Hello Home Vol. 4 - The Stagnaro Family | Atlanta Adoption Series
When I first dreamt up the idea of doing this series, Kayla was one of the first people I came to for advice. First, would anyone be open to sharing their adoption stories and letting me intrude into their lives with my huge camera? And second, how do I keep from offending someone? Kayla had just adopted her first child and was quick to tell me, "yes! go for it!" and "...here's how to ask that." It was in that meeting that she told me, SURPRISE! she was pregnant with a baby sister for Isaiah so they would be welcoming two children within a one year period. Whuuuuut?? If any couple could be tasked with that, it's the Kayla and Joseph. This series continues to open my eyes to some of the sensitivities around adoption and those around adopting a child of a different race. Kayla and Joseph, thank you for being so candid and sharing your lives with me!
KAYLA - Tell me a little about you, Joseph, and your family before you adopted Isaiah (your upbringing, where you live, your work, and how you met).
Joseph and I grew up in Woodstock, a suburb outside of Atlanta. We actually became friends in middle school and started dating in highschool. This month we are celebrating seven years of marriage and 13 years of being together. We are quite different people than when we first met at 14, but we can honestly say we have always desired to have a family. We now live in Reynoldstown, a small neighborhood on the Eastside of Atlanta. I work for a non-profit called Plywood People, and Joseph is a real estate agent.
Your story is extra special because you had a biological child soon after your adoption. Let’s chat first about your adoption and then we can’t wait to hear about life now that baby Sofia is in the picture! What led you to adopt and specifically, a domestic adoption?
Children have always been a part of our dream. For as long as I can remember, I have had the desire to adopt. Joseph was never opposed to it, but he had not really pictured it until about three years ago. Joseph started working for an amazing family where two of their four kids were adopted. One day when they brought home their youngest, he held her, and it all clicked for him. I remember him coming home and saying that he wanted to adopt. He said, "I get it. I could love that baby as much as I could love any baby in the world.” We really felt like domestic adoption was the right fit for us, nothing too specific, just a feeling.
Did you work with an agency, consultant, or social worker during your adoption? Can you tell us more about why you chose this route and what you found to be the most helpful resources in deciding where to start?
After the day Joseph came home and said he wanted to adopt, the conversation started coming up more frequently. We started really dreaming about what our family could look like. One night, we were at one of our favorite restaurants, and we found ourselves really excited about adoption, so that night we made the commitment to learn as much as we could about the process. We started talking to everyone we knew about their experience, which ended up being the most helpful resource for us. We read blogs and articles. We listened to podcasts. And then we started going to info meetings, some about fostering to adopt and some with private agencies. At the end of our ‘research phase,’ we settled on domestic adoption in Georgia. It’s what felt right to us. We had peace, and we were incredibly excited to start the journey.
What were the hardest decisions you found yourself making during that application phase?
In the application phase, we took our time. We were asked to answer about 50 questions with the answer ‘Yes, No or Willing to consider.’ The questions ranged from minor to severe disabilities, race, gender, medical history of parents, etc. We wrestled with the idea of checking these boxes for a couple months, but in the end, we asked ourselves “What do we feel equipped to parent?” We also came to the conclusion that we could try to have control over the details, but in the end, we really don’t have control on whether or whether not our child would be differently abled or struggle with mental illness, etc, so we had to let go of the fear.
I love that you guys are a multiracial family. Was this an intentional decision you and Joseph made? What went into making that decision?
We had a lot of good examples of multiracial families around us who gave us an intimate portrait of the immense struggles, but more importantly the immeasurable beauty of having children of a different race than us. We felt very strongly that we wanted to adopt a child of different race. We had to do a lot of mental and practical preparation. When we found out Isaiah was African American, we had to prepare for all kinds of things, from hair care to cultural norms that are different from our own. Isaiah has pushed us to have a greater understanding of the systemic racism in our country, putting the issues in the most personal light we can have. This is not something we are experts in. We will always be learning.
I feel like I’ve been enlightened a lot by G.Race Dialogues on the topic of racial healing and reconciliation...and you’ve been an integral part of this. What advice do you have for families thinking about adopting a child of a different race?
We never took the idea of adopting a child of a different race lightly, but it is something we felt like would be a part of our story. I think the best thing anyone has told us about multiracial adoption is that the child does not choose to be in a family that looks different from them. We are the ones making the decision. That decision means we need to do all we can to make our son feel as comfortable as possible, not just try to have him adjust to our culture as white parents. We have made a commitment to live in a diverse neighborhood where the majority of people Isaiah see’s are African American. We don’t think it would be fair to him if he were the minority at school, the park, or grocery store. The tension of raising a child who has a different culture than us informs every decision we make, from what clothes we dress him in, to where we get his haircut. The journey has truly changed us, and we are incredibly thankful for that.
Tell me what happened when you got the notification that you were matched? What happened next?
I’ll never forget this moment. Our case worker told us that she will always communicate via email or text unless she is calling about being matched. It was a Thursday, and I was finishing up at work. My phone started ringing and I saw our case worker’s name pop up on our phone. I couldn’t believe it. I automatically thought to myself there must be something wrong. There is no way she was calling us about our baby. I answered and walked outside, and she just started talking. She told us we had been matched and she thought this baby would be a really good fit for our family. I sat down outside on the sidewalk, outside my office, in shock. I asked her if we could three way call Joseph, so she could go over all the info again. This time I noticed that she said the baby was a boy. We were going to bring home our son! We got the call on a Thursday, and we met him the next Tuesday, so we had one weekend to prepare. We furiously went to work putting together furniture, buying diapers, bottles, and everything else (we thought) we needed.
Describe the scene when you and Joseph met Isaiah for the first time?
Fast forward four of the longest days of our lives to Tuesday, we drove to Macon (where our agency is based) to meet our son. We were in a living room, standing, waiting, and someone from the agency asked, “Are you ready to meet your son?” We said, “Yes!” and they motioned down the hallway for his caregiver to bring him in. Heidi handed him to us and we both were overwhelmed with immediate love for this kid. He was beautiful. He was SMILING. He was our son. There’s a video if you’d like to see the moment we met Isaiah.
What were your greatest challenges & greatest joys in that chapter as you settled into being a family of three?
Honestly, one of the greatest challenges is probably what most new parents would say: the lack of sleep. We expected it, but it was extremely challenging to navigate. One of our greatest joys was bringing Isaiah home and introducing him to our family and friends. It was our dream becoming a reality, the start of our family.
As a family, how have you chosen to talk about adoption within your family and home? What led you to this?
There are a few details of Isaiah’s story that we keep private, as we feel it’s Isaiah’s decision if we wants to share when he gets older, but for the most part we are very open about Isaiah’s adoption. With Isaiah, we talk about it just about everyday. He has a picture of his birth mom in his room that we say hello to every morning. We have been shown how important it is for Isaiah’s identity to know where he comes from, and how he became a part of our family.
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?
Our adoption cost around $16,000. We used our savings and then we were also awarded a grant from Joseph’s job to go towards our adoption costs along with another grant from Promise 686 to go towards our legal fees. One thing that is unique about Covenant Care, the agency we used, is the cost of adoption. They use a sliding scale based on income, which makes adoption more attainable to more people.
How did your own parents, siblings, friends respond to your decision to adopt and how did you navigate any challenges here?
Our family and friends were really excited about us choosing to adopt! There were a few concerns about the unknowns that come with adoption, but for us the ‘risk’ in many ways seemed very similar to having a biological child. Whatever way someone decides to grow their family, there will always be risks and challenges unique to each situation.
Now...tell us your thoughts when you found out you were pregnant! How old was Isaiah?
Isaiah was about four months old when we found out I was pregnant. We had just gotten him out of the newborn phase, and it felt like we were about to go right back into it! We were truly shocked. We knew we wanted more children, so that part was exciting, but we definitely didn’t plan on having two kids in one year!
What have been your greatest challenges & greatest joys now that Sofia has also come into your lives?
It’s been a challenge adjusting to being a family of four. As you can imagine, life with a one year old can be pretty full and exhausting. So now that we’ve added a newborn to the mix, we are pretty much at capacity (let’s be honest, we are beyond our capacity)! Joseph and I are a whole new level of exhausted. The joy of seeing Isaiah kiss his little sister is worth it all though. We are so excited to see two of them grow up so close to each other!
Tell us a little more bit about what life is like now as a family of four.
We are just now starting to feel like our heads are above water. One of the things that’s been very humbling for us is the amount of help we have needed to get through the past two months. We are not good at asking for help, but we have accepted meals and help from anyone who has offered it! We are incredibly thankful for it. Because Joseph and I know how tired the other person is, we try to extend each other a little more grace. I’ll be going back to work soon, so that will be an additional adjustment for our family, but I think we are started to get excited about the changes. Each new phase or season with the kids brings new joy!
What other advice do you have for families interested in adoption?
Be grateful. Initially, we thought by adopting we were “rescuing” a child. We thought there were needy kids just waiting for a loving family, but after a few informational meetings we realized there are lists of amazing families waiting to be chosen by birth parents. We are really the ones who are privileged to be entrusted with this child, not the other way around.
Don’t be afraid of an open adoption. We send photos to Isaiah’s birth mom every month, and we have visited with her twice. This relationship is unlike any we could have imagined. Identity is a concern for adoptive children. They grow up in a family that doesn’t look like them - parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. Being able to see where they come from can really help shape their identity, and having a relationship with birth parents can strengthen that even further. We are so thankful for the opportunity to know his birth mom, and are excited to see the relationship grow.
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. Over the course of this year, we will meet about 8-10 families who 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 rarely told 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.
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 is an award winning photographer and 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. Hayley is a member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers and Clickin Moms, and her work has been featured by Beauty & Lifestyle Mommy Magazine, TheBump, and Pottery Barn Kids.