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Equal but not the Same
No two children are alike, but for adoptive families, there are additional differences—and sometimes challenges—to overcome

by Jessica Beym

No two children are alike, but for adoptive families, there are additional differences—and sometimes challenges—to overcome

Michelle and Michael LeMasney family started out in the typical way—the Gloucester Township mother gave birth to two healthy girls. But after her doctor told her she would no longer be able to conceive, Michelle and her husband decided to adopt through Open Arms Adoption in Cherry Hill. Brittany and Courtney were only 12 and 7 when their sister, Kendall, arrived from the hospital. “They were excited to be big sisters,” Michelle says. “We included them in the process and we were honest with them.” Not wanting Kendall to be the only adoptive child, they returned to Open Arms six months later and soon, Nicholas joined the family.

Today, the kids are 15, 10, almost 3, and 2. But this summer, LeMasney got an unexpected surprise—she found out she was pregnant again; Chloe was born in August. The two oldest LeMasney children were just as excited to welcome a new family member, their mother says. The only difference, was this time, the girls were able to wonder who the baby would look like more. “She looks identical to my oldest daughter,” LeMasney says. As the kids grow older, Michelle says she plans to explain to Kendall and Nicholas the one thing that makes them different—“They grew in someone else’s belly.” While the LeMasneys’ situation may sound uncommon, it’s not. Many other families, who are involved with the support group Michelle runs through Open Arms, have blended families of both biological and adopted children. “People grow their families in different ways,” she says. “Today families are nothing like they used to be. There’s no right or wrong way to grow a family. Your family is what you make of it.”

Not for The Faint of Heart
For some families, like Kelly and David Shearer of Tabernacle, foster care is the springboard to becoming parents. Through the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), the Shearers have fostered nine children over the years. The experience, they say, has been rewarding, but also difficult emotionally. The first child stayed with them for 15 months before returning to live with her birth mother. “After that, I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Kelly Shearer says. “They say God works in mysterious ways, and 20 days later I got Tyler and Jacob.” The biological brothers—now 8 and 7—were only supposed to stay the weekend, Shearer says. Now, they’re part of the family and are big brothers to Hailey, 6 and Justin, 5—who are also biologically related. The journey hasn’t been an easy one, Shearer says. Because foster children often come to a new home at an older age, parents can encounter behavioral, emotional and developmental problems. At first, Tyler was a violent child and Jacob didn’t speak and could barely walk, Shearer says. But through therapy, special education and lots of love, the boys are improving. “Just have patience. It may seem like it’s never going to change at that moment—because that’s what it felt like for me—but we’ve made oodles of progress.... It was a lot of ups and downs emotionally and it puts a lot on the family. I tell everybody foster care is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to advocate for the kids. You have to be willing to open up your mouth, to fight, and take that extra step.”

Give them a support group
International adoptions may not be for everyone, but for the Stanwycks it was a perfect fit. Both Lisa and Drew had a passion for the Chinese culture— she having studied Far Eastern history, and he having traveled there frequently on business. In 2000, they sought the help of Adoptions from the Heart in Cherry Hill. After attending group meetings with other families who adopted internationally, and getting approved for the home study, the Stanwycks submitted their application to become adoptive parents of an orphan. Soon the approval and a one-by-one photo of their baby arrived in the mail. “The hardest part is from when you get that photo to when you get over there to bring her home,” Stanwyck says. Today, the Stanwycks’ have three children whom they’ve adopted from different provinces throughout China: Emily is 10, Lilly is 8 and Noah is 5. Because all three of the children had been abandoned at different orphanages through the country, there was little information about their history. “For my first child, I had nothing but a police report,” Lisa Stanwyck says. “Her birthday is an estimate. My second child, they found a piece of paper with her with her birthday in Chinese. And my son, I didn’t have any information until I got to the orphanage.” Growing up not looking like mommy or daddy or knowing much about their heritage can be difficult for the kids. To help them adjust, the Stanwycks are very involved with a support group called Families with Children from China. With about 150 families in the New Jersey chapter, it’s helped the Stanwyck children make friends with kids in similar situations. “We’re lucky because we get to network with lots of people and meet people with kids from the same orphanages,” she says. 

The right baby will find you
A string of disappointments is how Kim Friddell of Cherry Hill chronicles her experiences trying to adopt. “I went into it kind of thinking to myself it was going to take awhile because I’m a single woman,” she says. “I figured most birth parents would prefer a married couple. But I wanted to be a mom.” She created a profile with Adoptions from the Heart, which birth moms can browse to select a home for the child. To Friddell’s surprise, the first call came in three months. But almost immediately after the baby’s birth, the mother changed her mind and wanted to raise the child. Not long after, Fridell got another call. Then another. It seemed like every three months the phone was ringing, getting her hopes up, only to be let down. It went as far as a visit to the hospital after one baby was born, but the arrangement fell apart that day. “That was very devastating,” Friddell says. After four “disappointments” in just one year, the right phone call finally came in October 2005. “They said I had a daughter. I was blessed with Ava.” On her quest to adopt again, Friddell put her name back in the books when Ava got a little older—this time expecting the worst now that she was a single mom with a baby. But she was wrong. Maya joined the family in November 2008. Today, the girls are 4 and almost 2. “The process of adopting has been like a roller-coaster ride,” Friddell says. “The wait is enormous. It’s different than waiting nine months, because with adoption, it can happen in a day, or it can happen in two years. There’s no knowing ... There’s a saying in adoption that the right baby will find you and it’s true. I couldn’t imagine being a mom to anyone else.”

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family, Volume 1, Issue 7 (September, 2010).
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