This spring, North Carolina made significant progress on the pro-life front, passing a bill that limits most abortions to twelve weeks gestation. While we are rejoicing at the lives that will be saved by this law, we are also excited that it values life after birth and supports adoption, foster care, maternity homes, and other vital services. There are currently more than 113,000 children waiting to be adopted in America alone, and each of these children deserve the opportunity to grow up in a loving family.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Mike and Carol Sanchez, the parents of four adopted children, to discuss the joys (and struggles) of adoption. From sharing some of the differences between domestic and international adoptions to helping some of their children reconnect with their biological parents, this couple offers a wealth of insight and information.
This episode is a part of a series highlighting the pro-life movement in North Carolina. Tune in each week to learn more!
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. This summer marks one year since the US Supreme Court reversed its nearly 50 year old Roe v Wade decision that had legalized abortion on demand nationwide. So we’re bringing you a series of interviews with North Carolinians who represent the many facets of the pro life movement here in our state. Well, today we’re joined by Mike and Carol Sanchez, North Carolina parents who adopted four children who now range in age from high school to young adulthood. Mike and Carol Sanchez, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
MIKE SANCHEZ: Thank you, Traci. We’re happy to be here.
CAROL SANCHEZ: Hi, Traci, it’s nice to meet you.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Start by telling us about your family. What does your family look like?
MIKE SANCHEZ: Carol and I got married almost 33 years ago. We decided after several years of not being able to have children to adopt, and so we began adopting. Our oldest daughter is Jessica, and she’s now 25 years old, and we adopted her from Brazil. Then, as we always tease her, those foreign models are way too difficult to handle, so we went domestic and started adopting here, and we adopted Ben from an agency in Charlotte and Ben is now 23 years old. And then a few more years went by, and we adopted David from the Kansas Adoption Center. And then finally, we had such a good experience at the Kansas Adoption Center that we also adopted Angela from there. And so David is 19, and Angela is 17 years old. And that’s our family.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, you started off first with an international adoption, so talk about that. What was that like for you? And how is it different from your domestic adoptions?
MIKE SANCHEZ: I will say that our international adoption experience was very atypical, then again, maybe it is for everyone. So my mom’s side of the family is from Brazil, and we were told – and my mom is a dual citizen, actually, all of us kids were made dual citizens because she was diplomat working here, my dad’s American – we were told when we started the process that, “Oh, since you’re a dual citizen, it’ll be very easy to go through Brazil.” And three years later, we did get Jessica but it was anything but easy. We did not go through an agency per se, we were working almost directly with the Brazilian government. It does help that I do speak Portuguese, but it was a very difficult and complicated process. But a lot of that was because, quite honestly, Brazil really, at least at that time, 25 years ago, was not set up well for international adoption.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Is that why you decided then to stay here in the United States to adopt?
MIKE SANCHEZ: Yes, very much so. We figured, we know it’s not always easy in the United States either, but we figured it’s got to be less complicated than that.
CAROL SANCHEZ: Also, when we went to adopt Jessica, we had to spend quite a bit of time in Brazil. So we realized that if we wanted to go international again, we would have to go to that country for some period of time. And now we had Jessica, so you know, would we take her with us? Could we leave her with somebody for several weeks? That seemed more complicated also.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: There are so many different options. Did that weigh in on where you decided to try to adopt?
MIKE SANCHEZ: The situation in Brazil, we knew that there would probably be very little contact, if any, with the birth mother. The way Carol and I felt about it is our concern was, you know what parenting is complicated enough that we really didn’t want the complication or the lack of clarity for our children as to where are they getting direction from and you know, we didn’t want to get this situation set up, or maybe they might try to play us off against their birth parent and so forth. So we were fine with sending pictures and the update to the birth parents every year, but we opted for the situation where they weren’t having contact with our kids. Now, we were perfectly fine, and actually this has worked out where once they’re 18 years old, you know, we’ll even help them find their birth parents if it’s even possible. So for two of our children, they have been able to, not only did we find Jessica’s birth parents in Brazil, which was really difficult, but we also found David’s birth mom in Kansas as well and they’ve had contact with them.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well take us back to what first opened your hearts to the possibility of adoption. So talk about what you were thinking about during that time and has your thinking changed since those very early days?
CAROL SANCHEZ: We were not able to conceive. We went through as many diagnostic methods as were available, and there was really no reason that we knew of, so it wasn’t like there was something we could fix, you know, knowingly. Of course, all of the fertility options were out there, but we were not crazy about doing that. Some of them also were against church teachings. But I just didn’t feel good about willy nilly throwing hormones into my system, if I wasn’t specifically fixing something I knew was wrong. But we knew we wanted a family. Michael came from a pretty big family, and I did not, and his family are very engaged with each other and it’s a really fun existence and I wanted a family like that. So I wanted a lot of children and he did too. So it wasn’t a hard decision for us to say, well, we’re gonna go the adoption route. And I would not change it, I really look back and I think, could I possibly love anybody any more than I love the children that we got? And would I have wanted a different situation where these four kids, you know, they were all brought from different parts of the world into our family, I just wouldn’t have wanted it done differently. So there are difficulties that we dealt with as everything we’ve done, but I wouldn’t change it.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Let’s talk practical steps. If somebody’s listening to this, and they’re like, you know, I really want to but I’m overwhelmed by the thought of how to even get started, what kinds of direction would you give them?
MIKE SANCHEZ: One of the key things is to start talking about it and start calling agencies. Now if they think that they might want to adopt, if they know anybody that’s adopted, especially someone that has adopted recently, I would suggest talk to them about what their experience was. And I say that from this standpoint, I don’t even remember now, because it was 24 years ago or so, how we came upon the Christian adoption center in Charlotte, but we found them and we developed a good rapport with them. And that went very well. The only reason we didn’t go back to them, you know, when we wanted to adopt more children, is really because North Carolina at the time had a rule that when they placed the child in your custody, even though you know, everybody had signed the paperwork, the birth mother, and I think this has changed since then, the birth mother used to have 14 days,
CAROL SANCHEZ: I think it was 21
MIKE SANCHEZ: Oh, that’s right, 21 days to change her mind.
CAROL SANCHEZ: No questions asked.
MIKE SANCHEZ: No questions asked, and so we were very nervous during those 21 days. So the reason I say talk to folks is like, for instance, I had just started a new job. And it turns out the two of the guys that I worked with, they had each adopted children from this Adoption Center in Kansas called the Kansas Adoption Center, and they were going on and on about how it was wonderful. Them and their wives had just a great experience, and they adopted kids from them. So that’s why we ended up adopting our last two from Kansas.
CAROL SANCHEZ: Because in Kansas once the birth mother had signed, that’s it, it’s done.
MIKE SANCHEZ: So I would say the things to look for are, wherever you’re adopting, what is that requirement? And do you feel comfortable with it in terms of when does the birth mother, you know, lose the right to reverse that? I pressed the most important tip, because let me tell you something, we ended up with four kids, but we worked with a couple of agencies in Florida and so forth, a real key thing to look for is how well does the agency get to know their birth parents. And the reason I say that is, because we’re working with an agency down near Fort Lauderdale, and I don’t think they got to know their birth parents that well, and we had a couple of situations where the adoption has advanced to a pretty far degree and then the birth mother changed their mind. And we felt like with Christian Adoption Services and Kansas Adoption Center, they really got to know their birth mother. So they knew she’s really in it because she really wants the best for her child. And she feels like this is the best route and that’s not a high likelihood that she’s going to reverse her decision. And please understand that I say that with all due respect to birth mothers, because I know that it’s a very difficult and very hard decision to make. But that was difficult time for us too, when we would get close to thinking this adoption was going to happen and then the decision was reversed.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So speaking of these birth mothers, do you have a message for others who might be listening to this now, who are pregnant mothers considering adoption? I know I’ve heard people say, “I could never give my child up for adoption,” and so they choose abortion. Talk to this mother about her potential decision.
CAROL SANCHEZ: I’m going to say first of all, it is not going to be easy at all. And in fact, Christian Adoption Services, we whined about this at the time, but they required that we go to a seminar with birth moms who have previously given up their children for adoption, and it was eye opening to us. A lot of people, I think, get the impression that, you know, the birth mom got pregnant, wants to just get on with her life, doesn’t care, just wants to get rid of the baby, and wants to get rid of the baby, out of sight out of mind. And that is so not true. These birth mothers have their babies’ pictures up on the wall. They waited every month for those pictures to come in. They cried terribly to let these little kids go, but they wanted a better life for their children. It was a huge sacrifice on their part, but they got the reassurance, especially if the adoptive parents were good about sending those pictures, they got the reassurance that they did something really great for that child. And now, for example, we are flying Jessica’s birth mother from Brazil to come to Jessica’s wedding. And she’s just so ecstatic to see where her daughter ended up and how great she’s doing. So it’s a long term payback, I guess, but it’s truly the most loving decision you can make.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Was there an unexpected joy, and the biggest challenge that you can leave with us as we’re finishing up our discussion?
MIKE SANCHEZ: I’ll speak to the challenge first, and then we’ll end on the positive note of the joy. As adoptive parents, we were asked to attend various seminars and so forth, and as Carol said, some of these were very helpful, really eye opening. One thing that we have come to learn, that I’m not sure that it was talked about much 25 years ago when we started adoption, is that it is important to remember that even the very act of adoption, in other words, a child not being raised by their birth mother, that there is a level of trauma that’s involved in that. This baby has been inside their birth mother for nine months, and so that separation does cause trauma.
And the reason I bring that up is because it has, we’ve seen with a couple of our kids, we have one child that is struggling with addiction issues and is in recovery right now and so forth. And that’s been a big part of it. You know, this was a situation where the birth mom was using drugs when she was pregnant with him and so forth. But to understand that when you adopt this child, it’s not this isolated being that’s coming into your life, it is a being that was connected to their birth parents and their history and their genetics, and that that separation itself, even if everything goes smoothly, that separation itself, there’s a little inherent trauma there that can manifest itself in different ways. So I think that’s one of the most eye opening challenges that Carol and I have had over the years that our kids have grown.
CAROL SANCHEZ: And we don’t want to paint a frightening picture, it’s just that, my oldest daughter put it to me the best one time. She said, “Mom, you know, you have our adoption day, every year,” we always celebrated their adoption day, “And for you, it’s this beautiful, joyful time where you were building your family. But for us, it’s still a remembrance that there was a family that didn’t want us.” And I think that’s a good reason to try to contact their birth parents if the child is ready for it. And if we feel they’re ready, and they feel they’re ready. But I think going in knowing that this is a possibility, we naively thought, we got these children at two to three days old, so that wipes the slate clean, just like they came to us as ours. Learned that that’s not true, but it’s still a beautiful thing. You know, when I think about my son who is in recovery, I think, “Thank God, he was with us, and we could help him.” Whereas a lot of families might not have been able to do that.
MIKE SANCHEZ: One more comment on that, there’s lots of information out there these days on developmental trauma, and so forth. And actually even one really interesting book I read that’s called It Didn’t Start With You, which is a very interesting book about that. In terms of the joys, if we were doing this live, or if I could bring you into our home, I would show you the picture that my kids gave me. They put together this big framed picture, and it had each of their names, and under each of their names it has a map showing where they came from. And to me that joy that we formed our family with these kids from all over the world, and that they have the opportunity to be brother and sister to each other, and that we have the blessing to be their parents and them to be our children, it’s very moving to me and it really, I mean that deep joy, the kind of joy that only comes from something that God has moved forward. So I’ll echo what Carol said earlier. You know, I’ve had people ask, “Gosh, do you ever wish that you had had your own children?” I’ll be honest with you, you know, it’s not that I’m saying, “Oh, I’m glad we didn’t.” I’m just saying, “You know what? The thought never even crosses my mind because that’s what these children feel like.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. We’re out of time now but Mike and Carol Sanchez, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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