Do You Believe in Miracles? Our Adoption Story

Wilhelmsen family photo–taken in August 2020. From left to right: Brandon, Amanda (Galina), Josh (Dmitri), Brian, Emma, Cathy, Katelyn, Zach, and Ethan.

Out of respect for the privacy of my adopted children, we rarely publicly discuss our adoption story. This is personal to us and especially to them. However, we all feel strongly that our story needs to be heard. We firmly believe in the sanctity of life and feel an urgency to illustrate with our story that God does, without a doubt, watch over all of his children. The day of miracles has not ceased! We hope that everyone who reads this will come away with a desire to defend life in every way possible and to stand up against the evil practice of abortion. God truly does have a plan for every child. He can work his miracles if only that child is allowed the precious gift of life. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are at the heart of what it means to be an American. The right to life is God-given.

When you look at our family photo, it is hard to believe that my husband and I have struggled with infertility. I have had five healthy pregnancies, after all. Two of our children came while we were still in our early 20s, thankfully. It took several months of waiting, but they came without medical intervention. When we tried to have our third baby, years went by and hope and wonder gradually shifted to concern. We finally sought a fertility specialist after more than three years of trying. What he told us deeply shocked us. We were infertile and he could not explain how we had ever had our two children. Brandon and Katelyn were absolute miracles. He also said that our chances of getting pregnant on our own was 1 in 100 million.

During that time in life I was profoundly grateful that I was able to have two children. I saw the miracles in my life and every day was sweeter with my young children because of my perspective. What if I had not been able to have any children? Yet, my mother heart was still broken, because I knew somehow that I was meant to have more than two children. The lingering question on our minds was, “how were we going to bring the rest of our children into our family?” Brian wanted more children for sure, but I was the one who primarily felt the burden of the uncertainty. I began to earnestly pray, and studied all of my options.

What followed was a series of miracles. There are so many that I could not possibly contain them all within a single blog post. I have chosen to highlight the following.

Miracle #1 Opening up my heart to adoption.

Our adoption story actually began 10 years before the births of our adopted children. I felt God lead me to teach English in Russia in 1994. While there I had a unique opportunity to do service in a Russian orphanage. My duties were simply to play with the babies in the 9 month to 1 year age range (the same age that my future children would be when they were adopted). They were receiving adequate food, shelter, and clothing, but they were in desperate need of touch and human interaction. I held them, played with them, spoke with them, and sang songs to them. My heart melted with each precious child. One day I held a little girl and just wept. What would become of her? Who would be her mother?

I’ll never forget the day that an American doctor and his volunteer staff came to the orphanage to examine some of the disabled children who were kept in a separate room. He was there to identify those children who could benefit from surgery to fix birth defects. I watched as he held a baby with a cleft palate and then one with a smaller head circumference, then another with a club foot. I distinctly remember hearing and learning that every child there would have a chance for a wonderful life if they just had a family and the opportunity for modern health care. That seed was planted firmly in heart.

Miracle #2 Why adoption first?

The answer to my fervent prayers after learning about our infertility was adoption. I did not fully understand why I felt a roadblock to fertility treatment. Logically, we should try that first, right? Yet, the answer was firm–adopt. And then confirmed, in Russia. Many people asked why we did not try to adopt in the United States. I had that question too. The answer was that our children were in Russia. So we moved forward. It was not long after our adoptions were complete that the Russian government stopped all adoptions to the United States. God knew that we were working against the clock on this and he helped us to find our children before time ran out.

Miracle #3 and #4 How do I convince my husband? And, how do we pay for a foreign adoption?

When I first brought up foreign adoption with Brian, he was very worried. He knew that with his salary alone we would never be able to afford the tens of thousands of dollars it would take. We were just 30 years old and living paycheck to paycheck. He pretty much closed the door on the subject and asked me to move on. Yet, I knew foreign adoption was the answer. I began to pray. I knew in my heart that it was right. I pleaded with God to help open my husband’s eyes and to show us both how to pay for the adoption. Friends of ours had adopted a little boy and Brian witnessed the beauty of this experience. This eventually opened his heart to the idea and we began to pray about it together. Eventually we felt to find an adoption agency together. We did that and one of the first steps was to make a small deposit. We scrimped together the couple of hundred dollars and paid it. It was a total act of faith as we had no more money saved to follow up that first deposit. Within a very short time, Brian’s company, where he had just been hired, was purchased by a larger one and the stock he had been given when he was hired was bought out by the new company. One day out of the blue, we received a check for $40,000. Needless to say, we wept and immediately knelt down in a prayer of gratitude. We learned later that the new company also had an adoption benefit. They would cover an additional $20,000 in adoption expenses.

Miracle #5 My children are allowed to live.

Abortion was and still is widely practiced all over the world. For some reason, the birth mothers of my children, even though I am sure it was not easy or convenient, chose to give them life. We will forever be grateful for this unselfish and heroic decision. Josh was a full-term 9 pound baby. Amanda was a preemie. We do not know the circumstances around their births, but we do have their medical records after birth. We know that Amanda miraculously lived even though her birth weight was only 3 pounds and it was estimated she was born two months early. On the day of their births, one birth mother signed away her rights and the other one walked out of the hospital abandoning her child. We will likely never know their stories. Josh and Amanda became wards of the state and they were sent to live in orphanages. They were born one day apart. We often talk about how God was watching over them, every step of the way.

Miracle #6 How would I know if I was choosing the right child? The miracle of their names.

Adoption is all about timing. Two months before Josh and Amanda were born, Brian and I made serious steps toward adoption. When they were two months old, they became eligible for adoption and we were ready to be matched up with children. We put together a large dossier which included the option for one or two children. We simply weren’t sure and we wanted to have options. They sent us the profiles of two baby boys. I read through their medical records and as soon as I saw the name of “Dima,” my heart skipped a beat and I had chills. I knew he would be my son. I did not have the same experience with the second boy. In fact, I felt that if I agreed to adopt him, I would be taking him away from his rightful mother. Brian felt the exact same way. With tears of joy and also pain, we accepted Dima and rejected the second child. I knew it was the right thing to do, but it was so hard. I never want to have that kind of power over another person’s life!

A couple of months later, the adoption agency asked if we would like to look at a second child. The heartache of rejecting a child was too raw and real, so we were very careful about looking at a second child. We were told that girls were in high demand, and that if we asked for a girl it would likely set us back several months or longer. We prayed about it and both felt, against our own judgment since we did not want to delay the adoption of Dima, that we should ask for a baby girl. The very next morning, we got a call. A little girl had just become available. Her name was “Galina.” Again, I had chills and my heart skipped a beat. I knew that she would be our daughter. Then, they added that she had been rejected by another family, that she was a preemie, and that she had some health concerns. I sank into a chair and let that all sink in. But, I knew she was the right child.

Amanda’s adoption went through just a week before Christmas. We had to move our flights to after Christmas because of a delay on her visa. When the visa actually came through on the 22nd, we were stuck in Russia and could not get a flight home. Friends offered to give us all of their Skymiles to get us home earlier to spend Christmas with our family and our new baby. More miracles!

Let me just add here that God knew I would need to know for sure that these children were right for our family. It would not be easy, and in the coming days, months, and years I would have many challenges. He knew that I would look back and wonder if we did the right thing. He gave me the gift of knowing that Dima, or Dmitri, and Galina, or Galya, were names that had special meaning. He knew that when I taught English in Russia ten years earlier, these were the names of two special little children to whom I grew especially close. Those names were like a keyword. Hearing them told me that God knew them and he chose them, and named them, especially for me.

There are too many more miracles to list. I cannot describe them all here. Here are just two more that I have to tell.

This photo was taken on our fourth and final trip to Russia. Brandon (7 years-old) had been faithfully praying for a brother or a sister for years. It was pure joy to see these brothers meet after so many prayers were offered in Dima’s behalf. We had committed to adopt Dima when he was 2 months old and finally brought him home just after his first birthday. It was a year of hope, fasting, and prayer.

I will never forget when we finally got word to go get Josh or Dima as he was called then. We had had several roadblocks with his adoption especially and were completely out of money. We had already completed Amanda’s adoption five months earlier. We were scheduled to fly to Russia the next day to bring Josh home, when they called and said there was a problem with a document needed for the judge and we should not come until that was resolved. We were completely devastated and so tired of all the unnecessary red tape. (Seriously, it was heartbreaking and one thing after another.) We went to our knees as a family and it felt like angels were present all around us. It was a sacred experience. We prayed with all of our hearts that we could move forward with his adoption on schedule. We went to bed that night not knowing if we were going to the airport in the morning or not. When we woke up I went to check my emails and I saw that I had received a message during the night that the document was there. They couldn’t explain how it got there so suddenly. We headed to the airport with so much gratitude.

Probably the greatest miracle of all was that our adopted children do not feel “adopted” any more. We have gone on to have three more biological children through miraculous fertility treatments. We have a blended family and it has been rough at times, for sure. During the first year or two of having Josh and Amanda in our home they seemed to cry non-stop and bonding was not what I imagined it would be. Amanda was diagnosed with failure to thrive and had some serious developmental delays. She has had learning disabilities that trouble her today. They both had significant feeding issues. (Good thing I am a dietitian–another miracle!) We doubled the number of children in our family practically over night and that in and of itself was so stressful. We were given “twin” toddlers without a newborn phase. Over many years, we have smoothed over any problems initiated in their rough start in life. Every problem has been tackled and prayed over until it isn’t a problem any more. Our little boy and girl are ours, just as if they had been born to us and we cannot imagine life without them.

In 2005 the adoptions of Josh and Amanda were complete. We believe that families are not just meant to be together until death, but that family relationships continue after this life. This photo was taken outside of the Ogden Temple, one of the many temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I once was talking with a dear friend who was considering adoption after having five biological children. She was seeing God work miracles in her life too. I asked her a thought provoking question, one that I have often pondered.

“What is the worth of a soul?”

Tears streamed down her face and her voice was full of emotion as she gave the inspired answer.

“It is infinite.”

Josh and Amanda are 16 years old and pictured here, right in the middle of our family–totally designed by God.

I totally agree. We will always be grateful for the gift of adoption and these beautiful children who are emerging into young adulthood now. Josh and Amanda turned 16 this year. Our family would not be complete without them. Sometimes we ask ourselves what life would be like if we had not been blessed with our children.

It is simply unthinkable. They are everything to us.

How has adoption blessed your life?

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