November 19, 2021

Adoptive families serve as witnesses that adoption is ‘a possible and beautiful way’

Brooklyn Ortman holds the camera for a selfie with her family—her siblings Holden, left, Brynklie and Hudson, and her parents, Alison and Jed. The couple adopted Holden five years ago. (Submitted photo)

Brooklyn Ortman holds the camera for a selfie with her family—her siblings Holden, left, Brynklie and Hudson, and her parents, Alison and Jed. The couple adopted Holden five years ago. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

In September 2000, Pope John Paul II addressed the following words to adoptive parents: “The existence of so many children without families suggests adoption as a concrete way of love. … To adopt a child is a great work of love. When it is done, much is given, but much is also received. It is a true exchange of gifts.”

Many families in central and southern Indiana have embraced this “great work of love.” In honor of November as Adoption Awareness Month, The Criterion spoke with three adoptive families in the archdiocese from Dearborn County, Indianapolis and Millhousen.

Each serves as a witness to Pope John Paul II’s message to adoptive parents—that adoption, “despite its difficulties,” is “a possible and beautiful way.”

‘Born in our hearts, not from our bodies’

The adoption journey for Alison and Jed Ortman began as a thought before they were even married.

“As we shared our hopes and dreams of what we wanted for our prospective family, we both oddly agreed that we would want four children and that we would be open to adoption,” said Alison.

The couple, members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Millhousen, wed in 2007. By 2014, the Ortmans had two daughters and a son.

“We both continued to pray that if God wanted us to adopt, that he would lead us and provide for our family,” said Alison. “We both knew that we were called to do more. We leaned on our faith and together with our children we began our adoption journey.”

Among those they told, the decision was not always met with joy.

“We were often asked, ‘Why would you do that if you can have your own children?’ We’d explain that we felt called to share our family with a child that needed a secure home,” said Alison.

“Our favorite question was, ‘How can you love a child so much that is not your blood?’ I already love someone unconditionally in front of God, and that person is my husband or wife!”

The two-year wait was not without its down times—or its signs that God was at work. Toward the end of that time, not knowing that an adoption was just around the corner, Alison was feeling hopeless.

“I gave it to God and prayed about it,” she said. “Literally right after that, on our adoption agency’s website, a message popped up saying for all those thinking of giving up, don’t. Keep going. I thought, ‘Yep, that’s God talking to me.’ ”

Not long after that, the Ortmans received a call—a mother who had given birth the day before was at a nearby hospital seeking adoption for her son.

“At the time we were stressed about financing the cost for a baby’s delivery, so it was such a blessing to find out we wouldn’t have to worry about that,” said Alison.

And then they found out the birth mother lived so close they could see the roof of her house from their own.

“We’d never met her, and she didn’t know us,” Alison said. “Of all the adoption agencies, ours just happened to pop up, and she just happened to pick us.”

Within 24 hours, Alison and Jed were holding their infant son, Holden.

“He was born of our hearts, not from our bodies,” said Alison.

She and Jed chose to make their adoption open, keeping in touch with the birth mother.

“We’ve seen her twice and exchange emails every couple of months,” said Alison. “There are things I’ll never be able to tell him about his family history, so we want to keep that open.”

She said their family would be incomplete without Holden, now 5.

“Although adoption can be challenging at times, we have had the support of our family, friends and our Catholic Church community,” she said. “Steadfast to our Catholic faith and sharing it with our children has been an important key in the success of our adoption.

“Our son’s story of how he came into our family was God’s work at his finest,” said Alison. “You just can’t not say God played his role in this.”

‘God wanted us to be a family’

Doug and Brenda Chappell had been married for 19 years and were still childless in 2014.

“For years I always had a heartbreak on Mother’s Day because I hadn’t had any children,” said Brenda.

That year the couple, members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was there that Brenda “received a clear directive that I need to leave my job. I never heard God so clearly in my life.”

She listened, quit her job and started looking for different employment in 2015.

“I was in the middle of a final interview [for a new job] when God came in a rush saying, ‘You’re not supposed to be doing this,’ ” Brenda recalled.

She started doing a “lot of adoration and soul searching” regarding why God didn’t want her to work.

And then the signs came in 2016.

Brenda said that, “out of the blue, our friends, both who adopted, sent texts asking, ‘Why haven’t you adopted?’

“Then, in the middle of a Steven Curtis Chapman concert, they stopped [playing] and started talking about adoption. I looked at Doug and said, ‘I think we’d better pay attention.’ We both felt like we’d been hit with a hammer.”

Not long after the concert, she went on an eight-day silent retreat, where it became “very clear that I had left my job so we could adopt.”

The couple worked with St. Elizabeth | Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Indianapolis to find an agency that offered adoption from China.

By November of 2017, they had welcomed 4-year-old Kenzli into their home.

“The minute I opened her file, I just started bawling because I knew she was the one we were supposed to adopt,” said Brenda.

The Chappells had marked on their adoption application form certain special needs they would accept. So, the fact that Kenzli had had a liver transplant and would need special care was not a concern.

In fact, it was her condition that led to the adoption of their second daughter from China, 3-year-old Kateri, in 2019.

Like Kenzli, Kateri had had a liver transplant. She had already been adopted and was living in Texas when the parents, who already had a special needs child, realized they would not be able to care for Kateri as they had hoped.

“The adoption agency said, ‘Who can handle a post-liver-transplant kid?’ A month after we got the call, we’re holding this little girl,” Brenda said.

Doug looks at their adoption journey and sees that “this whole process was completely driven by God.”

While Brenda had been discerning why God called her to leave her job, he was going through the diaconate discernment process.

“I wasn’t chosen,” said Doug. “Looking back, it was God saying, ‘You can’t have two medical-needs daughters and be going through the diaconate program.’ ”

Because of their condition, the girls, now 8 and 5, are “always at risk to pick up any germs or viruses out there,” said Brenda, so they require vaccines, daily medicine, monthly lab tests, dietary restrictions and more.

The Chappells, now married 26 years and in their 50s, are grateful for the pro-life decision Kenzli’s and Kateri’s parents made in offering them for adoption.

“There are millions of kids out there who need to be adopted, and I thank God every day that their parents chose life,” said Doug.

“A lot of people tell us [the girls] are lucky to have us. We feel like we’re lucky to have them. We don’t think of us as rescuing them, but that God wanted us to be a family.”

‘Adoption changes you and refines you’

For 21 years, the home of Sandy and Scott Gill lacked the joyful sound of children.

“I always felt, ‘We have this house, we have to fill it.’ For years, I prayed and prayed for two children—not one, so it wouldn’t be spoiled,” said Sandy.

Then one day, Scott opened the phone book, called the Indiana Department of Child Services and asked if it was possible to adopt through them.

Since this is the agency that oversees fostering and adoption of children in its care, the answer was a resounding yes.

The Gills, members of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, began fostering children in 2005. They fostered 26 children during the next three years.

“It was crazy, but we learned a lot and had a lot of help from family and friends,” said Sandy.

By the end of that time, they had adopted four of the 26 children, three girls and one boy.

“They ranged in age from four months to four years—that was a big learning curve for us,” Sandy admitted.

“All of the children we adopted came through prayer,” said Sandy.

First came Brook and Courtney.

Sandy said she “thought of my prayer for two children, not just one, and thought, ‘Oh!’

“Then I started praying for a little boy who would have the same sweet temperament of another little boy we fostered. When Tyler came along, I knew he was that child. He had the same temperament—and my favorite name!

“I remember holding the kids’ hands during an outing and thought, ‘Is that it? Just three?’ ”

But Sandy didn’t pray for a fourth child. Nevertheless, shortly after the day she thought “Just three?” she received a call from Scott saying the agency was bringing a baby named Serena who was up for adoption.

“When I got home, I asked Scott how, because I hadn’t been praying for one,” she recalled. “Scott smiled and said, ‘But I’ve been praying for a baby for you!’

“They say be careful what you pray for! Adoption changes you and refines you to be the best person who God made you to be.”

Their children are now 18, 16, 15 and 12.

As with raising any family, “Every child is unique,” said Sandy, and there were some challenges. But the couple found strength in meeting with other adoptive families who suggested resources and offered support.

That support proved helpful in a different way this year when Scott died on April 1 at the age of 60.

But Sandy, also 60, counts her blessings.

“The biggest thing is nurturing others so they can reach their potential in life,” she said.

“The neatest thing is when you see the kids playing saints or Jesus in the school play. [Recently] Serena got to lead the first decade of the rosary for her class at Mass. When I coached, I enjoyed seeing what the children could do through love and guidance.”

Sandy offered advice for couples considering adoption.

“Are you ready to love and fight for a child’s best interests, and are you ready to turn your life upside down and grow in a dimension God knew was there all along? Are you ready to give a child a home who needs one?” she said.

“If you’re considering it, go for it. It will definitely make you a stronger person.”

And there can be unexpected benefits, too, said Sandy.

“Some of our nieces and nephews picked their career based on what they saw of the children who came through our home. It sparked their interest on how to help kids,” she said.

There are times when she wonders,

“Where would our children be if we hadn’t adopted them?” Sandy said.

“They have to bloom where they’re planted, but you can give them that start in life.” †

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