Wildscapes Workshop

Bellaire Moms Through Adoption

Cindy Gabriel
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Dave, Lenora, Ben, & Grace Carlson

Dave, Lenora, Ben, & Grace Carlson

To look at 4 1/2 year old Ben or 3-month old Grace Carlson with their parents Dave and Lenora it’s hard to believe there is no biological relationship between them.   But since Ben and Grace’s birth mothers each picked the Carlson’s to be their parents, it may be more than coincidence.

“They say this happens all the time.  The birth mother is just naturally drawn to people who look like members of her own family,” says Lenora.

The Carlsons came home with daughter Grace in February, their second successful open adoption.  Lenora says the experiences were very similar, though it’s easier to be more relaxed the second time.

“I feel very close to my children’s birth mothers.  There is no one else on earth as proud of my children as they are,” says Lenora, who says she will be able to report first hand to her children that their birth mothers loved them.

Ben’s birth mother was 13.  Grace’s was 15.   The Carlson’s have spent hours with the families of each birth mother prior to their deliveries. Ben’s baby book is filled with cards, letters and pictures from his birth mother.  Grace’s is just getting started.  The first year of the child’s life is documented for the birth mother through pictures, letters and a few scheduled visits.  Lenora says she even leans toward having more visits with her birth mothers than are required.

That is not to say that the open adoption process is without moments of drama.  Lenora says the 48 hours between the birth of the child and the time when adoption papers are signed can be the most gut wrenching, emotional experience of a lifetime.  This was true with both adoptions according to Lenora.

“I melted down the second day.  The excitement of the first day ended and fear set in the 2nd day,” said Lenora, who found herself in a hospital with her own parents eager to call themselves grandparents along with biological relatives also calling themselves grandparents, aunts and cousins.  The adoptive family has held, named and emotionally claimed a child that is not legally theirs for 48 hours.  That is the time period required before the birth mother can legally sign the adoption papers.

Why take this chance?  Traditionally, up to one third of birth mothers who plan to adopt change their minds after the baby is born.  Those statistics go down with open adoption.

The word adoption first came up when Lenora was recovering from a miscarriage 4 months into her pregnancy.  Doctors wanted Lenora to wait several months before attempting another pregnancy.

“I was 35.  Dave was 39.   I kept thinking of all my friends who went through years of infertility and thousands of dollars in expenses to have a family.  Dave was going to be 40 as a first time dad,” said Lenora.  Still, she says, men are often the most reluctant to adopt.

“My husband is the sweetest man in the world. As soon as I asked him if we could adopt, he said, “sure.”    He didn’t hesitate a second,” she said.

Today Lenora mentors other potential adoptive parents through the AIM process.  She insists she doesn’t feel any competition from the birth mothers, though their relationship tapers off after the first year.

“It just removes the mystery.  My kids will always know that their birth mothers loved them and wanted to give them the best life they could.  You can’t have too many people rooting for you”, says Lenora.

Hanna, Laura, Don & Anne McAdams

Hanna, Laura, Don & Anne McAdams

Anne and Don McAdams were featured in the Houston Chronicle a few years ago as examples of “older couples” adopting.  But that’s only one unique feature of their adoption story.  Their two daughters, Laura, 14 and Hanna, 11 were older themselves when they were adopted.  Laura was 18 months and Hanna was 3 1/2.  Not only are they cross cultural adoptions, but Laura and Hanna themselves are from very different parts of the world, Peru and Vietnam.  Even more unique, Laura was adopted by Anne while she was still single and in her late 30’s.

Anne was given Laura before the adoption was final.  She was required to stay in Peru for six to eight weeks while she, as an attorney, maneuvered a shaky legal system that placed the adoption in doubt more than once.  At one point the international adoption law was rescinded due to scandal.  Then the court went on strike.  Anne fired her first attorney, sensing a corrupt arrangement with the judge.  By then, she was completely bonded to Laura as her parent.

“There was no way I was leaving the country without that child,” said Anne.

Still, she describes her experience as a great time in her life.

”We had 30 other couples there all waiting to adopt.  We had a great time all together meeting other adopting families,” said Anne.

Even her future husband, McAdams, paid a visit for support and to meet Laura, who would later be in his wedding to Anne.  McAdams (a former HISD School board trustee) was a divorced father of two grown sons.

Once the McAdams’ were a family unit Anne began her quest for a second child.

“Laura was the center of the universe. I thought she needed a sister,” she said.

By then the political upheaval in Peru made adoption there unlikely.  But the same adoption agency, Los Ninos International, pointed Anne to Vietnam.

“That was an entirely different procedure.  The adoption was handled before I got there.  Then you just walk into this orphanage and someone goes over and gets the child’s hand and walks her up to you,” said Anne.

At 3 1/2 Hanna spoke no English, needed major dental work and other medical attention.  Anne was not fazed.

“She was so cute.”

Her name was Phuong (pronounced Fong).  But the Anne and Don had chosen the name Hanna for her, leaving Phuong as her middle name.  At first Hanna insisted she be called Phoung.

“Then, about 3 months later she told us, ‘I, Hanna’,” said Anne.

Now Hanna is proud that her name Hanna Phoung McAdams expresses three cultures, American, Vietnamese and Scottish.

Both have McAdams ancestors.  My mother’s great grandmother was named “Ela McAdams”.

Sylvia and Randall Walker, with Alex, Anna, Alan, and Abby

Sylvia and Randall Walker, with Alex, Anna, Alan, and Abby

Sylvia and Randall Walker, through little planning of their own, find themselves heading an all adopted household of four children, mixed in race, yet one in spirit.   Alex, 11 and Anna, 8, were the first of the adopted Walker clan.    Then one day the phone rang.  It was their adoption agency, Gladney, in Dallas.   It seems Anna’s birth mother was about to have another baby, a boy.  She wanted to know if the Walkers would take Anna’s half sibling.

“I told them ‘yes’, immediately on the phone.  I couldn’t reach Randall at work, but I knew the answer,” said Sylvia.

As the family anticipated the third child’s arrival, plans for a family name emerged.  But that changed with one simple, ingenious comment from Alex, then 5.

“Is A-L-A-N a name?” asked Alex?

“Yes, it’s Alan,” said Sylvia.

“Then that’s what we should name him,” said Alex.

Alex had taken the first two letters of his own name and put them with the first two letters of his sister, Anna’s name to produce Alan, bonding the three by name, if not entirely by blood.

By then, the Walkers were feeling pretty squeezed in their 3 bedroom Bellaire bungalow, which they eventually planned to tear down.  She “had a feeling” that she’d get a call from the adoption agency before Alan came.  But the Walkers would be caught totally by surprise three years later when Gladney called again.

The same birth mother of Anna and Alan was about to have another child…a girl.   Still in the small house, the decision to take on a fourth did not come as quickly as the other three.

“It took me two weeks.  It took Randall another week.  Finally, one day the kids came and asked me when they were going to get their baby sister. I told them to ask their dad,” said Sylvia.

”I’ll be 4 on my birthday,” says 3 year old Abby, with her big hazel eyes and Shirley Temple curls.  This heart-melting, walking, talking poster child for adoption transforms every room she enters.

“What if we’d said no?” said Sylvia.

The Walkers describe the moment they decided to take Abby as a “God Moment”.  The lesson in that experience according to Randall is:

“Don’t be afraid to take a chance to say ‘yes’.”

Allison and Bryant Frazier with sons Evan and Tanner

Allison and Bryan Frazar with sons Evan and Tanner

Allison and Bryan Frazar strike friends and neighbors as the perfect parents for their 5 year old adopted son, Tanner and their 12 year old biological son, Evan.   After years of infertility, the Frazars decided to adopt their second child.  They settled on an adoption agency in Dallas called Adoption Access.  Allison says their relative young age proved to be an advantage on the waiting list.

“The only qualification the birth mother asked specifically for were parents who were relatively young,” says Allison.

Allison says the average age of adoptive parents at the agency was 45 while the Frazars were 35.  Little did the birth mother know that youth and vigor would be required for the parents of Tanner, who would be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the 7 months of age.

“From the moment I knew we were picked. I knew he was mine.  He was destined to be with us, so it’s a perfect match,” says Allison, who spends hours and days taking Tanner to physical therapy, speech therapy, or hippo (horseback) therapy.

“People say, ‘he’s so blessed to have you.’  It makes me want to say, no, we’re so blessed to have him,” says Allison.

“He’s calmed us all down with his take on life.  He always has a smile on his face.  His spirit is so alive.  He gets so much across.  He’ll see someone at a restaurant who looks sad or just into themselves and (Tanner will) just sit and smile at them until they finally smile back.  Tanner is never without a smile,” says Allison.

Allison says she is also living proof that parental feelings toward adopted children and biological children are the same.

“I have both and I don’t feel any different at all.  The moment you have that baby your ability to love kicks in. Don’t ever underestimate the potential for love and how it can grow,” she says.

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