Samantha Snipes‘ life was turned upside down in 2016 when she learned she was pregnant by her abusive then-boyfriend. Now, she says one chance encounter proved to be the “light at the end of the tunnel” she needed to save herself — and her son.
“After finally gaining the strength to leave my abusive relationship, I found myself in a very dark and lonely place mentally,” Snipes tells PEOPLE. “I knew I loved this life inside of me, but I didn’t love myself or the place I was in at that time. I loved [my son] so much and that’s why knew he deserved better.”
At 12 weeks pregnant, Snipes fled to her mother’s home in Arkansas where she spent months stressed and depressed as she struggled to plan a future for herself and her unborn baby. Her mother offered to raise the child, but Snipes says she knew that would not be best.
Soon, Snipes’ confusion turned to clarity when, at eight months pregnant, she decided to fly to North Carolina to visit her new boyfriend. She ended up missing her connecting flight during the trip and, after booking another, she found herself seated on a plane next to Temple Phipps.
“She was so welcoming and bubbly and sweet. She was exactly the person I needed to meet at that moment when I was terrified and scared and alone,” the now-25-year-old tells PEOPLE of Phipps. “Neither of us should have been on that plane. I was so anxious to meet my boyfriend and terrified of having no plan for my child. She felt like a longtime friend after just a few minutes of talking.”
The two women spent about an hour on the plane talking, laughing, crying and sharing stories. Snipes told Phipps all about her past struggles, and Phipps, who is single, expressed to Snipes that she had always wanted children.
“It went from a total stranger to feeling like a person I’ve known my entire life,” Snipes adds of the random encounter.
The two parted ways when they landed, with Phipps returning to her North Carolina home and Snipes meeting with her boyfriend. However, Snipes unexpectedly ended up going into labor during the trip, about three weeks early. She says that even though her boyfriend was supportive, she desperately wanted to call Phipps.
Snipes first shared her story with Love What Matters, writing, “I called Temple and asked if she could come see me. I told her I had the baby and needed someone to talk to. She agreed to come see me and keep me company.”
Baby Vaughn was born on Oct. 6, 2016, in a North Carolina hospital and Phipps immediately fell in love with the newborn. Snipes said she marveled at Phipps’ and Vaughn’s connection and knew what she needed to do. She asked Phipps to adopt her baby.
“I was in absolute shock and started crying and shaking,” Phipps tells PEOPLE of Snipes’ offer. “I was holding Vaughn at that time and could not believe the miracle that was taking place.”
Phipps, 42, agreed and, about two weeks later, she was able to take Vaughn home as her own. The adoption was finalized in August 2017.
“It’s incredible. Sometimes I just sit and stare at them together and I’m like, they were meant for for each other,” Snipes tells PEOPLE of Phipps and Vaughn. “She was meant to meet me, she was meant to be his mother. It’s the most beautiful thing.”
And Phipps has even served as a mother figure for Snipes. She moved to North Carolina to be close to Phipps and Vaughn and what started as a chance meeting has resulted in a “strong, beautiful relationship,” Snipes tells PEOPLE.
“To me she is a mother, a sister, and a great friend on top of being the mother to my child,” Snipes says. “I gave up the relationship I had with my family when I made this decision and shes given me more of a family than I ever had with them.”
Now, the women, who plan to write a book together about their journey, live about an hour from each other and talk daily. Snipes, who lives with her boyfriend, says Phipps helped her get back on her feet and both women are grateful for the random encounter.
“We not only are bonded by Vaughn but have a true friendship as well,” Phipps tells PEOPLE. “Life as Vaughn’s mother is amazing. He was absolutely meant to be my son and he fills my heart and house with so much love and joy. I am grateful everyday and never take this gift for granted. I am confident that when Vaughn learns of his journey to me he will understand the selfless and courageous choice that Samantha made to ensure he has a beautiful life.”