“Typically, in order to adopt, a prospective parent must reach out for help. Touched by the kindness of strangers, she may want to give back by lending a hand to others,” says adoption expert Deborah Siegel, a social work professor at Rhode Island College in Providence.
Here are more inspiring stories of adoptive moms who are sowing the seeds of love:
An education in adoption
For Joan Lefler Clark, 66, of Holliston, Mass. (pop. 13,801), attending an adoption conference in 1980 changed not only her personal life, but also her professional goals. After the conference, Joan and husband Donald, now 67, began the process to adopt their son Nicolas, now 28, from El Salvador. In 1984, two years after they brought Nicolas home, they adopted their daughter Cristina, now 27, from Colombia.
While waiting for the first adoption to go through, Joan, then a public-school teacher, volunteered for the organization that sponsored the conference. Although she had planned to return to teaching, in 1992 she began a 15-year run as executive director of the nonprofit group, which later was renamed the Adoption Community of New England (ACON; adoptioncommunityofne.org). Among other duties, she presented a pre-adoption introductory seminar every month. She estimates that more than 5,000 people attended her seminar over the years, including Patti Hyland, who heard Joan in 1998 and later worked with her organization as a volunteer.
“I got to see Joan in action,” Hyland says. “She’s an inspiration. She creates hope and instills belief in a happy ending.”
Although retired since 2007, Joan still speaks at conferences and leads trainings for teachers on adoption-related issues. “Adoption, foster care, divorce, death, even having a family member who’s away serving in the military—these are all things that impact kids not only at home, but also in the classroom,” she says.
Her mission is to give teachers and parents the tools to help kids from all kinds of families feel good about where they come from. Looking back, Joan says the past three decades “just kind of happened. People needed to learn about adoption—and I was able to share the positive aspects of adoption.”
A tale of two countries
As a teenager in the early 1970s, Chris Futia, of Morton Grove, Ill. (pop. 21,934), spent a year as an exchange student in India. The experience left an indelible impression. Years later, when she and her husband, Carl, 63, decided to adopt, adopting from India seemed like a natural choice. In 1987 they adopted three tiny-at-birth babies from Kolkata, India: Leo, now 23, Annie, 21, and Peter, 16.
From the beginning, Chris, 54, wanted her children to know about their country of birth. When you adopt children from overseas, “you have a sacred responsibility to make their heritage real to them so they can know it and love it,” she says. She and her family are actively involved in SPICE Indian Heritage Camp (spicecamp.blogspot.com), an annual get-together for families with children adopted from India, which attracts 40 to 50 families from around the nation each year. Last summer, the Futias attended the parent-run camp for the 21st consecutive year.
Chris also has led five biennial heritage tours to India. The group visits several sites together, and Chris arranges for each family to travel to the child’s place of birth and, if possible, visit the orphanage where that child once lived.
Susan Rogers, of Wake Forest, N.C. (pop. 12,588), was there for the 2006 trip; it was a high school graduation gift for her daughter Kamila, now 22. The orphanage where Kamila began life had since closed, but she was able to meet some caregivers and nurses who had worked there. Susan remembers that one of the nurses suddenly pulled Kamila’s ear forward and asked what had happened to the strawberry birthmark. In fact, Kamila did have a birthmark there as a baby that later faded away. “Kamila’s dream that she had kept in her heart—that someone in India remembered her—had come true,” Susan says. “It was definitely the high point of the trip.”
The most recent tour, which left last November, was the smallest to date. With many people still in belt-tightening mode, only one other family signed up to accompany Chris and her teenage son, Peter, to India. Because Peter has cognitive and emotional disabilities, it was his first time on one of the tours. Three weeks before they were set to leave, “we got some shocking news,” Chris says. During routine medical testing, doctors discovered that Peter has an incurable, and rapidly progressing, bone marrow disorder. “He didn’t have symptoms yet, so we went ahead with the trip,” Chris says. Although the news was devastating, she says, “the trip was a joyful experience.”
In Kolkata, Peter got to visit the orphanage where he spent his first six months of life. Workers there took the unusual step of letting Peter see the document with which his birth mother had given him up for adoption. Because she was illiterate, she had signed with a thumbprint. “Peter got very quiet and put his thumb on the thumbprint,” says Chris. “Then he looked up at me and said, ‘Mom, it fits.’ It’s a memory I’ll keep with me forever.”