“We are her family.”
That’s the unequivocal statement Mike Dame made to a neonatologist when she suggested Mike, his wife, Bethany, and son, Sam, consider backing out of the adoption of newborn Anabel, after briefing them on the potential scope of Anabel’s medical issues.
More than one year later, when you visit the Dames, a busy, happy, loving family of four is exactly what you find. Anabel, now 15-months-old, beams at a visitor while scanning the room to see what new thing she can get into next. Five-year-old Sam proudly shows off his bicycle and his swingset and does his best pirate imitation from the top of his fort. Mike and Bethany discuss the routine matters that make up the days of every parent of young children – who wants food, does anyone need a nap and should more time be allowed on the iPad?
Scratch the surface though and you’ll find a tale of incredible family love and strength. Bethany and Mike first became parents when they adopted Sam from Colombia through The Barker Adoption Foundation’s International Program.
Fast forward a few years and the joys of raising Sam led Bethany and Mike to consider adopting a second child. They returned to Barker to explore their options and learned that adopting from Colombia again entailed a three-to-four-year wait. Instead, they decided that adopting domestically through a Florida agency – with Barker performing their pre- and post-placement evaluations – would be the best way for them to expand their family.
While working with the Florida agency, Bethany and Mike attended Barker’s waiting family sessions, just as they did during their wait for Sam. Both times, the couple found valuable friendships that continue to this day, while gaining very useful knowledge. During their wait for Sam, the discussion typically focused on the joys and challenges of international adoptions; during the wait for Anabel, Bethany and Mike received very helpful information about the increasing interest among birth families for ongoing contact with the children they place for adoption.
This stood them in good stead later when they were selected by a birth mother who wants to remain in contact. “Anabel has a biological half-brother, and her birth mother wants them to know each other. We want that too. Her biological grandmother, grandfather and great-grandmother also want to have a role in her life,” Bethany explains.
When Mike, Bethany and Sam flew to Florida to participate in Anabel’s birth, what they couldn’t anticipate were Anabel’s significant medical issues that went undetected in utero. Soon after her joyous arrival with Bethany in the delivery room, the doctors delivered heartbreaking news – Anabel’s diaphragm did not develop properly and her small intestines and stomach, now located in her chest cavity, were compressing her lungs. With a 30%-40% survival rate for this condition, her life was at risk.
Soon after came the moment when Mike faced down the doctor who suggested the Dames reconsider adopting Anabel. “I told her, ‘We are her family. She’s our daughter.’ There was no turning back for us.”
There was no turning back for anyone in Bethany and Mike’s families either. As doctors worked to assess the full scope of Anabel’s condition and complete a corrective surgery and treatments, everyone sprang into action. Mike and Sam flew back to Maryland to restore some normalcy for Sam, while Bethany spent nearly all of her time at the hospital with Anabel. Mike’s three sisters and his sister in-law, Bethany’s father, and two of Bethany’s aunts, each flew to Florida to spend time with Bethany and Anabel. Bethany’s mom, who was wintering in Florida, drove back and forth from her condo on the other side of the state to help.
Anabel’s birth mother and her family also helped – they stayed by Bethany and Mike’s side during the long surgery to repair Anabel’s diaphragm and put her organs back in place. When the surgeon came out to give Bethany and Mike the good news that the surgery was a success, he was quite surprised to also meet Anabel’s birth mother and her parents. His statement summed it all up: “She is one loved girl.”
After two months and several setbacks, Anabel was cleared to go home. She couldn’t fly because of her weakened immune system, so Mike and Bethany made her comfortable for her first big road trip up the East Coast.
Back in Maryland, Bethany and Mike have worked hard to obtain the medical care and therapies Anabel needs, while building a life as a happy, thriving family. All one needs to do is watch Sam lean forward to give Anabel a kiss and Anabel beam in return to know they are succeeding on all fronts.
Anabel had another surgery this June and as always, her family was right by her side. Bethany shakes off any laudatory comments about the loving care she, Mike, Sam and their extended families have given Anabel. “It’s all Anabel. She has taught us so much about family and strength.”
When Bethany and Mike started out on their journey to become parents, they didn’t know what the road would hold, but what’s clear is they wouldn’t change a thing about where it’s led them. With Sam and Anabel, their forever family is complete.