Hello Home Vol. 3 - The Mitcham Family | Atlanta Adoption Series
I first met Kate several years ago as I decided to forage the world of leading a small group. As a Buckhead Church women's groups director, Kate was "placed" as my liaison and what a huge blessing she has been to me. We have had many a lunch dates to talk about faith, leadership, and motherhood. It was one of these lunches that Kate told me she and Matt were experiencing unexplained infertility. As my heart broke and both of our eyes started to well up with tears she also told me they were considering adoption. I had literally just sat down with another mentor about expanding my giving program - to photograph and celebrate adoptive families. I told her, "one of these days you're gonna be in my series!" After much prayer, the Mitchams brought home baby Ava in January, and they're officially a family of four. Thank you, Kate and Matt, for being so candid in our interview, and for loving others so well...
Tell me a little about your family before the adoptions?
Matt and I actually both grew up in the same area - right outside of Atlanta in East Cobb - but didn’t meet until we were both students at the University of Georgia. Matt is two years ahead of me, and we met when I was a sophomore. We became fast friends and then fell in love quickly. It was such a fun, sweet time in our lives - we love Athens and are so grateful it’s a part of our story! We got married after I graduated and lived in Brookhaven until just recently, when we moved to Sandy Springs. We have been married since 2004 so we are going on 14 years - the time has gone by so quickly!
Our favorite year, until this one, was 2011, when our son, Will was born. Will is awesome - he’s so much fun, so brave, kind, and full of life. When we are not with our family, Matt runs his company, Thread, where he serves as the COO and I work as a women’s groups director at Buckhead Church.
What led you to adopt and specifically, a domestic adoption?
I will do my best to try to give the summary of such a long journey - we started trying to have a second child and experienced unexplained infertility. Because we had Will biologically, we kept thinking “any month now”, but by the end of our second year of trying to get pregnant, our life had become a series of doctor appointments, lab draws, and disappointment every month. It was a hard season, for sure, but also gave us such an appreciation for life in general and especially for Will. During this time, we were praying our little hearts out. At a certain point, our prayers changed from “why isn’t this happening?” to “Okay, what’s next?” We had 3 options on the table: 1) continue to try naturally, knowing we may never get pregnant and our family would stay the “3 musketeers,” 2) Do more in-depth procedures to try to get pregnant through a fertility specialist, or 3) adopt.
Matt and I were both praying like crazy and one morning after dropping Will off at camp, we met for coffee to talk and decide what were were going to do. During that coffee, we realized we both felt we were supposed to adopt. We just knew it was what was next for us. I want to be clear, though, that I think all 3 of those options were great options...it was just for us, we both had it on our heart to adopt. To be honest, we didn’t know that much about adoption or know really anyone close who had adopted. I’m not even really sure why we both felt like a domestic adoption was what we should do, but we never even discussed an international adoption. We both just felt like domestic was it for us. There are pros and cons to both, I’m sure; and kids everywhere need a loving home.
I know you guys worked with an adoption consultant. Can you tell us more about why you decided to do that and what you found to be the most helpful resources in that process?
Yes, we quickly learned there are many ways to adopt - going through an agency, using a consultant, doing the leg work yourself….some people match up through Facebook! For us, we looked at an agency and 2 different consultants. I was drawn to the consultant route because I wanted a little more hand-holding...I was a bit intimidated by the paperwork and the process and we were in a busy time of our lives - both working, parenting Will at such an important age, a move, etc, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t drop the ball on anything! Consultants have relationships with adoption lawyers and adoption agencies all over the country. Once all your paperwork clears and you are fully approved to adopt, your consultant sends you “cases” from these various agencies and lawyers. You get an email with as much information as they have on the birth mom and baby and then you have to make a decision very quickly if you are going to put your name in that hat for that case. I think most agencies show 3 - 5 adoptive parents’ profiles to a birth mom. If the birth mom picks you, that’s your baby!
I think the best route is to ask around and go with personal referrals. When I told people we were adopting, so many people gave me phone numbers and emails of friends or family members who had adopted. It was so helpful to talk to people who had gone through the process!
What were the hardest decisions you found yourself making during that application phase?
I know everyone says this, but you have to fill out a form that lists various things of what you will and won’t be open to (i.e. genetic things, drugs, etc) in the adoption process. It is just the worst...you feel so weird filling it out! We tried to be as open as possible.
Tell me what happened when you got the notification that you were matched? What happened next?
While a lot of our story through this process has been "waiting", when Ava came, it actually happened really quickly! On November 29, we received a call that we had been chosen by a birth mom in Kentucky. The following weekend (in the middle of a snow storm), we drove up to KY to meet the birth parents. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional afternoon and we were cautiously excited that everything would work out and that this would be our baby girl.
In December we hit some bumps, as we were still waiting on some information, and had some challenging situations to navigate through. We honestly weren't sure if everything was really going to work out. This continued through the first week of January. Then, the second week of January everything seemed like it was falling back into place...and then we got a surprise call the morning of January 17 (during another snow storm!) that the baby would need to be born that day via c-section, 4 weeks early. Matt and I scrambled to get out of town within 2 hours of the call and arrived in Kentucky about an hour after sweet baby Ava was born.
Describe the scene when you and Matt (and Will) met Ava for the first time?
It was truly surreal. We had reached the hospital - in the snow - and were just full of adrenaline. We were concerned about Ava’s health as we had gotten a text that she was born but was in the NICU. When we got there, Ava’s birth father and birth grandmother met us and took us to see Ava. Well, we truly were immediately in love with this sweet, strong baby girl. She was 5 lbs, 13 oz and just so tiny and beautiful. Ava was in the NICU for 5 days and we had the most wonderful doctors and nurses that we could have ever asked for. We called them "Ava's angels" and we are so grateful for the incredible care she received there.
I have been asked a few times if it felt the same to me as with Will, who is biological. I can say with 100 percent certainty - YES! Absolutely. That strong, incredible, immediate love (and bond) felt the exact same to us.
What have been your greatest challenges & greatest joys in this chapter?
This has by far been the most intense, yet beautiful chapter of our life. There have been so many challenges and joys.
As for the challenges: in the beginning of the process, I found that reading through the profiles was very challenging and difficult. There are some very heartbreaking situations. The waiting of course, is also super challenging. One of our biggest challenges was giving up control of the process and the outcomes. We had no control over Ava’s health, how quickly the paperwork would clear, if Ava’s birth parents would have doubts. We truly learned what it meant that our faith is not in our circumstances as situations and information changed by the day and even the hour. Our faith grew exponentially because of this process as you get to see God come through in the most powerful and unique ways as you are removed from your comfort zone.
There have been so many joys...number one of course, is Ava. She is just amazing. We are in awe of her and can’t believe we get to be her family! A close second has been seeing Will with Ava. It has been the sweetest thing. Will has been SO excited about her and so proud to be a big brother. We would facetime him from the hospital and he would light up. Now at home he randomly says things like, “Mom, Ava is just the BEST little sister.” We also have experienced the love of our family and friends like never before and felt so many people's hearts expanded through the process. The prayers, support and love have been overwhelming and we are forever grateful.
How did you navigate bringing adopted children into a family that already has biological children?
This is such a great question and I’m sure different for every family. Will has prayed for years for a little brother or sister. When we decided to adopt, we told him that God puts families together in all different ways and that his brother or sister would not come from mommy’s tummy, but would be adopted. We tried to talk about it in age-appropriate ways and answered any questions honestly. Ava will always know she is adopted...I’ve loaded up on children’s books about adoption and I think it is so fun that Will will remember her adoption. We know as they both get older they will have more questions and we'll go into more detail. For now, especially with Will, we kept the conversation high-level and positive. He loves adoption now and thinks it is very common. When we first got matched we didn’t give Will details because we weren’t sure how it would all work out. We wanted him prepared, though, so that was a tension we felt. We said things like, “Guess, what Will? It may work out that there is a baby who might be a part of our family in the next few months!” That generally seemed to work for him. When we got the emergency call on January 17, he knew enough that it was a possibility and he was thrilled he got to have his first sleep-over at our neighbors’ house that night!
As a family, how have you chosen to talk about adoption within your family and home? What led you to this?
Well, for us, our faith really does impact everything about us and we feel adoption is already a part of our story...because we know we have been adopted into God’s family! That has definitely influenced our thoughts and how we talk about adoption. It feels very natural to us.
The financial costs of adoption I’ve heard are very high. Are you open to giving us a ballpark idea on investment in the process (or parts of it)? How did you navigate the financial hurdles?
This is such an important question because yes, it absolutely is a fortune, but oh, please don’t let that stand in your way! I hesitate to put a number to it because it honestly can range SO much.
This is what we found: there were some upfront costs in the beginning for the home study; as well as for us, an initial fee for the consultant. Those were a few thousand dollars. If you work through an agency for the adoption (most common), the bulk of the money you will pay goes directly to them who are taking care of the birth mom. Usually most (if not all) of that is due when you are matched and this can sometimes range between 30K to 45k depending on the agency and situation of the birth mom. Then, there are lawyer fees and travel fees if your baby is out of state. Our goal was to raise about half the money and cover the other half. There are great sites to help you raise money and we were blown away be the generosity of our family and friends.
How did your own parents, siblings, friends respond to your decision to adopt and how did you navigate any challenges here?
Thankfully everyone in our life was really supportive of our decision to grow our family through adoption.
I so loved getting a peek into your lives during the shoot. It seems like you guys are adjusting really well even having just moved into a new house! Tell us a little more bit about what life is like now.
Oh, thanks! We LOVE our new house, neighborhood and neighbors! 2017 was a huge year of change for us - we moved from Brookhaven, where we had lived for 12 years, to Sandy Springs, Will started kindergarten, Matt switched roles with his partner at their company, we did renovations to this house, including taking the kitchen down to the studs, and of course, we were adopting! It’s like a whole new life now! We still have a million projects we want to complete around the house (thankfully Matt is very handy!), but for the most part we are feeling settled and love our life here.
What other advice do you have for families interested in adoption? OTHER THOUGHTS?
Matt and I would say “do it”– your life and the life of that child will be forever changed! This has been the most incredibly challenging and beautiful adventure! Really, though, for advice, my biggest thing is, if you are married, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. I prayed for unity a lot between Matt and I during this process. There is so much to navigate and you both need to be 100 percent in it together.
The only other thing I’d add is that there are a lot of ways to be a part of adoption without actually adopting yourself. Families who are adopting need a ton of help - financially yes, but also with encouragement, prayers, and support. We couldn’t have done this without our friends and family. I feel like Ava has so many honorary aunts and uncles because of how supported we were by friends during this time.
When we were in the "waiting" period during our adoption process, I stumbled upon the book "You belong here" and fell in love with both the illustrations and the words. My favorite line in the book says, "You are a dream that the world once dreamt and now you are part of its song. That's why you are here, in the place where you're meant, for this is right where you belong."
The idea of "belonging" to each other became especially meaningful to me during the adoption process as we prayed and hoped for our longed-for child, and as we were so incredibly touched by the support of our amazing friends.
ABOUT THE SERIES
"Hello Home" is a photojournalistic blog series about the ins and outs of the adoption process and a celebration of adoptive families in Atlanta. Parents who have volunteered to give a child a family that wouldn't otherwise have one are heroes in my book. So, over the course of this year, we will meet about 8-10 families who have done just that. We'll meet families that have adopted internationally, domestically, fostered, adoptive families with biological kids, multiracial families, children with special needs, you name it. I'm so excited to learn more about some of the untold truths around the adoption process and to celebrate those doing this amazing work. In exchange for these families sharing their stories and answering some tough questions, I'm giving them a free lifestyle photography session.
Note: these families have been asked to share as much or as little about their story as they feel comfortable. All sensitive information has been freely and graciously volunteered in the hope that it may shed light on the process for others.
Stay in the loop by following along on Instagram: @hayleyjophoto.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hayley Johnson is the owner of Hayley Jo Photo - an Atlanta based newborn and portrait photography business.
Hayley was named one of Atlanta's Best Newborn Photographers by expertise.com in 2016, 2017, and 2018. She was also named a Top Family Photographer by atlantaparent.com and one of Midtown's Rising Stars by ATLVoyage.com.
Hayley is a member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers and Clickin Moms, and her work has been featured in Beauty & Lifestyle Mommy Magazine and TheBump.