Our Adoption Story
Zac and I both knew we wanted to adopt at some point in our marriage. This had been something we talked about the entire year and a half we dated before getting married. We had been married only a year and 3 months when we decided to go for it. I was 23 years old and Zac was 24. We both had been working for Wipe Every Tear, traveling back and forth from the Philippines and Thailand a few times a year. Both having a huge heart for the nations, we felt pulled to adopt internationally for our first adoption. Being in full time ministry and serving women who have been exploited in the sex trade, we were aware of the target many orphans have on their back that end up being trafficked. We also were aware of the ethical challenges many families face when adopting internationally and we were diligent to ensure every step of our process was marked by integrity and truly in it for the children, not just a personal desire to fill our home with children that were rightfully wanted by their families. After months of prayer and research, on January 19th, 2016 we started the adoption process in Uganda. In order to submit our application we needed a payment of $300 so we sold our couch that we had received as a wedding present in order to make that payment. I look back and laugh because I remember eating Papa Murphys pizza on our empty living room laughing together at what we just did. We had very little money and we were raising 100% of our income for ministry, yet we heard clearly from the Lord to move forward. 3 months went by with very little movement and conversation with our agency in Uganda. After a lot of prayer and guidance we decided to withdraw our application from that agency in Uganda and pursue a different country and agency. Due to our young age, the options of countries that we were legally able to adopt from were limited. We knew it would be in Africa, but we were brought back to square one of the process. A few weeks after withdrawing our Uganda application we came across the program in Liberia. After a lot of research, the only commentary and "advice" we could find online regarding Liberian Adoptions was disheartening.
"The country is broken and unstable from the war. To risky!"
"Ebola practically wiped out the country. Its not safe!"
"It is a non-Hague country, which adds drama and challenges to an already complicated process. Not wise!"
"Some of the families that are currently in process have been waiting for 5-9 years. Too unpredictable, I wound't do it."
We called the only agency that at the time was accredited to complete adoptions in Liberia and had an interview with the woman in charge of the program. I remember we were driving home from a friends wedding in Portland, Oregon when we called and I thought "If we lose service and accidentally hang up on her, she won't allow us to into the program!" We had our list of questions that we had asked dozens of other agencies by then so we came ready to fire away. I remember every answer she gave I sighed in relief, thanking God there were people who just got it, who assist with adoptions with the kid's best interest at heart, something I had found was very rare. Zac, being the wise man that he is, would always end serious phone calls like that with, "Let's not make an emotional decision. Lets sit on that info, pray about it, and make a decision in a week." Me, being the overly-excited, wanting to jump in with a big fat YES, struggled with this. But throughout the process it proved to be necessary and wise. A week later we connected with our incredible case worker, completed the application, and were officially accepted into the Liberia Adoption program. We were THRILLED. We had peace, which was the currency we clung too all of our entire adoption process.
We completed our Home Study, which took 5 months longer than we had hoped but I did my best not to lose my cool about it. From the beginning, we never anticipated adopting two children. We told our social worker if there was any type of special sibling case like twins, we may be open to it, but moved forward completing all of our paper work assuming we would only adopt one child.
The first 8 months was full of paperwork, unending paperwork. When an adoptive family receives pink mail from U.S. Immigration it means the application is incomplete, thus that you are not yet approved to adopt internationally. After receiving 4 pink slips in the mail from US Immigration, I was so discouraged. Then finally on October 8th, a week before our 2 year wedding anniversary, we received U.S. approval to adopt, and not only adopt, but adopt two children. We were amazed! This was the final document we needed to send our paperwork to Liberia to officially wait for a match. From the beginning of the process we kept getting words from friends that they felt like God was going to give us twins, or two children. Each time someone would mention something along these lines we would laugh because we knew the cost of adoption and knew adopting two was close to impossible.
2 months after receiving U.S. approval we received news of beautiful little girl and a perfect little boy who needed a family. I remember not being able to sleep after getting their photos, wondering, praying if they were ours. Two of them?! How could this be?! It was taking all the faith we had for one, and now we need to gather the resources for two?! Since our children were not blood related, both adoptions had to be processed completely separately, doubling the cost. Again, Zac being the wise man that he is, said we needed to pray about this for 21 days before responding. I remember Zac and I saying to each other "If all we know is Chaos from the start, we'll be fine! Let's do it. Let's accept the invitation to be the parents to these two beautiful children." So after 21 days of deep prayer, on December 21st, we called our wonderful case worker and informed her that we would like to move forward to adopt both children. She was an incredible pillar of strength and integrity for us throughout our process.
During this entire process we had applied for just about every adoption grant we could find. I cannot tell you the amount of hours and nights we spent completing applications, hoping and praying someone would find us worthy of receiving a grant. 10 days after accepting the match of our children we received a phone call from a grant organization, covering the entire cost of our second adoption, over $21,000. 3 days later another grant organization called saying they were granting us funds, then again days later more grants responded. I kid you not, we sat there on our knees overwhelmed that God would provide for us in such a radical way just days after we said YES to adopting Birdie and Asa. When we were officially matched, Birdie had just celebrated her 2nd birthday and Asa was 5 months old.
A month after being matched we received a call that our son was very sick. When we were originally matched we knew he had some illnesses, but as time went on his body continued to contract additional illnesses making his body have to fight way to hard for a baby only months. I remember feeling so helpless... Loving someone that you have never met that is on the other side of the world, fighting for their life, unable to do anything but pray. I could rest assured that he was being loved deeply by the mama's of the baby home, but it doesn't in any way remove the deep cry and desire for wanting to hold and comfort your child for yourself. 6 months after being matched and we were approved to travel to Liberia, we jumped on a one-way plane and flew to Monrovia for the remainder of our adoption. I was in the Philippines for 4 weeks and was home for 5 days before leaving for Liberia. I remember buying everything we needed for our trip and parenthood on Amazon Prime and Zac called our house a Prime factory, full of things we "thought" we may need for parenthood! We had no idea how long we would be there, we only knew that we would not board a plane home until we were a family of four.
Our time in Liberia is an entirely different story filled with adventure and hysterical memories. We fell in love with the country and the people. Yes, there were many struggles that came with being a foreigner in another country. And yes, there were moments I wondered if we would ever make it home. But above all of those things, we gained a deep respect for our children's home country and will forever treasure our season there.
The first time we met the kids was beyond anything we could have ever dreamed of. Our daughter stood out like a sore thumb from the second we drove into the baby home. Our car was quickly swamped by beautiful faces but our eyes never left our daughters face. We jumped out of the car and slowly approached her, lowering ourselves to her eye level. As badly as we wanted to instantly hold her, we waited until she warmed up for a minute, then opened our arms to her. She avoided eye contact but allowed us to at least hold her, so we were thankful. A few moments later they woke Asa up from his nap and placed him in Zac's arms. I remember watching Asa instantly melt into Zac's arms from the minute they brought him to us. I had never seen anything like it. The attachment and bond with our son, Asa, truly was an instant miracle.
Our journey of attachment with Birdie was different. As badly as we hoped to instantly connect, that was not the case. since Birdie's case was at a different pace than our sons, the first 6 weeks in Liberia, we could only visit Birdie at the baby home, and had to wait for a specific document until we could begin to have her stay with us. I remember the second day we went to the home to be with her, and as we departed the home, hearing her scream "Ma" "Papa" at the top of her lungs. It completely broke us. Weeks went on and finally Birdie was approved to begin staying with us. The first 3 or so weeks Birdie would take rice and put them in her pockets and wouldn't stop to even take a breath while eating. It was a huge adjustment for her to know that she wasn't going to be left hungry. She would have these huge meltdowns and I could try and soothe her and in return she would hit me, scream, and hide behind the couch. She was completely terrified of us. The only place she would find peace would be when we took the kids out for a walk in front of the ocean, at the compound we had been living at. However, it was rainy season, in the wettest capital in the entire world, so somedays we would have no choice but to stay inside.
In order to gain Birdie's trust once she transitioned with us we made a conscious decision to make sure we created an extreme routine so that she would know when to expect meals, naps, walks, playtime, etc. Even when she didn't want us to hold her, we would hold her and could eventually feel her resistance lessen, and she would melt into our chest. I remember the day that everything changed. The rainy season began to lessen in the middle of August, which meant our beach days started. My mother in law had just arrived in Liberia and we decided to go down to the beach as a family. Asa just recovered from his second case of Malaria since we had arrived to Liberia and was only wanting to be held. As we played on the beach, life felt like it was being lived in slow motion. Birdie smiled at Zac and I, grabbed our hands, and said "My ma, my pa." Ever since that day, Birdie has trusted us and loved us. Yes, we have had our challenges, as all do with toddlers, but it was as if something just clicked that day.
After being in Liberia for 3 months and 1.5 weeks, we got every document we needed to return home. It a true miracle. Our last 10 hours in Liberia was extremely chaotic to say the least, and someday in a book I will share it all, but we finally were able to get on a plane and go home.
September 7th, 2017, after 36 hours of traveling, we landed in Boise, Idaho, with all of our family and friends waiting to embrace the #HepworthPartyOfFour.
Our children became U.S. citizens 3 months after landing in America and transitioned beautifully. There were many big adjustments, like air conditioning, car seats, department stores like Target, etc, but all in all, they conquered each new challenge with grace.
From start to finish our entire adoption process was 21 months. In that 21 months I cried more tears, and prayed more prayers flat on my face than ever before. There is something so holy that comes over you when your family grows and you have children to contend for. My journey into motherhood has been nothing short of crazy, but there is not one moment I would do differently. Our Esther Birdwell and Asa Kingsman are our greatest treasures and we consider it the greatest honor of all to raise them up as the world changers that they are.