Growing faith and families, Christians follow callings to adopt

Owen Younger celebrates his 13th month birthday. Owen was adopted via an embryo adoption program in 2016. Courtesy Photo

By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writer

Houses are not always homes, and family can be more than simply sharing a last name. Adoption challenges some of society’s conceptions of love and family–perhaps family trees aren’t as significant as the soil in which they’re planted.

Two Baylor families, the Dickeys and the Youngers, recently opened up their hearts, lives and homes to infant and embryo adoption. While they said they look forward to the possibility of pursuing future adoptions, right now both are enjoying life with their chosen children, Zoe Dickey and Owen Younger.

The Dickey Family

As a couple who married in their later in life, Waco senior Chris Dickey said he and his wife, Jennifer, a lecturer in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and director of Global Mission Leadership Initiative, knew the possibility of having children of their own was limited. Chris said as they began exploring options to grow their family, they found infant adoption to be the most fitting choice.

Chris said they learned about Generations Adoptions from one of Jennifer’s former students and soon came to appreciate the agency’s faith perspective and advocacy for birth moms. They were prayerful about starting a family, Jennifer said, and the adoption process was marked by peace as a result.

Everything happened relatively quickly. Chris said it took about 10 months from the time he and Jennifer began meeting with birth moms to finally being selected by one. They were chosen last spring by an 18-year-old expectant mother from Dallas, Chris said. He noted the young mother liked the fact that he and Jennifer were older and had more established lives.

Zoe Hope, whose name means abundant life, according to Chris was born in May 2017. The adoption was finalized in early November. Although everything came together more quickly than expected, Jennifer said they were both thrilled and thankful.

“I think there’s a vulnerability of opening your heart and your life and realizing that there’s a potential that our daughter, Zoe, is possibly going to really struggle with what [adoption] means for her,” Jennifer said. “I think for us, our commitment is just to journey that with her as she struggles to be in that space and to help her get the information she needs to create peace there.”

While Jennifer said she believes adoption is a beautiful thing, she said that doesn’t mean it isn’t lacking in pain and sadness, as they remember Zoe’s birth mother and her loss, as well as Zoe, who is going to miss her. Jennifer said their commitment as a family is to create a supportive environment for Zoe and for whatever degree of relationship Zoe and her birth mother choose to have in the future.

“We all, over and over, in that process and time of meeting with her, just [saw] how much courage it takes to see a pregnancy through and then give up your child,” Chris said as he teared up thinking about Zoe’s birth mother.

Jennifer echoed Chris’ sentiments about Zoe’s birth mom, saying that they both have the highest respect and appreciation for her.

“There are just no words for how we feel toward her and how thankful we are for how she prepared Zoe for life in her body,” Jennifer said.

Although not in the delivery room, Chris and Jennifer were present at the hospital when Zoe was born.

“I remember what it was like to hold Zoe in our arms together. We placed her between us and cried and held each other and held Zoe,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer recalled one moment in particular when she was alone with Zoe in the hospital room. She said she remembers thinking to herself, “OK, this baby is mine to nurture and support and care.” While she said she felt some sobriety and responsibility in that moment, Jennifer said there was also a deep sense of privilege and joy.

As for Chris, he said he quickly learned how easy it is “to love a child that’s not of you.” At first, Chris said he felt some kind of apprehension, but it was quickly corrected once he met Zoe.

“When I walk in the door, she grins ear to ear and is just happy to see me and I’m just like, ‘I’m so happy to see you, too,’” Chris said. “So I guess the mornings and when I come home in the afternoons are probably those [moments] where it hits me each day that, ‘Wow, this is my baby.’”

Zoe’s adoption was finalized on Nov. 6, 2017. Jennifer said it was so meaningful to go to the courthouse to officially receive Zoe into their family. While Zoe was already a part of their hearts, Jennifer said it was a time to formally say, “Everything we have is yours.”

For Jennifer, families are born not necessarily out of blood, but out of commitment and covenant.

“I’ve always just been drawn to the beautiful narrative that’s true for me as a person of the Christian faith, that I’ve been included in the family of God and just thinking about what it means to make space for people and to cleave to one another as family, even if it’s not blood related,” Jennifer said.

The Younger Family

Rachael Younger, wife of Dr. Pete Younger, a full-time lecturer in Baylor’s philosophy department, said she and Pete knew they wanted to grow their family after their first year of marriage. Rachael and Pete married in 2006 after meeting at Biola University in Southern California. The couple moved to Texas around 2008.

At the suggestion of her obstretrician, Rachael said she began using a low-level hormone treatment. In May 2011, only one month after starting the treatment, Rachael became pregnant with her firstborn son, Samuel. The couple chose the name Samuel from the Old Testament account of Hannah, as documented in 1 Samuel 2. According to Pete, Samuel means “asked of the Lord.”

The Younger family’s road to adoption had many ups and downs, Rachael said. When her second pregnancy resulted in an early miscarriage, Pete and Rachael said they set everything aside for about a year.

When they returned to the subject of growing their family, Pete and Rachael explained that they had both been interested in adoption before their marriage and considered it strongly afterward because advanced fertility was costly. Not only can it be a financial burden, but Rachael said it also costs in terms of time and emotions.

Pete and Rachael were working toward a domestic adoption when they learned about Generations Adoptions’ Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. The program “allows couples who have frozen embryos in storage to donate their embryos for adoption to another couple of their choosing,” the website states. The embryos are transferred into the womb of the adoptive mother, a process influenced by several factors, including the age

“We are called as Christians to care for widows and orphans: for everyone it looks different,” Rachael said.

Rachael said she felt God had been working in their lives to open them to the possibility of embryo adoption. She said she believes many moms looking to adopt do so for a number of reasons, one of them being an inability to carry a baby to full term. After giving birth to Samuel, Rachael said she knew her body was physically capable of carrying a baby, a unique advantage of embryo adoption.

For Pete, embryo adoption became a conviction in his heart after learning there were thousands of embryos waiting to be adopted. He said that outside of adoption, these embryos will either be frozen indefinitely, discarded or used for research.

“We can’t change that situation entirely, but we got to make a difference for five of them,” Pete said.

Rachael and Pete adopted five embryos in October 2015. They transferred two embryos in December of that year. One survived and their second son, Owen, is now 15 months old. Owen is a Welsh name meaning noble heritage, Pete said. The couple also chose names for the remaining three embryos–Batel, Tabitha and Ebenezer.

While Pete said they mourn the loss of Reuben, the second embryo that did not survive the transfer, he said they still celebrate the life he was able to live, however brief.

“His life is over now, but he got the chance to live out for everything that it was,” Pete said. “We’re sorrowful it’s over, but at the same time, it’s a natural closure we mourn that loss, but we’re still thankful for [his] life. To move it out of that period of frozen waiting is by itself invaluable.”

While there was no difference in pregnancy for Rachael, she said being a mother to Samuel and Owen comes with unique challenges. What Samuel needs from her is different than what Owen needs from her.

Rachael said for most domestic adoptions, there are two mother figures, the birth mother and “mommy.” In embryo adoption, there is the genetic mother, the birth mother and mommy.

“Being mommy, that’s the day in and day out, 24/7, caring for them, loving them, changing poopy diapers, telling them not to touch hot things, reading to them, singing with them, giving them enough time to choose their own play,” Rachael said. ”The crux of it is being there 24/7. You’re the one they turn to when they need comfort…It’s dealing with little hurts and little triumphs.”

Rachael said she believes Christian families in particular should ask themselves what their role is in caring for widows and orphans. She said she doesn’t believe God calls everyone to adopt, but she mentioned that examining one’s hesitations or concerns about adoption could reveal “selfish or wrongly-centered” reasons.

Sometimes it is easy to go into adoption with a self-centered view, Rachael said. Often, individuals or couples expound upon the belief that they are the ones offering children the opportunity for a good life. While Rachael said this is mostly true and that adoption offers orphans an opportunity to flourish and enhance their quality of life, she emphasized that embryo adoption is fundamentally different.

“In embryo adoption, very much I am giving them the opportunity to just live,” Rachael said.

Rachael said members of her family are still coming to terms with her and Pete’s decision to adopt embryos. Rachael particularly noted that embryo adoption can become a controversial issue. Are the embryos persons? Do they deserve protections? Rachael said she believes how individuals answer these questions will influence their perspective.

For example, Rachael said some people refer to embryo adoption as embryo donation and in turn, view the embryos as property and the process of adopting or donating as a contract. Rachael said one reason why she and Pete chose Generations’ Snowflakes program was because the program treated the embryos as persons, not objects to be acquired.

“My wife and I, throughout our marriage, we’ve wanted our home to be the kind of place that we could be welcoming to others and that we could take what we’ve got and use that to bless other people,” Pete said. “One of the things we’ve got is a home and a family and the ability to take people into our home and bring them into our family.”

Pete said their family wants to bless children and, in particular, the embryos waiting in limbo to have a chance to live out their lives.