Adoption offers a hopeful, new start

By Maureen Callahan

Yes, adoption makes me special, it means that I am loved,” wrote author Sharlie Zinniger in her 2014 children’s book, Yes, I’m Adopted! For adoptive families and the children placed with them, adoption is a new beginning of the greatest kind. An adopted child brings the promise of a new life, a permanent enrichment to a family. The process can be rigorous, the challenges great- but the bonds created are forever. While the greatest number of children in this country are adopted in infancy, there are scores of older children available for placement. If you’re lucky, a child crosses your path by chance, as was the case of former Downers Grove resident, Colleen Thaiss, along with her husband, Eric, and daughter, Caroline. A mutual friend introduced the family to eight-year-old Madeline through the couple who had assumed temporary guardianship of her after her mother passed. The sweet, bright-eyed girl began spending time with them. Ten-year-old Caroline loved having someone to play with.

The more they got to know Madeline, the more they wanted her to stay. “2019 was the year we were awarded permanent guardianship of Madeline and the one that forever changed us as a family,” said Eric. “It not only grew us from a three to four-person unit, but in many ways, completed us as a family.” Colleen and Eric both grew up with siblings and treasure their relationships with them. They were so happy that Caroline could have one of those lifelong relationships – born from shared experiences – good and bad, small and large – that can only be lived, shared and remembered with a sibling. “Our extended families have come to know Madeline and love her. She is a wonderful new cousin, niece, and granddaughter,” said Colleen. “We will always love, support and encourage her.” For her part, when Madeline’s sixthgrade teacher asked her what she is happiest about, she replied with enthusiasm, “I’m always thankful to be a Thaiss! I’m happy to be adopted.” On the heels of National Adoption Awareness Month (November), Contributing Editor, Maureen Callahan, spoke to three local adoptive families. These are their personal stories, as relayed in their own words.

KELLY JAMES, MOTHER OF RYAN AND HALEY ENGER – DOWNERS GROVE

Adoption had been on my radar since college, so when my former husband, Erik (who died in 2020), and I were unable to have children the biological way, the idea seemed very natural to me. It took Erik a little longer to get comfortable with the idea, but he really wanted to be a dad. We knew we wanted to adopt a newborn, so the most challenging part was finding a woman who was expecting a baby to choose us to be her baby’s parents. That process is a roller coaster. With Ryan, his first mom chose us and seven weeks later, he was born! I didn’t realize how lucky we were the first time. With Haley, it took us more than three years, and five failed matches (where the mom changed her mind and decided to parent). Parenting is an awesome responsibility but having someone place her baby with you and trust you with her child ups the ante.

Kelly James and her adopted children, Ryan and Haley Enger

You are always mindful of that gift, and that responsibility- to be the best parent you can to this child whom you both love. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone wanting to adopt is to be clear about your level of comfort if you choose an open adoption. Don’t promise anything you can’t embrace. I knew that we wanted to have an open adoption, and Ryan’s first parents (and later, Haley’s first mom) wanted the same. We weren’t sure what that might look like, but initially promised an annual visit, letters, and photos. It’s grown to be much more than that, and my children’s first families are part of our family now, and vice versa. The way our family has grown has been an amazing experience, and one that I did not expect. I always say that being a parent is an adventure. I feel like Erik and I got to have an even bigger adventure by choosing adoption.

I didn’t physically create my children, but I see myself in them all the time. They have some of my mannerisms. My kids talk like I do. Sometimes they act like I do. I joke that I can brag about how gorgeous they are because I had nothing to do with their looks! But I’m most proud of the amazing human beings they’re turning out to be, because I feel like I do have something (hopefully a lot!) to do with that. I am always aware, though, that my kids’ first parents experienced a tremendous loss by choosing adoption. I think you must be willing to recognize and accept that as a parent by adoption, and respect the person, or people, who made your life possible. When Haley was a newborn, someone made a comment about how beautiful she was and that she couldn’t believe that “someone could give her up.” That rubbed me the wrong way. I said, “well, if her first mom (and Ryan’s first mom, too) hadn’t made the decision to choose adoption, I wouldn’t be a parent.” Without Jodi and Chaleigh, I wouldn’t be a mom- and I’m grateful to be my kids’ “mama” every day.

CATHLEEN HOFMANN, MOTHER OF BRIAN, JOHN, AND DANIEL – HINSDALE

I see my adoption story as one of divine intervention. I had just moved to Hinsdale and hadn’t met many people. A neighbor invited me to join a spiritual group at St Isaac Jogues. I told the group that I was having trouble figuring out my life’s purpose as I seemed unable to have more than my first child. A woman approached me after the meeting. She said she knew a father of a child looking to place his baby for adoption. The child would become our second son, John. Through a social worker, my husband and I offered to take care of the couple financially until the baby arrived. Everything seemed to be going well until the birth parents suddenly changed their minds and promised the baby to another couple. For ten days, I was devastated. It was the saddest I have ever been. Then they came back and said they would reconsider us if we would agree to an open adoption. We negotiated the terms to include photos and letters every three months for the first year. We also made an agreement that he could reach out at the age of 18 if John wished.

The Hofmann family: Brian, John, Danny, Cathy and Steve with their dog Olaf

We wanted it to be on his terms. For our second adoption and third son, Daniel, the process was totally different. We worked with Angel Adoption Agency in Cary, IL. I was supposed to meet the birth mother on the morning of 9/11, which was cancelled for obvious reasons. This was to be her third child. Once again, we worked with a social worker to offer the birth mother and her children assistance for the duration of her pregnancy. It all went very smoothly the second time. I told my sons their adoption stories from day one. Every adoptive parent handles their adoption story differently when communicating it to their children. I wanted mine to know from the beginning that they didn’t grow in my body, but in my heart. And I wanted them to know how much we appreciated the wonderful- and very difficult- decision, that their birth parents made. We’re very, very grateful to them. Adoption has been the greatest gift for us. It is the option to grow a family and create faith and love. As much as you’re giving this child, the child gives back to you. The process can be rigorous. It’s hard when you get turned down. But we’re strong. We got through it and came away with an amazing, life-altering situation!

MICHELE VIDA, MOTHER OF COLE AND HENRY VIDA – OAK BROOK

My husband Joe and I married later in life. We were unable to have children, so we decided to adopt. We put together a profile book of family values and photos, so someone could see who we were as a couple. We got set up with an adoption lawyer and within one day of submitting everything, we learned of a woman who was interested in adopting her baby to us. We drove to the hospital in Indiana where she was in labor with our first son, Cole Joseph. He was a perfect newborn. Three days later, the trouble started. He became violently ill, so we took him back to the hospital. His kidneys began shutting down and a myriad of medical issues kept him from getting better. We finally brought him home at six weeks old. He was on dialysis twelve hours a night. He couldn’t eat and his milk had to be decanted because he couldn’t have any potassium.

The Vida Family: Michele, Henry and Joe (2019)

We were in and out of Comer Children’s Hospital twice a week for nephrology, oncology, and dialysis. All the while, he was so happy and beautiful. But he slipped away soon after. Obviously devastated, we left town a lot just to create diversions. We had been in touch with our lawyer, as he often called to check in when Cole was sick. We decided to try adopting once more. One day, as I was at the cemetery to check on Cole’s grave, the attorney called again and said he had someone on the radar and if it worked out, it would be the fastest adoption he would have in his 40 years of practice. And it worked out! We were at the hospital when he was born. We named him Henry Cole, with his middle name as a tribute to his late brother.

His birth mother was very organized. She had written letters to the doctors and nurses with detailed instructions to bring him to us right away. She had also written beautiful letters to Henry about why she wanted my husband and I to be his parents, which we have for him. We are still in touch with Henry’s birth mother. He hasn’t met her yet, but we are working out the details of getting them together. It’s really a beautiful situation. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if we had not adopted Henry. One child does not replace another, and Henry is very aware of his older brother, Cole, who is part of our journey as a family. We gave him eighteen months of a precious life. Nothing will ever take him from our hearts and minds. And we are just so very thankful for Henry.

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