By Debbonnaire Kovacs, posted Jan 19, 2017
Some weeks back, we published a story about Pastor Sabine Vatel and the Grow Groups of Pioneer Memorial Church. In that story, I promised a full feature about Leanne and Jan Sigvartsen, who miraculously found their firstborn son because of their Grow Group. I talked to Leanne by telephone and here is the complete story.
During Leanne’s 30s, the couple tried and tried to have children, and were heartbroken again and again as they went through the ordeal of five miscarriages. Only those who have been through this loss understand how devastating it can be, and in fact, Leanne shared that they did not always experience the depth of support and encouragement they needed. Some people told them they “should” have children, not knowing how much they longed to. Some, knowing of the miscarriages, told them not to worry about it, or that it had “happened for a purpose, so they could learn something”.
“God killed five of my children because there was something he wanted me to learn?!” Leanne exclaimed to me. By the grace of God, she was not swayed from her belief in a merciful God who would not do such a thing.
The timing could be painful in itself. They were the last among their friends to have children, and when they made friends with other childless couples, those friends began having children, too. Once Leanne received an invitation to a baby shower just two weeks after losing one of her babies. Her friend was sympathetic when she turned down the invitation. “I just didn’t have the strength to go shopping for baby things,” she told me.
After the fifth miscarriage, the Sigvartsens said, “That’s it. We’re not doing that again.” They began investigating adoption.
They learned that international adoption can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and domestic adoptions can be nearly as costly and difficult, even if a couple does not get unknowingly caught up in a “black market” or illegal adoption.
“We even looked at adopting an older child promoted through the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange. And time after time we just hit brick wall after brick wall.”
Just about this time they learned of a PMC Grow Group on fostering and adoption, led by Asha and Carol Jordan, who were local foster and adoptive parents.
Without telling her husband, Leanne signed both of them up. Jan was startled, (“You did what?”) but he went with her. “He really wanted to be a dad,” Leanne says. They learned a great deal—that there are 14,000 children in foster care in Michigan, nearly 400 in Berrien County alone; that only around half of those will be able to go back to their birth families; that the other 50% will need adoptive homes; and that there are many needs besides the need for actual foster and adoptive parents. I’ll let Leanne describe their experience in the Grow Group. This is a passage from the story she shared with the PMC church family.
“This Grow Group was about more than adoption information. We took the words of James 1:27 seriously which says, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.’
“Not everyone in that group was looking to adopt or to foster, and that was not Asha and Carol’s only plan in organizing this Grow Group. They wanted to help source furniture for foster families, people who could drive foster children to appointments to help out foster parents, do respite care for them, find clothes for foster kids who nearly always arrive at their foster home with just the clothes on their back, source household items and cars for 18-year-olds who aged out of foster care so they could set up a house, making sure they got Christmas presents… this group was just so much more than we had expected. We had a project that was to ensure every kid in Berrien County received a pillow when they came into foster care. And Carol’s organization God’s Hands for Kids continues this fabulous work. But there was one more thing we got from this group that we never expected…”
What most excited the Sigvartsens was that once a couple become foster parents, then if that child ever becomes available for adoption, they will not only be “pretty much first in line,” as Leanne puts it, but the state of Michigan will pay most adoption costs if the adoption is done from foster care.
On a Friday afternoon, the miracle began. The Sigvartsens were standing around outside the Apple Valley grocery store talking (Leanne says they were there for an hour and a half because they “love to talk!”) She saw Carol Jordan, her Grow Group leader, coming out of the store with a new foster baby and went to admire it.
Again from her story shared with PMC:
“He was six weeks old and he was the sweetest, most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my entire life. I fell in love at first sight. He was the reason we became foster parents and set a new record for getting a foster care license, and he came to live with us so that if he became available for adoption in the future, we were going to do it, no questions asked.”
Leanne became a passionate advocate for foster and adoptive care. She says that many of the children in foster care are difficult to find homes for because they are older children or teens. Sometimes they have been abused; all of them have been through trauma and pain. Many of them, including their son, Leif, are born to parents who were themselves foster children.
“These are not bad people,” she says of the parents. “Mothers are often very young; they don’t have skills or resources, and they know they can’t take care of their children. They may want them very much. They may someday regret the decision they make, but they make the best one they can at the time. My hat is off to them.”
She also spoke of fathers who are not given the opportunity to care for their children. The Sigvartsens have fostered children who ended up going to biological fathers who had been kept from them by the mothers. She says both are “great fathers” and she is very happy for them, and respects the work they did to “find out what to do and step up and get it together” so they can raise their children.
During the two years they were foster parents, the Sigvartsens took in eight children. Some were only for a few days, some for a few weeks, and one stayed for a year. They had occasion to be happy for the pillows donated through Carol Foster’s Hands for Kids program. They would receive children crying their eyes out, carrying nothing but a backpack from the state agency, with some school supplies in it, traumatized and distraught. “Those pillows are something to cling to and cuddle with. They’re a godsend,” says Leanne.
The Sigvartsens want a little girl, and have been both glad and disappointed at the same time when two little girls they took in were eventually able to go to their biological families. One is in Florida and still stays in touch with the Sigvartens, with the full support and encouragement of her father and stepmother.
One of their foster children was a little boy who was so angry that he was too violent to keep with Leif. The agency found him a home that included a father, where he thrived until he was able to go to his own birth father.
About a year after they took in Leif (so named because Jan is Norwegian and wanted a Viking name) he became available for adoption. The process took about fifteen months to complete and cost the Sigvartsens only $1200—and even that, they raised in a week through a Go Fund Me campaign.
The best miracle is that even before Leif became adoptable, Leanne (like many other adoptive mothers before her!) became pregnant. At 41, she had a successful birth, so they now have two sons, less than eleven months apart.
Today, Leif is three-and-a-half and Thor is two-and-a-half. Jan is completing his doctorate at Andrews University and they are preparing to move, so they are not fostering at the moment. “When we find out where we are going and get settled, we’ll start the process again,” Leanne says, because they still very much want a girl.
Leif’s birth mother, an ex-foster child herself, only wanted to see pictures of her son from time to time. Leanne says every year she creates a Shutterfly book of his year and sends it to the mother through the social worker. She just finished the latest the other day. When he is older, it will be up to Leif if he wants to have contact with his biological mom.
“I tell him, ‘We didn’t take you in because we’re these great, wonderful people. It’s the other way around—you did a favor to us. After all those miscarriages, to be given this beautiful, beautiful baby… I tell him, “You’re worth more to me than five sons,’ like Elkanah in the Bible. You just fall in love with these kids. I can’t imagine living without him. The chances of him coming into our life are so slim—I believe it’s God thing. I believe he and we were supposed to meet and he’s healed us more than we healed him.”