“I remember when I gave birth to my oldest son,” explains Judy Van Berkel, Rockford resident and mother. “I didn’t think I could ever love any other child as much as I loved him. Then I had my daughter and my next son and I realized how intensely I could love all three. When we began the adoption process, I worried that I might feel differently towards my adopted daughters.”
Judy’s worries were dispelled after months of waiting and separation from two Haitian toddler girls that she and her husband Geoff had chosen to be part of their family.
“Those months of waiting, with them in Haiti and us in Michigan forged a bond,” gushes Judy. “I was amazed how the longing to hold them was so similar to the third trimester of pregnancy.”
After only a couple visits with the girls in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and now back in Michigan, Judy and her husband Geoff found themselves glued to the computer and television on January 12, 2010. A massive earthquake with global impact hit Haiti where the orphanage held their (soon to be) adopted daughters, Daphna and Grace.
Daphna was eight months old when Judy and Geoff decided to adopt her from HIS Home orphanage in Port Au Prince. “Our case worker handed us a picture of her,” says Judy. “She was tiny, with the largest eyes I had ever seen on an infant. We immediately said ‘yes’ and wanted
to adopt her.”
Geoff and Judy’s first visit to Haiti was to meet Daphna and to celebrate her first birthday. Upon arriving at the orphanage, they were overwhelmed with the needs of all the children.
We cried the entire flight home,” confesses Judy. “In four short days, all my mommy instincts had been reawakened, I missed Daphna’s cry, her smell and the way she picked things up with her toes.”
Daphna wasn’t the only child they now missed; a tiny five-pound newborn with deformed hands and feet had captured their hearts while visiting the orphanage. Both Geoff and Judy realized that they were not quite finished with Haiti. That little girl, Grace, was meant to be a part
of their family too.
Grace was discovered in a trash pile just after being birthed on an unknown date in August 2008. The mother’s placenta was still attached. A local woman passing by found Grace and brought her to the hospital where she was treated for rat bites, fire ant bites, and dehydration. Upon being released from the hospital, Grace was dropped off at a local orphanage. The Van Berkels met Grace only one week after she was brought
to the orphanage.
Geoff and Judy started the adoption process for Grace immediately. However, the process was not so immediate. Haitian government issues road blocked the adoption, which kept them at stage one. Almost no progression had been made in quite some time. That’s when the earthquake hit.
Geoff and Judy acted quickly after hearing the news of the disaster to make sure they had their adoption paperwork in order. Then they waited; waited for any news regarding the status of Daphna and Grace.
“Our lives turned upside down,” remembers Judy. “We waited anxiously by the computer for news posted on a Yahoo group site. We scanned every piece of paper, picture, and receipt we had to U.S. Immigration to prove our connection to the girls.”
Finally they received a call from the Department of Homeland Security saying both Daphna and Grace were being granted humanitarian parole and would be flown to Miami.
Geoff and Judy became the girls’ official guardians on January 26, 2010. The adoptions were made official in November 2011.
Since bringing Daphna and Grace home, the Van Berkel family has supported Grace through surgeries on her foot and her right hip.
“Adjustment as a family has taken time,” divulges Judy. “The biggest transition for our older children was having little ones in the house again: naptimes, early bedtimes, and more time spent at home.” Yet the blessings have been tremendous for the family since the adoptions.
Daphna is affectionate and very verbal. Grace has inner strength and is self-controlled.
“Then there are days where all five kids are playing and laughing together,” boasts Judy “And it is beautiful to have all my children under the same roof.”
Still connected to Haiti
Since the adoptions, the Van Berkel family has stayed connected with HIS Home orphanage in Port Au Prince. In the fall of 2011, they took over the full responsibility for the sponsorship program. Judy is in charge of keeping a web page up to date with all the children’s pictures and status’ for adoption.
The family also raises money for the orphanage by hosting a 300-mile bike ride from Rockford, Michigan to Harrod, Ohio called ‘HIS Home 300’. In 2011, the ride raised $55,000 for the great needs that still exist at HIS Home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jenny Luth is a public relations associate at Clark Communications in Southwest Michigan.
You will probably see Jenny: A. Eating local food. B. Drinking local beer. C. Supporting local
bands. D. Smiling.