When Rachel and her husband Kevin got married, they always envisioned children in their future. But they quickly learned that Rachel’s health concerns would make it nearly impossible for them to have children of their own. That’s when they began researching alternative ways to add to their family. As a social services worker, Rachel already knew about adopting through foster care, and it was always an option that stayed in the back of her mind. But with both Kevin and Rachel working full-time, there was never a perfect time to begin their foster care journey…

…Until 2008, when the recession hit and Rachel was unexpectedly laid off from her job. Like many people, she was unsure of what to do next. But Kevin suggested that they think about this unexpected change as an opportunity to begin fostering! With Rachel’s newly- open schedule, she would have the time to invest in fostering – something that she wasn’t able to do while working full-time.

Shortly after becoming licensed, Kevin and Rachel began getting placement calls. In the beginning, their plan was just to foster, and then to consider adoption when they were ready. As their number of placements grew, so did their confidence. After fostering over 15 children, they felt it was time to begin discussing adoption. So in 2011, Rachel and Kevin sat down with their case manager to discuss taking in TPR-pending and legally free children, with the goal of potentially adopting a placement. It wasn’t long after that conversation with their case manager that Rachel received a call for a newborn in need of a pre-adoptive foster family. The couple was overjoyed! Their connection with this baby girl, named Brea, quickly grew, but what happened next was something Rachel and Kevin could never have predicted.

Soon after the couple took in Brea, they received a follow-up call. Brea had an older sister, Jada, who also needed a pre-adoptive home. As soon as Rachel and Kevin heard that Brea had a sister, they fell in love with her – before they even met her, just because she was Brea’s sister. But unlike Brea, Jada had a unique set of challenges due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) she suffered as an infant. But that didn’t change anything for Rachel and Kevin.

Despite that having two kids in diapers, and one child with a TBI, was a bit more than they bargained for, Rachel and Kevin were committed to these sisters from day one. Rachel and Kevin knew Jada’s TBI was going to be tough, but they also knew that each brain injury case is different. They kept a positive mindset: every parent wants their child to grow up and conquer the world, and Kevin and Rachel were no different. But, they also kept a realistic perspective: they decided early on that they would always be happy with where Jada was at, regardless. “When we got Jada, all she could do was sit up by herself. She was 3, but she had to relearn everything, because of the brain injury,” Rachel recalls. “At first it was kind of like having Irish twins: both of the girls needed to be fed by hand, both of them needed tummy time, and they learned to crawl on the exact same day! But they both helped each other. In fact, because of all of Jada’s speech therapy, Brea started learning and talking really early.”

After two years of intense therapy, Jada was doing better than any of her doctors had expected. The family’s approach to her medical needs changed, as they and her healthcare team decided, “If she’s working hard, we are going to work hard for her,” explains Rachel. By 2013, taking care of Jada was part of Rachel and Kevin’s everyday life, and they were ready to officially adopt both girls. On November 12, 2013, the family finalized their adoption of Jada and Brea. Today, Brea and Jada are flourishing. Brea is a lively 9-year-old who keeps Rachel and Kevin on their toes with school and cheerleading. Her 12-year-old sister Jada is making progress each day. Although Jada has many obstacles to overcome, Rachel and Kevin have learned to roll with the punches. When you have a child with a disability, whether mild or severe, there’s always the chance that new challenges and issues will pop up, Rachel explains. That’s true with any child. So they just deal with things as they come, bit by bit, celebrating the small victories and always looking for ways to improve Jada’s life. “With TBI you have to fight: go to different doctors, find resources that help, and make sure you go to those therapy appointments.” And although they can’t pinpoint an exact treatment that has helped Jada the most, Rachel and Kevin know that their commitment, love, and patience have been key to Jada being able to conquer some of her medical challenges.

Rachel and Kevin will always say, to anyone who asks – and especially to prospective adoptive families – that the struggles and hurdles are completely worth it. But, they also encourage families to have a support system in place – because everyone needs someone to lean on when times get tough.  For Rachel and Kevin, they are each other’s strongest support system. “My husband and I are a team and we tackle things together,” Rachel says, “which is especially important when you have a child with special needs.” Both parents admit that it’s difficult to carve out time for themselves, but they still make it a priority. Echoing the sentiments of many parents (adoptive or biological!), Rachel continues: “It’s hard. I can’t say that it’s not. There’s not a lot of spontaneity. We have to really plan in advance if we want to go on a date. But we also try to let the other have breaks. Kevin goes on a guy’s weekend, and then I’ll do a girl’s weekend.” Kevin and Rachel are optimistic for both girls as they continue to grow up – the sisters are very close, and neither can imagine a future without the other in it. Brea even says that when they are older, she hopes that she and Jada will live together in their own apartment someday! And even though a lot can change between 9 years old and adulthood, Rachel and Kevin acknowledge that this is one of the reasons that they didn’t hesitate to take Jada when they learned about her, even with her medical needs. Because every child needs a family, and it’s a gift to be able to give the sisters a stable, loving home and a relationship with each other.

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