Finding Forever Families: the challenges and rewards of adoption
“Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget – not for a single moment – that you didn’t grow from my heart, but in it.”
Every day, Eau Claire resident Kristin Hakes proudly wears a necklace engraved with this poem, known as the Adoption Creed. For Kristin and her husband, Ben, the poem embodies their relationship with 2-year-old Steven, who they adopted as an infant from Louisiana.
“Adoption is the best thing we’ve ever done,” Kristin said. “People say that Steven is so lucky to have us, but I always correct them – we’re the ones who are lucky to have him.”
November is National Adoption Month, the goal of which is to promote awareness of and draw attention to the many foster children waiting for permanent families. According to the Children’s Bureau, an office of the federal Administration for Children and Families, there are almost 400,000 children currently in foster care in the United States, and even more children worldwide.
Fortunately, many families around the country and right here in the Chippewa Valley have made the decision to adopt and to do what they can to give a child his or her “forever family.” What does it mean to make that decision? According to Melissa Bowe, adoption director for Catholic Charities in Eau Claire, the adoption process is not easy. It can take time, and it often requires patience and perseverance to follow through.
As Bowe explains, the first step for someone considering adoption is to contact an agency licensed in the state of Wisconsin, such as Catholic Charities, and to consult a social worker regarding a home study. A home study is a detailed assessment of the prospective parent or parents and includes everything from family information and parenting beliefs to financial and health details. Background checks are required, and a written summary of the couple and their story is included.
All of this information is typically gathered in two to three months, during which the prospective parent(s), per Wisconsin requirements, must also complete 16-18 hours of adoption education, although the type of adoption can dictate different home study requirements. When the home study is finished, it is sent to the agency or agencies selected to complete the process with a referral for a child – and the waiting begins.
“Adoption is a roller coaster, and it’s a process,” Bowe said. “You have so much to do in the beginning, then all of a sudden the case study is done and you wait. We’ve had families picked one week later or years later. It truly depends on the situation.”
It took just under two years from the time the Hakes initiated their home study process to the time they finalized the adoption of Steven. About six months after their case study was complete, they got a call that a birth mother in Louisiana had selected them to adopt her son, who was due in just over two weeks.
“I started to cry,” Kristin said. “That moment – it’s like taking that pregnancy test. That was the moment I found out I was going to be a mom. And instead of nine months, I had two and a half weeks.”
Following a few frantic yet joy-filled shopping trips, Kristin and Ben drove to Louisiana. Arriving the day before the birth mother’s scheduled C-section, they learned that she wanted them in the room with her. Kristin and Ben were there for the entire experience and were able to hold Steven the moment he was born.
“These are things that adoptive parents don’t always get,” Kristin said. “The generosity and love that our birth mother showed for us is not lost on us.”
Back in Wisconsin, Kristin and Ben spent six months getting to know their new son while waiting for the adoption to be finalized, a time frame mandated by the state of Wisconsin. During those months, the Hakes were considered “pre-adoptive foster parents” and were visited regularly by their social worker. Six months later, the adoption was official.
“Becoming a parent, and adoption in general, is the scariest and the best thing in the world,” Kristin said. “Our family is beyond accepting, and Steven is so loved. We can’t imagine life without him.”
Altoona resident Jamey McIntosh and his wife, Sarah, echo Kristin’s sentiments. Their 3-year-old son Jude was adopted from Ethiopia when he was just under a year old, joining the McIntosh’s biological children: Grace, now 8; Siena, now 6; and Lincoln, now 4.
“Adding any child into our family has been the hardest and greatest thing we have done,” Jamey said. “Adoption has its own uniqueness with attachment, sensory issues, family dynamics and the like, so it is very difficult – but everything that is a reward usually is.”
The McIntoshes worked with Catholic Charities to conduct their home study, then began the process to adopt internationally through Lifeline Children’s Services. They received a referral for a 4-month-old boy about 15 month after beginning the process, and then they traveled to Ethiopia to meet him two months later. Four months after that, they brought Jude home.
“Adoption has impacted our family profoundly,” Jamey said. “Our children have a more global mindset because we adopted internationally, and as a multiracial family, we feel that we have become more aware of the wide range of diversities … and we have been blessed to understand many more aspects of love, family, working together, and even parenting.”
Once an adoption is finalized, parents can continue to find support through agencies such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, which provide additional trainings, family events, and resources.
What would the Hakes and the McIntoshes tell others who are considering adoption?
"Stay positive,” Kristin said. “It’s not easy – but it’s worth waiting for the best gift ever.”
“Adopted families would say that they are not extraordinary in any way; rather, they just saw a need and took steps to be a part of a solution to give a child a forever family,” Jamey said. “It has been totally worth it – and we are the ones who have been blessed by being allowed to call our little blessing family.”