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'She completes our family perfectly'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Samantha S. Crane
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
It looks like a typical family home; 2-year-old Caitlyn and her mother sit in a rocking chair while the three boys sit with their father on the couch. It's not long before Caitlyn scrambles down to get a coloring book followed by Camden, who's 8. Caitlyn chooses ponies while Camden prefers Spider-Man. The boys resemble their parents, but Caitlyn's skin is a bit darker and her hair is black. It's not hard to identify her as South Korean. But even though she isn't their biological child, Capt. Stephen Grove, Air Mobility Command Logistics Directorate executive officer, and his wife, Christa, love her just the same.

Their story starts more than 13 years ago when the two were married at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Then Airman 1st Class Grove and his new wife Christa had discussed adoption before they even tied the knot. For Christa, it was a family tradition and a personal calling.

Christa's grandparents adopted a child in the 50's, and her own parents welcomed a daughter into their home when she was 10. Both were from South Korea.

The Groves began their military lifestyle, moving from base to base before arriving at McConnell AFB, Kan., in 2005. By then the two had three children, Caleb, now 12; Cody, now 9; and Camden.

But now it was time to add a fourth.

Captain Grove was deployed until April 2007, and the family began the approval process upon his return. They decided to follow the example set by Christa's family and adopt a child from South Korea.

"We've always wanted to adopt, and were waiting for the right time," said Christa. "Several other families from our church in Kansas were adopting, and there was a really big support network there, so we just stepped out on faith and started the process."

While the family had to navigate through many obstacles--finances, temporary duty assignments for Captain Grove and the uncertainty of deployments and assignment changes, the family made it through with the help of their friends, family and church and never doubted they would be successful.

After 14 months of waiting, 10-month-old Caitlyn joined the family on June 18, 2008. She was 10 months old. But before the family could legally call her their own, they had to go through a six-month waiting period before the adoption was finalized Dec. 19, 2008.
The three boys couldn't wait to meet their new sister.

"They were super excited," said Captain Grove. "When we brought her home, they were dying to get to know her."

But after all that hard work, it wasn't the fairy tale ending some may have thought the family would experience, and the real work would now begin.

"She was in foster care, so she had a definite attachment to her foster family," said Captain Grove. "When we brought her home, she went through several levels of grief, and that was really hard to watch."

But the family continued working with Caitlyn, from teaching her how to have a tea party and play ball, as well as some simple sign language to overcome the language barrier and building her trust toward her new family.

"She couldn't tell us what she wanted, and we couldn't always understand her," said Captain Grove. "But about six months after we brought her home, she really started opening up to us and giving us her heart. We loved her before we even knew her, and to watch her open up and recognize that we were her parents was really cool. With a biological child, you have an immediate attachment, but with an adopted child, you have to develop that. Watching that process was extremely difficult yet very rewarding."
For her three older brothers, getting used to their new sister was also challenging, but now they are inseparable.

"At first, she'd push us away," said Caleb. "Now she'll talk your ear off, and she'll come up to you and hug you."

But for Camden, it's the simple fact that she's there.

"I just like having a sister adopted," he said.

There was never a doubt in Captain Grove and Christa's minds that they would get to this point.

"I cannot imagine our family without her, she completes our family perfectly," said Christa.

"That's my daughter," said Captain Grove.

For other families thinking about adoption, Captain Grove admits it can be a daunting process.

"Until you get into the process, you don't really know what you're walking into," he said. "It can be a scary thing. We've had to relearn how to parent and change our styles for her. But in the end, it's just like having a biological child because we consider her the same."
Christa's biggest piece of advice is to just jump in.

"There are a lot of children around the world waiting for families," she said, "and there are a lot of people scared to step out and adopt a child, but they shouldn't be. It's a process, and it takes a lot of work, but if you're heart is open to adoption, I would suggest just stepping out and doing it."

For the Grove family, it was a step that changed their lives forever, and according to them, for the better.

"Our family wasn't complete until she came home," said Captain Grove.