INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
“You’re here with me because nobody else wants you,” Master Sgt. Debbie Jackson recalled one of her relatives saying. “That line stuck with me for a very long time.”
The scathing indictment summed up the unfortunate upbringing of the Monroe, Louisiana, native. Her mother was mentally disabled and unable to properly raise her, while her father was practically non-existent.
“My brother and I always jumped around from one family to another,” said Jackson, who now serves as the 39th Air Base Wing’s career assistance advisor. “Throughout my life I always felt like I was a burden because I was always a part of someone else's family. I never felt like I had a family of my own.”
Jackson said it was this scarcity of affection which drove her to “fall in love with the first man to show her any kind of attention."
As a result, she became pregnant at the age of 18.
Jackson remembered feeling alone, having no one to turn to at such a vulnerable chapter of her life. At the end of the day, Jackson concluded she and her child-to-be were on their own.
“I wasn't equipped to take care of her,” she said about her then-unborn daughter. “I didn't have a job or any type of support system.”
While contemplating her choices, Jackson remembered her relative’s words lingering within her subconscious: nobody else wants you.
“I said to myself, ‘my child will never ever hear those words,’” she recalled.
After weighing her options and envisioning multiple scenarios, the young mother decided to give her child up for adoption. It was a heart-wrenching but necessary decision, she added.
“With adoption, at least she can be with somebody who could take care of her,” Jackson said. “Even if I myself couldn't take care of her, she deserved a chance at a better life than I had—a chance at a great life.”
There were two kinds of adoption the young mother had to choose from: open and closed.
In closed adoption, the child’s records are sealed, there is no contact with the biological parent and the documents are only opened when the child comes of age. In open adoption, the biological parent may visit the child as often as the adoptive parents allow—Jackson proceeded with the open adoption.
She recounted the time when her daughter was taken away from her shortly after giving birth.
“I was holding her and looking down at her when the nurse walked in and said it was time to take her away,” Jackson said. “I just wanted that moment to freeze in time. I kept my eyes on my baby even when the nurse picked her up from my arms. I didn’t look at the door, because I didn’t want my last memory of her to be walking away from me.”
One month later, it was time to finalize the adoption papers. Jackson said her fears were calmed when she met her daughter’s adoptive parents, Julia and Kevin.
“When I looked at Julia's face, her eyes were welled up with tears—and my eyes were welled up with tears as well,” Jackson recalled. “But when I looked at her face, there was a calm that came over me... a sort of peace. Looking at her face, I knew my daughter was going to be okay.”
The adoptive couple gave the child a new name by which both sets of parents know her today: Chrissy.
Although Julia and Kevin regularly updated Jackson about Chrissy, Jackson said she didn’t visit her daughter until she was two years old—shortly after the biological mother joined the Air Force.
Jackson described the first time she visited Chrissy, adding it was both comforting and surreal to see her daughter. By now the little child had become accustomed to having Julia and Kevin as her parents.
“It was very hard the first time I visited her; seeing how beautiful and sweet she was... and then watching her turn around and walk away,” Jackson recalled. “When I left, I wondered if I made the right decision. I felt comfort because I knew she was with a good family, but I couldn’t erase the pain in my heart knowing she wasn’t mine any more. I had her, but I didn’t have her.
“But I continued to visit because I wanted her to know that even if I couldn’t take care of her, I would still be there for her,” Jackson added.
Throughout the years, with Julia and Kevin’s help, Jackson was able to participate in her biological daughter’s life. She visited often and bonded with the family, describing the relationship as a “united front” in helping Chrissy grow up. Even when Jackson deployed, Julia and Kevin would send her care packages which included photos of Chrissy.
Jackson also expressed how proud she was to be there for her daughter’s milestones. These included preparing her for prom night, helping her with her dating life and participating in her wedding ceremony.
Chrissy is now an adult with a family of her own. Jackson mentioned the occasion when her deepest questions about giving her daughter to adoption were answered, when the mother and daughter were spending time together after Chrissy had given birth to her own child.
“We were riding in the car together, and Chrissy looked over at me and said ‘thank you,’” Jackson narrated. “I asked her what that was for, and she just said ‘because I didn’t know how difficult the decision you made was until I had my own baby.’ For me, that moment brought everything in full circle. Because up until that point I was unsure, but now I’m 100 percent certain I made the right decision.”
Jackson expressed her gratefulness to Julia and Kevin for allowing her to remain in her daughter’s life, knowing that the two were her legal parents. Thanks to the couple, it was not just Chrissy who found a loving family, but Jackson as well.
“Julia told me one time, ‘you know Debbie, when we adopted Chrissy we adopted you too,’” Jackson recalled. “I am so blessed to have known them, because I feel like I also became part of their family.”
Because Jackson found a family in Julia and Kevin, she shares this intimate story with her colleagues and friends in the Air Force. Her message to her audience is “no matter what happens to us in life, we always have a choice to make.
“We all make choices for our lives,” she said. “No matter what your upbringing is, you can always make the choice to do something different. My decision to give my daughter up for adoption was not popular. People told me I was just going to end up not working, having more kids and living on government welfare. But that’s not me, and I proved it. But it’s because I knew I always have a choice and lived accordingly.”
Jackson uses her position as a career advisor to mentor Airmen in this line of thinking. She scoffed at the common notion that people can only behave a certain way because of their upbringing. She makes it a point to tell her story, proving that although one can never change the past, they can always work toward a better future.