Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The downfall of sibling groups...

Today is my brother's birthday.  I had just turned five years old the week before Brady was born and one of my earliest memories is his birth.

I woke up to the smell of pancakes filling the house and was excited to see my Great Uncle Jake in the kitchen cooking his famous "silver dollar pancakes."  His presence there also meant that the time had come to get a new brother or sister.

My sister, Courtney, and I were taken to the hospital with our sloppy ponytails and mismatched clothes to meet our new sibling.  And that was it.  The beginning of an automatic, understood bond that forms between siblings.

The differences between the three of us were/are...very different!  But the similarities we share carry on to this day from what we find funny to our mannerisms, impressions of our dad, appreciation for growing up in a simple, but fulfilling way - and the value of family.

Over the past two years, the birthday boy has married both of his sisters.  By married, I mean performed the beautiful ceremonies and reading of the vows:)

Now, all three siblings - me, Courtney and Brady's wife (Brittney) - have babies on the way at the same time.

I cannot imagine a life without my brother and sister.  If I try to delete them from childhood memories and experiences, then those special moments that still make me smile no longer have significance.

But there are some brothers and sisters who shared lives together - only to be separated.  

For children who end up in foster care, this separation is because of neglect or abuse by the people they trust most, yet those adults rattled the lives and stability of their innocent children.

When I received notification in October of who I would be featuring for November's "The New Family Tree" adoption story on KPLC-TV, my heart sank.  For the first time since I started doing the segment, the Department of Children and Family Services wanted me to feature a sibling group.  Not two children, not three...four children, living in separate homes for more than two years, but hoping to be adopted together.

That's not all...they range in age from seven to 12 years old.  There are three boys and one girl, and they are African-American.  Should that matter?  Absolutely not.  But it does when it comes to adoption through foster care.

Age, race and gender are the biggest factors for people when choosing a child to be matched with in adoption.  That trifecta - combined with this being a large sibling group - concerned me that a feature segment with the four could lead to dashed hopes of being adopted together.

One child is a huge responsibility for someone to consider bringing into a home.  Two, three...four.  That's a very special person with a special calling!

For the past two years, the four siblings have been living in separate foster homes.  Fortunately, the older two were placed together and the younger two were placed together.  However, the four only see each other a few times a year.  That is missed birthdays, missed Christmases and Thanksgivings.  There are missed days, weeks and months to experience life together.

When I watched the four reunite for our filming day, I had to choke back the tears.  Dontae, the oldest and softest spoken sibling quietly commented on how tall his brother Leon had grown.  Then I watched Delores touch her youngest brother's face and ask if he has always had a specific mark near his eye.  Then they asked about school and who picked out their outfits for the day.

12-year-old Dontae

Nine-year-old Delores

Eight-year-old Leon

Seven-year-old Hakeem

As a reporter, you are always encouraged to dive as deeply as you can with the person you are interviewing.  Find the emotion.  Let the raw feelings show.  But there is something about interviewing these children in their most vulnerable moments that keeps me from going too deep.

Maybe I do not want to really hear the pain in their voices.  Maybe I do not want to think back to the last time they were all together in one home likely being a traumatic day where state workers came in to bring them to temporary homes.  Maybe it is that I do not want to know what it is really like to be away from the people I love the most and never took advantage of me: my siblings. 

I have been praying for these three brothers and one sister since I met them.  I have also prayed specifically for the mom and dad who would adopt them together.

But the downfall of a sibling group in foster care is that it is oftentimes just too much.  

Each child can be adopted individually.  Someone might just want a daughter, like Delores.  Someone might just want a young boy, like Hakeem.  Or maybe an adoptive parent is interested in a boy who wants to be a cowboy and loves country music, like Leon.  Then there could be someone who feels called to adopt an older child, like Dontae.

While the adoption of any of these children would be deemed a step in the right direction for the child's future to be more stable, I pray that the number of siblings in this group does not lead to them spending even more years in foster care.

I think about my brother and sister and how differently we might have turned out if we had been raised in different homes.  It is unimaginable.

There has to be a mom and dad out there willing to say, "Yes, a sibling group would be a big adjustment, but we have the love to share."  You will undoubtedly get it in return - multiplied by four:)


Click here to watch the KPLC-TV story featuring the four siblings.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A little less talk and a lot more action

Okay, I'm not intentionally quoting a Toby Keith country song in the title of this blog.  I did, however, go back and forth between those lyrics stuck in my head for this post and Gavin Degraw's "Follow Through!"

They both get the point across that a lot of times we talk about things that matter to us, but we don't act, follow through and make it happen!

So what am I talking about?  If you follow many of my posts, you probably know the issue at hand is the critical need for adoptive parents.

It has been almost six months since a months-long courting relationship with the Department of Children & Family Services (and pleading my case to my bosses) resulted in a regular segment on KPLC-TV featuring local children who are ready to be adopted today.

I introduced you to Ke'vontre in May: 

Next it was Tyrene:

Then Danielle in June:

Darrell in July: 

Deniro in August:

Tyrese in September:

And D'Janae in October:

Guess what?!  After every segment, case workers at the DCFS office in Lake Charles have told me that the phones ring...a lot!

I could also track the number of views on for each story - and they were in the thousands!

I know that people's hearts are being pricked about this topic.  I have talked to friends and people in the community who have shared their new burden about parentless children with tears running down their cheeks.

These kids are real.  Their emotion is raw.  Their need is right in front of us...and we're still not doing enough.

Why the blunt statement?  Because these kids and the 60 others in Southwest Louisiana legally ready to be adopted today are still living life in limbo.  

There is the immediate surge of attention...and hope...when the phones ring, but adopting a child requires much more than a phone call.

First: recognize that you might not get called back in a timely fashion.  DCFS workers are overloaded.  Don't get discouraged if you have to pick up the phone a couple of times to get through.  Don't consider it a sign from God if your call is not returned.  The office is busy.  They will get back with you.  Call.  Call again.  Heck, by my third attempt in trying to talk to a home development specialist, my hands weren't sweaty anymore!  My voice was no longer shaky!  I was ready to get down to business and when we finally connected, everything started falling into place.

Second: you have to go through orientation to adopt through foster care.  I asked so many questions on the phone that it counted as orientation!  You could try that method:)  If you have to go to a one night meeting, don't look at it as an inconvenience.  Think about the other people in the exact same boat as you: all taking one of the scariest, bravest, most selfless steps in life.

Third: MAPP classes are a must.  What are these courses?  They are required by every person wanting to get certified to be a foster/adoptive parent.  It is a dual certification that also includes three home visits, background checks and references.  You will become a certified foster home and you will be certified to adopt.  The classes might seem like a long commitment (seven evenings of three hour courses or four Saturday courses of six hour courses), but they are critical in understanding why kids end up in care.  Plus, you'll meet some fabulous people and DCFS staffers in the process.

When Matt and I took part in the MAPP classes this summer, I was thrilled to learn that the classes had record attendance.  I met several people who were there because The New Family Tree features on KPLC opened a conversation in their home that led them to act.  There were also people there hoping to adopt one of the specific children featured.  

But, not everyone followed through.  There was a lot of talk, but even more action was needed.

I'll tell you what my biggest fear is in doing the interview segments featuring children ready to be adopted.  That their hopes are dashed.  That they choke back tears in their interview in order to seem brave to a potential mom or dad, but they have to endure another letdown.

If you are teetering on the idea of pursuing adoption, please consider what's at stake.  A child - bouncing between foster homes and never having a true sense of family.  A pre-teen - lacking a mom or dad to guide them into adulthood.  A teenager - scared about being on his or her own entirely at age 18 without a family base during the holidays and life events.

I am going to once again share the verses at the heart of this issue and pray for more people to follow through and act.

Luke 10:2:  The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. 

James 1:27:  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pricks, prods and pee cups

I have to admit that when I imagined what pregnancy would be like, I envisioned being able to exhale in a swimsuit, wear stretchy maternity jeans and bask in the "glow" while I awaited my bundle of joy.

Sure the realist in me recognized the threat of cankles, stretch marks, morning (all day) sickness, mood swings, etc...but I was much more consumed by the baby bliss that was to come.

Then I saw two pink lines on the test.  I suddenly started thinking, "Did I take my folic acid every day for the past few months," "how many diet cokes have I consumed in recent days," "do I have remnants of last week's migraine pill in my blood stream?"

Suddenly you realize your body is serving a much greater purpose and yesterday's worries are definitely not the same as today's.

After a couple of days of processing the numerous positive pregnancy tests, a different set of concerns started creeping into my mind.  What if something is wrong with the baby?  Do I want to know that in advance?

As I've mentioned in a previous blog post, my job is a blessing and a curse with information overload.  I have had the privilege of getting to know families whose children have Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Batten's disease, Cloverleaf syndrome, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Neurofibromatosis Type 1, pediatric pulmonary hypertension, Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, Erdheim-Chester disease, Friedreich's Ataxia, Apert's syndrome, Alfi's syndrome and Adrenoleukodystrophy.

All of these families are forever imprinted on my heart.  They did not know what God had in store for their children and their family lives, but they walked and continue to walk bravely with faith every step of the way.

They believe in the same scripture I do in Psalm 139:14: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

I know most babies are born healthy.  I also know that regardless of the health of the baby, Matt and I would not ever consider abortion and that we would love the child just the same.

One thing I have learned, though, is that medical technology and early intervention can dramatically increase the survivability and positive outcomes for babies who have early health issues.  Some of these issues cannot be detected through the three ultrasounds administered during a pregnancy and parents can be shocked on delivery day to be handed their beloved child who needs immediate medical intervention to survive - or a very different care plan than a typical daycare or in home arrangement.

Buckle in for the pricks, prods and pee cups...

My first doctor's visit in the pregnancy quickly taught me not to potty before going to the appointment.  Urine samples are collected at every visit, testing for sugar (gestational diabetes), protein (urinary tract infections/kidney damage/preeclampsia), ketones and blood cells or bacteria.  These findings are about the mom's health, not the baby's.

I hate needles and was not amused that the first pre-natal appointment also required seven tubes of blood from an arm draw - after I had just forced a potty session on an empty bladder.  Oh, and then five of the tubes didn't get processed correctly so I got to give those again: 12 tubes of blood:)

This blood work determines your blood type, Rh factor, glucose/iron/hemoglobin levels, STDs, Rubella protection and toxoplasmosis infection.  Huh?  Yep, that's what I thought...but in a nutshell, this is still all about what's happening in your bloodstream and whether or not that could threaten your developing baby.

Determining if there is something of concern with the baby requires a different set of tests.  Most people are familiar with the triple/quad screen and amniocentesis.  Something that was news to me, though, is that talking about these screenings is way more sensitive than talking about breastfeeding vs. formula or working inside the home vs. an outside career.  Who knew?

I do now and that's why I want to talk about it...

I knew the line I did not want to cross when it came to getting the most information as possible about the health of my baby.  I am a planner and knew that if there was a way I could have a plan in place for a baby with special needs, that I have the tools to get that going as soon as I could.

The idea of an invasive screening was not something I was comfortable with unless my doctor truly believed that it was the only means to get information that could affect the outcome of the pregnancy.

My doctor is quite possibly one of the most conservative, faith-based OB/GYNs in the area.  He has Christian music playing in each room of the office, does not prescribe birth control and definitely sees every baby as a miracle from God.

I appreciate his strong convictions and know that he sees my baby - from blueberry to watermelon-sized - as a human being made with purpose by a great Creator.

I knew by my third appointment at 17 weeks that if I wanted to have any screenings other than the standard urine/blood samples that I would have to ask for it.  That is exactly what I did one month ago in requesting the quad screen.

If you're unfamiliar with the quad screen, here's what it looks for: AFP (protein produced by the baby), hCG (hormone produced by the placenta), Estriol (estrogen produced by the baby and placenta) and Inhibin-A (protein produced by the placenta and ovaries).

The levels of each of these proteins or hormones is measured to assess your risk for carrying a baby with Trisomy 18, Trisomy 21, neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly.

I knew this screening has a reported false positive rate around 5%.  So, I reasoned there is a 95% chance that if there is a problem, it will be flagged and I will move on to the next step if that is the case.

10 days passed and my cell phone rang one morning while I was editing a health piece (about a sick child...ahhh!) at work.  When I heard my doctor's voice I felt my heart begin to pound.  I knew he would only call if there was a problem.

My results were normal except for my risk for Down syndrome.  The ratio the screening showed was that I was at a four to five times higher risk for my baby having Down syndrome.  While the results were just a screening for the risk, I could not help but ask why my numbers would be off and what can I do to get an answer.

I had three options: do nothing and see if anything is evident in my anatomy ultrasound at 21 weeks, meet with a perinatologist (high risk pregnancy doctor) for an involved ultrasound and amniocentesis, and a new option not many women know about - have another blood draw from my arm to have specific genes analyzed.

Options one and two were not options for me and Matt.  Option three is something that could have been done when I was 10 weeks pregnant, but my insurance would not cover it unless the doctor deemed there was a medical reason to do it.

I now had a reason and I rolled up my sleeve for two more tubes of blood to be sent off to a lab in California for the MaterniT21 test.  It reports positive or negative results for Trisomy 21, 18 and 13.  Other fetal chromosomal abnormalities are reported as an "additional finding."

I was told it could take up to two weeks for the results to come in.  Ugh.  Talk about throwing concerns over my pregnancy weight gain, gender of the baby and the zit on my face out the window!  Matt and I prayed...and prayed to be prepared to accept the results - good or bad.  Our friends and family were super supportive and we are so appreciative of their prayers, as well.

During this wait time between my doctor's call, the blood draw later that day and waiting for results, I reached out to different moms to see if they had walked this path before.  The response was typically, "No, I didn't do the screenings because it would not have changed the pregnancy outcome."

I 100% respect that decision.  My struggle was that it wasn't going to change my pregnancy outcome either.  It was about becoming an advocate for our baby's health prior to the baby arriving and preparing ourselves to be the best parents for this child.

Waiting for the results was no fun.  After a few days I ended up calling my doctor's office to see about moving up the anatomy ultrasound that could detect soft markers for genetic defects and they agreed to see me the next week.

While Matt and I were waiting for the doctor to see us, he popped his head in the door and said, "I was just given your test results and wanted to let you know that everything looks good!  I'll see you in a minute after I wrap up with another patient."  Praise. The. Lord.

Once the doctor got inside, he explained the MaterniT21 results.

It's still considered a screening, not a definitive diagnosis, so amniocentesis was once again offered.  We did not see the need for amniocentesis, as these results are shown to be close to 100% accurate.

We also learned that we are definitely having a baby girl!

I hope that another mom-to-be out there can glean some information from my experience.  Had I known what I know now, I would have skipped the quad screen altogether and paid the out-of-pocket cost for the MaterniT21 test.  My insurance dropped it to $200, but I found out after the fact that the manufacturer of the test offers it at a low cost, typically not exceeding $300.

My belief is that some of the more conservative medical professionals do not offer it as a standard for mommy planners (like myself) because it could potentially lead to an early pregnancy termination if the results are not what the parents-to-be are expecting.

When I talked to my sister-in-law who bravely shared her experience in carrying and burying a baby girl with Trisomy 18, she encouraged me the most by saying, "Don't worry about the questions from others.  You're doing what you think is best and you're advocating for your little girl."

I don't regret for one second going through the screenings just to learn that everything came back fine.  This experience bonded me with Lila Rose in an even deeper way as I prayed for her more than ever, felt her move for the first time and got this ultrasound snapshot with a smile and wave the day we got our test results.  "Hey mom and dad!  I'm doing just fine in here!"

My heart goes out to the parents whose results are not what they expected.  As my sister-in-law told me in my time of fear, "Stop looking at the internet for answers and look at the Bible."  I pray these verses can encourage you if you are in a season of doubt or fear.

Deuteronomy 31:6: Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

Isaiah 54:10: "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord who has compassion on you.

Hebrews 13:6: So we may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear.  What can man do to me?"

To test or not to test?  That decision is deeply personal, but I know all of us who are pregnant or have been pregnant before want the same thing: the best life possible for our little ones.


Monday, August 25, 2014

"As long as the baby's healthy..."

I am three weeks away from the ultrasound.  You know the one that you look forward to because you learn the gender, but the one that brings jello legs because it is the most extensive ultrasound in the pregnancy - looking at the major organs, the spine and potential problems in the baby's overall development.

It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that doctors have mixed the gender reveal (if a parent chooses it) with the shaky legs ultrasound.  I think it is their way of giving something to look forward to and distract us pregnant women from absolutely worrying about the whole experience.

Matt and I are so excited to learn if our first child is a girl or boy.  I am also hoping that in learning and sharing the gender with people who ask, I can put an end to an awkward comment that is made by well-wishers, but causes a twinge in my stomach!  

"As long as the baby's healthy," is the typical response that follows a comment from me stating that Matt and I don't have a preference over the baby being a girl or boy.  

The "As long as the baby's healthy," comment usually sparks a follow-up from me stating that "We will keep and love the baby regardless," which I've noticed causes a change in the facial expression of the well-wisher.

"Of course, you will," I can almost see in the other person's eyes.  I'm sure they would, too.  It's just the foundation of this response that causes that twinge - the thought that if the baby does not have the healthy outcome, we would not be equally dedicated and excited about parenting him or her.

My heightened sensitivity is definitely the result of a couple of personal experiences:
(1) Meeting several amazing children and their inspiring parents through my series at KPLC-TV called "Faces of Rare Disease."  
(2) The death of my niece, Callie, a precious baby diagnosed with Trisomy 18.

My sister-in-law, Stephanie, and her husband, Paul, have shown incredible courage and faith through the life and loss of their daughter.  Because of them, the prayer that Matt and I pray for our unborn child is that he/she has healthy growth and development in utero, but if  that is not what God has for this child, that we have the strength that only comes from Him to accept whatever outcome and use the experience to be the best parents we can be and grow closer to Him.

I am incredibly grateful for Stephanie and Paul's transparency about what it is like to love and grieve a child that was so wanted.  They agreed to share their thoughts in this post:

From Stephanie and Paul Londenberg:

Having a baby is a time full of JOY.  There are just no other words for it.  

Most everyone you meet is ecstatic to learn of continuation of life - of news that a little one is coming along.  Those of us who are parents and grandparents already know how special a time this is - how there is truly no greater love.  

Throughout the pregnancy, we “ooh” and “ahh” over the expecting parents, making the typical comments and asking all of the traditional questions....  

"How are you feeling?"
"When are/is you/your wife due?"
"Is this your first baby?"
"Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?"

This usually grows into a discussion of how the mother is fine, how the family is excited and does not care if the baby a boy or a girl (most of the time).  And, someone usually chimes in, " long as it's healthy...."

As long as it's healthy....
Wait. What?? 

Everyone hopes that their baby is healthy - of course, they do!  

We lifted up the same prayer prior to our first son, Jonah, being born.  

But, what if the baby is not healthy?  What then?  Would you change the way you think about your child?  Would you do anything differently?   

Our family experienced this exact scenario when we faced the truth of having a child with serious medical needs just last year.  Early in our pregnancy, we learned our daughter, Callie, would more than likely not survive outside the womb.

We were elated to learn we were pregnant.  We found out on Valentine's Day and knew the gift of a child on that holiday would far outweigh flowers and chocolate, jewelry and date night.

Everything was going as planned.  I had some morning sickness, but felt fairly well otherwise.

Having endured a miscarriage six months earlier, my husband, Paul, and I decided to proceed with additional blood work offered by our doctor to detect chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, Trisomy 13 and 18, and as a bonus, to discover our baby’s gender.  

After two weeks of waiting, the results arrived, and we were contacted by our nurse.  I was on my toes ready for the gender reveal, but the nurse instead informed me,  “The doctor would like for you to come in, so that she can speak with you.”  

Getting that call took my breath away.  I immediately knew something was obviously wrong - and wrong enough to have to hear the news in her office.  

I phoned Paul, and we made a mad dash to the doctor's office.  “Please be healthy...please be healthy,” I remember hearing my heart silently pray.  

Being somewhat familiar with the statistics and the outcomes of Trisomy 13 and 18, I even begged God for a diagnosis of Down syndrome all the way to the hospital, knowing that Down syndrome would at least give our baby a chance at life with us.

But, that was not the case. 

Our Callie was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a life-threatening disorder.  Not healthy.  

I think I remember our physician defining it as “incompatible with life" and being very apologetic.  Seriously?  How can anyone be so certain?  Did "incompatible with life" mean there was no hope?  

As we digested the grave news over the coming weeks, we were offered options.  While Callie's chances of survival were extremely limited, the thought of terminating her little life never entered our minds - because she was our daughter, no matter what - and her disorder did not define her.  It was the way God created her. 

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."  Psalm 139:13-15

In hindsight, we recall some people asking why we would not let her go sooner, implying the question of why we did not terminate our pregnancy following her diagnosis. 

Our answer is two-fold:
(1) Terminating any pregnancy is terminating a life.  That choice is not ours to make.

(2) There is always always always hope.  There is always a chance.  

It was not easy.  We argued with God.  A lot.  There was anger.  But He led us to the right people in our lives to help us make decisions as her parents.  

Paul and I, together, entered into parent mode early on and did everything we could for Callie.  We sought information from several specialists to make decisions about her care, because she was/is our daughter - because we would walk through fire for her, just as we would for her older brother.

Our final appointment with our pediatric cardiologist a month before our delivery confirmed the worst, that Callie would have difficulty sustaining life outside the womb without maximum assistance and with little hope for continuation of life.  

As strange as it may seem, this news brought us some peace to know that God truly revealed to us how to care for her with an amazing delivery team, friends, and family guiding us along the way. 

We were scheduled to deliver Callie on October 14, 2013 - the same day we had miscarried a child a year earlier.  But, God had a bigger plan....

Callie Elaine was born an angel on October 4, 2013.  

We learned her heart stopped beating the day before, during our regular prenatal appointment.  

Her birth was truly the most bittersweet moment in our lives, the closest we will ever be to Heaven on earth.  Nothing will top it.  We are happy to have met her and to have spent precious time with her, and she will forever be a part of our lives.

Almost a year later, Callie continues to be our inspiration.  Our hope is that her legacy lives in peoples' hearts.  

She has taught us more about life and love than we could ever imagine.  And, as parents and Christians, we would not have it any other way.  

We enjoyed Callie's physical presence as much as we were able while she was with us, spending our summer talking to her, going to the beach, visiting both grandparents’ houses (complete with cousins!), participating in Vacation Bible School with the “big kids,” playing dinosaurs and Legos with big brother too many times to count, camping, riding a Ferris wheel, going to the movies, walking the dog, shopping, reading books, eating donuts and ice cream (yes, together!), and even searching for alligators with Aunt Britney and Uncle Matt in Louisiana! Those memories are forever etched in our hearts.

One of our greatest lessons is this: when we decide to have children and to be parents, it is all or nothing - you are in it for the long haul, regardless of the outcome, whether your child is a baby with a genetic disorder, a child with cancer, a child prodigy, a difficult teenager, a Grammy nominated artist, or an adult with ALS.

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things."  Ecclesiastes 11:5

As parents, do not be afraid of what lies ahead.  Callie brought us great JOY, just as her brother, Jonah, has.  

We miss her and grieve the life we would have had with her, but accept her as she was.

I hold on tightly to what Paul said to me the night of her birth - one child tucked in bed at home and the other watching from above: “Both of our children are exactly where they need to be.”

Pictures are courtesy of the Londenberg family and the 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nine-year-old Deniro just wants "a nice parent"

I recently spent a few days at the beach with my in-laws. I have two nephews that are six years old, super active and all boy! They love being outside, playing ball and getting one-one-one attention.

When I met nine-year-old Deniro at Chuck E. Cheese on our interview day, he reminded me so much of my nephews. Even though he is going into the third grade, Deniro is about the same size as my soon-to-be first grade nephews. He is small, but full of personality.

He was wearing a basketball jersey, much like I would expect to see on one of my nephews eager to shoot some hoops with dad. Deniro's reality does not include that part of the equation. He's got the jersey, the ball, the desire to play, but does not have the mom or dad to share in those basic, every day childhood experiences.

Deniro does have fabulous foster parents. The Shaws have taken in 20+ foster children over the past 20 years, even adopting through foster care. At this point in their lives, though, their calling is to temporarily care for a child until he or she is matched with adoptive parents. Deniro has been waiting for several months.

On the day of our interview, Deniro's adoption worker with the Department of Children & Family Services, Katrina Evans, told me that he knew the importance of talking on camera about his desire to be adopted. "It's so important to him," she said, "he talks about it often and recognizes the importance of having a family and I think having that stability and security is just going to go a long way with him."

Deniro definitely has a soft side - something that comes out when you sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with him. "I like to read books and I like to talk to my friends," he said.

When I asked Deniro about his friends, his eyes got teary as he told me about his foster brother that had just been moved the day before to an adoptive placement. While that is great news for the foster brother, Deniro had a heavy heart. "I miss my older brother," he said, "he's kind of like a friend. He's always there for me."

Someone who is still there for Deniro today is his foster father, Wiley Shaw, Jr., training this young man in the polite ways of a gentleman. "He is very respectful. He was taught before he got to me, but we've continued to train him into being a gentleman," he said.

Deniro describes himself as polite and a few other endearing qualities. "I would say I'm kind of funny and I'm kind of handsome," he said.

When I asked Deniro what kind of parents he would like to have, his response was simple: "A nice parent."

Yep. That's it.

Since launching The New Family Tree segment a few months ago, I've had a couple of viewers ask me about whether or not I felt like I was "exploiting the children" by putting them on the news. I know it's tough to see children on TV or a computer screen that are parentless. Yes, they are vulnerable. Yes, it can be uncomfortable for them to open up about how it feels to be living a childhood in limbo. But what is the alternative? Years spent in foster care? A new school every year while moving from one home to another? Callouses growing as another month passes with no hope of things changing?

I appreciate every single child, just like Deniro, who allows me the privilege of sharing his or her story. I would not do this segment if I did not truly believe the end result will be adoption.

These children need their stories to be told. In the words of Maya Angelou, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." Please be a part of the efforts to do better for these kids. They deserve it.

Deniro is ready to be adopted today through the Department of Children & Family Services. Call 337-491-2470 to make an inquiry about Deniro or any of the other children that can be adopted through foster care.

Check out Deniro's story on KPLC-TV's The New Family Tree.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm pregnant, plan to continue my career...oh, and still pursuing adoption

Let's get to first things first: yep...I'm pregnant!  

On pregnancy: It took me a few weeks after seeing the "p" word on the test stick until I could actually say those words.  It's not that I wasn't immediately thrilled - it's that after month after month of negative tests, I prepared myself for another round of nopes.

If you are trying to get pregnant, you know that it can change everything about that monthly moment of discovery.  You know that the clock ticks more slowly, the days drag on and you wait with bated breath leading up to what is disappointment after disappointment.  

I have interviewed women at fertility clinics about the agony that comes with not being able to get pregnant. I have friends who have been there or are currently praying for positive pregnancy news. I cannot imagine their heartache when it never happens - and my heart truly hurts for them.  

For us, it took months - what felt like several long months.  Let me say, though, that I am actually thankful that pregnancy did not happen immediately like I had initially hoped.  The time we spent praying about growing our family definitely grew the desire in both of us to also pursue adoption.  

On adoption: Also is a key word that is incredibly important for me to communicate.  Adoption is not and will not be a second choice option for us - and my prayer is that it is not for others wanting to grow their families.

There are so many families that choose to adopt because they know how many children need loving forever homes.  There are 102,000 children in the United States that are ready to be adopted today!  If we leave that task up to those that are only pursuing adoption because they cannot have biological children, there are going to be thousands and thousands of children still needing homes!  Worldwide, the number is even harder to comprehend: 153 million orphans.

We feel that burden.  It's real.  We have met several of the children that need forever homes and when you see the need right in front of you, it cannot be ignored.

Matt and I are one week away from finishing up adoption certification classes with the Department of Children & Family Services.  We will have a home study, interviews and reference checks within the next 90 days - and then we will officially be certified to match with an adoptive placement.  The certification lasts for a year, then we will go through a couple of easy steps to renew it.  Our plan is to make ourselves available for a placement in about two years.  

The time will come when we can say yes to a placement and I look forward to seeing our family grow in that way, as well.

I've been on the receiving end of several questions/comments from people (with good intentions) in our lives that knew we were pursuing adoption and hoping to get pregnant the good ole fashioned way.  Here's a few examples:

1) So do you think you just aren't going to get pregnant?
2) I have a friend that couldn't get pregnant, then she started the adoption process and she got pregnant!
3) Are you going to go forward with an adoptive placement if you get pregnant?
4) I think you should have a child of your own first to see what it's like.
5) Nothing compares to the feeling of carrying a baby in your belly.
6) Do you worry that you would feel differently for a biological child compared to an adopted child?

On work:

And then there's the inevitable outside career vs. stay-at-home mom remarks:

1) Will you go back to work after you have a baby?
2) How will you be able to handle your early morning hours and take care of a baby?
3) What does Matt think about being home with the baby alone in the mornings?
4) Once you hold that baby, there's no way you'll be able to clock in again.
5) When are you ever going to sleep?  

Again: good intentions, but I think what makes my stomach twinge for just a moment is the idea of expecting people to fit into perfectly-shaped boxes that conform to societal norms.

I can't think of many people in my circle of friends that reflect those "norms."  That's because I don't think most people do!

I appreciate these comments and questions because they typically open up a conversation that allows each party to learn and grow.

Yes I plan to keep working.  Yes, the hours concern me and they can be crazy.  No, I don't like the idea of not being at home when the baby starts his/her day. 

BUT...that's a big "but" (no pun intended) career is my calling.  I have worked incredibly hard to be where I am today and while having a baby is already changing my perspective, my career drive is something I see as a positive.  

My job allows me to give back to others - and that ultimately gives back to me.  I hope that as a mother I can pass on the importance of setting goals, reaching them and finding what it is that makes you light up.

I also think I will be a better employee when I become a mother.  From learning to balance multiple tasks more effectively, to connecting with other co-workers that are currently walking this path and as a news personality - connecting with the community through a different set of eyes.

My husband is obviously a big factor in making for us.  He is very supportive and doesn't view a father's time at home alone with the child as "babysitting."  He will be a great, involved father and while our schedules present a non-traditional environment, there are also major pros to that.

We will truly learn what it means to work together as a team.  We will value the role each of us bring in our marriage and in parenthood.  Our child will soak in precious solo time at special parts of the day with each parent and we will spend intentional time together as one family unit.

The point: I guess if this blog post has a bottom line, it's this.  Let's remember that we are all just trying to do the best we can to have a solid marriage, family life, deep friendships and jobs (in and out of the home) that provide.

We might go about life in different ways, but we all need support along the way - so let's encourage that stay-at-home mom who is sacrificing to spend time with her children - and say "way to go" to the career mom juggling work and family - "thank you" to the dad pulling extra hours to save money - and "how can I help" to the person that just had a baby or is adopting.

A little encouragement will energize a person through these life changes.  Trust me, it's meant the world to me.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An unforgettable four-year-old named Darrell

It's very rare that you see a child under the age of five on the Adopt A Child link on the Department of Children & Family Services website.  It's not that there are not young children available for adoption, it's that the state is trying to focus on the hardest to place children in this select group online.

Typically, only 75 or so profiles are listed for the entire state, although there are close to 400 children ready to be adopted today in Louisiana.

When I saw four-year-old Darrell's profile online, it definitely caught my attention.  I thought, "How is this young cutie 'hard to place?'  Look at that smile!"

Then I read his short bio.  Darrell has several medical conditions.  That's a deal-breaker for many.

I have to admit that I was worried when the adoption supervisor with the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) hand-picked Darrell to be featured in The New Family Tree on KPLC.  The segment has been incredibly successful so far in matching children ready to be adopted with families.

The children that we've featured up to this point, though, are healthy, vibrant and well-spoken.

Questions started swirling through my head...What about Darrell?  Will there be a response from people when they learn the extent of his special needs?

When I showed up with my camera to one of Darrell's physical therapy appointments, he was having a rough morning.  He cannot talk, but I could see through his crocodile tears how tough this session was on his fragile body.

Darrell cannot walk without assistance.  His goals on this day were to practice with the help of a therapist and special equipment - walking and riding a tricycle down the hallway.

Most four-year-olds have no problem with these skills, but for Darrell it took all of his strength.

I was so moved by watching him fight to get stronger - and occasionally, his big, bright smile would shine through.

Darrell's adoption worker, Desiree' Bellard, says a forever home could transform his abilities.  "Just a home that would be patient with him, they would have to spend a lot of time with him, give him a lot of attention and most of all - just love," she said.

Darrell has been in foster care for more than half of his life. It is going to take a very special family willing to take on Darrell's special needs to bring him the stability and love to thrive.

DCFS will work with an adoptive family to provide the resources Darrell needs at no cost. "He is getting different therapy sessions for his developmental delays and whatever is out there that we can help provide, we will do that," said Bellard.

Even though Darrell is non-verbal, he can communicate.  He lets you know when he's happy, sad, hurting or excited.  ""He's just fun-loving, he's full of energy, he loves to play, he loves things that are musically inclined," said Bellard.

If you have the capacity to embrace this special child and match his excitement for life, you may be the mom or dad Darrell hopes to be with forever. "Darrell can just give life to a family just like any other child," said Bellard, "he'll just make the family more complete."

Darrell is ready to be adopted through DCFS. 
 His special needs make him a candidate for adoption subsidies to help with expenses. 
Call 337-491-2470 to learn more about the adoption process. 
Click here to check out Darrell's story in The New Family Tree.


Friday, June 20, 2014

A true full circle experience

If you had told two fifth grade girls in Dry Creek 20 years ago that there would be a day when one would be interviewing the other for a local news story on adoption - chances are we wouldn't have believed you!

Marcie (Allen) Dobbs and I met in fifth grade - my first year at East Beauregard.  We both towered over the boys at 5'8" and loved basketball.

Through our junior high and high school years, we had some fun and unforgettable times.  Our circle of friends was much like the crew of gals in the movie "Now and Then."  There were laughs, tears, secret languages, slumber parties that involved no slumber and a bond that can't be broken to this day.

The summer before our senior year made all of us grow up and recognize what really mattered.

We were getting ready for a week "away" at Dry Creek Baptist Camp - packing, doing our hair and make-up - and then our world was shaken.  Marcie got into a terrible car accident after leaving my parent's house and heading back to her house to get her camp bags.

Our friend, Tiffany, and I came across the accident scene before the medical helicopter arrived.  Marcie's crushed car was wrapped around a big pine tree and she was covered in blood, shattered glass - and in shock. It was terrifying to see.

Marcie had multiple injuries and doctors did life-saving surgeries so she could be here today.  Part of that resulted in doctors telling Marcie some devastating news.  "I broke my pelvis in certain areas that the surgeon said when he repaired, it was life-saving repairs and he wasn't able to fix what would help me carry a child and conceive a child," she said.

That news was a tough pill to swallow, but Marcie said when she thinks back to hearing that at 17 years old, it really didn't change her thoughts on becoming a mom one day.  "I knew I wanted to be a parent, absolutely," she said, "but I didn't have the drive that I want to feel the baby move in my tummy.  It was just that I want to be a mommy."

So when Marcie met Chris Dobbs and the two began dating more seriously, she was honest with him about the hurdles that could come with trying to build a family.  "She brought adoption up here and there in conversation," said Chris, "but it wasn't a serious talk until years later."

After six years of marriage, Marcie said she was bit hard by the baby bug.  "It was around Thanksgiving time in 2010 that I said, 'Okay Chris, we're gonna adopt.'  And he just looked shocked and he just said, 'We are?'" said Marcie.

Chris said he had concerns about adoption and the unknowns that come with the process.  "The what ifs piled up in my mind," said Chris, "what if there's something medically wrong with the baby?  What if?  Because you don't know anything about the history of the mother, you don't know anything about the history of the family, so that's always in the back of your mind."

It took about a month for Chris to get on board with Marcie's full steam ahead adoption approach.  By the time the new year rolled around in 2011, Marcie and Chris had met with DeColores Adoptions in Lake Charles and they were knee deep in paperwork, plus completing the assignment of filling up a life book for potential birth moms.  "We showed just how loving we are, how caring we were, how ready we were to be parents," said Chris.

Marcie and her mom, Mrs. Mary, hand-delivered their book to the adoption agency and figured it would take some time to get a call stating that a birth mom had selected the Dobbs.  That was not the case, though, and they were shocked that the call came within a week.  "Every story I had heard, people were on waiting lists for months and months, even years," said Marcie.

These parents-to-be thought they had a few months to prepare for their daughter's birth, but the baby came eight weeks early.

When they met Analise for the first time, they knew she was their child.  "It was like a real calming peace about seeing her, holding her," said Chris, "no nervous feelings, just a calming, relaxing peace."

Analise spent several days in the neonatal intensive care unit and it was there that the birth mom placed Marcie's hand onto her baby in the bed.  "It was just so selfless of her, because in her own way she was letting Analise know that 'I have loved you all of these months that you have been in my belly, but this is your momma who will love you for the rest of your life.'"

Private adoption is not cheap.  Marcie says the total cost was between $25-30,000.  She says she knows the money can be a huge burden, but she tried to see it as something that gives extra peace of mind to a birth mom.  "It's not just because of the money, but the time and the effort and us being able to afford it - that she had really placed her child in somebody's arms that would love her forever," she said.

Once at home, this family of three was living the dream - surrounded by family, horses and land to roam.  Then came a big surprise: Marcie was pregnant!  "That was more shocking than finding out that we were going to get Analise," said Marcie, "I just couldn't make myself believe it."

Rowan was born last June and these parents say their love for their adopted daughter and biological son is identical.  "It was equally as emotional and it was the instant bond that I had with Analise, I had that instant bond with Rowan," said Marcie.

"Analise is mine, Rowan's mine.  They're both my children," said Chris, "adoption doesn't change those feelings."

Analise opened this couple's eyes even more to the huge need for more adoptive families and Marcie says the best time to pursue it is now.  "It's never going to be a perfect time, but it's absolutely always the perfect time for that child that needs the family, so just do it," she said.

Chris says adopting Analise is one of the best decisions he and Marcie have ever made.  "Adoption is a perfect and absolute number one option for anyone wanting to do it."

Looking at Analise, I found myself wondering what her life would be like if Chris and Marcie had never taken the steps to adopt.  Looking at Marcie and Chris, I know that their lives would have a huge hole without that bright-eyed, bouncy, giggly little girl - and their easy-going, smiley little boy.

I love the verse in Ephesians 3:20 and I think it sums up the Dobbs family perfectly:

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."

Check out the Dobbs' story that aired on KPLC in The New Family Tree.