Angel in Adoption happy to be part of “amazing process”

A Louisiana adoption worker shares her experiences in this Times-Picayune article. 

When Danna Cousins went to Washington last month to receive the Angels in Adoption Congressional Award, Sen. Mary Landrieu asked her if she knew how many adoptions she’d facilitated. Cousins told her no.

“It’s never been numbers to me. It’s always been stories,” she said. “Every adoption is so special and unique. It’s an amazing process to be part of.”

Cousins, who lives in Metairie, has helped countless children and parents become families in both domestic and international adoptions for more than 20 years. She thinks she was meant to be a part of that amazing process.

“Everything just fell into place for me,” she said.

When she was a senior at Loyola University, she needed to do an internship, and she ended up at the Maternity and Adoption Program of Associated Catholic Charities in New Orleans. As soon as she graduated, she went to work there, and when a position opened up in adoption services, she got it.

At the time, the idea of open adoption was beginning to reach Louisiana.

“It was just taking off in the early ’90s,” she said.

In an open adoption, the birth mother can pick the adoptive parents she wants for her baby. Often, they meet during the pregnancy, and their relationship continues after the baby is born, so there is no secrecy, there are no “Where did I come from?” questions from the children.

Cousins became an advocate for open adoptions, and in 1994 she moved to Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans to create an open adoption program.

“I worked with the maternity clients, and sometimes I would end up taking them to the hospital in the middle of the night,” she said.

Her work included strange hours and many surprises.

“I have an incredible husband and two great children,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do my job without their support.”

She stayed at the VOA until 2004, when she went back to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans to become program director of adoption services, taking her passion for open adoption with her.

With the support of her husband, Craig; their daughter, Elizabeth, now 16; and their son, Benjamin, now 14; Cousins enrolled in Tulane University to earn a masters degree in social work in 2007. She kept working full time while going to school full time.

“By going to school full time, I was able to get my master’s in 16 months,” she said. “I did it by getting very little sleep.”

It was Cousins’ often sleep-deprived devotion to birth parents, adoptive parents and children that resulted in her Angels in Adoption award. Linda Woods of Kenner asked Sen. David Vitter to nominate Cousins for the honor.

“Danna has always been very open and helpful about adoption reform,” Woods said. “She is an inspiration for the next generation.”

Each year the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute organizes the Angels in Adoption program, which gives Members of Congress the opportunity to honor people dedicated to adoption issues.

Woods, a member of the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board who was an Angel in Adoption in 2001, understands the value of open adoption. In 1967, when she got pregnant at 16, there was no such thing.

“The way it was then, the preacher comes and sends you off somewhere and it’s a big, big secret,” she said. “You take care of your baby for a week, and then you let him go. It changes you forever.”

She spent the next two decades wondering if her son was alive, wondering if he had a family and a happy life. In 1987, she began searching for him and eventually found him.

“It was the most wonderful experience of my life to see him walking up to me 20 years later. I thought my legs would give out,” Woods said. “After that, I said that if I could help other people wearing my shoes, I would do it.”

She met Cousins when they were on the advisory board together and was struck by her compassion.

“When she was at VOA, Danna started Healing Hearts, a support group for birth mothers,” Woods said. “She understands this is a lifelong issue. She understands that open adoption is emotionally healthy for them and for the children.”

When Woods learned that Cousins had been chosen as a 2011 Angel in Adoption, she decided to go to Washington to be with her for the pinning ceremony and the gala that’s part of the celebration.

“She is really deserving of the award, and Sen. Vitter let go of his work schedule and presented it to her,” she said.

For Cousins, attending the ceremony and receiving the Angel in Adoption pin was a great honor, both professionally and personally.

“It was a celebration of adoption, and it was about exactly what we believe in: That every child should have a home and be part of a family,” she said.

The Saturday morning before Halloween, another celebration of adoption was held at the Carousel in Lafreniere Park. Cousins and maternity case manager Cindy Falgoust hosted an Adoption Services Family Fall Social for the families they have helped create.

It was a chance for the children to dress up in Halloween costumes, eat doughnuts, ride the carousel and play in the park, and a time for adoptive parents to meet other adoptive parents and share their stories.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched my granddaughter Cilie in her tiny spider costume, holding on tight to her carousel horse while Shannon held on tight to her. I had my own story to share.

For Cousins, the yearly parties are a way to reconnect, a way to watch the children grow up.

“It’s so heartwarming as you’re watching these little kids on the carousel, and you know they’re with the family they’re meant to be with,” she said. “For every one, I get a little flashback. I say, ‘I remember the day you were born. I remember the day you were placed with your family.’ How special each little memory is.'”

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