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Finding your family: adoption as an option

  • Published
  • By Capt Candice Allen
  • Readiness Management Group
After having two boys of her own, Col. Kathleen Barrish realized that she and her husband, Bob, were not done parenting.

"Like many, I never dreamed of becoming an adoptive parent," Barrish said. "I gave birth to two sons, both with their own unique personality, and I cherished every stage of their development. It wasn't until they were on the cusp of being young men that my husband and I realized we weren't ready to be done with parenting."

There are multiple ways to adopt a child. Adoptions can be handled through adoption attorneys, private agencies, facilitators or public agencies, or some sort of combination.

Barrish, a Readiness Management Group program manager for Det. 4 in Colorado Springs, Colo., chose to become a certified foster parent and then pursue adoption. She and her husband met with adoption agencies and inquired about dozens of kids. Despite their deliberative efforts, she said both her adopted daughter and son literally fell into their laps.

"We received a phone call about our son two days after we were certified as foster-to-adopt parents," Barrish said. "He was in a must-move situation, and two weeks later our son was with us."

The situation surrounding their daughter's adoption was similarly unusual.

"Our daughter's caseworker received our family biography that we distributed as we pursued kids available for adoption," Barrish said. "She received the bio from a co-worker, outside of normal protocol for a foster placement, and decided to pursue us (usually the adoptive parents contact caseworkers, not the other way around). She took a leap of faith, and in that we received the gift of our daughter, who is a perfect fit for our family and the apple of my husband's eye."

Barrish still marvels at how her two adopted kids found a place in her heart. She said she loved them even before seeing their smiling faces in a photograph.

"(When you are pregnant) you are in love with your child for nine months before you even seen him, and the minute he is born, you know he is yours," Barrish said. "It was the same with my son and daughter. We loved them because they were to be our children -- regardless of the delivery method -- and as we met and got to know them, we built a parent-child relationship, and that love within our family blossomed."

For Col. George Fenimore and his wife, Jannirose, adopting a child was something they wanted to do for a while. In fact, adoption runs in their family.

"My mother was adopted in 1923," said Fenimore, an RMG program manager for Det. 12 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "My wife is adopted, and now we adopted Charlie, my oldest son."

The Fenimores turned to adoption after trying to have their own children.

"After 12 years of marriage and numerous miscarriages, we turned to adoption and explored the 'healthy' baby avenue," the colonel said. "We were quickly turned off by the process -- marketing and promoting ourselves and competing with other couples. So we changed our focus to adopting hard-to-place children with special needs."

In 1993, the Fenimores adopted a 1-month-old named Charlie who has Down syndrome and had been diagnosed with a minor heart condition. A few hours after Charlie's birth, his biological parents learned of his medical problems and decided they were unprepared to raise him.

Fenimore said when he and his wife held Charlie in their arms for the first time, it felt like the sun was shining in their hearts.

"Having a special-needs child has been profoundly rewarding," he said. "Charlie brings love and joy to all he meets."

Being in the military has served Fenimore well. In particular, the Reserve program provides more family stability, predictability and control over the assignment process.

"Having a special-needs child motivated me to leave active duty and join the Reserve, where we have enjoyed fewer PCS [Permanent Change of Station] moves, better stability and an improved quality of life," Fenimore said. "For me, I was able to transition to the Reserve and gain stability with a great Reserve program."

The Fenimores said they did not have to answer the question, "What if we get assigned to Base X?" while caring for a special-needs child. Instead, they were able to remain at Laughlin AFB, Texas, for 12 years, nine of those in the Reserve. In 2008, they welcomed the opportunity to move to Wright-Patterson, where Charlie has thrived.

The military also helped Lt. Col. Christopher Padbury, an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB, Colo., expand his family through adoption.

Padbury was initially reluctant to consider adoption.

"My wife and I always wanted a big family," he said. "I always thought it would come through birth, and she always thought it would come through a combination of birth and adoption," he said.

When Padbury's wife was unable to conceive naturally, she urged him to consider adoption.

"Gradually I came on board with adoption and witnessed six amazing miracles come into our lives," Padbury said.

"I owe a huge debt to the U.S. Air Force for its awesome support of my adoptions and my family," he said. "I participated in its very helpful adoption reimbursement program for three of my six children."

Resiliency, bravery -- Lessons taught by unexpected teachers

There are many lessons in life to be learned, and sometimes the best lessons come from unsuspected sources. For the Barrishes, Fenimores and Padburys, their adopted children have been great teachers.

"They have shown bravery that would rival any soldier and resiliency in a world that continuously brings challenges into their young lives," Barrish said. "Through therapy, remedial academic classes and daily lessons on how to be 'a family,' my children have worked hard to heal themselves and be the best they can be, despite the gaps in their education and previous unconventional family life."

"Both of my children were older adoptions, each having led a life of transitions, rejection and heartbreak, all attributed to the adults who were supposed to be caring for them. And, yet, these children are optimistic, happy and content, with unconditional love for my husband and me."

"But mostly I have learned the true meaning of hope and to always be true to yourself, despite the most demoralizing situations. My adopted children are my heroes, and someday I hope to live up to the standard that they have both set for me."

Currently, Barrish and her husband are in the process of adopting a third child, the older biological sister of their adopted daughter.

"Regardless of whether we get to adopt her before she turns 18, we've made her a member of our family and love her as our daughter," Barrish said.

Fenimore said his son, Charlie, as a mainstream high school senior, was inducted into the National Honor Society. He plans to get a job and enroll in post-secondary education.
He said Charlie has taught him the value of life and that Down syndrome is nothing to be afraid of.

Padbury is now more flexible in his family expectations than ever before.

"If I had really known that earlier in my life and been more compassionate to these things, I think I could have done so much more," he said.

Padbury served as the executive director of Project 1.27, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization dedicated to training and supporting adoption/foster families as well as collaborating with local churches to assist these families. Started in 2005, the organization recently celebrated its 213th adoption.

"Although my children are adopted, I was alarmed when I discovered that there are more than 100,000 orphans in the United States," Padbury said. "On any given day, more than 100,000 children in foster care are available for adoption."

November is National Adoption Month. Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis started an Adoption Week in 1976 to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. Eight years later, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week. President Bill Clinton expanded the awareness week to the entire month of November.