Joyous rite for adoptive families

In a part-celebration, part-ceremony, families welcome nine children into their lives


Six years ago, Donna and Jason Neidinger had a nice little family, with three children of their own. Still, the couple decided to become foster parents, hoping one day to make one of their temporary children a permanent family member.

Yesterday, the Neidingers officially welcomed their second adopted child into the family during a lively, laughter-filled ceremony in Baltimore County's Old Courthouse, where nine adoptions were finalized as part of Maryland's first celebration of National Adoption Day.

"There was no reason for us to adopt, but that we wanted to give another child a home," said Donna Neidinger, 33, wiping away tears as her new daughter, 15-month-old Amaris, played nearby. "And we ended up doubly blessed."

In addition to little Amaris, the Neidingers adopted 3-year-old Matisse-Sage in May - who joined older siblings Gabrielle, 16; Storm, 14; and Chandler, 12.

Those in attendance - family court judges, pro bono lawyers, foster care officials, adoptive parents and community volunteers - hope yesterday's celebration will draw attention to the thousands of children nationwide who are in foster care awaiting adoption. There are 690 such children in Maryland.

Presiding over the adoptions was Baltimore County Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan, who signed each family's paperwork with the pen he used 20 years ago to make official the adoption of his own son.

"This pen's never done anything bad," the judge said. "It's only used for good things."

He took the unusual step of allowing one newly adopted boy to adopt in return his own teddy bear - announcing that the stuffed animal had whispered a request for a name change, from Chocolate Chip to Boo Hoo - as part of the process.

He also warned parents that they must agree to give their children cake and ice cream every Nov. 19 in commemoration of yesterday's ceremony. Speaking of the adopted children's older siblings, Hennegan added, "If parents fail to do that, they should call me and I'll hold their parents in contempt of court."

Hennegan welcomed each set of parents and their soon-to-be son or daughter to join him at his raised bench. Ceremoniously, he paged through each file while siblings, aunts and grandparents looked on - often with their video cameras rolling - from the railing where lawyers once made their arguments in the old courtroom.

The event was a welcome change of pace for courthouse staff accustomed to handling the court's less-joyful normal business.

"This is just our favorite thing to do," said Pat Cirasole, who has worked as a court reporter for more than 30 years, keeping a record of countless murder trials, plea agreements and sentencing hearings.

She struggled to keep from laughing - and to continue typing the official transcript of the court proceeding - as the children being adopted squealed with joy, pounded the judge's bench with gavel pencils and otherwise mugged for their appreciative audience.

For families involved in the adoptions, the ceremony marked the end of a long and sometimes roller coaster-like journey.

Jason Neidinger, an engineer, and Donna, a former office administrator for a pediatrician, welcomed 20 foster children into their North Point-area home - some for a single night and others as long as two years - before adopting Matisse-Sage and then Amaris. Photographs of all 20 children hang in their hallway.

"Every child who walked through our door - and it was hard not to - we could envision them being the one in that little pink hat," Donna Neidinger said, referring to the ruffly bonnet that her new daughter wore to the ceremony.

"My husband and I were very young parents, and we don't know what it's like to not parent," she said.

William and Sherry McFarland of Woodlawn were similarly exuberant about their suddenly enlarged family.

After nearly dying during the birth of her daughter, now 9, Sherry McFarland, an administrative assistant at the Sheppard-Pratt Health System, was hesitant to get pregnant again. But 38- year-old William, a stay-at-home dad, has 13 brothers and sisters and wanted a large family.

So when Heather began asking for a sibling, the McFarlands looked into adoption, settling on a program that places medically fragile children with potentially adoptive families.

In December 2003, they brought home David, a newborn with underdeveloped lungs and respiratory problems. His adoption was finalized yesterday, and the couple are in the process of adopting another child, 17-month-old Haley.

And after taking in both those children, the McFarlands learned Sherry, 32, was pregnant - with twins.

"In two years, we went from one child to five," Sherry McFarland said. "I couldn't imagine it any other way now."


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