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DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been years since Kiera Probst has opened a box filled with photos of her daughter Lucy, and notes from the couple who adopted her. “This one says, ‘thinking of you often and especially today’ let’s see,” she says, reading one of the notes, “Oh, that was her first birthday. That one was hard.”

Lucy will turn 12 in February.

“It was harder when she was littler,” Kiera says, “I was always thinking, I could be doing that with her. Those are the birthday parties I could be having for her or the Christmas we could’ve been having.”

Kiera was a student at Iowa State when she got pregnant. She was scared but sure about what she wanted to do. “I knew from the beginning I wanted to place my baby for adoption. I didn’t feel like she was mine to keep.”

She started the adoption process by working with a local attorney to find the right family. “I received three different – kind of like scrapbooks – that told about the family and then I interviewed them,” she recalls. “And then this couple that I met I was like, do I have to talk to anybody else because I’m pretty sure that’s who’s going to be her parents!”

And from the beginning, the adoption was an open one. “Erica – Lucy’s mom – came to all the doctor’s appointments with me, we went to lunch, we hung out and got to know each other really well. I needed that and she needed that. It was neat, we became friends.”

Things became more emotional once Lucy was born. “Yeah, it’s easier to be detached when they’re still growing and you haven’t actually seen them or touched them. It was hard.”

After Lucy was born, friends and family reminded her she could change her mind. “I told them, no. She’s not mine, she was never mine to keep. I’m going to sign the papers,” Kiera says through tears, “I know I made the right decision and I would do it again if I had to go back but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Kiera and her husband became parents three years ago when their daughter Claire was born. Their second child is due in January. Lucy’s parents have been a part of lives through lots of milestones. “They actually came to our wedding, they’ve babysat Claire,” she says. “I love her parents, I love her family, I love her brother and sister. It’s sort of like extended family!”

The box of mementos is an example of the special bond they share, and Lucy has the makings of her own. “I actually made a book for them so if there are things about your personality or spirit that aren’t like your parents maybe they came from me,” Kiera explains. “I told her that it wasn’t that I didn’t love her. It was because I loved her that I placed her and I never want her to think it’s because she wasn’t loved.”