In 2020, so many of us found our lives in a season of upheaval. We were all living in the midst of uncertainty; navigating a global pandemic and looking ahead at an unknown future. For our family of seven, 2020 was the most beautifully broken year we have ever walked through. It will forever be a distinctive thread woven into the fabric of our family because it was the year our hearts were broken in the waiting and then forever changed by the miracle of adoption. It was the beginning of a story that would span four years and two continents, two miraculous adoption stories for two little girls, and bring us to the moment we’re currently standing in – as we prepare with such beautiful anticipation to bring home a second daughter from the country of Armenia.

My husband and I have always wanted a large family. The blessing of parenthood was something we prayed for from the earliest days of marriage, but the road we traveled to parenthood wasn’t at all what we expected. For many years, we struggled with unexplained infertility. For many years, we waited. Then, in 2011, God gave us the most beautiful blessing and I gave birth to our firstborn, a son. Over the next six years, our family grew four more times with the birth of four more children. By January of 2019, we had four children between the ages of 1 and 6. By January of 2019, God had already begun to impress on our hearts that our family wasn’t done growing. That month, we began to look into international special needs adoption. We were hesitant and nervous. We knew nothing about international adoption and even less about a special needs diagnosis! This was a season of refinement, as God so graciously and intentionally grew us in Him and taught us to walk in obedience. We didn’t have all the answers, but He always did. Sometimes obedience just looks like a breathy yes whispered on a shaky exhale. God takes even those shaky steps of obedience and multiplies the blessing – there’s nothing special about us and we were in no way uniquely qualified to step into special needs, international adoption. God equips us in the places He calls us, and He qualifies us for the places He plants our feet.

We signed with an agency in January of 2020 in pursuit of a waiting little girl we’d seen listed on Reece’s Rainbow. The listing had no picture, and the country wasn’t listed; we knew only that this little girl was just under two years old and had a diagnosis of Down syndrome. We had no real reason to feel so drawn to such a vague and otherwise unremarkable listing, but in our hearts, we just knew this little girl was our daughter.

As it turns out, this little girl was waiting in an orphanage in the country of Armenia.

Over the course of the next year, we doggedly pursued every adoption milestone and chased down every piece of paper we needed to move the process forward. There were setbacks and program delays, both disappointments and huge victories, before we finally got the call we had been waiting for in November of 2019 – we’d been matched!!

When I opened the file of the child we’d been matched with, my heart immediately sank.  The face of the little girl staring back at me was not at all what we had expected; this little girl was younger. This little girl had a different diagnosis. This wasn’t the little girl we had already named Saylor and had been growing in our hearts and in our home as our daughter for so many months. We had been matched with an entirely different waiting child.

The juxtaposition of emotion in that moment was overwhelming.  We were heartbroken and elated. We were anxious and excited. This little girl wasn’t who we had been expecting but we knew immediately that she was no less meant for our family. We felt absolute peace; we knew she was just as fully and absolutely ours. We accepted the referral right away.

In January of 2020, we were finally invited to travel to Armenia to meet our daughter for the first time. When we left at the end of January, coronavirus was a word just starting to garner a few news stories here and there. When we landed in Armenia, the airport security team wore hazmat suits and took every passenger’s temperature before going through customs. It was unsettling, but we had no way to gauge at that time how that one word would alter the entire trajectory of our adoption story.

During our first trip in January of 2020, we spent ten days with our daughter (who we named Ember) at her orphanage. We fell so hard for this precious little girl and our love for her grew with every moment she spent in our arms. Her room at the orphanage was next door to Saylor. These two girls, both with Down syndrome, were growing up as orphanage sisters. If we could have adopted both girls, we would have done it in a heartbeat. Standing in the hallway between their two doors was one of the hardest places I’ve ever had to plant my feet.

At the end of our first trip, we said an excruciating goodbye to our little girl and returned home to Oregon with the expectation that we’d be invited back to court within the next six weeks. Then, three weeks after returning home, the entire world shut down.

That began a season of waiting. We had no legal ties to Ember and no way to know how or when or if we’d be able to get to her. We had no way to know if she was safe.  The adoption program completely shut down during the height of the pandemic, and we were separated from our daughter by half a world. It was an excruciating wait, but this pain was not without a purpose. As we waited for Ember, God grew us yet again. Walking in obedience doesn’t mean an end to the hard you’re walking through – it just means you’ll never walk alone. As much as this season broke our hearts, we found ourselves grateful for what God taught us in that wilderness. We were beautifully broken.

In October of 2020, we received an invitation to bring Ember home as our daughter.  We packed up our entire family – all four kids, who were now between 2 and 7 – and traveled around the world in the middle of a pandemic. We lived in Armenia as a family for just over a month and brought Ember home just before Thanksgiving. We were the only American family to adopt from Armenia in 2020.

We never saw Saylor on that second trip. Rules at the orphanage had changed due to the pandemic and we weren’t allowed to go into the children’s rooms. Instead, Ember was brought to us each time we’d visit. When we left Armenia in November of 2020, I didn’t know where Saylor was or what had happened to her. I didn’t know if I would ever know.

Ember is the most beautiful joy. She’s changed our lives and grown our hearts and she is the exclamation point on this beautiful life God has given us. We didn’t know what to expect from her, but oh how we have been immeasurably blessed by her. The gift of being Ember’s mom is one I get to unwrap every single day.

In the three years since Ember came home, we have never ceased to pray for Saylor. We brought her to the feet of Jesus over and over, asking for God to move the mountains standing in our way. Throughout the years, we’ve worked with various advocacy agencies to try and find a family for this little girl that, so few people even knew existed.

For many years, nothing changed. She turned 6 last August and was transferred out of the baby orphanage where we met her, and we were heartbroken. We believed this was the end of any chance for adoption for Saylor.

Then, in late summer of 2023 we became aware of changing advocacy laws in Armenia. For the first time since 2019, profiles of waiting children began to appear on advocacy sites like Reece’s Rainbow. For the second time, I found a generic profile for a waiting 6-year-old girl with Down syndrome born in August 2017. My heart leapt! For the second time, I knew right away this was the profile of our daughter. But this time, I knew her name: I knew it was Saylor.

We reached out to Reece’s Rainbow immediately and they put us in touch with CAS.  We were soon able to confirm that it was Saylor. We started our second adoption process the next day.

Today, we are days away from sending our dossier to Armenia as we await being officially matched with our daughter. We cannot wait to bring her home. We can’t wait to reunite with our littlest girls; who met as orphans on the other side of the world and who will grow up as sisters sharing the same last name.

Adoption changed everything. God has grafted our precious daughters onto our family tree in the most remarkable of ways, and we are so grateful for the front row seats He has given us to watch the story of their lives unfold.

– The Breitenstein Family