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IN THE SPIRIT: Adoption: Finding a family for every child

Kristi Rosenthal said her daughter, Emerson, is "the prayer that was answered." Mike Orness describes his daughter, Elizabeth, as "wonderful. People come up and say, 'she has your eyes.' We just say thank you . . ." Denise Eckerdt speaks of the m...

From left) Dave and Kristi Rosenthal with Emerson, Mike and Cassi Orness with Elizabeth, and Denise and Bobby Eckerdt with Reez and Brodee.

Kristi Rosenthal said her daughter, Emerson, is "the prayer that was answered."

Mike Orness describes his daughter, Elizabeth, as "wonderful. People come up and say, 'she has your eyes.' We just say thank you . . ."

Denise Eckerdt speaks of the moment she gave her heart to son, Reez. "Knowing that baby is going to be yours is an indescribable feeling, watching his first breath, hearing his first cry. It's very emotional."

Kristi and Dave Rosenthal and Denise and Bobby Eckerdt, all of Grand Forks, and Mike and Cassi Orness, Devils Lake, talk together of what they call their blessed adoption experiences.

November is National Adoption Month, so they are celebrating a little.


"These are three very unique families," said Jodie Olson, Lutheran Social Services pregnancy and adoption case worker. "They all were in the selection book at the same time. In open adoption, adoptive parents tell all about themselves through photos and letters. That information is put in the selection book so birth parents can page through it and choose whose home their child will go to. These couples all were waiting at the same time, and all received their babies about the same time. They were wonderful support for each other during their wait time."

There's another place these six get together at the same time: Friday night races at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks. That's where they met and where their friendships began. Dave is an avid race fan, Bobby drives a race car (B1), and Mike is River Cities photographer. After years of marriage, none of the couples had conceived, and all chose adoption. Last year, each couple received a baby within weeks.

Denise and Bobby were the first to know of their selection. "Denise came over to tell me," Kristi said. "She wanted to make sure I was OK with it. I was ecstatic."

"We want to make people aware of what adoption looks like today," Olson. "If what you know about adoption is what you grew up with, it's not like that anymore."

The birth families have more active roles, and adoptive families often are in on labor and delivery, with ongoing relationships with the birth parents, Olson said.

It's seldom that birth parents don't choose the family that adopts their child, Olson said. "They look for a family that shares their same values or faith. Some say, 'we want the family to be Christian.' We've seen the two families come together to share the baptism, a milestone in this child's life."

It can help birth families deal with the grief and loss on their side of adoption.

The Eckerdts have adopted two children, and mentored the other two couples.


"They helped us," Mike said. "They told us the ups and downs. You think the roller-coaster ride is done, emotionally, and then it starts up again."

Bobby and Denise have been married 19 years.

"We tried to have children," Denise said. "I wanted kids so bad. We went through everything but in-vitro. What do we do? Do we give up?"

Brodee came to them in an "identified adoption," in which the birth mother meets the adopting family beforehand.

The Eckerdts signed up Feb. 19, 2007 and were chosen in July. When Reez was born Aug. 25, "I was in delivery room," Denise said. "Our two boys have completed our family, and we are very busy. To see those little faces in the morning and hear them start talking, it's an awesome feeling everyone needs to experience."

Mike and Cassi have been married 13 years and learning they couldn't have children was difficult. "I want my own child -- mine and Cassi's," Mike said. "But that's something we just couldn't do."

At first, the Ornesses wanted no relationship with the birth parents. "What if they come and take her away," Mike said. "But LSS classes really opened our eyes to being open to knowing the birth mom."

Their Elizabeth came to them through identified adoption, too. She turned 1 on Sept. 22, and she "is ours," Mike said. "We've had her since birth. Cassi was in the delivery room. I waited. As soon as the mother was ready, they let me in. We have contact, and I think the birth mother knows she made the right decision. Elizabeth is the next best thing to our own. We plan on adopting again with Jodie (Olson.) She does a great job."


Kristi and Dave have been married seven years. They won't forget the day Olson called to say they'd been chosen for Emerson.

"The birth parents explained how they chose us," Kristi said. "We all have to do a profile of ourselves. I had baby pictures of Dave and myself. I resemble the birth mother's side of the family, and my dad resembles her dad. There's so much music in our family. I play the piano, and that's what the birth mother wanted for Emerson. We were there to hear her heartbeat the week before she was born, and we were there for her birth. The birth father handed her to us."

Emerson will turn 1 on Thanksgiving.

"She's the most happy kid," Kristi said. "She's happy when she wakes up until she goes down. This first year, the birth mother has had six or seven visits, and I went to have lunch with her a couple of times. We welcome letters and gifts. I've asked them to write so Emerson doesn't have that feeling of 'why?'"

All three couples speak of another gift that came with their babies.

"When Cassi and I first started dating, we were in college and we never really went to church," Mike said. "At this point in our lives, we go every Sunday. We think Elizabeth is a blessing to us, and this is where she is supposed to be. Before this, we lost faith and were saying, why, why, why? Why us? But we never gave up. This has strengthened us and our relationship with God and our church. We're back to where we should be and even stronger."

Denise and Bobby attend Sharon Lutheran Church more often now.

"We want to bring the kids up learning about God," Denise said. "It has changed us in many ways. Brodee said, 'do we get to go to church today?'"


Emerson Rosenthal is a child who is leading them, too.

"It has brought Dave and I closer as a couple and as a whole (extended) family we've gotten closer," Kristi said. "We've definitely gotten closer to the church, and we're going to be joining University Lutheran."

Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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