When your family tree becomes an orchard, it’s called “adoption.” And, oh how grateful I am for my multi-generational orchard.
The burden of responsibility often shouldered by us firstborns was weighty on my soul as a kid. I yearned for a big brother. My younger brother was (and is) fabulous enough; I simply wanted an older one, too.
I was quick to lock in a shot at it when I was 8-years-old, two years after my folks divorced. Dad took me with him to the drive-in theater on one of his dates with a woman and her son, who is 10 months older than I am.
From our car’s rooftop campout, Brad and I bonded like Gorilla Glue and by the end of whatever movie played for everyone else in the lot, Brad and I proposed marriage on behalf of our parents.
They wed later that year and Dad promptly adopted Brad before two more children joined our troop.
Our family has since welcomed more than a dozen people for either short- or long-term stays.
What’s more, Brad married Lisa, who had two girls and another insta-family joined ours before they had two boys.
Then, their daughter Amanda and her husband adopted a family as well, but getting there was a long, grief-laden road.
They married in 2003 and after many failed fertilizations, they chose to adopt.
She and her Samoan husband, Milton, both worked in the foster care system, but despite submitting their own adoption papers for 22 different children yet getting none and having several adoptions fall through, they still agree: a family is worth fighting for.
Three years into their marriage, an unwed relative on Milton’s native island got pregnant.
Milton and Amanda agreed to adopt the baby, but the attorney fled the country with their money and the court had no record of their submission.
Turning their broken hearts back to their Texas hometown, they got a foster-care baby, but within a week, he was taken away by the baby’s father.
They remained relentless and in 2010, went through a woman’s pregnancy with her. To best prepare for the end of their seven-year journey, Amanda quit her job a few months before the baby was born. They were ecstatic to finally become parents and named the boy “Smith.” But after four months in their home, devastation struck again — the birth mother changed her mind.
“Milton was the director of a child placement agency,” Amanda detailed. “In April 2011, I was going to the office to do some work and when I got there, Milton’s co-workers knew we had a newborn and came to congratulate me ... ”
A woman visiting the office overheard Amanda crying and telling the ladies they’d just learned they were going to lose their baby.
“The lady approached me and said she’d get me a kid,” Amanda said. “That was on a Wednesday. On Friday, Smith’s dad came to our door and took him. It was such a dark time. We were in shock.”
Overcome with despair, Amanda was desperate to be out in the sun, hoping it would dispel the emotional darkness. When she stepped outside, her cell phone rang in her hand.
“It was the lady from Wednesday — she had two kids for us and didn’t even know that was the day we lost Smith,” Amanda said. “I’d just gone outside to get the mail and I walked back in and told Milton we just got two kids.”
Within days, a 15-month-old boy and his 4-year-old sister were theirs.
“It was hard to cuddle them, because they were covered in lice and scabies,” she said. “They smelled badly even after bathing and I wasn’t used to their quirks. On day three, I was struggling. I put them down for a nap and called Mom bawling that I couldn’t do it. But I’d promised I’d keep them — they’d moved through the system 14 times. I cried and cried.”
When the boy they named Reeve awoke, she put him in yet another bath, but that time, the bath washed Amanda as well.
“When he splashed the water, he belly-laughed and it made me laugh. We connected and I knew I could do it,” she said. “Now it feels like their DNA is ours — like they are absolutely ours.”
By January 2012, the adoption was finalized and they’re now living happily ever after.
Remember the Samoan girl they were supposed to adopt at birth six years earlier? In a twist of fate, she landed in their home only two months after they got Reeve and Millie.
“Tesi went through the 2009 Tsunami that hit Samoa. We were told that her grandfather put her on his shoulders and took her up the mountain to make sure she made it to America to be adopted,” Amanda said. “But we didn’t get her until two years after that. We asked God for one child, but He gave us three and we hit the jackpot with all of them. They’re all miracles.”
Anyone considering adoption should make their story known, she added.
“I just happened to be in the right place for someone to hear it,” she said. “I tell my kids, ‘Everyone has a birth story, but most are boring. We have phenomenal stories of how we came together.’ All the time, they tell me to tell people their stories that make our family unique. They’re survivors. They let nothing knock them down.”
One more thing… November is National Adoption Month. If you’d like to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 712-246-3097.
Kristan Gray is a staff writer for The Valley News.