Back in May, Jillian Michaels became a mom twice in the same week. No, she didn't have twins. Her adopted daughter Lukensia (Lu) -- a 2-year-old from Haiti -- joined her family just days before Michaels' long-time partner Heidi Rhoades gave birth to a little boy named Phoenix. All of a sudden, they went from a couple to a family of four through the miracle of birth and the blessing of adoption.
Adoption can be a long and grueling (yet amazingly rewarding) process, but the first time you meet your baby is really special. So, what was it like when Michaels first laid eyes on her little one?
"Obvious. Heidi happened upon her when we were visiting orphanages for aid work in Haiti and Lu clung to her. Then she handed her to me and she clung to me. We both knew immediately that we had met our little girl."
The international choice
When it comes to adoption, families have a number of options: private domestic adoption, foster care adoption and the route Michaels chose -- international adoption.
"Adoption is, much like pregnancy, unique for each family. There is no clear-cut path," says Michaels. "You can adopt internationally, but as I came to experience, this can be very time consuming and costly. So unless you have the money and the patience, try another path. There is private adoption where you retain a lawyer and adopt from a family in the U.S. I chose not to pursue this path personally, because it can actually be a competitive scenario where you compete against other adoptive families to be chosen by the birth mother. It seemed silly to me to throw my hat in this ring when there are so many kids in the world that aren't in this position. Additionally, I didn't want to take the spot of a family who didn't have the means for an international adoption."
Adoption from foster care
More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. About half of these kids will be reunited with their parents, while the remaining stay in the system with foster families and in group facilities. The hope is that these children will be adopted by loving families after their biological parents' rights are terminated, but sadly more than 20,000 of them age out of the system each year without being adopted. At any given time over 100,000 kids in foster care in America, from infants to teens, are waiting to be adopted.
"Foster care is another option and one I have come to be a fan of," says Michaels. "Originally I was warned away from foster care by a social worker who told me that the kids were being removed from abusive households by the state and that it would be too much for a first-time parent to handle. They also told me that the foster child's parents would most likely be unstable (seeing as they have had their child removed from them) and that it wouldn't be good for a high-profile person because they might risk the birth parent coming after them in some way, shape or form.
"However, since getting significantly more involved and educating myself about adoption, I know many people who have successfully fostered to adopt kids here in the U.S. The key is to talk with your social worker about your options. Can you close the adoption if you worry about the child's birth parents? If you are not sure about parenting a child with special needs, like fetal alcohol syndrome and other issues, can you make that clear before being matched with a child? Although I am proud to say that my daughter is Haitian and I know we were meant to be together, I highly recommend exploring fostering to adopt, as the international adoption process can be a bit unstable -- laws in these countries change constantly. For example, I began adopting from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and after a full year I didn't even have a referral and had also spent thousands pursuing this and got nowhere."
Feel the magic
Michaels and Rhoades are truly blessed. They've had the opportunity to grow their family through both birth and adoption.
"I have been so fortunate to have watched my partner conceive a child -- it was an incredible, magical experience. That said I have also had the amazing experience of adopting a child -- which is equally magical. They are both deeply meaningful experiences in very different ways. If someone has the luxury, I would recommend adopting and conceiving. Again this is a have it all situation -- kids are magical no matter how they come into your life. Adoption is not for everyone. I do believe it's a calling. I don't mean this as in you are chosen by God, but rather a feeling deep inside you that you can't shake. It's a knowing in your soul that you are meant to find and raise this child who is out there waiting for you. I honestly don't know how else to describe it, but if you have that feeling... follow it. I couldn't be happier or more in love with both my kids."