When God Builds Your Family: The Yates Family Journey of Adoption

by Trillia Newbell

Karen with baby

Karen with baby Daniel at 5 months.

Adoption is not a trend,  it is a life saving, life changing decision that should not be entered into lightly. Karen E. Yates and husband Curtis Yates should know, they took over a year to pray and seek God before starting the process. In celebration of Orphan Sunday, I asked Karen to share about her journey.

The Yates, of Orange County, CA, have two biological children and one adopted son, Daniel. Daniel, now four, was only five months old when the Yates brought him home from Ethiopia in 2008.

Karen, a Christian writer and consultant, shares about their journey in this Q&A:

Q:  How did you and your husband come to the decision that you wanted to adopt?

Karen: When Curtis and I were dating we talked about children, whether we wanted to have any, our portrait of family, our dreams for being a mother and a father.  We weren’t aware yet that we would marry one another, but during our conversations we both expressed an interest in adopting as a way to grow our family.

My second pregnancy was complicated, and after my daughter was born, my doctor told me I was high risk for another pregnancy and carrying to term.  We always imagined we would have more than two children, and so when that door shut, we felt God opening the window to adoption.

We spent a year and a half praying diligently about our adoption before we pulled the trigger.  It’s a big decision, one wrought with many fears (but a lot of excitement too)!  We began the research stage of learning about private adoption, foster adoption, international adoption, and started exploring which route God would have for our family.  There were a lot of conversations after our children were in bed, seeking unity and God’s direction and clarity.  We aren’t the kind of people that leap easily.  Some people are impulsive that way, but we aren’t, and so it took a considerable amount of time weighing it over.  For me, the biggest worry I had was attachment.  Would our son bond to us?  Would he know he was deeply and dearly loved, even though his skin was a different color and he didn’t grow in my womb?  Would our friends and family embrace him even though he was not of our gene pool, of ‘blood’ relation? For my husband, he worried about the cost of adoption.  International adoption costs anywhere from $20,000-$40,000 and we didn’t know how we could afford such a sum.

But eventually I reached a point where I felt God’s calling to adopt so strongly that I believed we were disobeying God’s direction, leading, and command by waffling and waiting in our trembling.  I had repeated dreams of me carrying a black child on the front of me in a baby bjorn.  I would weep whenever I saw a mother carrying a child in the grocery store.  I would listen to a sermon or read a book, and the message was continually pointing me back to the path of adoption.  God had a specific child in mind for us, and He was whispering it to me over and over and over.


Q: Once you made the choice to adopt. How was that process?

Karen: The adoption process itself was time consuming, invasive, and challenging, but it was also a time when I was on my knees every day praying and seeking God.   There are reasons the process is not easy—reasons set up to safeguard and protect innocent children from being trafficked and abused.  I was happy to jump through those hoops because every step helped me feel one step closer to my baby boy.  That time was one of the most faith-building experiences of my life because it was a time when I was fully dependent on God.


Karen's babies at an Angels Game

The Yates kids at a Los Angeles Angels Game

Q:  How have you taught your biological children that your adopted child is your child and their brother?

Karen: Well, first, the best way to word that is to use the word adopted as a past-tense verb.  My son, who was adopted.  You don’t define a child who was adopted as an ‘adopted child.’  It’s a label, and it’s not who the child is.  The child is God’s child, whom I am blessed to mother and raise, and who came to our family [past tense] through adoption, or who was adopted.

“Adopted” is not a description, like having brown hair or blue eyes or black skin.  If you talk to a parent of a child who has aspergers or autism, they are particular about this language too.  Ask them about their child who has autism, not about their ‘autistic child.’  It might seem like semantics to some, but to me, it is so important that my son does not feel his having been adopted defines or describes him as a human being.


Q: How have your children responded?

Karen: My older children were incredibly excited about having a new little brother.  One day we told them of a baby boy in Ethiopia who needed a family, and that we were going to get to be his family.  We got out the globe and showed them where Ethiopia was.  We showed them pictures of Daniel (as we got them), (so they saw what he looked like, that he had big brown eyes, chunky legs, and brown skin).  They helped us set up Daniel’s room, buy bottles, plan for our trip. When we came home from Ethiopia we included the older children in feeding, holding, playing with their brother, pointing out what a great big sister my daughter was, and what a wonderful big brother my son was.

There was never a time when our older children, then 3 and 4, hesitated on accepting Daniel.  He was a giggling, vulnerable, joyful baby that they fought over to feed, burp, hold, and play peek-a-boo.  Just like when you bring home a new baby from the hospital, there were moments when Daniel’s older siblings would be jealous of all the attention Daniel was getting, but it wasn’t related to his having been adopted.  There were moments when his crying would grate on us, but that is a part of adjusting to a new baby. It would be a challenge regardless of whether that child was adopted or biological.

It reminds me a little bit of when I was pregnant with my daughter.  My son was 18 months old then, and he would see my belly and I would tell him there was a baby inside and that he was going to be a big brother.  But it doesn’t really set in until the back end, right?  When you bring the baby home from the hospital and you introduce her: “This is your little sister, Reagan.  Isn’t she beautiful?”  Only then does he begin to start the process of understanding what it means for her to be a new part of the family and his role as her brother.  This is how it was with Daniel too.


Q: How did you include your children in the process?Karen's babies

Karen: At the heart of a child are the questions: “Am I special? Do you love me?” even in an adoption.  So even though much of that time was about our new son and bonding and attaching with Daniel, we still made sure to have special time with our other children.  Because deep down they need to know that just because you have a new brother, you are still special.  He’s not going to steal me away from you.  He’s your new brother, but you are still my only you, and I adore you!

But from the very beginning we didn’t label Daniel as the ‘adopted child’ or as ‘your brother who was adopted.’  He has always and only been known as their brother, my son, Daddy’s little boy.  Children learn from the example you set.   Now that my birth children are older I’ve had more frank conversations with them about Daniel’s adoption.  We watched a “Little House on the Prairie” once where a young woman who was adopted met her ‘real mother.’  This afforded an opportunity to talk with them about that language—about how they are Daniel’s ‘real’ brother and sister, and I am Daniel’s ‘real’ mother, and the right language is birth mother or birth family or birth siblings, and what does it mean to be a ‘real’ mother and ‘real’ brother?  Those are challenging conversations for sure, but it’s amazing how the older children embrace it all with love and compassion.  I think they feel equipped when I explain things to them.


Q:  What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of adoption?

Karen: By far the most challenging part of Daniel’s adoption is the racial component.  It is just now starting to surface more as he is getting older and starting to notice the color of people’s skin as well as starting to be alert to the comments people say.  I have insecurities sometimes about my ability to parent him because I am less aware of racial prejudices than he will one day be.

That Daniel is black makes his having been adopted something people notice, comment, and feel at liberty to ask about, often.  I do not want him to be the poster child for adoption.  Other children will say comments to my older children about “Why is your brother black?!”  Or they won’t believe that my children are his brother and sister.  Or they do a double take when I come to pick up Daniel: “You are his mother?”   On my witty days I have clever comebacks, but for the most part, I’ve been surprised [and disappointed] how others feel free to comment about the appearance of my family and my son without any thought that it is a). not their business and b). labeling who he is (and who we are) based on the color of his skin.  That’s a lot of pressure other people put on my little man.


Q:  What has been the most rewarding?

Karen: Him!  I can’t believe I’m his mother.  I feel that way about all my children, actually—this awesome privilege that the God of the universe entrusted me to be the mother of His children!  Daniel’s so smart and talented, funny, snuggly, joyful, dynamic, opinionated.  I cannot imagine my family without him.  I am incredibly blessed.


Q: How have you personally grown from adopting and parenting your children?

Karen: Well, parenting teaches you a lot.  About your own selfishness, your desire for your way, your control issues, your fears, your beliefs about God and His personhood.  I have grown exponentially in my surrender—letting God take hold of my life and relinquishing ownership.  Also, I think I have a broader understanding of the definition of family.  I didn’t quite understand that until Daniel—that family is not defined by bloodlines or ancestry or similarities.  When God says we are his children, we are heirs, I understand what He means now.  When I call you, Trillia, my sister in Christ, that has a whole new definition to me.  We might differ in our DNA, our talents, race, personality, or passions, but we are related, sisters in the same family of God.  I get an every day picture of this in my living room, watching my children play, seeing their love for one another.


Q:  Do you intend to teach Daniel about his culture?

Karen: Yes.  We have a local group of Ethiopian adoptive families that meets quarterly to hang out together.  Our next door neighbors have a son from Ethiopia too so the boys play together a lot.  And we know a lot of Ethiopian adoptive families through Facebook, twitter and the like.  One day we will go back with our whole family and visit.  We love Ethiopia—the food, the culture, the beautiful people.


Q:  If you could give adoptive parents (or those hoping to adopt) one piece of advice, what would it be?

Karen: Hmmmm.  I think I would remind them that good things, the really good things in our life, are not free.  They cost us something.  They cost us time, energy, heartache, worry, fear.  But they are so worth it because they are that good.  Every parent would say that about their children.

I would also say that love is a choice and not a feeling.  God chose to love us.  We are to ‘put on’ love, as in, choose to love, grab it off the counter and wear it as a cloak all day long.  So when it comes to worrying about the feeling of love in adoption, my answer is: choose.  Choose to love your child the way you choose to love your spouse (who is biologically different than you).  Choose love when it’s hard and doesn’t feel natural.  There are a lot of moments in parenting where we don’t feel warm and loving—when your child is talking back or resisting or testing, so I don’t meant to make it sound easy or simplistic.  But in a way, it really is.


Karen YatesMore About Karen

Karen E. Yates is a writer, adoption and orphan care advocate, and lover of sushi. A non-profit consultant of 12 years, she blogs about the Church, motherhood, and finding rest at www.KarenEYates.com.  Follow her on Twitter at: @KarenYates11 (https://twitter.com/KarenYates11)


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5 Comments to “When God Builds Your Family: The Yates Family Journey of Adoption”

  1. Beautiful! Karen’s story reminds me of when our daughter, Ruth, arrived from Uganda. She was just two weeks older than our biological daughter. While I was pushing them through our neighborhood in a double stroller one day, a woman paused to ask, “They both yours?” “They’re twins!” I said, without offering an explanation. We still laugh about it! But the best, was a little girl at the YMCA who took one look at Ruth and one look at me and without a moment’s hesitation said, “Your daugther is beautiful.” She never even questioned the color of our skin.

  2. Jas says:

    No mention anywhere about the grieving Mother, no care or consideration for her at all .

  3. Jas says:

    AND i can’t believe you would teach kids to call her a birth-mother, a highly degrading term.

  4. admin says:

    Thank you for writing. That is a good observation. Often we address the adoption but rarely the mother. The problem is, we don’t always know if the mother is grieving. We don’t always know the moms who give their children up for adoption. And at times adoptions happen as a result of the death of a parent–I know that was the case for a few after the Haiti disaster. Thank you again for your concern. -Trillia

  5. Karen Yates says:

    Jas, I do have a lot of care and concern for our son’s first mother. I grieve that I never got to meet her (I would have loved to have met her–to have a photo or some information or learn about her life). I’m sad that we have no information about her or her story. I grieve that for her and I grieve that for our son. All our documents say ‘unknown’ which is why I didn’t mention her. Our son came into the care of an orphanage hours after birth after being found by a police officer.

    I didn’t realize birthmom is a degrading term. This is what we have been educated to call her. What would you suggest we call her otherwise?