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Effective Compassion: Rending and repair - S4.E2


WORLD Radio - Effective Compassion: Rending and repair - S4.E2

The beauty and challenges of adoption

Amber Freidel with her daughters, on their property in St. Charles, IL Photo by Anna Johansen Brown

FREIDEL KIDS: There’s Rosie’s chicken. Chicken! Get back in there, I don’t want you to get eaten.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: It’s early August in northern Illinois…a rare, drizzly gray summer day. The Freidel kids, and their mom Amber, are showing me around their 10 acres. We’ve tramped through wet prairie grass and Queen Anne’s Lace. We’ve seen the play house and the secret hideout. Now we’re at the barn meeting the chickens.

FREIDEL KIDS: Look, tell her about this one, who’s this? Oh that one is um…cheddar melt? Holly Golightly. Holly Golightly, I cannot remember all of those names.

The kids keep racing ahead and doubling back, chasing that one errant chicken, pointing out the spider webs on the barn ceiling, plotting what movie they’ll watch that afternoon.

FREIDEL KIDS: Yippeeeee!

For Amber Freidel, seeing her kids together like this is…literally…living a decades-old dream.

AMBER FREIDEL: I was 8 years old. And I was sitting at this desk, and I was doing my math. And I remember it very distinctly. It was spring, we had lilacs sitting there. And it was an open window, and the breeze was just coming in. And I just remember this very clear moment of thinking, I want to adopt a little girl.

In the summer of 2014, Amber’s husband Jesse was working as a charge nurse at a small hospital. It was a busy night, and he wound up taking a couple of patients. One of them was a young woman. When he ran her tests, he saw she was pregnant.

FREIDEL: And he said, you know, you're pregnant. And she said yes, and I'm not really sure what to do about it. And he said, my wife and I would really love to help you out in whatever capacity that is. And I mean, even if this is something that you would be interested in, we would be happy to adopt the baby. And she didn't really say anything. He gave her my number and our names on a post it note, and she just kind of took the note and left.

More than a third of Americans say they’ve thought about adopting. But just two percent actually have. Adoption is complicated and expensive. It can be confusing and overwhelming.

Christians are the most likely to adopt…twice as likely as the general population. That’s because adoption holds a special place in the Kingdom. It’s a common figure of speech in the Bible, describing how we are made part of God’s family.

But for all its beauty, adoption is never simple. It involves a lot of broken hearts…on all sides of the equation. From WORLD Radio and the creative team that brings you The World and Everything in It, this is Effective Compassion.

I’m Anna Johansen Brown.

UNDERWRITING SPOT: Effective Compassion is made possible by listeners like you. Additional support comes from World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization working to deliver food and Bibles to starving, persecuted Christians in North Korea, one of the most dangerous nations for Christians. A gift of $20 sends a Bible and a week's worth of food to a North Korean brother or sister. More at worldhelp.net/podcast.

HEATHER FEATHERSTON: The average woman who's thinking about adoption, typically is in her 20s.

Heather Featherston is the Vice President of Lifetime Adoption—a Christian adoption agency based in Florida.

FEATHERSTON: Although we've helped with women as young as 12 years old, and women who were thought they were in menopause. They were early 50s. They were actually pregnant.

Featherston says many of the women her agency helps are already parenting other kids. The financial burden might be part of their calculus.

FEATHERSTON: But more often than not, it's that they understand what it takes to raise a child and they want more for this next child than they're able to provide for for the children they already have.

Often, the child’s father is out of the picture. Either not willing or unable to be present. Sometimes the mother is struggling with mental illness.

FEATHERSTON: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that women are choosing adoption because they don't want their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. They care deeply about these children. And they understand that choosing adoption is really the hardest of the choices they have set before them. But they're dedicated to that, dedicated to their child and one of the biggest fears they have have is wondering if their child will understand, if their child will hate them for doing this.

At nine o’clock every night, Amber Freidel’s phone goes on silent. She’s had it set that way as long as she can remember. It never rings after nine o’clock…except for that night in 2014. She didn’t recognize the number, but thought it might be Jesse, or someone at the hospital, so she picked it up.

FREIDEL: And I hear this voice on the other side of the line saying, Hi, … I met your husband in the ER tonight. Have you talked to him? And I said, No. Is he okay?...And she said, No, no, he's fine. But I met him in the ER tonight, and I'm pregnant. And he offered to help me in whatever way that I needed. Or that if I was interested that you guys might be interested in adopting the baby. And I think I want to take you up on that. And I immediately just got all choked up. And I was like, of course, yes.

That weekend, Amber and Jesse met with her for the first time.

FREIDEL: She looked at us and she said, You guys are my option. Like, are you guys all in? Because I'm not going to change my mind. And we said yes, we’re there…And that is how we met our daughter's mom.

Usually, you have to go through an adoption agency to get connected with a birth mom. The agency will do the leg work, presenting hopeful adoptive parents to birth moms. Then the birth mom chooses who she wants her baby to go to.

The Freidels skipped the agency step…because their birth mom had already chosen them. It’s called an independent adoption. But they still needed an adoption lawyer.

FREIDEL: And he kind of gives you all the parameters of you know, you can help support them with this amount of money. But this much would be too much, it would be considered more of a bribe.

And even though the birth mom said she was all in, they still had to work through a few things.

FREIDEL: Basically, just the birth mom seeing how much people pay for adoptions in the news and being like, Well, where does that money go? You know, and why isn't that coming to me, because she, she truly did need help.

She was a single mom with two kids already in the foster system. Hopping from job to job. Sleeping on a cousin’s couch. No car.  Amber drove her to all her doctor appointments. Got to hear the baby’s heartbeat.

It was early on in the pregnancy…so the Freidels spent anxious weeks wondering if she was going to change her mind and get an abortion instead. But they kept moving forward with the adoption.

They found a guardian ad litem…a separate party to represent the baby through all the legal proceedings. They met with social workers for background checks and interviews.

FREIDEL: Basically, they meet with you multiple times and just kind of talk through your entire history, you know, do you have a criminal record? Do you, what’s your medical history? All that kind of stuff. Have you ever been in counseling? If so, what for?

If you have biological children who are old enough, the social workers interview them, too. The Freidels had two little boys at the time, three and 17 months. Then there’s the actual home visit.

FREIDEL: And they check things like are your banisters close enough? And do you have any health hazards? Or is your water temperature low enough, which was very frustrating because I like hot showers. [But] they didn't want the children to get burned.

You need enough windows, fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, an emergency escape plan. If you have alcohol or medicine, it has to be locked up. It can be overwhelming for first-time adoptive families. But the goal is to make sure they have a safe place for the kids, and are able to provide for their emotional well-being, too. Then of course, adoptions require vast mountains of paperwork. It’s usually split up into batches and spread out over months. But the Freidels just wanted to get it over with.

FREIDEL: And so we would go to a meeting and they would say, Okay, here's all your paperwork. And we'd say, okay, is that it? And they're like, Yep, that's it. And then the next time we would go in, they're like, Okay, here's all your paperwork. And we're like, no, no, give us all the paperwork. Because we're very much people who just like, like to know what we have to do, and get it all done, and be done.

Because the Freidels didn’t go through an agency, their adoption cost a fraction of the usual fees.

But for families going through a private agency especially, cash can be a huge hurdle. They pay for that adoption lawyer, court fees, medical exams, social workers, and the home study. The agency fees cover counseling for birth moms, classes on adoption and caring for a child who’s experienced trauma. It adds up.

Domestic infant adoptions are the most pricey, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. When Laura Sutton and her husband Michael started the adoption process in 2018, she was overwhelmed by the amount of work and money involved.

LAURA SUTTON: And saddened by how difficult or almost unovercomable the burden is for any average family to be able to adopt the amount of work the amount of state involvement. And then especially the amount of money…

They were in a good place financially, so it was less of a burden.

SUTTON: My husband married late in life. And he had enough put away that we were able to combine things and use certain funds and savings that by the end, we were able to make that work. That's very rare.

It still cost them more than $50,000 when everything was said and done.

The Roney family didn’t have the money up front for any of their adoptions. Sarah Roney and her husband Scott have adopted four of their six children. But even though they didn’t have the cash in the bank, they trusted God would provide…and took it one step at a time.

SARAH RONEY: It's not as if you're paying $30,000 upfront, right, you're just paying every few months, a registration fee or a paperwork fee, or to the Illinois State Government, and it adds up over time.

They paid what they could when they could.

RONEY: We would just put it on credit cards and keep paying it off. We just paid it like we paid our bills. And got through it.

Roney says adoption rarely makes financial sense. But God called their family to step into it anyway.

RONEY: I don't know many families who have the money or have the resources or can even imagine how hard it's going to be. But there's so much beauty. And God meets us in all of those areas where we don't have enough, he gives. He's the God of enoughness. I know that's not a word.


It’s a Friday night in late January, and the church rec center is swarming with kids. They’re tearing around the gym, shrieks echoing off the high ceilings. One teenager is playing catch with a little girl in a wheelchair. Another sits on the floor, kids on her lap, more standing around, just chatting. The teens are from a local Christian school, and they’re here as volunteers with Replanted. It’s a ministry for adoptive and foster families.

In the next room, a group of adults sit at white plastic tables eating Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Sarah Roney gets up and grabs a mic.

RONEY: First of all, I just want to say, congratulations, you got your kids here, you made it.

These are adoptive and foster parents from the Wheaton, Illinois area. They’re here, really, for a night off. They’ve dropped off their kids in the gym, and now they get to spend time swapping stories and recharging with other parents who know what it’s like.

Sarah Roney has been part of the group for ten years.

RONEY: We recognized that although we loved all of our friends, who also had small children, the parenting we were doing was very different from the parenting they were doing. And so we knew we needed a support system with other families who understood what we were living.

The group starts with a short devotional.

DEVOTIONAL: So let me just share from Psalm 95, a few verses, let us come into His presence with thanksgiving.

Roney says that happens before the main fellowship time for a reason.

RONEY: So that before we dive into how we're doing as families and how we can be praying for each other, we're centered on God's word. And it's nice to allow that to shape our discussion and start our discussion, before we jump into all the things that we feel are going well or can feel really difficult in our past month.

Because adoption is beautiful…but it’s also hard. Really, really hard. Adopted kids, or kids who’ve been through trauma, have trouble processing things in the logic parts of the brain. They have very little impulse control. Here’s Amber Freidel.

FREIDEL: And so there is a lot of stuff that it's just logically you and I would just know not to. Okay, let's see. Not to just pee on the floor. That's not a good example. I'll give you a different one.

I ask if she doesn’t want me to include that.

FREIDEL: No, it’s fine, these are the ramifications of adoption that people don't talk about. And the thing that we have realized is that like, if you go and talk to an adoptive parent, that these issues are common, and that they are things that practically every single adoptive parent knows. But going into it, you have no idea.

Sharon Bryant is one of the moms at Replanted. She says her adopted daughter struggles with body awareness. That’s a common symptom of trauma: disassociation.

SHARON BRYANT: She just does these ridiculous things. She has no idea she's doing them. So like, the other day, she was like, squeezing ketchup all over her shirt. And I was like, Honey, Honey, do you know that your hand is squeezing? And she was like, Oh, no idea what her hand was doing…

Her daughter is also afraid of being abandoned.

BRYANT: So when she attaches to somebody, she then can get scared that they're gonna disappear. Because her birth mom's voice disappeared. And that's in her muscle memory as a baby.

Plus, adoption is just a hard concept for a young kid to wrap their head around. “Why did my birth parents place me for adoption” is a question that never has a simple answer. And trying to understand your origins…that’s part of who you are. It affects your identity.

BRYANT: Like her first day of first grade, they had them all draw pictures of their family, right, which you would think would be a finally normal thing to ask first graders to do on their first day, but right, but that's a loaded question for her. And so she was like, Well, do I draw, like, my whole family? Do I include all my birth family and my half siblings?

Sarah Roney says there are millions of moments of great beauty in adoption. But not very many thanks.

RONEY: The expectation, even sometimes talking to my family members, or friends, sharing something that feels hard, and their first response is, well, your daughter or your son should feel so thankful. No, they're they're just kids and they're trying to make sense of their own new world, and they may never feel an ounce of thankfulness. And that's okay. They don't need to feel thankful they need to feel safe, first, they need to know they’re loved even if they have a hard time expressing love back.

But even in the hard…these adoptive parents wouldn’t trade the journey for anything. Amber Freidel says her daughter, now 8 years old, is pure joy.

FREIDEL: She is just such an incredible person if you meet her you will very quickly not be a stranger. She is bright and vivacious. She just literally like she walks into the room and you know you're she's there and she just is just so joyous and full of life and so full of so much spunk, she is just the most incredible personality. And we just love that about her.

Hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States need a family. Most of them are in the foster care system…which we’ll talk about in a few weeks. But the number of newborns placed for adoption in this country is actually pretty small.

Many people want to adopt a newborn…or a child “As Young As Possible.” Adoptive couples hope that the younger the child, the fewer challenges they’ll face integrating with their new family. Couples often spend years waiting to be matched with an American baby. Laura Sutton saw that first hand as she went through the adoption process with her daughter.

SUTTON: I think it really opened my eyes to the fact that the children in the adoption agencies are not so much the rejects like at the pound that nobody wants. They are a little bit more like the pedigree puppy babies in that there are dozens of of couples who long for children who are looking to adopt every single child that comes through an adoption agency – there are dozens of parents who would take that child if they possibly could.

But there are a couple of exceptions.

SUTTON: So children who have severe disabilities, they do have a hard time placing placing those children.

The agency the Suttons worked with also had a harder time placing black babies than they did white babies.

SUTTON: And that's because statistically, it is mostly white couples who are adopting. There are very few black couples who adopt statistically.

After the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson last year, people thought that might change things in the adoption world. Maybe without Roe v. Wade, more pregnant moms would consider adoption instead of abortion.

Over at Lifetime Adoption, Heather Featherston says they don’t really know how to measure that.

FEATHERSTON: We don't have a box to check on that. And it's really rare that someone says yeah, I'm doing adoption because I couldn't do abortion. I think literally we've had one woman in the last year do that and we're pretty high volume in terms of talking to women.

Overall, she hasn’t seen much change…except in one area. Post-Dobbs, they have had a lot of new families come to Lifetime saying they’re interested in adopting. Specifically, they want to help save a baby that might otherwise have been aborted.

FEATHERSTON: And I you know, I applaud that that's, that's wonderful.

But in Featherston’s experience, those families often have conditions. They only want to save a certain kind of baby.

FEATHERSTON: But the challenge is there's not a huge need for families open to adopting a perfect Caucasian baby. And it's like, well, no, if you really want to help, you know, can you be open to all races and be open to special needs? Oh, no, no, we can't do that. Well, then, then that's not really filling the need.

Featherston notes a difference between those families and the ones who’ve struggled with infertility.

FEATHERSTON: If you've struggled with fertility, and you've come to the place that you're just ready to be a mom, you know what, I don't I don't care, that child can be black or white, that child can, you know, have been exposed to drugs or not. I've done my education. I know, God will equip me to to handle whatever He blesses me with.

She says there’s still work to be done in preparing people’s hearts and minds.

FEATHERSTON: Getting couples to run out and sign up for adoption, that's not, that's not what we need. We need to talk about it and normalize adoption as a choice for for these young girls a little more, because there's too many states that will, you know, pay them to come and have an abortion because, you know, that's just what they think they should do.

As the Freidels neared the due date of their new little girl, Amber says she didn’t know how to feel. It was surreal.

FREIDEL: You don't have those physical signs of expecting, and yet you are expecting.

And she knew that there was still potential for things to fall through. In Illinois, the birth mom cannot legally give up her parental rights until 72 hours after the baby is born. She has three days to change her mind…or decide that she actually does want to give her baby to the adoptive family.

FREIDEL: And so we were basically just going all in. And that was something that was really difficult for me, you know, it was like, I don't want to hold back but if I do this, right, it's gonna really hurt if it doesn't go through. And I feel like that is just so a picture of like, what Christ does for us is he just he went all in he gave up his all for us. And he didn't. He didn't look back.

The birth mom was having a C-section and asked Amber to be her plus one in the operating room.

FREIDEL: Which was an incredible honor. So we ended up going into the surgery room. And she made me promise to stay behind the curtain. So I 100% promise and sat there and held her hand is, you know, she said there was going through the C-section. And we just kind of talked about, you know, what do you think the baby's gonna look like, and then she came out, and you heard her first cry.

And then she asked to see her, which was a really big deal because she had before it was like, I just I don't know if I'll be able to see her. And we were, whatever it is that you need. So she saw her and I have this picture of our daughter with both of her mom’s hands on her head. And it's just one of those pictures that you just cherish for the rest of your life.

They had a few moments with the baby…then she headed off to the NICU. Because that little newborn had to go through withdrawal.

FREIDEL: She was incredibly sick. If you look up all the symptoms of withdrawal she had every single one. And it was heartbreaking to watch. Shaking. She had a rash on her chin, constant crying, unable to soothe, a constant need to suck, overstimulated so easily.

The baby had to go through another kind of withdrawal, too. Not physical, but emotional.

FREIDEL: So she was also going through a form of abandonment, even though her mother did not abandon her. She didn't have her mother to comfort her and infants crave their mother, they crave their smell, they crave their voice, and she did not have that.

She was in the NICU for 13 days. Amber says it was the power of prayer and breast milk that got that baby out…weeks earlier than doctors had predicted.

FREIDEL: I remember calling my sister in law and being like, I have a ton of pink in my back seat, and she's coming home with me.

Coming home for the first time, seeing her little boys meet their new sister…Amber says it was the culmination of the dream she’d had since she was 8 years old.

FREIDEL: And this is what it says on her adoption record. It is as if she were from your body and you carried her and you share the same blood and she is fully yours.

But it was also bittersweet. Amber says adoption is a great weight…knowing that even as you rejoice over a new child to love, you have that joy because of a rending and sacrifice. For the baby’s birth mom…it was devastating.

FREIDEL: She was really struggling, it was extremely difficult for her, it was very painful. When she left the hospital. I went down to see her per her request at the front doors of the hospital and she was broken, it was incredibly painful. And just when she walked out those doors, I didn't know if I would see her again.

Fifty or sixty years ago, closed adoptions were the norm. It was common for an adopted child not to know they were adopted until later in life. Sometimes they found out by accident, or through a DNA test. But these days, open adoptions are more and more common. Birth parents can get to know the adoptive family. They can stay in touch with their biological child as they grow up.

Heather Featherston says it’s a much healthier option for everyone involved.

FEATHERSTON: The adoptive parents now have more detailed medical and just you know, information about their child's family, the birth mother, she knows where her child is, who her child is, and she can stay a part of his or her life. And then the child grows up in the truth, knowing who they are knowing they were chosen, knowing they were loved. There's no mystery there's no sitting down at 12 years old and and being told everything you thought you knew isn't true.

The Freidels did see the birth mom again…about six months after the baby was born, they got together. Spent time getting to know each other in a new and different way. Amber says they’ve kept up that relationship. They want their daughter to know her birth mom.

FREIDEL: I think having an open and an open adoption is incredible. I think it is incredibly beneficial for the adoptee to be able to recognize who they look like, who they sound like, who they act like it, it gives them a place. Adoption is something that like there is great sorrow that just naturally comes there's there's a she misses her mom, you know sometimes or she wants to be with her sisters, but then there's also a reticence and an uncomfortableness sometimes for her. That she's she doesn't want to see them.

Sarah Roney says her son can call his birth mom any time. They try to visit once or twice a year. But cultivating that relationship with birth parents can be tricky.

RONEY: I remember saying something to her once. And she got really mad and was like, I don't want to talk to you again. Ever again. And she hung up. And I was like, Well, okay, I will. I don't. I don't know what I said necessarily that upset her. But I love her. And I know she loves us. And I'll just pray that was she's willing to pick up the phone in a couple of weeks when I try calling again. And she was and we just kept going.

They have a son in common. So even though they don’t always agree with each other, they keep working to build that relationship.

RONEY: And she knows deep in her heart that we will always be there for her and that we deeply believe in her. And that anything we say about her is going to be good. And so complicated might be a good word, but also really beautiful.

Adoption can be a really beautiful thing. It’s a tangible way of showing what God has done for us as believers. But Heather Featherston says it’s not for everyone.

FEATHERSTON : Just because you feel pulled, maybe feel an emotional call to adoption, it doesn't necessarily mean you should adopt.

There are other ways to help. Here’s Amber Freidel.

FREIDEL: Just being there for people in whatever capacity that is, whether you are walking alongside them through the pregnancy, whether you are helping them financially, whether you are providing them housing, it doesn't have to be adoption, because I don't think adoption is for everyone. And I don't think that the answer is always adoption. Because some of these women are very capable of parenting and taking care of their children. They just need people to come and walk alongside them.

You’ll hear more about that later this season in Episode 6.  Sarah Roney says the need is great.

RONEY: There are children in foster here in the state of Illinois who are legal, wards of the state, 1000s upon 1000s. Why aren't Christians wondering why that number is so high? Like these are kiddos whose already, they've already lost their parental rights, their parents are the state of Illinois. That's, that's not okay.

You don’t have to be a qualified social worker or child trauma specialist. God can use anyone. And there are a lot of really practical things Christians can do to help. Finances are a big one: helping cover the cost of an adoption. But just spending time with adopted and foster kids can make a huge difference too.

RONEY: Two of my kiddos specifically have profound special needs. And both would love for someone to come and just take them for ice cream or take them out to like a forest preserve and shoot Nerf guns. There are many challenges in parenting our children, and it's beautiful. And there is nothing I would rather spend my life doing. But breaks are needed. And maybe every family is different. And so that family might have a different need. But I know a couple of families just off the top of my head who really feel like they're drowning, then knowing that someone's coming to take out their child, you know, for two hours on a Saturday would help them catch their breath, you know?

Roney believes people hesitate too much about getting involved. That maybe more people are called to adopt than they realize. And even if we don’t adopt, she says, as Christians, we’re all called to care for those most vulnerable.

RONEY: I just I would ask people to consider, instead of saying, Am I called to adopt or called to enter into foster care? Like, what if they asked, why aren't I licensed as a foster family? Why aren't we adopting? Not Am I called, but How can I enter into what we're all called to do?

Next week, we’ll head overseas to learn more about international adoption and the ways Christians have changed their approach to helping kids in crisis in other countries.

MEDEFIND: You know, we can say if there is any way for a child to grow up within their family of origin, or at least within their country of origin, we're all there. And yet at the same time, when we know that it's gonna be very hard for a child to be welcomed into, um, a family that is not of their tribe or bloodline in many parts of the world. We recognize that intercountry adoption may be the only hope of them ever knowing the safety and belonging that a family uniquely provides.

Effective Compassion is produced by the creative team at WORLD Radio. I’m Anna Johansen Brown. Leigh Jones is our producer. Paul Butler is our executive producer. Technical assistance from Rich Rozel and Creative Genius Productions.

UNDERWRITER SPOT: Effective Compassion is made possible by listeners like you. Additional support comes from World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of people in impoverished communities around the world. Help for today, hope for tomorrow. Right now, World Help has a window of opportunity to deliver food and Bibles to starving, persecuted Christians in North Korea, one of the most dangerous nations for Christians. A gift of $20 sends a Bible and a week's worth of food to a Christian living in this hostile country. More at worldhelp.net/podcast.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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