By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As a police officer and a member of the National Guard, Jake Pries is used to solving problems.
But when he and wife, Emily, struggled to start their family in the years following their wedding at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, they were faced with a challenging dilemma. The day before Thanksgiving in 2006, doctors told the couple they were dealing with a male infertility issue. Jake and Emily were not comfortable with the expensive treatments that might make conception possible.
Jake felt helpless and frustrated. Emily encouraged Jake to see it as a joint problem and not to blame himself, but still, their hearts were broken.
“Jake had seen some of the worst things you can see, including children who weren’t cared for and loved the way they should be,” Emily recalled. “We wanted a child to love, hold and care for. Why couldn’t we just make one? Why wouldn’t our bodies do what so many other people just took for granted?”
After the initial shock wore off a bit, they began to think about their future. Knowing they would be unlikely to conceive on their own, the challenge shifted from “How do we get pregnant?” to “How do we start a family?”
Jake and Emily prayed about what the next step would be. During this time, they began to notice how many people around them had been impacted by adoption. A member of Jake’s small group at a Christian Experience Weekend had adopted his two children. “There was this weird sequence of events that opened up our eyes,” Jake said.
After prayerful consideration, they decided domestic infant adoption could be the answer. They contacted a local agency and went through the process of becoming “paper pregnant” — a term Emily uses to describe the time spent waiting to be chosen after all the paperwork has been approved.
They weren’t sure how long it would take before they received a referral. They knew it could be a matter of days or years. “We were just waiting for a phone call,” Jake said.
About five months later, Emily was at work when she received a call that a boy had been born nearby and the baby’s mother was interested in having Jake and Emily adopt the child.
They were at the hospital within an hour and a half of the call to meet the child. Jake and Emily were cautiously optimistic; in Iowa, birth parents cannot legally terminate parental rights until 36 hours after the birth. They have an additional 96-hour revocation period in which to change their minds. “It’s a decision (they) have to live with” for the rest of their lives, Emily noted. She believes it is important for the birth parents to have some time to reflect on their decision once the baby is born.
Because Jake and Emily hadn’t received prior notice of the child’s arrival, Emily admits they “didn’t have anything” ready at home. Once the birth parents decided for sure to go through with the adoption, Jake and Emily went about quickly preparing a nursery with the help of family and friends. The Pries named their new son Asher, which means “fortunate” or “blessed” in Hebrew. “Asher was also one of Jacob’s sons in the Bible,” Emily said, looking at her husband.
A new family
Asher’s birth parents sought an open adoption, which meant they wanted to have some kind of contact with the child, either directly or indirectly. Jake was a bit more hesitant than Emily. He didn’t want to make a decision that could potentially put his family in a vulnerable position. But, once he met the birth parents and their families, he had a “gut feeling” that they needed to be in Asher’s life. Asher “needed to know where he came from, to know the people who were part of his original story,” Jake said.
Asher’s birth family has become a second family to Jake and Emily, and they often share holiday traditions and milestones together.
About three years later, Jake and Emily adopted a daughter, Adeline, from another family. That arrangement is open, as well, although her family isn’t as involved as Asher’s at the present time. Emily noted that birth parents can go through times of decreased emotional availability as they continue to cope with their “difficult decision.”
Asher and Adeline know they are adopted, and Jake and Emily do their best to put that concept into context for them through books and discussions. For example, Adeline enjoys playing “mommy” with baby dolls, and Emily has explained to her that not all moms can grow a baby in their belly. “We talk about babies and birth parents. We talk about that in the scope of adoption and how that relates to our family.”
Something to be thankful for
While Asher and Adeline, now 8 and 5 years old, will never share Jake and Emily’s physical features, the couple enjoys seeing how much the kids resemble their birth parents. “Every time we look at them, we are reminded of the journey they took to be in our family,” Jake said. Emily added, “I don’t go a day without thinking about their birth families. In those difficult moments when I doubt myself as a parent, I’m reminded that (they picked us). That’s a big deal.”
Reflecting back, Emily realizes that adoption wasn’t just a solution to a problem for her and Jake, but a solution to a tough situation for the birth parents, too. “In our case, we had an issue. We had a problem, and we were seeking something. They were, too,” Emily said. Through adoption, Jake and Emily were able to build the family of their dreams and, at the same time, offer their children’s birth parents a positive solution to an unplanned pregnancy.
They are thankful that Asher and Adeline’s birth parents chose life, and chose them. “There is no expression of gratitude that is actually good enough. They gave us a chance to have a family. I don’t know how you say thank you for that, besides being the best parents you can be, raising the kids the best you can,” Jake said.