Jeff Mindell and his wife Kelly live in Los Angeles, California. Jeff is a successful photographer and Kelly runs the crazy fun website Studio DIY, where she has made it her mission to “make life a PARTY!”. But life hasn’t always been a party for the Mindells. When Kelly was a teenager she was diagnosed with a very rare form of stomach cancer (for children), and as a result had to have a total gastrectomy, which basically means she does not have a stomach. Because of her experience with childhood cancer and her gastrectomy, Kelly always wondered if she’d be able to have biological children of her own.
Shortly after Jeff and Kelly got married, they began the journey to starting a family and ran into some infertility roadblocks including miscarriage and even an ectopic pregnancy. After the heartbreaking setbacks, Jeff and Kelly happily decided to pursue adoption to grow their family. Through all of this, they have been open books with their many readers and followers and have been an inspiring example of how to weather hardship with a smile on your face — and how to never lose hope.
Last March, the Mindells welcomed their beautiful son, Arlo Mitchell, into their family through an open adoption. Watching them flourish into their roles as parents has been an absolute joy and we are thrilled to have Jeff on the blog today giving us the honest scoop on all things adoption. If adoption is something you have ever considered, or just wanted to know more about, this post is for you.
For those that don’t know much about adoption, can you give us a high-level rundown of what it takes to become an adoptive parent?
The number one thing would be a LOT of patience. Adoption timelines are literally all over the place. We were told that we could potentially be waiting as long as a year and a half to find a birthmother to match with us, but at the same time, to prepare and have your entire life in order and ready for a baby at a moment's notice. Super casual and not nerve-wracking whatsoever. Both scenarios are very real possibilities for domestic adoption, something my wife and I chose to do when we adopted our son, Arlo. International adoptions can take much longer than that, something that weighed heavy in our decision as to what road we wanted go down.
Something else to consider is money. We're all friends here so I can be frank: adoption costs a lot of money. It's hard to even ballpark it because every situation is so different, but I would encourage anyone thinking about becoming an adoptive parent to just evaluate your financial situation and make sure that you are stable enough to make the commitment. Although we now have the most beautiful and blessed end result in my son, the adoption fees are no joke and definitely something to think about ahead of time.
What do you think are the most common misconceptions that surround adoption?
I think the biggest misconception is that the birth mom or birthparents are "the other." That they are on one side of this weird, strained (or nonexistent), distant, or sad relationship and maybe didn't love their child enough to keep said baby for themselves. Now, I can only speak to the experience that my wife and I went through and the relationship that we have with our son's birthmother is honestly one of the best things we've ever experienced. There is unwavering trust, an absolute understanding and most of all, unconditional love from all parties involved. She is someone who will forever be apart of our story and our son's life and we wouldn't change a thing.
What was the most surprising thing about going through the adoption process?
For me, it was how much we trusted and were guided by our guts. Our son's situation was the very first that we were presented by our attorney that just felt right. Nothing felt weird or off, no red flags and nothing that made us question our birthmom or her motives for wanting to pursue us as her chosen adoptive family. She was a breath of fresh air after a few situations that we knew didn't feel right for us or our family. Any time throughout our adoption journey that we were on the fence about something or didn't really know how to proceed (as this whole thing was so brand new and we had no clue what to expect), we just trusted our instincts and the rest kind of just fell into place.
What are your thoughts on open versus closed adoptions?
Honestly, we went into this whole thing good with literally whatever came our way. Open, closed, partially-open, half-closed, semi-permenantly open, closed on weekends: we just felt very, very lucky and humbled to even be considered as a viable option for someone else to trust with their baby. Kelly and I are two of the most open people you might ever meet. We share a ton with our online audience and we really feel like transparency is the key to connectivity. We had a very similar approach with how we envisioned a relationship with a birthmother before we met ours. In the end, we always said whatever they were comfortable with, we were comfortable with. If Arlo's mom had wanted a closed adoption, we would honor her wish. If she had wanted a very open adoption, we were down for that as well. There was one thing we just kept thinking about: that this was and is the greatest gift you could ever give to someone. The least we could do is bend over backwards to meet any level of comfort or request she might have had and not a day goes by that we don't remember that.
How do you know if you would make a great adoptive parent?
For me, I have always known I wanted to be a dad. It wasn't even a question. If you have love to give and room in your heart and your home, I think you just know.
What was the hardest part about adopting? The best?
The hardest thing was not knowing when it was going to happen. You want to prepare, but not over-prepare in case something happens or plans change. Do we set up a nursery and stare at an empty room for months on end? Do we just not do that and risk getting a call that a baby needs a home tomorrow and oh wait, no nursery set up yet? So there was a ton of back-and-forth with us and a whole roller coaster of emotions. We ultimately didn't let ourselves get too emotionally invested in the process just in case. I remember telling myself, even in the hospital the day he was born, that nothing is set in stone (yet). Nothing is final until things are final. So that was really hard for us. The best part is probably the obvious: my little man who makes me laugh uncontrollably every single day.
What is your best advice for someone just starting on the adoption journey?
Be so very open. It sounds so hippy-dippy when I say it out loud, but when you are open-minded about the process and trust that you will get to that light at the end of the tunnel (because you will), that is the best kind of mentality to have. It's also good to be open in a more practical sense of the word: be it the type of child you are open to adopting, age of the child, color of the child, ethnicity, gender, etc. We were told very early on that if for example, we only wanted to adopt a newborn caucasian female, we might be waiting a LOT longer for that scenario to present itself than if we were open to whatever situation was out there. And that's not to say there is anything wrong with waiting for that perfect, little newborn caucasian female, but none of the specifics were important to our family. We were just eager to become parents, period. We also are just super impatient so there's that too.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you could have known at the beginning of your adoption experience?
That I don't think of my son any differently. I really, truly thought that I would have regrets about not having biological kids of my own flesh and blood before we started this whole thing. And now, the only time that I'm reminded that he's adopted is when other people bring it up to me. Granted, he's Mexican and might physically look nothing like me, but he is my son. My entire heart, scream-laughing and crawling, outside of my body. It physically hurts when I have to be away from him and Kelly has to practically reason with me every night why it's not a good idea to wake him up just to see him smile. So I wish I knew those little things before we started this journey. That this insane love for the tiniest little person was possible and as it turns out, immeasurable.
A very heartfelt thank you to Jeff for his openness and positivity! Are any of you adoptive parents? Have you thought of pursuing adoption? We’d love to hear in the comments!