Episode Eight: The Happiest Person I Know

A few months after her 40th birthday, Jane Shealy woke up and realized she’d forgotten to get married and have children. One thing led to another, and a few years later, Jane found herself in China with baby Maggie in her arms.

Today Jane is an editor for the Duke School of Nursing. She came to the Voices of Duke Health listening booth to talk about her decision to adopt. Listen below as mother and daughter share what makes their relationship so special.



  • Duke offers a parental leave benefit to support members of the Duke community – both women and men – as they strive to balance their work with the wonderful but challenging role of becoming parents, or as their families grow.
  • This episode mentions the Coach Ron Miller of the UNC fencing program; Duke has a fencing program, too.


Jane Shealy: So our story began a few months after my fortieth birthday. I woke up and the first thought running through my head was, “oh sh–, I forgot to get married and have children.”

Karishma Sriram: This is Jane Shealy. She’s an editor for the Duke School of Nursing.

Jane: So I joined all the online dating sites and I ran the numbers and I wasn’t meeting anyone. So I asked myself, what more could I do, what did I need to be happy, to be satisfied that I’d done everything I wanted to do with my life. Obviously, I’d been very busy and very happy with my career not to have noticed that I was missing a family. So I considered artificial insemination, having a child with a friend, adopting from African cradle during the civil war over there in Liberia, and adopting through my church here. But there was always a breakdown in communications, or a delay in classes that were a requirement. And I finally thought, China. I had a great aunt who lived and worked in China for almost 40 years. And I remember that she brought many young Chinese women back to the United States to finish their educations here, as she could beg, borrow or steal the money from the Baptist Convention. So I applied and then two years later I got a letter with a picture of a little girl and it said, do you want this baby, check yes or no. And I checked yes.

Karishma: And three weeks later, Jane was in China, with Maggie in her arms.

Jane: And a few minutes later, she was on the floor running away from me, screaming and crying. And it took me about eight days to change her mind. But over the course of eight days, she went through all the stages of grief. I didn’t look right. I didn’t smell right. I didn’t sound right. She wouldn’t make eye contact with me. She literally cried for 36 hours until she fell over asleep. And then she got to the stage where she started to cry if I left the room. That was my favorite stage of all. And then on day eight, she couldn’t take our eyes off of me, looked at me, pointed and said, “mama.” And then clapped her hands over her smile, so I wouldn’t see that she was happy about that. The next day she started laughing and she has never stopped. She is the happiest person I know. And I get to live with that every day.

Karishma: Welcome to Voices of Duke Health. I’m Karishma Sriram. Today, Jane’s story. And how Maggie came to be a part of that.

Jane: When she got home- we flew into Charleston, near where my family is from. Couldn’t get a flight into Raleigh that Thanksgiving Day, so many years ago, 16 years now, 16 years ago. And she looked up the gangway at people who looked enough like me that she recognized them as family, and ran towards them with her arms spread open wide, giggling. And resistance was futile. Everyone was assimilated and she became the favorite, the favorite grandchild, the favorite great-grandchild. Yeah that’s really no secret.

Do you have a first memory of me?

Maggie Shealy: Do I have a first memory of you? Um…

Karishma: And this is Maggie.

Maggie: I remember… jeez, I think of like more like a memory of us. I think I remember one day I, for some reason, I got up before you. And I started making coffee, I think that was when I first started actually cooking, like I was too small to stand on a stool and work the coffee machine so I jumped, literally, I jumped on the counter, and I started to work the coffee machine, like, I saw how she started to use it.

Jane: I think you were three.

Maggie: Yeah, about. And then you came downstairs and I had set out all of bowls and we had just started eating. It was my first memory I think.

Karishma: I guess I kind of was wondering about, you know we talked about how, kind of how your family welcomed her with open arms. How did the rest of your community, your support system, feel about Maggie?

Jane: Well, I will say that my family was not onboard initially. They did not think that a single woman should adopt a child. They did not think that raising a child without benefit of a father was a good idea. So we had to overcome that hurdle and, Maggie knows this story, I basically had to decide that, regardless of how they felt, this was what I thought I should do and this was the right thing to do. And I would pursue it, whether they were on board or not. And like I said, on first sight they all melted and it was a done deal. And she continues to be everybody’s favorite.

I had a wide circle of friends here. And when you go through the adoption process for China, it’s quite laborious, and they require a lot of photographs and a lot of the photographs are of your friends. Who can’t wear white t-shirts because that’s considered underwear. And so I’d have to kind of coach them on what to wear and what not to wear for these photos. But we got together and had breakfast and took pictures and several of them were references. And when she was a baby I remember going a lot to Weaver Street to have breakfast on Sunday mornings and she would be passed lap to lap so that I could finish my breakfast. And so she has been raised a lot around adults, she’s got quite a vocabulary is a bit on the precocious side, I think, as a result.

Jane: Maggie became quite an athlete very young. When she was four years old, she saw Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean, and said she wanted to be a sword fighter. So my father bought her a gross of nerf swords, and she would very seriously go out on the deck and practice for long periods of time until I would call her. And then when she was five going on six, she saw a demo at a summer camp of a saber fencer from UNC. And it immediately became, get me into saber fencing. I wanna be a saber fencer. So we took her down to Coach Miller. Do you want to take the story from here?

Maggie: Okay. I went to Coach [Ron] Miller at UNC and I said, I would like to start fencing here, I’ve saw one of your students here. And he took one look at me and he was like, no way. You’re too small, no way. And so, you know, we were turned away but my mom wasn’t discouraged, she kept looking repeatedly, repeatedly for places that would take me. We did find one place finally that took me right before my seventh birthday, and I trained there for about, I would say, a year and a half. And finally one day, Joe Pipkin came down. He dragged Coach Miller down to watch me in the finals of one of the club team tournaments and the coaches, you know, checked me out basically and he was like, yeah, okay. I had gotten a little older and he decided that he would like to train me for summer nationals. And so I moved over to his club and I’ve been with him ever since. He’s helped me a place nationally. He’s helped me earn a national ranking in a couple of my age groups. And he’s just a really cool guy. He’s so chill and I’m really glad to be working with him.

Karishma: Maggie, what is it about fencing that drives you, that makes you want to continue doing it?

Maggie: I just think it’s like an overall, you know, well-rounded sport. For me, I feel like I just kind of belong there, you know. I’m not tall so I can’t really play basketball that well. I blink every time I catch in softball, and don’t even get me started about soccer. I just, I love the- well I don’t think the word is logistics, but I’m going to use it anyway- logistics about the sport. You know, it’s called physical just for a reason, you have to make decisions within a split second. I also like that you can meet new friends, just how we grow like family, essentially. I think the thing that I like about it most is I like slashing boys. That’s like the first thing I said to my mom when I started fencing. “I like slashing boys.”

Karishma: It’s a good motivator.

Jane: Yeah, because in the beginning there weren’t enough girls to fence. You had to fence the guys.

Jane: But one of the things that I admire about you is that, win or lose, you are a great sport. You’re a great example. And I watch you sometimes and I don’t understand how you can so quickly recover from a bout I know you really wanted to win, when you’re defeated. And yet you take off your mask and you walk up, and you either shake the other girl’s hand or you hug her. I’d be thinking in the back of my mind, I’d like to cock her, you know, one right in the chin.

Maggie: Well, you’re not allowed to do that in fencing. And two, you’re essentially you’re required to, you know, shake the opponent’s hand but I think-

Jane: Is it ever hard for you to do that?

Maggie: Oh, absolutely. But I would never like, you know, refuse to shake an opponent’s hand or say anything nasty to them when I got up close. I am very angry, I just don’t show it when I shake their hand and then, you know, my coaches let me walk it off. And they always tell me, okay, Maggie, you have 24 hours to be pissed about it and then we will talk seriously about this when you’re not too emotional about it. And so I think just that cycle helps me get over a lot quicker.

Jane: I just think you’re a gracious winner and you’re a gracious loser.

Maggie: Well, it’s like coach always says, you have to want to win but you have to be a gracious winner and you always have to show sportsmanship even when you lose.

Jane: Coach Miller is now in his 51st year as head coach at UNC. Which is the longest running NCAA coach in any sport. But besides being Maggie’s coach and confidant, because I’m single, he is more like a father or a father figure to her, which is why they’re really close. And we were afraid because he had announced his retirement, for last month. But a few weeks, maybe even days, before his retirement was effective, he changed his mind and decided to stay this year. And so he is certainly one of the college coaches who is recruiting her for her freshman year in college.

Karishma: It looks like you and your mom have been really close over, you know, the past almost 17 years of your life. How do you feel about the possibility of moving away or would you not even consider that?

Maggie: Okay, I always say something along the lines of, oh, she’ll just move wherever I move, or she’ll just hop in my suitcase and go. But I think that leaving is going to be pretty tough to do. But it’s something that everyone has to do. But I think it’s going to be different for us because there’s only two of us. I think that she will essentially have her life back. I think that she’ll start dating again. She’ll have a cleaner house. And I think that she’ll start pursuing different hobbies. She’s kind of already started- she started to become a farmer. Actually when I was in Oregon, she texted me all these pictures of plants and trees and she’s like, Maggie, I’m going to become a farmer. And I was like, okay, well I’m moving out so have fun. You’ll probably turn my room into a greenhouse room.

Karishma: How do you feel about Maggie possibly, well definitely moving out, but moving somewhere farther?

Jane: I think it’s going to be hard. I remember my own mother stood in the middle of the street sobbing when they dropped me off, for my freshman year. But I was excited to go and I didn’t come back until Christmas. I didn’t even come home at Thanksgiving. I was having a great time. So I don’t know what it will be like for her. My sister was home every weekend and cried everyday in between. So Maggie will probably fall somewhere between the two of us. I think though that she does a million things really well and she will get along just fine. She can shop and cook and get around even in towns and countries with which she’s unfamiliar. So she will do fine wherever she goes.

What’s our relationship like?

Maggie: I think our relationship, I think we have a really strong relationship, because she’s the only person, you know, that I have. She’s the only person that I can really like essentially spill my guts to. And so I think we’re open about essentially everything.

Jane: Do you regret not having a father?

Maggie: No, because I think I get that- I think I have both the mom and the dad features in you. And you I see like the mom, you know, very maternal side always making sure that I’m getting enough to eat and getting enough sleep in me and making sure that I’m doing my homework. And then, you know, I get I guess the more masculine, air quotes, side in terms of you know sports and doing hard handywork and stuff like that, you know, like drilling cabinets and hard work. I feel like I get all of that from you. So I don’t think I’m missing anything honestly.

Jane: Do you think you would like to have had siblings?

Maggie: No. I don’t want to share you

Jane: You came home one day from elementary school and one of your friends had told you that I could not be your mother. So you came and you asked me if that was true. And I said, well, what your friend means is that I couldn’t have given birth to you, but I assure you, I am your mother. And you can go back to school tomorrow and tell your friend she is dead wrong. And so I think she did. With gusto. And it never came up again.

Maggie told me once, she asked me why I hadn’t married. And I told her, you know, I had a college sweetheart. He married someone else and I just never met anybody else who I wanted to marry. And if I had, it would have been terrible because I would’ve had some other children. I wouldn’t have had her. And she said, no, that’s not the way it works. She said, my spirit would have gone into any child you had. So I hope that’s the way it works.

Published by Anton Zuiker

Communications Director for the Duke Department of Medicine, longtime blogger and leader of BlogTogether, and co-founder of ScienceOnline.

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