We’re excited to bring you a different type of adoption story.
Typically, we share the adoption journeys of parents who already have biological children and who chose to adopt internationally.
But today, we bring you the interesting story of two parents, who when called on to care for a local child, said yes. Who when called on to jump blindly into the foster care system, said yes. Who when called on to navigate exhaustive legal hurdles, said yes.
Parents Justin and Audrey Aiken persevered. From this perseverance, the Aiken family is now three, with the addition of their daughter, Constance.
Mutual vision from different experiences.
The Aikens live in West Plains, Missouri. Audrey owns and operates a hair salon while Justin works for The Master’s Craft, a sister company of Real Wood Floors and a major distribution customer.
Yet Audrey and Justin did not meet in West Plains—they met in Munich, Germany . . . at the airport. As members of an English-teaching camp, they were set to serve in Albania and Montenegro. They were assigned as teaching partners but because Justin was a last-minute addition, they didn’t meet until Munich, just before the camp’s flight to Albania. The couple became fast friends and kept in touch over the following two years. When sparks flew two years later, they dated and eventually got married. In June of 2020, they celebrated seven years.
We are always interested in knowing if adoptive parents talk about adoption early on in their relationships. These answers vary. In the Aikens’ case, it was a unique and heartwarming answer we received.
During a youth group trip when Audrey was thirteen years old, she watched a video about the orphan crisis in China. At that time, the one-child rule existed in China, so a great number of female children were orphaned and needed adoption.
Audrey said, “I could not take my eyes off of that video. I felt in my heart that I was going to adopt one day. That is something within my capability, and I felt a calling. Even at thirteen I knew that adoption was going to be a part of my story at some point.”
When Justin was in his early twenties, he too felt a calling. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, to missionary parents, Justin travelled to Pennsylvania to go to college, where he met the Master’s Craft owner’s youngest son, Daniel. Because of that relationship, Justin came down to West Plains and worked summers at the company until he was eventually hired on as a full-time employee.
“A big draw for me for working at The Master’s Craft had to do with how mission-minded the company obviously was. As a missionary kid, this really spoke to me,” he said. “I got to see their mission in action first-hand because so many of the company’s families have adopted kids of their own.”
A trip to Shepherd’s Field, the orphanage in China that Real Wood Floors has supported for more than a decade, solidified Justin’s feelings, and he felt the calling. Being around the young kids, it confirmed in him the great need that existed for adoption. Very touched by his experience, he felt a desire to adopt.
While Audrey and Justin dated, their conversations about adoption hit home for both of them, and early on in their relationship, they decided together they would do it.
A circuitous route: from guardianship to foster parenting to adoption.
In 2017, the Aikens decided to have their own biological child; however, Audrey was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which causes infertility. Some fertility treatments can be tried, but the Aikens knew friends who’d gone through that emotionally- and physically-draining process, so they chose against that route.
“When I was diagnosed with PCOS, it seemed like an arrow pointing toward adoption,” Audrey told us.
A year later, Justin and Audrey prepared for an international adoption and its home-study process, which typically includes training and visits with a social worker, when they received a life changing call from Rachel Cobb, host of the Real Wood Floors’ The Every Child Podcast. A local child was in urgent need of a placement. Could they become guardians of this child instead of adopting at this moment? Could they be ready in a month?
The birth mother was pregnant and due in four weeks. An answer was needed quickly, so Audrey and Justin met up with the birth mother and her stepmother. The Aikens felt comfortable with a permanent guardianship but weren’t necessarily comfortable with becoming foster parents.
Within a week Justin and Audrey received a call alerting them that the birth mother was having contractions. The Aikens went to the hospital and waited. Eventually, a nurse came out and told them the news. The birth mother had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions better known as false labor pains, and there would be no child today.
The birth of Constance.
About a week after the Braxton Hicks’ contractions, while both of the Aikens were at work, another call came in. The birth mother was going into labor. The baby would still be premature, so Justin was a bit resigned to yet another false alarm, but Audrey had a feeling this was the real deal. The Aikens journeyed to the hospital again. Since they weren’t family, they weren’t allowed back in the delivery area and waited for more than two excruciating hours.
Finally, a nurse informed them of very good news this time—a child had been born and they could see her.
Audrey held the small baby in her arms. “She was the most perfect, cutest baby I’d ever seen. She was perfectly pink and had these chubby little cheeks,” Audrey said.
“You don’t know how to feel though I immediately felt I loved her,” Audrey continued. “I felt like I loved her before she was even born. Yet, there were so many barriers. Her birth mom was right there in the room and unsure of what she wanted. Legally, none of us really knew where we stood. So it was thrilling and exciting but also confusing at the same time.”
After Justin got his turn to hold the baby, the Aikens and the birth mother discussed names for the child by putting together their own lists. Audrey suggested to Justin that if the birth mother came up with a name they liked, they should do their best to get on board with that choice.
The birth mom asked what they thought about the name, Constance, and that struck a chord with the Aikens, and they agreed.
The nurses kindly offered Audrey and Justin a private room, and they got to spend Constance’s first night with her at the hospital. They said that it was a pretty sleepless night as they listened for and heard every little noise or cry out of Constance’s mouth.
While still at the hospital, the joyful Aikens shared a cup of coffee while a few obstacles began to brew in the background. Their lawyer called and informed them that the Department of Social Services (DSS) would take temporary custody of Constance. This meant that after the birth mother was discharged, Justin and Audrey could not see Constance at the hospital. The hospital staff worked diligently with the Division of Family Services (DFS) to get the necessary paperwork done, so that Constance wouldn’t have to get a temporary placement with a family who was not the Aikens.
Acting in concert with DFS, their guardianship petition was denied by the local court. DFS contacted Justin and Audrey to set up a kinship placement, which involves a home-study and a background check. It was the end of the week, and the Aikens feared that Constance would have to stay at the hospital alone.
However, a generous man worked on their background check on a Saturday because he was aware of Justin and Audrey’s situation. The paperwork was completed, and the Aikens brought Constance home. As fate would have it, the day before, Rachel Cobb hosted their baby shower at Real Wood Floors, so the new family had all the things they needed.
Constance at home before the constant of change.
We asked how the first few weeks went with Constance at home.
“We didn’t get a lot of sleep, as is the nature of being new parents,” Justin said.
“We were also concerned that we didn’t really know what was going to happen with Constance’s healthcare or with her birth mom.”
Justin spoke to something Sam Cobb, Real Wood Floors’ CEO, likes to talk about—being willing to step into the void in order to bring peace. “That first week Audrey and I felt like we had stepped into the void, doing something very far out of our comfort zone,” Justin said. Suddenly, they had found out they would be in the foster care system, and this was scary because it was an unknown. However, they remarked that the familial and community support in the first few weeks was incredible.
Adoption laws have stipulations, and in this case, Constance would have to be in the Aikens’ custody for a period of six months before she could be adopted..
For the first couple months, things seemed to be going smoothly, but three months in, the birth mother changed her mind and decided that she wanted to keep Constance. On top of that, Constance’s case was reassigned to a new social worker.
Justin and Audrey were terrified and confused—not knowing what the future would hold—but they kept up hope. They met with Constance’s guardian ad litem to try to figure out what would happen next. Because of the goal change from adoption to reunification, family visitation was put in place by DSS. The Aikens took Constance to weekly supervised visits at the DSS office This was an hour trip one way, which took a toll on the newborn and created many scheduling challenges.
Then another step into the void. In January, during a hearing, the judge was made aware that the goal for Constance’s care had been changed from adoption to reunification with the birth mother. This could potentially change everything.
Stepping into the void with perseverance.
Justin and Audrey continue to step into the void and continue to persevere to bring Constance home. Like many of our adoption stories, the journey isn’t simple, so we use two blog entries to fully highlight the process. Check back soon to read Part 2 of the Aikens’ journey.