“Why have we always pictured adoption as the last chapter?” Hannah Norman asked her husband, Donald.
The Bullard High graduate (Hannah) and Clovis High School class of 2003 graduate (Don) had been high school sweethearts since the ages of 14 and 16; they met in their youth group at First Presbyterian Church. During eight years of dating before their marriage in October 2009, they had plenty of conversations about what their future family might look like.
“We thought adoption would be part of our story, but we didn’t have a vision of how it would look at that point,” Hannah said.
Today, they are the proud parents of nearly-6-month-old Owen. He doesn’t share the Normans’ genes, or even their last name — yet — but he is undeniably theirs. “Any adoptive parent would tell you, you love an adopted child in an analogous way to a biological child. It’s not different. He’s just our son,” Donald said.
“Sometimes we forget that he was even adopted,” Hannah added.
In honor of National Adoption Month, the Normans agreed to share their unique adoption story with The Clovis Independent.
When the Normans were in their mid-20s they found themselves surrounded by friends who were getting pregnant and starting their families.
“We felt some sense of urgency to decide if we were going to commit to adoption first or not,” Donald said. “Like most parents, we had the desire for our kids to be the same age as our friends’ kids.”
But it took a while to come to the decision.
“Hannah doesn’t decide anything quickly,” Donald said with a laugh.
In July 2013 they found themselves on the same page at the same time, Hannah said.
“God put this on both of our hearts at the same time,” she said. “No one was convincing the other person at that point; this is just right for our family.”
Adoption wasn’t foreign to Donald. While he was a student at Fresno Pacific University, his parents adopted their 9-year-old foster daughter, who had been placed with them about two years prior.
Seeing other people adopt made the decision easier, Donald said.
“Less than one percent of adoptive families start with adoption,” he said. “It is becoming more common ... but it’s still a significant minority of people.”
The couple went to orientations for two adoption agencies and immediately felt at home with the Fresno-based Infant of Prague.
“We liked the small feel of the agency; we also decided that we really wanted to be a part of an open adoption,” Hannah explained. “Infant of Prague focuses on the Central Valley … so we thought we could be in close proximity to his birth family.”
The Normans filled out paperwork, attended seminars and created a family album that birth parents use to select adoptive parents for their children.
Then they waited.
Hannah used her blog “Together We Sing” to share pieces of their adoption story, and she said the feedback she received really helped during the waiting process.
“People reached out to me who I hadn’t talked to in years, from our high school days, our parents friends, church people, non church people, work people, people who wanted to tell us their adoptive stories ... people came out of the woodwork to be a part of Owen’s story, which was such an encouragement, especially during the time when we were just waiting,” Hannah and Donald said, completing each other’s sentences.
“Having this continual voice, even with just a Facebook message, that says ‘we’re so excited for you,’ or ‘this is the right thing for you,’ that was such a help because we waited a long time,” Hannah said.
If you’re capable of loving a child, you’re capable of adopting.
Donald Norman, adoptive father and City Without Orphans board member
Finally, the day came.
“(Owen’s) birth mom interviewed us … on a Wednesday after work. She was so prepared. She asked us everything from are you Giants or Dodgers fans, to how are you going to celebrate holidays, to how are you going to connect with me as the birth mom,” Hannah said.
The couple felt an instant connection with woman, who was three weeks away from her due date.
“I felt peace,” Hannah said. “I thought, ‘I just want you to find a family that’s right for you, whether it be us or not. I care about you already.’”
The couple left the interview, hoping to hear some news in a few days.
Instead, their social worker came running out the door after them.
“The birth mom had picked us on the spot,” Hannah said. “That moment was so incredibly humbling, that someone would put that level of trust in me — in us.”
That Memorial Day weekend, knowing that in just a few weeks they’d be bringing home a brand new baby boy, the Normans took a planned trip to the Sonora area for a weekend of hiking.
However, when they hit a patch of cell service in the isolated mountains, “our phones blew up,” Hannah said.
Their social worker had been trying to reach them all day to tell them their new son was coming early — his birth mom was in labor.
“We came blazing down the mountain,” Hannah said, with Donald adding: “We made it to the hospital just hours after he was born.”
The nurses “all stopped and stared” as the Normans held their 6-pound, 6-ounce son for the first time.
In that moment their life changed — they were parents.
From that point they had the same experience that a set of biological parents would have.
“We changed his first diaper, spent the night with him in the hospital, did all of the health and hearing exams, were discharged with him the next morning and took him home,” Donald said.
The couple beams when asked about Owen’s name.
“We chose it together, with his birth mom,” Hannah said. “Owen is a family name on both of our sides and we knew early on we wanted a son to have this name — whether adopted or biological — this child would have this name that was a piece of our family and a piece of us.”
Owen has two middle names — one chosen by his birth mom and one chosen by the Normans.
“Jon is his first middle name,” Donald said, with Hannah adding: “That was a special family member to his birth mom.”
“Samuel (his second middle name) is from the story of Hannah in the Bible,” Hannah explained. “My parents named me after the biblical Hannah, and Hannah’s long-awaited, long prayed for son is named Samuel.”
The Normans won’t name Owen’s birth mom, or reveal the reasons why she chose adoption, but they admire her for the selfless choice she made out of love. They continue to have visits with her, and she is very much a part of Owen’s life because of the open adoption agreement.
“We’re thankful that as we’ve already been practicing telling Owen his story, that she’s going to be able to tell it too,” Hannah said. “There’s not going to be any mystery in that for him or for us or for her. She’s an extremely important person in his life that’s made this sacrificial, loving choice and she’s going to be able to share that with him.”
Once Owen has been in the Normans’ care for six months and they schedule a court date, the adoption will be finalized.
“We’re hoping by Christmas,” Donald said.
A second birth certificate will be issued, and their child will officially become Owen Jon Samuel Norman.
Like any first-time parents, the Normans are enjoying Owen’s infancy one day at a time.
“He’s such a low-key guy,” Hannah said. “I feel like he’s handed us first-time parenting on a platter. He’s just a joy to be with.”
Owen, a strong, sturdy infant, loves to be outside and lights up when his parents come into the room. He has two teeth, babbles and loves tummy time.
“He’s got the inchworm thing going,” Donald said of Owen’s attempts to crawl. “He can get across the room if he had to.”
Hannah, the senior program officer at First 5 Fresno County, takes Owen with her to work in the mornings, to the delight of her coworkers. Donald, the associate director of Alongside Ministries International, a Christian missionary organization, picks up Owen in the afternoons.
“Hannah’s coworkers boo when I come in to pick him up,” Donald said, laughing.
Both Hannah and Donald blog about their journey.
Adoption used to be the secret that everybody kept. Things like biracial and transracial adoption weren’t really done, because then it would be obvious.
Donald Norman, adoptive father and City Without Orphans board member
Hannah started blogging as a way to process the emotions and steps that come with adoption, and for their child to have a written history to read later on.
“I want them to know how planned for and anticipated and wanted that they were. If I write it down and share it with others, it won’t only be just me, but also this community of people who have been part of his journey,” she said.
Donald writes open letters to Owen because he feels it’s important for fathers and sons to have an open dialogue.
“I want him to know where we are as a family on the hard things of life, but I also want other dads to have a conversation with their son — or daughter — but I think there’s a thing with dads and sons not sharing deeply,” Donald said. “I don’t want to keep secrets or hide where we are as a family. Whether he agrees with us or not, whether he’s a Christian or not, is not really the point.
“We’re deep thinkers, this is who we are, we want you to know that. We want you to do critical thinking in your life, don’t just accept the easy answers.”
Through their blogs, the Normans have shone a light on something that perhaps used to be taboo.
“Adoption used to be the secret that everybody kept. Things like biracial and transracial adoption weren’t really done, because then it would be obvious,” Donald said.
The climate has changed, the couple said.
“It’s not the right thing for everybody to adopt,” Hannah said. “But it’s wonderful to have a community that’s supportive to adoptive families ... Accepting their (adopted) child in the same way as a biological child, supporting and encouraging them with your words and your time is such a blessing.”
The Normans are open to adopting again, but they would likely foster an older child first and then apply to adopt him or her, they said. The couple is also open to having biological children someday.
At the beginning of their adoption journey, the couple attended a Foster and Adoption 101 Workshop through City Without Orphans, a faith-based organization that connects Christians with foster agencies and foster children in Fresno County. They found it extremely helpful.
Donald now sits on the board of City Without Orphans, and foster and adoption advocacy is close to his heart.
He encourages those thinking of adoption to spend time with adoptive families.
“I think there are a lot of myths about parenting adopted kids or being an adoptive parent. Every case and every child is unique,” Donald said.
“If you’re capable of loving a child, you’re capable of adopting,” he continued. “You’re not rescuing anybody, you’re loving a child.”
Hannah said she’s humbled when her blog readers tell her they’ve chosen to pursue adoption.
“If it’s something that’s on your heart or even that you’ve just thought about, pursue that as far as it will go,” Hannah urges. “Don’t put it off. There’s kids (in need) now.”