You are listening to Together by AGCI. I'm Melissa Rush. Today we're chatting with AGCI adoptive parents, Jake and Kaitlyn. Jake and Kaitlyn adopted their sweet son Martin from Bulgaria earlier this year. You don't want to miss their inspiring story of following God's call to bring their son home. Let's get into our conversation. Well, I am so excited to have Jake and Kaitlyn joining us today. Jake and Kaitlyn are incredible AGCI adoptive parents. They adopted their sweet little boy from Bulgaria, and I just cannot wait to hear their story. Thanks for joining us guys. Thanks for having us. Yes, thank you. Well, let's just start at the beginning. Why did you guys decide to pursue adoption? Yes, so it kind of started long ago. When I was in high school, I went to church by myself, and our church was promoting just adoption in general, and I just felt like God was just saying one day you're gonna do that. And it just stuck with me for years. And when Jake and I started dating and talking about marriage, it was kinda one of those things where I was like, I think it's a non-negotiable for us. Like we're going to do this one day, and he was like, okay, that sounds good. And, so yeah, it was just something that was just planted on our hearts and yeah. That's awesome. I love to hear people's stories because they're also different and like sometimes it's something that comes up later on. But I have heard from multiple families that it's kind of something that's been on one parent's heart, like from childhood even, which is like pretty cool. So thanks for sharing that. How did you start your journey and like why did you decide to go down the international adoption route? I guess we started our journey in terms of, we confirmed that both of us felt called to adopt, and we started that by, we actually decided to pray separately and individually about it. And then Kaitlyn had her had a moment where she met with someone who had worked with AGCI in the past and that was her moment where she felt like God was saying, yep, it's time, go ahead. And then like a day later, I had my own encounter where I just felt like God just made it very clear. I was like, yep, okay, now you're ready to time to move forward. So we did that. And then in terms of the adoption side of things, we did lots of just started researching and looking into adoption in general. Looked up a lot about domestic adoption and then looked up a lot about international adoption and then, and we just felt like the international route fit what we were kind of looking for best. So yeah, that was kind of what got us there. That's such a blessing that you both had like the clarity on that. 'cause I know that can be hard for some couples of like, if there's one person that feels more like this is what is the right path for their family and maybe the other spouse is like less sure. So I'm glad you guys had that going into it. 'cause that probably made it things a little bit easier for your heart at least. And so Kaitlyn, you had some familiarity with AGCI. Is that, was it just like a friend's recommendation or what kind of led you guys to to choose AGCI I as your adoption agency? Yeah, so this is actually a pretty cool story. So I had no familiarity with it at all. It was just one, it was just one June day. I remember it was in June where I was like, I'm just gonna, it was out of the blue, no rhyme or reason, like I'm just gonna look up adoption agencies. And so I started looking at the, you know, just, I literally just Googled adoption agencies in Texas and AGCI popped up and I'm just looking through it and, and really enjoyed it and, and just loved reading like the different stories and you know, how it's just outlined and easy and, and so I, you know, was like, okay, I'm gonna put that one on my mind. And then I just kept researching and, and throughout that summer it was just kinda like heavy on our hearts where we're like, I think it's time. We already have, we have this, we have one son, biological son who's three now. But so we had him and we just felt like, okay, I think it's time that we start really looking into this. And, and every other agency I looked at, I was like, Nope, not for us. Not for us. And there was one night I was talking to Jake, Hey, I'm gonna send you the link to AGCI and I want you to look at it and see. And he was like, that's so funny. He was, I don't know, Jake, you wanna tell that part? So I was, I, I really enjoyed listening to the Unashamed podcast by the Duck Dynasty group. And, and Jeff was on as a guest and talked about how he was working for AGCI in Austin and was really just talking about their personal experiences with their adoptions. And I know several of those other guys have adopted into their families as well. And since we're already looking into that, I was like, well, I mean, I understand there are moral values and I appreciate those and if that's a place that he's willing to work at, then it's probably a place I'm willing to go through and work with as well. So, yeah, so it was, that was cool to see. Like that was all the same day we just happened to like, whoa, that's kind of weird that that was on your podcast. And, and so the way that I had a friend when Jake referred to my friend, I just, the only thing I knew about her was that she, they were in the adoption process and that's all that I knew. So when I ended up meeting with her for coffee one day, she was asking me, what's your agency? And I said, AGCI . And she goes, oh, that's the one we chose. And then, oh, Bulgaria. So it was like, we didn't even have any connection at all until we talked about it. So, so it's just cool how that all just really fit together. Yeah, that is cool. And I'll have to tell Jeff that he was part of your, your decision. Yeah. He'll, he'll, he'll enjoy that. That's really cool. So your friend went down the Bulgaria path as well. Like what stood out to you about that country program? 'cause obviously there's, there's a lot. I mean, with international adoption, there's a lot to choose from. So when we were looking at Bulgaria and I, well, we went to the AGCI website, saw all the places that they allowed people to adopt from, and some of them we didn't qualify for just due to the age limits. And then, and, and that was just based off of the country's requirements. And then the other things that we really looked into were like times overseas and or in those other countries just based off of our work schedules. And yeah, neither of us have remote type jobs, so we couldn't just be like, Hey, yeah, we're fine for three months going to this place or whatever. Yeah. So Bulgaria fit a lot more into our mix and we just felt very comfortable with that and at peace with the location. So yeah. That's great. So there is kind of this, like if you, if you are not familiar with the adoption process, this will probably sound foreign, but for families that are, there's kind of an infamous special needs checklist that families have to kind of go through and decide, you know, what makes sense for their family and what they're open to. I'd love to hear about your experience going through that checklist, kind of what your feelings were about special needs when you began your adoption journey and how that shifted over time. Yes. This is, this is my favorite story to tell because it just ties, it's just, it's just so cool how God works. But yeah, so for the, we had going into it, we just kind of went through the process. When you're filling out all the paperwork step by step, okay, we're doing this one check, we're doing this one check. And the friend that I mentioned before, she said, you and Jake have to be united in everything you do. Like you have to be united in the paperwork, in your decisions, in your, when you pray and, and everything like that. And so when we sat down to do the checklist together, we, we first prayed and then we said, okay, here's our rule. If one of us says no, then it's a no. Like we both have to be like, full on. Yes. Together. Yeah. And so as we're we're going through the checklist, we had a couple of times where we, we both looked at a certain, we looked at cerebral palsy and down syndrome, and both of those we thought, I don't know if this could fit for our family. Like we were both questioning it and, and really our, our feelings about special needs. When we began this whole journey, we were just so open to just whatever the Lord was placing on our hearts and like understanding our family's needs, I think was a big deal. Like, yeah, we as a family, what we can handle. I think really fully understanding that and also just being willing to, to love on others. And, and so anyway, so back to the checklist. We, we got to those two cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, and we both just were like, Ooh, I don't know, we need to think about it. And so we finished it and we moved on with our day. And you know, that checklist is towards the beginning of your paperwork process, I believe. And the whole time from when we signed our contract to this checklist, I, I was not emotional. And I, I was getting advice from, from my friend, she said, it'll be such an emotional, emotional process for you. You're just gonna feel all the feels. And I wasn't, I was like, okay, next, let's do the next thing. Come on, let's go get our kid, let's get this paperwork done. And, and so the next day after filling out the checklist, it was so heavy on my heart, both of 'em, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. I was like, I texted Jake we're both at work, and I was like, we have to check it off. Like, I think it's a non-negotiable, like we have to do it. And, and he said, and he texted me back like, let's do it. And I instantly, I was just bawling and I was crying and I didn't know why. And I was like, why am I so emotional now? Like, what is what in the world? Well, a year later we're matched with our son and he has Down syndrome. And so it was just a matter of checking the box like that. It just, it blows my mind. So that's my favorite story to tell because our son was waiting for us, but we didn't, you know, it's just, we didn't know that we needed to check off that box on the list. So it, that, that checklist has a special place in our heart because, you know, it's, it is so important to be open to what the Lord is wanting you to, you know, he has, he has your child ready for you. It's just opening your eyes to, to what he has in store. So. Oh, absolutely. Oh, thank you for sharing that story. That's such a lovely story. And I think it's such good advice too, to go into the whole process being, you know, on the same page, right? Like as a, as a family and, you know, 'cause I think it, it's a lot like it's all the whole thing thing, and if you're not united, it's gonna make it a lot harder. So that's really good advice. Can we talk about what it was like to meet your child for the first time? Like what, going into that, that's kind of a crazy moment. I mean, like, you've seen his picture, you've like read a little bit about him, but nothing really compares to like actually getting to be there. And also you have to travel. Like, I'd love, I'd love to hear the whole thing. Okay, yes. So we, when we went to Bulgaria for the first time, our son was in an orphanage. And so they, we working with Vesta, we were brought to his orphanage and we were waiting in like their little lobby area. And that was about a year ago. So it was November of 22. And they were still doing covid tests at the orphanage, or they called it an institution. So I'll just try to rephrase, rephrase that to institution. But, and so they were doing, that's the only place that we had to take a covid test. And when, you know, when you're traveling to the other side of the world, you're, you're going to different airports and all the things. And so that morning Jake's like, I think I have a stuffy nose, but mean it could just be in travel and, you know, all the things. And so we took the Covid test and we're sitting in the waiting room and they come in and they said, you have to leave, you have C Oh no. And so, so Jake had, so he was diagnosed with that or diagnosed, tested positive for that. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, however that works, but tested positive. And so they escorted him out and I tested negative, so they were, they escorted him out and like, not a minute later brought our son in. And so it was, it was so, like, I felt all of the emotions like, oh my gosh, are you like thinking about Jake? And like he can't meet his son. You know, like it was just, oh, that feelings I had for that. Of like, oh my gosh, how is he feeling? What is he thinking? And then a minute later they bring in Martin where I'm like, oh my gosh, here he's, and like it was just, it was so surreal. Like it was just, it was such a surreal moment. And when you do the classes that they, you know, the, the families are forever classes. They talk a lot about like, you're not gonna have, like, you may not have this aha moment with your child, like, oh, this is our, you know, this is my child. Yeah. But I will say, like, I, when I held him for the first time, it was like, oh, he's totally mine. Like, I didn't feel this like heaven like coming upon us. But I did feel like, I was like, you know, this, this is, yeah, this is totally our kid. Like, just holding onto him for the first time was just like, it was, was easy and it was natural and, and just so sweet. But that whole, that whole week it was, I had to take, I had to get wear the, I had to wear all the covid gear Oh. And had to, I had to take a test every day and they limited my time with him. So instead of two hours, I got 30 minutes. And then Jake didn't meet him at all. Oh my gosh. It have gone away. That's yeah. Yes. On the, on the very last day on Friday, we asked if I could go test again just to see if I'd get a negative test and be able to go meet him. And, and it was positive. So I still had to go stand outside of the institution behind a glass door. And like they brought him over to the glass door that day. So my first meeting was just meeting him through a glass window, basically. Oh. So we have pictures of it. It's pretty interesting. But it was a, it was a definitely a humbling experience. 'cause all the other days I just stayed at the hotel while the other three. 'cause we had another couple that was with us doing the same visits. They would leave and I'd just hang out and try to FaceTime in on Kaitlyn's time with Martin. So. Oh my goodness. What, terrible luck. I'm so sorry. It was, it was a different experience. Yeah. Oh my gosh. What like a whirlwind of emotions too. I mean like, you go into this, you think like, oh, I'm gonna, and then they're just like, Nope, you gotta leave. Like, I mean, you know, I understand they have to do what they think is best for the kids, but that is disappointing. But I'm glad that you got to at least spend time with him, Kaitlyn. And so that was the bonding trip? That was the first time? Yes. Yeah. Yes, that was our first trip. And then what was it like when, how much later did you guys go to, to get him to bring him home? Yeah, so we, so we went the week of Thanksgiving and then when we went to pick him up was February 27th. So it was about three-ish, four-ish months between the time that we went on the bonding trip versus the go get him trip. And what was that like? And then I'm assuming you did not have covid again this time? Jake? I was good that time. That was good that time. It was actually, so that trip was, that trip was different. We got there and like you stay at the hotel the first night and then you immediately in the morning get up and drive to where the institution is, which ours was about a two and a half hour drive from, from Sophia. And we walk in, signed a few papers and they just handed him to us and it was like, it was, which Kailyn let me take him that time. So I was pretty grateful. So I was super excited and finally got to see him and really hold him for the first time. 'cause the in-between time was really hard for Kaitlyn. 'cause she had had this physical connection with him. Yeah. Mine was very distant. So it, I just didn't have, it was hard for me to empathize with her on that separation time. Whereas that was my first encounter with him. And it was, it was very, very special. I just getting to meet him and be with him and then, and then we, you just drive back to Sophie and start waiting for doing the rest of the other paperwork that you have to do there. Yeah. Yeah. Adoption is not short on paperwork, that's for sure. And how did he react to you guys? Like what was, I mean, obviously you cannot know exactly what was going through his mind, but Yeah. How did he respond to you guys? So I would say the, the bonding trip, the first trip that we had with him, he was just very interested in the, the room because it was the, like the visitation room. So he was really interested in like the toys there and looking around like, this is somewhere I've never been before. And yeah, but there was a, the, the more often that I went, the more you could tell, the more comfortable he was. There was one time he heard like a loud sound and he got scared. You could see the, like, the fear on his face. And he like went straight to me for me to hold him. And so I was like, me. I'm like, oh, this is the best ever. And then by Friday we could hear like, he was, he was very nonverbal. And so I heard some sounds from him so you could, you could tell that he was a little more comfortable. And then Jake, you can describe the second trip. The second trip. So our, our second trip with him, he was, he was kinda similar in terms of his initial presentation with us. You could tell he just wasn't used to being handled by other people, had really not interacted with other people outside, probably the few caregivers that he had. Yeah. So like, you'd be holding him and he'd just, like, he wouldn't clean or lean into you when you're holding him. And so you're just kind of like holding this dead weight whenever you're trying to hold him. And he would, he'd play and he'd be very curious about the apartment that staying in, but he really had not necessarily a ton of interest in us. And then us on the other side are like completely invested and interested in him. So he, he'd kinda like, look at us and then just scoot on somewhere else and start chasing a toy or trying to get into a cabinet somewhere. And then some of the things that we found out was we learned a lot more about the things that we didn't see at least medically that he was dealing with. And so just trying to figure out how to work with those things. Yeah. Yeah. And that's so typical for anyone that's listening to the, like kids. I mean, it's such a bit, you think about for that, like from their perspective, like as a parent, you've been preparing for this, you've been planning for it, you're taking classes, you're talking about all these things. And for the child it's like, you know, they kind of just get told, okay, well these are your parents, like this is your, you know, and you know that every kid responds differently to that. But yeah, it's just like such a sensory overload and like so many, so many different things to get used to and new language, all like, all of it. It's a lot. Yeah. What has been the biggest challenge for you guys throughout this process? My, the biggest challenge really, we've had such a great experience. I mean, everything has just flown. So, I mean, the whole process of the paperwork when you do your home study and then you go straight into your dossier and then waiting on the referral, like, everything was just so streamlined and easy that when we, when we were in the system in Bulgaria, we were instantly, we instantly got a referral. So we had no wait time either. Like, they called us and said, okay, you're the system and you have a referral like right away. So it was, that part was just very, it just seemed like, just so streamlined. But our, the, the, the bonding trip for sure was just really, that was so tough just because of Jake's Yeah. Getting covid and then the wait time between the two trips, that, that was my, that was very difficult just meeting him and knowing, like seeing where he is at. And for the most part, we didn't get to see, you know, the institution we saw where he was like, we didn't see where he was. We saw the, the room and the, you know, and just knowing that he is so skinny and just malnourished and you know, all the things. And we went through Christmas and then we went through his birthday and just wishing that we had him now, like at that time, you know, that waiting between meeting him and coming back and getting him was, was emotionally challenging for sure. Yeah. What would you say, Jake, were those kind of the same struggles for you? Or were, was, does anything else come to mind? Yeah, those were, yeah, I would agree with that. Just that I think kinda like I mentioned before, for me the waiting time was different. I think my challenge was trying to be supportive of Kaitlyn, but also being understanding of she has has this different connection, so I need to be understanding that her emotions with that are gonna be very different and higher than mine were because I just did not get that same bonding time. Yeah. I think that first trip for me was definitely a challenge. Lots of time praying and stuff. And I kind of reflected on it as almost kind of like a, a job moment where I was like, God just kind of put that there and just realizing, okay, well even with this, I, I need to praise him in this time and let that be what it is. And regardless, like we're still blessed to be doing this and it doesn't change an outcome with it. So. Yeah. Yeah. Is there anything that surprised you guys about the adoption process or coming home or anything like that? I think the, the biggest surprise that we probably had was when we did bring him back to the apartment after we, after they got, or after we got him and we're still in Bulgaria. And like Kaitlyn could tell that he was malnourished on that first trip. And then when we got him back, we just realized that he had like severe constipation was very malnourished, extremely dehydrated, which I mean the institution's doing their part and giving them what they can and what they have access to. But regardless, you're still gonna have some of those other factors that it's like, okay, well we know that he has down syndrome, we know that he has a healthy heart and these other things that they gave us in his profile, but just dealing with those other daily things. He also, I think one of our other surprises and challenges was that he really just did not know or want to drink any fluids. Oh. So we had to water his food down a lot so that we made sure he was getting plenty of fluids, which contributed to his constipation. And so yeah, we, we had plenty of challenges on that side that was Yeah. Difficult to face. And then those, those were pretty much the same challenges that followed his home was primarily just getting his diet and hydration under control, which now he does great. He feeds himself, he drinks from his cup by himself and is doing so much better there. But yeah. That's great. I'm glad he is doing better. I'd love to hear more about like, the adjustment coming home and how you, you know, handled that also with your, your biological son and, and kind of what that was like for him as well. Yes. Well they, in phase two of families are forever, I believe it's phase two, it might be phase one where they talk about when you like bonding with your child and how important that is and like playing and getting down on their level and eye contact and things like that. Because Martin did not, I mean, he couldn't make eye contact. He didn't, like Jake said, he didn't know how to be held. Like he would just hold his arms out. Like he didn't know. Yeah. Physical touch was really weird for him. Like, he did not wanna be hugged or like kisses were super weird. And so, and they tell you, they tell you a lot about that and how to like, just truly offer unconditional love where, you know, your, your, your kid's not gonna love you right away. Like they're not, they have to learn to love you. Yeah. And because of how you treat them. And, and so with that, it was, I think for us that adjustment was, was just very different because having our biological son first, you know, that's just the natural order of things. When your, your child is born, you, you automatically have that bond and you that just grows. And so with, with our, with Martin, we, you know, you have to start from where they are and, and so, so that, that has been, but it's also been so cool to see where he was versus like three months. Like we're, we've had him for five months now, but for like at that three month mark, like he was hugging us and he was making eye contact with us and, and now he's learning to communicate where, you know, he just, he's nonverbal but he's learning. He's just growing and like, he's so curious and just wants to know more. And, and so our, our adjustment, I wanna say, you know, it's, it, you always have that adjustment period of a lot, like when you have a life change, I mean, it's gonna be, you have to see what works best for your family and what for each person. And our oldest son was super sweet and you know, from going from one kid to two kids, it's like you see that jealousy from him. Sure. He's like, oh, he's getting attention. And so us having to balance, like just learning, okay, we can't, you know, we have to balance our attention now versus like, you know, with Martin, we wanna just like be all in and just like, I was so hyperfocused on like, let's bond, but then like, no, I can obviously can't forget about our other side. Yeah, of course. You know, so it was just, yeah, finding that balance of, of that and, and yeah, it just takes time. It just takes time to learn each other and Yeah. Yeah. I know that's something that people like who have children already in the home and are thinking about adoption, worry about a lot is like, how will this affect, you know, our other kids or kid And, you know, it's, it's kind of like, you know, no matter how, if you know, whether it's biological or through adoption when you have your first baby and then, you know, decide to have a second however they come into your home, like there is that adjustment period, they're jealousy, all of those things, they're normal and you, you, you figure it out. But yeah, I think, yeah, you have to kind of like learn what works for your family and everyone is so different and Yeah. But yes, it's a process. Yeah, it's a process and it's, and it's just a period of time. I think that's the, the thing to hold onto is like, it's just for this season Yeah. And it, it only gets better, you know, it only, it just, yeah. It only gets better. It's just for that season and it, it is hard. I mean it's, you can't sugarcoat that. Like it's, it is hard, but it's so good because it's that time you truly take the time to get to know each other and then work as a, you know, a family unit. So Yeah. Absolutely. What else is important for people to know about your guys' story? You know, depending on your checklist and what you're willing to open your home to special needs wise is, is really how, it's just that, I think that is just, that's so important because with our, we had, with us having no wait time between when we were, when our dossier was complete and we were in the Bulgarian system and getting that referral, like, there were like in the system instant referral and, and I, and I full on believe is just because our hearts were open to, to that, to the special needs that, I mean, our son has, but that, you know, any future family, they're gonna have something. And so just, I think even just the waiting is hard. I mean, we didn't have that wait time, but we had the wait time between the two, the two visits. It's hard. Waiting is hard, like being patient. Yeah. And like some families, I mean, I'm sure they wait for so long and so I just hope that there's encouragement that they find encouragement in that it's like you find your people to help you and to cope and like leaning on the Lord is so important and, and it's, I I really just, yeah, I hope that, that people can find from this that like, yes, the waiting is hard and you're not alone in that and that it's not, it's not weird to be upset Yeah. That you're waiting, you know, like it's, you know. Yeah. So yeah. On that note, do you have any other like, encouragement for families who are, you know, considering adoption or maybe just starting out in the process? So yeah, one of the things that I definitely think is a big encouragement is adoption can be a, it can be a very scary process in terms of, especially when it comes to financial Yeah. Requirements and needs. And that becomes very daunting. I mean, it's what makes our, makes our worlds kind of happen. And so one thing that we kind of learned through this process was even, even when we had what we needed to move forward and through the adoption, God still gave us more like he just, he would provide for needs that we didn't even didn't have to have. Yeah. Just seeing his grace in that and, and knowing that he'll continue to give that, especially when, you know, and you've prayed about it and God says, yes, this is what you're doing, then there's no doubts that he's going to make sure it happens. I think I, I tell people the hardest, the hardest thing that we had to do for our entire adoption was say, yes, we're gonna do it at the beginning after that we literally just sat back and watched God just sort through the rest of it. I mean, he just lined up the timing on everything and got, I mean, Kaitlyn put a lot work into a lot of the paperwork, but he got us to the right places to get everything answered in time. And so God, God provides for those needs, whether it's monetary or whatever, whatever else it may be. The other thing that I would say that's en encouraging is, so we have Martin home now and we love him so much, and Kaitlyn says this all the time, and she's just like, we have him here. And we just think about where he came from and how he was over there. Like, even though they were caring for him, you could tell he wasn't socializing. He probably spent most of his day in a crib or in a small room. He was so malnourished and like, I don't even think he was quite a percentile in terms of his weight. Like he was that malnourished and with his other constipation and dehydration, and now he's here, he is getting the love and attention that he's deserved and wants. And then we just think now there are still lots of kids over there waiting for that opportunity and we can give it to them. And so that's my encouragement is when you get them here, you're just going to be so grateful that they're here. And then you're gonna wonder what about the other children? So, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, there's just nothing, like, obviously you can't, every child is different and you don't know, you know, kids' medical needs and histories, so you can't like make a blanket statement about this. But I mean, just time and time and time and time again, we just see once a child is home with a family, like it's just a night and day comparison and things that, you know, you're told by doctors or whoever, you know, aren't gonna be possible or aren't, you know, turn out to, to be, which is pretty miraculous to see. Obviously that's not every, every kid or family, but it, it really does. I mean, there's really no comparison to being, you know, growing up in an institution versus growing up in a loving family. And yeah, there's, it just, it makes all the difference. So thank you guys so much for, for talking to me, for sharing your beautiful story. Congrats on your sweet boy. Great. This was a joy. Thank you. Yes, thank you. Yes, thank you. That was AGCI adoptive parents, Jake and Kaitlyn. Thanks for listening to together by AGCI . As always, if you liked what you heard, please rate or review us wherever you listen to podcasts. If you'd like to read or watch even more stories, check out our website, allgodschildren.org. Reach out to us and let us know what you think on Instagram @allgodschildreninternational or email us at email@example.com. We look forward to sharing another story of hope the next time we're together. We'll talk to you soon.