‘Like typical bible college kids, we got married young, and 9 months later we were pregnant.’: Mom shares journey to 6 biological and adopted children

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“I was the kid that couldn’t wait to start babysitting. I couldn’t wait to work at camp as a counselor. When I finally was old enough to do both of those things, I threw myself into them with my whole being. I was the babysitter in the neighborhood who brought the backpack full of fun activities; I was the camp counselor that the kids wanted to be with. I loved being with kids, and I knew that I would be the coolest mom to a big family one day.

My husband Stefan and I met at Bible college where we were both studying to be pastors. Like typical bible college kids, we got married young in 2008, and nine months after we got married we were pregnant with our oldest daughter, Capri. We were young, in love, and poor. I graduated eight months pregnant, and Stefan still had a semester left of classes. Capri was born in 2010. We lived on campus, and our baby was loved by all our friends and classmates.

couple on their wedding day
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

I quickly became a mommy blogger, met all my mom friends on Twitter as was the custom of the day, and enjoyed my life of doing product reviews and raising my crunchy baby. Back then it was odd to be a hippie mom. We co-slept, breastfed, baby wore in woven wraps and soft structured carries, did Baby Led Weaning, and used cloth diapers. We were definitely the odd ones out in our little town. But in my online world of fellow crunchy mamas, I fit right in.

mom holding her baby
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

After my husband finished his classes and graduated, we waited to get our first job in a church. In the meantime, he did what any amazing husband and father does, and found whatever job he could to support us. He worked at McDonald’s, and thankfully our rent was cheap in our old apartment.

When our daughter was just over a year, we decided we wanted to start trying for a second baby. To be honest, we thought it would take time to get pregnant, and much to our surprise, we got pregnant right away. When our second daughter, Payson, was born in 2012, we were just getting ready to move to a new province to start a new job in a tiny country church. When Payson was born, the nurses made one comment about her while we were in the hospital which would be our life for the next six months. The nurses said, ‘We have never had a baby cry so loud and so often as this little one.’ And cry she did. Payson screamed and cried all day, every day. She would sleep at night only if she was lying on top of me nursing.

mom holding her two babies
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

And so we moved to our new tiny town, with a just turned 2-year-old and a screaming infant. During this time, we were also trying to figure out some scary medical things with our oldest daughter. Her joints were inflamed, and her left knee was massive and immobile. After many doctors’ visits, an ER doctor in our new town made us a quick appointment at the children’s hospital a few hours away. Long story short, our newly turned 2-year-old had Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. She started taking medication to calm down the inflammation and had injections done to her joints to try and control the swelling.

Here we were in a tiny town, in the middle of nowhere. With very little support, a child with a new and scary diagnosis, and a baby who never stopped screaming. Stefan and I used to take turns driving to the coffee shop just to get away from the screaming child. It was a very low and scary time of our lives. When Payson was less than a year old, a friend and I were joking about how we had not taken a pregnancy test recently just to make sure we were not pregnant. The next morning, just to be funny, I took a pregnancy test. Only to discover it was positive. And that is how I discovered we were expecting our third daughter, Lyra.

My first two labors were fairly fast: Capri came in 10 hours from the first contraction, and Payson came in three hours and 56 minutes. My first contractions with both of them started at three minutes apart. We were now living over an hour from a hospital that delivered babies, and our newest baby was due right in the middle of December, and we live in Canada. So not only would we need to get to the hospital in time, we would need to pack up a 3-year-old and a 1.5-year-old and drive to the hospital where we would meet my parents who would take the kids. I was terrified we would deliver on the side of the road. We ended up going into the city and staying with my parents right before my due date, and lo and behold, Lyra was born in the middle of the night only one hour and 57 minutes after my contractions started. She had the cord wrapped around her neck and swallowed meconium. Thankfully she was okay and settled into our family quickly, and we ended 2013 as a family of 5.

family watching movie on a projector
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

Months after Lyra was born we left our tiny church, because it had closed down, and moved to another church. Except this time we were not on paid staff, we were volunteering. I mentioned we live in Canada, but what I didn’t mention is my husband is American. At this point, he had a visa that only allowed him to work in a church, as his work visa that he had was no longer an option. So here we were with three kids and no job prospects. I took a job managing a farmer’s market, which was a huge blessing to our family. I always came home with boxes of produce and meat from different vendors who freely gifted our family food. We lived in a beautiful home that friends rented to us at a very steep discount. During this time, we saw God work miracle after miracle to keep us going.

When our youngest was 14 months, I once again was pregnant (you would think we would have figured this out by now). And we very excitedly told the world that baby #4 was on the way. When you have a lot of kids, the enthusiasm for each pregnancy gets less and less from those around you. People start to question your sanity. We had three girls already, and we started getting a lot of comments like, ‘Wow, I bet your husband really wants a boy this time. He is going to be so disappointed if it’s another girl.’ And much to the world’s disappointment, but not ours, baby #4 was indeed another girl. With a very proud girl dad who loves his little ladies.

A few months before baby #4 arrived, we were officially hired at the church we were volunteering at. Baby #4 was a home birth, and unlike her sisters who all arrived quickly and on time, she was eight days late. Her labor was nothing like my first three. We welcomed Zalah into the family just a few months shy of our seventh wedding anniversary in 2015. Along with a new job, and a new baby, Stefan was also approved as a permanent resident of Canada, which made us all feel a lot better about life.

family of 6 sitting on the floor
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

Everyone thought our family of six was done and plenty large for their standards. Much to everyone’s surprise, we announced that we would be starting the adoption process when Zalah was almost 2. This was something we had talked about for years, even before we were married. We had always planned to foster or adopt. We both knew the importance of it and the need for it. And so we started the process in 2017. We did all of our classes and were finally approved to both foster and adopt in the fall of 2018 just days before I left for a 10 day trip to Sierra Leone for work. Where we live in Canada, they highly discourage people from both fostering and adopting, normally you need to pick. But we asked to foster as an emergency home and to do respite care for other foster families, and they agreed. Over the next 10 months, we had 12 kids pass through our home, either as emergency placements or respite, with one little girl staying for seven months. We had kids from newborn to age 15. We decided to take a break from fostering in the fall of 2019 to focus more on our adoption. At this point, we didn’t have any matches and were desperately waiting for our family to be matched with kids.

We had issues with the department of child services thinking we were crazy for wanting more kids. We always seemed to get the social workers who only had one or two kids of their own and could not seem to comprehend a big family. Which is a world we have unfortunately gotten used to.

In February of 2020, we looked at a profile for 12-year-old twin boys. On March 13, 2020, we sent an email to our social worker asking her to present us as a family for the boys. And as we all know, that is when the world shut down. DCS stopped all adoption meetings. Over the next six months, we heard nothing. Finally, in August 2020, a meeting happened to present us as a family for these boys. And we were matched. We didn’t get to meet them until October 2020. It was the longest few months of our lives. We fell in love with Greg and Cody and couldn’t wait for them to join our family. Usually, transitions to adoptive homes happen within a few weeks, but ours took 21 weeks, which was very challenging. Once the boys finally moved in and we signed papers to adopt, things started smoothing out and our family settled into a household of eight. We signed papers in March 2021, a year after we first sent in our profile for the boys. The boys turned 13 just before they moved in with us.

family portrait on the beach
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

Our big joke is that Stefan and I had only been dating for three months when the boys were born in 2007, a year before we were married. They seamlessly fit into our family dynamics. They became the oldest of six kids and had four little sisters to help them learn about our lives.

To add to our chaos, we also have a fair number of medical conditions in the house. The boys have a growth hormone disorder that requires daily injections, and our daughter who was diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis also has ADHD and a few learning disorders. We see a lot of our children’s hospital and pharmacist.

We have an amazing open adoption with our boys’ older sister, and we are so fortunate to have someone like her in our lives. Having that connection to their biological family is so important for them.

As a family of eight, we are considered a large family. We drive a 12 passenger van (Big Silvey our Nissan NV #bigsilveyNV), but I don’t really think of us as a big family. We are a loud family, I can say that. We currently live in a townhouse apartment that we recently moved into. It means a lot of organizing a small space for a lot of people.

family in front of a van
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

We are both pastors, and I also work for an NGO as a disaster relief worker, which requires me to travel internationally for work. Our jobs are not super lucrative, so keeping our family organized and on a budget is very important to me. I work hard to keep our grocery budget low (though in Canada that is hard), and feeding six bottomless pits makes it challenging. We shop used, or highly discounted, and sell off what we don’t need, and we adore hand-me-downs.

On my social media, I try to share how we organize, eat, shop, and live as a big family. I also try and keep it real. You won’t look through my Instagram and say, ‘Wow, I wish my house was that clean and my meals were that fancy.’ Nope, you will see our real, and usually chaotic lives. One thing I realized quickly was it didn’t matter how fun I was as a camp counselor or babysitter, being a mom is a whole different and tiring story.

family in the woods
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

People assume we must finally be done with adding children to our family. But we always want to be an open and safe home (and someday actually have a large enough house for this). We want our house to be a safe place for our kids’ friends to crash, a home with a bed for someone who needs it, and maybe a forever family to another child needing one.

I keep my sanity by falling into books, coffee, hot baths, and most importantly Jesus. I pray daily that my kids won’t remember the bad chaos, but will instead remember a mom and dad who love them bunches even in the pandemonium. This is my exhausting circus, and these are my wild monkeys.”

family portrait in the woods
Courtesy of Deborah Gilbert

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Deborah Gilbert from Nova Scotia, Canada. 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.

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