Teen Mother Turns Tough Choice Into Gift Of A Lifetime


It is 10 a.m. Monday at Payson Regional Medical Center. Kerwin Kortman of Payson is pacing the halls, anxiously waiting for the birth of his first child.

So is Christy Kortman, his wife.

In the maternity ward, ready to give birth, is 18-year-old Amber Evanson, an unmarried mother-to-be who has made one of the biggest decisions of her life.

She will be giving her child to the Kortmans.

The parents

Kerwin and Christy have been married for six years. The couple hoped to begin having children immediately. But Christy suffered a number of emotionally devastating miscarriages before it was determined that, if she and her husband were ever going to have a child, it would have to be through adoption.

Their first efforts, through an adoption agency in Thailand, were disastrous. In March of 1999, they had picked out two children and traveled to Thailand to sign the final papers and bring them home.

But as it turned out, the Thai government had not been properly informed of the arrangement, and the adoption was canceled.

It was an ugly struggle, Kerwin said, that left the Kortmans unsure if they'd ever share their lives with a child.

But last fall, the Kortmans received a phone call from Amber, who was then in the second month of her pregnancy. Amber found out about the Kortmans through mutual friends and leapt at the chance to meet the couple and offer these near-strangers her child.

All in the family

The trio quickly agreed on an open adoption, which meant the child would be raised by the Kortmans, but Amber and her family would always play a role in the child's life, and see her whenever they liked. The child would always know that Amber was her birth mother.

"Kerwin had always been against the open adoption idea," Christy said. "Totally against it. But once we met Amber, he changed his mind. We both just fell in love with her. We became so close, so fast. I was always with her during her pregnancy. I went with Amber to all of her doctor's appointments except one.

"It's funny," Christy said. "When I got the call this morning that Amber was going into labor, my first thought was, 'Oh, I hope Amber's going to be all right!' It took me a few minutes to remember that I needed to be worrying about the baby, too. Our baby."

A mother too soon

"I don't know what I would have done without Christy and Kerwin," Amber said as doctors and nurses prepared her for the big moment. "I know I'm too young to give this baby a good life and everything it deserves. There's no way I could do it financially or emotionally. But Christy and Kerwin can give the baby everything it will ever need."

When Amber took a home pregnancy test and found out she was pregnant, she went straight to her mother, Susan Evanson of Payson.

Making the decision

"At first, she wanted an abortion," Susan said. "I said, 'I won't allow you to do that. I went through that when I was 18, and I've carried it with me my whole life. You're in this situation; let's see what we can do to make the best of it.

"I told her, 'The Kortmans are wonderful people, they're financially set, and they can't have a baby of their own. Think of this as a gift to them. If you never did anything else in your life that you'd be proud of, you can always remember having done this for these people.'

"And she held that inside of her throughout the whole pregnancy," Evanson said. "That's what kept her strong."

Amber is a bright, talented young girl, her mother said, but she hasn't always been secure in her self-worth.

Growing pains

"She tap-dances, she sings, she's won five or six trophies at the Cinderella Pageant," Evanson said. "She just didn't like herself for many years. She had a very difficult childhood.

"Amber never really knew her biological father, who's been in and out of prison ... And when I was going through some hard times when she was about 7, instead of going into therapy, I turned to her. She took care of me in a lot of ways. She was forced to grow up very fast."

Perhaps too fast, her mother said.

A little more than a year ago, when she was 16, Amber was arrested for possession of marijuana. But she managed to turn that incident into a personal victory, her mother said.

"Amber is the very first graduate of Payson's new Drug Court Program. She's got a picture of her and Judge (Edd) Dawson, celebrating 52 weeks of clean drug testing. She worked incredibly hard to get through that program."

As for Amber's future, her mother said it remains undecided.

"Amber doesn't really know what she wants to do yet. She's trying to figure her life out. And I think she's scared that, after having this baby and not having anything depending on her, it might cause her to go back to using drugs again.

"But she won't," Evanson said flatly. "She'll be OK."

The gift

About two-and-a-half hours later, Amber Evanson gave birth to Izabelle Ann Kortman -- 20.25 inches long, weighing 6 pounds, 4 ounces.

As Kerwin ran in and out of the maternity room to glean the latest-breaking information about his baby daughter, uninformed passersby could have easily confused him with a typical new father in a typical new-father scenario.

"Her Apgar score is 9.9! Her Apgar score is 9.9!" he exclaimed excitedly at one point.

When asked what that means, exactly, Kerwin stopped dead in his tracks.

"I don't have a clue," he said laughing. "But I know a high Apgar is good!"

"I think it's like gymnastics," joked Kerwin's dad, Roger Kortman. "A 9.9 is a good score."

"A good score? Nah, it's perfect," Kerwin said. "Izabelle Ann is perfect."

Actually, an Apgar score measures the well being of an infant at birth. A 10.10 is statistically perfect, but that was irrelevant to Izabelle's new father Monday.

Everyone in the room -- a gaggle of family, friends and supporters from both sides of Izabelle Ann's parentage -- agreed that Izabelle Ann was perfect.

Kerwin's mother, Pat: "We're desperately excited."

His dad, Roger: "It's like a gift from God."

Amber's mom, Susan: "I've always worried about how Amber would feel afterwards, when her maternal instincts took over. But she just told me, 'No, I've never thought of it that way. I can't do it right now, financially or mentally. This is the best thing to do."

Christy Kortman: "I'm overwhelmed with joy. Amber did such a wonderful job, and it's just a great gift. I'm so happy for both of us."

Amber: "It was extremely easy, and I'm tired. I'm so glad that it's done."

Although this chapter of Amber's story ended happily, the birth of her daughter puts a face on Gila County's teen pregnancy figures, and the challenges facing the county.

In 1998 statistics compiled by the Gila County Health Department, the county ranked third highest in the state for pregnancy rates among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17. The county had 55 births to girls 17 years old and under -- three to girls under 15. In Payson, nine gave birth. Eleven local girls in that age group gave birth in 1995; four gave birth in 1996 and seven gave birth in 1997.

"Anytime we have teens delivering babies, it's a matter of concern for both mother and child," Jendean Sartain, director of nursing for Gila County Health Services, said. "When an immature body produces a new person, that takes a toll, creates risks, and impacts the whole future."

Why does the county rank so high in state statistics? "Issues of education, and the fact that there's not a lot of things for teens to do in this area."

The Gila County Health Department programs designed to slow those numbers, mostly financed by a federal grant that will expire in October, include a "Teen Maze" -- a sort of living game board where teenagers experience the problems, risks and consequences of teen pregnancy. The two-year-old traveling program is scheduled to come to Payson in the summer or fall.

"Most of us believe the goal is not to have a child when you're under 18," Sartain said. "You do it when you can financially afford it, and when you are prepared to handle the responsibilities."

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