A Romance Is Born
“I was nearing completion of college in rural Pennsylvania in winter of 2009. While studying for my final exams, I took short breaks on my laptop and browsed social media, specifically MySpace. The ‘people you may know’ section popped up. I clicked on a familiar name. I realized he was someone I had gone to elementary school with in a small town in Idaho. He was backpacking in Australia with friends at the time. With absolutely zero intentions, I sent a message to strike up a conversation. The messaging continued for the next couple of weeks until we both returned to Idaho coincidentally around the same time. In January, we met at a local coffee shop. Needless to say, a romance was born. We started dating in February. I quickly knew he was the one.
Life was not as simple as it seemed. I was in the process of applying to medical school, which meant I would hopefully be moving in the coming months. I never out rightly discussed what would become of our relationship if I moved, but I knew he was hesitant to commit. Time passed and I was waitlisted at two schools until I eventually was declined admission. My career goals seemed crushed, but now our relationship was more solid. By summer of 2011, Joey and I were engaged. We had many conversations about our goals, dreams, and what the future would look like. Adoption had been something we were both passionate about, and was something we’d both hoped to pursue. I also decided to reapply to medical school, with Joey’s full support. While planning our wedding, I was accepted. We were married in June of 2012. Two weeks later, we moved to Washington to start school.
Starting A Family
A couple of years passed. We decided it was time to start our family. I wanted to experience pregnancy and motherhood, but with the intentions of adopting our second child. We experienced two years of infertility before I received a positive pregnancy test. The elation and joy was quickly mixed with anxiety and fear as I would be starting residency 1,300 miles away from any friends or family one month before my due date. We made the move and started our journey to parenthood entirely alone.
I wanted to be a mom more than anything in the entire world, so the day June was born my life changed forever. Joey was able to transition to a stay-at-home dad. My life was incredibly busy. I was beyond fatigued. I loved my career and I loved being a mom. June brought so much joy and light, even when life was overwhelming.
My first year of training was coming to an end. I did it. I was on a downhill ride now with a one-year-old, having a good routine at home, and my workload was lessened. It seemed like a great time to start figuring out the first steps toward adopting our second child. We researched agencies and talked with other adoptive parents. Before we submitted our initial application, life threw us another curve ball.
One afternoon, I came home from work, changed into casual clothes, and sat down on the couch to rest. Joey and June were at the grocery store. As I waited for them to come home, I received a phone call from my parents. I immediately knew something was not right. My step-dad had a shakiness in his voice. Without any hesitation, he told me, ‘Your mom has been having a nagging pain in her back for a few weeks. She decided to bring it up to her doctor. A CT scan was ordered to look for a kidney stone. Let me read you the report… ‘there is a pancreatic head mass with numerous pulmonary nodules concerning advanced pancreatic malignancy with too numerous to count pulmonary metastases.’ Mom has stage IV pancreatic cancer.’ He broke into tears. My stomach dropped. I burst into tears as well. I knew the prognosis. Mom was terminal, and she only had weeks to months.
Our family planning was put on hold. I struggled to focus on my medical training, to be a good mom to June, and to support my mom through her final days from a different state. Mom beat many odds and made it 9 months before succumbing to cancer. While the process of losing my mom was incredibly challenging, it gave me a heightened appreciation and importance for motherhood. Over the next year, family and healing was our focus.
The Adoption Process
During my final year of residency, I was selected to be a Chief Resident. This meant delaying my application to specialize in Gastroenterology fellowship for another year. This also meant I would have more free time and a little more money. God was telling us to pick up where we left off on our adoption journey. Joey and I knew it was time. We researched agencies and adoption routes. We set up a meeting with a social worker with All God’s Children International (AGCI) to discuss our options, discuss details regarding the process, and figure out our next steps. Joey and I quickly submitted our initial application. Joey, June, and I met with the social worker again a few weeks later to discuss which countries would fit our family situation and which ones we would meet the country specific requirements. After considering travel, cost, timeline, and the income requirements, we chose to pursue a closed, special needs adoption from Colombia.
As anticipated, the fees were large, but came in increments, giving us time to save and fundraise. Since I was the sole source of our household income, on a medical trainee salary, I picked up extra moonlighting shifts so we could pay the fees. We also came up with various ways to raise money. The first process was intense paperwork—the home study. It was time consuming to say the least. Background checks at all levels and every previous residence, employee letters, fingerprinting, reference letters, veterinarian letters, bank statements, psychological evaluations, medical visits, blood work, and hours of social worker visits were included in the home study. This took several months to complete. Then, it was out of our hands until it was compiled by the agency.
More time passed, and it was again time for the second step—the dossier. This meant more paperwork, more fees, and more moonlighting shifts. This paperwork was required by the Colombian agencies. We completed several hours of online adoption training. While we worked diligently on this process, I was preparing to start my three-year fellowship training in Gastroenterology. Life again got busy. We waited and waited until our dossier was approved in July 2021. Nearly two years had gone by since the beginning of our process, but we were finally in the waiting period to be matched with a child.
On October 18th, I came home from work and we sat down as a family to celebrate Joey’s birthday. In the middle of opening gifts, my phone rang. I walked into the office and answered it. It was AGCI. ‘Is Joey nearby?’ I ran and grabbed him and June. ‘We are all here,’ I said as I put her on speaker phone. ‘Congratulations! You are having a little girl!’ We teared up instantly as we listened to the details surrounding her birth and her few months of life. Maria was 21 months old with significant gross motor delays, but without a specific diagnosis.
She was born to a 14-year-old mother with no prenatal care. Her birth mother was unable to care for her due to poverty and lack of support. She made the decision to give her up in the hospital at birth. She was placed into foster care within two weeks of life. Her parents and extended family were never heard from again. Fourteen days was the time we were given to say yes or no to the referral, but both Joey and I knew she was our child. The foreign medical files were sent to an international pediatrician for review. We had a large amount of new paperwork to complete as well. By November 1st, we submitted our acceptance.
The evening before we were scheduled to leave, I sat holding June in my arms. As I looked at her, I remembered how tiny she was, the amazement I had the moment she was born, and when I held her for the first time in the hospital bed. I wondered if I would have the same feeling when I held Maria. I also felt incredible heaviness and sadness knowing Maria did not have the same love and experience as a newborn. I didn’t know, and would never know, the experiences Maria had in her two short years of life. Holding June, we cried together.
On February 5th, Joey and I boarded a plane to Bogota. The amount of emotion that day was insurmountable. Due to restrictions, June would be staying at home with Joey’s mom who flew to Texas to stay with her for three weeks while we were out of the country. My heart was torn. I couldn’t imagine being away from June for that long, but I was inexplicably excited and anxious to finally hold Maria in my arms. My mind kept going back to the trip to the hospital when I went into labor with June. This was our second trip into labor.
The morning of February 7th came. Joey and I spent time together early that morning decorating our hotel room with balloons, streamers, and toys. What would she think? Would she cry? What if she doesn’t like us? We discussed how this was one of the best days of our lives, but was probably the worst day of her life. We were taking her suddenly from everything and everyone she knew. Around 10:30 a.m., there was a knock at the door. I opened the door shaking. There she was. After two years and nine months of paperwork, fees, and endless stress, I took Maria into my arms. Still shaking, I looked at her sweet face like I had looked at June’s the moment I first held her. I kissed her cheeks. Joey quickly came beside us and embraced us both. She didn’t seem scared at all. After signing a few documents and acquiring her few belongings, the social workers left. Reality set in.
Overcoming Difficult Behaviors
The next three weeks were spent in Colombia going through the court process to legally adopt her, and we spent mandatory bonding time together. As each day passed, things became more and more challenging. Our hearts ached more every day to see June. As Maria—now legally known as Ivy—became more comfortable with us, her behaviors and personality started to show. Before we took custody of her, the Colombian social workers had warned us she was treated like a baby by her foster mom, and that it was so important we make her do things herself for her to develop. Sounds simple, right? That’s what we thought until we really witnessed what this meant.
We had taken hours of adoption training to prepare us. We thought we had the tools to tackle the challenge. Picking up her own food, holding her own cup, picking up a toy, or even standing would result in ear-piercing screams. She wanted everything done for her. As quickly as the tantrum would start, it would stop if she got what she wanted. It was evident her developmental delay was because of lack of engagement. The constant battle to be affectionate while encouraging her to develop was emotionally draining. Nothing had prepared us for this behavior. Joey and I were overwhelmed to say the least. Before we left Colombia three weeks later, she was walking independently for the first time. This was incredibly encouraging as we were finally seeing progress.
Coming Home To June
The night we came home, June fell asleep on the couch waiting for us. During the entire process, she was ecstatic to finally be a big sister. Joey crept into the house holding Ivy. ‘June Bug, wake up. Your sister is home.’ June woke up in a sleepy daze. She popped up when she realized Mom, Dad, and Ivy were home. ‘I love you,’ June said to Ivy before saying anything else. All of our struggles throughout the adoption process and the challenges in Colombia were worth it at this moment. We were officially a family of four.
Ten years ago when Joey and I discussed our desire to adopt, we had no idea of what the adoption journey entailed. We wanted to provide a home and a family for a child that didn’t have one. The steps, requirements, and cost seem vague. Researching adoption types and looking at the different routes was key. Finding the right path for each family is important and there are many agencies with staff eager to answer questions. The biggest step is the first one—applying and making the decision to start the process. We now know you don’t have to have the details ironed out, just a willing heart. Many of us talk about adoption, but most people never follow through. Funding, training, and support are all available. I encourage you, if you’ve ever considered adoption, to take the first step and talk with an agency.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dr. Tori Jaeger, DO of Temple, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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