One Man’s Adoption Story
Jeff Underdahl shares his incredible story about how his hero chose adoption for him and how God continually reveals himself through Jeff’s relationships that stem from his adoption story.
Leslie Salazar Carrillo: Hi. I’m Leslie Salazar Carrillo and this is Life Grounded. Today, I am so excited we get to hear a story that we don’t hear very often and it’s such an amazing story that needs to be told. I am actually here with my really good friend Jeff Underdahl and he’s going to tell his story on how his life was saved and what he’s done with his life to help others. So I hope that you guys enjoy it. We don’t know where this is going to go but it’s going to be good. So, sit back and relax and listen in.
Jeff, I’m so happy to have you here. Your story is so amazing and I can’t wait for you to tell it. So, real quick, just tell us who you are, where you were raised, and then we’re gonna go from there and see where we go.
Jeff Underdahl: Thanks Leslie. I’m Jeff Underdahl – born and raised here in San Diego County. Pretty much grew up in Vista, where we’re at now, and life is good. Glad to be alive.
Leslie: So, you and I met a little bit ago and you said,”I have a story to tell you”, and your story started unfolding. So, the reality is you were saved from abortion. You are here because your mom chose life.
Jeff: That’s right.
Leslie: But you weren’t raised by your mom. You were actually placed for adoption – and we say “placed”, not “given up”. Your mom lovingly placed you. Can you tell a little bit of your mom’s story? Because you do it with so much dignity and so much respect. So, just tell us a little bit about when you found out what her story is.
Jeff: Sure. So, I was adopted by Kevin and Judy Underdahl, who had moved here from Minnesota. And, within a year or two of establishing themselves here as fresh out of college high school sweethearts from a little town in Minnesota, they were attending church here at First Lutheran, making some friends. And they came to church one Sunday and Alice and Jack Matson were holding a cute little blond-haired blue-eyed baby. And my parents were complimenting him and asking whose baby it was. And they said, “Well, this is our baby.” My parents replied, “But you weren’t pregnant last Sunday.” The Matson’s said, “Nope. We adopted this boy. This is David.”
David is now one of my lifelong best friends.
And so, that caught my parents attention. They were having some troubles starting their family and were open to options. I think it was God’s timing, to be honest with you. And the Matsons offered my parents some assistance because they just went through the process of adoption. And long story short, they adopted me.
My parents were always either babysitting their son, David, or the Matsons were babysitting me. So, David and I, both adopted, kind of grew up as brothers in the early years of our lives.
My parents were never shy about letting me know that I was adopted I knew about it and they said, “We just want to love you like you’re our own.” And I thought, “Okay. Good enough for me.”
18 months later, they adopted my sister, Jenny – who I’m super close with to this day.
So, Jeff and Jenny were the names they gave us. They thought that was cute. And we grew up right here in Vista.
When I was 18, I moved out of my parents house. They gave me my adoption paper package. And I remember sitting at the breakfast nook in my new home and reading through some of it. And, I came across the journal. And in the journal, it was written by a lady that would go to a place called The Door – I think it was The Door for Unwed Mothers, or something to that effect – in San Diego. And it described her weekly visits with my biological mother and told me her story. And her story really captivated me. It helped me put things into a different perspective outside of my life experience and into hers. And I was really impressed by the fact that she was 15. She fell in love with a guy who was one of 13 children and had a busy family. So, lots of babies and maybe not all the attention necessary to bring up kids. So, they fell in love and made me at an early age. Well, he wasn’t ready to start a family. And really she probably wasn’t either. In fact, she met him because she would help babysit the other kids in his household down by SDSU.
So, she started getting pressure from her mom to abort because “…if grandma finds out she’ll have a heart attack and it’ll be all your fault.”
Now, several people had been sharing with me their abortion stories at that time; and they were upset about it. And I was just kind of loving them through it, as their friend. But I think the timing of it was interesting – that while I was talking to them about what they were going through, I was learning about what my biological mother went through. And it really put things into perspective for me. It helped me put myself in her shoes. And I started thinking, “Wow, if you’re 15, and you’re scared, and you want to have a baby… you know you’re too young, but you’re trying to figure that out, and your mom finds out and says you have to abort… I think that in a lot of cases, somebody would say, “Okay. Well then, that’s my decision. That’s the thing to do. Mom’s telling me I have to. She’s not even asking me. She’s telling me I have to. If Grandma has a heart attack and it’s all my fault…”
So, I was able to feel that pressure that she must have been feeling. It helped me realize what an amazing decision she made and gave me life. So after wrestling with her mom about it, she chose life. Her mom told her, “Then you’re gonna have to go stay at this place called The Door and have the baby there, because we don’t want anybody in the family to find out that you’re pregnant at this age. And so that’s where that story began.
At the end of it all, she didn’t want to give me up. When it was time, my parents were looking for somebody like David – blond hair, blue eyed, could handle some sun – because we were big time outdoor people. So, I fit the script for what they were looking for.
And, I remember this little picture that my mom had of me with a crocheted beanie and booties. They’re baby blue, and I’ve seen it somewhere in my life
So, this journal talked about how Nina, my biological mother, turns out said, “Okay, if I’m going to sign for the release of this baby – she named me shawn – I at least want a picture of him in this outfit that I knitted him.”
So, I took all that in. I thought, “This is interesting. It put things into some perspective and made me appreciate my life even more than I already did. I realized that I should be dead.
So, fast forward a couple years. I went home for lunch one day from my real estate office and something just told me to find her and say, “Thank you.”
For the next year or two, I just kept feeling this need to say thank you to her. “Thank you for giving me life.”
It wasn’t like: Oh, mom come back into my life. Let’s reunite and be my mom. I have a great mom and dad and a sister and relatives. I have so many great, loving relatives. I had such a great life experience. I truly never felt adopted. So I am really blessed in that way. But, I felt like my mother needed some appreciation. I just needed to thank her. I didn’t want to invade her life or anything, but I think i was 20 or 21 at that time and I had a cell phone and I hit 4-1-1, and started asking for adoption agencies while I was eating my lunch. And, I got bounced around and next thing you know, I’m talking to some lady named Joyce. And, I was telling her my
Name and a little bit about me. And I could hear the keyboard clicking away in the background. She was looking stuff up. And then she said, “Yeah, okay… well, you’re Jennifer’s brother, right?”
I’m thinking, “How does she know my sister’s name?” Because we don’t have the same biological parents. So, I said, “Yeah… how did you know that?” And she goes, “Well, didn’t you know that I just hung up with her about a half an hour ago?”
It turned out that my sister, Jenny, had also called in on the exact same day, within the exact same hour and started opening her half of the file – that is how they define it – so, I had opened up my half of the file; and a few months later, I got a ten-page letter from my biological mom. It was just a lot of love pouring out. And she gave me her cell phone number. So I called her up and I learned that I have some sisters I didn’t know that I had in Texas. They answered the phone and they were actually expecting my call. Apparently, they knew all about me and they were excited to hear from me. So, they called Mom to come in off the ranch where she was out taking care of her horses… and long story short, we became connected right then and there.
It was a little awkward. They didn’t understand that I wasn’t gonna move to Texas and be part of the family. So, I had to explain that to my younger sisters. I didn’t really know what to say, to be honest. I just wanted to tell my mother, “Thank you.”
So, I got her on the phone and told her,”I just want to let you know that i’m not trying to interrupt your life whatsoever. I just want to say thank you. I know you made a tough choice and you stuck it out for me and you gave me life… and I love my life. So i can’t thank you enough for that you’re my hero.”
That was my only mission
She replied, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… of course… anyways… Do you have a girlfriend?” She just started asking me about this and that. I think we talked for like six hours that night. And, she ended up coming out shortly after that and spending ten days with me. And when she first got in my car, I’ll never forget this. I picked her up and I took her to my house and she pulled out this picture to show me… it was that same picture of me with the baby blue beanie and the booties from when i was an infant. That was the picture that she needed to receive in order to release me
And she’d been carrying it in her purse all that time.
And then on top of that – just to be a more of a tear-jerker – she shared with me that for two months, every year, around the time that she gave me up, it’s a hard time for her. She played the song from Trisha Yearwood called “He Would Be 16”. This was never something she took lightly. She’d always missed me and cared about me and prayed for me. But she told me that she knew I was adopted by a good Christian family and she felt okay with that. And she always loved me.
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