Creating a Family

 

By Gwyn Herbein

 

Fifty years ago, the word “family” conjured up images of Mom, Dad, Bobby and Susie in a house with a white picket fence. Over the years, however, the definition of a family has evolved to include single parents, blended families, multiple generations living under one roof and various other combinations. Whatever the composition, families exist to support and love one another, and for many couples, the best way to carry out this goal is to adopt a child. Whether through the foster system or domestic or international adoption, there are thousands of children who need loving homes. Between 1999 and 2011, there were 233,934 total adoptions in the U.S. 


According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, about 30 percent of American couples have considered adopting, but only 2 percent have actually done so. It is an arduous and emotional process, full of tedious paperwork and months, or even years, of waiting for the phone call that will change a family’s life forever. But, for those who go through the process, the rewards are immeasurable. Here are the stories of two chiropractors who made the choice to adopt.


Matt McCoy, D.C.

McCoy is a professor in the Clinical Sciences division of Life University’s College of Chiropractic. He and his wife, Pamela Stone, who is also a chiropractor, had tried for quite a while to get pregnant. “We got to a point where we had to start having conversations about infertility and treatment,” he explains. “As we started to talk about it, we realized that we just weren’t going to do it—the drugs, the injections.” The couple took it as a sign to consider other avenues, and it didn’t take them long to realize they wanted to make a home for a child in need. 

 

At the time, international adoptions were faster than domestic adoptions, so the couple decided to pursue that route. McCoy had lived in Russia for two years, and he felt an emotional pull toward the country and its culture. Unlike many domestic adoptions, Russian adoptions are always closed, so there is little risk of a biological parent deciding to pursue custody later on down the line. “Before Russian children go up for international adoption, they have to be ‘on the market’ in Russia for at least a year,” explains McCoy. During that time, child welfare officials go through a rigorous process to ensure there are no other family members who can care for the child. 


While the couple had anticipated having to do a lot of paperwork, McCoy was still surprised by the red tape they had to endure. “I was amazed by the documents we had to produce, how everything had to be notarized, and all other types of verifications and proof of things,” he says. This proved to be particularly problematic when it came to the couple’s marital status. “My wife and I were married in Fiji,” says McCoy, “and we have the paperwork to document that, and it’s perfectly legitimate, but the document we had was not an original.” Obtaining the original document would have meant returning to Fiji. Since that wasn’t an option, McCoy and Stone decided instead to get married in Georgia and send those documents to Russia.


After the paperwork was in, all they could do was wait. “The first phone call you get, they say that they’ve found a potential match for you,” says McCoy. The call is then followed by a letter that includes a picture of the child. McCoy describes this as very emotional, but also difficult because the agency only gave a little bit of information about the child, and based on that information, he and his wife had to say either yes or no. They said yes, and made the first of many weeks-long trips to Russia. “You have to drop everything and go over there,” says McCoy. The couple made trips to the orphanage every day for several hours at a time, and by the time the trip was over, they had completely fallen in love with Alexander.


But after that first trip, there were still months of paperwork to endure. The entire process is fraught with uncertainty—at any moment, the house of cards could come tumbling down. During yet another trip to Russia, McCoy and Stone had their court date to finalize the adoption. When everything was approved, they were allowed to board a flight back to Atlanta, their 18-month-old son in their arms. “We didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we actually landed in Atlanta and got through customs,” recalls McCoy. They had a heart-stopping moment when an immigration official began to question their documents, but Alexander was finally declared a U.S. citizen and McCoy and Stone took him home. “As soon as that was done, that was the happiest I’ve ever been,” says McCoy.


Adopting Alexander has made McCoy realize the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. “I work all the time,” he admits, “and it was worse before we had him.” McCoy thought that learning to say no to people would be difficult, but he says it actually became easy. “When 5, 5:30 rolls around, I’m done,” he says. “My time is devoted to him and nothing else really matters.” He advises other chiropractors to put aside any fears they may have about adoption, and just do it. “You’ve got this human being who is full of love,” he says of his adopted son. Alexander, who recently celebrated his fourth birthday, is aware of his adoption. His parents have put together scrapbooks of the Russian orphanage and the people who cared for him there. “We talk to him about it all the time,” says McCoy. “You want to give him so much because of what he’s been through in life, and he doesn’t even realize it.”


Rachel Fornes, D.C.

Fornes, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., is the proud mother of six adopted children: Alexis, 21; Karina, 15; twins Andres and Ariana, 14; and twins Alejandro and Rafaelina, 12, all whom were adopted domestically. All of the adoptions came about through personal connections Fornes had with friends and neighbors. Just before Alexis was born, Fornes was approached by a family friend who needed to find a home for her child. Karina’s birth mother was an acquaintance of a friend of Fornes’. And both sets of twins were born to mothers associated with an Atlanta ministry run by one of Fornes’ chiropractic patients. Fornes describes all of her adoption experiences as atypical, since she was not officially registered with an agency or attorney. “My greatest desire was to give a home to a needy child,” she explains. 


After adopting Andres and Ariana, Fornes grew concerned about balancing her work and home life. “I was unwilling to retire from chiropractic as I was so passionate about practicing,” she says. Her initial solution was to convert a back office at her practice to a nursery so the kids could be with her during the day. “Of course I had help,” she says, “but this was a blessing indeed to work and have the children underfoot.” Her patients often volunteered to watch or feed the children. As the children grew older, however, the balance became more difficult. “I had attempted [to stop working] several times,” says Fornes, “even sending out notices via direct mail, phone and in the local newspaper, but somehow I continued to see those who thought they could not go anywhere else.” In the summer of 2011, Fornes was on a business trip to the Netherlands when she decided the time had finally come to give up her practice. “I called a chiropractic colleague of mine and instructed him to come with a U-Haul and take anything that vaguely resembled Chiropractic, i.e., tables, instruments, books, videos, etc.,” she says. “So when I returned, there was nothing left and no way to adjust.” She made an exception for one patient, and then she was done practicing for good.


After she closed her chiropractic practice, Fornes began devoting more time to Home At Last Adoption Agency, Inc., a nonprofit she founded in 2000. Home At Last focuses on adoptions that encourage diversity—those involving foster children, children of multi-ethnic backgrounds and children with special needs. According to its website, the agency’s mission is “To provide quality services in the best interest of families by placing children in homes where they can be nurtured, protected and guided by the loving support of a family.” They also provide counseling for both birth and adoptive parents, a process that reminds Fornes that adoption was indeed the right choice for her. “Every time I coach a birth mom, it is reinforced that I could not have gone through [the birthing process],” she says. Last year, Fornes was awarded the Lawton’s Heart Humanitarian Award, an annual award given by the Florida Association of Nonprofit Organizations for her work with the agency.


Fornes strongly believes that adoptive parents should be open and honest with their children about the adoption process. She thinks it’s especially important that adopted children know how special they are. “Biological parents don’t get to pick,” she says, “but we do, and hence, they are very special.” To bring this point home, her children have accompanied her to court so they can get a sense of the legal side of the process. They have volunteered in the Home At Last office and have even helped their mother care for newborns who are temporarily placed in the Fornes household. Fornes also describes her husband, Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, as especially comfortable talking about the family’s adoption experiences. Fornes recommends that those who are looking to adopt keep an open mind. “Be willing to accept a child into your home regardless of gender or race, and consider other possibilities. The narrower your parameters, the longer you wait. Anyone who can, open your hearts and your homes to a child in need of a forever home.”


Fornes and Neuharth practice what they preach and they are committed to teaching their children the value of selflessness. “[We want them to be] productive, law-abiding citizens, to be passionate about what they do, regardless of what that is, to treat others with respect, to always be grateful and always find ways to give back to society,” she says. “Look for opportunities to give, give, give.” This is certainly good advice for all types of families.