Welcoming new family members can make Christmas all the merrier.
The same goes for families welcoming a new adopted member. The legal process can be a long one, and for the children it can be the last chapter of a heartbreaking tale. But when it's over, parents and children alike feel an extra bit of holiday joy.
When Brian and Laura Ulch of Alpena had a chance to care for their niece, they jumped at it. At first, the two signed up for foster care in 2010, when Dezera was just eight months old. She joined her new brothers, Noah, Ethan and Matthew.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Brian and Laura Ulch stand with their six children in front of the family Christmas tree in their Alpena home. Matthew is front and center, Deven center left, Cameron center left, Dezera center, Noah center right and Ethan far right.
Less than a year later, Brian and Laura took in Cameron and Deven, the sons of Brian's cousin, he said. While the couple had planned on adopting Dezera, they eventually reached the same decision for the two boys.
"Once we boarded them, it was too hard for us (to let them go), so we decided to adopt them too," Brian said.
Since then, the household of eight has had a few ups and downs, but mostly feel like a normal family, Brian said. It's a busy house but he and Laura wanted a big family. Brian has always liked kids, and the two had considered getting into foster care before when a friend suggested it. They never followed through until Dezera needed a home.
The first Christmas after all six children were officially part of the family was a special one, Laura said. There was a lot of crying and hugging that day, especially on her part. She admits to being the "sappy one" of the family.
"It was very emotional when we sat down that day and we opened presents," she said. "I was so thankful for everything to be done, for everyone to be together."
Deven remembers the tears, but also recalls his favorite present that year: a pogo stick. The family also got a set of Detroit Tigers tickets from Child and Family Services of Northeast Michigan Inc., the agency that handled their adoptions.
Now, the family has its own Christmas tradition of cruising through neighborhoods and checking out the holiday lights, Brian said. They also meet at a friend's on Christmas afternoon.
Adoption isn't just for the young, and 17-year-old twins Danni and Bethany are looking forward to their first Christmas with new parents Dale and Joy Fiorello. The girls originally lived in the Alpena area, and after living in three other homes over eight years, they have a place to call their own with the Fiorellos in West Michigan.
Danni and Bethany were taken in by their grandmother as babies, Joy said. The grandmother raised them until they were 9, but succumbed to breast cancer after a two-year battle.
"She did a wonderful job with the girls, just wonderful," she said.
Child Protective Services removed the girls from their next home, and they had a hard time finding a fit until they moved in with Dale and Joy in January, she said. The two have been foster parents for nearly 20 years, including for many teenage girls, and asked their license holder if they had any children who needed a place to stay. Danni and Bethany came for a visit that month, and right away Joy, Dale and the girls hit it off.
"It was just an instant match, even with the normal awkwardness you have on the first meeting," Joy said.
Dale echoed her comments, and said their first eight months together went well. After coming to Alpena to finalize their adoption in November, he couldn't ask for more than having them home for the holidays.
The girls will celebrate Christmas this year with 26-year-old Rosie and her two children, Joy said. She and Dale are in the process of adopting her as well, and Danni and Bethany love having her three- and four-year-olds around. On Christmas Day, they'll all visit some of Joy's extended family for an annual party.
Past holidays weren't exactly sad, but for Danni and Bethany this one means a lot.
"It's more exciting than anything, any holiday than before, because this is where we belong," Danni said.
Bethany agreed, and said she looked forward to meeting the extended family.
"I'm really blessed, because I've never really had a family before and now I do," she said. "I'm really thankful for it."