By Julie Samrick
For anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s possible to love an adopted child as much as a biological one, let me tell you Susan’s story.
Susan and her husband, Trent, had two biological children of their own, a boy and a girl, with hopes for an even larger family. When it looked like it wouldn’t happen naturally, they first thought about adoption.
The first several months, though, were disheartening. Susan describes the American adoption system as trial and error at best, fraught with too much red tape and certainly not welcoming.
“The courts take a reunification stance in America, which means they would rather see children raised by family members instead of adopted by new birth families,” she says. Susan admits this sounds well intentioned, yet believes the focus becomes not on the kids involved but instead on the adults in their lives. “Even if that family member is ‘Auntie,’ who is also young and unmarried, she would be favored” over happily married and financially stable couples like Susan and Trent, she says.
In the United States the tides have shifted away from adoption. Compared to 1970 when 38% of babies born to unwed mothers were placed for adoption, less than 1% are today. Teens today are not only encouraged to raise babies in lieu of placing them in adoptive homes with a mom and a dad, they are even glorified. Take one look at hit shows like Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant on MTV, a network that strictly courts the 12-25 year old demographic.
It dawned on Susan and Trent that in an environment in the United States where adoption is not welcomed beyond bloodlines, they’d always be foster parents at best. They wanted more: they clearly wanted to adopt and make a child a part of their family forever.
A friend told Susan and Trent about Holt International, the world leader in international adoptions whose mission for over 50 years has been to find every child a permanent, loving family.
After learning more about international adoptions, and particularly the plight of orphans worldwide, Susan and Trent decided to adopt from South Korea. Susan says though change is slowly coming, as of 2007 baby boys born out of wedlock in South Korea weren’t allowed to take their father’s last name and so were not entered into the national registry. Under the law they have no last name, so in some ways they don’t even exist. Girls in South Korea sometimes fare better under the same circumstances because they can marry one day and take their husband’s name.
In 2008, Susan and Trent completed the adoption of then 2-year-old Adam, who jumped into their laps and was their son “in about 20 minutes,” which they concede is certainly not the case in every situation.
She brightens when she talks about first seeing Adam’s picture months before. “We knew he was our son. There is no way you could tell us he’s not our child now…You really can love kids who aren’t biologically yours- it’s crazy!” she laughs, now referring to herself several times during the interview as “an ambassador of adoption.”
When Susan and Trent decided they wanted one more child, they learned more about China, where the one child policy has led to orphanages filled with little girls. Since females do not care for their parents into old age, but go with their husband’s family instead, boys are the preferred gender in China, especially since each couple may only have one child.
Susan and Trent were first matched to Rachel when she was 17 months old and first saw the picture of her below. They followed her journey from 9,000 miles away as they went through the process to adopt her over the course of 8 months.
Susan says technology was a blessing through both adoptions. They were able to do so much more with the aid of the Internet than they would’ve been able to a decade ago or more, she says. They even connected with a nurse from Minnesota who had coincidentally volunteered at the orphanage where Rachel spent her first 2 years. The nurse even rummaged up photos of baby Rachel before and after surgery to her cleft lip and palate. “We got to see what our little squirt looked like when she was an infant- what a gift,” says Susan.
When they finally traveled to the orphanage in Lanxi, China, a tiny town miles from the largest big city, Susan said a silent prayer to Rachel’s birth mother. “I told her we would love her daughter and that she’d be just fine.” Rachel finally became a part of their family just after her second birthday in 2010.
When Susan, Trent and their 4 kids walk around their Nebraska community today, people can obviously tell 2 of their kids are adopted and they have lots of questions. Susan is truthful with people and thinks of these interactions as opportunities to share their story and her new found passion for adoption. She and Trent talk about Rachel’s transition, for instance, which was more challenging than Adam’s seamless one: she has special needs and must go to speech therapy 3 days a week. A large community of families like Susan’s come together and bond like extended family at monthly potlucks. She credits support networks like these as vital.
One thing Susan knows for sure, though, is that they are a family unit. “For every horror story floating out there about adoption, there are a million positive ones,” she insists.
Susan recently overheard her now 5 year old son, Adam, boasting to a friend that he gets to have 2 birthday celebrations- a “Gotcha!” day and a traditional birthday. They’ve incorporated Korean and Chinese food into their meals too. “If I ever meet their biological families one day, I want them to know we honored their culture and incorporated traditional foods like dumplings and bulgogua (Korean bbq) into our everyday meals,” Susan says.
Susan also used to think parents shouldn’t adopt if they already have biological children, but she’s been proven wrong. “My older kids’ hearts have grown enormously (they are now 6 and 9) and if you were to ask them what they love the most, they would say their siblings.”
Susan says it has been a blessing to see her kids learn lessons that can only be taught through experience. For instance, when all her children cheered recently when Rachel said a simple new word like, “No,” Susan saw invaluable gifts opened right before her eyes, lessons in compassion and diversity that will benefit them all the rest of their lives.
For now, Susan’s quest is clear and her message unwavering to anyone who will listen: “If everyone could adopt one child, regardless of religion or country of origin, our world would be a better place. A child is a child and they all just need a home.”
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