Sydney Young has five children, but she has never been pregnant. In this interview, Sydney describes her journey through four open adoptions and the assumption of guardianship over one teenager. She exemplifies devoted stewardship over children who have not been birthed to her, but who have been sealed to her.
When did you discover having children would not be easy for you?
When we started trying to have children we knew within a year and a half there was a fertility problem. Luckily, we didn’t spend that long on the infertility rollercoaster. Doctors told us right away we would need either to go through an invasive procedure to conceive or adopt if we wanted to have children. For us at that time, adoption was much more affordable, as it was half the cost of medical procedures. We went through the process of getting approval to adopt while we lived in Utah. Then we moved when my husband, Dave, started medical school in Missouri in 2001. We updated our home study for adoption placement when we got there.
Sometimes people make assumptions or say things that can be hurtful to couples without children. Was that your experience?
When we lived in Utah, people would flat out ask us when we were going to have kids. That was hard; it’s not like we weren’t trying. In Missouri people were less invasive, but I was more lonely. It seemed that everyone around us already had kids, and they made friends with other people who already had kids, so I had a hard time making friends. One time we went to a school function, where there was a woman who was very pregnant. Her husband was a year ahead of mine in school and we began talking. We joked about how small the town was and how there was nothing to do. She said, “It’s so boring, so I just got pregnant again.” Dave and I turned around and left. I went home and cried and cried. Looking back, I was depressed during that time and didn’t realize it. I just wondered why I took things more personally than everyone else. It wasn’t a good time for me.
What was the anticipation like as you waited for a birth mother to choose you?
I worked as an office manager for a physical therapy center in town and Dave studied. Every day when I came home I’d check the answering machine to see if we had a call from our social worker. There never was one. Finally, on December 6, 2001 I was at home alone on my lunch break and there was a message. When I called the social worker back, he said he needed to talk to both Dave and me; I told him I’d head up to school, find Dave, and call him back. It took me forever to track Dave down at his school because we didn’t have cell phones. We went home and called him back and he said he had good news: we’d been picked by a birth mom. The social worker had been there when the birth mother had selected us and was able to tell us some of the things she liked about us–we liked to travel, we sounded fun, and she liked how we’d taken turns talking about each other in our letter to prospective birth moms. We also met one of her requirements: we were both returned missionaries. She called us the “Scooby-Doo couple” because we had written in our letter about how our families were really into Scooby-Doo.
The birth family contacted us. The next step in the adoption process was a face–to-face meeting. I was so nervous to meet them, I felt like it was an interview. What if they didn’t like us? I finally came to the realization that if things did work out and her baby was placed with us, this might be the only time I would get to meet the birth mom, and I wanted to have something to tell the baby about his or her ‘tummy mommy’. That thought helped calm me down some. Dave’s dad was adopted. He waited until after his parents died to look up his birth mom. It meant so much to him just to know where he came from and to make the connections.
The birth family was LDS so we met at the local stake center. When we pulled up to the building, I felt like I was going to puke. We went in, met with the social worker for a few minutes and then he took us in to meet the birthmother. She had brought her mom, who is now just Grandma M. to our family. We spent a couple of hours talking and getting to know this amazing family. Although I felt like the meeting was an interview to see if they liked us in person, they were very sure about placing with us and just wanted to meet us. It kind of threw me. For example, Grandma M asked if we had a crib. I told her we hadn’t gotten one yet, I couldn’t have it just sitting around empty! She said, “Isn’t it exciting, you can get one now!” We had gotten a playpen/bassinet when we were approved, just in case we had a last minute adoption. And we had purchased a car seat/stroller combo. Before we had moved to Missouri I had been working part time at the Gap. I spent almost every penny I earned on kids clothes. I had two full tubs, one of girl clothes and one of boy clothes.
They wanted to know the names we had picked out so when the baby was born they’d know what to call it (she didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl at that point). They really opened us up to open adoption. We fell in love with the birth family, and realized they weren’t scary, that they had this child’s best interest in heart. How lucky is the child that has extra people who love her? We hope by having open adoptions it will be a little easier on the children, so they won’t have so many questions about why they are, the way they are.
When we were leaving Dave asked if he could touch the birthmother’s belly. She had been hoping we’d ask and said yes. I got to touch her belly, too, which was neat, but to be honest I was a little jealous in a selfish kind of way because I had never been pregnant.
She was due on January 21st, and we waited to tell our families until we went to Utah for Christmas, and they had a shower for us. After Christmas the waiting began. I started training someone to take over my job in the hopes that this adoption worked out. But they knew there was a chance I’d be staying, too. We didn’t tell anyone at church or school about the adoption, but they had to know at work that I was planning on quitting when the baby came.
January 21st came and went. We didn’t hear anything. I couldn’t stand it any longer, and on the 24th I broke down and called our social worker. He went ahead and called and found out she was going to be induced the next day. At 10:55 a.m. on January 25th, nine months to the day we were first approved for adoption, we got a call from our social worker saying our baby had been born at 10:39 a.m. He said she had brown hair, chubby cheeks, and her birth mom’s nose. She opened her eyes right away. Maddy, our daughter, loves to hear the story about Scooby-Doo on the TV in the delivery room and how she looked right in that direction. She knows she has her tummy mommy’s nose.
We went down to the hospital two days later. Her birthmother had already signed the paperwork terminating her parental rights. Maddy was all ours. Her birth family had asked to be there for placement. It’s amazing how you can be so happy and so sad at the same time. The birth mother passed Maddy from her arms right into mine. There were a lot of tears, and it was a day we’ll never forget. We became parents. I became a mother.
On our fifth wedding anniversary, August 16th, 2002, we gathered in the Nauvoo temple with Maddy and three grandmas, one her birth grandmother, so she could be sealed to us.
The second child to join your family, Jordan, is African-American. For some families it is a difficult decision to adopt children of another race. What did you feel you needed to consider when deciding to become an interracial family? Did you use any specific techniques to make sure Jordan felt completely included in his new family and never “different”?
When Maddy turned one, we were approved to adopt again. We knew we were moving to Detroit at that point so we knew because of the demographics in Detroit, the baby would probably be African-American. We put a lot of thought into our decision and did a lot of research about adopting trans-racially. I remember one story about a black woman who had been adopted by a white family. She said she felt they accepted her as a member of the family, but not as a black member of the family. I want our children to be accepted and loved, to feel secure, but to know we acknowledge their heritage. We have made an effort to buy books that show diversity, purchase dolls that are black, have pictures of Jesus with black children. We have family members that make an effort too.
When more babies were available, LDS Family Services in Detroit processed more adoptions than they do now. A lot of babies from Detroit were adopted by families in Utah. Our social worker commented once that she felt like one of the purposes of those children coming into Utah homes was to open people’s eyes and hearts to the fact that we are all the same.
My mom has black grandchildren. My nieces and nephews have cousins that have brown skin. That’s just the way it is. We haven’t had any negative comments from our families. They’ve been very supportive.
Sometimes African-Americans are uncomfortable with white families adopting black children. Did you ever encounter disapproval from people in the African-American community?
We had a lot of positive comments. Although we never had any negative comments, I could just tell if someone disapproved. I would go into public places in Detroit and know who approved and who didn’t.
Do you sense that there are white people who don’t approve of white families with black children?
Yes, definitely. It goes both ways. To me it seems like that attitude is more common outside the Church than inside the Church. We’ve had really positive comments here in Utah. We definitely get noticed when we’re out and about. Fortunately families with black children are becoming more prevalent here.
As Jordan has gotten older, has he noticed he is different?
Jordan was just starting to realize he looked different than us when we adopted our second son Cooper in 2008. Cooper is also African-American. I know Jordan loves having someone else in the family that looks like him. We’d like to find them a mentor, a young man, hopefully a return missionary that can help them in dealing with the issues that will come from growing up black in a while family. As much as I don’t like to admit it, from all the reading and research I’ve done, our children most likely won’t feel like they fit in completely with the black world, or the white one. But we hope by joining playgroups (there is a great one here in Utah) and introducing them to other black children adopted into white families, they can find friends who are in the same situation they are.
After adopting Maddy, Jordan, and Cooper, you were joined by a teenage son. How did Jaime join your family?
Jaime joined our family when we moved to Utah in 2009. He was sixteen. He had been in our ward in Michigan. Jaime’s mom passed away when he was twelve. Dave was his Sunday school teacher and then his Young Men’s leader. Dave’s callings in the Church followed Jamie as he got older. Jaime started spending more time with us. He would come over after church and to all the kids’ birthday celebrations. Dave would take him to see ‘guy’ movies that I had no interest in seeing!
We brought Jaime out for Cooper’s sealing a few months before we were moving, to show him what Utah was like and show him around. We really wanted him to move with us. We gave him the chance to come live with us and he chose to come. We have guardianship. We didn’t adopt him because we didn’t want to disrupt his past family ties. His mom was temple worthy, so he wants to be sealed to her.
The guardianship has worked out really well. It’s been great. He’s so great with the younger kids! I think for Jaime it was an easier transition because we weren’t trying to take away his past from him. Everyone in our family has a ‘tummy mommy’, that’s what we call it, so he just fit right in. We’ve had our struggles and learning moments with him. We’ve had a crash course in ‘teenager’! But overall, it’s been really, really good. He earned his Eagle Scout award and his high school diploma. Now he is taking a missionary preparation class at Utah Valley University and is preparing to serve a mission this fall. We are so proud of him!
A lot of times adoption can be an emotional rollercoaster. Did you ever have a bad experience as you went through the adoption process?
In between Jordan and Maddy we had a failed placement. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. In 2003, we had moved to Detroit and one night I got the feeling our social worker was going to call us the next day. The next day our social worker did call. He said we’d been matched with a birth mom. We were excited; we knew about the baby for a couple of weeks before she delivered. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. We named her Sophia and brought her home two days later. She was so tiny, not even six pounds. We chose to do an “at risk” placement. This means we brought Sophia home before her birthmother had terminated her parental rights in court. A week later we got another call from the social worker: Sophia’s birthmother had changed her mind and the social worker was coming to get her. I knew it could happen, but I hadn’t internalized it. It devastated me. At first I just felt sorry for myself. Dave felt sorry for Sophia and what kind of life she was going to have. It took me a while to come around to that. It was hard to grieve for her. It’s not like having a baby die. LDS families believe if a baby dies, they will be with the baby again. This baby will never be ours again, we will never know how she is or what she is doing.
The fast Sunday after we lost her everyone was getting up to bear their testimonies in Sacrament meeting. People were saying how thankful they were for this and that. I was so bitter. Then I had the thought, “But I’m here at church. I’m still here.” It was a real confirmation to me of my testimony, that I believe the gospel is true no matter what happens.
Your youngest daughter, Sara, was a surprise. How did that happen?
In 2008, Cooper’s birth mom had shown up at the hospital in Detroit and asked to place her baby. She was worried we, as his adoptive parents, would hate her because she wanted to give him up. She was blown away that we wanted to meet her and let her take pictures, that we were so grateful to her and happy to have Cooper. Nineteen months later she showed up to give birth again and asked to place another baby: Sara. She told LDS Family Services that she had placed a baby with them the year before, and the social worker called us to see if we’d be interested in taking Cooper’s sister. We had moved to Utah and weren’t even looking to adopt when we got that call December 21st 2009.
Did you hesitate to take Sara?
I didn’t. But we had just bought a house, so financially we knew it would be difficult since there are adoption fees. The other times we adopted we were financially prepared because we had been planning on it. But it worked out. It was a miracle financially. Dave’s work had just changed the way he was paid and the money we needed was just dropped into our laps. We told the kids on Christmas Eve in a special letter from Santa that a new sister was coming. Cooper and Sara’s birthmother is happy they can be together in the same family.
When you were sealed to Sara, it was the fourth time having a child sealed to you! What was it like going to the temple to be sealed to each of your children?
Just like Maddy, Sara was sealed to us on our wedding anniversary. I remember bearing my testimony once and saying, “No offense to people who have kids born in the covenant, but being sealed is a sweet perk! It’s awesome!” I almost wish everyone could do it because it’s a really neat experience, especially for older kids. Maddy remembered Cooper’s sealing and now she remembers Sara’s sealing too. She got to have a temple recommend because she was eight. She was really excited.
There’s a quote that says, “Adoption is about stewardship, not ownership.” I love it! Having our kids sealed, I don’t feel like we cut them off from their birth families, but that we’ve added their birth families to our family. We are all stewards of our children. We don’t own them. They are all Heavenly Father’s children. The sealing power is not going to cut off their extended family–it’s like we’re all this big huge family. I would love to do their birth families’ family history.
What’s the hardest part now?
Right now I’m having a hard time finding time for me. But these kids will only be little for a while and then they’ll be in school. Life right now is crazy, but it’s a good crazy. It’s amazing, I can’t imagine Sara not being part of our family, and it’s amazing how quickly I felt that way, even though we weren’t planning on her. We feel complete. We feel full. Life turns out completely different than you planned, but sometimes it’s way better than you planned.
At A Glance
Marital status: Married 13 years
Schools Attended: Ricks College, Utah Valley University
Favorite Hymn: “O My Father”
Interview by Marintha Miles. Photos by Christina Dixon, Cortney Finlayson and Cassandra Pierce.
At A Glance