OPEN HEARTS, OPEN HOMES
Four stories about BKDers who adopted children in need of loving families
By Levi Costello
Part of what makes BKD such a great place to work is the sense of family. That focus on togetherness is just as apparent in the home lives of BKDers as it is in their work lives. That commitment is reflected in the number of families who have adopted a child.
BKDLife sat down with four BKDers to talk about their adoption journeys. Here’s a little bit about each family:
Amy Johnson, Partner, Lincoln
Adopted Child: Eric
Family: Husband Chris and daughter Nicole
Aaron Little, Managing Director, Springfield
Adopted Child: Hudson
Family: Wife Amy
Jon Redelsperger, Partner, Enid
Adopted Child: Ketty
Family: Wife Tana, daughters Reagan and Ryan
Kerry Fitzgerald, Director, Dallas
Adopted Child: Josie
Family: Wife Jennifer and son Cooper
Thank you so much for sharing your stories. Let’s get started by having you tell us a little about how the adoption process started for your family.
AMY: The first time we tried to adopt, we went through an attorney; the second time we used an adoption agency, which was better for us. We had counselors to guide us and went through the process with five other couples, so we had a built-in support system.
AARON: During our initial meeting with the attorney, he mentioned that maybe we’d have a Marshallese baby because he had connections in the Marshallese community in Springdale, Arkansas. We honestly didn’t know the term “Marshallese” and had to Google it. We learned it referred to people native to the Marshall Islands. Ten months later, we were presented with an opportunity to adopt a child whose birth parents were Marshallese. We felt like this was supposed to happen.
JON: After a lot of prayer, we felt called to pursue an international adoption. We eventually decided on one from Haiti and were actually able to visit Haiti before the adoption. We went with another family in the summer of 2013 who was also adopting a child from Haiti, and we returned on humanitarian trips in 2014 and 2015.
KERRY: We went to work with an adoption agency that our church sponsors. It’s a pretty big agency that does more than just adoptions. We were with the agency for two years.
There are usually some bumpy, tense moments during an adoption. What kinds of hurdles did you experience while trying to adopt?
JON: During our process, Haiti adopted Hague Accreditation which protects children from human trafficking. While it was a needed change, it lengthened our process to four years. The Haitian social services asked us questions like, “Is the child going to go to the same school as your other children?” and “Will she have a bed?” We thought those questions were strange but learned later a lot of families in Haiti give their kid to another family because they can’t afford to raise them. They basically become indentured servants or slaves. The Haitian government wanted to make sure Ketty wasn’t entering that kind of situation.
AMY: With our first adoption attempt, a social worker came into the hospital waiting room hours after the baby was born and told us the birth mother had changed her mind, and we should leave. It was devastating. After that, it took a while to decide if we wanted to try adopting again.
With Eric, we had to wait six months after he was born to finalize the adoption. During that time, the birth mom also changed her mind. I remember sitting with Chris after she’d called us, just looking at each other. It was like having our hearts ripped out. Thankfully, she ultimately decided to stick with her adoption plan.
KERRY: We had seven adoption opportunities arise over a two-year span. For various reasons, we’d be presented along with a few other families but not chosen in the end. The hardest part was seeing my wife hurt and not being able to do anything about it.
AARON: Our attorney caught wind that the birth mom had started accepting money from a second attorney for her adoption. After our attorney confronted her, she decided to go with the other attorney. We were heartbroken. We had a meeting with her and explained that she could get in a lot of trouble for trying to dangle two families. She decided to stick with us in the end.
Tell us about the day you got the news you were bringing your child home.
AARON: We weren’t given a firm due date, which made planning really difficult. So, Amy started texting the birth mom every day. One morning, the birth mom said she felt really heavy and was hurting. Amy called the doctor, and they said the birth mom needed to get to the hospital. Soon after, we got a call they were doing an emergency C-section. The doctors told us if they hadn’t gotten to the hospital when they did, Hudson and the birth mom likely would have died due to complications.
Despite Hudson’s emergency birth, his first two days of life in the hospital were very calm.
AMY: Eric was born six weeks early, so we had to rush to the hospital. When we went in to see the birth mom, the grandmother was also there. Come to find out, she didn’t know her daughter had made an adoption plan, and she was not happy. The first couple of days in the hospital were very stressful. We explained we were going to take good care of Eric, and the birth family would still be an important part of his life. By the end, I think we earned their trust.
When we brought Eric home, we weren’t ready for him at all. We were so gun-shy from the first experience that we didn’t want to make the mistake of getting everything ready beforehand. We had to scramble and ask people for cribs and baby things.
KERRY: I got a call from Jennifer one morning at work, and she was crying. She said, “Remember the child we had an opportunity to adopt a few months ago through another agency? They just called and want to know if we’re still interested. They can bring her to us in three days.”
The other agency called us back a few hours later and asked, “Actually, would you be willing to take her tonight?” We said yes!
We had postponed gathering up baby supplies because it was a reminder of what we didn’t have, so our friends from church collected everything we needed and dropped it dropped it off at our doorstep.
JON: After we accepted the referral, we went to Haiti for two weeks to spend time with Ketty. After that, we waited 13 months for the adoption to be finalized so we could bring her home. It was a very exciting time with a fair amount of anxiety. It had been such a long process it was hard to believe the waiting was finally coming to an end.
Now that your kids are home, how are things going?
AARON: We went before a judge exactly a week after Hudson was born and finalized everything. The birth family brought him some Marshallese gifts, and then we went our separate ways. They moved away, but we still keep in touch. The birth mom still refers to us as family, so it really worked out amazingly well.
Hudson is happy and healthy. We have a picture of his birth mom and birth dad in his room. We want to share his adoption story with him as soon as he’s able to understand.
JON: We’re all adjusting well. Adoption is hard because it begins with loss. We’re learning a new normal. It’s been helpful that we all have a love for Haiti. It gives us a common bond.
AMY: Wouldn’t you know it, I got pregnant shortly after we adopted Eric. I remember when I showed Chris the pregnancy test, he said, “What does that mean?”
Eric is five, and Nicole is almost four. We still have a good relationship with Eric’s birth family. The grandmother even considers Nicole as her granddaughter.
KERRY: Josie was seven months old when we got her. Originally, she was considered severely delayed and her doctors were concerned she had cerebral palsy. The night they brought her to us, they gave us a two-inch stack of medical records. Two months later, though, she was cleared of any developmental concerns. She’s walking, running and getting into her brother’s toys.
One of the really cool parts of this whole process was the reaction of our son. He’s been really excited to have a sibling. When Josie came home, he’d walk up to strangers in the grocery store and let them know Josie was his baby sister.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
AMY: People looking to adopt should expect the unexpected. Every adoption experience is different, just like every child is unique. Nobody can say, “This was my experience, so this is going to be yours.”
KERRY: Josie becoming a part of our family is like a tree that’s growing a grafted branch. Josie’s a part of us now. I look at her now and forget that we adopted her. One of the blessings God gifted us with is the ability to love unconditionally. There’s no better demonstration of that than the love we have for our children. It’s been really incredible to see how that applies to a child that didn’t originate from you. It was automatic, like if we had given birth to her ourselves.