Cleveland Angels Connection
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
November is National Adoption Month and we wanted to celebrate by sharing stories from three members of our Cleveland Angels board and staff who have personally grown their families through adoption.
Christy is a member of our board and grew her family through adoption three years ago when they adopted their daughter into their family, alongside their five biological children. Christy had always wanted to be involved in foster care, but it had never occurred to her that they could adopt through foster care. It turned out, one of their foster care placements was in need of a forever family and it felt completely natural to be that family for her.
Jacki is one of our case managers and grew her family through adoption by adopting two girls into her family of her, her husband and their two biological children. Jacki explained that even before she and her husband were married, they knew they wanted to adopt. They decided they wanted to go about that process through the foster care system. They knew there was such a need out there and they felt like God had called them to grow their family specifically in that way.
Apryl is another one of our case managers and grew her family through adoption by adopting a boy and a girl into her family, alongside her biological son and another biological child on the way. Apryl explained that it has always been the intent of her and her husband to adopt a child and in 2013, they traveled to Colombia to meet a three year old boy who was in need of a permanent home and family. After that experience, they felt they would not be at peace knowing there are still so many children in need of a home, so in 2015 they became a licensed foster home and took in a young girl at eight weeks old. She soon became a permanent part of their family as well.
reflectioning on adoption
What called you to grow your family through adoption?
Christy: I always wanted to be involved in foster care, but it never really occurred to me that we would adopt through foster care. As life would have it, one of our placements was in need of a forever family and it just felt natural to be that family for her.
Jacki: My husband and I knew before we were even married that we wanted to adopt. When the time came, we decided to become foster parents in hopes of eventually adopting one of our placements. We knew there was such a need out there and we felt like God had called us to help and grow our family specifically through foster care. In the nine years since we have been in the foster care/adoption world, our views have changed so much. We were pretty naïve when we started out, but our understanding of the system and the children is much better now than when we started.
Apryl: I can’t really name what it was that called us to adopt. I can say that for some reason, the impetus to nurture patiently, to pass along the love I learned from my own mother was always a strong force in me. In high school, whenever I had a choice, I wrote my research papers on adoption or family law. At 16, I went to NYC with a school group. My young, small town mind ended up completely obsessed with the Broadway show I saw there, Miss Saigon. I was so affected by the intensity of this woman’s story of loving a child so much she would sacrifice herself to provide him a chance at a better life. That show became my touchstone to process why and how parents might part with their kids. When I went on to college and my world opened up, my interest in child development, cultural differences in family dynamics, and social services for children throughout the world became my focus. How could I help? I have a very distinct memory of finally seriously talking with my future husband about getting married, and telling him he should know how serious I was about adoption being something that I wanted for my own family. I didn’t need to say it though; he already knew. He has been the most supportive and kind dad to all of our kids, no matter how long or briefly they’ve been with us, or what their struggles have been. I feel amazingly lucky to have a partner who truly wants to use his life and time to be there for kids who need him. Plus, he is exceedingly handsome! (That last bit was his edit).
Was there anything about the adoption process you had no idea to expect?
Christy: Adoption is very easy in the sense that you love a child, but it’s very hard because it comes at a great loss. I think the part I didn’t expect was the tidal wave of emotions I felt on adoption day. I was very excited and happy to have our daughter be part of our family forever, but after developing a relationship with her birth mom, I also felt a deep sorrow for what had transpired to bring us to that point.
Jacki: While this child is now a part of your family forever, your family is forever changed. Continued growth in areas of cultural competency, the adoptee experience and identity are all important things you will need to consciously work through.
Apryl: Having been through both international and local adoption through the foster care system, I can say there were things that surprised me about both. The world of international adoption has shifted a lot, even since we experienced it, so I’m not sure I can speak at all to what anyone considering that would go through today. For us, the level of psychological testing required by our program was definitely a bit of a shock, as well as the amount of changing circumstances within our agency as we went, and then the intricacy of the paperwork required. It was overwhelming. Yet, we have the most beautiful memories of the people who hosted us in Colombia - people who truly cared for the kids & families they helped unite; people who fed us turkey lunch meat and boiled potatoes as a surprise one evening because they knew we were missing our American Thanksgiving back home. It was an incredible time.
Our second adoption was in a way, worlds simpler and worlds more complicated for us as parents. On one hand, yes it took two years to arrive at an adoption day just as the first had, but the actual adoption, once the state had secured custody of the child, was relatively straightforward, affordable, and pretty quick. However, having parented her during those years and living with ups and downs of what may happen, if she would leave, where she may go, would she be safe...all of this was a learning experience for us emotionally. Through fostering, we have had to examine our biases, learn to balance our own feelings with what is truly best, and do the work to understand more deeply the wounds children experiencing trauma face.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is considering fostering or adopting youth, what would it be?
Christy: My advice would be have no expectations. Walk through each moment as it comes and walk with people who are also walking through the same journey. You will need the support for the roller coaster you are about to go on.
Jacki: To never put expectations on the child or outcome. Things will always change and you need to be ready to pivot. Uncertainty is a part of the fostering and adoption journey. The sooner you accept this, the better it will go.
Apryl: Know yourself well before you jump in. Be sure you know the ways you cope, both healthy and unhealthy, because your skills in that area will be tested, undoubtedly. Know your true intentions. Know deeply if you are ready to be devoted to a child who has been through trauma, even if the trauma was separating from their biological mother right at birth. It matters, and it will affect their lives. Know your capacity to accept children who will not be a mirror of you- not only physically, but very likely also in interests, in emotional regulation, and in how they interpret the world. If you enter it all with an open mind and heart, you are giving the child and yourself the best opportunity to make it work.
Can you describe what it felt like to officially complete the adoption process?
Jacki: It was very exciting and full of joy. We had thought for 10 months our daughter would be leaving, and she didn't. When we finalized the adoption, all those months of uncertainty changed and she was to forever be a part of our family.
Apryl: I was honestly in awe at our son’s adoption. Seeing him in bed in our home the first night; it felt very surreal that we’d been entrusted with this child and that he was ours to love. For me, he made me a mother. That’s an altogether intense and visceral thing on it’s own, but even more so after waiting, hoping, and working toward that goal for so long. I felt overjoyed.
At the same time, we are always aware that for him, the story did not begin there, and that he and his birth family walked through tragic circumstances for this to have happened. I have never liked the idea of him having been “chosen” or “meant to be” part of our family, to be very candid. When it comes to adoption, the love of a newly created family is a wonderful part of the story, but it is only part. We know that in another circumstance, we ourselves could have been the ones not able to care for our child, and in age-appropriate ways, we are really open with our children about how we came to be a family. We do not forget or take for granted the true privilege we have to raise these precious kids.
Why do you think families who are in the process of fostering or adopting should get involved with Cleveland Angels?
Christy: Everyone who volunteers to be a foster home or walks through adoption needs and deserves the support they can get from the volunteers at Cleveland Angels. Even if it is something as easy as a gift card for a meal or someone to play with a child so a parent can get a much-needed break, help is available. There are many people who don’t feel called to open their home or adopt a child, but they want to help in another way.
Jacki: As a current foster parent, I know emotional support and tangible help is so needed. Cleveland Angels provides this through their programs and helps to facilitate these relationships for foster parents. Being a part of Cleveland Angels programs offers invaluable resources for the foster family- allowing the best outcomes for the family and child to be achieved.
Apryl: In my mind, the support of a community who understands, with unending positive regard, the challenges foster and adoptive parents have daily is immeasurable. In our family, we have had nothing but the utmost support and we have had only caring, well meaning friends helping us. Still, so many days we felt isolated and like no one could really understand what we juggled, especially through the fostering process and navigating the world of parenting special needs children. We were lauded and congratulated, yet often were pained behind closed doors, not wanting to burden anyone else with what we “had signed up for.”
Cleveland Angels exists to lend consistent support to fostering families and to help share the load that comes with fostering- the unpredictability, the pain you see in your own kids as they struggle to understand saying goodbye to someone they’ve come to love, and so much more. When I first became part of this organization and entered a room full of people who were talking about kids like mine, and had the research and the goals to support families like mine, I felt relief and gratitude that made me ugly cry! It was probably quite a sight.
Every parent needs support and a rest. Every child needs to know there are people who care about them, unconditionally. This organization creates a village for families, and a pathway to a more secure future for kids who are without a permanent family. To me, there is nothing more meaningful.