Parenting is all-consuming, blissful, demanding, and rewarding. It has ups, it has downs, it has highs, and it certainly has lows. And for anyone who has the desire to parent and is lucky enough to experience parenthood firsthand, you know that nothing is quite like making your kids happy.
This is especially true for parents who adopted. As you'll learn from the stories below, having the ability to change a child's life is not just an act of generosity—it's also one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
What It's Like to Adopt a 9-Year-Old as a Single Mom
Laura Gilbert never wanted a baby. “Unless I got married, I didn’t have that drive to make my own," she says. "I always had this notion that I would adopt an older child from foster care.” A few years back, after moving from New York to Las Vegas, she realized it was time to go for it—husband or not. “I had space, a job, and room to share this life with someone else who could use it.” Laura started going through the process to become a foster parent in October of 2013: taking classes, having background checks done on her, and going through nitty gritty home screenings. At one point, the state’s foster agency even delayed her application by a week because she had a fire extinguisher in the wrong room. Laura was approved five months later in March 2014, and a few weeks after that, a 9-year-old boy named Sammy (who had been on a list of kids waiting for a foster home) was at her house eating lunch.
Sammy spent a few more weekends visiting with Laura, and “at one point he just stayed for good,” she says. “I knew even before meeting him this would be it," says Laura. "I can’t imagine meeting a child and saying, ‘Nah not for me.’” Sammy’s adoption was lengthy (about 17 months from their first meeting due to some particulars in his case)—and Laura had to battle the whole way for permission to take next steps in the process. “I learned you really have to be your own advocate to get things moving or you’ll be waiting months and months on the court system," she says. "there’s a lot of red tape.”
Sammy’s transition to life as a Gilbert has had its ups and downs: “At first, he was in the honeymoon phase," says Laura. "But then, his behaviors and habits started settling in. I had to learn how to discipline him in a special, super-kind, therapeutic way—which goes against everything I would do naturally—because things that work on normal kids, like taking things away, didn’t work on him.” Meanwhile, Laura had to become accustomed to the extra company: “I had been living by myself for so long, and all of a sudden there’s this 9-year-old who needs constant conversation because he was used to living with groups of up to six kids at times. And we literally have nothing in common—no shared experiences or frame of references. Like, 'No, I don’t want to watch you play PokÃƒÂ©mon for seven hours!' That was a big adjustment.” Laura's also had to get comfortable receiving frequent help: “Being a single mom has been pretty crazy," she says. "I’m not sure how people do it without the assistance I’ve received from family and friends. You learn take them up on their offers.” All in, she says her life, now changed in a million different ways, is one she wouldn’t trade: “Being there to watch him dance at the talent show or play soccer—that’s a life so many people think is normal, but some of these kids wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s been so nice to create this family and see him succeed.”
What it's Like to Adopt from the Other Side of The World
Madonna was on the radio as Lisa Aramony and her husband hopped into the backseat of a car, headed to meet their new baby for the first time. They were 6,500 miles from home—in Beruit, Lebanon—and the driver had put on "Material Girl" by Madonna to make them feel more at home. “The country was coming off of a pretty serious time of strife, and there were pock mocks on buildings where bombs had gone off and rolling blackouts," says Lisa. "It was about as scary as anything.” Nine months earlier, after three failed rounds of IVF, she and her husband had decided to adopt internationally and chose the Middle Eastern country for a number of reasons: Her husband was of Lebanese descent, they knew pregnant mothers in the country were cared for, and all adoptions were closed (meaning there was no contact with the biological family).
“We picked up our baby, Katie, from a tiny apartment where she was being cared for by an old woman named Daad as a part of a church group,” says Lisa. After an exchange of money (around $30,000) and a trip to the police station, the Aramonys were off to Cyprus, where they filled out more paperwork at the embassy (and also got a green card for their new 2-month old). Two years later, they’d find themselves traveling the same path (this time, the streets were lined with soldiers and there were Hezbollah banners hanging from the street poles) to pick up their second Lebanese baby, Susie.
Katie and Susie, now 13 and 15, grew up with the word "adoption" always in their vocabulary. “We chose to make adoption a part of their life story," says Lisa. "So as babies, toddlers, and young girls, we read them books that explained they didn’t come from mommy’s tummy, but we wanted them so much we were brought together." The girls saw picture albums and videos the Aramonys made from their trips to Lebanon at a young age, so there was never an, “Oh my God, I’m adopted” moment. Not to say there weren’t a few hiccups: “When Katie was 7, she said, ‘Michael at school said that you’re not my real mommy,’ but I realized she was just looking for more information from me.” Meanwhile, Susie’s less-than-thrilled with the genetics unit in her eight grade science class since hers are a mystery. And Lisa (a blue-eyed blonde) has dealt with the occasional, “Are you the babysitter?" question while out with her brown-eyed kids. But as far as transitions go, Lisa says they were lucky to fall on the seamless side of the spectrum. “I just can’t imagine not having them," she says. "It’s our family. We’re just incredibly lucky to have been given these beautiful, smart, funny kids.”
What it's Like to Adopt as a Gay Dad
Zae had spent time in six different foster homes before finding his forever family with Mark Paoni and husband Billy. The new dads, who fostered Zae for about a year before his adoption became official in August, knew they were getting an energetic spitfire (Zae had some behavior issues, along with ADHD), but nothing could have prepared them for the whirlwind entrance of the now-5-year-old into their lives. “Him stripping down naked and throwing things—it’s stressful!” says Mark. The couple was up for the challenge, though: “I decided to stay home and work with him, and he’s a completely different kid than he was a year ago,” says Mark. But the new family still has some challenges ahead of them, including the scrutiny that comes with same-sex parenting.
“All of our friends are very open to it, and we surround ourselves with those types of people, but we do have our fears,” says Mark. When a few older kids started laughing at Zae about his dads during summer school, he defended himself by telling his classmates his dads were brothers. “We had a long talk with him," says Mark. "I understood you have to do what you have to do, but we said, ‘We’re your two dads, and you should be proud, and we’ll always stand by your side—so you never have to be scared.'" Another sensitive matter on the docket: figuring out what to tell Zae about his biological mother, who is still in the picture because of his open-adoption-agreement. “Right now, he doesn’t know who she is, and we’re not sure how much information to give him because if she doesn’t clean up her act or show up, it’ll be hard for him,” says Mark. (Zae also has a biological sister, living with another family, who he sees a few times a month.) In the meantime, Mark and Billy are happy watching Zae grow and interact with other kids—including another child they’ve recently decided to foster. “I’ll tell anyone that fostering takes an open-mind, but we feel like we’re the lucky ones.”
What it's Like to Adopt Kids of a Different Ethnicity
Think nine months is a long time to wait for a baby? It took Julie Corby and her husband, Steven, 10 years to have children. At first, she struggled with infertility. Then, a thyroid cancer diagnosis disrupted her plans, and when she and her husband pulled the trigger to adopt in Ethiopia, it took two years to get off the waiting list. Finally, six years ago, their hopes were answered when a call came through about adopting two siblings, Meazi and Melese. “It’s funny, they told us we were meeting a 2-year-old girl and a baby boy, and when we got to Ethiopia, our daughter was so verbal that we realized she was about to turn 4 and the 'baby' was 8 months,” says Julie. The first few months back at home were trying: “We were dealing with things like malnourishment, parasites, language problems," she says. "And my son wouldn’t make eye contact those first four months. But then, after six months, something just clicked. We weren’t using babysitters, we were all sleeping in the same room—a technique for kids dealing with trauma—and they started to accept us.”
Today, Meazi (age 10) and Melese (age 6) are flourishing: “I just feel like we won the lottery," says Julie. "They’re great kids—bright, outgoing, affectionate. My husband and I say we could have never produced biological kids this amazing.” The siblings regularly exchange pictures, videos, and letters with their birth father, a rural farmer in Southern Ethiopia. Meazi and Melese have such a tight bond, and they look out for each other—it’s beautiful," says Julie. "And it really is like they have two families.” As they get older, Julie says her main concern is keeping them safe. “You just worry about them 24/7, and it’s scary to be a parent of a black child in America right now with all the black kids being killed and everything else that’s going on.” But for now, they’re taking things one day at a time, which means just getting Melese to sleep in his own bed.