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Turn to Jesus (Article)

When the Roses Returned
How we built our adopted family-a spiritual journey.

Jay Dunlap and family with Anthony
The Dunlap Family. Familia’s programs are directed to fostering the development of religious, moral, psychological and social values in the family.
The most punishing cross can become the sweetest blessing. My wife, Margie, and I have learned all about this paradox in our life as adoptive parents. After three years of marriage, we had yet to conceive a child. We had tried Natural Family Planning, fertility treatments, even a surgery. Still, nothing. It left us feeling frustrated that God was withholding the children we wanted so desperately. So we began to discuss adoption.

Before we even married, we agreed to adopt at least one child someday-inspired by my family´s example. My grandparents adopted a Japanese war orphan after World War II, and my parents added three adopted kids to their nine biological children.

In March 1994, we first met with the local Catholic Charities adoption worker-and almost miraculously, nine months later, we brought home our first adopted child: Patrick.

In September 1997, we held our first daughter, Marie Elena-whose birth mother has since found her calling as a counselor for teenage moms. One young mom she counseled gave birth to the third child we adopted-Leo, born in February 2000.

If you ever wonder if your pro-life prayers are being answered, consider the graces required for one single mother to defy social pressures today and choose adoption. Children are adopted only because of the generous, heroic, painful sacrifice of birth parents who give the greatest gift of all-life. "Greater love hath no man than this!"

Adoption can become a vocation in itself, as we learned. And it´s not always smooth sailing. In fact, the process leaves you quite vulnerable to disappointment, reversals, and heartbreak. That´s where faith comes in.

Babe and Switch

After Patrick, we met several times with a pregnant woman who chose us to adopt her child-then, after giving birth to her son, she decided she couldn´t give him up. That was wrenching-the adoption equivalent of a miscarriage. She and her son remain in our prayers.

Worse was to come. Just six months before Leo was born, we brought home a girl we named Veronica. She was a foster baby, not an adoption, because no one had located the birth father to get his consent. We knew there was a risk, but we gave our hearts to Veronica, hoping she would stay as our third child. She had been with us fully a month when the birth father turned up-and to his credit, took an interest in his child. That set in motion many weeks of agonizing emotional and legal maneuvering. After three months of lullabies, bottles and bonding, we handed Veronica back-a couple of weeks before Christmas.

It is one thing to have an adoption plan fall through-and quite another to give up a child you´ve loved for months. It is the cross. There is mystery here. Why, Lord, choose us to love one of these least ones for only a few months? Why pierce our hearts? We can thank God for the opportunity to unite our sufferings to his; there is profound, mysterious consolation in that. But the sorrow...oh, the sorrow.

Two months later, we got another answered prayer-Leo, a beautiful little boy who was ours to keep. God is good, we realized again; he purifies our love.

Adopting another baby after a failed adoption helps fill a void, and there´s always rich joy in raising a new child. But the one you lost always remains a part of you. Leo is Leo, and Veronica´s place remains in our hearts. In one sense, her place is empty, and always will be. But we feel reassured that God saw fit to trust us with this child of his, if only for a while. It is a mystery. Part of us finds peace simply in knowing that it is beyond our ken.

In May of 2000, we brought home from the hospital yet another son: Anthony. We met both of his birth parents and looked forward to having the paperwork all resolved within a month or two. I was confident that, after the heartbreak of losing Veronica, we´d never suffer that way again.


On Father´s Day, I was given four rose bushes for the garden: a red one from Patrick, pink from Elena, red with white from Leo, and a yellow one addressed from baby Anthony. It took a few weeks to find the time, but the older kids eventually helped me plant them in front. With a little care (and lots of Miracle Gro) they blossomed beautifully.

We kept waiting for the birth father to sign off on the adoption, and he kept missing appointments. The adoption workers, knowing what we´d gone through with Veronica, moved forward to terminate parental rights.

Three days before the court hearing, we heard ominous news: The birth father´s mom had just found out about her grandson Anthony´s existence. Her son had not told her-she learned it from the judge´s letter notifying her son of the hearing date for terminating rights. It must have been a shock to her.

We arranged a meeting with Anthony´s birth parents, along with the father´s mom and dad-confident that all could be worked out, once they
Margie Dunlap
Margie with Susannah Rose.
saw the mutual benefits of the adoption....

The grandfather started off accusing us all of manipulating the birth parents for selfish purposes. He figured that somehow there must be money in it for us. He and his wife turned a deaf ear to what I thought were common-sense considerations: Grandparents don´t raise babies, parents do. And we were perfectly willing for them to be in Anthony´s life as his grandparents. Margie pleaded for all of us to think what was best for the baby, not what we wanted for ourselves. Once again, deafness, even hostility. I blew my stack. The meeting disintegrated. We had no recourse. Anthony would be leaving us.

In the end, Margie met one-on-one with the grandmother, so the two of them could simply talk as women who loved this baby-even if they disagreed on what was best for him. We arranged to have the grandmother spend an hour with Anthony in our home every evening for the weeks it would take to work out the transition, so he could know her and bond with her.

That´s when we began to see the hand of Providence. Perhaps if the grandparents had known of Anthony´s existence all along, they would have seen him as a burden. Learning about him as they did, he became a loved one for whom they wanted to fight. Maybe that was our mission-to teach Anthony´s birth family to see him as worth loving. A reason for joy.

On August 14, we started the day by attending Mass as a family. It seemed fitting that it was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe-the Polish Franciscan who, at Auschwitz, traded his life for another´s, so that man´s many children would not be orphaned.

After Mass we took Anthony to his new home. Margie stayed busy, setting out details of how Anthony liked to be cared for. Patrick and Elena took turns holding the baby. Leo, being Leo, climbed all over everything and threw around some toys. I made polite conversation and, when Anthony got fussy and various attempts to quiet him failed, I took him. I held him as high as my head, looked him in the eye, and sang the Irish lullaby, "Toora loora looral ..." It turned his tears to smiles.

After about an hour it was time for us to go. Margie held the baby for each of the children to kiss. I took him in my arms and he started fussing again. I tried to sing one last time but choked on the words. More tears. I just snuggled him close, then forced myself to let him go.

The ride home was very quiet. Leo and Elena both fell asleep, even though it was still early in the day; they, too felt the stress. Patrick sat quietly but offered a few comments. "You know what´s good about this?" he asked. "First, it´s God´s will. And second, Leo won´t get into trouble any more." Margie and I held hands and tried to keep it from being too obvious that we were dissolving in tears.

When we reached our driveway, Margie looked at the front garden and commented on how good the rose bushes looked. I agreed, but noted that while three of them were covered in blooms, the fourth one, the yellow rose, had none. Not even any buds. "You know whose bush that was?" Margie asked. We looked at each other and knew: Anthony´s.


Prayers of friends and family won us the grace to make it through yet another heartbreak. We went away for 10 days, visiting family and friends in our native Midwest. For Margie and me, and for Patrick, Elena, and Leo, to think of Anthony was to invite quick tears. It helped to go away and have fun together.

A few days after we got home, our adoption worker called to ask how we were doing. She also had some news: Another birth mother wanted to meet us. Were we open to another possibility so soon? Could we take the risk?

I wasn´t sure. But as Margie and I talked, we remembered all the prayers of our friends and family. And then there was what the adoption worker told us about this birth mother. She´d heard all about what happened to us with Anthony. She´d said, "Oh, how awful! That should never happen to anyone," and then insisted on seeing our portfolio. She leafed through our family pictures and the open letters Margie and I had written. She said it was Margie who attracted her to our family. "Me too," I said.

Two weeks later, we met with the birth mother and father. Both seemed very committed to the adoption plan. Crazy as it may seem, I felt at peace. As the due date neared, Margie and the birth mother would get together to chat over coffee. And in our garden, an amazing thing began to happen. The yellow rose bush-Anthony´s-finally started to bud and blossom. It was October 1, the feast day of St. Therese, the "Little Flower."

Patrick and Elena brought novena cards home from school. We began praying to St. Therese, that God would send "a baby who will be with us forever." It is said that if St. Therese can grant your prayer, you will receive unexpected roses.

On the eighth day of the novena, a friend unexpectedly gave us half a dozen pink roses. The next day, Margie met with the birth mother, who said, "I don´t know why, but I just felt I had to get this for you." She handed Margie a yellow rose. Someone was looking out for us.

A baby girl, Susannah Rose, was born October 17, weighing six pounds, four ounces, with a full head of very dark brown hair. The judge finalized the adoption the afternoon of March 31, 2003. She is home with us for good. When I cradle her in my arms, I am overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.

Jay Dunlap, a member of Regnum Christi, works in public relations in New Haven, Conn.

(June 10, 2003)



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