To mark National Adoption Month, five RaiseAChild families are celebrated in the weekly “Let Love Define Family®” series for Huffington Post Queer Voices. RaiseAChild contributing writer Beth Hallstrom shares one family’s story in this third of five special series installments.
In December of 2012, Kristina Journey and Shelli Culley attended a RaiseAChild Parent Information event in West Hollywood, California, one of many that brings adoption agencies and prospective parents together.
According to Shelli, “We met online in 2003 and moved in together in 2004. We didn’t talk motherhood very much early on. I was a nanny and we were surrounded by the children of relatives and friends, so we put it on the back burner and got a dog.”
“Then we saw the advertisement for the RaiseAChild event and began questioning the notion of being parents. We decided to go and left crying because we knew being parents was what we were supposed to be. It was just meant to be.”
So, Kristina and Shelli, now 48 and 46 years old, respectively, immediately started on their foster family certification, choosing to work with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. In July of 2014, Baby Cooper, just 13 days old, was placed in their care.
But, was motherhood really meant to be?
Shelli recalled, “Three days after bringing Cooper home, the social worker called and said she would fast track us through the adoption process and we were super excited. Two months later, at a meeting, we were told a great aunt had been searching for Cooper since his birth.”
“When they (the agency) were calling the list of Cooper’s family members, which must be exhausted before a child can be adopted, the aunt’s phone number was misdialed. Incredibly, a wrong number put the adoption on hold,” she added.
“We still cry,” Kristina said with a break in her voice. “It was heartbreaking and devastating and sometimes we still can’t talk about it.”
Kristina and Shelli sought comfort from LIFT, or Loss Intervention for Families in Transition, an innovative program at UCLA that supports families grieving the loss of a child who was reunited with his or her biological family. LIFT is an offshoot of the university’s TIES for Families program (Training, Intervention, Education and Services), which is a support group offering a myriad of services to adoptive families.
“Thank God for LIFT. We got to talk about it with others who knew what we were going through. It really is a grieving process,” Kristina said.
After six months attending LIFT sessions and wondering if their dream of motherhood would ever come true, the phone rang - this time with better news - and Kristina and Shelli learned of a baby boy who needed a foster home right away.
“Were we still interested? Oh, my, without hesitation, we said we were and prepared to welcome him home the next day,” Kristina recalled.
She continued, “That night, I can tell you, was very emotional. We hadn’t been in the nursery since Cooper left, but we went in and changed the crib sheets. We got the bottle warmer out of the cupboard and put the car seat back in the car. We were nervous and excited and, frankly, a little afraid to get attached to him.
“Then we realized something very important: Cooper taught us how to be Moms, but he had a home to go to and people to love him. Cade had no one and suddenly everything we’d been through became clear to us. From day one, we felt like a family.”
Two-week old Cade came home in February 2015. Born prematurely with some health issues, today he’s a robust toddler who’s walking and beginning to talk.
“He might be delayed on some motor skills, but we know he’ll reach the milestones just like any other kid, just on his own terms. And he has,” Kristina declared.
Cade’s adoption was finalized on September 27, 2016 and Shelli said she remembers thinking, “He’s actually ours!”
“You know, the heart falls in love before the head does and you don’t want to think about what could happen. It was definitely an irritable time waiting for his adoption to be official, but we would do it all again in a minute. The delays and issues and everything else seem like a distant memory now,” Shelli recalled.
The family recently relocated from the Los Angeles area to Arkansas to be closer to Shelli’s -and now Cade’s - large, extended family. “We want him to have the amazing experience of celebrating birthdays and holidays with family, and growing up around cousins and aunts and uncles “ Shelli noted.
Now that they are surrounded by relatives, Kristina and Shelli are looking forward to a wedding. They held a domestic partnership ceremony in 2005, but they want to be legally married.
“There’s something about having it all finalized and legalized. Of course, we don’t need it to feel like a family, but it’s a nice extra touch,” Shelli said.
Also on the horizon is at least one sibling for Cade and a new job for Kristina as a medical representative at a hospital. Shelli, who was a nanny for 20 years in Los Angeles, is a stay-at-home Mom but plans to return to teaching, hopefully at a pre-school that Cade can attend, too.
Continuing to be foster and adoption ambassadors, is a priority for the family, too. “We’ve become very enthusiastic cheerleaders for fostering and adoption. We would love to speak at events like the one we first attended and talk about the tremendous need for foster and adoptive parents and the number of children waiting for their forever homes,” Shelli said.
“You never know where a seed might be planted, but if one person tells another and that person tells another, who knows what might happen? Maybe all the children who need loving homes will find them. Beautiful families will be created and the new parents will feel the same amazing love that we share with Cade,” she added.
Have you thought about building a family through fostering or adoption? RaiseAChild is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.org or call us at (323) 417-1440.
If you live in Southern California, RSVP now to attend free 2016 RaiseAChild Parenting Info Sessions:
• Tuesday, Nov. 29th at 6:30 p.m. The Montalban Theatre in Hollywood
• Wednesday, Nov. 30th at 6:30 p.m. Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach
• Thursday, Dec. 1st at 6:30 p.m. TAG Gallery, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica
• Saturday, Dec 3rd at 11:00 a.m. Pitzer College in Claremont
• Monday, Dec 5th at 6:30 p.m. All Saints Church in Pasadena
• Tuesday, Dec 6th at 6:30 p.m. University of Redlands in Redlands