Adoption, luck and gratitude

woman with baby comforting a toddler girl

“Your children are so lucky!” “They must be so grateful.” These are comments adoptive parents often hear in regard to their children, but they reflect an adult perspective on a life event that is experienced completely differently by a child.

One thing non-adoptive parents often fail to understand is that adoption is a joy born from grief and loss. So when we are talking about luck and gratitude in the context of adoption, we need to clearly define what those terms really mean from the child’s perspective.

“Luck” is something many adopted children believe they do not have. Is it really “lucky” to be born into a situation where, for whatever reason, you cannot be raised with your birth family? Is it “lucky” to be taken, through no fault of your own, from the mother whose voice you heard and whose food you ate for months before you were born and perhaps for months or years after? Is it “lucky” when every family event features a comparison between your cousins’ and grandfather’s big ears, highlighting the physical traits you don’t have in common with your adopted family?

“Gratitude,” as any of us who parent teenagers know, is often in short supply with our children. To expect an adopted child to be any more grateful than a biological child is unrealistic and unfair. The adoptive parents presumably wanted to be parents and persisted in that quest until they were able to bring children into their family through adoption. Most adoptive parents believe that we are the grateful ones – grateful to our children for allowing us to love and parent them after a very difficult and painful separation that they didn’t ask for and were likely too young to understand.

It’s also important to remember that adoptive parents have often (not always, but often) come to adoption after losing their dream of having a biological child. They are also grieving the loss of the “idealized” family they had in their mind – the loss of the experience of pregnancy, perhaps multiple losses of children through miscarriage, the loss of that little kid with grandpa’s ears. The notions of “luck” and “gratitude” are often very different for adoptive parents as well as for their children.

In an ideal world, every child born is wanted and every birth mother is able and willing to raise a child born to her until that child is an adult. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And adoptive families don’t live in a morose and grief-filled world, but we do have to acknowledge the loss is there, to give our children the ability to express it when they need to, to understand that their grief is not a comment on our parenting but is simply a reality, a faint backdrop that becomes more pronounced from time to time.

Are we all lucky and grateful that somehow the universe brought us together and allowed us to become a family? Yes, of course, but it’s a very different kind of luck and gratitude, the kind that defies loss and grief and brings us together in joy.

– Kathy Henry is an adoptive parent to two teenage boys, makes a living as a marketing consultant and copywriter, and is a “professional” volunteer for several organizations, including the Beaumont Parenting Program. The pay is lousy but the rewards are great!

First in our hearts, then in our arms

Mom, dad and young girl closeup

Our adoption journey started the way many do. After a couple failed IVF attempts, my husband Greg and I began researching adoption. We knew a few people who adopted internationally and decided to explore Russia as an option. It was a well-established program and we could select an agency with a physical presence in the country, which would aid us when we traveled.

In February 2010, we met with our agency consultant and began filling out our initial application. We knew there was a possibility of a long wait—a year and a half to two years—to get a young child. Our families and friends were very supportive and excited, but also cautioned us not to get too far ahead of ourselves with preparations.

After a few months completing our initial paperwork, home studies and parenting classes, we submitted our dossier (the packet that details every part of your life from birth to present) to Russia. Time flew from February to May, but once those documents went into the FedEx envelope, it felt like the clock stopped. We busied ourselves with prepping the baby’s room and purchasing things we knew we would need when he or she came home, but there were many days where that wait took its toll.

In a matter of a mere two months, our lives forever changed on July 23, 2010.

The phone rang as I was getting ready for work, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer. Within a minute, our landline rang. Caller ID showed our agency’s number, and I started thinking, “Oh no, what document did we not have stamped correctly?” or “Maybe we’ve been registered in a region, making us one step closer to receiving a placement.” When I answered, I could hear the excitement in our consultant’s voice. She was calling with wonderful news and was forwarding me an email regarding a 9-and-a-half-month-old baby girl in the Kaliningrad region. No words can describe how I felt at that moment! After hanging up, I immediately called Greg to share the news. He was in disbelief as well, as neither of us expected this to happen so quickly. I had waited to open the email until I was on the phone with him; we looked at the words on our screens, then finally saw the two beautiful pictures of the little girl who was already ours in our hearts. With our emotions in overdrive, we reviewed her medical information and social history, then made the decision to travel to meet her.

Just two-and-a-half weeks later, we took our first of two trips to Russia. Our nerves were high; we were traveling to a nation where we didn’t speak the language (we planned to learn more, but due to the short wait time we had, we only got through basic pleasantries). We were comforted knowing our agency had a strong presence in Russia, and that we would have a guide to travel with and an interpreter when meeting with orphanage personnel and government officials.

The first time we saw our daughter, we held back our desire to scoop her up, hug her and tell her how long we had waited for her because as much as we wanted to do those things, we didn’t want to overwhelm her. As we had learned from adoption professionals, while we were feeling the excitement and anticipation of creating our beautiful family, this child—regardless of how young—had experienced great loss through her life, and didn’t have continuity of care during time spent in an orphanage. We approached her with nothing but love in our hearts, and patience unlike we had ever known. We had a week in Russia on our first trip; only a few of those days included visits with our little girl, but we spent quality time bonding with her and were very grateful for every second. My husband and I instantly connected to her and it was painful to say goodbye when our trip ended. We felt blessed knowing that the caregivers in her orphanage seemed to take incredible care of her, and although there were a number of them, she responded very well to their love and affection.

Many families wait months after coming home the first time before receiving their next travel date, but we were given the return date for our second trip (and court date) before we even left Russia. We had to wait only six weeks before returning to go to court and bring our baby girl home.

Dad, mom and infant girl

A family photo after picking Anna up from the orphanage.

We were awarded custody on October 1, 2010, three days before our girl’s first birthday. The judge who presided over our case allowed us to have our daughter stay with us almost immediately after we were given custody. Russian law usually mandates a 10-day wait from custody being awarded to the day when parents were allowed to pick up their child, but in our case, we could bring her back to our hotel and begin our lives together from Day 3.

For those unfamiliar with the Russian adoption process, imagine having a child in your care for less than 24 hours, then boarding a plane from the child’s birth region, to fly to Moscow and spend 48 hours (including a long meeting at the Consulate’s office), only to board a plane and fly many hours to get to your home. In many cases, those first few days are the only time families have spent together, and children have no bonding time before they head to their new homes. Those extra days together allowed us to bond in a way that my husband and I will be forever grateful.

Our homecoming was very low-key. Our immediate families met us at the airport and helped us to reacclimate. Everyone was excited to meet our new addition, but because the three of us were so incredibly exhausted—physically and emotionally—we kept things pretty quiet. In the weeks that followed, family members hosted baby showers and welcome-home parties, and everyone was able to meet our beautiful daughter.

Over the last six years, we’ve watched our daughter grow and become an amazing little girl. Her heart is bigger than we could ever dream, and the love she shows to her family and friends is incredible. We’ve always talked very openly about her adoption, and have made it clear that she can ask anything she feels comfortable asking. We know that all adoptions are rooted in loss, and while we are incredibly blessed to have each other, there will be days when the questions may become more difficult, and that is something we prepare for. Each night, we pray a special prayer for her “tummy mommy in Kaliningrad” and do what we can to foster the knowledge that our family is blessed by adoption.

We are thankful for the path that we walked, because without our struggles many years ago, we would have never known this amazing gift of adoption.

– Brooke Schemers is the proud mom of Anna

Adoption: Giving the gift of forever families

Family adopting twins with their judge on the case

Our family on Adoption Day, June 29, 2012. I was very grateful to have gotten through the whole legal proceedings (we were the last case called, of course) without spit-up on my suit. It was a miracle.


It took only three weeks to go from “waiting to be chosen” to “Holy crap, I’m a mom!”

Our birthmom was decisive. She saw our profile, asked to meet us, and made the most agonizingly wonderful decision of her life. And mine.

The kids were due in mid-January. We met birthmom at a local mall for our first interview with her. About a week later, we got word through our agency that she chose us and would like to meet with us more. So we went to her house, which was about 3 miles from ours.

A week after that meeting, on Dec. 13, my cell rang. It was birthmom and it was baby time.

Just like that — with one phone call — I became the mom to two tiny babies.

My husband and I were in the delivery room for the birth, so we were there for their first breath. We were the emergency contact for the kids should something happen in the middle of the night. We were at the hospital from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day for a week just holding, changing and feeding those two.

We also spent time with birthmom. Just me and her. She told me about her family and her life. She shared motherly advice with me, which I absorbed. She never said it outright, but she wanted us to know every possible thing about her, so we could answer as many questions as we could when the twins started asking. I was very grateful.

There are no words that describe what it’s like to be an adoptive parent. If you’re lucky like we were, you try and please the birthmom to no end, while staying within the rules. You walk on eggshells because you don’t want her to take those babies from you, but you know full well that in giving them to you she’s giving her heart to strangers. The thought of that is more than anyone should have to bear.

You’re terrified of letting this wonderful birthmom down. She chose you for a reason, several in fact, so you better not drop the ball.

You’re excited that you not only got one baby to love, but you also got another. A bonus baby. More love, less sleep. Totally worth it.

It’s all those things and so many more that I can’t put into words.

One of the hardest, most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed was watching our birthmom drive away. Three days after the kids were born, she was discharged. We walked her down to her caseworker’s car. She was so confident in us. She kept telling us how great we were going to be and how proud of us she was.

Can you imagine that? She was proud of us.

We stayed in touch with our birthmom for the first year or so. We had her over a few times and even had a barbecue with our caseworker. That’s typical. Many birthmoms follow the family closely for the first year, then when they’re comfortable in their decision, they begin to let go. But they never forget.

Neither will I.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

How we became adoptive parents

Words of love in "LOVE"Some people call it a “journey” but I call it a “process” because when you’re adopting you never feel like you’re going anywhere.

November is National Adoption Month. In recognition, I’ll share with you our adoption story in a series of blogs from the humble beginnings to the triumphant ending and beyond.

Yes, there is a “beyond.”

The whole adoption idea hatched about four years into our marriage. My husband and I were sitting on the couch with tears in our eyes, enraged at what we were watching on TV. I don’t remember all the details, but it was a 60 Minutes-style story on boy soldiers in Africa. I remember how we talked about it after. How horrible we felt for those kids and if they only had parents to protect them. Then and there the seed was planted.

After that, whenever the subject of starting a family came up — rarely — it was pretty much in the context of adoption. But life happened, we got the travel bug and spent the next several years working for our vacations to Europe and my husband focused on completing his Ph.D.

In 2010, we started getting serious about adoption and began researching agencies — after all, we weren’t getting any younger and if we decided to go international, age plays a role.

Many adoption agencies have open houses so families looking to adopt can hear about the programs offered and talk firsthand to adoptive parents. It was always an emotional experience for me. We’d walk in to a room full of mostly empty chairs. Inevitably, there would be a video with dramatic/uplifting music playing on a loop with photos of kids who need a home. The kids always had huge, sad eyes and runny noses. I wanted to help them all.

We sat through several “big production” open houses like this, but the agencies didn’t feel right for us. One was so big, we felt like we’d just be a case number. Another told us that since we don’t belong to a church, they wouldn’t take us as clients. Eventually, we found our agency. It was small, homey and understaffed. They got to know their birthmoms and adoptive families closely. In fact, our case worker is an adoptee and the case worker for our birthmom is an adoptive mother.

And that’s when the paperwork began.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

It’s All About Love

Family with Chip and Dale.

Meet the Walker family: Don and Jen with daughers Alana and Nadia.


The word brings many images to mind: good things, bad things, traveling to far away countries, babies taken away from birth mothers before they can see them, babies taken away from adoptive parents, love, a child finally in your arms.

Adoption usually isn’t a first choice for parents and it’s often a difficult choice. It’s difficult to give up the idea of having the biological child you always expected to have. And we have all heard the stories: it takes years and years to adopt an infant in the United States, birth parents may come and take the child away, and countries may change the rules or discontinue international adoption completely even though you already have invested time, money and emotion into the process.

After learning that it was unlikely that we would be able to get pregnant, my husband, Don, and I decided to explore adoption as an option for our family. We found that these stories were often exaggerated and simply not true if you did your research and adopted through a reputable agency. Of course, there are heartbreaking stories out there. Thankfully we learned through our research and experience that it is possible to adopt an infant in the United States within a relatively short time.

Meeting Our Daughters

We now have two beautiful daughters: Alana (11) and Nadia (9). Surprisingly, the time from when we entered the “pool” of potential adoptive parents until the birth of each girl was about 9 months. The similarities of their adoptions end there.

Woman kissing a young baby.

Alana (5 months) and her birth mom.

Eleven years ago I was visiting a friend in Traverse City when Don called and asked if I was sitting down. A birth mother selected us and the baby girl would be discharged from the hospital the next morning. In just 12 hours we would be parents. Needless to say, I rushed home, met Don at Meijer in the middle of the night to choose a going home outfit, and pinched myself for what remained of the night. “She is so beautiful,” was my first thought. And I meant both of them, the tiny baby (5 lbs, 13 oz) and her birth mother.

Woman smiling at young baby.

Nadia (6 months) and her birth mom.

Two years later our experience was much different. I had a rare afternoon to myself that was supposed to be spent cleaning the house. Then the phone rang; the adoption agency was calling. We were selected by a birth mother who was due three months later. I was able to talk to Nadia’s birth mother that day. We spent the next three months getting to know one another. Don and I were at the hospital when Nadia was born and were able to hold her 90 minutes later. Don was the picture of calm in the waiting room. I was a stereotypical 1950s father—without the cigar—pacing, twitching and generally a nervous wreck. All of that went away when I held Nadia, all 9 lbs 15 oz of her.

Explaining Adoption to Our Daughters

We actually have never sat down to “explain” adoption to our daughters. It’s just one part of our lives. For us, adoption means that there are more people in the world who love you. We have open relationships with both girls’ birth families; they are part of our extended family. During the first year, we frequently visited the girls’ birth mothers. As time went on, we saw them less, usually around birthdays or holidays. The girls have always known that these strong, beautiful women love them very much.

Woman and three kids lying on the grass.

Nadia and Alana reunited with Nadia’s birth mom and half-brother, Henry, this past summer.

Nadia’s birth mom moved out-of-state before she turned two. This past summer she made a rare trip back to Michigan. Nadia was thrilled. She had so many questions and enjoyed learning about things they have in common. Alana’s birth mom moved back to Michigan last year after living out-of-state for several years. Alana has enjoyed reconnecting with her.

I am so glad the girls have the opportunity to know their birth families and share in the love their birth moms and their families have for them. Has it always been easy? No, of course not, but parenting isn’t easy. Sometimes I question myself, have they had enough contact with their birth moms, do I respect their heritage, do I give them enough love? They have questions I can’t always answer. They make comments that can hurt. Unfortunately, I remember doing the same thing to my mother. That’s how children learn and grow to discover who they are.

I can’t give them everything. But I can give them love. And that love includes giving them the opportunity to know, love and be loved by their birth mothers and their birth families. After all, it’s all about love.

Considering Adoption

If you are considering adoption, talk about it with everyone you know. You’ll be surprised by how many people you already know were adopted, have adopted, are in the process of adopting, or made an adoption plan for a child. Yes, some people will tell you scary stories, but don’t give up. Find out the truth for yourself. Talk to different agencies. Ask them about their philosophies, the adoption process, waiting times, classes, support for you, your child and your child’s birth parents. Different agencies will be a bitter fit for different families.

It’s not about being pregnant, it’s about being parents. Adoption simply is another way for a child to enter your family. And, it’s all about love.

– Jen Walker is a Certified Passenger Safety Technician and works for the Parenting Program teaching car seat safety education to new parents on the Mother-Baby Unit at Royal Oak. She’s also a long-time Parenting Program volunteer who first learned about the program through other moms at a baby music class. After speaking with the Parenting office, Jen learned she could participate in a group if she had a Beaumont pediatrician who could write her a prescription for the program.

National Adoption Awareness Month: Starting the Conversation Without Being a Putz

Woman kissing baby boy

My husband and I announced we were pursuing adoption just after we completed our home study, which was eight months before we were chosen. While adoption isn’t uncommon, it’s not very common either, and well-meaning friends, relatives and even the lady doing my pedicure can say things that set adoptive parents on edge.

So, here’s a crash course in what’s not OK and what’s OK to ask or say to adoptive parents. It’s natural to want to ask questions and that’s great! Please do. Just be a little sensitive.

Would you believe I experienced all of these?

  • Never, under any circumstances, ask, “What’s wrong with you?” “Which one of you can’t have kids?” or some similar version. Trust me. You don’t want to hear about the status of my uterus or my husband’s plumbing. And we don’t want to talk about it. Besides, how do you know we’re not just adopting to adopt?
  • Please don’t start telling adoption horror stories. We’ve heard them. We’ve read about them. It’s our worst nightmare.
  • I never understood why the first question people inevitably ask about our birthmom is her age. It’s not that it’s offensive, but it’s just satisfying a morbid curiosity and not at all relevant.
  • Don’t slam or make judgmental comments about the birthmom. Also, she didn’t “give away” her baby/ies. She made an adoption plan, which is the most difficult thing anyone could do.
  • When someone tells you they’re adopting, please don’t react with sympathy.

Now that the no-no’s are out of the way, let’s talk about the fun stuff, with the politically correct terms.

  • You can’t go wrong reacting with pure joy and excitement. When someone tells you they’re adopting, respond exactly the same way you would if they told you they’re pregnant.
  • The adoptee has a birthmom and a birthfamily. “Biological” makes them sound like science experiments. “Real” mom is also frowned upon. I’m the real mom and there can be only one.
  • Ask about the process, how they got started, what agency they’re using, where they are now and how the home study went. You can also ask about the relationship with the birthmom—if she’s in the picture, if the adoptive parents met her, etc.
  • The typical questions are all fair game: Are you going to find out what you’re having? How old is the child? Is he/she from around here, or is it an international adoption? When do you think you’ll get a baby/child? This is a fun, exciting time. Allow yourself to get wrapped up in it.
  • Ask for reassurance. People want to know if the birthmom can take away the kid(s). The answer is yes and no. She can change her mind until she goes to court to relinquish her parental rights. This usually happens in the first 30–60 days or so. Once the birthmom goes to court, she has officially given the greatest gift anyone could give. It’s safe to breathe now.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

Heads Up: An Odd-Shaped Head at Birth is Nothing To Be Alarmed About


Hi. My name is Rebecca. My birth story isn’t typical, but it’s not all that unusual, either.

You see, I was “expecting” for about 18 months. We began the adoption process in June 2010 (holy paperwork, Batman!) and became the very proud parents of twins in December 2011. We had three weeks’ notice to prepare for two babies.

We met our birthmom and her case worker at a local mall play area. She had a notebook full of questions, which we were happy to answer. Her decision to make an adoption plan was confident, thoughtful and considerate, which made our adoption process move along like a dream.

A week after we met her, she invited us to her home just three miles away from ours to get to know each other better. We met her son, our kids’ half-brother, and learned her history. She was completely wonderful.

It was just a little more than a week after that when we received a call from her. This wasn’t like her, since she always preferred communicating through our adoption agency. She said that all day she wasn’t feeling well and decided to go to the emergency room, just to make sure everything was alright. Good thing she did because those babies wanted out!

In a panicked hustle we sped to the hospital and 97 minutes later we were parents to a 4-pound, 10 ounce girl and a 5-pound, 1-ounce boy. They were six weeks premature.

Our daughter was the first baby born. She was head down, so her brother was sitting on her head for 34 weeks. When the doctor showed her to us for the first time, we had no idea what to think except maybe “Igor” would be a more fitting name than the one we had chosen.

Then out came our boy. I was a little worried at first, but his head was perfect. I’m happy to say that my daughter now has a normal shaped head and big, blue eyes—a real heart-breaker.

Was your child born with a funny-shaped head? Did you see your baby for the first time and think, “Hmmm”?

Being the adoptive parent of multiples is a challenging experience, but it also brings unimaginable joy. I’m happy to share that with you all.

—Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples