I am Salem. I am a twentysomething wife, mom, nanny, caregiver, and orphan & adoption advocate living with my husband Keith in Ohio. My husband is an elementary school teacher and loves his job. I work from home for an adoption agency as a program coordinator.
This is a little bit of our story.
I’ve always felt a special connection to children who face extraordinary hardship. My mother raised us to be compassionate people, and we were never sheltered from the adversity in the lives of so many children all over the world. We knew from a young age how blessed we were. I’ve always had a pull to help the less fortunate, even as a child, and children with disabilities in particular seemed to draw me in at various times in my life.
In 2003 I traveled to Haiti on a missions trip and met a tiny, malnourished 10 month old baby girl in an orphanage there. I fell head over heels in love with her and my parents quickly started the process to adopt her. One long year (and over a dozen trips to Haiti) later my mother and I finally came home with my newly adopted sister, Kensia who was then age 2. Kensia is now 10 and is growing into such an amazing young lady. Adopting Kensia and the time I spent in Haiti during her adoption process changed everything for me. Experiencing adoption for the first time changed my priorities, my goals, my life. It was at that point that I knew I was meant to be an adoptive parent one day.
Shortly after Kensia came home from Haiti I married my wonderful husband Keith.
In 2005, after a faster than expected adoption process, I flew back to Haiti where an adorable, sick and scared 10 month old baby boy was placed in my arms for the first time. My new baby brother Finn and I came home New Years Eve where we were met at the airport by our mother and driven straight to the hospital so he could receive medical care. Finn got better quickly and started growing like a weed. He is now a happy, energetic and giant (!) 7 year old boy.
When my husband and I first discussed adoption, we’d been married three years and were trying to figure out how/when to start our family. I had been ready to go, go, go for years. I wanted to adopt and I wanted to adopt now. – Lots of kids from all over the world. My husband was the sensible one who tried his best to rein me in. We didn’t even have a house at the time, just an older rental that we could barely afford.
Children didn’t seem practical at that time, let alone trying to find the $20,000 it would take to start an international adoption. So with adoption on hold, we decided to become medical host parents to a precious baby boy who came to us from Haiti. Sweet Schnider was with us for a year, and he changed our lives. (That’s a story for another day). One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was take him back to his birth family in Haiti. We were absolutely heartbroken. Soon after that, it seemed time to take the leap and start the adoption process. We chose to adopt from Uganda.
After months of ups and downs we received a referral for a precious 2 year old boy. We were overjoyed and terrified. His referral picture was blurry and he had a toy partially blocking his face. We had virtually no information, just a name and picture. We were going to be parents to a small person in Africa we knew absolutely nothing about!
A few months later when we traveled to meet him, our lives and hearts were once again changed forever. Mayer was everything we could have hoped and prayed for. We knew God had orchestrated everything in our lives up to that point to bring us to Mayer. We had a challenging adoption process while in- country (we were there several months longer than we’d expected), but the extended stay in our son’s home country gave me an opportunity to explore the conditions of children with special needs and develop some plans to make a difference in their lives once we got home.
While we were in Uganda bringing Mayer home my parents completed their third Haitian adoption and my new sister arrived home. Millen was 13 and we had known her for several years through our work in Haiti. We were overjoyed to now have her a part of our family. Millen is now 16 and has adjusted to her new life beautifully.
After finally coming home with Mayer, I immediately went to work trying to find medical care here in the US for a precious baby boy I’d met while touring a local orphanage in Uganda. His name was Benjamin and he was so tiny and sick. He had multiple medical conditions that needed quick intervention. But months went by and we had no success in finding a hospital in the US to donate medical care for the little guy. We were told he had too many complex medical conditions to qualify. My heart ached every time I got news from the orphanage that he was being rushed to the hospital and they didn’t know if he would survive.
I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe we could adopt him. I prayed and prayed that if we were supposed to adopt him that God would prepare my husband. I finally worked up the courage to ask him about adopting Benjamin. He shocked me by saying right away that we should! We alerted the orphanage that we were interested in adopting him – but there was a problem. That particular orphanage doesn’t allow adoptions. Not any. Ever. We were discouraged by this at first, but prayed that if God wanted us to adopt this little guy, He would make a way. So with the help of a friend who works at the orphanage, we petitioned the orphanage leaders for permission to adopt Benjamin.
It look a long, long time for us to get an answer. Eleven long months. During that time I got an email about a baby girl. There was a picture and note about her. It was from our friend at Benjamin’s orphanage. She had just started fostering this sweet baby girl. I scrolled down and saw her picture for the first time. Jovia was about 10 months old. Her face was indescribably beautiful, but it was hard to focus on anything but the fact that this little girl had no limbs. She was born with no legs, and just two tiny stumps for arms. The first thing I thought was “Oh my goodness, who ever would be willing to adopt a baby with no limbs?” But I stared at her picture and couldn’t stop. I wondered what life was like for her without any limbs. I wondered what a life here in the U.S.could be like for her. After awhile, I started to imagine myself the mommy of that baby girl. What might that be like? How would she fit into our family
I eventually received word that she needed a family, and would we be interested in adopting her if things didn’t work out with Benjamin? OR, even better, if thingsdid work out with Benjamin, would we be interested in adopting both of them? I laughed to myself when I read the email, just imagining my husband’s reaction if I ever had the nerve to suggest adopting not one but two children with significant special needs.
Eventually I found the nerve, though, and approached the situation carefully. I asked him to just pray about it. I knew if we were going to do this, we both had to be 100% in agreement.
On April 27, 2011 we were granted permission from the orphanage to adopt Benjamin! We were ecstatic and terrified (again!). Benjamin’s special needs were daunting. We tried to educate ourselves about his needs, but still weren’t sure how much his care would change our lives. After much prayer and support from our families, we decided to move forward. We threw our paperwork together and got ourselves ready to go to Africa. During that time we were still praying about Jovia.
Out of the blue (for me), on Mother’s day my husband told me he definitely wanted to move forward with adopting both Jovia and Benjamin. Without pressure or persuasion from me, the Lord had implanted a confidence in my husband that this is what we needed to do, and soon it became what we both wanted passionately to do. Somehow, both of these children had become our own in our hearts. We announced our intentions to family and friends. There were (naturally) a few “are you crazy?” comments but almost everyone was very supportive. We finished our paperwork, sent it to Africa, and began the long wait to be summoned for court.
Three months later we got the news we had been waiting for -a court date! The three of us packed our bags and off we went to Africa. The first few weeks with our new children were very difficult. My husband and I both had several “what did we get ourselves into” moments. I kept waiting for things to seem “normal” and they didn’t. I wondered if our lives were always going to be hard and exhausting from now on. We were scared, tired and overwhelmed. To get through the days, I kept telling myself that God had called us to do this and He would help us, that these children were worth it and that things would be so much better when we finally got home.
We came home as a family of five on 10/10/11, our seventh wedding anniversary. And I found that everything I’d been repeating to myself in Africa proved to be true: God had called us to do this, He was helping us, these children are so worth it, and things became much easier when we finally got home.
We’ve all adjusted joyfully to our new lives and things seem very “normal” again. We are no longer scared, exhausted (well, sometimes!) or overwhelmed. Our kids are just our kids. I won’t say things have been easy, but they’re definitely easier than I expected. The children God has brought into our family are absolutely amazing. They’ve all brought more life and light into our lives than we could have imagined possible.
We currently live up the road from my parents and the six kids are now very close and together almost every day. I’m so very grateful that we have been given the amazing privilege of being their family!