THE BELCHER FAMILY
For Karen Belcher, forming her family through adoption felt like a natural choice. “I have always had a heart for adoption,” she says. “God put a call on my heart to follow through on this passion despite the fact that I was a single woman. After much prayer and consideration, at the age of 37, I said yes to that call—and I am so glad that I did.”
It was November 2004 when she began researching adoption agencies. Karen felt drawn to international adoption in part because of an experience she had as a teen.“When I was in high school we had a foreign exchange student live with us for a couple of months. She was from Guatemala and we became very close friends,” she explains. “I think it was that friendship that later in life made me want to seek a child from Guatemala in particular. I love the people of that country and they have very little hope for the future when most of them live on less than $1 per day.”
Six months later, in May 2005, her paperwork was all ready; all she needed was a child. The phone call from the agency came about three months later, in August. “They said that they had a 2-week-old little girl available and wanted me to review the file, Karen recalls. “The agency sent me a couple of photos, her medical exam, and some test results and asked me to make a decision within 48 hours. I didn’t even need 48 seconds to know that the little girl in the photo was the one God had chosen for me.”
She did, however, review the file and pray about her decision—and then she put the adoption process in motion. More paperwork followed, and she needed the agreement signed by the Secretary of State, but there was one snag—Hurricane Katrina was approaching. “The weather was awful, but nothing was going to stop me from getting that signature,” Karen recalls. She and her father drove to Montgomery “dodging tornadoes, hail, and straight-line winds,” and managed to get the agreement signed.
From there, the paperwork went to attorneys in Guatemala. Over the next seven months, Karen took four trips to Guatemala to visit her new daughter and her foster family. By March 2006, her daughter Julia was ready to come home to Alabama. Her little girl’s homecoming, Karen says, was “incredibly emotional.” “It was my ‘delivery’ after many many emotional months of labor,” she recalls. “I was exhausted and happy and tearful all at the same time. I’d wanted to be a mom my entire life, and this was the realization of that dream. I can’t even put it into words.”
She remembers a brief adjustment period during which she felt like a babysitter—“like at any moment someone was going to come and pick her up.” But after a couple of months, the feeling went away. “She was mine through and through,” Karen says. “I simply cannot imagine my life without her in it.”
Now 12, Julia is a beautiful and sensitive young girl, her mom says. “She has a huge heart for other people,” Karen says. “She loves to draw and create art. Also, she enjoys music, spending time with friends, and activities with our church youth group.” Though mom and daughter may not be related through blood, the similarities are often striking. “Julia loves to identify how we are the same,” Karen says. “For example, she has my smile. She has really thick wavy hair like me. She loves to watch movies like me. So even though our skin color is different, we are the same in many ways.”
Not every moment has been easy. Karen says when the family is in public, they sometimes draw stares. “I’m sure most of them are simply curious as to what our story is,” she says, “but others are outspoken and not as nice.” For instance, one man asked Karen how much she had to pay for her daughter. Other people sometimes ask her why she adopted her daughter from Guatemala when there are children in the United States without parents.
“I have to fight the urge to be defensive,” Karen says. “This is
an opportunity to educate and inform, not argue.” As a clinical program coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) International Adoption Clinic at Children’s of Alabama, Karen is knowledgeable about international adoption. But having her own daughter has afforded even more opportunities to talk with others about adoption. “People are curious about our story,” she says, “and when we have time to stop and talk, we take advantage of the opportunity.”
And of course, the joy of having her daughter has far outweighed any challenges. One special pleasure: seeing her entire family adore her daughter. “My family was so accepting and encouraging throughout this process,” Karen says. “I love watching all of them love on her. Although she is an only child, she has this huge extended family who all love her very much.”
What’s the Adoption Process Really Like?
The first part of the process was a lot of paperwork. I had to put together documents such as tax records, verify employment, fingerprinting locally, state and federal levels, three letters of recommendation, an autobiographical history, and then a home study (two visits). The home study involves a social worker
visiting your home, walking through it to assess conditions as well as your ability to care for a child. This person also reviews all of the paperwork and then makes a final recommendation for or against proceeding with the process.
Once all of the paperwork was in place, it was submitted to the agency and then the waiting began. I began researching adoption agencies in November 2004, officially began the process in February 2005, and was “paper ready” by May. It felt like the process took forever but it was really 13 months from official start to completion.
THE TAYLOR FAMILY
In 2008, after visiting Africa on mission trips, Dylan and Carrie Taylor felt called to adopt. “We both experienced the children there who did not have families to go home to,” Carrie recalls, “and putting real faces with the orphan crisis made a big impact on both of us.”
As the couple began to consider their options, they were drawn to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “We felt like these children were most vulnerable, and we felt like not everyone would be willing to go somewhere so dangerous,” Carrie says. “We were childless at the time and were able to travel to a place that many might not go.”
From this spark of an idea, a family was born: Mila, now 8, was adopted at 18 months old in July 2011. Hudson, now 5, was adopted just nine months later at 4 months old in April 2012. Then came child No. 3: 16-month-old Livi, their biological child, was born in June 2016.
From start to finish, Mila’s adoption process took 16 months, while Hudson’s took six months since the couple was already approved to adopt two children. Through it all, the Taylors leaned on each other, their faith, and a supportive community. Every moment was worth it: The Taylors fondly recall the magical experience of welcoming each child into their family. Mila, her mom says, “had such an infectious smile, ridiculously good dance moves for an 18-month-old, and an amazing personality.”
Like any parents, after falling head over heels for their first child, Dylan and Carrie felt a bit nervous about bringing home their second. “We assumed no child would hold a candle to Mila in our eyes,” Carrie says, “and then God gave us Hudson … a total spitfire, ball full of energy, with a killer personality of his own.”
Today, their son and daughter are the best of friends. “They were made to be together, and made to be ours,” Carrie says. In 2016 when Livi was born, life once again changed for the better. “She is the perfect baby sis,” Carrie says. “The two bigs love being in charge, and Livi thinks they hung the moon.”
Originally from the Birmingham area (Dylan grew up in Homewood, and Carrie grew up in Vestavia), the Taylors now live in Panama City Beach, Florida. They’re loving life as a family of five and are quick to encourage other families who are considering adoption. Though they were prepared to draw attention, they were pleasantly surprised by their experiences.
“We have lived in places that have historically had racial tensions, but have never had anyone give us a negative comment or even an ugly look,” Carrie says. “Don’t get me wrong, we get our fair share of attention, but always in a positive way.”
The family is “not worried about a few stares here and there” and prefer to look on the positive side. “We pray that people look at our family and see a picture of the Gospel,” Carrie says. “We were adopted as sons and daughters of God. We’ve seen God use the makeup of our family in many situations to give us opportunities to share our story.”
What Advice Would an Adoptive Mom Give to Other Parents?
Don’t let the financial aspect keep you from taking the first step. The numbers look really scary on paper, but if the Lord has laid this on your heart, He WILL provide. We did not have the money and had no idea how we would pay the bills. From a big yard sale with donated items that raised a little over $1,000 to large checks from amazingly generous family, friends, and near-strangers, by God’s grace, every single financial need was met.
If you do only one thing to prepare yourself for your adoption, I recommend you read “The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis, read the Bible study that goes along with it, and absorb every ounce of wisdom on her website. It is like a manual for parenting kids from hard places.