Welcome back to I’m With Her! The response to Kat’s story was incredibly loving a supportive – thank you all for your sweet comments! Today I’m honored to welcome Jessica Kitchel to share her story on adoption. Jess is a perfect example of the power of community (and Jesus. always Jesus). Last spring, I was transitioning from freelance design to partnering with my friend Phil at Citizen Supply and drove to Atlanta to meet Phil’s board of business mentors, one of whom is Jess’s husband Mack. On that trip, I stayed with my sweet friend Tusch who is an incredibly gifted photographer and a social worker for a local adoption agency – a job she loves and is THE perfect fit for. Truly, I can’t think of a better-suited soul for that role.
So, upon meeting and getting to know Mack, I shared my design and business background, about my husband Jon, that we don’t have (non-dog) children yet and that infertility has been an unexpected journey for us. He shared that he and his wife were on the same journey and had recently moved forward with the adoption process. That day had been particularly difficult for them though, as they received an email that their social worker (who they loved and had connected with) was being given another case load so they would soon be introduced to their new case manager – which they were nervous about. Y’all. Guess who it was? Well, I can’t legally say and she couldn’t confirm or deny the relationship when I got to her house that night but OH MY GOSH. Needless to say she has been a blessing to the Kitchels and I’m not a bit surprised.
I’ve followed and prayed for Jess and Mack’s journey since then and finally got to meet (and hug!) Jess at an event this past fall. I knew she would have some beautiful insight when I started this series and am so excited to share her perspective.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a 32 year old Italian-Irish-Hawaiian girl from Clarkston, GA now living just outside of Atlanta in Roswell, GA. I was born to two young lovebirds from Long Island and am the middle of three girls – all with different personalities. Growing up my parents gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be and this freedom led me to the University of Hawaii. Having the opportunity to live in Hawaii for that season fueled my passion for travel and adventure. For the last 7.5 years I have worked as a physician recruiter for a large staffing company in Alpharetta but this week I took a huge leap of faith as I handed in my resignation letter and walked out the doors for the last time. So currently, I am on a new journey: a journey to breathe life back into some forgotten passions and to start enjoying life for what it is and not what I hope it will be.
When did you first feel called to adoption? When were you sure it was the right fit for your family?
I can’t quite remember the first time I personally felt called to adopt. I know I was young. Looking back over my life I can now see seeds that were planted that overtime grew the desire. I also knew very early on that I wanted to be a mom and also the importance of family. Growing up, my family used to host a little girl from the inner city during part of the summer. I loved watching her experience new things for the first time: taking her to the lake and Braves games, enjoying suburban life, and trying my mom’s amazing Italian food. The greatest impression she left, though, was when she decided to opt out of another summer with us to stay home because her father had recently stepped back into the picture. I realized then that the longing for family was stronger than any bells and whistles we could offer and that at the heart of it all, family is what we all desire.
When Mack and I were dating, we started talking about adoption. I always prayed it would be a dream I would fulfill and not just talk about and then three years into marriage, our journey began. Individually, we were ready at different times. I was sure first, but Mack – being a processer – took a little more time. Although he knew he wanted to adopt, the timing looked differently to him. He always thought it would be after we had a biological child. So I just prayed – never pressured him – and told the Lord, “If this is what You want, then let me know through Mack.” One day, I was at work and got a text from Mack that said, “Let’s adopt!” The Lord used a lunch with a good friend to validate to Mack that now was our time. We were both thrilled but didn’t really know where to go from there so we reached out to two couples who had walked this path and planned dinners with them. We left those meetings knowing without a doubt this was what the Lord was calling us to do. I remember waking up the next morning and saying to Mack for the first time, “I am going to be a mom!”
Are/were you married? If so, for how long?
Mack and I are about to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary! We met in 2010 at a good friend’s birthday party and with a little help from mutual friends, we began dating shortly after.
Do you have biological children?
No, we have been unsuccessful in having biological children, for unknown reasons. We started to see a specialist after a year and began checking off the list: ultrasounds, hysteroscopy, laparoscopy, clomid, IUIs. After a year of treatments with no success, we mourned the loss and decided not to waste our pain. We have always been transparent about our infertility journey and the Lord has continued to use our story to help bring comfort to others and I hope He always will. It’s the only thing that makes sense amidst the uncertainty of infertility.
How long was/is the adoption journey?
Mack and I knew we wanted to begin the adoption process in January 2016 and the next step was figuring out which agency to go with. We asked friends who had adopted, compared agencies verses adoption attorneys and ultimately decided to go with an agency because we felt they offered the most support for the birthmothers. We narrowed the agencies down to two and decided on Bethany Christian Services and they had an orientation class the following week. We attended orientation at the end of January and exactly six months later, we were home study approved and added to a waiting list!
What did those first few days and weeks of the process look like?
After orientation, we were given our pre-application and once that was approved, we were given our home study packet. The home study packet consisted of dozens of supporting documents: birth certificates, marriage license, IRS summary, water/sewage inspection letter, water bill, animal vaccination records, CPR certifications, FBI and GBI fingerprints, physicals, drug screen tests and much more. We were also required to attend agency-provided training classes every Monday night for 3 hours during the month of April. Our final steps were our home study interviews, visits to our home, and creating a profile book to introduce us to birthmothers. Finally on July 29, 2016 we were officially home study approved!
Can you describe how you felt in those first days and weeks of the process?
With the exciting approval news in July, we said goodbye to a season of paperwork and to-dos and entered into a season of waiting. We had some good friends who we were going through the process along with us and they were matched immediately, so looking back, I think we went into the process excited, nervous, and with expectations it was going to happen quickly.
We received our first profile request the night we were approved. Our agency emails us each time there is a profile on a birthmother and we have around 48 hours to respond on if we’d like our profile book shown to the mother. A few weeks into the process, the initial excitement began to wear off and the reality of the emotional roller coaster we were now on begin to sink in.
Prayer and communication are huge during this process because you often don’t have time to process a case before giving your answer, which can be frightening. Mack and I had to intentionally communicate a lot in the beginning about what we felt comfortable with, as well as being honest with ourselves about what we were and were not equipped for.
Endurance has been my word through the adoption journey. I’m learning to push on when we are not selected and truly believe we have a 100% chance of getting the baby God has for us.
What are some fears or struggles you faced (or are still facing) during the process?
My biggest fear going into the process was experiencing a failed adoption (this is when you are matched with a birthmom who changes her mind and decides to parent after all). I specifically prayed that the Lord would protect us from this. In September of 2016, we got a call about a birthmother who found our profile on our agency’s website. After meeting her in October, we were officially matched! I spent the next several weekends with her going on walks, going to lunch, and Mack and I even met her sister (she brought us a homemade pie at Thanksgiving!)
You might be thinking, “this seems like a lot” or “is this much interaction typical?” but that’s the thing about adoption. There is no guidebook. There is no normal. Every adoption story looks different and for us, this felt right. I carried this baby in my heart for several months and a few days after Thanksgiving, we received a call from our social worker saying that the birthmother had changed her mind and decided to parent. I have never experienced a miscarriage but I can imagine the pain to be similar. Unfortunately, there is no social category for failed adoptions. My social worker gave it a name: disenfranchised grief. My greatest fear had become a reality, but guess what? I was still standing. We hope we will not have to experience this again but I am no longer in fear because now I know, our gracious Lord is waiting on the other side for us.
What/who was your “saving grace” in those struggles?
This question brings tears to my eyes because I am in the midst of receiving this grace and am overwhelmed with gratefulness. The love of our Heavenly Father has been my biggest saving grace. I feel privileged to have gone through what we have because I’ve experienced His love in ways I never would have otherwise. Our story is one of Hope. The Lord does not promise the outcome, He promises a relationship with us. When I finally surrendered my dreams for His dreams, everything looked differently. When I look around now, I don’t see what is missing. I see what has been there all along. I see a husband who encourages me to be the best version of myself. I see family and friends who have cried, celebrated and loved us unconditionally. Besides the Lord, Mack has been my pillar of strength. He makes me laugh when I want to cry and he is constantly reminding me that everything will be worth the wait. Our social worker has also been a huge saving grace and such a blessing. She has become more like a friend and fills my phone with texts of encouragement and reminders of His truth.
Through infertility and the adoption journey, Mack and I both agree that community is extremely important. You have to have friends who will walk alongside you, sometimes carry you, and most importantly pray for you.
What was the most helpful or powerful encouragement you have received?
As I explained, it can be difficult deciding whether or not to show your profile to a birthmother. I was struggling with a particular case and a sweet friend told me, “Jessica, it’s not about saying ‘no’ to a baby, its about saying ‘yes’ to the baby the Lord has for you.” This changed everything for me.
Any particular resources you found helpful during this season?
If you are looking for a book, A Connected Child was a good read. But honestly, the greatest resources have been our friends who have also adopted. Adoption is beautiful and people who have experienced it love talking about it so reach out and ask questions!
What do you wish now, a bit into the process, that you had known in the beginning?
Birthmothers are brave and their grief is real. They have chosen life for their child and are making the most selfless decision. Before I met the birthmom we were temporarily matched with, I didn’t fully understand the weight of her decision. When I met her, my life was forever changed – I knew I would never look at adoption the same again. I am so grateful for the brave birthmom who will one day make me a mother.
Adoption is not a plan B. It is also not a way to “trick” the Lord into getting pregnant. Adoption is a beautiful gift and DNA will not make me anymore of a mother to our child. I know becoming a mother will be an amazing gift and however the Lord choses to narrate our story will be more than enough.
What would you say to a family considering adoption?
You don’t have to have everything figured out before you start the process. Just take the first step and allow the Lord to guide you. Also, adoption is expensive so don’t be afraid to seek help. Friends and family will want to help you. Watching the Lord work through our crowd funding was validation to us that we were right where He wanted us! I would also stress the importance of community again – make sure to allow others to go on this journey with you. And remember that you have a 100% chance of getting the baby meant just for you!
What would you say to a family in the thick of the process and who may be feeling conflicted or frustrated?
I am right there with you. I wake up every day and remind myself that I am not forgotten and that in the end, the waiting will be insignificant because we will have the child the Lord has chosen for us. Don’t put your life on hold. Continue to live life, take trips, love others and when you find yourself in a store buy something for your baby. It will happen and it will be worth the wait.