by Deb Seminary

DSC0300When Joni Brekken and her husband, Tad, first got married, they made plans for a large family – some biological children and some children from adoption. “My husband’s mother is adopted and we knew other people that had gone through the adoption process,” said Brekken. “Then, we kept running into people (that were adopting or had just adopted babies from China), we honestly thought that God was putting people in our path.”

The Brekkens started looking into adoption and met with a social worker in Bismarck. She laid out all the different adoption options: biracial, white-American, Russian, Chinese. etc. She also shared what to expect from each program, including how much time it might take, requirements and restrictions.

“Driving home from that meeting my husband and I said we were both drawn to the China program,” said Brekken. “We felt like we were called there, so we started our paperwork and sixteen months later we got our referral, went to China and adopted our daughter, Celia.”

The couple felt very strongly about their experience and felt the desire to go back and adopt another child. “After about a year we started our paperwork and at that time it was taking less time, only about eleven months to get a referral. Then the process started slowing down. It took almost three and a half years from start to finish before we brought our son home. I have heard some people are waiting five or six years now.”

The Brekken family did not request a boy, they had put in their paperwork, boy or girl. Every night when the family said bedtime prayers, Tad would pray for their baby girl in China and Celia would say, ‘it might be a boy!’

“I remember the day we got our referral, the agency called and she asked if I was sitting down,” said Brekken. “Then she told me we have a son and Celia started dancing around the living room.”

Both children were ten and a half months old when they were adopted. Celia was able to travel with her mom and dad when they went to pick up her new brother, and the family enjoyed a few days in Bejing seeing the sights. Brekken feels it is important for their children to feel connected to their heritage. They plan another trip to China next year when they will travel with three other families that have also adopted children from China.

“We also try to get together with other Bismarck families who have adopted children from China. We celebrate events such as Chinese New Year. Sometimes people will ask, ‘where are they from?’ when we are out with our kids, which can make some people uncomfortable, but one of my friends has a good answer – ‘she’s from Bismarck!’ My son will blurt out, ‘I’m from China, I was born in China!’. Both of my children have always been very proud of their heritage”

The adoption process involves many things, including a home study where the social worker does several visits before and after the child is adopted. The Brekkens went through background checks, had physical exams, and that was just for their local adoption agency. Then, the international agency sends their packet of requirements to be filled out. Once that dossier is ready and sent back to China the real waiting begins.

As stated before, each country has their own set of requirements and restrictions. Some countries look at mental and/or physical health issues, while others may not allow single parents to adopt.

The fees for adoption varies with the agency and country chosen, but Brekken estimates the cost of an international adoption to be between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. “Of course, the fees have probably increased over the years,” she said. “There are fees to file paperwork and for the home study.There were many fees to process paperwork in China, for in-country flights, food, hotel,etc…We also donated to the orphanage that took care of our children.”
Joni and Tad share their adoption story with young couples during a pre-marriage weekend through the Catholic parish. “These couples think they will be married a couple years, then have a baby,” said Joni. “That is where we come in and say, ‘it doesn’t always work out that way.’We thought we would have biological children and adopted children and have a large family, but God had a different plan for us.”