Anne Stein was joyfully crafting an email to her school families, to let them know she was going to become an adoptive mother in a few weeks The teacher at St. James the Greater had barely hit send when she got a text from a friend of the birth mother:
She's gone into labor. Could you come?
Stein and her husband, Andy, quickly packed their things and took off for the UC Irvine Medical Center, in Orange County, Calif. They arrived just two hours after their son, Andrew, was born.
"There was more emotion than you could even say," Anne Stein said about meeting her son for the first time. "You're holding this tiny little guy in your arms, and there's love and joy and excitement."
At the same time, the Steins were keenly aware of the incredible sacrifice the birth mother had just made — to carry a child through almost nine months of pregnancy and to make the valiant decision to place her child with a loving, adoptive family.
"There's this great appreciation and love for the birth mother, to have him, and to make that difficult decision," Anne Stein said. "She made the most loving decision she could ever make."
The Steins were one of six families who earlier this month received a grant from the Archbishop Robert J. Carlson Adoption Fund. Since it's inception in 2010, the fund has distributed almost $115,000 to help offset the families' adoption expenses.
The journey of adoption can be long and is often costly. The average cost of a private agency adoption is $20,000-$45,000, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which provides information on child welfare and adoption. Adopting parents often seek assistance with the process, the cost and the emotional impact.
The Steins started their journey through Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, a Catholic Charities federation agency that provides adoption services including counseling, placement services for birth and adoptive parents, referrals and post-adoption support.
The couple worked with Mary Ann Hoeynck, a licensed clinical social worker, for the home study; Hoeynck eventually referred them to St. Joseph Adoption Ministry in Kansas City, Kan., for placement. "She was just great," Anne Stein said. "She's a person we could call anytime. She helped us have important discussions on where we wanted to go with this. Like one of the things we wanted was to make sure the birth mother was being looked after as well."
Hoeynck told the Steins about the archbishop's adoption fund, which is administered by the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning. Because Anne Stein works for the archdiocese, the couple also received additional funding from the Church to help with the cost of the adoption.
A "holy experience"
When a family comes to Good Shepherd Children and Family Services for information on adoption, they're usually paired with Hoeynck, who has been working for Catholic Charities since 1974, and the last three decades helping adoptive parents build their families.
"We really like to sit down with any parent — even if they're like, 'Gosh we're thinking about this but we feel like we don't know enough about it,'" Good Shepherd executive director Dr. Michael Meehan said. "Part of our ministry is to educate them, what they're looking at, what would be involved and how the system works and whether they'd be working with us directly or not. We assess the evidence of learning and mastery of this new material, so they understand more about the adoption process and what they might be getting into than when they came in."
Because Good Shepherd's access to babies available for adoption is limited, many cases will end up with another agency for placement, said Meehan. Those families often come to Good Shepherd as a trusted source for other resources, including the home study and post-adoptive placement work.
Meehan also said he's working to reframe the discussion about adoption, especially when it comes to describing the birth mother. Often, she is described as "giving up" the child for adoption, when Meehan argued that it's really "a brave and loving, life-giving decision," he said. "We need to get back to the nuts and bolts of what adoption really is on both ends."
Good Shepherd and the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate organize an Adoption Mass each November at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The Mass is an opportunity to celebrate and pray for all those touched by adoption, including adopted children, adoptive families, parents seeking to adopt, and parents who have made an adoption plan for their child.
For Good Shepherd to have a small part in creating a family through adoption is a "holy experience," Meehan said. "God has brought this family and this baby together. We have simply helped make that happen."
So many God moments
This week, Amy and Tony Weber revealed on Facebook that their family just grew by one. The Webers were placed with an infant boy, whom they've named Elijah Anthony. He was born Feb. 11 at a hospital in Kentucky. The Webers have been taking turns traveling there, while the other stays in St. Louis to care for their other son, 5-year-old Owen.
Not long after giving birth to Owen, the Webers tried to have another second child, but discovered there were infertility issues. In fact, doctors have told them they aren't sure how they conceived Owen. "Medically and scientifically, we shouldn't have had him," Amy Weber said. ""He's truly a miracle for us."
Some friends suggested they look at Love Basket Adoptions, a Hillsboro-based adoption agency that recently became part of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. They applied in 2015, and on Jan. 11, 2017, they got a call they were matched. The birth mother wasn't due until April, but this month, they got a call she was going into early labor. Because he was born early, Elijah will spend time in the NICU until he's able to improve coordination with feeding.
Amy Weber said the journey of adoption helped them to better connect with their parish, St. Joseph in Cottleville. The Christian adoption agency they worked with required a reference letter from one of the priests at St. Joseph. They reached out to associate pastor Father Anthony Gerber.
"We're in a big parish, so we had to introduce ourselves," she said. "He just said, 'Come see me,' and it started a great rapport with him. He's continued to check up on us, and we know he's been praying for us."
The Webers also received a grant from the Archbishop Carlson Adoption Fund, which Weber described as a "godsend" to help offset the adoption expenses. "The prayers of our Church and our faith is what helped got us through," she said. "We're grateful to have that support."
We are family
International adoption of children in need completes the Cochran home
By Joseph Kenny | firstname.lastname@example.org | twitter: @josephkenny2
Mom's long reach at the ping-pong table amused her children as they relaxed after school before getting on with their schedule.
Jen and Scott Cochran's second-oldest son, Khomer, earlier had explained to his mom that he needed time alone so he could do his homework before soccer practice — a parent's dream when a child pre-empts the nagging that usually accompanies homework time.
Later, after finishing homework and while getting ready to leave for practice, Khomer, soon-to-be 15, talked about how well he gets along with his brother Jared, 16, the oldest of the family's four children. The younger two children, Grace, 14, and Mimi, 11, explained that they too have a strong sibling bond as sisters.
This strong bond is thanks in part to In His Hands Orphans Outreach. In His Hands is a faith-based organization that is promoted in the archdiocese by Linda and Dave Smith of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville and works with Catholic orphanages. The Smiths relied on the help of prayers from the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters), family and friends when having difficulties in their own adoption process. Linda Smith has been involved in pro-life efforts on the local level.
In talking about the children waiting on adoption, Linda Smith said, "There's still such a need for them to find forever homes. As a Catholic, I feel what better cause can there be than to find wonderful homes for these older children who are left to age out of these orphanages."
The Cochrans' medical challenges led them to adopt after their son Jared was born. Jen and Scott both have siblings "and we wanted for him to have siblings growing up," Jen said.
Their decision fits a bigger perspective.
"Every person deserves love and a family," Jen said. "As a Christian I feel like it's our calling, our duty to help those who are less fortunate than we are. And who is more vulnerable than a child ... than an orphan child? Really, no one. They've had a rough start by no fault of their own."
The Cochrans started an adoption process when Jared was 2, working with an international adoption agency seeking homes for children from Russia. The family adopted Grace from an orphanage in Russia in 2003 when she was 11 months old.
After adopting Grace, Russia became closed to international adoptions, so Jen researched options and relied on connections she had from her support of organizations that assist children in foster care. In two separate instances, she received information about a summer hosting program through In His Hands Orphans Outreach's and Madison Adoption Associates. Filipino and Chinese orphans, often harder to place because they're generally ages 8-15, spend a month in the United States with local families, with the hope that the children will find their forever families during that time.
The flyer Jen received had a photo of several children, including Khomer, then 8, who hadn't had a host family yet. The Cochrans started the adoption process for him at the same time they hosted him during the summer program. The adoption went through the next summer.
"I just felt like it was a sign. Two people from different worlds from mine had sent me email with the same flyer," Jen said.
"The boys quickly became best buddies, always together, had the same interests," Jen said. "They were constantly doing things, and my daughter was left out."
The Cochrans again contacted the adoption group, which forwarded Mimi's file. "We thought it would provide some nice balance to our family," Jen said.
The Cochrans were raised with no faith background but felt something was missing in their life. They started attending and eventually were baptized in a Christian church after they were married. Their faith helped them through miscarriages and infertility.
Regarding adoption, she said: "If a child showed up on your doorstep right now and needed food, clothing and shelter, would you take that child into your house? Absolutely you would. So what's the difference between that and going through the paperwork in making that child a permanent part of your family? That's essentially what people who are adopting orphan children do, especially an older orphan child."
Husbands and wives with medical challenges, such as infertility, who feel called to raise children are encouraged by the Church to "give expression to their generosity" through adoption (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2379).
The U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities states that some past stigmas associated with adoption are being overcome. Today people more readily describe the brave and selfless actions of a birth mother as "placing a child for adoption," rather than "abandoning" a child.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis has several resources to assist families interested in adopting or making an adoption plan for their child. They are:
• The Annual Adoption Mass, an opportunity to celebrate and pray for all those touched by adoption, including adopted children, adoptive families, parents seeking to adopt, and parents who have made an adoption plan for their child.
• Archbishop Robert J. Carlson Adoption Fund, assisting families financially with the costs associated with adoption.
• Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, a Catholic Charities agency that has worked in the St. Louis area for more than 200 years offering foster and adoptive care assistance along with many other services for families.
• Good Shepherd Children and Family Services: www.goodshepherdstl.org
• Archbishop Robert J. Carlson Adoption Fund: www.stlouisreview.com/bW5
• Enkindle Infertility Counseling Ministry: www.stlouisreview.com/bv2
• Office of Natural Family Planning: www.archstl.org/naturalfamilyplanning
• Annual archdiocesan Adoption Mass, held in November: www.archstl.org/respectlife/page/annual-adoption-mass
>> In His Hands
In His Hands Orphans Outreach, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that describes itself as "sharing the heart of Christ with the unloved, unwanted and forgotten," has many opportunities for people.
• Service trips
• Child sponsorship
• Orphan hosting
• Foster care
• Crisis pregnancy support
Orphan awareness, child abandonment prevention, holistic care for bereft children and adoption support are the focus of the program's work in the United States, Haiti, China, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ukraine and India. Founded in 2008 in Illinois by Michelle McGowan, In His Hands isn't an adoption agency but facilitates and supports families wanting to adopt and provides support and resources for women in crisis pregnancies to carry their pregnancy to term
For information, visit www.inhishandsorphans.org.