Love; the most important 4 letter word there is and the driving force behind what makes a family. Families come in many different shapes and sizes. Some come quickly and without warning while others come more slowly and perhaps with some challenges along the way. Adoption may not be the best fit for everyone but for Phil and Michelle it brought them their greatest joy; Theo.
From the time they first met at the New England Culinary Institute in Essex Junction, VT, Phil and Michelle always knew they wanted to one day have a family. They were married in October of 2003 and like many newlyweds took time to enjoy being married before trying to start a family of their own. It wasn’t however an easy process for them as they struggled with infertility for many year. Michelle had initially viewed adoption as a hurdle but says she just woke up one day and realized she was making it harder because she was fearful of adoption. Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love.
In November 2013 Phil and Michelle took part in a forum designed to educate potential adoptive parents of the private adoption process. “People are scared and don’t know what to expect from the adoption process so the hope is that they get more of an eye opening on the process. It is not for everyone. You have to be strong. And the hope is that by the end of the weekend someone will want to adopt”, shared Michelle. “It was serious information overload, but we were able to connect with other couples who were also looking to adopt and we leaned on each other through the common bond.”
They continued educating themselves on the process and the many laws in New York State that protect both sides of the adoption process more rigidly than other states, further complicating things. They chose an Adoption agency and started the required processes for private adoptions; finger printing, background clearances, a home study, a ton of paperwork, and their profile book; a book about you, your family, your home, and your friends that is put together in a scrapbook type manner and is shown to prospective birth parents. “It is the most important part of the process. It’s not as simple as picking out of a magazine. It is not just filling out paperwork and then poof, you get a baby,” says Michelle, “TV portrays a lot of Hallmark type fairy tale stories but that is not realistic.” Selecting the photos and writing about them needs to appeal to a mother who is considering placing her child up for adoption. Included in the profile book is a letter written to the birth mother. Michelle detailed, “You have to write towards their sense of security and demonstrate that you will be the best parents you can be and appeal to her through words.” Phil added, “The more open you are the more opportunities you have to be selected. And most times selection is based on random things that a birth mother sees in a photo or reads in a story. The profile book is the only thing birth mothers have as a resource to make the decision of their lives.”
While they waited for the call that would make their dreams come true they kept themselves busy with projects; built a deck on their house, renovated 2 bathrooms, took up knitting, focused on dieting to make themselves better for their future child, and became the owners an eclectic restaurant located. “Not getting picked is a hard part of the process forcing you to try not to feel bad about yourselves or to rationalize why you weren’t picked. If you have a heart you walk away feeling defeated and that you were judged,” explained Michelle. “Every scenario is different, you get the call and they tell you the details and you stop what you are doing to decide if you want your profile out. If you feel it is not the right scenario or match for you say no,” Phil further shared. In fact, they said no twice during that process.
The most important call they received was on June 25, 2016. It was a day like many for them in the restaurant. “It was a Saturday,” Phil recalled, “the restaurant was packed and when you get that call you have to stop what you are doing and take the call.” The agency explained the scenario: a baby boy who was born the day before and there was the possibility, if they were a match, that it could include an extended stay at a hospital. Phil remembers talking it over with Michelle all while still serving dinner to their guests who filled the restaurant. Ultimately they decided to call back and tell the agency to show the birth mother their profile and the next day, while serving Sunday brunch at the restaurant, they got another call this time to say that they had been chosen and they asked how fast they could you get to the hospital. They hugged and cried, all the staff cried together and then they had to politely explain to their customers in the restaurant that they had waited 3 years to have a baby and this was their time. Customers were very understanding and excited for them. They quickly made arrangements for their dogs, went home, packed a bag thinking they would be gone for a week and then started calling their friends with the good news. They spent the long trip trying to come up with a name. They had less than 24 hours to decide a name that he would have for the rest of his life. They decided on Theo Nolan. With no sleep, they got to the agency and had to sit in the parking lot in silence for a moment; this was real, this was finally happening to them. They went into a conference room with their parent advocate filled out stacks of paperwork much like purchasing a house and when it was on the papers in front of them with their names on it suddenly it all became super real for them. It was finally their turn. They then went to the hospital where a 15 minute wait in the lobby felt like an eternity. Finally they were walked into the NICU, walked over to the baby, and then they put him in their arms. Michelle emotionally described her feelings at that moment, “It was a surreal moment and not in a warm and cozy environment with family. It was so scary and overwhelming with tons of emotions. This is the moment you have waited for. It was an instant sense of protection and excitement and then the getting to know you process was finally about to begin.” Phil explained that most people have about 9 months to prep for a baby…they had 12 hours. They met him June 27th, had a visit from Phil’s parents and from Michelle’s twin sister Faith at the hospital.
It is true what they say that it takes “a village” to raise a child and Theo’s homecoming was no exception. They were welcomed home to the loving arms of family, friends, and restaurant customers alike who were busy while they were way getting everything ready for Theo’s homecoming. Employees figured out on their own how to keep the restaurant open for them so there wasn’t any loss of income. This outpouring of love demonstrated that sense of community, sense of love, and ultimately how truly lucky they were. Their family was finally happening.
For Phil and Michelle, waiting is the hardest part of the process, but the end game of it kind of erases the bad part. They feel it makes you who you are in the end and teaches you what your limitations are and what your strengths and boundaries are. All those things that make you the parent that you end up becoming and you don’t realize that is what is happening at the time. There were times that they didn’t think they could do it but they figured it out with the giant support system they had around them.
On January 26, 2018 Phil, Michelle, and a handful of their closest friends and family members they once again had no idea what to expect as they sat in Orange County’s family court waiting room. Phil said it was just as scary as going to traffic court. No greater words were spoken that day than those of Orange County Family Court Justice Carol S. Klein when at long last she said, “And from this day forward, this child will now be known as Theo Nolan”.
When you meet them, it doesn’t take long to see how much Phil and Michelle Hopkins love their now 2 year old son Theo. He is the center of their world. Their day is filled with the same struggles and worries that every parent experiences but has an added sense of protection to not only keep him safe from harm, but to also protect him from his own story and unveil it as he can handle it. There is also the fear that he’ll be judged for being adopted, an obstacle that other kids don’t have to overcome. Of course they worry about his medical history as they have so little background information but they are ready and willing to do whatever Theo might need.
Theo doesn’t think of Phil and Michelle as anything other than Mommy and Daddy. He’s the happiest 2 year old always giggling, playing, and even greeting guests at their restaurant. Phil shared, “We love having him in the restaurant as there is always someone there that can help out and he’s not shy around people. He was a fixture there when he was an infant being held a lot by both us and customers. It is so wonderful to be part of a community that cares. If he is not there, people will ask about him, want to see pictures, and look forward to watching him grow.”
As living advocates for adoption they feel that once you start talking about it to strangers then it becomes something that is not a “dirty” little secret any longer. They have even found that others are willing to share their stories after having heard theirs. Their advice to people considering adoption; it’s worth the wait. Face the fear. Make the jump. The end more than justifies the means but you have to be able to roll with the punches. Don’t be scared to adopt, if you have love to give and the means to give a child a wonderful happy life it is worth it. They would love to adopt again if given the right opportunity. While it is hard to think about going through that process again they would figure it out because they want the best for Theo and would love him to have a sibling and be part of a big family so he can experience everything the world has to offer.
Phil and Michelle Hopkins are truly extraordinary people but to one little boy they are the most special and important people in the world. It is said that adopting one child certainly won't change the world: but for that one child, the world will certainly change. Phil and Michelle took that leap, and it lead to the best thing they ever accomplished in their life together; love…the greatest 4 letter word there is in the world…otherwise spelled in the their family as: THEO.