Category: Adoption

Worth the wait

I always wanted to be a mom; in fact, when I was younger, I knew I would adopt someday. I just always knew.

When I was 25, I decided I would go to an information night for foster-to-adopt; this was with another organization than Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. I was a teacher at this point and ready to be a mother.

The training was quick and painless and I was approved. But, if you foster or adopt, you will quickly learn that waiting is part of the experience.

Following approval, I said yes to foster-parenting a girl, but was not selected. Before long, however, I was asked to provide a home for a 15-month-old girl on a foster-to-adopt basis. A few weeks later, the exciting part began and I still recall that day 18 years later: A little girl walking in with her social worker. That was followed, however, 20 minutes later by the toddler’s mother coming by with a different social worker.

I was asked if this was okay. My daughter’s birth mother was young and had not seen her in a while. I agreed; I was new at this and was afraid to say no. But the visit went quickly and painlessly and provided me with the opportunity to meet my child’s birth mother in my home. I knew as well that it would benefit my child to see her two mothers interact in my home. Looking back, I am glad I did this.

In fact, my daughter and I got into the swing of our relationship. She had weekly visits with her birth mom. She always went to her birth mom willingly and always left the visits just as happy. At a young age she understood that she had two moms.

But … I was always waiting for an update, always wondering how long my daughter would stay. Would I adopt her … or would she go back to birth mom?

I think that is probably the hardest part of being a foster parent. You are always waiting.

You wait for the call. You wait for any updates. You wait for court. You wait for termination of parental rights (TPR) or reunification. Luckily, you have things to fill in the wait. You are able to watch a child blossom in your house. You get to bond and create a family. It’s a stressful, yet exciting time.

I was lucky. I had to wait only 10 months for TPR. It was granted by yet again I had to wait—this time for 30 days to see if the birth mother appealed. She did and I went through a year of different appeals, making the time seem like the fastest and longest year I’ve ever experienced. The adoption was finalized just before my daughter’s fourth birthday.

I gave myself a break and enjoyed a quiet life without court dates, social worker visits and everything else that accompanies foster care. I decided that I would try private adoption next, thinking it would be easier. Boy, was I wrong!

Although I was told that as a single mother, I would wait longer because a birth mother, not a social worker, would have to pick me, I waited just three months until news came that my son was born, though seven weeks early. I visited him in the NICU for two weeks, during which time his birth mother left the hospital and could not be found. She had not, however, terminated her parental rights!

But the birth father then said he wanted the child; later, he, too, could not be located. TPR was finally granted on grounds of abandonment—one year later!

My life as a mom of two was great. We went about our day-to-day life and I was enjoying not waiting for court dates and phone calls. Six years later, I gave birth to a daughter. I was now a mom to three! And when my youngest daughter was three years old, I decided to try foster-to-adopt one more time—because I wanted to adopt a boy so that my son could experience having a brother.

I also wanted to take part in an older-child adoption. I wanted to help a child who might not be chosen because of age.

I had heard about Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and contacted the program. From the first call to today, I couldn’t be happier.

All of the people at Diakon have been wonderful and helpful. I went through the training and was ready for the call. But waiting is part of the process; this, I’ve come to know.

While I waited for a boy, I was approached about providing for care for a 12-year-old girl facing several challenges. Diakon needed someone to care for her temporarily while a permanent family was found for her … but, three years later, she is another loved part of my family—adopted.

I now had four children but still felt as if something was missing. I still wanted to adopt a boy.

I went back on the list and was called for a five-year old boy. He stayed with us for four months but had behaviors I could not handle. I felt like such a failure. I knew that I could not give him the help he needed. Diakon was very supportive and helped me during this process and he moved to a home with fewer children. I knew that move was best for him, yet I still found the situation among the more difficult ones I have experienced.

Seven months later, I was called about an 8-year-old boy but he soon returned to his home. I knew that was a possibility in foster-to-adopt, but I was still shocked. Three weeks later, I was called about an 11-year-old boy from a large family. I said yes and headed to his county to pick him up.

The experience changed my life forever.

In fact, I experienced many things for the first time with this placement.

First, I learned how much he missed his siblings. The first night home I said to myself, “I should have taken one of his siblings, too.” I learned how important it can be to try to keep as many siblings together as possible.

Second, I had the wonderful experience of connecting with his birth mother. She has had a hard time in life and needed help and support as much as her children. She truly appreciates all the things foster parents have done for her children. So I learned that if you have the opportunity, you should try to connect with your children’s family. In fact, that connection made the placement so much easier.

Because of the support the mother received, the boy was able to return home in a few months. I was sad to see him go yet so happy for him and his family. They had worked very hard to get back together.

Unfortunately, the situation didn’t last and when I was called about the boy again, I asked to care for one of his siblings so that he wasn’t alone.

So here I am today—a mother of six! I don’t know yet what will happen with the boy and his sister. Will they go home? Will they go to a relative? Or will they stay with me?

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I am always asked by others: How do you do it? How can you sit and wonder each day if these kids will stay or go?

I tell them that it is just part of the foster-to-adopt process. I get through it with lots of support from adoption staff, social workers and others who are going through the same process. I connect with people who are walking the same walk. I use my Diakon staff worker for support. When I am stressed from all the waiting, I reach out to her. She tries to get me information and supports me.

The key to surviving the wait is to surrounding yourself with people who have done the same thing.

But—all this waiting and risk-taking have given me a family! I have grown as a person through these experiences. And I can truly say all of it has been worth the waiting I have done the last 18 years.

If I had to give advice to those just starting the foster-to-adopt process, I would tell them the journey may well be full of highs and lows. I also suggest thinking outside of the box and being flexible. Everyone goes into this with a specific picture of what you want in a family.

However, be open to expand on that picture.

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I also would say to be prepared to be patient. The process can be full of waiting. But it also is full of amazing people who will support you. It is full of children who want to be part of a family. It is full of children who need you for support, love, and safety.

Trust me when I say it is worth the ride.

Stacey
Diakon Adoptive/Foster Care parent

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Remembering the guardian of Topton’s history

I had heard the name Virginia “Ginny” Ebersole numerous times after the 2000 creation of Diakon that brought The Lutheran Home at Topton into my work-life, typically as the guardian of The Lutheran Home’s history as an orphanage.

Because I had a similar role in safeguarding the records of the children’s home operated by Tressler Lutheran Services—my former organization before the Diakon merger—I felt a sort of kinship with Ginny, even though the similarities ended there.

Ginny, after all, had actually grown up in the children’s home and then returned in retirement to the place of her childhood, living in one of independent-living cottages at The Lutheran Home, now a senior living community.

Although I had the privilege to work with Ginny the past two years, I wish I had learned to know her personally sooner because her commitment to protecting and preserving the history of the home was both outstanding and amazing. When someone wanted to know the history of a child who had been served by the home, everyone immediately turned to Ginny for that information.

But no longer. Virginia B. (Baer) Ebersole passed away last Sunday, July 24, at the age of 88.

Ginny lovingly told stories of her time at the home, to which she moved in 1933 when her mother passed away; her father’s work schedule made it difficult for him to take care of his family.

“We spent most days learning and studying, taking part in various activities including plays, and doing chores,” Ginny said during an interview for a 2014 Dialog article about her. “But the most important things we learned were respect, responsibility and how to work.”

When she turned 18, she left the home, typical for children coming of age. She married, raised a family and worked well into her 60s. When she and her late husband retired, the decision to return to Topton was an easy one.

Before long, Ginny became the unofficial archivist for Topton’s records.

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“Ginny worked diligently to preserve the artifacts and rich history of the services provided by the orphanage at The Lutheran Home at Topton,” says Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO. “She did this excellent volunteer work out of her love for and her personal roots at the orphanage and for the many friendships she maintained with those who lived at Topton, as well as the family and friends who have been part of that history. She will be deeply missed.”

My direct work with Ginny came the last two years as both of us served as members of the committee developing the planned restoration of Old Main, to house a permanency center related to Diakon Adoption & Foster Care—in many ways the direct descendant of the children’s home—and offices for Diakon Ministry Support.

She was very excited about this planned rebirth of the iconic building that in many ways defines The Lutheran Home at Topton campus.

Another communications staff member and I met with Ginny early on in this process to determine the extent of the archives she managed. One issue at the time was that, a year or two before, the original book that contains the names of the children served at Topton had gone missing. While there were copies of those records, Ginny was upset over the loss of this artifact.

During our tour of one section of the archives that day, I asked Ginny to describe the book. As she finished her description, I happened to look over to one shelf and something quite similar to her description caught my eye. I asked, “What is that?”

Her eyes widened and began to gleam. It was the book.

Obviously, whoever had taken the book had returned it to that spot unannounced. While we really had no significant role in finding the book, I have to say it was very gratifying to know that our trip had resulted in returning it to Ginny’s safekeeping.

Our hearts were gladdened just by the look on Ginny’s face.

I wish Ginny had lived to see the Old Main project completed, to see the building refurbished and renovated and serving its original purpose anew. But perhaps it is enough that she knew the project was under way.

And as we work to preserve the history of The Lutheran Home at Topton in this project, I know many of us will think frequently of Ginny.

I know as well that her spirit will be right there with us.

By William Swanger
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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An honor, a privilege

Some believe that knowing your life’s journey is coming to an end can be a blessing of sorts. You have an opportunity to say goodbyes and perhaps even let go on your own terms—but knowing certainly does not always make the process easier.

At Manatawny Manor, we recently helped a chronically ill resident and her family members face such a struggle. Our chaplain, the Rev. Roxi Kringle, has a special way of discussing end-of-life issues. She engages in a heartfelt conversation with individuals and their loved ones, asking about wishes and goals. Is there something the person would like to do, a place to visit, favorite foods?

“Jane”—her name has been changed because of health-care rules—had been a resident of Manatawny Manor for several years but, some months back, we could see that she was declining rapidly. We also noticed that she and her family were having a tough time facing this decline and so we made plans for them to speak with our chaplain.

In that conversation, Roxi learned of Jane’s passion for horses and her desire to be around them one last time. Jane’s daughters very much wanted to make that happen for their mother, in spite of the challenges involved in taking her on such an outing.

But by some miracle—maybe Janes’s guardian angel was pulling a few strings—everything began to fall into place for her wish to become true.

I have a friend who volunteers at Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines in Pottstown, a place for “retired” horses—mostly race horses and those used by police—to live out their days. And so on a Sunday afternoon I accompanied Jane and her husband in Manatawny’s transport van to the horse farm, where we met extended-family members. Although it was late winter, the day was sunny and somewhat mild.

Jane was able to pet, hug and feed the horses.

Two days later, she passed away. Her family held a memorial service at our senior living community and, in her honor, chose to sponsor a horse at Ryerss Farm for a year.

It was an honor and a privilege to have helped Jane and her family, not only by providing daily care to her but also by helping to give her a special day so near the end of her life’s journey.

Kelli Brown, RN
Director of Nursing
Manatawny Manor

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Always worth it

Adoption has always been something that my husband, Tim, and I knew would be part of how we would build our family. It just didn’t happen exactly as we planned.

Tim and I knew we wanted to have biological children first; later in life, we would adopt. I am a planner—and this was my plan.

What we didn’t expect was that having biological children would be so difficult. After my having had three miscarriages by the age of 22, we decided to see a fertility specialist, who suggested genetic testing. We learned that I had an autoimmune disorder that was likely the cause of the pregnancy losses.

While all of this was occurring, we had begun the process of becoming foster parents with Diakon. We knew we wanted to start our family and we didn’t want to wait.

We received our first placement in February of 2010, a gorgeous little boy who needed a mommy and daddy as badly as we needed him. He was born prematurely, at just 26 weeks’ gestation, and had spent his entire life to that point in a hospital—yet that didn’t affect his amazing and joyful spirit.

Siblings and foster care: the give and take

As the mother of a large family, I am often asked all sorts of questions about doing foster care, but the one posed most frequently is “How do your girls feel about it all?” … followed by, “I am sure it takes away from them, doesn’t it?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When Jeff and I first considered foster care and adoption, we had many questions and thoughts and scenarios. Foremost, being the birth-parents of four daughters, we were concerned about their safety and happiness. They would be sacrificing a lot as well and that sacrifice wasn’t to be taken lightly. They would share their rooms, their toys, their time and their parents.

How would they feel when a child left? Would they understand it at all? We would bring it up often and always spoke the truth. We didn’t have a lot of the answers to the questions they had—and a lot of the questions they had were the same ones we had.

Shared love: A potential bridge for birth and adoptive parents

Josh and I have been married for 18 years this year. We have five children, three born to us and two adopted; our oldest daughter has a son, so we’re also grandparents!

Josh owns two businesses and I stay at home to homeschool the children; in fact, we’re in our ninth year of homeschooling.

Our first adopted child was placed with us when she was 6 months old and we fostered her for 17 months before the adoption was finalized. Our second child was placed with us when she was 2 days old and we fostered her for 18 months before adopting her.

As you can probably tell, we are a busy, active family! We spend a lot of time with our extended family; in fact, the kids are very close to their cousins.

In the past, there was usually a “distance” kept between birth parent or parents and the foster or adoptive parents, but that is changing in many cases—and we think it’s a great thing, if possible in light of individual circumstances.

We met the birth mother of Izzy (Isabel), our second adopted child, when we took Izzy for her first doctor’s appointment. In fact, I had asked if we could meet Izzy’s birth mother in the hospital when we were being placed with her, but the response was that it was not a good idea. I wish now that I had pushed the idea more because at our first meeting, Izzy’s mom said she felt a little better after having met me.

I can’t imagine how scary and difficult it would be to have your newborn baby placed with “faceless” strangers. I felt it would have given her some peace if she had seen and met us.

In fact, that first meeting went really well!

We connected right away. I had been a little nervous because I didn’t have much information about the case, but had been told there were significant issues in the family. Yet, both parents were always respectful of us, kind and very appreciative of the care we were providing Izzy. She had been sleeping in her baby seat and her birth mother asked if she could hold her.

Helping to make a hard day a little more “bear”able

A few months ago, I brought up the idea to my children to raise enough money for each of us to donate a filled duffel bag to a child in foster care.

You see, most of the children who have come to our home arrived with their items in a garbage bag.

After we decided to take on this project, we shared the idea with friends. We also presented it to our Sunday School program. And what began as a project to gather enough items for six bags turned into an amazing project that raised enough for 37 of them!

Help stop bullying

I was bullied in elementary school. For some reason, in the area in which I grew up, political parties were a “big deal,” and my parents were members of the “wrong” party. I can recall to this day being made fun of on the playground because of that fact. It hurt. In fact, I also remember a day—I believe there was a presidential election underway at the time—on which the elementary-school band director asked everyone in the assembled band to raise their hands as to which political party they belonged to—this was in fourth or fifth grade! What he meant was: to which party do your parents belong? I was the only one, out of probably 50 or so children, who raised my hand for the one party.  I remember that scene even today, some 50 years later. Think bullying doesn’t have an effect? —A Diakon staff member

Does bullying concern you? Is your child being bullied? Is your child perhaps bullying others?

Celebrating new forever families!

We are delighted to share this question-and-answer blog post with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Case Manager Crystal Wanamaker about the recent adoptions of a large sibling group:

When did you meet the children?

I met Jayden, Ricardo Jr., and Mya the day they were referred to our agency, which was July 23, 2010. I met Ruby on Jan. 17, 2012. She was placed with her siblings two days after she was born. Jayden and Ricardo Jr. are 6-year-old twins, Mya is 5 years old and Ruby is 3 years old. The boys were adopted by the Rivera family, the girls by the Saylor family.