It seems so simple, and in a very basic way, it is: There are children out there who need a warm and loving home, and there are families yearning to provide all that and more. But making it all come together -- well, that part can get complex. Here's how five families found their way along that unforgettable journey, and how one woman made the wrenching decision to give up her child -- plus, everything you'll need to know if you decide to make adoption a part of your family story.
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Shelby Nickel, 36, and his wife, Jen, 33, are raising four sons in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada: Greg, 12, and Eric, 11 — biological siblings who were adopted through the Missouri foster-care system — as well as Tanner, 10, and Caden, 6. Shelby is a commodities broker, and Jen homeschools the boys.
"When I started dating my husband, I told him I wanted to adopt, as in: 'If you want to marry me, this is it!' A few months after Tanner was born, we investigated adopting through foster care both in Canada and the United States and were eventually matched with two brothers in Missouri, Greg and Eric, who were 4 and 3 at the time.
"To help get the boys ready, we made a video of ourselves showing them our home and things like the table where we'd eat — with places set for them. Then we spent a week in Missouri getting to know them. They'd been with their foster mom for three years; even though she'd prepared them well, their first year with us wasn't easy. Greg had a breakdown in a restaurant, crying that we'd stolen him. It took Eric longer to show his grief, but he was processing a lot of pain, too. We loved the idea of our kids even before we were matched with them, but loving the reality of your children — that's a process, one that's both wonderful and hard.
"I found out I was pregnant again 18 months after the boys came home. When Caden was born, he was all of ours — the first member of our family that we all had from the very beginning.
"We've worked hard to establish relationships with the boys' birth parents. Their birth dad is in prison, and over the years, we've worked our way from letters to phone calls with him. It's hard to have kids deal with serious grown-up issues, but it also helps them to understand why they were removed from their environment and love the reality of who their birth family is, not the fantasy of who they'd like them to be.
"We want our kids to grow up with a strong sense of self and racial pride, so we switched to a church with an African-Canadian pastor and a multicultural congregation. And every year, we go to the Harambe Festival Camp, a weeklong camp for families with children of African heritage — the kids love it. Fortunately, we live in an area that's racially integrated, but sometimes there are inappropriate questions, like, 'Are they really brothers?' My answer is, 'All four of our boys are really brothers.'"