‘They saved us’: Idahoans share their adoption stories

The Cutlers married in 2006 and struggled with fertility for three agonizing years. Finally, Zak, a contractor, suggested they look into adoption.

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared on Idaho Press.

Zak and Kimberly Cutler want to start a family.

The Cutlers married in 2006 and struggled with fertility for three agonizing years. Finally, Zak, a contractor, suggested they look into adoption.

The papers were filled out the next day. Four months later, the Cutlers adopted baby Owen.

Adoptive families and child services workers are working to raise awareness for the need for adoptive families for children and teenagers in the foster care system during the month of November, national adoption month.

On Nov. 17, A New Beginning Adoption Agency hosted a pizza party for parents of adoptees and their children ages 8 to 15 to celebrate national adoption month and raise awareness for the You Are Not Alone program . The YANA program teaches parents and children to communicate better with each other and supports adoptive families. The program will relaunch in January, with one group for 8- to 12-year-olds and another for 13- to 15-year-olds.

At any given time in the United States, there are 2 million people waiting to adopt a baby, said A New Beginning Adoption Agency Executive Director Stephanie Pearl. Of those 2 million, there are 50 families waiting to adopt at A New Beginning Adoption Agency in Idaho, Pearl said.

As of June 30, 2022, which is the most recent data available, there were 357 children in foster care waiting to be adopted, said Stephanie Miller, program specialist with Idaho’s Child and Family Services.

Like the Cutlers, Shay and Michael Pendergrass wanted children, but until four years ago, never looked deeply into adoption.

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“I want to have a baby,” said Michael Pendergrass. “Adopting older children is nowhere on the radar.”

Many parents interested in adoption share those sentiments, which often separate children from the foster care system. But Shay, who used to work as an adoption social worker, is interested in foster care and possibly adopting a foster kid.

“My heart goes in that direction,” he said.

After some deliberation, they decided to look into adopting a foster kid and began taking foster adopt classes. As they finish their homeschooling, Shay sees the Wednesday adoption video of teenage brothers Josh and Tyler. They put in an inquiry about the boys and got an email back within 48 hours. By Friday, they were talking about meeting each other.

“Things took off from there,” Michael said. “Even the committee is struggling to comply.”

After the first visit with Josh and Tyler, Shay said she knew they were going to be family. When families take care of the adoption, the children are required to live with the family for six months before the adoption is finalized. Once the adoption was finalized, the love for their Boise home was visceral, Michael said.

“Adoption is not so much about attachment as it is about connection. We spend a lot of time focusing on connecting with these kids from day one,” says Michael.

The adoption finally gave 18-year-old Josh and 15-year-old Tyler, who had been in the foster care system for 10 years, a permanent home. Before the adoption, Tyler said, he was left with 13 families.

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“I finally feel like I care,” Tyler said. “The other families left immediately. Going through so many families as fast as I did makes you feel like you don’t deserve anyone.”

Finally, adoption gave Michael and Shay something they had always wanted: a family.

“My young adulthood wasn’t rough by any standards, but I had a lot of heartbreak. I didn’t know if I would make it to this stage of my life,” Michael said. “It means the world — it means everything. These boys are my everything. I feel like they’ve been my whole life and I’ve only been with them for three and a half years.”

Two years after the Cutlers adopted Owen, they filed papers for a second adoption — 11 months later, they adopted their son Luca.

Then, out of the blue, they received a call that Owen’s birth mother was pregnant, Zak said. She wanted them to adopt her son so she and Owen could be together, and the Cutlers did.

Two and a half years after adopting Ryker, Zak received an email from A New Beginning asking for open adoptive families. He passed it to Kimberly, and she filled out the forms. In every adoption process, there are some potential adoptees, but they are all boys, Zak said.

“I just felt like we had a girl there,” Zak said. “When we got the call for Lorelai … I cried.”

He knew it was his daughter, Kimberly said. Three years later, the Cutlers received a call from Lorelai’s birth grandparents, informing them that she had a little brother, Pierce, in foster care.

After a six-month battle to get Pierce out of foster care, he was placed with them and is now adopted by the Cutlers, who live in Boise. Both Pierce and Lorelai were miracles, Zak said, due to drugs and other circumstances in their births.

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“Pierce is a legit miracle,” Zak said. “Before we met, they told us that he had cerebral palsy and that he might not be able to walk … I was in a panic.”

But Pierce has better balance than the other four kids, Zak said.

“He’s not walking,” Kimberly said. “He runs and climbs.”

“We have two sets of siblings in one household,” Kimberly said. “That probably doesn’t happen very often in these situations.”

Now a family of seven, with children ages 2 to 13, Kimberly and Zak say every adoption is worth it: it’s worth the money, it’s worth the time and it’s worth the work to raise a family.

“People often say, ‘oh I can’t believe what you did for those kids,’ and I don’t feel like we didn’t do anything for these kids,” Zak said. “They saved us.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more at IdahoPress.com.

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