For the Love of a Child
Local Families Share Stories of Adoption and Foster Parenting
Article by Kay Rector | Photography by Martin G Meyers
Ask any parent, and they will likely agree that children are one of life’s greatest joys. For those that struggle with infertility or suffer miscarriage, being able to have a child through adoption or foster care is an immeasurable gift to both parent and child.
According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, there are currently more than 4,500 children in the state foster care system, and over 650 of those children are waiting and hoping to be adopted. Hundreds of other children are available for private adoption in Louisiana, in need of loving permanent homes.
Five local families share with BayouLife their journey to parenthood through fostering and adoption.
THE BAUMAN FAMILY
LESLIE AND CODY BAUMAN will celebrate their daughter Nelle Averie’s 2nd birthday this month with a party that Leslie admits is a bit “over the top.” She is already working on plans for son Henry Todd’s birthday bash, even though his 6th birthday is still three months away. Birthday celebrations are extremely important in the Bauman household. Leslie says that is because they almost did not happen, and they believe in celebrating miracles.
Leslie and Cody met at First Baptist Church of West Monroe, when they were both students in college. Cody grew up in the tiny community of Blond, Louisiana in St. Tammany Parish and was recruited by the University of Louisiana Monroe to play football for the Warhawks. Leslie, a native of West Monroe, studied accounting at Louisiana Tech where she was a cheerleader and dancer. They married soon after their graduations, then later went back to school, switching alma maters. Leslie went to graduate school at ULM to earn a master’s degree in education, while Cody pursued a graduate degree in chemical engineering at Louisiana Tech. This month marks their tenth year as a married couple.
After two years of marriage, the Baumans were eager to start a family. Leslie became pregnant with their first child, but the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. They were heartbroken, but Leslie soon became pregnant again and this time they were blessed with a healthy, full-term baby boy. Henry Todd, born in August of 2011, is considered a “rainbow baby,” the term used to describe babies born after the storm of a miscarriage. Even though her last trimester coincided with the hottest summer on record in Northeast Louisiana, Leslie says her pregnancy with Henry Todd was exceptionally easy and trouble free.
Unfortunately, that was not the case with her next three pregnancies. She miscarried again the week before Henry Todd’s first birthday, and suffered two more miscarriages in the months that followed. After several rounds of doctor visits, a specialist finally diagnosed Leslie with a rare blood disorder that was preventing her from carrying the babies to term. The doctor who made the diagnosis was astounded to learn that she had delivered Henry Todd, a perfectly healthy son, after a full term pregnancy free of complications. He told them that a full term pregnancy would not be possible with her medical condition.
Although treatment is available for her disorder, known as Antiphospholipid Syndrome, initial efforts failed to resolve the issue. Rather than continue medical treatments with an uncertain outcome, Leslie wanted instead to adopt a child. Cody was initially hesitant about adopting. As an only child, he was not as emphatic as Leslie about Henry Todd having a sibling. He says that he prayed about it and soon began to feel comfortable with the idea of adopting a second child.
The Baumans started on their adoption journey in December of 2013. After hiring a private adoption attorney and waiting for about six months to be matched with a birth mother, they learned through friends about an adoption consultant service known as Christian Adoption Consultants. CAC acts as a liaison between adopting couples and adoption agencies around the country, vetting the agencies and providing hopeful parents with reliable information and support through the adoption process. The Baumans worked with a personal adoption consultant at CAC for almost a year.
Through CAC, the Baumans registered with several agencies, had a home study completed and filled out what seemed like an endless number of forms. “We did more paperwork than I have ever done in my entire life,” Leslie says of the private adoption process. “You feel like you are constantly filling out forms and proving that you are good parents. The home study alone is months of work.” The Baumans also put together a profile book of photographs and information to help birth mothers learn more about them. “We found that every agency has different requirements,” Leslie says. Typically, the agency will contact the adoptive parents before sharing their information with a potential birth mother. Once the adoptive parents consent, it may take days or weeks before they receive a response. “That was very stressful emotionally,” recalls Leslie. With a few agencies, adoptive parents are unaware that the birth mother is considering them until they are chosen, a practice the Baumans prefer. “That way, you are not constantly feeling rejected every time you are not chosen,” Leslie explains.
In November of 2014, an agency in Utah contacted them about a birth mother, who was due to deliver within two weeks and had chosen them as adoptive parents. They were elated. They notified the agency representative that they wanted the baby and immediately made the necessary financial and travel arrangements. As soon as the baby was born, they boarded a plane for Utah, ready to meet their child and bring her home. When they arrived, however, the agency representative broke the news that the birth mother had changed her mind about giving the baby up for adoption. “We understood the birth mom’s decision and we respected it, but we were really upset with the way we were treated by that agency,” Cody says. The issues with the agency, including a full refund of the fees the Baumans had paid, were handled immediately and effectively by their CAC consultants. “That is where the consultants really helped,” Cody says.
Even with the support of the CAC consultant, it was, they recall, a terribly frustrating and heartbreaking experience. Carrying the empty infant seat through the airport coming home, they wondered if they could keep moving forward with their plans to adopt. As the Christmas holidays approached, Leslie and Cody paused to regroup and spend time with Henry Todd and their families.
With the new year came another opportunity, this time through ABBA Adoption Agency in Benton, Arkansas. The Baumans were cautiously optimistic, as they got to know a birth mother they met through ABBA. They stayed in touch with her throughout her pregnancy and made plans to adopt her baby. When the time came for her to deliver several days past her due date by induced labor, the Baumans were ready. They traveled to Arkansas and were present for the birth of their daughter, Nelle Averie Bauman. They stayed with baby Nelle in the hospital until she was discharged. “It was a really, really great experience,” Cody says.
Arkansas law required that they remain in the state for a period of five days following Nelle’s birth, and then for three additional weeks until the final adoption hearing. The Baumans were fortunate to have family who lived in Arkansas to stay with during the waiting period. Nelle Averie’s adoption was finalized, and by June of 2015, the Baumans were back home in West Monroe, a family of four with two beautiful, healthy children.
Now that they have been blessed with the family they always wanted, the Baumans are determined to bless others in as many ways as they can. Through friends at Portico Church in Monroe, they learned about the need for foster parents to provide homes for children in our area. “It opened our eyes to a lot of things,” says Cody. As he points out, there are so many ways that people can help children in the foster care system. Not everyone can or is willing to foster, but anyone can support a foster family by doing things like offering to babysit, so the foster parents can enjoy a night out or helping with school supplies or a meal.
“Before we adopted Nelle, I could not have done foster care. I could not imagine taking in a child we would have to give back. Especially when I was drowning in my own want for a child,” Leslie says. But once Nelle’s adoption was final, she said she felt differently. “We have room in our home, and we have love to give. It is our job to care for those who can’t care for themselves, and we want to teach our children that,” she says. Leslie and Cody recently became certified as foster parents and began caring for their first foster child last month. “It is a different experience, too,” Leslie notes, but one that is so rewarding.
Since Nelle Averie’s adoption, the Baumans have also made themselves available to help and encourage other couples trying to maneuver through the maze of the adoption process. One of the things they share with couples considering private adoption is the fact that there are resources available to help offset the expense. When they were adopting Nelle Averie, they received a grant from the BigWhit 77 Foundation to help defray the costs of the adoption. Steven Curtis Chapman’s Nashville-based organization, Show Hope, also offers adoption grants, offering couples who qualify varying amounts for adoption expenses. “Anything we can do to help other couples trying to adopt, we want to do,” says Leslie.
Toward that end, the Baumans attended a conference in California, where Leslie gave a presentation about adoption. The theme of the conference was “Choose Joy,” with topics ranging from infertility and miscarriage to adoption. “Talking to other couples also helped us heal from the miscarriages and other things that we had been through,” says Cody, “If you haven’t been through something like that, it’s hard to relate.” Leslie agrees. “We heard stories of miracles, and we heard stories of heartbreak. But overall, it was really encouraging.”
Leslie and Cody often say that they have two “miracles” in their home and are so grateful to have Henry Todd and Nelle Averie. “Each of their stories is extremely special to us,” says Leslie. “They both have sad beginnings but such happy endings.” The Baumans feel that every day is a chance to celebrate. “We’re not missing a moment in this house,” Leslie insists. “I want them to always know how thankful we are for them.”
THE BRUYNINCKX FAMILY
Kyle Bruyninckx and his wife, Jodee, have known each other since high school. Kyle is a physician specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics with a medical practice in Richland Parish. Jodee is an attorney, and before marrying Kyle she worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Not long after moving back to Louisiana to be with Kyle, Jodee put her career on hold to focus on becoming his wife and, eventually, a mother to their children.
The Bruyninckxs admit that, until a few years ago, their lives had essentially worked out just as they planned. “As a doctor and a lawyer, throughout school and beginning our careers, we checked boxes,” Jodee says. “We finished school and we got married and we waited a couple of years and then it was time for us to have children.” She says they both assumed that she would get pregnant right away, in accordance with their timetable. “But God had a completely different plan for us,” she says.
The couple says they struggled for about three years with infertility and suffered several miscarriages. Trying to have a child and being repeatedly disappointed was very difficult emotionally, Jodee recalls. “It was so hard at the time, and there was so much that we didn’t understand,” she says tearfully. Looking back, she sees that it strengthened them. “We grew so much in our faith and in our marriage during that time. If everything had just been easy, we may not have had that opportunity.”
When they decided to try and adopt, the Bruyninckxs consulted friends in Shreveport, another physician and his wife, who had already adopted. At their suggestion, they contacted an agency in San Antonio that specialized in open adoptions. “At the beginning, that sounded terrifying,” recalls Jodee. In order to learn more about the process, they traveled to San Antonio and attended an informational weekend event hosted by the agency. Feeling hopeful, they registered with the agency, completed the necessary paperwork and made arrangements for a home study through a social worker in Shreveport. With all of that done, they waited to be connected with a birth mother.
On the day after Mother’s Day in 2013, Jodee says that she was “having a pity party,” feeling sad after passing yet another Mother’s Day without being a Mom, when she received a call from the social worker who had done their home study. She explained to Jodee that a child had just been born in Shreveport that day, and after reviewing information that the social worker provided about them, the birth mother chose Jodee and Kyle to adopt the baby. Early the next morning, they arrived at the hospital to meet their son, Joe. They spent two days in the hospital, getting to know the birth mother and taking care of the baby. On the way home from the hospital, they called their extended family members to tell them the wonderful news that they had a beautiful baby boy. “It was a whirlwind,” Jodee recalls. “But in a good way. We were so nervous and so excited at the same time.”
Three years later, on the day before Father’s Day in 2016, the Bruyninckxs were blessed with their second child, Mary Rose. Like Joe, Mary Rose came to them through what Jodee describes as “the miracle of adoption.” Before she was born, they were connected with her birth mother through Open Arms Adoption Agency in Shreveport. Jodee and Kyle were able to meet and get to know the birth mother during her pregnancy. “We were there through ultrasounds, doctor appointments, and I was in the delivery room with her when Mary Rose was born,” says Jodee.
With both of their children’s birth mothers, Jodee and Kyle have an open relationship, allowing the birth mother to interact with the children and remain a part of their lives. The concept of “open adoption” is something that the Bruyninckxs were introduced to early in their adoption journey, and it is, they believe, a very positive and beneficial arrangement. While they realize not all adoptive parents may be comfortable with the concept of open adoption, the Bruyninckxs say that it has been the best choice for their family.
“The beautiful part about open adoption, is that there is just more love for the kids,” Jodee insists. “They will get to ask questions and know more about their birth families this way.” They say that their relationships with the children’s birth mothers are fluid like any relationship. “There are no laws or rules governing open adoption,” Jodee explains. “A contract for open adoption is not valid and binding in the State of Louisiana. It is just an understanding between us and the birth mother.” Jodee says they allow the birth mothers to know what is going on in the children’s lives at whatever level both parties feel comfortable. “That ebbs and flows, and that is how it is supposed to be.” says Jodee. “As the kids get older, those relationships will become more about their wishes and comfort level.”
“Because we’ve gotten to know their birth mothers, I am able to see the other side of adoption. These are women who love these babies very much.” says Jodee. “It is joyous for us, because we have these children, but at the same time there is some sadness, because with our joy comes loss.”
Born to different birth mothers, Joe and Mary Rose look very much like biological siblings. “Joe is so full of joy and so full of life. He is truly incredible,” says Jodee. “Mary Rose is very loving, and she wants to do everything that her brother does.”
Jodee and Kyle say they will always be open with their children about how they came into their family. They will know their birth mothers, and will know the stories of how God connected them with their parents. They are so grateful for Joe and Mary Rose and the way that they became a family. “We’ve always felt that we wanted to be led, and we wanted God to build our family as He saw fit,” Jodee says. The difficulties they experienced in their initial efforts to have children is just another part of that building process. “What we know now, on this side of it, is that if any of our pregnancies before had worked out, then we would not have Joe, just as he is, and Mary Rose, just as she is.”
THE ELLIS FAMILY
Three years ago, the Ellises were a happy family of four. Ashley and Friday Ellis had been married thirteen years, and had recently returned to Northeast Louisiana after living in multiple cities throughout the United States during Friday’s tenure with the Marine Corps. Upon settling in West Monroe, where they bought and refurbished Ashley’s childhood home, Friday opened his business, Governor’s Cigar and Pipe, and Ashley, an educator, went to work teaching. Their two young children, brothers Friday and Asher, were thriving. The couple had begun to discuss the possibility of having a third child, but had no definitive plans. Both of Ashley’s pregnancies had been free of complications,and they assumed that would again be the case as they considered growing their family.
At lunch with her fellow teachers one day, Ashley shared the fact that she and Friday were considering a third child. When she mentioned that she wanted a daughter but dreaded being pregnant, someone jokingly suggested they adopt. Another teacher, overhearing this, told Ashley that she actually knew of a female child that was available for adoption and needed a home. She related what few details she had of the child’s situation. “I instantly felt very emotional and was really drawn to this child’s story,” Ashley remembers.
In the days and weeks that followed, thoughts of this little girl, who was in foster care, stayed with Ashley, and she found herself thinking about adoption. She shared the story with Friday, and, while he was interested, he did not react as strongly as she expected. “He is usually so enthusiastic about everything, whereas I am more cautious. I wanted him to say, ‘Let’s do this’ and make the decision for me, I think,” she says. “I could not stop thinking about it,” Ashley recalls. “I cried whenever I thought about her, and continued to be very emotional.”
Adopting a child was not something Ashley had seriously considered before. “It’s not that I was not open to the idea of adoption. It just wasn’t on my radar until that point,” she remembers. What vague knowledge she had about adoption came through her affiliation with Noonday, a company that sells jewelry handmade by artisans in Uganda and other impoverished countries. Noonday’s founder, Jessica Honneger, held the first jewelry trunk show as a means of raising funds for her adoption of a child from Rwanda. Now a thriving direct sales business, Noonday continues to promote international adoptions by donating 10% of sales at Adoption Trunk Shows to help adoptive families bring their children home. As a Noonday representative, Ashley always found this practice admirable and often recounted the story of the company’s founding to customers. However, she had never before thought about its relevance to her own life.
Friday, on the other hand, always thought about adopting, a desire he says is probably related to his childhood experiences. He grew up in Rayville, Louisiana, where he was raised by his father. His mother lived in Illinois, where she ran the Christian Family Care Center, a group home for children. Although he was very young at the time, he remembers visiting the Center and understanding that the children there did not have homes or parents to care for them. While these memories may have made him more amenable to adoption than his wife, when the opportunity actually presented itself, he was hesitant. “I think it was one of those moments, where I wrestled with God, wondering, ‘Am I really the parent that this child needs?’” Friday recalls.
Any doubts he had dissipated as soon as he met Aurie. At an afternoon meeting arranged with her foster parents, Ashley and Friday met the little curly-haired girl who would become their daughter. Friday says that it took less than five minutes with Aurie for him to know that she was his child. “We knew,” Ashley agrees. To her foster parents’ great surprise, despite her difficulties with social interaction and sensory processing, Aurie engaged with Friday and Ashley right away and allowed Ashley to hold her at their very first meeting.
Aurie’s foster parents were careful to fully disclose Aurie’s medical history and issues that could impact her mental and physical development. “It didn’t scare us,” Ashley says. In fact, Friday recalls that as they discussed Aurie’s health and developmental challenges, he told the foster father, “You’re just giving me more reasons why this young lady needs a home.”
The Ellises left their “play date” with Aurie determined to take the steps necessary to adopt her. They immediately signed up for and attended the classes required to become certified foster and adoptive parents through the state Department of Children and Family Services. After the necessary paperwork and home studies were completed, Aurie was allowed to visit in the Ellis home, first for weekends and then eventually on a full-time basis as their foster child.
Friday recalls that the day Aurie was placed in their home was emotional and exciting for their family. “That was the moment that it really hit me,” he says. “I cried and cried. The foster parents cried. We were all just so happy.” The boys, Friday and Asher, were thrilled to have a baby sister, even though it meant sharing a room and their parents’ attention.
At school, the boys wanted to show off their new sister and introduced her to their teachers and classmates. Of the brothers’ reaction to Aurie, Friday says “It just demonstrates what a huge capacity for love that children naturally have. We made a decision that affected not just Ashley and I, but the entire family.” Ashley’s father, whom Aurie calls “Pop Pop,” lives with them and was therefore affected more than most grandparents by the introduction of a new child into their home. From the beginning, he considered her a blessing, happy to have “another curly-headed girl running around the house.”
Through legal proceedings initiated by DCFS, the legal rights of Aurie’s biological parents had already been terminated. After six months as her foster parents, the adoption process was finalized ,and Friday and Ashley officially became the parents of Aurie Grace Ellis. At the adoption hearing, Friday and Ashley struggled to contain their emotions and put into words what it means for Aurie to forever be their child. Friday, the oldest Ellis child, addressed the court, eloquently explaining why Aurie should become a permanent part of their family. Asher, the family’s self-proclaimed “middle child,” admitted to the judge that Aurie did occasionally invade the boys’ room and get into their things, but concluded that “She’s a real sister, and we love her.” Quoting her father, Ashley added, “It feels like Aurie has always been a part of us.”
While her earliest childhood circumstances were not good and she may always have difficulties arising out of those circumstances, Aurie Grace Ellis is a lucky girl. After being removed from her biological parents, she was placed with a foster family who loved and nurtured her and helped her reach many developmental milestones. “Aurie’s foster family was amazing,” says Ashley. “They were definitely the right people to do that job,” noting how well-equipped the foster mother and father were—intellectually, spiritually and emotionally–for what was a very challenging role. The Ellises are also grateful for the Court Appointed Special Advocate who represented Aurie’s interest throughout the legal process. “Our CASA worker was the greatest,” says Friday. “She was exceptional. She made sure everything happened that needed to happen, and in a timely manner.”
“Everyone talks about how lucky Aurie is, and that is true,” Friday says. “God definitely sent the right people at the right time to fight for her. But the other part of this is how very blessed we are because of her.” Ashley agrees, and she notes, “If we can do this, anybody can do it.” She stresses that anyone who feels pulled to consider adoption should at least look into it. Although the process was not easy, looking back now they are convinced that God always had this plan for their family. “When God puts something on your heart, the worst thing you can do is say no,” says Friday.
Because he was raised by a single parent and did not having a lot of contact with his mother during childhood, Friday says he is especially appreciative of what a great mother Ashley is to their children. It is the little things, he says, that confirm for him every day how blessed the five of them are. He recalls being at a restaurant with Ashley and the kids not long after the adoption was final. A lady walked by and spoke to them, commenting on Aurie’s beautiful curls. “Yep,” Aurie beamed up at her, touching Ashley’s curly hair. “Just like my Mama.”
THE MCCREADY FAMILY
Holly and James McCready met, when they were just out of high school and were best friends for eight years, before they began dating. By the time they married in 2008, they had already opened a business together, founding Rain The Salon and Day Spa, which they still co-own and operate in downtown Monroe. They purchased their first home shortly after marrying and had dreams of filling it with children one day.
Being from a large family, Holly always assumed that she would be a mother to lots of kids. “We both wanted children, but it just never worked out that way,” says James. The couple consulted a fertility specialist in Baton Rouge, but after a year of frustration and disappointment were still waiting to conceive their first child. They contemplated in vitro fertilization, but were deterred by the expense and risks involved in that process. They decided instead to look into adoption.
Holly says they had no idea where to begin. “You can ‘google’ almost anything in this world now,” she notes, “but with adoption, that is not really the case.” She made some phone calls and was eventually directed to the Department of Children and Family Services, where she educated herself about the state’s adoption process. It was through inquiries at DCFS that they became aware of the tremendous need for loving foster parents. Realizing that the adoption process would take time, and feeling compelled to fill the needs of children in the state foster care system, Holly and James became certified as foster and adoptive parents.
For a period of over two years, the McCreadys provided a safe and loving home for foster children ranging in age from five weeks to eleven years old. With each child they fostered, they had hopes of adopting. At one point during their time as foster parents, it appeared that they might instantly become the big family that Holly dreamed about. Along with the infant they were caring for, they took steps to adopt two little girls they fostered–sisters, aged 5 and 11—as well as their two brothers. When that did not work out as planned, the McCreadys, though devastated, continued to keep their hearts and their home open, still hoping for a child of their own.
“Being foster parents for two years was God’s gift to us, allowing us to be thrown into parenting children of all ages,” says Holly. It was an experience that gave them joy, but also brought them heartache. They grew to love all of the children they fostered, and it was difficult to let them go. One child was especially hard to give up. They were his foster parents for almost two years, and were working through the state agency to adopt. Because his parents’ legal rights had not been terminated, the McCreadys knew there was a chance that he could not be adopted. That did not stop them from falling in love with him. Ultimately, the child was reunited with his biological parents, and eventually Holly and James became unable to visit or see him. “He is still my heart,” Holly says tearfully. “He will always be a part of us.” Despite the pain of losing him, they have no regrets and are thankful for the time they spent loving and nurturing him. “No matter what, he will always be our child,” says James.
Still reeling from their loss, the McCreadys thought about giving up their dream of having a child. Trusting that God had a plan for them, they decided to try one more thing. Early in their adoption research, they had been referred to private adoption attorney Teri Hoover Odom of West Monroe, widely known for her ability to connect birth mothers with adoptive couples. James and Holly initially shied away from private adoption, believing it to be not only cost prohibitive but also somewhat less benevolent than the state agency route. “Instead of just making good things happen between parents and children, it seemed more like a business. That’s how we perceived it at first,” recalls James. The application for private adoption sat on Holly’s dresser for weeks, before she finally had the emotional energy to complete it. Once they took that next step in their adoption journey, though, things happened very quickly. They retained Odom’s services, and within a couple of weeks they were candidates for private adoption.
On the evening of October 25, 2016, James and Holly were having a quiet dinner at home when they received a phone call that they will never forget. Odom called with the news that a child had just been born to a birth mother who could not care for him, and she was working with the birth mother to choose a family to adopt the baby. As part of their private adoption application, Holly and James had compiled a family album of photographs and information about themselves, their extended families and their desire to adopt a child. Odom asked if she could share this with the birth mother to consider in making her choice. Odom also asked if they could be ready to have a baby in less than twenty-four hours.
The McCreadys did not hesitate. They agreed and immediately started preparing to bring the baby home from the hospital. Ironically, says Holly, in the eight years that they had been trying to have a child, not once had they decided on a name. In forty-five minutes, they chose the name Ellis Grey McCready. An hour later, Odom called to tell them to be at the hospital the next morning.
Although the birth mother had chosen them from among the other couples whose information she reviewed, she wanted to meet them before making a final decision. “We were so nervous,” recalls Holly. “We wanted this so badly. What if she met us and said no? That would be the ultimate rejection.” Odom reassured them that they were the right couple for this child, pointing out that Holly and the birth mother even look alike. When they arrived, they met a woman who looked very much like Holly and who was, after talking with them for only a few minutes, willing to give them the greatest gift of their lives. “We were all crying,” James recalls. “She told us, that it was so important to her that the child be adopted by a couple who could not have children of their own.” They were also able to meet the biological father who, amazingly, resembles James. “It is a true miracle,” James says. “I don’t think it would be possible for us to have a child that looks more like us.”
The McCreadys have so much respect and love for Grey’s birth mother and are so grateful for the sacrifice that she made. “She made an incredibly hard decision and in doing that, gave us a gift that can never be repaid,” says James. “Everything about her and what she did was so selfless,” Holly adds. “She even waited and let us name the baby.”
Looking back on their journey to parenthood, James says they started out with some misconceptions. Initially, he was not as open-minded as Holly about adopting a child. “As a man, you have this need or desire to have a child with your own DNA. Because men are more shallow by nature than women, really,” James says. “That part of me worried that I couldn’t love someone else’s child as much as I loved my own.” Holly always knew that he could, and of course, James sees now how unfounded those worries were. “You can’t fully understand unconditional love, I don’t think, until you have a child,” says James. “I didn’t realize I was capable of loving another human being this much, and it doesn’t matter at all whether we are related by blood.” In Ellis Grey McCready, Holly and James finally have their dream fulfilled.
THE WASHINGTON FAMILY
The Washington family was, once upon a time, a typical American family. Tammy and Roderick Washington met in college, dated and were married. Within the first few years of their marriage, they were blessed with two beautiful children—son Christian, who is now completing his first year of college at Southern University, and daughter Tamia, now a student at Ouachita Parish High School. Rod serves as the Public Relations and Media Coordinator for the City of Monroe. Tammy works for the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, a local non-profit agency, as a Life Skills Coordinator. This month, they will celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary.
Luckily for Washingtons, Tammy and Rod made a not-so-typical decision that changed all of their lives for the better. In 2008, when Christian and Tamia were 12 and 9 years old, Tammy and Rod decided to become foster parents. “When we married, we knew that one of the things we wanted to do one day was to adopt,” says Tammy. “It was not something that was spontaneous for us.” Through Rod’s job with the City of Monroe, hosting events each year during Adoption Awareness Month, and through Tammy’s connections with the Children’s Coalition, they were aware of the needs of children in the community, and felt that the time was right to explore adoption. “We were perfectly happy with two kids of our own, enjoying them and watching them grow and develop into gifted individuals,” Rod says. “But we knew that we had an opportunity to bless someone else. We have a lot of love, and could be blessed even more.”
Becoming certified as foster parents through the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services was the first step in a process that they hoped would ultimately lead to adopting a child. “Our intentions were actually to adopt an infant,” says Tammy. As they went through the certification process, they decided not to limit themselves to infants, but to also consider parenting older children. “The classes that we took opened our eyes to the opportunities and the need for foster and adoptive parents,” explains Rod. “We realized we wanted to take in children who had been in need of a home for a while, someone that we could help even more in that way,” Tammy adds. “And helping them would be rewarding to us, too.”
“I think most people go into it thinking about babies,” Rod notes. “But then you realize there are children of all ages, who need a forever home, and your heart opens. You don’t limit your heart. You just try to be the best you can for whomever God chooses to send your way.”
In April of 2009, God sent them Brigget and Deeyon, siblings 9 and 3 years old. The Washingtons were the fourth family that Brigget and her little brother Deeyon had lived with in a span of a few years. At one point, they had been separated from each other, which Brigget says was “horrible.” She says that it took a while for her and Deeyon to become comfortable in their new home and to open up to everyone.
Tammy and Brigget tearfully recall an incident during a family dinner, not long after Brigget and Deeyon were placed with the Washingtons. Brigget started crying at the dinner table, and asked her then-foster mom, Tammy, when they were going to pass them on to another family. “That was what had always happened to them,” Tammy says. She says that made them even more determined to adopt and make sure that did not happen. Eventually, Brigget and Deeyon began to feel more secure and to understand that they were part of the Washington family.
While they were living with the Washingtons as foster children, Brigget and Deeyon learned that their biological mother had passed away. They grieved for her in the weeks and months that followed, and still miss her. Brigget says that she has a lot of pleasant memories of her mother and her childhood with their biological parents. She also remembers some very difficult times, too. Her prior foster care experiences involved some traumatic events that she would rather not remember. Throughout their time in the foster care system, Brigget never stopped hoping that they would find the right family one day. “It just takes that one family to change your whole life,” she says.
Brigget and Deeyon are thankful to finally be a part of a caring family, with parents who love them unconditionally. They are all thankful, as Tammy points out. “They are such gifts to us. They have given us so much just by being part of our family. They are ours forever now, a part of us,” says Tammy.
Tammy also recalls that making the adoption happen was not easy. Before the adoption was finalized, while Brigget and Deeyon were still being fostered by the Washingtons, Tammy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She had to undergo two surgeries and multiple treatments. During that time, she and Rod did a lot of praying and a lot of talking, worrying about whether they would be able to continue the adoption process. Tammy remembers that as she prayed, she asked God to heal her, knowing that if she was able to recover from her illness, then it must be God’s plan for them to have Brigget and Deeyon as their children permanently. In June, her cancer went into remission.
Recalling her battle with cancer, Tammy says: “We went through that storm together, as a family. We prayed together and worked through it together. It made us all stronger.” In that crisis, the four Washington children saw firsthand how a family can support one another through difficult situations. “It taught them how to cope and be resilient through any circumstances. So, when something else challenging comes along, they can handle it,” she says.
There will always be challenges in life, they know, and their family is no exception. Tammy and Rod insist that they are still very much a typical American family. They just have more children to love now than they did before, and they grew their family in a non-traditional way.
As Tammy points out, when you bring new children into your home, it impacts everyone. She notes that there is usually a “honeymoon” period in the beginning, when everyone is excited and hopeful, but eventually reality and day-to-day life set in. “It was an adjustment and a process,” Tammy says. “A lot of talking and learning and accepting one another’s personality differences.” Tamia agrees. “It was different at first because I wasn’t used to sharing a room or having another girl my age in the house,” she remembers. “We do have two very different personalities,” she says of her sister, Brigget. “We aren’t always perfect. We argue like regular siblings, but we love each other a whole lot.” Christian, the oldest Washington child, says that having Deeyon and Brigett as siblings just seems normal now. Deeyon agrees.
Tammy and Rod urge anyone considering adoption to search their heart, pray about it and give it a chance. “All children deserve to have a healthy family and to have the same quality of life that other children have,” Tammy says, emphasizing how important it is for people step up and take responsibility for the children in need in our community. The Washingtons credit their extended families in Minden and Shreveport and their church family at Parkview Drive Church of Christ as being instrumental in making their adoption experience the success story that it is. “We have had lots of help and support,” Rod says, stressing that one does not have to be a perfect parent or have a perfect family to fulfill the need that is out there. ”As long as you have love and an open heart and a solid support system, you can do this for a child.”