Adoptive Moms

Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on April 26, 2011
Lilly Echeverria Becca Hill with Lizzie, Molly, Madeline and Stephanie at home in Key Largo, Fla.

When Becca Hill, 38, looks at her children, she counts her blessings. Like any mom, she loves her family, but the joys of motherhood are all the more sweet, she says, because for years she wasn’t able to have children.

“I was consumed with wanting a child—and with not being able to have one,” says Hill, of Key Largo, Fla. (pop. 11,886). Today, she and her husband, Craig, 40, are parents of four adopted daughters, and they view their years of infertility as a blessing in disguise.

“We wouldn’t have the children that we have in our home now had we not gone down that road,” Becca says. “Had I known the blessing of adoption,” she  adds, “I think I would have gone straight to adoption.”

She shares that message daily in her work with Charis, an adoption-focused Christian ministry she co-founded to assist and support other adopting parents and to provide assistance to orphans.

Resources to help navigate the adoption process

“In 2003, when I first started the paperwork to adopt from Ukraine, I didn’t have anywhere to go for help,” Becca says. The experience was fraught with frustration, but she and her husband persevered. In 2004, they adopted their daughter Molly, now 8. Becca shared her experiences on a blog and through local media. Soon  she was fielding emails and phone calls from other people seeking advice on the adoption process.

“When we adopted Molly, my motive was simply to become a mom after struggling with infertility,” Becca says. “But after I went to Ukraine and saw firsthand the hundreds and hundreds of children waiting, my motive changed drastically. It was no longer about me. It became about children finding homes.”

In 2007, Becca teamed up with friends Stephanee Potts and Camille Wheelock to form Charis, named for the Hebrew word that means “grace.” In 2008, the Hills adopted daughter Madeline, now 3, in a private domestic adoption. In the process, they got to know the birth mother, which introduced Becca to another method of adoption. Now, when birth mothers call Charis seeking information or support, Becca often takes the call. “I had a very good relationship with Madeline’s birth mother,” Becca says. “It gave me a fondness and a sympathy for birth moms and the huge sacrifice they make.”

Another focus for Becca is organizing twice-yearly trips by older adoptable children from Ukraine for visits with interested host families in Texas—where the Hills lived in New Braunfels until earlier this year. So far, 11 of these children have been adopted and five more are in the process of joining American families. Charis also has helped 22 additional children, from the United States, Ukraine, Guatemala, Haiti and Ethiopia, find adoptive parents.

Charis co-founder Stephanee, 31, and her husband, Zach, 32, of San Marcos, Texas (pop. 34,733), already parents of three, hosted and then decided to adopt 10- and 12-year-old sisters. “Adoption is one of the greatest gifts we’ve had, but it can be very challenging, too,” Stephanee says. “Having a support system makes all the difference.”

Last October, Becca and Craig finalized the adoption of sisters Stephanie, 16, and Lizzie, 11, who first visited on a hosting trip. In New Braunfels, the girls found a ready-made circle of friends adopted from the same orphanage. “There are all these Ukrainian kids running around a small town,” Becca says. “People start asking questions, and before you know it, we’re having a conversation about adoption.”

Acts of love
Adopting a child is an act of love—and often a miracle of persistence. The adoption process frequently takes much longer than nine months before parents bring a child home. It can take a big heart, a generous spirit and fierce determination to complete the process. So it’s no surprise that many adoptive moms are caring and giving people, inspired to give back and make a difference in other ways, too.

More stories from adoptive mothers

Here are stories of other adoptive moms who reached beyond their own families to sow and grow the seeds of love. Collectively, their passion for adoption has sprouted in thousands of far-flung homes.

Forever families
In 1991, Jannie McNeil-Hayes, of Upper Marlboro, Md. (pop. 18,720), the mother of a grown son and a provider of emergency foster care for children, was introduced to a lovable 3-year-old named April who was in the hospital and needed a permanent family. Soon, McNeil-Hayes had adopted not only April, but also April’s three siblings.

Today, McNeil-Hayes, 64, and her husband, Dennis, 53, are parents of five grown children: Jonathan, 43, and adopted siblings Phillip, 30, Jerrika, 28, April, 23, and Laura, 20. Their two youngest children have special needs—April is blind, Laura doesn’t speak, and both have developmental delays—and live at home.

Since adopting, Jannie has devoted herself to helping other foster children find families. “Everybody deserves a mom,” she says. For years, she has volunteered for One Church One Child, a national organization that works with churches to find permanent homes for African-American children in foster care.
“People were always coming to me with problems they ran into when trying to get a child or once the child was placed,” Jannie says. So in 2003, she founded the Coalition of Adoption Programs, a nonprofit organization that provides moral support and resource referrals for adoptive and foster families.

Jannie is the type of person who sees what needs to be done and does it. Once, when a couple was running into roadblocks adopting a foster child, Jannie took their story all the way to then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr.’s office. The governor intervened, and the adoption went through. Today, that couple’s son calls Jannie “grandmother.”
“If you ever need assistance, Jannie is going to pull out every resource she has,” says Gisele Booker, of Clinton, Md. (pop. 26,064), mom of two adopted daughters. “She’s going to call everyone she knows. And she’s going to see it through to the end. Jannie is an excellent networker—and an excellent friend.”

One child at a time
When Gwen Oatsvall, 40, and Suzanne Mayernick, 40, of Brentwood, Tenn. (pop. 23,445), met in 2004, both were in the process of adopting for the first time. Gwen already had two birth children, and Suzanne had four, yet each felt moved to reach out to children who weren’t fortunate enough to have parents who could care for them.

“Worldwide, there are millions of children waiting to be adopted,” Suzanne says. “My husband and I knew there was a need, so we felt called to open up our heart and our home.”

Both families’ households have expanded rapidly in the years since. Gwen and her husband, Scott, 41, adopted Emily, now 6, and Maggie, 5, from China, and Daisy, 3, and Joseph, 4, from Uganda. Suzanne and her husband, Mike, 44, adopted Joshua, 5, and Caleb, 3, domestically, and Josie Love, 5, from Uganda.

Both families know that adopting a child can be an expensive proposition, averaging around $30,000, so in 2009, Gwen and Suzanne founded 147 Million Orphans, a business that helps families raise money for adoptions by selling apparel and bags.

When families sell 147M gear, they keep $10 from each sale. Half of the profit goes to support child feeding programs and other worthy causes, such as aiding children displaced by last year’s earthquake in Haiti.

During its first 18 months, 147M helped American families raise nearly $80,000 for adoptions and fed about 400,000 meals to children in Uganda, Haiti, Honduras and China.

The program helped ease the financial burden of adoption for Dick and Leslie Overby, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who raised four birth children and then, between 2006 and 2010, adopted three children from China. Leslie says the emotional support she received from Gwen and Suzanne has been as valuable as the financial support. “Gwen and Suzanne work tirelessly,” Leslie says. “I’m privileged to call them my friends.”