Eighteen years ago, while living in Florida, friends and family gathered with Jim and Kathryn Barry to celebrate Jim's 30th birthday. No one predicted that the evening would deliver a life-changing gift. In the midst of the revelries, they got the phone call they'd been waiting for, alerting them to the impending birth of the baby they were adopting.
"There was lots of screaming and yelling and happiness," Kathryn says. The couple dropped everything and headed to the hospital to meet their new son.
After experiencing several miscarriages in an attempt to start a family, the Barrys chose to adopt through a local adoption agency. "We decided...that God had other plans for us," Kathryn says. "It was a choice for us: we could keep trying,...but our philosophy was why spend money when there are already children that are out there?"
When Jim and Kathryn arrived at the hospital, their son Chris had already been born. Sitting in a wheelchair, his birth mother, who they had met twice before, greeted the excited couple with a card and two balloons, one that said: "It's a Boy" and another that said: "Happy Birthday."
"I can remember feeling like she was okay with it. And 18 years later, it will still bring tears to my eyes. (Chris) was the greatest gift she could have ever given. Now as a mother, I realize how that was absolutely the hardest decision she could ever make. And, we've always let Chris know that," Kathryn says.
The family's adoption experience didn't end there. Through Jim's work for the federal government, the family eventually landed in Saipan, a U.S. Commonwealth in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. "Chris was a great only child, but he really wanted a brother and we wanted to add to our family," Kathryn says.
A year later, they adopted Michael, who they affectionately call "Bo," a 10-year-old orphan from Cambodia.
Bo had lived in a family environment rather than an orphanage, making his transition to family life easier. Initially, the Barrys communicated with Bo, who spoke only his native Khmer, through an Oxford-English picture dictionary.
Sensitive to his feelings about his deceased parents, Kathryn and Jim reassured Bo that they weren't there to replace his birth parents. "We have always explained to him that we are his parents on earth. And we know his parents are looking down on us, and we just hope they are as proud of their son as we are."
Summer trips to the U.S., extensive international travel while living in Saipan and day-to-day island life, provided a relatively low-key transition for Bo, who quickly integrated into the western way of life.
While their travels have taken them all over the world, these days, the family calls Spotsylvania County home. Jim continues to work for the government and Kathryn is a business consultant and a realtor with Long & Foster in Fredericksburg. Chris and Bo are on the cusp of adulthood and their parents couldn't be prouder. Chris, 18, attends Germanna Community College and loves to play basketball. Bo, 17, plays varsity soccer and football for Massaponax High School and is on the Men's National Soccer Team for the Northern Mariana Islands in Saipan.
Adoption, says Kathryn, can make a significant difference in a child's life, but the rewards for parents are immeasurable. "A lot of kids are out there and they need homes and they need the stability as any child needs, adopted or not adopted. For me, adoption has been an absolute blessing."
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer, who divides her time between writing and her busy family, which includes her husband, two active sons and one playful puppy.