Wednesday, November 9, 2011

National Adoption Month - Camille and Jeff

Note: As part of National Adoption Month, I will be sharing stories of families who have been touched by adoption.

This is the story of Camille and Jeff.

For us, the desire to adopt was never a difficult one. We didn’t mourn the loss of ‘what couldn’t be’ too long—but rather forged ahead to the goal of creating our family. Adoption was the next logical step.

Initially, we only wanted “a baby” and not an older child, and hoped to adopt two at once. Upon filling out our Ukraine paperwork, we listed that we agreed to look at children age three and under—but babies were desired.

As this was an independent adoption, we traveled without a referral, and would be looking at photos at the National Adoption Center once in country. We leaned on our prayers that with the many orphans available, God would show us clearly which children were meant to be ours. It is very important to share that we prayed to keep our hearts open to what God would show to us.

Wanting two, but finding one
Never expecting to be drawn to an older child, we met and fell in love with a three year old boy who was ill; crib bound his whole life, weighing 21 pounds, and was still unable to crawl, walk or talk. His illness aside, our connection was instant—he had an undeniable spark, we adored him, and knew instantly he would be coming home with us. The great sadness of that trip was, we did not find a second child that we felt the same connection with. Jeff said, “Perhaps Camille, God is just showing us this one because he needs all of our attention in order to get well, and one day, we’ll come back and adopt again.” I liken it to a pregnancy where you are told you are having twins, but only come home with one baby—you rejoice for the one, but mourn for the other.” We were amazed what a wonderful experience it was adopting a child who was not a baby; we were so busy being happy with our three year old that there was no time to feel a void from not having a baby around. Joshua filled our hearts with such joy! Within a year, he was 100% completely healthy, strong, smart, and oh so sweet. Could there have been a reason God only showed us one child?

To Russia for two…
In October 2006 we found our agency and began the official paperwork for our next adoption. Along with our then eight year old Joshua, it was our hope to adopt two children, younger than he, and this time hoped for a boy and a girl. Though at the start of building our family we hoped for a baby, as a family we had evolved. Now having an eight year old, it only seemed right for us to consider older children rather than babies. Joshua dreamed of somebody to play with, more his age. With our eight year old, we were very mobile, enjoying hiking, biking, swimming and the outdoors, and considering adopting older children, we could keep on course with our active lifestyle. We knew the adopting experience may be different with older kids, but we knew the love in our hearts was there. Through research, we knew that typically most children over the age of five are not even considered for adoption, which is a real tragedy.

We completed our paperwork by January of 2007, and in March we were shown referrals. We were shown several different pairs of sibling sets, but none seemed to match exactly what we were looking for. In October of 2007, our agency called to tell us there was a boy and girl, but, they had two younger sisters. Yes—a sibling group of four! It was explained to us that these four children—a girl age six, a boy age five, a girl age three, and a girl age two—had little chance of getting adopted together based on the fact that there were four of them. Did we want to look at their referral information?

To be honest, we agreed to look at the photos more out of curiosity than having any serious intention of adopting them. So the agency sent the information and photos. We looked. They were beautiful. We wondered…could we? Our agency explained that we could take all the time we needed to make our decision because nobody wanted these children.

For weeks we looked at the photos constantly. We prayed. We discussed all the aspects of such a decision: the health of the children, our finances, our ability to cope, and how this would affect our now nine year old son. We understood the biggest adjustment would be his.

During our time of decision, we called the agency to ask what would happen to them if we decided not to adopt them, and were told that in all likelihood, they would be split up and made available separately for adoption. They were already split into two different orphanages, and that statistically, the two older children may never be adopted as there is only a 20% chance of being adopted after the age of five years—even less of a chance for boys.

To Russia for four?
Our pastor counseled us to seek information, and pray on each of the aspects, and then, assured us a decision would be made clear. For three weeks, we discussed every aspect. Our church, Hillcrest Bible Church, was willing to help us with a loan, which was a huge blessing. We were able to grow our bank loan, and we already had friends and family helping us with fundraisers. Still, financially, it was a lot to take on. Our doctor found the medical reports on all four children to be very good. Camille being a home daycare provider for young children was key: even though we were parents of one child, Camille has had years of experience managing groups of children. It weighed heavily on our hearts that this sibling group of four might get split up, and that these older children might be overlooked, and never get a chance at having a family. The biggest reason to adopt them all was the success and joy of adopting our first—he was a miracle! With all we learned through Joshua’s adoption, and the many ways we were blessed by it, along with the many prayers said to grow our family; this sibling group of four were the children that God had shown to us. At the end of three weeks, we decided. We wanted to create another miracle! We did sit down and discuss the idea with Joshua—and he was in agreement, and delighted! I’m sure people wonder “what I talked my husband into” but he came to the decision before me, Jeff said, “It comes down to what legacy I’ll leave behind. We just can’t leave them there, we should adopt all four of them.” I agreed, they were coming home with us.

On December 1, 2007, the three of us went to Russia to meet the four children, and it was love at first sight for all of us. On April 24, 2008, we adopted them in court. On May 19th, we brought them home to Wisconsin for good!

From three to seven…
All five children have grown together and have bonded nicely. We are amazed at how quickly this happened. All five go to regular school and are doing beautifully. They are all joy-filled, happy kids, and content with the new family they inherited. Adopting older children has been a wonderful experience, for them and for us. Of course there were challenges—the biggest one being learning a new language. In that aspect, the first two months were challenging, however, anticipating this, we had a list of five Russian speaking friends willing to be “on call 24/7”—and we utilized them! We purchased Russian picture books and tapes which were a help too. But, it was incredible how very quickly they learned English—the three and four year olds found adapting to English quite easy, and the six and seven year olds took a bit longer, but after only two months, we didn’t need translators help any longer.

It was also a challenge to manage the finances, but we were amazed how the community stepped in to help in welcoming our new children; people brought meals, food, supplies, toys, and clothes. God saw to it that our needs were met.

The biggest challenge was finding time to nurture our husband and wife relationship. Life at our house was busy—but we knew it was important to have “date night” and spend time without the kids to “recharge.” At the start, friends were hesitant to stay with five children, four of whom didn’t speak English! Now that the kids rely solely on English this is no longer a problem. We are one big happy family of seven!

Joy and hopes…
The kids have been home for about a year and a half now. Big brother Joshua, eleven years old, Annika, eight years old, James, seven years old, Tatyana, five years old, and Raissa, four years old, continue to amaze us! It has been such a joy to see these five little people grow five secure loving hearts because of the love we lavish on them, and being the direct recipients of the love they give freely in return. They have all grown as individuals, and we have grown as a family. We never imagined it would all go so well so quickly! Our family, community, friends, and especially our church welcomed them home with open arms. Our children understand that they are deeply loved.

So many times Jeff and I have had people applaud our adoption as a deed well done. “Wow! What you’ve done is fabulous! The world needs more people like you.” The truth is, the world has lot and lots of people like us. The world has lot of people who would love to adopt orphans, and for many, the lack of funds stand in their way. It is a disheartening reality—knowing that there are orphans waiting for families, and families waiting for orphans—and it is only finances that stand in the way of bringing these two together. I understand that adoption isn’t for everyone, but everyone should be for adoption. I’d like to challenge individuals to help other couples offset their adoption fees in any way they can. I’d like to challenge every church to set up an adoption fund that would be exclusively for bringing orphans home to loving families in their church.

Adopting older children…
Often, people that step into the adoption arena, only want infants. At first, we did too, so I can understand. But please consider the “over age three, four or fives” that wait. It is simply amazing how quickly they learn English, and though the first two months were difficult in the language area, it is merely a snippet in the memory of the grand scheme of things now. Older children have a unique insight that babies cannot share with you. It is a treasure to discuss memories of “before and after” adoption that they have. We discuss openly about their adoption, and make sure they understand that who they were is a part of who they are. Within weeks, they were all settled in to life in their new family, and very happy. Just a few short months after their adoption, we took a family vacation. Without much funds, it was a simple trip to a cabin to fish, swim and hike, and they had a ball! Kids don’t need fancy—they just need a family—they just want you to spend time with them, and love them. It is a process, getting to know each other, and we are still doing that. The trust and the love grows more and more each day. We saw so many beautiful children in the orphanage. We often think about the ones we left behind, who are waiting, hoping, for a family to come and bring them home.

Yes, adopting a sibling group of four older children was daunting at first, but now, Jeff and I can’t imagine our lives without them. The wonderful people at our agency worked together with us to make it possible. Our family, church family, and community came together with us to make this dream a reality. God answered our prayers in a big way, and we are so thankful to be so blessed.


Kelly L said...

Beautiful story - I am a mom to adopted children as well... Feel so blessed..
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evie dear said...

wow! thank you so much for sharing

Anonymous said...

Of all the stories I read, your story seems to me to be most motivated by what was good for the children rather than good for yourselves. I really admire how you adapted and changed your ideas of what you thought you wanted when you saw children who needed you. You are a very inspirational family and I am so happy that life together is going well for all of you. I have been hesitating over adopting a second time and your story will help me think from a new perspective.