Trade Secrets: Alice Callahan Thompson
Alice Callahan Thompson is one seriously awesome woman, mama, model, actor, and activist—we’d like to be her when we grow up! We got to know Alice on location of our photo shoot (check her out in our first collection), where she shared with us about being a foster mom to Tashem (22) and her experience adopting her son, Timothy (4) and giving birth to her daughter, Rosemary (2). At this point we’d say she’s an expert in this process. She graciously chatted about the ups and downs of the adoption path and tells us why it was her Plan A for starting a family.
Follow Alice on instagram @alicecallahanhere
And be sure to check out @adopttogether and @manyhopes
How did you first become interested in adoption?
During high school and college I visited orphanages in Mexico and was blown away by the reality of children living without caregivers, parents, or the stability of a home. It really made an impact on me. I knew back then that someday I wanted to make a difference to a child, who through no fault of their own, was born into circumstances where they don’t have a family. We’re wired to be in homes and the impact of that loss is devastating for a child. To be nurtured. Literally parts of the brain do not connect. The attachment cycle, where the brain starts to connect and learn what trust is, doesn’t get developed and the lasting effects of that are lifelong.
You shared with us that adoption was your Plan A. What did that look like?
A few years after my husband, Kyser, and I were married, we started talking about starting a family and I thought, look, there are all these kids that need homes and I’ve always wanted to do this, why don’t we do it first? If I truly value this, I have to give it a shot. And to me, there is no greater honor than the stewardship of someone's life. To be able to give someone the gift of a loving home is the biggest privilege I can imagine.
That’s incredibly powerful. How did you start your process?
We had been visiting a girls’ orphanage and school in Kenya called Many Hopes. Kyser, and I started visiting there and we fell in love with these children. So we tried for a year to adopt from Kenya, and hit lots of obstacles. We then decided to pursue Ethiopia and after a year of waiting, the program shut down. At the time, my friends were having babies and adoption was taking so long. We were open to fostering and through my church were connected with Tashem when he was 16. We’d been praying for a baby and we got a teenager! We were first time parents trying to figure out how to parent a teenager. It was meant to be because he’s in our life now. He’s a special, fun big brother.
Did that experience influence your process?
Tashem opened my eyes to the need for adoption domestically. We put our name on the list and said we were open to any race, gender, background, state. It took a minute. We had a few close calls. We got a call on Christmas Eve and flew from Alabama to Connecticut. We were in the parking lot of the hospital with a car seat when we got the call that she was going to keep the baby. It was a low point, but at the same time, I knew it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a good thing when a birth mother changes her mind and wants to parent.
What advice would offer to someone just starting the adoption process?
I would say DO. NOT. GIVE. UP. There will likely be moments when you question if you're doing the right thing (you are!) and if it is worth the wait (it is!). Because the process can be full of unknowns, it is easy to feel anxiety at some point. But if you can trust that eventually you will get placed with the child that is meant to be yours, then you might actually enjoy the period of waiting and anticipation—knowing that any day you could get that phone call that changes your life forever. Embrace the unknown. If you stick with it, you WILL bring that child home and you will be so thankful that you did because he or she is EXACTLY who is meant to be in your family...and you wouldn't want it any other way!
What is the biggest reward?
It's incredibly rewarding to stick with the (possibly difficult) journey and eventually pick up the child you’ve been waiting and praying for. The instant connection—that has nothing to do with biological similarities—but rather that your souls were meant to be tied together through this crazy process is about the coolest thing in the world. I think adopting children can be a gift to existing family members (and the whole community!) because it gives folks exposure to other types of backgrounds and stories...and that can only be positive.
What are some of the challenges?
There are definitely challenges in the adoption journey, but they pale in comparison to the rewards. Some of the most common issues:
- Discerning which approach to take: There are a lot of factors to consider when planning to grow your family through adoption—International versus domestic? Infant or older child? Foster care system or private adoption? Do you want one child or are you open to a sibling group? Are you open to a child from a different background or with a disability? There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions but rather opportunitiies for introspection about the kind of environment you’re prepared to create so that the child is set up to thrive.
-Dealing with what others think. Unfortunately, some people feel weird about adoption and think the only way to make a real family is through blood. We can be patient with those who are still wrapping their heads around it, but if someone refuses to support your family choices, you might have to consider how much you want you and your adoptive kiddo around that person anyway. We can always hope that our lifestyles of compassion for others will rub off on those around us, but if not, you can't stress about it. As the wise Taylor Swift once said, "Haters gonna hate."
-Providing a positive connection to the child’s background and a sense of pride in their unique identity. Also if you adopt an older child from foster care, there can be challenges for your existing children in the home because of a possible dynamic shift. But again, the epic rewards far outweigh the challenges!
What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have about adoption?
Unfortunately there are a lot of misconceptions out there. One is that you have to have a lot of money to afford to adopt. Not true! While lawyer and agency fees can definitely add up, there are MANY ways to afford to adopt if you are determined to bring a little one (or big one!) home. There are scores of grants and scholarships out there for people who are qualified to adopt but don't have the finances to fund the lawyer and/or agency fees. There are special grants for military families, teachers, etc. so it pays to investigate! Also there are lots of amazing organizations that exist to help people fund their adoptions such as @AdoptTogether, a tax-deductible crowd-funding site where you can invite friends and family into your journey by giving them an opportunity to invest in your family. Organizations like @AdoptTogether believes that ANY family who is qualified to adopt should not be prevented because of finances so they work to match donations and grants to help families reach their goal.
Additionally, adopting from foster care in the US is not only free of charge, but the adoptive family actually receives a stipend each month until the child is 18 in order to help cover expenses. They've done this so the adoptive families can focus on providing the best forever home possible , instead of stressing about financial obstacles.
Bottom line is, don't let the fear of finances hold you back from growing your family through adoption.. because if you truly want to grow your family through adoption, it can be done. It might take some time and creativity, but what of real value doesn't?