I was born 18 years ago to a young couple who were still in high school. Because they loved me they placed me for adoption. They knew it was in my best interest to put me in the arms of a family who was prepared and excited to parent.

My experience as an adopted child has been wonderful.

But it has been apparent not everyone is as positive about adoption as I am. I have had my personal Facebook posts bombarded with hateful words regarding me as an adoptee, my adoptive parents have been referred to as “traffickers” and “baby snatchers,” and my birthparents have been accused of betrayal and of being cowardly. Many of the allegations were coming from adoptees who came from less-than-ideal circumstances, others weren’t even involved in adoption in any way.

I was told my experiences didn’t matter because I was too young to understand “my truth.” Through reading these hurtful comments, my adoption advocacy became even stronger than ever before.

As I entered the brainstorming process to plan for a senior project at College Place High School, I drew on my passion about adoption. It took me just one day to decide I wanted to host an adoption conference. Thus, Connecting Hearts Adoption Conference was born.

I have presenters coming from Washington, Idaho and Utah. The presenters have experience as adoptive or birthparents, adoptees and the foster youth program. The goal is that through hearing their experiences and stories, those entering their own adoption journeys can be best fit with insight to have a positive experience.

This conference will be an opportunity for those involved or interested in the adoption community to connect, share their stories and listen to speakers who come from different positions in adoption.

There will be panels, breakout groups to discuss the financial aspects of adoption, advice on compiling an efficient hopeful adoptive parent profile, as well as the mechanics on how a birthparent support group should function and how we can support birthparents post placement. It is anticipated that this will be a positive and uplifting event that can lend support to those whose hearts have been touched by adoption.

The Connecting Hearts Adoption Conference will be held April 14, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Walla Walla from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. More information can be found at “Connecting Hearts Adoption Conference” on Facebook. Tickets are available through Eventbrite, and proceeds will go toward an adoption care program.

My passion for adoption starts with the people who raised me. After trying to have children for eight years, my adoptive parents realized they would be unable to conceive, so they decided they would take the route of adoption.

On Christmas Day in 1995, my older sister was born, and my parents became parents. In September 1999, I was born and placed with my family, completing our family of four.

My sister and I were raised with our adoption stories being a common discussion. We had children’s books about adoption and were told our placement stories regularly. My parents never treated my sister and I as if we were different; they loved us every bit as much as they would have if they had conceived us.

Adoption is prevalent in many ways in my life. Not only were my sister and I adopted, but our mom was adopted by her father.

In the past four years, we have been blessed to meet in person my sister’s birth mom, my mother’s birth father, and most recently, both of my birthparents. These reunions have been some of the most emotional moments in my family’s life.

For me, it was symbolic of growing up. My birthparents had entrusted me to my parents to raise me into a strong, happy, young woman. Standing on their doorsteps, I was able to show them I have a great life — thanks to them.

It’s important that in this age, when ethics of adoption are changing, that we as society change our view of adoption. Until relatively recently, adoption had been a shameful thing. Girls who found themselves in an unplanned pregnancy also found themselves being forced to give up their babies and possibly never see or hear from them again.

In recent years, there has been a change in attitude. Adoption is becoming more and more open. Now we are seeing birth mothers given more options. Birth mothers are often able to choose the adoptive parents and visit their birth children and be there to watch them grow up.

Though there are still unfortunate situations that absolutely need to be acknowledged, we should take the good and bad experiences in adoption and figure out what did and did not work so those entering their adoption journeys now can be prepared and best suited for what is coming their way.

My adoption has been so wonderful for me. I want to make it clear that I understand there are experiences that have been less-than positive, but we can’t disregard the goodness of adoption because not everyone has been in a good situation.

The people I have been blessed to meet through adoption have truly changed my life. I have been involved with various adoption support groups and picnics not only locally, but also reaching as far as Salt Lake City.

Because I have been blessed with such a great life, I think it is my turn to give back so others can reflect on their experiences in a better light.

Adoption advocate Hannah Rickords is a senior at College Place High School and plans to attend Brigham Young University-Idaho in the fall.