‘We walked through the door. His first word was, ‘DADDY!’ He lived his whole life in foster care. Weeks later, we found out we were pregnant!’: Bereaved mom adopts boy from foster care, births 3 sons

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“Mike and I met in high school and quickly became inseparable. We were married five years later in an outdoor ceremony surrounded by nature and the people we loved most. Life together has been a journey filled with adventure, joy, sometimes heartache, but always love and respect. Although our family’s journey has been unconventional, we would not trade it for anything else.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

Our adoption story starts with our firstborn biological son, Caleb, years before our adopted son, Jonah, joined our family. Caleb was a beautiful baby who was born unable to breathe on his own. Caleb spent his entire life on a ventilator. He was born with an extremely rare disorder that causes facial paralysis, and in Caleb’s case, it also caused diaphragm and vocal cord paralysis. While we were in and out of the hospital with our son, we encountered so many children without families in the foster care system who were sick and alone.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

During one hospital stay, we met a little girl who was in the bed next to our son. She was crying and alone, clothed only in a hospital gown. Caleb was in his own jammies, surrounded by his favorite toys and his mommy and daddy. For the most part, their nurse paid attention to us and Caleb, providing brief care and little attention to the girl. We were shocked by this child’s reality. That shock turned into outrage and led our hearts to adoption. While it wasn’t possible to help that specific child, Mike and I both felt we needed to do something. We started the adoption process almost immediately.

While we waited for our home study to be finished, Mike was offered a job opportunity we couldn’t pass up, so we moved to another state and started the process over. After we moved, Caleb’s health declined and in 2008, just before Christmas, we lost him to pneumonia. Mike and I were devastated. Overwhelmed by grief, we put our adoption plans on hold and focused on healing, although we continued to feel the pull on our hearts to adopt. Caleb’s life blessed us in so many ways, and one of the biggest was this strong desire to adopt. Eventually, we contacted the adoption agency once again, completed a home study update, and began the wait for a child.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

Every potential adoptive family is required to complete a home study. We were determined to ‘get it done’ and started tackling the mountains of paperwork and training involved. The training focused on adoption in general, the trauma children in foster care experience, transracial adoption, and a three-hour car seat training. There were many changes we had to make in our home, to make sure it was ‘safe,’ including having our fire extinguishers inspected by a professional.

We were asked so many questions: ‘How were you parented?’ ‘Have you ever been abused?’ ‘Do you have or have you ever had a drug or alcohol problem?’ ‘What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?’ ‘What ethnicities are you open to?’ No question was off limits, and almost all were extremely personal. Sometimes we felt like they were intentionally trying to make us feel uncomfortable, just to see how we could handle it. Our social worker asked us, ‘What changes are you willing to make in your lives if you adopt out of your race?’

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

To answer this question, we needed more time. Our answer was, ‘Absolutely anything necessary.’ Our social worker wanted more concrete answers. I am so glad we were pushed to reach deeper and truly think about how we would provide a connection to a culture that wasn’t our own. ‘Were we willing to move?’ Yes, we were and we did. ‘Were we willing to change churches?’ Yes, we were and we did. ‘Were we willing to work hard to provide positive cultural and racial mirrors for our child?’ Absolutely! ‘Would we provide books, toys, and art that looked like our child?’ Yes, we would and did.

After months of working hard to learn more, reach deeper, and prepare our home, we were a home study approved family! The day our home study was completed was both exciting and a relief. Within weeks of completing our home study, we had three adoption opportunities presented to us. We were overwhelmed! How could we possibly choose? We both wanted to take them all, but knew it was best for us to add one sweet child to our family at a time. Mike and I can’t pinpoint a specific reason why we chose our son. We just ‘knew’ he was meant to be ours. We were matched and were going to be parents again! It felt like our hearts would burst! We were excited, but also nervous.

Jonah had lived all of his two years in a foster home. Would he like us? We knew it would be heartbreaking for him to leave the only family he had ever known! How could it not be? How could we help him prepare for such a big change before ever meeting him? We sent him a care package that included a stuffed animal and security blanket that Mike and I had slept with for weeks so our scent would be familiar. We sent him a video and a photo album so we wouldn’t be complete strangers to him when we met. These gestures seemed so small, but we hoped they would help! Weeks went by and soon it was time to meet our son, so we traveled by plane from Minnesota to South Carolina.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

When we arrived in South Carolina, we had to wait a whole day before we could meet Jonah. Mike and I barely slept that night! In the morning, we drove to the foster family’s home, knocked on the door, and waited. We could hear Jonah’s laughter before we saw his face. The foster mother answered the door with a tiny boy jumping up and down at her side. Jonah’s first word when we walked through the door was, ‘DADDY!’ He recognized us from the photos and videos we had sent! The foster family was so kind. They had obviously helped prepare Jonah for this huge transition. His foster mom said Jonah loved the video we sent, and he watched it over and over again.

Because we adopted Jonah through foster care, ‘open adoption’ was not an option. We know very little about his birth family, and that breaks our hearts. We did spend a week getting to know the foster family Jonah had been with since birth. We have sent them pictures and updates throughout the years. Details of Jonah’s life before he joined our family are a part of his story. We feel that part is his to tell when he’s older if he wishes. After spending the week in South Carolina, we were finally going home! When we boarded the airplane for the trip home, our hearts were bigger and so was our family. That was one of the happiest days of our lives!

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

Jonah slept with the stuffed animal and blanket we had sent him every single night. In many ways, the transition was like bringing home a newborn. Jonah didn’t sleep well for the first few weeks because he was processing and grieving the life and foster family he left behind. We stayed close to home and focused on bonding as a family. We learned all about what our new son liked in those first few days: foods, books, music, games, what made him smile, and how he played. It was a whole new world. Six months later, we went in front of the judge and Jonah legally became our son. We celebrate his adoption day every year.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson
Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

A few weeks after bringing Jonah home, we found out we were expecting another baby! Mike and I were stunned! Two children in one year! We were excited and nervous. How would Jonah react to having a new sibling so soon? Would we be overwhelmed with so many changes in such a short time? We did our best to prepare him. Jonah would pat my belly and ask, ‘My baby?’ We would assure him that, yes, it was ‘his’ baby.

Three months after we finalized Jonah’s adoption, Lucas, our third son, was born. It turns out, we didn’t have to worry so much about this transition! Jonah had a little brother and he doted on him. Lucas was ‘his’ baby. Wherever Lucas went, so did Jonah. There was more love between them than we could have ever imagined! In many ways, making Jonah a big brother solidified his role in the family. He was so proud! The two boys share a strong bond, and we are absolutely sure it will last them for the rest of their lives.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

Over the next few years, we added two more beautiful boys to our family. Our home is full of laughter, love, and lots of silliness. Each boy adds his own unique gifts and personality to our family, making it stronger. Our home is more than just a house. It’s the place we cuddle, craft, play, and learn together. We love our big family and we love each other deeply. Recently, we’ve all felt the call on our hearts to adopt another child. The boys spoke the words that were in our hearts, ‘We should adopt again,’ and we all decided together that adoption is the perfect way to complete our family.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson
Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

Last summer, we began our second adoption journey. We went through the whole home study process over again, answered all of the uncomfortable personal questions, and began preparing our home for a new baby. Our adoption agency warned us there might be a ‘long wait’ because we are a ‘large family.’ We haven’t let those warnings dampen our hope. We see our large family as a huge positive! We structure our lives to make ‘family’ a top priority. I am a stay-at-home mother and Mike works from home a large part of the time.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

We make sure each child receives individual attention. We’re different than most couples who are seeking adoption, but different isn’t bad. We are devoted parents who love fiercely and unconditionally. Our adoption worker agreed our big family was loving and fun. Our home study was approved, and we went ‘live’ with our agency right before the pandemic.

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

The world has changed but our desire to adopt has not. We are still hoping to add another little one to our family. Our hearts and home have room for another. Our hearts grew bigger with Jonah’s adoption. That’s how it works. Your heart grows each time a child enters your family. We simply have so much more love to give! Although we have no contact with Jonah’s birth family, we are hoping for the gift of an open adoption this time around. It would be an honor to walk with an expectant mother during this time in her life and beyond.

It feels odd to ask people who read our story to share it, but sharing it might help us complete our family. That’s BIG!”

Courtesy of Sarah and Mike Wilson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah and Mike Wilson. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and website. 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.

Read more stories like this:

‘They bluntly asked, ‘So, where is your real Mom? She didn’t want you? Is there something wrong with you?’ Everywhere I went, I stuck out like a sore thumb.’: Transracial adoptee says ‘it’s okay to grieve the loss of your birth family’

‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him

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