Karen's Story: The Birth of 4 Paws

Chapter 3


Time to Adopt

My turnaround as far as Myasthenia Gravis took about three years, between 1997 and 2000. New meds played some part in it, but I believe the largest factor was my desire to learn to live with it, as a lot of success with this disease depends on the people learning to budget their energy and manage their day.

As I became stronger and better able to manage my energy, I began thinking about adopting a child in 2001. I started the process the next year. I had always wanted children and I believe God had a huge hand in it.

I never thought I could do it financially, but we had a client come for a dog for her child, who was adopted from China, and seeing this child (Maddie) and hearing her story about adoption, I realized I could do that!

Benjamin Aaron came home in June 2003. I first met Aaron in 2002 when someone from the agency sent me about 20 pictures and bios of children, along with her picks on who would be best.

When I saw Aaron, who was Bulgarian, I knew he was my child even though he was not one she picked: they believed he needed extensive surgery. It ended up he did need minor surgery, but nothing else.

Aaron’s full name is Benjamin Aaron Shirk. My sister thought it was weird to name him after my Ben, but I feel it was an honor for him to have Ben’s name: the name of a hero. However, once we met I ended up calling him by his middle name, a strong Quaker name with important family ties.

Aaron was an extremely bright boy, with a very high IQ only four years into the adoption (he came at four years speaking fluent Bulgarian). As second grader, he read at almost a fourth-grade level, and tested into third grade in almost every subject. His reading testing placed him in the top 5% in the country!

Of course this made him challenging to raise...but then, I love challenges.

He is so much like me it is scary. I don’t think I could have a biological child that was this much like me!

When I decided to adopt again, I wanted to adopt a healthy baby; they told me Bulgaria would not allow me a baby referral because of my disability.

That stunned me, until they explained that the only reason they gave Aaron to me with my condition is that they felt no one else would want him.

From Bulgaria to Haiti

I started looking at other countries, and ended up with Haiti. Haiti is a country few choose. Most families adopting internationally want white or Asian babies, and do not want to deal with Third World countries.

I discovered that the number one cause of death in Haiti is starvation. No Haitian child has any chance for a life there.

Elijah was referred to me when he was four months old. We did not know then that the political unrest would delay my adoption almost two years.

I expected him to be home by 18 months; by the time he was with me, he was almost three.

He was a delightful child who knew very well how to throw a proper two-year-old tantrum! (That was quite amusing to everyone but him.) I started visiting him when he was nine months old so I got to watch him grow up.

His mother still visits sometimes. She could not feed him and wanted him to have a life in America where he could get an education and be someone.

She wanted him to be my son...and he is very much my son.

Isaiah & Nerlande. On a visit at the orphanage with Elijah, a little boy kept coming up to me and sitting beside me. I looked into his face and felt strongly I should adopt him also.

I can’t explain the feeling.

There were 270 kids there and no others caught my heart like Esaie (Isaiah in English). They had warned us not to fall for the children, since they almost all had families already. So I just spent time with him and played with him.

However, the feeling would not leave me. It got stronger and stronger. Isaiah left me for a few minutes and came back bringing a quiet, shy girl to meet me. I thought it was cute that he was introducing me to his friend. Then I heard someone say they needed Isaiah and his sister for a picture, and when I saw him beside the quiet, somewhat older girl, I knew he was asking me to adopt him and his sister.

Sometimes language is not needed.

The three of us could not communicate verbally, but he knew that he and his sister belonged with me as much as I knew they did.

So, I got up the courage to ask, and the translator spoke to the children and then said to me, “They already have a mother coming.”

I was devastated that my feelings were so wrong. I was sure God had led me to them and that they were my children not some other mother’s.

About 15 minutes passed and I saw the kids talking to the translator. He came to me and said “I was wrong. I thought the children said they had a mother coming but they do not. They actually said they wanted you to come for them as their mother.”

I was elated.

As soon as I got to the U.S. again, I started the procedures to add Isaiah and his sister Nerlande (I gave her the name Isabelle) to my family. I visited with them three times and they were awesome kids.

Isaiah was athletic and a sweet, sensitive boy whose feelings were easily hurt, and he loved his Mommy. He loved to sit with me, sometimes on my lap, and snuggle. He was very good with his little brother, Elijah, always sharing his candy and toys with him. Isaiah and Aaron are only three weeks apart in age.

Once a little girl who did not do her hair or take pride in herself, Nerlande transformed with the knowledge she now had a mom who loved her. Soon, beauty shone from her and her pictures showed a beautiful girl with a smile full of joy. Nerlande loved school in her home country, and loved going to her new local school in her adopted country.

She also loved being in charge of her brothers!

Isaiah and Nerlande are biological siblings. I knew nothing of their background, but I knew their life was difficult. I could see it in their faces when we first met. They had been in another orphanage after being brought in from the street.

I don’t know why they were on the street, but the death rate is high, so I assume their parents had died or abandoned them.

The orphanage they lived in was run by a man who was murdered, so they asked Foyer De Sion to take the kids. No records were available/kept, so there was no history on these two precious children.

Hopes and dreams for my children

My hopes for my children is that they will grow up and have a place in the world where they can make a difference in other people’s lives. I want them to have the opportunity to be who they are meant to be. To foster who they are and to see that all their needs are met. Here in America I know they have that potential.

I personally did not feel I wanted to have children myself when there were so many unwanted, starving children who needed families.

There is no way any child I might give birth to could be more loved than my children or be more a part of me than they are. I believe they have always been my children, but that they just came to me in a different manner.

God sent them to me just as he would a birth child, and they were meant to be mine as I was meant to be a part of them.

Today my older kids are grown. Aaron and Isaiah have their own homes and their own lives. Nerlande while still at home has a job and her own life. Elijah however, has Autism, Severe ADHD, and MH issues. Living and learning with him every day has given me a whole new perspective on our families' lives. Nobody understands more than I do of the struggles they face every day, the looks from people in stores when their child is throwing things off the shelf, the frustration of having an almost adult child who needs supervision 24/7. The cameras throughout the house, the endless IEP meetings and calls from the teachers. Watching their kids and fully understanding they have no friends as your heart breaks for them. It has renewed my conviction in how important it is to bring a service dog into homes like mine so ease a parent’s heart a little and help a family cope. There is no question that service dogs change the lives of their partners and with the child placement they change families too!

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