Sue Stelzner’s first Mother’s Day gift was a single red rose.
It was a gift she received from her grandmother, Marion Kraus, in 1989 and on each Mother’s Day that followed for the next eight years.
For some people, that gesture may not seem so unusual, but for Stelzner, the emotion still shows on her face when she talks about it today.
“I chose life,” the Weyauwega woman said with tears in her eyes. “My grandma gave me a rose each year in honor of that – in honor of my daughter that I placed for adoption.”
Stelzner was a senior in high school when she learned that she was pregnant.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh boy, what do I do now?’” she said. “I was so scared.”
“My sister, Barb, had just had a baby in August and I saw how much work they (babies) were,” said Stelzner. “I knew I was not ready to be a mom.”
Stelzner recalled people asking her if she was getting married.
“I knew I was too young for that,” she said.
“I thought about abortion. I had everything ready to go to get one. I had a bag packed. I had the money, and my friend was going to take me,” she said. “But there was a blizzard that day, and my friend could not come.”
Stelzner saw that as a sign that she needed to do something different.
With the help of a therapist and her faith, she came to the decision to place her child up for adoption.
“My sister, Beth, worked with a lady named Renee and had shared with her how I was pregnant and wanted to place the baby for adoption. Renee’s sister in-law was looking to adopt,” she said.
Within a few weeks, Stelzner met with that couple, Bud and Vanessa, who would later adopt her baby.
“They were so much like me and the father of my baby,” said Stelzner. “I knew right away that I wanted them to be the parents of my child.”
Once the decision was made, Stelzner stayed in close contact with them.
“Vanessa and Bud made it comfortable,” she said. “I was 18 years old and having a baby. God gave me this gift, and God said, ‘You’re not ready to be a mom, but someone else is. This gift is for them.’ I got to give this gift to someone. I got to choose my daughter’s parents.”
On Sept. 16, 1988, Stelzner gave birth to a daughter, who weighed 6 pounds 13 ounces, and was named Whitney Sue by her adoptive parents.
“The decision was already made by now, so I thought I would be okay,” said Stelzner. “A lady from health and human services came and a nurse from the county – they all helped me. They made sure that I was taken care of.”
“The hardest part was knowing that this life that I had inside of me was going to be for someone else to enjoy. I knew it was the right thing, but giving her up was not easy,” she said. “You feel so empty walking out of the hospital, alone.”
During the weeks that followed, Stelzner did not share with anyone that she had had a baby girl.
Stelzner still had to face the final hearing for Whitney’s adoption.
“I bawled signing the final papers,” said Stelzner. “But I knew Whitney’s parents were wonderful.”
It was a mutual decision between Stelzner, Bud and Vanessa to have an open adoption. Stelzner was given regular updates about Whitney.
“It was not always easy, but I am so glad we had an open adoption,” said Stelzner. “I got pictures of her about every three months or so, and I always knew Whitney was okay. They gave me a promise to raise her well and let me be a part of her life.”
Stelzner recalled running into the family at a local restaurant.
“Whitney was only a few months old at the time, and Vanessa looked at me and said, ‘You’re not ready right now,’” said Stelzner. “I was so angry at first and thought, ‘What do you know?’ But deep down, I knew she was right.”
When Whitney was 7, she and Stelzner reunited.
“Vanessa and Bud brought Whitney over to my house to meet her three brothers: AJ, Nick and Nathan,” said Stelzner.
“I had always known I was adopted,” said Whitney Shaver, “But at the age of 7, it was still confusing.”
As Shaver grew up, there were times when it bothered her that she had been given up for adoption.
“I was angry when I found out that she later had other children that she had kept,” she said. “I didn’t understand.”
“There were also times when I thought she gave all her love to the boys,” said Shaver. “But I learned that she loved me so much. I thank God every day that she placed me for adoption. I have a mom and dad that love me, and I have a birth mother that loves me as well.”
“The more people that loved her, the better, was what Bud and Vanessa said,” added Stelzner.
For Shaver, the realization about what Sue had gone through did not occur until she gave birth to her own child.
“I was exactly the same age as Sue was when I had my first child,” she said. “It wasn’t until then that I really understood it all.”
“For health reasons, my own daughter had to stay in the hospital following her birth,” said Shaver. “Every day that I had to leave that hospital without her was so hard. But I knew eventually she would be coming home with me. Sue had to leave empty handed. It really opened my eyes.”
Stelzner has no regrets about her decision.
“It was the most loving thing I could do,” she said.” It’s the right choice.”
“It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she added. “But it is also the most selfless thing I could do. It’s the most unselfish gift you can give.”
Stelzner and Shaver remain close today, sharing a loving bond and mutual understanding about the decision Stelzner made.
Stelzner never forgot the gesture of her grandmother, who passed away in 1997.
“I go to the cemetery every Mother’s Day and I cry,” said Stelzner. “For the past 17 years, I have carried on the tradition and have given her a rose. I thank her for understanding my choice.”