SALINA, Kansas — The path to adoption for Mandy and Keegan Wilson looked nothing like they envisioned.
“Adoption is something I wanted to do since I was in high school,” Mandy Wilson said. “I have friends who have placed babies for adoption. I’ve had family members and friends adopt babies. I knew it was in my heart to adopt, no matter how it came to me.”
The couple, along with their three children, Jazzy, 11, Kolin, 10 and Grady, 10, were among about 75 who gathered on a recent Friday at Sacred Heart Cathedral to participate in the third annual “Adoption Awareness” Mass, hosted by Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas.
At the event, families gathered to pray and honor the shared experience of adoption in their lives.
After the Wilsons had their son, Grady, in 2010, they experienced secondary infertility and pregnancy losses. Their first two attempts at adoption were unsuccessful.
“One of them, we were at the hospital and had the message the baby was born and we were waiting to see her,” she said. “We were told three hours later the mom had changed her mind.”
The couple went home.
“We were devastated and heartbroken,” she told The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, a friend sent her a message, inquiring if they were open to adoption.
“I said, ‘Thank you, but it’s not going to work,'” Wilson said. “Then she sent me a picture. They were as cute could be. We said, ‘Let’s explore this option.'” The family met siblings Jazzy and Kolin in spring 2015 and adopted them on Dec. 18, 2015.
“It was a complete God thing,” Wilson said. “Kolin and Jazzy had been available for adoption for a year and a half. Had we met them when they were first available for adoption, we probably wouldn’t have been open to it because adopting two kids when I had a 4-year-old felt overwhelming.
“We met them and fell head over heels in love with them. Grady fell in love with having two best friends. He was 5 when they came to live with us. Grady doesn’t remember what life was like without them.”
The trio attend St. Mary’s Grade School in Salina and are in fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
“Grady and Kolin love like brothers, they fight like brothers,” Wilson said. “They know how fiercely they are loved by us and our family and our community. We tell the kids, ‘You were loved so much. You were chosen for us from the beginning. God knew you’d be here with us.'”
Megan Robl, the executive director of Catholic Charities, said adoption isn’t always easy.
“We want to honor all of the parts of that journey,” she said. “It is a joyous journey but can be painful and difficult. I think it’s important to continue to pray for everybody who is a part of that process.”
About 75 people attended the Nov. 6 Mass — adhering to social distancing — and Father Don Zimmerman was the celebrant. He said adoption is part of his family’s story.
“About three decades ago, my sister and her husband were anticipating an adoption,” he said during the homily. “I read her journal as the days were getting close, and even after the adoption of their son. It brought me to being moved with tears of great joy. I could sense in them the desire and longing of having a child. How special and blessed are those who have been given life.”
Robl said that Zimmerman’s story is an example of the ripples adoption have through a family.
“More people than we realize have been touched by adoption in some way,” she said. “It’s a journey for both the birth mother to make that decision out of love for their child to share them with another family and for the adoptive families who are yearning and open to loving a child. It’s important that we celebrate that creation and extension of family in the most loving way. You’re willingly making decisions that affect a child’s life, whether you’re the birth mom or adoptive parent.”
Laura Dunn, who was adopted as an infant by Joan and the late Dave Dunn, sat in the pew with a diverse family. The group included her adoptive mother, biological father and his wife, biological mother and biological aunt.
“I always suspected she would search for her biological parents when she turned 18,” Joan Dunn said. “She did, but about 20 years after when I expected it.”
Laura Dunn said she was curious about her biological parents, but it was only when she was pregnant with her oldest child that seeking medical history became a priority.
“I was just looking for the missing piece. Now, I feel complete. My family has widened,” she said of her search and reunion with her biological parents
Her biological mom, Mickey Strump, describes the reunion as a blessing.
“It’s almost like I’ve always known her,” Strump said. “We text each other or send messages four to five times a week. We’re including each other in family occasions, birthdays, funerals, everything.”
It was a closed adoption, so she wasn’t involved in choosing her daughter’s family. Yet she decided on Catholic Charities as the adoption agency because she grew up Catholic.
“I wanted her to go to a Catholic family,” Strump said. “I wanted her to have two parents who could give her the world and a good Catholic upbringing. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
The Nov. 6 adoption Mass was the second one Joan Dunn, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hays, attended. She and husband Dave attended together last year; he died in September. This year she was surrounded by her daughter’s biological family.
“It verifies how good God is,” Joan Dunn said, to be able to gather with the extended family who gave her daughter life. “Way back when we adopting, we were told that it’s an act of love to give your child up for adoption. That’s what I held in my heart. These parents loved their children. We were blessed to be able to adopt.
For Laura Dunn, her extended family “has melded together.”
Bonar is editor of The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina.