Adoption a calling for Alpena’s Blanchard family

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Pictured above is the Blanchard family. Back row, from left, are dad Lee, Asa (11), mom Renee, holding Ezra (1). In front, left to right, are Elijah (6), Lillian (9) and Selah (8), at their church, Living Hope, on a recent Sunday. They have a foster son too but he was not included in the picture for privacy reasons.

ALPENA — These parents believe every child is a gift from God, and that is why they have fostered and now adopted two young boys.

Lee and Renee Blanchard have a full plate, with Lee pastoring Living Hope Church, and Renee helping pastor and running her photography business, Sozo Studios.

Oh, and they have six kids, all age 11 and younger.

The Blanchards have three biological children, two adopted sons, and a foster child. They always wanted a big family, but at first they were having trouble conceiving. That’s when they looked into traditional adoption, but it was very expensive.

“We struggled with infertility when we were very young,” Renee Blanchard said. “We’ve been married for 13 years, and the first year or two … we really struggled with infertility… It wasn’t working, so we had gotten very comfortable with the idea of adoption.”

Then they had their biological children Asa, now 11, Lillian, now 9, and Selah, now 8, “pretty much back-to-back,” she said. “They’re very close in age.”

“We always wanted a larger family, we always said six,” Blanchard explained. “But we just weren’t wanting to have more biological children. So we started looking at adoption. Super expensive. Atrocious. We didn’t have $30,000 per adoption, so we kind of tabled the whole idea. We thought ‘We’ll never adopt. It’s just out of our price range to adopt.'”

But when they moved to Alpena a little more than three years ago, they met Mindy Herriman, a case worker with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. They moved from Midland.

“We started talking to her about the foster care system,” Blanchard said. “We knew about it, but we really didn’t know enough about it to realize the need that was out there.”

Becoming foster parents seemed like a logical next step.

“So we decided instead of adopting, we would just foster,” she explained. “We decided to foster these children, and for the short time that we had them, give them a good solid foundation and a family.”

They became licensed foster parents, and they decided to get a bigger vehicle that seated eight because their family was expanding to include foster children. That’s when they met salesman Bob Centala at the dealership, Alpena Buick GMC, and began an unexpected bond of friendship with a man who has also been a foster parent for many years.

“So, we got to talking with him, and he finally, about an hour into the conversation of vehicles and foster kids, he pulls out a picture, and he says, ‘Are you looking to adopt?'”

They told him they were planning to just foster — “Basically, whatever the need is.”

“He said, ‘I have a little boy that needs a home, but he’s adoption. He’s not foster. He’s straight adoption.’ And he showed us a picture of Eli. He was three at the time,” she said. “And, Bob was actually in the process of adopting Eli’s biological younger sister. … The Centalas were adopting her but they already had seven kids. They didn’t have room for Eli.”

“So, that’s how Eli came to us,” Blanchard said. “It wasn’t through DHHS, he wasn’t our foster child. It was through buying a car.”

The Blanchards contacted Herriman at DHHS right away and told her they were interested in adopting Eli.

“She said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s crazy, because someone just called me’ — who wasn’t Bob — ‘and said you guys would be a great family for him,'” Blanchard said of her conversation with Herriman.

Since they started fostering, they have adopted two sons and they currently have an 8-year-old foster child as well, whose named will not be mentioned to maintain privacy while he is undergoing the adoption process with another family at this time.

“We adopted Elijah July 19 of 2016,” Blanchard said, referring to their son who just turned six. “He was three when we adopted him.”

He has some health complications that require him to use a feeding tube, and he is small for his age, but she said Eli bonded with their family right away, and that he is an “extremely bright” little boy.

Because of neglect that he experienced as a baby, she said, “His brain isn’t wired that food is safe.”

Before entering the foster system, the infant used to be given Mountain Dew in a baby bottle and sugar packets if he cried, or nothing at all, so his mind did not develop the neuropaths to see food as a need that would be met.

“He doesn’t really have the ability to feel hunger,” she noted, adding that the feeding tube supplements the daily nutrients he needs.

He is going through feeding therapy now, but she said it is very difficult to relearn when that neglect occurs as an infant. They avoid giving him sugar, because she said his brain recognizes it as a “trauma trigger” because of the past neglect he experienced.

She said that adoption was very quick, taking less than three months.

“And then, we got Ezra when he was two days old,” she said. “We got him straight from the hospital, and he came to us February 21st of 2017. We got a call that there was a newborn at the hospital that needed a foster family, and we really didn’t anticipate adopting him.”

She said he was undergoing withdrawals from his biological mother’s drug addiction, and she ended up leaving and not coming back. The baby withdrew from the drug addiction for six weeks, shaking and screaming day and night, she said. He is also on a feeding tube because he is not capable of swallowing, as he aspirates (breathes in) everything, including food, instead of swallowing it. He never learned how to swallow.

“He’s almost two and we just completed the adoption this year in September,” Blanchard said. It was finalized on Sept. 18. “It took a really long time, even though we knew his adoption was going to go through when he was only a couple weeks old. It took almost a year and a half for it to actually complete, just because of the circumstances of what they consider abandonment.”

She said most adoptions take at least six months.

She and her husband have open, honest discussions with their children, and Asa, Lillian and Selah readily accepted the new additions to the family.

“When we started this whole process we sat our kids down, even at 8, 7 and 5, and said, ‘Ok, how do you feel about this?’ and ‘This is what it means.'”

The couple explained to their children that the kids coming in would not have had the same upbringing, and that they should all be prepared for surprises, such as their toys getting broken or loud tantrums or reactions they may not understand.

“All three of them were really big on, you know, it’s worth it, to help children,” she said. “… My older two are extremely sensitive kids, and they took this on, just as much as we did, as a ministry, as something our family needs to do.”

At first the idea of having six kids sounds overwhelming, she said, but once you start adding to the family, you become a professional parent in no time.

“One is the hardest, because they depend on you for everything,” Blanchard explained. “Two gives them a playmate, and it’s not as hard. Three rocked my world. I thought, ‘Why in the world did I do this to myself?’ Because you don’t have three arms, and there’s only two of you, so you’re outnumbered. So, I just, I almost didn’t come back from three. But then, when we had four, all of sudden, you realize that you learned how to multitask with three, and four was not much different. So, when we got five and then six, I already was experienced at multitasking, and they already depended on each other for entertainment, and so it really wasn’t that hard. Once you get past three, … it’s just a little bit more of a controlled chaos.”

Renee said she and Lee have the kind of marriage needed to take on a large family.

“Lee and I have one of those marriages where we could spend 24 hours a day together and never get sick of each other,” she said. “… I’d rather spend time with him than anyone else.”

They treat each other with patience and kindness.

“We actually have quite a calm home for having six kids,” she said, adding that they are well-behaved. “I think they feed off the fact that both Lee and I like harmony and calm.”

She does find a way to make some time for herself as well.

“My time of sanity comes from running,” she noted, stating that is her stress reliever.

She just completed a marathon, and has lost 100 pounds since she started running.

“I like to stay busy,” she said. “I get bored easily.”

The Blanchards feel God has called them to reach out to women and children especially.

Their main goal in fostering and adopting is “providing these kids with a solid example of what a marriage is, and what a family is,” she said, adding, “We believe very strongly that the Bible calls us to take care of orphans and widows. It’s very, very clear in scripture. … We see it as a Christian mandate.”

Nov. 26 was National Adoption Day, and November is celebrated annually as National Adoption Month, although the need is year-round. Many adoptions are solidified during November, focusing on the need for placement of approximately 13,000 Michigan children in foster care — with roughly 3,000 of those children available for adoption annually, most of with are teens, according to Samaritis.

“There’s a big need for teenagers, who are going to age out (of the foster care system), and they don’t have a home to go back to at Christmastime,” Blanchard said, noting that they are at the end of their fostering journey, but they would like to adopt teens in the future after their children are grown.

The faith-based nonprofit Samaritis offers many services, including assistance with adoptions through its adoption subsidiary, Lutheran Adoption Service. For more information, visit www.samaritas.org. The group’s mission is based on the scripture Micah 6:8a: “Love mercy, act justly, walk humbly with your God.”

Darby Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 324 or dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.