My new book, One Heart At A Time, was released on October 16.
So much attention since has been placed on my unusually large number of children, and I’ve lost count on how many time I’ve answered the how and why questions.
For all the big and small details (and so much more!) pick up a copy of my book! For a quick run-down, and to know why I feel so passionately about adoption, read this blog post.
Here’s the short answer to the questions: I had three biological children from two of my marriages, and I have adopted 10 children (number 11 in process.) My husband, Paul, has 5 children of his own. So that brings my number to 14, and our combination to 19.
The longer version is this:
I’ve always wanted to be a mother. When I married at 22 I couldn’t wait to make my new family of “me and you” into “baby makes three.” My husband was a divorced father of 2 children already and not one that you wouldn’t exactly define as present or available. I knew I could change that. Ha!
At 24, I gave birth to Isaiah, “Sonny” as his dad called him… He is my Number 1, my first child, the miracle that made me a mama!
Fast forward 9 years later - my husband had found greener pastures around Sonny’s 2nd birthday and I had been a single mother since.
My job in radio had taken me from Seattle to Boston, and then on to Philadelphia. While in Boston I’d met a young man in a church group that was cute, charming, loved to laugh, and loved the Lord. I married him, glossing over the fact that he was 8 years younger, lived with his parents, and his fine set of wheels was - a bicycle. Soon after, I was thrilled to be pregnant with Shaylah, my baby number 2.
A few years later we were back in Seattle, Me, Sonny, Shay, and Doug. The marriage was shaky but I was determined to make it work. I was feeling that the 10 year gap between Sonny and Shaylah was too much and I thought about adoption. By thinking about it, I mean I moved forward, looking for a child to love, to embrace, to ‘fill out our family’. We were introduced to a boy, one year younger than Sonny, and learned about “twinning,” matching up children that are of similar age to one you already have in your home, which helps the bonding process. And so, enter my child #3, Emmanuell.
Manny, we soon learned, had two younger siblings in a foster-care situation. Of course they could come for visitations… of course you may call me Mom while you’re here… and when their foster family had a crisis and they needed to be re-homed, of course that home had to be ours. The month that Tangi and TJ (#’s 4 & 5) moved in with us? Of course I find out I’m pregnant!
When Zachariah, my third bio-babe and number 6 to join the family, was born, we’d gone from a family of four, to a family of eight in less than a two year period of time. Eight is great, but not so much for Shay and Zack’s dad.
In all fairness, I hadn’t given his push-back much consideration. I worked and provided for the family, I was willing to put in the late nights and early mornings, and anxiety isn’t a word in my personal vocabulary, so the fact that he was completely and totally overwhelmed didn’t really register. Two years later the marriage ended.
Soon after, I got a call from a friend who was an adoption facilitator. There was a toddler in need of a home, STAT. I drove to the parking lot of a local teriyaki restaurant; TK was placed into my arms and clung to me tightly. He was just a year younger than Zacky, and became child number 7.
My radio program had been syndicated for a while and my career was taking off. The older kids were transitioning out of the house and I found a farm (a life-long dream) to move myself and the three left at home to. Just three. Shaylah, now aged 12, Zacky 7, and TK 6. I renovated the farmhouse and built three bedrooms for three kids. One. Two. Three.
And oh… I dated a wonderful man briefly, a pastor with a young adult daughter who had a baby of her own. I fell in love with this earnest young woman, who had never had a mother in her life… Adult adoption? Yeah, it’s a thing. Lonika, my number 8, has never lived with me but became my daughter when she was well into her 20’s, and, I gained a granddaughter close to the boy’s age, all in one fell-swoop!
This plan was working until my attention was steered toward a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana, West Africa. Point Hope was re-born and soon I brought into my home and heart, Angel and Blessing, welcomming numbers 9 and 10! Surely this was enough!
Nooooo, because a few years later, Sammy, (#11) who had spent 15 years in an orphanage, and Bridget (#12) who had a personal horror story she shouldn’t have even survived, wandered into my life, my heart, and my home.
And then Blessings little sister, Delilah, my Lucky 13, whom I had been taking care of in Africa, became critically ill, and the birth mother, critically uncaring.
And then their little brother, Baby Paul - whom I was also caring for in Africa, and who had been dropped off with Point Hope personnel because their mother had decided he too, was not worth her time or attention.
And here I am - a mother of 14 (or will be as soon as Bae Paul’s process is complete).
Before bringing Sammy and Bridget home, I married Paul. We’d dated for 6 years and as a father of 5 grown children, he was looking forward to a child-free retirement. Hahaha!
He loves this crazy menagerie as much as me and is so stinkin’ in love with Baby Delilah and Baby Paul, to whom he is their Papa.
Last week I found myself in Washington DC, speaking to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about the crisis facing inter-country adoptions. It was important to me to be there, and share my story, because International adoptions have slowed to a trickle - down over 80% since 2004 and may cease all together. This means there are hundred of thousands of children that need homes. Children who are the victims of civil war, disease, famine… Children that have been ostracized because of physical or mental impairments, which are looked upon as a cursed in many societies... Children born female, which don’t have the same value as males…
When I completed my first international adoption in 2006, my children were two of 26,000 adopted from foreign countries. last year there was 4,200. This is a crisis.
I was also given the great honor of being inducted into the National Council for Adoptions, Adoption Hall of Fame, for my support of, commitment to, and involvement with building my family through the process of adoption and for founding Point Hope, a voice for forgotten children.
Here’s some statistics on the US foster care system that will shock you. There are over 486,000 in the foster care system right now. About 20,000 “aged-out” last year; that is, they reached the age of 18 (20 in some places,) were turned out of the temporary living placements they’d been given, and financial support ended. I ask people, “How many of you have an 18-25 year old child? Are they ready to be 100% self reliant? Who do they call when a tooth breaks, when their heart breaks, when they’ve been in a fender bender?” Another alarming reality; 80% of children - boys especially - who have spent time in the foster care system will be in jail before age 25.