Tom and Eileen Heinold thought of adoption, but didn’t fully start the process until a unique situation dropped into their laps.
The couple had a daughter who passed away not long after birth of a genetic defect. After their loss, the Heinolds didn’t pursue adoption seriously, but certainly were open to the idea. “We hadn’t started any steps toward the adoption process,” Eileen said.
The couple prays with the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bettendorf, Iowa every Tuesday — Tom during his lunch hour with a co-worker and Eileen at some point during her day.
Jeanne Wonio, coordinator of the Helpers, also prays outside the clinic every Tuesday. One day, praying beside her was a student from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., who said that her step-sister was pregnant and considering adoption. “I heard the mom was thinking about releasing her baby for adoption. I knew Tom and Eileen were considering adoption, so I encouraged them to look into it,” Wonio said.
The Heinolds talked about it and a few weeks later learned that the pregnant woman was interested in having her unborn baby adopted. The mother-to-be wanted an autobiographical sketch and pictures of the potential parents. “We put it together,” Eileen said.
Throughout the waiting process, the couple continued to pray outside Planned Parenthood. On their own, they also prayed for all pregnant women to make the decision to give birth to their unborn children. There are plenty of couples eager to adopt a baby rather than to see the unborn child aborted, Eileen said.
While traveling with friends, the Heinolds stopped at a cemetery in Brooklyn, Iowa. Father Charles Gannon is buried there and they prayed to him. “At his grave I asked Fr. Gannon to pray for us,” Eileen said. Tom said he asked Fr. Gannon to help them conceive a child or to assist them with an adoption. “That next Monday we got the call,” Tom said.
In June of that summer, the birth mother said she wanted to meet the couple. The Heinolds started the necessary steps for adoption immediately. They met with a social worker, had interviews, home visits, and completed paperwork so that they could adopt the child that fall.
On Sept. 8, 2004, Meredith was born by c-section in the Chicago area. “That is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Eileen said. “It was a signal of grace for us.”
The Heinolds were traveling to the Chicago area that weekend because Tom had to report for reserve duty. That Saturday the couple met their new daughter and stayed at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill., for the weekend. That first night they attended adoration in the chapel on campus with the seminarians. “It was a grace-filled experience for the three of us starting out together,” Eileen said.
After an appearance before a judge in Cook County regarding parental rights, the paperwork process wove its way through Chicago, Springfield, Ill., and Iowa. The couple had to remain in Illinois with Meredith until that process concluded. What normally was a 10-day process lasted five weeks. “We have very gracious friends who hosted us for five weeks,” Tom said.
“Adoption is a wonderful institution,” he added. “There are loving people out there who want to care for children and raise them as their own — even though they are not their own flesh and blood.
“It’s easy to forget that Meredith is not our own flesh and blood. She’s our daughter.”
Today Meredith, 7, attends first grade at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport. The family attends St. Paul the Apostle Parish.
Eileen said Meredith knows she is adopted. “We didn’t want to hide the fact she is adopted.” Although Meredith may not fully comprehend the whole idea, Eileen said, “We will answer the questions as they come.”
Eileen said for those who might be hesitant to consider adoption: “love is ultimately an act of the will and though there is a definite bonding that occurs between a pregnant woman and her child and the father — bonding is solidified when you take care of the baby or child.
“You wipe the child’s messy nose, change his or her messy diapers, get up in the middle of the night to feed him or her or take care of him or her when they are sick …. It’s ultimately not the sharing of DNA that bonds you, but the love you give and are open to receiving.”
Eileen observes: “We are all God’s adopted children and that can only connote something beautiful about being adopted.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Messenger, newspaper for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.