Adoption Stories: This Is For Life
Columbia Families Share Their Adoption Stories
By Anita Neal Harrison • Photos By L.G. Patterson
The Merriam-Webster definition of adoption is simple: to take by choice into a relationship; especially: to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child.
Most Americans understand this basic idea of adoption but are fuzzy on why people adopt and how. These stories from local adoptive families allow a glimpse into some of the personal motivations people have for choosing adoption, and the effect that decision has on their lives. The families share their stories to celebrate their blessings and to give those curious about adoption a better understanding of what no dictionary could ever define.
Michael Colombo & Rosemary Frank
Rosemary Frank took a deep breath and picked up the phone. I’ve got to be calm, she thought. But even as she introduced herself, her voice wavered. Soon, she was crying, and she continued crying all the way through the unusual conversation. So much for a good first impression, she thought when it was over. I sounded like a total basket case.
It wasn’t a call most people ever think of making. Rosemary had called a woman who was a complete stranger to express interest in adopting the woman’s great-grandchild, who was still in the womb.
Rosemary, who works for Columbia’s City Channel, had explained to the woman that she, Rosemary, and her husband, Michael Colombo, who works for BJC Healthcare, wanted a child but she had not been able to conceive. It was personal, painful information to share with a stranger, but Rosemary knew she wasn’t alone in feeling vulnerable. She couldn’t imagine the emotions the teenage birth mother felt, or those of the grandmother caring for her.
For the next few days, Rosemary felt her hopes rise with every ring of her cell phone, but after a week passed, she and Michael figured it was time to turn their attention back to international adoption through China. They had started that process more than a year earlier because international adoption had seemed a quicker and more certain route than a domestic adoption, but then China’s adoptions had slowed to almost a halt.
A month later, Rosemary’s cell phone rang at work. It was the birth mother asking if Rosemary and Michael would meet with her and her grandmother.
Rosemary’s knees were shaking and Michael’s nerves were worse than on a first date when they arrived at Lutheran Family and Children’s Services.
“When dating, you have so much time to discover all there is to know about a person and make the decision,” Michael says, “but here we had less than an afternoon to impress upon the birth mother that we could … be the best parents for her child. It was a crazy two hours.”
Crazy but successful — before the meeting ended, the birth mother asked Rosemary and Michael to be her child’s adoptive parents.
A few months later, Rosemary was running out of the delivery room to Michael and the birth mother’s family to announce, “It’s a boy!” Rosemary and Michael named their son Jack.
Because the adoption was an independent adoption, Rosemary and Michael could not immediately take Jack home. Instead, he entered foster care until his birth mother could sign over her rights, a rule particular to the local circuit court. Rosemary and Michael finally brought Jack home when he was 6 months old.
The first night the new parents tucked their son into his bed, he slept through the night. Aw! Rosemary thought. He’s at home, and he knows it!
Jack is now 3 years old. Michael and Rosemary have a very open relationship with his birth family — and now with his little brother’s birth family as well.
Liam, 7 months old in February, joined the family when he was 2½ weeks old. Rosemary and Michael went through a Kansas City agency for his adoption.
It’s so cute watching the brothers interact, Rosemary says. “The other day, Jack said, ‘I love you, Liam!’ ”
She says adoption has brought many blessings to her and Michael’s life, most of them expected but a few surprises as well. Neither Rosemary nor Michael had anticipated just how much love would be shared between them and their children’s birth families.
“Both families have taken in the other,” Rosemary says. “The other day, Liam’s grandma said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I consider Jack to be one of my own.’ I think that’s great! All of them are such loving people.”
And that gets to the point that Rosemary and Michael hope their story helps others understand. Some people believe that when birth parents terminate their rights, it reveals a lack of love and care.
“But really,” Rosemary says, “they love their children so much that they’re willing [to put] their child’s needs before their own. It’s a loving decision, and it takes a leap of faith.”
DOMESTIC AGENCY ADOPTION
James & Lori Melton
James and Lori Melton were still reeling from their struggle with infertility when they sat down with Lutheran Family and Children’s Services worker Janeene Johnston to discuss adoption. Both James, director of choirs at West Junior High School, and Lori, a CPA for the Missouri State Auditor’s Office, were nervous. They had heard the horror stories about adoptive couples setting their hearts on the promise of a baby, just to have their hearts broken when the promise was taken back. After already experiencing so much disappointment, neither James nor Lori felt up to taking that risk, so they were excited to learn about an approach to adoption that would spare them that chance of heartbreak.
At Lutheran Family and Children’s Services, potential adoptive parents can submit a home study and request that if a birth family chooses them, notification wait until parental rights are severed. It is an option that can mean waiting longer, as home studies are put forward only to birth families who aren’t interested in meeting the adoptive family, but for the Meltons, the lessened risk was worth the longer wait.
After about a year’s wait, Johnston called James to ask about putting the Meltons’ home study forward to a woman carrying a Hispanic baby.
“We were elated,” James says. “From the moment we got the phone call, we both felt, ‘This is our kid we’re talking about.’ ”
Even though Johnston did not plan to notify the Meltons if they were chosen until parental rights were terminated, she had been calling the couple to let them know when their home study was put forward, to allow them some preparation. No previous call had given them that “this is it” feeling.
But then came a twist. The birth mother requested a meeting. That was not in James and Lori’s plan, and it required Lutheran Family and Children’s Services to bend its rules for how to handle the adoption for a couple that wanted minimal risk.
“But we had such a great feeling about it,” James says. “We stepped out of our comfort zone.”
They felt even better after the meeting, where the birth mother, who was in her 20s, just naturally referred to Lori as the baby’s mom and James as the baby’s dad. The birth mother also requested Lori be in the delivery room, which would mean Lori and James would form an even stronger attachment prior to the termination of parental rights.
With more counseling from Lutheran Family and Children’s Services — both for the Meltons and for the birth mother — James and Lori decided to take that risk. When it was time for the delivery, Lori was in the room when their daughter, Addison, was born, and James gave Addison her first bath.
Now almost 4 years old, Addison knows her birth mother’s name, but there is almost no contact between the families.
Still, James and Lori want Addison to know her story. When a pregnant acquaintance began to show, Lori took the opportunity to answer some questions for Addison.
“I told her how babies grow in a tummy, and how she did, too, but it wasn’t my tummy,” Lori says, at which point, Addison proudly pipes up, “It was [my birth mother’s] tummy!”
Even though the process didn’t go exactly as planned, James and Lori could not be happier with their adoption experience, and they hope others who are interested in adoption but, like them, have concerns, will be encouraged to get more information.
“Let me tell you, it’s for life,” James says. “I love this kid more than life.”
Dave & Lisa McBride
For Dave and Lisa McBride, the better question isn’t “Why adopt?” but “Why not?”
From the time the two of them decided to grow their family, adoption was their preferred way. The couple — Dave is a research analyst epidemiologist for the state Health Department and Lisa is a teacher at Auxvasse Elementary School — thought they could have biological children, but found giving a forever home to children living without families to be more compelling. Dave had been adopted as an infant, and Lisa, though she had no personal experience with adoption, had been drawn to the special love adoption shows since she was a child.
For their first adoption, the McBrides went through the international adoption agency Children’s Hope International to adopt biological siblings from Colombia; Lutheran Family and Children’s Services conducted their home study. Dave and Lisa didn’t want to adopt an infant and found it was next to impossible to adopt a toddler or preschool child through the U.S. foster system without being willing to foster children who might not be free for adoption. They chose Colombia because Lisa had a girlfriend from there and because the country had a longstanding, stable adoption program.
Their wait for a referral was 2½ years, which was much longer than they had expected. Their match was two brothers: Carlos Manual, 4 at the time, and Jhon Nicolas, 2.
Jhon had some serious medical issues that Dave and Lisa had to consider. Although bringing home a son with special medical needs was scary, Dave and Lisa felt well informed about Jhon’s medical history and decided caring for his needs did not pose an impossible challenge. They traveled to Colombia in January 2006 to bring the boys home. The trip took 2½ weeks; the McBrides spent the time with other adoptive families.
Now 9 and 7, the boys are doing well, their parents say. Jhon has a hearing impairment but has overcome most of his developmental delays.
Dave and Lisa thought for a while that their family was complete, but a year ago, they decided to adopt again. This time, they chose Ethiopia, a country with a strong, stable program, short waiting time and many young children needing homes. The couple waited just one month after submitting their home study to receive a referral: a 3-year-old girl named Demekech.
Five years to the day that Dave and Lisa brought Manuel and Jhon home, the family received a thrilling call. At 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11, Children’s Hope called to tell Dave and Lisa to be in Ethiopia by Monday, Feb. 14! All was set for them to finalize the adoption and bring their daughter home.
Often when Dave and Lisa share their stories, people tell them adoption is something they’ve thought about doing. The McBrides encourage people to explore that desire further.
“I’d like to reach some of those folks who think it sounds like a good idea but then dismiss it quickly,” Dave says. “It shouldn’t be scary or intimidating. It’s a very doable thing.”
While no two adoption stories are the same, it is possible to explore adoption using some broad categories: domestic, international, closed, open, private, agency and foster.
In the United States, domestic adoption refers to all adoptions of U.S. children. International adoption involves adopting a child from another country.
Open and closed adoptions refer to the relationship between the birth and adoptive families. In a closed adoption, no identifying information is shared between families, and after finalization, all records are sealed and accessible only with a judge’s order. Open adoptions, on the other hand, allow for varying levels of relationship between the families, from limited contact made through an intermediary to strong friendships.
The next distinction is between independent adoptions and agency adoptions. In an independent adoption, the adoption takes place without the services of a licensed agency; this might happen when the adoptive parent is a relative of the child or family friend, or it might happen with the help of an intermediary such as a lawyer or physician.
In an agency adoption, children are placed in adoptive homes through the services of a licensed agency, which may be
either public, such as the Missouri Department of Social Services, or private. Private agencies further break down into nonprofit and for-profits. Because agencies differ dramatically in their approaches and services, it’s a good idea to do some homework before choosing one.
Finally, there are foster adoptions, in which children are first placed in their adoptive homes as foster children. This might mean that when the children first arrive, the goal is reunification with their parents, but if reunification fails, the foster parents receive priority for adoption. Children may also be placed in a foster home with the expectation that parental rights will be terminated and the foster family will adopt. Or, the children might be legally free at the time of the placement. Families adopting through the foster care system do have the power to say under which of these circumstances they will — and will not — take foster children.