Leah Outten is a wife, mom, homeschool teacher, speaker, writer, and advocate of adoption. With all that and more on her plate, I was honored that she sat down for a bit to chat with me about her story and passion.

I know so many people who have been impacted by adoption—whether through being adopted themselves or by adopting children—but I had never personally spoken with someone who had a biological child placed for adoption. Her testimony is powerful, and when you finish reading it, you need to check out her book because what I am sharing is just a little snippet of her story.

Leah’s motherhood journey began in 2004 when she was a junior in high school. To give context for those of us who are too old or too young to know what it was like for teenagers in 2004, it was a time when teens were burning their favorite songs onto CDs, customizing them with clever titles written in Sharpie. They were also just discovering a new platform called Myspace and chatting through shorthand text messages on their tiny cell phones. Leah fit right in with all the other typical teens until life took an unexpected turn when, shortly after her 16th birthday, she discovered she was pregnant. Overnight, everything changed.

The father was a boy she had dated, but they weren’t even together anymore. Leah describes their relationship, saying, “We had dated most of the year previously, but we were not in a good place when this happened. He was turning to things that I didn’t want to be a part of, so we had just decided we were not good together. And he really had NO interest in parenting. He pretty much said, ‘You need to have an abortion or give it up for adoption.'”

Leah, however, had been raised by a single mom, and that inspired her. If her mom could do it, she could too. Leah planned to raise the baby herself, as she couldn’t bear the thought of losing the child she already loved to a closed adoption, the only type she knew at the time. Her heart wrestled with the knowledge that there were loving homes capable of providing more than she could at that moment, but emotionally, it didn’t feel right to let go.

Leah shared that one of the best things her mom did for her was get her into counseling right away. Despite this support, navigating the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy, along with rejection from the baby’s father, led to tension and conflicts with her mom. Leah vividly recalls, “I was dealing with so much physically. I was also dealing with rejection from her birth father. My mom and I had a lot of fights and tension. So I was trying to figure out the chaos of all that along with all the hormones—feeling sick—and then just all the things as an 11th grader in high school!”

For the first trimester, Leah wasn’t showing and could still keep the pregnancy under wraps. Her close friend group were really the only ones who knew. She managed to blend in, but the hard part was that the birth father was also a junior at the same school. Every time she would see him, it triggered anxiety because while Leah was coping with morning sickness and the stress of navigating pregnancy, he was living his carefree teenage life completely detached from everything. Leah felt the weight of the world on her shoulders while everyone else, including her ex, was going on dates, attending parties, and being kids. Eventually, it was too much, and she asked to stay at her dad’s house in a different school district. After that semester, she moved to a new school.

Being at a new school solved some of Leah’s problems but opened up a whole set of new ones. It’s hard enough to be the new kid, but then add to that Leah was starting to be visibly pregnant. Not only did she look different, she felt like she had matured a decade in the course of six months. Leah didn’t relate to all the typical high school stuff anymore, and she didn’t fit in anywhere! Despite that, Leah now recognizes that this new school was exactly where she needed to be. The teachers and staff there were people that were already somewhat connected with her through her dad’s church. Even though she may not have had a lot of friends, she said she had mentors that had a major impact on her life. This was the village that helped support her through the pregnancy and the really hard decisions.

All this time, Leah was planning to raise her daughter as a single mom. The turning point came the day Leah formed a true relationship with the Lord. She was 7 months pregnant and prayed, “I cannot do this without You, God. I’m messing my life up, and I desperately want peace. I know that it’s You I need, and I choose to follow You.” It was when Leah surrendered her life to Jesus that she also chose adoption because she knew that is what He was calling her to do.

From that point on, Leah learned everything she could about adoption. She spoke with teen moms and adoptive parents. Every spare moment she had was dedicated to researching adoption and devouring any and all information she could find. She made many significant connections in those days. She was blown away by the discovery that there were adoptive parents who were connected with birth moms. Not only that, but some of these families had formed friendships and relationships because of these children that they loved! This idea that Leah could have a relationship like that is a big part of why she chose open adoption. They were the ones that made her say, “If I’m going to look at adoption, I want it to look like this,” and she found a family that believed in that vision as well. After meeting this family, Leah not only knew they were the right family to raise her child, but she also felt less alone. They made Leah feel seen, valued, and loved.

Now Leah’s firstborn daughter is 20 years old; she actually just had a birthday!

Besides mothering her other five children (which Leah states is her number one job), she also works as an adoption educator.

With as beautiful and healing as open adoption is, there is still trauma and it is a complex process. Sometimes open adoption isn’t healthy or possible. I don’t want to sum it all up into a nutshell but thankfully there are more resources than ever before and lots support for moms and adoptive parents. I really loved what Leah said for adoptive parents: “Loving the birth parent is loving your child.”

It’s really a full-circle moment that Leah went from being a 16-year-old frightened and uncertain about her pregnancy to now helping other teens and families considering adoption. She does public speaking, she writes articles, and has been featured on nationally known platforms including Focus On The Family, Her View From Home, and Motherly. Leah also has some books out that are so incredibly important.

I would encourage everyone to check out Leah’s book- The Sixteenth Year: An Open Adoption Memoir.

It’s not just for teen moms or adoptive families, this is a book about what God can do when you choose to give him everything. We could all take a note from Leah and learn more about adoption because even if you don’t feel called to adopt you can still make a difference in the life of someone who is.