Championing moms near and far: Michelle’s story of adoption, loss, and connection

I’m thrilled to feature some moms I truly admire on my blog in honor of Mother’s Day this month. My friend Michelle shares her perspective as an adoptive mom, as well as a grieving mom, and how this journey has deepened her heart for moms and babies around the globe. Michelle was the very first mom I supported through an adoption fundraiser trunk show (two, actually). Noonday began as an adoption fundraiser, and to date has raised nearly a million dollars for adopting families - while empowering women around the globe so that their families can stay together, and children aren’t orphaned due to poverty and a lack of opportunity. When Michelle and I caught up recently, I was so touched to hear about her deepened passion for both adoption and orphan prevention. Take a look at her family’s beautiful and painful adoption journey, and her connection to a global story through it all.

Michelle with her husband and two children

Michelle with her husband and two children

Guest post by Michelle Vande Hey

I didn’t always know for sure that I wanted kids.  Before my husband and I got married we knew that we would be unable to have kids biologically,  so we knew that parenthood wasn’t a certainty for us and we were good with that. Once we decided we wanted to have kids though, I knew I for sure wanted more than one.  Definitely 2, but I was open to up to 4 kids. Crazy, right?! Especially with the expense of adopting and raising them. But I knew God would provide for us when we needed Him to.  We started our adoption journey at the end of 2012 and our daughter was born in March of 2014. Our path to get to her had plenty of unexpected bumps. Even though I would never want anyone to have to go through what we did, I will tell you, it was so worth it.

After moving in 2015 we knew we wanted to start back on the adoption process because we knew that the second time around is typically longer.  Just after our daughter turned two in April of 2016 we were Home Study ready and patiently waiting.

It wasn’t until the end of 2016 that I had my first experience with Noonday Collection.  It’s an interesting little story. A newer acquaintance of mine, Rita, was hosting a trunk show that my aunt happened to be invited to.  Rita is an adoptive mom herself, and chose to do her show as an adoption fundraiser, meaning Noonday would give a portion of sales to an adopting family. She was looking for a family to give the funds to.  My aunt suggested my family not knowing that we both knew Rita, but that Rita didn’t know yet that I was in the middle of an adoption. Long story short, she chose us. I learned a little bit about the company and hosted my own trunk show in January 2017 as a fundraiser. This  was really uncomfortable for me; my husband and I never wanted to ask people for money so we could adopt. I did anyway, partially because I was able to meet Julie and felt her passion for helping families across the globe. We had been on the waiting list for almost a year with little to no notion of an adoption happening anytime soon. Between the two trunk shows, and the support from people who shopped with this global and local impact, we were able to renew our home study in April without paying a single penny.  It was a nice burden lifted off our shoulders.

Looking back now, I realize that I mostly cared about Noonday because, selfishly, it was helping my family.  I enjoyed the jewelry and bag I got and was happy it was from a fair trade company, but didn’t think much else beyond the impact it had on my family.

Later, though, through my own family’s heartache and a renewed connection to Noonday’s story, I would gain a much broader vision and passion for what Noonday is about: world change, orphan prevention, and championing moms near and far.

We were eventually matched a year and a half later, in  July 2018. 10 days later our son was born. After being in the hospital for several days with minor complications we found out through a brain MRI that he was born with significant brain damage.  I was sitting there holding my son while the doctor was telling me he may never eat orally, may never walk and it was highly likely he would end up with Cerebral Palsy.

59138340_1076452895871427_5636426719461113856_n.jpg

After being transferred to a Children’s Hospital and a total of 3 weeks we were able to bring James home.  I am so thankful for all the extra time and attention he required. Unfortunately, in October 2018 our son died unexpectedly at 12 weeks old in his sleep.  There are so many details I’m leaving out, but this isn’t the post for that.

In December a few friends invited me out to a winery to relax.  These were those friends that we really only became friends because of a mutual friend, but have stayed friends because they are great people.  The four of us hadn’t gotten together in a long time. One of my friends, Amanda, was giving all of us Christmas presents even though none of us brought presents.  She is such a great gift giver. The gift she gave me was probably one of the most significant gifts I had gotten since James died.  It was Jessica Hoenegger’s new book Imperfect Courage along with an Imperfect Courage paper beads bracelet.  The funny thing is that at the time I didn’t realize how significant the gift was. Jessica Honegger is the founder of Noonday, and in the book I would learn about her adoption story, and about having the courage to create an impact.

At the end of January I went to the Woven with Love conference (for adoptive moms) in Michigan with a few other friends.  I saw that one of my friends had the book and she said she liked it so far. That was all I needed to know to start the book as soon as I got home.  

I started Imperfect Courage and instantly felt Jessica’s words speaking to me.  Even though our stories are very different - domestic infant adoption is much different than international adoption - I related to her and her stories from the perspective of a mom; a mom who wanted to make real change happen, but was scared and is scared to share her story.  In my grief, I found true connections to moms around the globe; we all want to love and protect our children.  

59339711_662670344165194_6171126589917495296_n.jpg

A couple weeks after finishing the book Julie invited me to Jessica’s online book club.  This was perfectly timed. I had decided earlier in the year that I was going to focus less on the number of books I read and instead implement more of what I learned from my favorites.  This, was one of those books. So I reread Imperfect Courage while listening to the audio (so I could read it faster).

Something that really stuck with me from the book was the Sisterhood Effect: when women refuse to let perceived threats strangle our relationships, when we let empathy triumph over judgement and let collaboration win over comparison.

This is when I realized how much more I loved Jessica and Noonday’s heart and mission.  This company isn’t just about helping families adopt, actually from my perspective now, I feel like their core is preventing mothers from having to leave their children.  Even though I have been part of the adoption community for 6 years, I was still a little naïve (especially with international adoption). We forget that even though many kids end up with a loving family, the reason they had to leave their biological family is actually something that can be avoided.  There will always be a place for adoption, but we can be part of the solution, a real solution on the prevention side as well through shopping to support jobs in vulnerable communities. To know that so many children don’t have to leave their biological mothers/families if they had job. It sounds so simple, but clearly it’s not, because so many children are orphaned.

After reading Imperfect Courage twice I feel so much more connected to moms globally.  We are all fighting for the same cause: what is best for our kids. And in many cases, it’s better and even possible for more kids to stay with their biological family.  I want to help more families locally and globally and I am starting with hosting my second trunk show with Julie, not for me, but for the moms that I haven’t met around the globe. This is a collaborative culture.  This is the Sisterhood Effect.

Huge thanks to Michelle for sharing your story, to Rita for first introducing us, and to Amanda, yet another awesome hostess, for buying Jessica’s book for Michelle. I’m so glad to know you all and to partner with you in this work.

If you’d like to read Imperfect Courage, click here. To learn more about Noonday’s story or to shop, click here. To shop the adoption fundraiser trunk show that Michelle is hosting in July for her friend, click here. 10% of your purchase will be given to support the adoption. Or, contact me about an adoption or standard trunk show here.