin the program; the money was raised in October at its first 5K family fun run, "Take Steps for Life."

"We want to encourage more young women to choose a life plan for their babies and themselves," Richards said. "We want to help them through the days ahead, the days that can be fearful, and we want to really give them hope that what they are doing is right."

About seven or eight women staying at Gladney, including Martinez, are participating in the Next Steps program.

Like Martinez, many are focusing on educational goals.

Despite her new plans for the future, Martinez said she knows it won't be easy giving up her son for adoption.

"It will be hard," she said softly. "But it also makes me feel better knowing I'm making someone else so happy. ... You should be able to rest easy knowing you did something to make someone feel so good for the rest of their life."

By the Numbers

161 - Number of domestic adoptions facilitated by the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth last year

8,000 - Approximate number of private adoptions in Texas each year

30,000 - Approximate number of newborn adoptions in the United States each year

310,000 - Approximate number of domestic U.S. adoptions from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2007

7.3 million - Approximate number of women ages 15 to 44 in the United States who suffer from infertility

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Gladney Center for Adoption, 2009 Adoption Guide from Adoptive Families publication, Texas Department of Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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