Our Adoption story was written by a good friend, Heather Schultz, forÂ The Catholic TimesÂ in November 2009. Â Note: we brought Anna and Levi home in December 2009.
Â Â Â Â Â The Dunlaps are just like any other family.
Yes, Bob and Jennifer Dunlap have adopted all of their children, but the couple insists they have only done what anyone else can do.
November is National Adoption Month, and Jennifer says although â€œnot everyone is called to adopt, (everyone can) pray for kids waiting for families, and possible even help financially.â€
â€œItâ€™s so easy for us to not think about the suffering in the world,â€ said Jennifer. â€œIf every Christian family did adopt a child, there wouldnâ€™t be any more waiting. Godâ€™s not calling everybody to adopt. But itâ€™s there in the Bible that we need to care for orphans. Even if youâ€™re just praying — what you say in that two-second prayer does make a difference.â€
Some time before the end of this year, the Dunlaps, plan to bring home their fifth and sixth children — Anna, 5, and Levi, 2.Â The Dunlaps are adopting their newest children from St. Vincent in the Caribbean. Their older children hail from Russia (Jacob, 8; Jonah, 6) and Korea (Sarah, 5; Leah, 3).
The couple began considering adoption after trying to get pregnant for some time without success. They werenâ€™t interested in seeking medical intervention.
â€œWe never felt the need to get pregnant at any cost,â€ explained Jennifer. â€œWe just wanted to be parents.â€
She added, â€œWe used to pray to get pregnant.Â Then I remember looking at a statue of Mary and saying, â€˜I want us to be parents. I want to be a mom. I donâ€™t care how it happens.â€™â€
Shortly after that, Jennifer came across information about an adoption seminar.
â€œI asked Bob, and he said he would go,â€ she said. â€œI had to ask him again, because I knew that if I went, I would want to go in that direction.â€
The couple knew that night that they wanted to adopt.
They began the adoption process with European Adoption Consultants (eaci.com) in February of 2001.Â Their son Jacob came home that October at six months of age.
Having the opportunity to be parents has strengthened the Dunlapsâ€™ faith. â€œI see the Lord speaking to me in so many ways, in being a father,â€ said Bob. â€œMy kids can disobey, they can yell and scream, and at the end of the day when you tuck them in, you love them just like you did in the morning. Fatherhood teaches me a lot about how God loves me even when I disobey and act out.â€
In offering advice to other families considering adoption, Jennifer explained, â€œI did the research backward.Â I liked the agency and then I found out about it. We educated ourselves about the problems we may face, and different issues.Â But with all of our kids, we felt this is a child God has meant for our family. We believed God would give us the grace to get through the challenges.â€
Jennifer believes their adoption of Sarah was a clear example of God at work. She said, â€œI feel like God plucked her out of Korea and dropped her in our laps.â€
Shortly after they had brought home Jonah, someone sent Jennifer an email with Sarahâ€™s picture that read, â€œIs this your child?â€Â The picture came from Rainbowkids.com, a website with information about children around the world who are waiting for adoption.
The Dunlaps were not considering adopting another child at that time, but while Jennifer was looking at the picture, Jacob walked by and asked, â€œAre you looking at a picture of my sister?â€Â That night, while Jenniferâ€™s mom was babysitting, Jacob told her, â€œOh, thatâ€™s just my sister.â€
Jennifer put the picture on their refrigerator, and the Dunlaps began praying the little girl would find a family.
â€œIt didnâ€™t occur to me that she should be in my family,â€ said Jennifer. â€œBut then I read a book about taking a leap of faith, and about how God provides everything.â€
When Jennifer discussed the matter with Bob, he said he also had been thinking they should adopt the little girl in the picture. That night, the two decided they wanted to proceed with the adoption. However, they didnâ€™t know how the process would work financially, since they had just brought home Jonah.
The next morning, their tax accountant asked them to come in to sign some paperwork. On the way, they were talking about how to make Sarahâ€™s adoption a reality.
They went in one at a time to sign the paperwork, since the boys were in the car.
Jennifer said, â€œI went in first to sign, saw the amount on the paperwork, and asked, â€˜What is this amount?â€™â€
When the secretary explained that was their refund amount, Jennifer asked, â€œAre you sure?â€
The amount was within $100 of what they needed to bring Sarah home.
Sarahâ€™s adoption also went the fastest for the Dunlaps. They originally saw Sarahâ€™s picture on her first birthday, March 3, 2005; Sarah was in her â€œforever homeâ€ with Bob and Jennifer by July 4, 2005.
â€œThings like that donâ€™t happen to us,â€ said Jennifer. â€œWe felt that was God saying, â€˜I told you all you have to do is say â€˜Yesâ€™ and Iâ€™ll take care of you.â€™â€
Bob agreed adoption requires a â€œleap of faith.â€ â€œYou have to trust about affording it, safety in your travels, getting the child meant for you, and picking the right agency,â€ he said. â€œThere are so many leaps of faith you take in that process.â€
â€œIt tests your faith and it confirms your faith,â€ he added. â€œWhen it happens â€¦ Godâ€™s like, â€˜I told you everything was going to be OK. Just trust in me.â€™â€
In fact, although Jennifer understands why finances are often peopleâ€™s main concern when they consider adoption, she said, â€œWe are trying to do what God wants us to do. Itâ€™s His money anyway. Heâ€™ll work out the details. Weâ€™ve certainly had to make sacrifices, and to make different choices. But itâ€™s been OK. Itâ€™s not a hard sacrifice to make.â€
One reason Sarahâ€™s adoption process went so quickly, and in fact, cost less than normal adoptions, is that Sarah was considered a â€œspecial needsâ€ child.
â€œWe didnâ€™t set out to adopt a child with special needs,â€ said Jennifer. â€œWhat they said Sarah had she doesnâ€™t have. And if she wouldâ€™ve, it was a mild condition. It wasnâ€™t life-threatening.â€
Jennifer knows some families specifically seek to adopt children with special needs; for instance, her sister is in the process of adopting a child from Armenia who has Downâ€™s Syndrome. Jennifer said there is even a waiting list to adopt Downâ€™s Syndrome children from within the U.S., because about 90 percent of Downâ€™s Syndrome children are aborted.
â€œItâ€™s more the child who came along (that we were called to adopt). Weâ€™ve always firmly felt there are no guarantees with any child,â€ said Jennifer. â€œBobâ€™s sister Dana has two kids with cystic fibrosis, and there was nothing on either side to suggest they should look for it. You never know what Godâ€™s going to give you. Hopefully God will give us the grace to get through (the challenges that come).â€
Most recently, the Dunlaps decided a Caribbean adoption would be a good fit for their family because they could take their other children with them when they traveled. All of the Dunlapsâ€™ adoptions have required some amount of travel.
This time, the Dunlaps chose to work with Creative Adoptions (creativeadoptions.org). Choosing a good adoption agency is of utmost importance, Jennifer said. Since different agencies often specialize in different countries, the Dunlaps have used three different agencies for all of their children. Sarah and Leah were adopted through Childrenâ€™s Home Society (chsfs.org).
â€œWe were going to adopt from Jamaica,â€ Jennifer said. â€œThen the director (of Creative Adoptions) called and said that two children were available in our age-range from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We felt this is what God was calling us to all along, and He used a different route to bring us here.â€
Although taking their four children with them to St. Vincent was â€œmore hecticâ€ than traveling by themselves, Jennifer believed traveling as a family also brought â€œhuge benefits. â€œThey got to meet their new siblings, and break the ice,â€ she explained. â€œIt was much easier than I expected. As soon as we saw Anna and Levi on the front porch, all of my kids went up right away and were hugging and kissing them.â€
Sarah and Anna formed a particularly close bond, probably since they are so close in age, said Jennifer. She hopes that will help Anna make a smoother transition to her new home. Being with her biological brother, Levi, also should provide good support.
Although some countries allow an escort to bring adopted children to the U.S. so families donâ€™t have to travel, Jennifer recommends traveling to the adoptive childâ€™s country.
â€œIf the only thing keeping you from adopting is the travel — do the escort,â€ she said. â€œBut there are benefits from going to the country (where your child is from). You experience the culture, and it gives you a much better appreciation for the U.S. It gives you insight as to where your child came from. Itâ€™s also easier for the child.â€
The Dunlaps are very open with their children about their adoptions. â€œItâ€™s a normal part of everyday conversation,â€ said Jennifer. â€œWe pray for their birth families every night. We want them to feel like any time they have questions, we are OK with it.â€
Not knowing the circumstances behind her childrenâ€™s adoptions makes it easier in some ways, Jennifer said. â€œWe can say we donâ€™t know,â€ she explained. â€œI (can say) I donâ€™t have the answers, but I know from the moment God thought of you, you were meant to be in this family.â€
Jennifer continued, â€œThe plans God had in store for our family were so much bigger and better than we could have imagined. I donâ€™t ever wonder why God didnâ€™t plan for us to give birth. I know why. I know God planned for us to have these kids in our family. I couldnâ€™t ask for better kids than we have.â€
Considering adoption? Bob and Jennifer Dunlap, who are in the process of adopting their fifth and sixth children, offer these words of advice:
1. Read Catholic author Dr. Ray Guarendiâ€™s book â€œAdoption: Choose it, Live it, Love it.â€
2. Find a good agency, preferably an expert in the country from which you are planning to adopt.
3. Consider Adoption Advocates (www.adoptionadvocates.us) for your home study, which is required regardless of the type of adoption you pursue (international, domestic, foster). Â Jennifer recommended social worker Wendy Panourgias.
3.Â Donâ€™t let the cost scare you away. The Dunlapsâ€™ adoption costs have ranged from $15,000 to $40,000 per child. â€œWeâ€™ve done various things, including home equity loans,â€ said Jennifer. â€œSometimes there are grants for special needs children. There are organizations there to help, but you have to do the footwork.â€
There also is a $10,000 tax credit per child, available after the adoption is finalized; you can apply for low-cost adoption loans; and not much cost is involved with adoptions done through foster care.
Many companies offer adoption benefits, said Bob. If your company doesnâ€™t offer these benefits, suggest they do. Bob has been successful in doing this. He recommends downloading a form on the Internet (search â€œadoption benefit proposalâ€), and tailoring it to your individual company.
Jennifer also encourages people not personally called to adopt to consider providing financial support to people who are trying to adopt.
4. Do Internet research. Jennifer said connecting with people who have adopted is a huge source of support. There are Yahoo groups for almost every country.Â
The following are some particularly useful websites: Rainbow Kids (www.rainbowkids.com) is a photolisting of children in the US and abroad, with a lot of adoption articles; Brittanyâ€™s Hope (www.brittanyshope.org) provides a photolisting of children abroad; Dave Thomas Foundation (www.davethomasfoundation.org) has information about foster care and adoption; Adoptive Families Magazine (www.adoptivefamilies.com); and Adoptuskids.org.Â
5. Reflect on the following Bible verses: Mark 9:37, Matthew 18:5, Sirach 4:10, and Romans 8:14-17.