Andrew and Helen have a truly inspiring adoption story. But it’s not because it happened quickly. Or easily. Or exactly as planned. It actually unfolded completely differently than they anticipated. And they wouldn’t change anything about how God miraculously brought their son into their lives…
The waiting. The nos. The not yets. Watching family, friends, and co-workers grow their families as you sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently, wait to grow yours. It’s hard, it’s really hard. We heard “all in God’s timing” I don’t know how many times, and while we know that to be true, sometimes it just wasn’t helpful. Sometimes all you want is for someone to sit under the dark cloud that is over you and just give you a shoulder to cry on or to say a prayer over you. You’re not asking for someone to fix your sadness, just for someone to understand. We’re just finishing the holiday season and I know how hard this time can be. Andrew and I used to say, “this could be our last (insert holiday) without kiddos!”. As the years dragged on, we stopped saying that and started to believe that the day would never come.
While the holidays can bring great joy and hope, there are plenty of opportunities for grief, as well. You may find yourself on the other side of 20-questions. Curious family/friends/co-workers, who may not know the extent of your struggles, relentlessly asking pointed questions “aren’t you worried that their real parents would come and take your child away?… I heard about someone that happened to in the news.” Or perhaps alongside the adoption journey, you also experienced infertility, like we did. That brings about a whole slew of stories of how they knew so-and-so who adopted, and they got pregnant immediately afterwards. Or the advice to “just relax, it will happen” when you’re in arguably one of the most stressful seasons of your life. Or perhaps you’re gathered around the table and another member of your family is pregnant, and you listen as people talk about their labor experiences. All the while you sit there wishing you had your own story to tell and must excuse yourself to take a breather/cry session in the bathroom.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, Andrew and I see you. We encourage you, as difficult as it is, try to shift your focus from anger/resentment to one of education. Use appropriate adoption language. Prepare them for your child to come and set boundaries of what is acceptable to ask about and what is not. Susan really helped us with this piece when we called her frustrated with some of the comments we had received. Utilize your consultant as a guide through this difficult time.
Adoption is the most bittersweet thing that has ever happened to us. Truthfully, I don’t think we’ve had a more difficult period in our marriage than trying to grow our family biologically or through adoption. We wish we could take the pain away, but only Jesus can do that. Take your burdens to the cross and leave them there. Find ways to enjoy life in the wait (I know, a tall order) and try to find pieces of who you used to be before this chapter of your life seemingly took over every ounce of your beings. That is what Andrew and I had just started doing when God finally answered our prayers and brought our son, Robbie, into our lives. Our biggest hope is that our story resonates with you and provides you so much needed hope in this very difficult journey. A more beautiful story than you can imagine is being written. Here’s ours:
Before we were even married we both discussed how we’d like to adopt one day. Both of our families had adoptees including his sister and my two paternal aunts. Little did we know the seeds were being planted by God, way back then, for our future marriage and life together. Andrew and I started dating and on August 16, 2014 we were married (note this month/date for later). Our first step after college was to move to a place we had never heard of… Muscatine, Iowa. We had absolutely no desire to move there at the time but ended up finding the best church community and friends; friends who would eventually lead us to Christian Adoption Consultants.
Fast forward five years and, after being frustrated of a year of no pregnancies, I felt God pushing me to reach out to an acquaintance from church who I knew was an adoptive mama. I briefly told Erika (who later went on to work for CAC!) that Andrew and I had always had adoption on our hearts, and we were considering starting our family that way. She went on to tell me she used Christian Adoption Consultants, specifically Susan VanSyckle, and she would highly recommend her. I saved the conversation for future use and adoption went on the backburner.
Another year and a half went by and now it’s July of 2020. Andrew and I had just finished several rounds of infertility treatments IUIs/IVF where we were told we would likely never have biological children. We were devastated, but looking back, God was preparing us to say “yes” to adoption sooner than we ourselves, would have planned. We pulled back up that conversation from Erika and reached out to CAC and Susan took us on as clients in the summer of 2020.
We finally felt like we were following God’s plan for us. We became fully home study approved by the end of September. Things were looking up, going smoothly (for once!). Little did we know, but we’d have a long way to go because we ended up moving to a new state and had to restart the home study process over again. So start from scratch we did. We contacted Susan who helped us find a new social worker and from there came all new background checks, reference letters, fire inspections etc. While we were able to get caught up on the paperwork and background checks pretty quickly, our home study agency all contracted covid (some requiring hospitalizations) after we had our home study inspection in December. This led to a two month wait until we received full home study approval in February of 2021.
We felt like we had wasted six months of our lives just getting to the start line. Our contract with Susan was half over and we had nothing to show for it. It was such a relief when we started to receive cases. We poured our hearts into every letter to the expecting parent(s) but no after no came our way. We received so many “not yets.” We came close to matching once, but in the end the expecting mother chose another family. We were frustrated, devastated, and ticked off at God, to be completely honest. Questions like “God, I thought this is what you wanted for us? Why are you making this journey so difficult?”
In August of 2021 we got word that my older sister was pregnant with her first and she was due in December. When we got the call, we held it together and gave our excited congratulations, but we immediately bawled afterwards. I would be lying to you if I didn’t say bitterness swelled in our hearts during that time. We entered maybe the darkest period of this journey. We were stressed and arguing over what to write in every letter. We just weren’t our normal selves. We decided to finally do what I recommended earlier in this story, to find joy in what we could. We started traveling again, going to baseball games, finding a new restaurant to try. Heck, I’m not going to lie, we even talked about ending this adoption journey once our paperwork expired and just taking a break from trying to grow our family. Find who we were 3.5 years ago before infertility and adoption. I prayed and prayed that God would match us before my sister was due because I knew our hearts just couldn’t take the wait any longer.
In July, we decided our fun thing to do would be to take a trip out to Oregon to see Andrew’s extended family. In addition to seeing them, we wanted to see the final resting place for his late grandfather we lost to cancer in December of 2020. While standing next to his late grandfather’s grave, Andrew said aloud that if we had a son, we would name him Robert, after him. It is a name we had discussed and agreed upon, but there was something cathartic and hopeful about proclaiming that. As we drove away Andrew told me that he felt we were right on the cusp of something big in the adoption process. There was some “Grandpa Bob mojo in the air.” I agreed, but in the back of my head just couldn’t see how this story was going to unfold.
August rolled around and we decided we wanted and needed to go off the grid and just be at peace as a gift to ourselves for our 7th wedding anniversary (August 16th). Our contract with Susan and CAC was going to expire August 31st and we still hadn’t decided whether we were going to renew. Did we have the strength to go on? We pushed off making a decision and booked a treehouse in a remote area with no cell service, and we planned to just get back to basics for a couple days. Play games, read books, talk, pray, etc. Invest some time into our marriage. Little did we know, but God had a big surprise up his sleeve right in the nick of time.
The week our son was born was one for the books. Late summer I received a text that told me to check our email immediatley.
I franticly opened the Email and the subject line read “URGENT! Newborn baby boy born YESTERDAY. Do you want to present?” My heart was pounding as I read what was there, which wasn’t much. Our son’s birth mother was on her way to the hospital and made an adoption plan while she was in labor. We leaned on what Susan had coached us through time and time again… to put our “yes” on the table and let God work out the rest. After deplaning, I called Andrew. We talked through everything. A little after 4PM, we decided to send in our yes.
For some reason I left the airport smiling. For some reason I just felt like this baby boy was our son. We had been down this presenting route before. While we were more excited than other cases, we had tempered expectations. The following day we went about our business as we would have any other day. We were both working when at lunch time our lives were about to change forever. We got a call from the agency and hearts pounding, we answered the phone. We were told we were selected and that we needed to drive there ASAP. We both ran around and grabbed everything we could. Literally we had just done laundry and we threw in the whole laundry basket into the car. I even took a quick 5-minute shower worried about meeting his birth mother looking at hot mess. While we were driving there we had calls and texts going from the agency and with an adoption lawyer. It was the craziest drive calling family and telling them the news while also fielding calls from the hospital, agency, and lawyer on next steps. They walked us through the process seamlessly.
We were told by the agency that they hadn’t heard about when he would be released, but we needed to come prepared with a car seat. His birth mom had already signed her consent to the adoption before we arrived. Due to our long wait to have a child, we told ourselves we weren’t buying anything until we matched. It was just too hard to have around. Well, sure enough, we found ourselves at a Buy Buy Baby with two staff members as they helped us with carts to grab the essentials. We met Robbie, our son, that evening in the NICU. We wound our way to the NICU and there he was: the most precious baby boy lying in bed #3. It was the most wonderful reveal not having any clue what our son would look like. I stand by the fact that he was the most beautiful baby in the NICU with the best head of hair. He was tiny being born about a month early he was 5lbs 9oz and 18 inches long. I think we ended up staying until close to midnight that first night just holding him and loving on him. It was love at first site.
While we were in the NICU, Robbie’s birth mother came for a visit to meet us. We had the best conversation with Robbie’s birth mother. She stayed for several hours and we bonded over all our similarities. She was hilarious and we totally clicked! She told us how our profile stood out to her and she didn’t want to look at anyone else’s. What a reassuring thing to hear after all the doubts and second-guessing we had along the way… “our pictures aren’t good/fancy enough”, “we’re writing too much”, “she’s going to choose the other family” etc. Susan told us time and time again to be authentic to who we are, and the right birth mother would find us. I have to say, once again, she was right. Remember that anniversary trip we had planned to the treehouse? Well God had other plans for our anniversary this year. Instead of a treehouse, we spent the day snuggling our son and we received a really kind text message from Robbie’s birth mother. The icing on the cake was obtaining our adoption decree granting us custody of Robbie. You can’t make up how beautiful that story is; what a wonderful forever anniversary gift.
After 3 post-placement visits, we were able to finalize our adoption. On November 15th, 2021 just shy of 4 years of trying to start a family, we finally became a family of three. Our hearing was over Zoom so most of our extended family was able to get on. Andrew and I both cried tears of joy and relief that this little boy was in our lives forever. Over Thanksgiving my aunt threw a beautiful baby shower for Robbie and we finally got to let the world know he was here to stay forever. What a joyous day. And remember when I told you my sister was pregnant? She gave birth to a baby girl on December 2nd. God once again answered our prayers and we were able to truly enjoy the miracle that is my niece’s life, without bitterness in our hearts.
When we started this journey, we did not understand the grief, loss, joy, hope, paperwork, compromises, ups and downs that went with adoption. In the midst of the wait, you will likely wonder if you have the strength to go on. As you hear most adoptive families say, it was worth it in the end. Andrew and I will never ever be the same. Our naivety is gone, but our hope in God’s plan for our lives is renewed. I hope our story of ups and downs encourages those that are still in the wait, to keep persevering.
Thank you Susan and Danielle for helping us get to this point in our journey. We our forever grateful for your prayers, wisdom, guidance, and education throughout this process.